Ethical Fashion 101
By: Shannon Haupage
Look down at the clothing you’re wearing right now. Do you ever think about where that garment started? Do you ever wonder what hands put that stitch into the sleeve of your shirt? And does that pair of hands have a family and enough money to feed and house that family?
What if I said that buying from stores like H&M and Zara solidifies the fact that these families won’t have enough money for their basic needs? Is it still worth it to shop there?
These are the realities that the world is facing, but no one is discussing.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” Here are just a few examples of fast fashion brands:
…and so many others that you can find at any local mall.
Why avoid fast fashion?
There are 2 main reasons why I avoid these brands:
The way fast fashion brands work is with smaller fashion cycles. Instead of spring/summer and fall/winter seasons, these companies use micro-seasons every week. These micro-seasons produce new trends that make consumers feel like they need to throw away what they have in order to purchase the latest trendy item of clothing. This encourages you to not only discard your clothing, but also buy cheaper garments so you can afford the next thing that comes out. The lower quality clothing items are, the faster they fall apart and are no longer wearable. According to the EPA, the US created over 16 million tons of textile waste in 2015. The fast fashion industry is a huge contributor to that number because it is set up so that you to throw out your old clothes and buy more things so they can make more money.
The awful truth about fast fashion is that these companies will do whatever they can to produce the most amount of clothing for as cheap as possible. And since there is little to no regulation on this, the companies are allowed to abuse this system. If one factory in China is offering t-shirts being made for $0.05 each, then every other company will have to meet that cost in order to be competitive. In order to meet that cost, they have to deprioritize living wages and safe working conditions for their workers. One of the most devastating examples of unsafe working conditions is the incident of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the factory collapsed and killed at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500 people. The owners of that company did not care about the safety of their workers and wanted to make as much of a profit as they could, so they ignored all the warning signs that the building was failing.
How to shop ethically?
So now that you know a little more about what goes on in the fashion industry, what can you do to avoid making the problem worse, other than avoiding these fast fashion brands? Here are a few things that I do myself that are pretty easy to integrate into your life.
This is how I get most of my clothes. Once clothes are bought from companies, they are already in circulation in the world and will continue to be until they are thrown away. Buying from a thrift shop is a great way to ensure that you don’t put new clothing into circulation by buying from retail stores while also giving old clothing a new home. I love browsing through thrift stores to find clothing that fits with my style, and I look at it as a fun challenge because it takes a little more time and care to find the exact right pieces. If I’m looking for a specific item, I like to search for it on online clothing resale stores such as Depop, Poshmark, or thredUP.
Quality vs. Quantity
When purchasing clothing, try to gravitate towards items that are higher quality versus grabbing a lot of cheap lower quality items. I have become the ultimate outfit repeater, but I am very okay with it because I have a few items in my wardrobe that I know I love and will last me a long time.
Know what you have
We all have those moments where we discover something in our closet and say “I forgot I had this!” I recommend emptying out your wardrobe at least once a year and putting your clothes back so that you are reacquainted with the items in the back of the closet or drawer that you forgot were there. This way you won’t go out and buy something that you didn’t need in the first place. It’s like shopping in your own room! When you do this, you can donate the clothes that you won’t wear and it will help you minimize your wardrobe and better understand what items you do have.
Buy from ethical brands
There are many ethical brands that have living wages for their workers and safe working conditions. This includes American-made clothing. This link is a good place to start when looking for a brand to buy from. Of course, these items are a little more on the pricey side because the cost of labor is higher, but if you can afford it and buying from an ethical brand is a priority to you then go for it!
Upcycle your clothing
Lastly, when I am going through my wardrobe figuring out what I won’t wear anymore, I like to critically see if there is anything else I can do with them before I get rid of them. I have turned shirts that have stains towards the bottom into cropped shirts, turned old jeans into shorts, and some items I don’t like very much have turned into some of my favorite clothing with a little bit of customization. Aside from customizing clothing, you can turn old t-shirts into rags for cleaning, which can help you avoid using too many paper towels. And I have turned t-shirts into handkerchiefs that I keep next to my bed instead of a box of tissues. Every time I use one I throw it into the wash and then it’s good as new! This will guarantee that your old items will have a new home because donating does not guarantee that they will get worn again.
This article only scratches the surface of ethical fashion and the shortcomings of the fashion industry today. If you want to find out more information about this topic, I highly recommend watching the documentary “The True Cost” on Netflix or checking out this YouTube channel which has a lot of good information.