We live in an era and a society that is obsessed with things like health. We use organic beauty products, because we know they are better for us. We clean with earth friendly products, so we don’t pollute our homes. We eat healthy and organic foods to minimize our risk of cancer. We know that eventually we will all die, and yet, we do what we can to improve our quality of life in the here and now. And yes, all of these things are great. We should avoid the practices that we know are bad for us, and do the things that are good for us (as far as we know that they are good for us!)
There is one element that is centre to all of these practices though, and that is that they are all good for you. As in, you personally.
Ethical Fashion is not something you do for you. It is something you do for someone else.
Ethical fashion, to be really honest, doesn’t benefit you personally in any way whatsoever. In fact, one could argue, it’s really a pain and a bother when it comes right down to it.
Fair trade fashion is often more expensive than the fast fashion garments you can find at your local mall. Fair trade and ethically made garments can be hard to find: most of your local chain stores don’t carry responsible brands in stock (especially here in Canada). And, sometimes the fair trade fashions you do find, will not be your fashion style. Building a fair trade wardrobe involves research. Which brands are ethical? Where did this come from? And really, #whomademyclothes? Being a conscious consumer involves constant questioning; not just, “Do I want this?” but, “Do I need this”? And, then there is always the question of, “What is the longevity of this garment?” Sometimes ethical fashion means going without something, until you can find it in an ethical and fair trade version.
Other options to buying fair trade fashion would be practices like thrifting, or buying vintage. This takes time though. To build a second-hand wardrobe, you put in countless hours searching for pieces that you not only like, but that fit, and are in good condition as well. Vintage is rare, depending on where you live, and it can be hard to find. You can’t just stop in at your local store to pick out exactly what you want and need. And once you find the thrifted or vintage garment you are looking for, it will require upkeep that new garments don’t. Mending and fixing go hand-in-hand with pre-loved garments.
Another option is making your own clothes. This again, is a large time investment (especially if you are like me, and are an extremely slow seamstress.) It also means acquiring the skills to be able to make the garments yourself, as you want to end up with something wearable; not a “Becky-Home-Ecky” that should be turned into a rag. And again, with new fabrics and textile, you must question, “Where did this fabric come from?” With reused textiles, you run into other problems and the quirks that come along with refashioning.
Ethical fashion is hard. Creating a wardrobe full of garments that are fair trade, where the workers who sewed your clothes (because each and every piece of clothing has been made by human hands, somewhere) are earning a wage they can truly live on, is really frustrating sometimes.
But, nobody should have to die for fashion.
That shouldn’t even be a thought that enters the equation. Because really, there should be no such term as “Ethical Fashion”. That is so redundant it’s like saying “Edible Food”.
Nobody should have to drop out of school at nine years old to go to work, just to be able to put food on the table.
Nobody should have to work with toxic fabric dyes, and no safety equipment, in order to afford their monthly rent.
And nobody should have to go to work in an unsafe factory, which may collapse at any moment, in order to survive . . . but end up dying instead.
Because nobody’s life is worth less than a t-shirt.
Fashion is something that shouldn’t be only about you. Your clothes might seem like a highly personal choice, but instead I would challenge you to view your wardrobe with an outward focus too and take a moment to think about how what you buy ultimately impacts the lives of those who you may not be able to see, but are affected nevertheless. And then not only think about it, but see what steps you can take to make a difference.
“Demand quality, not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it.”- Orsola De Castro
As I mentioned last week, October is Slow Fashion Month, and Fair Trade Month. I know it’s the last week, but I didn’t want the month to pass by without sharing some of my ethical fashion journey, and the reasons behind why I am building my wardrobe the way that I am. This weeks prompt is “Known Origins”. There is a story behind each and every garment tag, and usually it is a story we’ll never know. But it is those stories, and the realities that garment workers are facing around the world every day, that are shaping my wardrobe choices. It’s not always an easy journey, and sometimes I really just wish that I could throw in the towel and go and buy all the things. I do fail sometimes, making purchases that I end up regretting, because I know that they aren’t ethical purchases. Overall I have come to a point in my wardrobe, though, where I just don’t feel good about wearing cheap fashion, with unknown origins. And so, I choose to wear slow fashion whenever possible, because of the lives of the people behind the garment tags. Because, as I said before, nobody’s life is worth less than a t-shirt.