Friday, July 8, 2016

Mindful Living - Ethical Clothing

I have mentioned before about how one of my goals for 2016 is to buy less for my wardrobe. While that was kind of sabotaged by stress and weight gain the last few months, and I had to buy different sizes, I am back on the bandwagon again. Today I want to talk about being mindful in the choices of where I buy my clothes and what that means to me and my wardrobe.

Several months ago Chad and I watched "The True Cost" on Netflix. Prior to watching this, the plight of the garment workers in other countries was already on my mind, in part from some very thoughtful posts by some of my favorite bloggers, Season+Salt and Truncation. But watching the documentary was very eye opening for me.  For so many years I have bought cheap fashion, also known as fast fashion; clothes that were bought cheaply at the expense of the people who made them. Usually, these clothes are made with poor material and wear out within a season or two and then are thrown away.  Can I, in good conscious, continue to buy clothing from stores that sell this type of clothes when their workers are being mistreated, working long hours for a few dollars a day, and only seeing their children a few times each year?  The $5 I spent on the cheap t-shirt that I didn't need is two days wages for some of these people. When you think of it like that it makes you really rethink walking into the stores that sell fast fashion.

 I know some people say if we pull out of those countries where most of the fashion industry makes the clothes, the people will be even worse off than they are now.  They will no longer have a job or any income.  I agree.  But when I need to buy something new I can choose to spend my money on companies that treat their employees with dignity, pay them a living wage, and have safe working environments.

Spending (or not spending) our money where our convictions lie is crucial to making any change in the world.

If we all would make the switch, these ethical companies would grow and be able to employ more of the people who work at the less than desirable jobs. Maybe the father or mother would then be able to make a better wage so their children would not have to work and could go to school. Maybe the family could afford better food and housing. 

In addition to the plight of the garment workers, the environmental aspect of  "fast fashion" items needs to be considered.  As I said above, when I would buy that $5 t-shirt, the quality was never the greatest because of the cheap materials used, and in only one or two seasons they were usually worn out and holey.

Did you know that 13.1 million tons of textiles get thrown into landfills every year?  Many of these clothes are made with toxic dyes that seep into our ground water or made with materials that take hundreds of years to decompose. On average, each American throws away 82 pounds of textiles, every year.  

125 years ago garments were hardly ever thrown away.  Once a dress was worn out it would be cut up and the more usable pieces would be made into curtains or dish towels, smaller bits would be used for new quilts, and totally worn pieces would be made into cleaning rags or stuffing for a pillow or mattress.  Unlike now, 125 years ago materials for a new dress were way more of a woman's budget, so the woman would need to make sure the textile was a quality piece that would last throughout the year or longer.  125 years ago the average American woman only had 1 new dress a year, if that! When someone was spending so much, they wanted it to last as long as possible.

By my switching to clothing companies with ethical practices I may spend a bit more; instead of a $5 t-shirt I may spend $20.  I will need to look for high quality materials and ethical companies that are known for their quality work. Yes, it's 4 times as much, but if it's well made it could last years rather than months, making it more economical and less of an environmental impact in the long run.

Taking it a step further though.....how much of our clothing really needs to be brand new? Obviously, some things like underwear you don't want to buy used, but for me, so much of what I do buy really doesn't need to be new. There are perfectly good, high quality, sometimes even new, items in thrift or consignment stores. When I actually need something, I can choose to look for it at consignment, thrift stores, or eBay first before I purchase an item new.

And taking it one step further still,  how often do we really need to buy clothes, period?  Is it because something is worn out and needs replaced or we need it for our job or activities?  Or is it just because as Americans we shop often for no real purpose?   I am SO guilty of that....shopping without a purpose.

So what does the title "Mindful Living" mean for me and my wardrobe?  First off, it means I need to evaluate my reasons for shopping and know the triggers to avoid "stress shopping" or shopping without a purpose.  It means when I need to shop, I'll check at local consignment or thrift stores or on eBay for high quality, used items first.  It means when I do buy something new, I look for ethical businesses that pay their employees a living wage and have safe work environments.   Does this mean I will never shop at J Crew Warehouse or Old Navy again? I have learned never say never, but those will be a last resort, and if I follow the method above, I shouldn't have to shop at those stores. With this switch I won't be able to afford as many new clothes.....ethical clothing is simply more expensive upfront. What I will gain is fewer, better things; well-made clothing made by workers who make a living wage and clothing that will last for years to come and have less of an impact on our environment.

So this is my story of my journey to a more conscious way of consumerism. My encouragement to you is to become aware of where you shop and the lives of the people who produce what you wear.  Be aware of the things you throw away. Learn the facts! Ask questions! Read books! Watch documentaries! Then, if you feel the conviction I have, make the switch.

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