The fashion world has seen numerous changes in the past three decades. Yes, our styles have evolved and ridden various waves, but I’m specifically talking about how and where our clothes are made. How our society has moved away from an ethical closet.
Way back when…and now
Let’s do a little time travel, shall we? In the 1980s, and even further back through time, United States’ factories constructed most of our clothing. However, as technology and industry have progressed, clothing manufacturing has moved overseas and most often occurs in less than ideal circumstances for the workers.
Another fairly recent change in the fashion industry is the creation of “micro-seasons.”
Yes, New York and Paris still have two “Fashion Weeks” per year, but the fast-fashion world has stepped up production to accommodate demand made by consumers. This is why when you visit stores like Old Navy, Forever 21, or Target, it seems there is always new clothing to choose from. This generates a desire for more new clothes. Which in turn causes an increase in unworn items in our closets or even garments being thrown away due to poor quality and construction. Because let’s be honest, those clothes do. not. last. long.
Clothes made at a cost
Due to social media and news coverage, over the past few years reports of overseas garment factory’s horrific conditions have been exposed. The collapse of a factory in Bangladesh lead to a wake up call for American consumers: our inexpensive clothes are being produced at a cost. Recently Amazon was under fire for utilizing “blacklisted” garment factories which provide poor working conditions, unfair treatment of workers, and an overall unsafe work environment.
Not only are the individuals who make our clothes not treated well, the impact fast fashion is having on our environment is less than ideal. Overseas factories waste fabric, materials, energy, and other resources that eventually pollutes the air as well as ends up in a landfill. Experts estimate that it takes around 7,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans. Not to mention the materials and manpower. And yet those jeans sell for $24.99.
These numbers don’t add up. Something is off and the individuals who touched that garment are, at the very least, not receiving the pay they deserve for their work.
What is a consumer to do?
So what can we do against this now money-hungry, all-powerful monster known as fast-fashion? Seems impossible, right? Wrong. Your small, imperfect steps toward an ethical closet are easier and more meaningful than you think. Just a quick aside, Forever 21 recently filed for bankruptcy and one reason the New York Times cited as their demise? The growth of interest in ethical fashion.
3 Steps toward an ethical closet
When I began my ethical fashion journey, the first thing I did was read. Not shopping. Not purging. I found articles, facts, and stats about fast fashion vs. ethical fashion and pinned them to a Pinterest board. Once you’ve read, pinned, and researched, here are 3 steps I suggest you take:
- Start by using what you already own. Go on a clothing purchase freeze for a month or two. Rework the clothes you have whether they are fast-fashion or not. Donate what doesn’t work/fit. Ethical fashion starts with you wearing you currently have in your closet.
- After you use what you have and perhaps go without purchasing clothes for a certain length of time, the next best thing to using what you already own is purchasing second hand. Not only does this aid in eliminating waste, your dollars won’t be supporting a major corporation that takes advantage of individuals in impoverished areas. In fact, many thrift stores support charities, the disabled community, worker re-training programs and so on. If you are looking for specific or higher end second hand items, look online at sites like thredUP.com or Poshmark.
- Find a handful of ethical and fair trade clothing companies you are excited about supporting. Follow them on social media. Sign up to be on their email lists. Not only will you learn about their business practices you will also get first hand notice when they are having a sale. Fair Trade fashion tends to be more expensive, however, the trade off is rewarding. Higher quality clothes made in smaller quantities by companies who value their employees’ freedom and livelihood. And because Fair Trade clothing companies value transparency, they are often more concerned about environmental impact as well.
Count the cost and send a message
We Americans are second, globally speaking, in clothing consumerism. In my perspective, that means we have so much opportunity to not only influence the culture, but to see lives all across the globe changed for the better through safe working conditions and fair treatment. Everyone deserves dignity, including those who make our clothes.
This year, I encourage you to take small, intentional steps towards using your purchase power to tell corporations two things:
- We refuse to over-consume.
- We refuse to have our clothes made at the expense of the freedom and livelihood of those who make our clothes.