Take two very simple actions that we perform every single day: getting dressed and eating. Now start a journey backwards – to where your food and your clothes come from. At the other end, you will rarely find happy people, treated with dignity and respect. Human beings working at the bottom of any supply chain – whether is strawberry picking, prawn fishing, cotton farming, garment workers – are often treated like slaves, without reference to our common humanity. So “fashion” – i.e. what we wear every single day, has huge relevance and huge consequences on human, social and environmental capital. ~Livia Firth
When I was a young girl, I have distinct memories of clothing that was purchased new. I would gather to say the majority of our clothing was hand-me-downs or clothing from yard sales. New clothing that was purchased was pretty special. Of course, as a child I didn’t know the difference between hand-me-downs and new clothing but as I got older, it became more important. I remember in sixth grade getting a few new outfits for school: bright yellow shorts and a yellow and blue shirt that went with them, a peach shirt that matched peach and pink shorts, a purple v-neck sweater with gold buttons and black leggings.
I didn’t even know what “name brand” clothing was until middle school. Back then, the brand that was popular in my school was from The Limited and it was called Out Back Red (anyone remember that)? I remember the OBR was embroidered on the back of the neck of this clothing and girls carried their gym clothes in Limited bags. As a young, immature, wanting-to-fit-in kind of girl, I remember asking my mom if we could buy some new shirts. She bought me two turtlenecks in black and olive-green and boy did I wear them proudly. I think I even pulled my hair back the days I wore them so my OBR would stand out. Sigh…to think of my insecurity back then.
Not much has changed for young people since my middle school years. In fact, I think it’s probably gotten worse. There’s pressure to wear certain brands or labels that are popular, from shoes to jewelry to dresses and everything in between. And it’s not always about labels and stores, but it’s often about shopping and having new clothing. Or a lot of clothing. Fashion is in your face when you walk by a magazine rack, walk by any store, or watch ads. Clothing changes more than just seasonally now, have you noticed? And have you heard of “clothing haul” videos you can watch on YouTube? Seriously? No wonder young girls want wardrobes like the overly made up young girls sharing their “shopping haul.” I could seriously rant an entire blog post about these videos, but I’ll refrain.
I really never had money to buy my own clothing until I started working as a teacher after college. I loved going to the mall by myself or with a friend. I still love new clothing, although since having children, shopping trips have been less and less. It wasn’t until maybe four or five years ago that I bought new clothing at least once a year, mostly so I’d have a few new things for work. I admit there was a bit of a thrill at having something new that I loved. I used to walk into a store and love going from rack to rack. I used to love the choices, the different fabrics and styles. Even if I couldn’t afford much, I enjoyed the experience. Fashion is a way to express yourself and that makes the thrill of finding new pieces exciting.
Where I bought my clothing wasn’t something I thought about much until about a year ago. I thought that the fashion industry had issues, but I didn’t really know how much of one. And then I watched the documentary, True Cost. Life. Changing. This movie will rock your world. And if you don’t want your eyes opened, just pretend you do and watch it anyway. And while this movie focuses on fashion, it’s changed the way I look at shopping in general.
Case in point. I went to Kohl’s a few weeks ago. I loathe that store but I had some “Kohl’s cash” I needed to spend (long story why I had it in the first place), and to be honest, I really did need some summer shirts. I can’t even begin to tell you how old and worn mine are. Honestly, after I left there, I wanted to cry. Racks upon racks of clothing. Choice upon choice. Color upon color. Sales racks of “85-90%” off weighted down by the massive amount of leftovers. I thought about the fact that this is one tiny store, in one tiny town and tried not to multiply it by the thousands of Kohl’s across the country. And Kohl’s just one chain. And I’m just talking about clothing right now, nothing else. I left that day with a few tank tops and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
We’ve somehow become a disposable society. Something breaks, we throw it out and buy a new one. We’re tired of our clothing, we do the same. We have an abundance of choices at our fingertips, and honestly, most of the goods in front of us have one thing in common.
Not just cheap to buy, but cheaply made.
The few things I tried on that day, sort of just hung on my body. Seams were uneven and the material on many were so thin, no one should be wearing them without a tank underneath.
Check the country of origin on your clothing. Where is it likely made? China? Bangladesh? Indonesia?
And what do those countries have in common? Cheap labor. Factories packed with mostly women who leave their babies behind and work their fingers to the bone, collecting far less than a fair wage and can’t support their families. They are paid next to nothing so we can pay next to nothing to change our wardrobe whenever we feel like it. Our world’s supply of cotton is in danger and the cotton that is grown is mostly the GMO version sprayed heavily with toxic herbicides. Not only that, the environmental impact on our world is frightening.
Consider this (taken from True Cost’s website):
Each year across the world, 1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. These are predominantly made in countries described by the UN as the world’s least developed. All in all, the garment and textile industry is estimated to be worth some $3 trillion. And the bulk of that goes into the pockets of the owners of those fast fashion brands.
And why? Because our society wants things cheap. We don’t want to pay more for something than we have to, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we think we shouldn’t have to. We perpetuate the problem by expecting a cheap lifestyle. We support businesses who won’t pay their workers a fair wage. We shrug that finding clothing made in the USA is too hard and scoff at what it would take to fairly pay someone to sew something from scratch. We don’t think beyond seeing something on the rack to what it took to get it there.
And while I’m addressing fashion here, this has to do with everything we buy, whether a tomato shipped half-way around the world to a bookshelf you buy at IKEA to the Dollar Tree down the street.
I’m not pointing fingers here, friends. I’m guilty too. I want to get a good deal just like the next person and make the money I spend stretch as far as possible. But I’m owning up to it and becoming more aware and trying to do something about it. You can too.
We can shop small. We can find companies and businesses that support the making of clothing, jewelry, toys, personal care products, and other consumer goods in a way that’s ethical and/or supports local economy.
This is not an easy problem to swallow. It’s certainly not an easy problem to fix. It’s not going away. And it’s pretty much impossible to shop small for everything we use in our lives.
But, when we can? Why don’t we? How about we choose to say “no” to cheaply made goods when we can? Let’s try to find a small business to support when we’d like to buy something new.
With small business owners, you can talk directly to the person who designs or makes the products. You are supporting his/her family directly and the employees who work for the company. You are supporting our country’s economy when we buy products made in the USA. You support real people who can try to make a decent wage when we support fair trade companies. You support causes like ending slavery when we choose companies who are employing and training those freed from the slave trade. You support ministries and organizations when we find companies who donate to causes we care about.
Might you pay more than $4.95 for a tee-shirt when you do that? Yes. Yes you will. But when you learn a little about what that $4.95 shirt really costs, I promise you won’t want to buy it anyway.
I’ll be sharing some of these companies with you on my blog in the coming weeks and months. I’m just getting warmed up in this post. I’ll break it down more for you in the days and weeks to come, this idea of shopping small.
But for the most part, the idea is simple. Shop less, shop quality, shop small.
And even if my little bit of shopping small here and there doesn’t make a pin prick in the overall big picture, I’m taking a stand. It’s my act of rebellion. Are you willing to make it yours?
If you do one rebellious thing today, take 2 minutes and watch the trailer. Then later this week, pay 3.99 and download the movie from iTunes. You won’t regret it.