I was almost hesitant to share these photos, and for a reason that isn’t readily apparent. It’s not because my hair wasn’t quite cooperating this day, my camera wasn’t focusing properly or because it was really warm in the house and I was eager to get this sweater off.
It’s because this outfit fails at ethical fashion.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, it won’t come as a surprise that I care about responsible fashion- I talk about it a lot. I take part in Fashion Revolution each year. The majority of my clothing is secondhand. I sew slowly and thoughtfully- I try to make sure that each of the items I make are ones that will add value to my closet. I don’t technically have a “capsule” wardrobe, but each and every item is chosen carefully and definitely worn more than 30 times. I very seldom purchase anything new, and when I do, I try to buy natural fibres, and search out ethical brands if possible.
I love fashion (no surprise there), but seeking to be purposeful and ethical in a world where fast fashion is the norm, can be hard.
And sometimes when you find a mustard yellow sweater, you buy it.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a local clothing store with my mom and sister, trying to help my mom find a sweater, and as we were looking, I came across this mustard yellow sweater. I’ve been looking for a long time (a couple of years) for some mustard yellow pieces, since it is my favourite colour, but is extremely hard to find!
Since it was on sale, I bought it.
And then I immediately started thinking about the fact that it is made out of rayon and polyester, and dyed with a toxic mix of chemicals, and was made in China, and other than that, I definitely don’t know “who made my sweater”, and then I started regretting it, because this is not ethical fashion, and how can I call myself an ethical fashion proponent, when I just made a very unethical shopping choice?
But I’ve been doing some thinking lately, and I would like to share a few of thoughts on whether it’s possible to be completely “ethical” in your shopping choices.
I participated in a course that Fashion Revolution was offering a while ago. It was an interesting activity, but the one thing that stuck out to me, was this response by the founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola De Castro to the question, “Is it possible to have a 100% sustainable or ethical wardrobe?”
I don’t think it’s possible to have 100% clothes that were designed or made sustainably or ethically. I think that is going to be very difficult, but it is possible to make sustainable and ethical choices about all of the clothes you have in your wardrobe. So, somehow, you can refresh with love and turn them into something they weren’t originally. . . You can do things like shop at Primark and H&M, but with the same respect if you were shopping somewhere like Gucci. You’ve got to treat your fiver like it was $500, and choose that piece not because you are “stress shopping at Zara”. We are not stress shopping at Zara: we are “deep love shopping at Primark” or Zara or wherever. . . Because, if we were to commit to 100% not putting one foot wrong, we would be damaging ourselves and our wardrobes immensely, and also the people who actually make our clothes, because there are an awful lot of people making clothes who are waiting for the industry to ameliorate, and what are we going to do in the meantime? Boycott them all? As consumers, we still buy that product. We just buy it in a different way, so we can give a really strong message to the brands. This message might be “Slow down”. This message might be “No, we don’t want five for the price of one; we want one well made piece for the price of five”.
This past year I have started going zero waste in my lifestyle. At first, I thought the concept of “zero waste” was to try and produce no garbage at all. We’ve all seen the pictures of people’s “trash jars” where they are able to fit all of their garbage from the past year (or more) into one glass jar. It’s inspiring to think about living a life that doesn’t result in garbage, but it’s not completely realistic for most people.
I live in a small town, and there is no bulk store. Cauliflower comes wrapped in plastic. I recycle or compost everything I can, but still end up with garbage at the end of the day.
As I’ve been reading more, and started following several zero wasters on Instagram, one thing that keeps coming up is the fact that we are currently living in a culture that is designed to result in garbage. “Zero waste” doesn’t mean that you are producing zero garbage, but is rather a name for a movement that is trying to restructure our global economy to one designed to be circular, where garbage isn’t part of the cycle. Today our products (whether it’s clothing, or food or other things) are designed with waste. It’s impossible to create “zero waste” as a consumer. And even if you think that you are doing a fairly good job, there is garbage that has been created before the product even reaches you. (I work in a shop, and the amount of packaging garbage that is thrown out before a product even reaches the shelf is astounding.)
But again, this quote by Instagrammer Andrea Sanders (@bezerowastegirl) has been bopping around in my head for a while:
“Zero Waste isn’t easy because it’s an infrastructure that doesn’t exist right now. Access to bulk stores, fresh markets and the like are not accessible to most. Everyone makes trash. Period. Do what you can. Never feel guilty because you can’t do something. There is no absolutism.”
And so, it makes me ask: Was this sweater an unwise shopping decision after all? Am I “failing” at ethical fashion?
Our current fashion culture is one that is driven by the need to buy more and more, regardless of how much we already own, but when I purchased this sweater, I wasn’t buying it from a fast fashion perspective.
I have been searching for a mustard yellow sweater for a few years, so it was not a spur of the moment purchase. It was “deep love” shopping, not buying for the sake of buying.
It is estimated that wearing a garment at least 30 times, reduces the carbon, waste and water footprint of a garment by 20%-30%. I wear all my clothes at least 30 times, and despite the fact that this sweater is not made of completely natural fibres, it is well sewn and will last me many years. I also take care of my clothes, and will be hand washing this one to help increase it’s lifespan.
It’s a tricky issue. I can’t say that I’m completely convinced that I should have bought it. Maybe if I had waited a while longer I would have come across something in mustard yellow that would have ticked all the boxes, but then again, maybe not.
I want my wardrobe to be 100% ethical, but that’s not really feasible right now. If 95% of my wardrobe is ethical fashion, then is the 5% that isn’t ethical, OK? Where do you draw the line? Is there a line? How do you balance want vs. need, especially with something as “frivolous” as fashion?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. How do you decide for your own wardrobe?