Part 2 of my ethical shopping dilemmas-this time focussing on clothes.
I was kind of smugly thinking that by shopping secondhand, I was was neatly side-stepping any of the issues associated with ‘fast-fashion’-like child labour, and pesticide usage on cotton.
But does buying secondhand really absolve me of thinking about the materials my clothes are made from, or indeed, the people who made them?
At last week’s Big Mend in Bath, I was chatting to the inspirational lady behind the Craft Tea Party, who is in the midst of organising her wedding-a sustainable, ethical wedding-which sounds fabulous (you can follow the wedding planning live on Janine’s “Craftyactivist’s Blog”). We got to talking about clothes and ethical choices with regards to the clothes we buy. Janine then sent me an e-mail which opened my eyes even more to the ethical quagmire that is shopping for clothes. I am going to paraphrase part of Janine’s e-mail as she explains it far better than I could:
“Ethical clothing is super complicated. It combines sustainable materials (or not) – on which some retailers clearly do good stuff, but also rights for workers who gather those materials (or not) & the rights of the workers making the final garments (or not)….. and it’s not as simple as just buying second hand as the garment industry is relied on by workers in many countries, particularly women. So if the garment industry collapses, they get pushed further into poverty. Many (most) are far happier having a job and working more hours that god sends in order that they can have enough to live just above the poverty line. There’s no easy answer, but ensuring workers are treated with dignity; empowering them to stand up for their rights and campaigning on their behalf when they ask is surely at the heart of it (as well as reducing excessive consumption & fast fashion to reduce the demand for clothes at any price to the workers & the world)”
So if I know that certain retailers have poor records with regards to worker’s rights, then should I try to avoid buying their clothes, even from the charity shop?
And if I am buying all my clothes secondhand, am I effectively depriving someone somewhere of a wage (albeit a very tiny one, but a wage nonetheless)?
And even when you think a certain retailer is doing a good job, is it all just ‘green-wash’? For example, if retailers are trying to use more organic and Fairtrade cotton in their clothes, does this mean that they are also ensuring that the people making the clothes are being paid a living wage?
This practice has been banned in many countries due to the fact that it causes long-term, irreversible damage to the lungs of the people doing the sandblasting, but it still continues in other countries where these things are less well regulated.
So how do you know where your jeans were made? And if they were sandblasted by some poor unfortunate soul, who knows they are damaging their health, but desperately needs the pittance they are being paid to put food in the mouths of their children?
Thankfully, I can’t be the only one who is giving more and more thought to these issues, as the rise of ‘Slow Fashion’ demonstrates.
This article here, explains very well what ‘Slow Fashion’ is and what the Slow Fashion movement is trying to achieve. The article goes on to list and explain the ten Slow Fashion Values as they apply to the whole supply chain.
It is thought provoking stuff.
I don’t have any answers, and I am finding the whole thing is a bit like a can of worms, that now I’ve opened it, just keeps on spilling out, and making me aware of more and more issues.
I will hold my hands up and admit that in the days BMMDAMY (before My Make Do and Mend Year) I was partial to a little browse around the clothing sections of the supermarket while doing the weekly shop (I don’t get out much!) and would often snap up a bargain, or a few bits for the Smalls, but I would like to think that even when My Make Do and Mend Year finishes, if we do buy any clothes new (I would be quite happy with my ‘pre-loved’ style forever more I think, but hubby might object) I will give more thought to where the clothes have come from, what they are made of, and who might have made them.
What does everyone else do? How do you negotiate your way around the ethical minefield of shopping for clothes?