Starting next week, I'm going to be diving into the ethical side of this series on minimalist fashion: my reasons for making the switch to ethically produced garments, some great sources for ethical shopping, how to be ethical with kids' clothes, etc.
But first, I wanted to shed light on some truths about the fashion industry, and define some of these terms that get thrown around like "fair trade" and "ethically produced" and "sustainably made." Similar to the buzzwords in the food industry ("organic", "all-natural", etc.) they can be confusing if you're unfamiliar.
To start out, a few truths about the fashion industry in today's world.
There are now 52 "buying seasons" per year. Whereas there used to be two buying seasons back in the day: spring/summer and fall/winter, then four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter), now each week of the year represents a new "buying season" for brands and retailers. This is why you feel off trend just three weeks after popping into the mall - this is exactly how these brands and retailers WANT you to feel. Studies show that women now wear an item just SEVEN TIMES before tossing it, and consider an item "old" after just a few wears. This is crazy!!
Clothing is made to fall apart. Did you ever read Little House on the Prairie books? I was always amazed at the way the Ingalls girls would carefully craft a garment out of fabric by hand, then when they needed a new dress, they would "turn out" their old dress by ripping out the stitches and making it into something new. The reality is that that kind of quality in our garments is hard to come by these days. We accept that our clothes are going to fall apart, fray, get those annoying teeeeeny little holes where they snag on the edge of our jeans right below the belly button. And we shrug it of because, oh well, tshirts are only $4 at H&M. They're cheap enough that we don't expect or need them to last longer than one season. In fact, clothes are DESIGNED to fall apart after a certain number of washes, because it requires you to buy more. The term for this is "planned obsolescence", which is when garments wear out or otherwise lose their shape, forcing us to buy replacements. Part of the blame for this is on the creators of such clothing, but a large part of the blame falls to us, the consumers, because since clothes are inexpensive, we keep our expectations low.
Americans spend thousands of dollars per year on clothing. Those $5 Target tees and $3 H&M leggings add up. Add up to $1,700 dollars, which is what the average American spent on clothing in 2010. One of the biggest arguments to buying ethically made is that it's expensive. And it's true! I would guess that the average price of an ethically produced garment is around $60. I am completely speculating here. So with $1,700 to spend over the course of a year, you could only buy 28 new items. I would guess that most people buy FAR more than 28 items in the course of a year. You might be thinking "just 28 pieces all YEAR? I buy 28 pieces per MONTH!" The thing with buying ethical, though, is that those pieces are going to last. You might only buy 20 pieces all year. But they're going to retain their quality, so you can buy ANOTHER 20 next year, if you want. And again the next year. It's ending this buy-and-toss mentality that we have grown so accustomed to.
Beading and intricate detail often indicate child labor. I was shocked to read in this article about this fact, but it makes sense. Machines that sew beads and intricate details like sequins onto clothing are expensive, so instead much of that work is done in people's homes, where they enlist the help of their children and are not paid well for their effort. It makes the $10 sequin shrug a lot less appealing when you take ten steps backward up the supply chain and know the dark side that's likely behind all those glitzy beads.
American women today own four times as much clothing as they did in 1980. I can't even imagine how much bigger our wardrobes are than the women who lived in the 40s and 50s. And yet, we look to those women as style icons, as women who were always dressed to the nines and very well-groomed.
A GLOSSARY OF FASHION TERMS
These are some terms you might come across as you look for ethically made items.
Fast fashion: emphasizes optimizing certain aspects of the supply chain so catwalk trends can be designed and manufactured quickly and inexpensively to allow mainstream consumers to buy current clothing styles at rock-bottom prices
Ethically made: a garment that is made in a way that the design, sourcing and manufacturing maximizes benefits to people and prioritizes human dignity (fair wage, safe working conditions) and minimizes the impact on the environment.
Sustainably produced: “[to meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Fair-trade: trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries. If something is certified "fair trade" it means due diligence has been done to ensure the supply chain and every step of the manufacturing process from raw material to finished garment is in line with these practices.
Recycled fibers: some ethical clothing companies use recycled fibers, which means material that is cast-off from other factories, or previous garments have been taken apart and used to provide the material.
WRAP: Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production. This is an independent agency that, according to their website, is "dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing around the world through certification and education." Companies that use factories that are WRAP certified are generally good companies to buy from because it means there is oversight on these factories to ensure safe working conditions for the employees.
FLA: Fair Labor Association. According to their website, the FLA is "a collaborative effort of socially responsible companies, colleges and universities, and civil society organizations, FLA creates lasting solutions to abusive labor practices by offering tools and resources to companies, delivering training to factory workers and management, conducting due diligence through independent assessments, and advocating for greater accountability and transparency from companies, manufacturers, factories and others involved in global supply chains."
Organic cotton: cotton that is grown from non-genetically modified plants, that is to be grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides. (*A note about cotton: a TON of cotton used in the garment industry comes from Uzbekistan, which is notorious for using slave labor and child labor to pick the cotton that is used. To avoid garments that are made from Uzbek cotton, do your research. Google the brand you're buying from to see if they use Uzbek cotton. This list is a good place to start.)
A note about "corporate responsibility" or "social responsibility" statements
Many big brands nowadays have a page on their website mentioning their "corporate responsibility" statement or something similar. These statements usually include vague language about how the brand complies with all laws where their clothes are made. However, these statements are usually vague and filled with flowery language to make you FEEL like their clothes are being made in an ethical way; most often, they are not. If a company is truly producing garments in an ethical way, they will be upfront about it. They will say where the item is made (if the item's description says simply "import", that's a bad sign) and they will state whether their factories are WRAP-certified, etc. Don't be fooled by vague "social responsibility" statements that are all fluff!
Okay, whew. Doozy of a blog post. I'm excited next week to dive into WHY I made the shift from fast fashion to ethical produced, and the things that convicted my heart to pursue this with very little exception. I'm excited! Hope you're still hanging with me on this series, and in case you need to catch up, here are all the previous posts below. xo!