A friend confessed to me the other day how hard it is to be an ethical clothes shopper. “So many pitfalls even when I am trying to do the right thing.”
I sympathise with her dilemma. The more you know about clothes – who makes them, how the fashion cycle works, the environmental impact – the more difficult it seems to choose wisely.
As a woman (or man), trying to be ethical and secretly also wanting to look attractive in the clothes we wear, we have to find ways to buy well.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that I need to acknowledge my consumer sins and be aware of how I can take real practical steps.
I want to see clothing as pieces I can love over many years. I am old enough to have clothes that I bought 10 or 15 years that are still perfectly good and give me great pleasure to wear. So I try to buy quality that I can afford (I love shopping the sales and second hand).
I have to confess that after years of being a mum who spent money on my children before thinking of spending money on my own clothes, I have enjoyed shopping for me in recent years. And I have to be careful, especially online.
So I try not to impulse buy and I try to buy so that I replace something that is wearing out.
Some clothing companies are making a real effort to be more ethical. Baptist World Aid in Australia produces a really useful annual report which rates fashion brands on where their clothes come from, what fabrics are used and wages and working conditions for workers. This year, Zara received an A-, H&M a B+. Reports like this are genuinely making a difference – companies don’t want to be bottom of the list (transparency about suppliers has gone up 8% in one year) and consumers are demanding more information on where their clothes come from.
So check out the report (most brands are international) and support the brands that are making a genuine effort. And talk to your friends about your shopping choices based on ‘happy’ clothes.
There has been a campaign #imadeyourclothes that highlights the skills of tailors and wants to remind us that clothes workers should be given dignity and fair pay. It is impossible to produce tshirts, coats and trousers for rock bottom prices without someone being exploited. We can be stylish without being slaves to trends that last six months.
I want to live in the belief that ‘strength and dignity are my clothing’ (Proverbs 31:25) and that means not robbing someone else’s dignity to get cheap jeans.
All of us need to get off the fast fashion treadmill and buy clothing we can love and appreciate over many years, made by people who actually get satisfaction out of their work.
So I try to support local initiatives that are using fairly paid labour and which are doing the right thing.
What I can’t do is shrug my shoulders, brush off my guilt and say ‘It’s all too hard’.
I can make better choices for people and planet.
So check out ethical brands here (I know they tend to be more pricey but see if it can work for you).
Rather than contributing to the landfill nightmare of yesterday’s fast fashion, take up the mantra of Yves Saint Laurent – ‘Fashions fade, style is eternal.’
For more inspiration on being an ethical consumer, check out:
‘Consumer Detox’ by Mark Powley (Zondervan, 2010) is a wonderfully practical and non-judgemental book.
For inspiration about fashion and faith:
The Character of Fashion by Simon Ward (wb publishing, 2016) shows how fashion (in all its facets from education, design, media, retail, modelling) can be reclaimed for ethical and Godly values