I've wrestled with writing this post for weeks, so I want to start with a disclaimer. I have been on quite the journey over the past three years and it's taken every bit of those three years to get me to the place I'm at today, where I'm committed to buying only ethically made or secondhand items. It didn't happen overnight, and I'm in no way saying you, dear reader, should embark on the same journey. I really struggled with even sharing this post during this series, because this is the internet and things can get misconstrued, and it is never my intention that you feel guilted, shamed or judged for where you shop. The Lord has captured MY heart on this topic and led ME on this journey and has convicted ME in this particular way. I have no idea what things look like for you, and I don't want you to feel like I'm saying my way is the best or the right way. If by the end of this post or this series you're simply thinking differently about fashion, if you continue to shop where you shop but maybe pause when you see the country of origin on the tshirt tag, if you simply say a prayer for the people in the garment industry, I consider this a success. That is my heart. It is my heart that people feel convicted, but never guilted. Fired up to maybe make a change but never shamed for where they're starting. I wish we could sit down over coffee and chat about this in person so you could hear my tone and my passion, but we can't. So I hope this post bridges that gap in the most gentle and non-confrontational way possible.
The beginnings of my journey to ethically made fashion really start with my 2010 mission trip to Haiti. I was in college and spent my spring break hanging out with kids and families in a village in northern Haiti. They were poor - so poor. But oh, they were joyful. So joyful. I remember when I came home from that trip, and I went to Wal-Mart in my college town, and as soon as I walked through the doors, I wanted to cry. Enough food in this one store, enough clothes in the men's section alone, to feed and clothe the entire village I'd just been with. I remember feeling sick about the excess in our country, in my own life. I had so much, SO MUCH, and yet was constantly trying to acquire more, more, more. For a 20-year old college student, these were big feelings to wrestle with.
A few years later, I read "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" by Jen Hatmaker, and it wrecked me. So many lines jumped out at me, but these two in particular were laser beams straight to my privileged, materialistic heart.
"What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can't manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand times that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us."
"The day I am unaware of my privileges and unmoved by my greed is the day something has to change."
I decided after reading this book that our lifestyle had to change. We had just moved into a house from an apartment and gained 400 square feet, and after just 6 months of living here, I already felt like the house was too small. It was ridiculous. Something had to change. Around the same time, I discovered Unfancy and decided to experiment with a capsule wardrobe. Pretty soon after that, thanks to a combination of pregnancy nesting and this newfound desire to be a minimalist, I Kon Mari'd our entire house and got rid of well over 60% of our belongings. Maybe even 75% now. It was amazing. I felt so light.
And yet. When I did buy a new item of clothing, I bought it from Target. I still stress-shopped. There was still way too much coming into our home. So in April of this year, when Nancy Ray announced she was doing another Contentment Challenge, I decided to do it with her. The Lord had been asking this of me for months, and I kept putting it off, saying I didn't really need to do that. But I did, and He knew it was going to be for my good.
Those three months of not shopping were so eye-opening. I did a ton of reading about the fashion industry and where our clothes are made. I broke free of the chains of materialism and felt freedom from the compulsion for MORE and BETTER. And when the three months were up, and I struggled with how to shop again without undoing all the benefits of the fast, the answer became crystal clear one day in prayer: I was only going to buy ethically made or secondhand clothing items from now on. The answer was so simple to me, after months of learning about the ugly truths of the fashion industry and how we as consumers keep it going.
The fact is that my wants and whims cannot sacrifice another human's dignity.
When I face Jesus on judgment day, I want to say without reservation that I did my best on this Earth. And shopping at H&M, for me, is not my best. As Daniel Tiger says 500 times in the episode Xavier's been watching on PBS, "do your best, your best is the best for YOU." Because I KNOW the facts about the fashion industry, because I've educated myself about where mainstream clothes come from, because I've seen firsthand the devastation to families when mothers and fathers aren't paid a living wage, and contrary to that, the redemption and hope and long-lasting change that comes when families ARE paid a living wage, I cannot stand idly by. I cannot hide behind my ignorance. I cannot pretend I'm unaware. My personal best is not supporting an industry that keeps people - women especially - in bondage, that sacrifices their basic rights and dignity.
We live in a fallen world, and so there's no way to live perfectly in it. You might be saying okay, so you shop fair trade. But what about your cell phone parts that are manufactured in terrible working conditions in Africa? What about the puffs you feed Xavier, which are made by Nestle, which is one of the most notorious companies for human rights violations in the world? I know. I know. It burdens me. Everywhere we turn in this world, there are people taking advantage of other people just to make a buck or get ahead. It weighs on me constantly. But for me, not being able to do everything is not a reason to do nothing. As Saint Theodore Guerin, whose feastday was celebrated this week, said, "We are not called upon to do all the good possible, but only that which we can do."
I cannot do all the good in the world. I cannot fix every industry, take every corrupt business out of power, save every marginalized human. But I can do this. I can put my dollars into businesses who are upholding human dignity. I can choose to take myself out of the materialism race. I can not give in to every fleeting whim and want of my heart and practice discipline. And I can share why.
In today's day and age, it can feel like we're powerless. Like our votes don't matter, politicians are all corrupt, and nothing is ever going to change. But I believe we vote for the kind of world we want to live in with every dollar that we spend. By supporting fair trade and ethically made companies, or buying secondhand, you're voting for human dignity, human rights, family preservation, orphan prevention, and a thousand other things. You're voting for change.
I know shopping ethically made and/or secondhand can be overwhelming, so in the next couple posts I'm going to be breaking that down for you. Sharing tons of resources, tips and tricks for getting the most bang for your buck while supporting companies who are doing things differently, and therefore supporting people - real, live people with families and dreams and goals and hopes - who are on the other end of the clothes we wear.
I hope you're inspired, uplifted, and encouraged this morning. I want to end with a quote from Saint Teresa of Calcutta, one that has always stuck with me when feeling burdened by this world:
"If we have no peace, it's because we've forgotten that we belong to each other."
We belong to each other, you and I. You and the garment worker in Bangladesh. Me and the cotton picker in Uzbekistan. We belong to each other. And it is my goal to live like it.