Did you know that the clothing industry is the second leading cause of pollution? The oil industry is the first. I heard that surprising statement on the Slow Your Home Podcast on conscious capitalism and ethical shopping.
The True Cost Documentary (now on Netflix)
Curious to know more, I watched one of the documentaries mentioned in the podcast called The True Cost, which delves into what the true cost is for everyone involved in manufacturing cheap and fast fashion. The biggest impact, of course, is on the garment workers and their countries, countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The documentary is really well done. The interviews are interesting and varied – from following a garment worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh to fair trade fashion brand People Tree. Safia Minney, the Founder and CEO of People Tree is amazing and inspiring.
One of the most eye opening statements for me personally came from the interview with Mark Miller, PhD, Professor of Media and Culture at NYU:
“[referring to an older article on consumptionism]…there are two kinds of products. The kind that you buy and use for a long time (like cars and washing machines), and the kind that you use up (like chewing gum, cigarettes, and other perishables). Consumptionism is all about getting people to treat the things they use as the things they use up.“
My personal fashion history
If you know me personally or have been reading this blog with some regularity, you will know that I am not a fashion blogger. I rarely speak about clothing here on the blog except when I’m decluttering my wardrobe with the KonMari Method! The reason for that is that I’m not concerned with fashion trends (read here: I’m lazy).
- I don’t enjoy the shopping experience.
- I get most of my clothes as hand me downs from my older sister.
- I wear things for comfort first.
- I wear the clothes I find comfortable and presentable forever – until they’re falling apart or get stained.
The times when I buy new clothing, I’m usually buying for my sons. My oldest son is “growing like a weed” and seems to grow out of clothes within a matter of weeks. My automatic instinct is to buy cheap because he’s going to grow out of the clothes quickly and my second son probably won’t want to wear them because he has a different style.
My strategy in the past has been to wait for sales at Old Navy, Gap, or shop at a discount store to get $10 jeans or $5 shirts for my sons. The documentary has opened my eyes to the long lasting harm that those decisions of convenience make on garment workers around the world.
So given that we all need to buy new clothing at some point, how do we make ethical and responsible decisions when we do buy clothing? What intentional decisions can we make today with our clothing choices?
Next Steps We can all take for ethical shopping
Livia Firth, executive producer of The True Cost, asks readers to ask a simple question before buying a piece of clothing – “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”
Initially that seemed like a silly question to me. Of course one would wear a piece of clothing at least 30 times if they bought it, but given the earlier definition of “consumptionism,” our clothes have become things to be used up (and thrown out/neglected in our overflowing closets/or donated) rather than used or worn on a regular rotation.The most important thing is that we make conscious clothing decisions, fully aware that our decisions have impact. Click To Tweet
Next Steps I Commit to (as the main buyer in our family):
Our family will continue and start to:
- use hand me downs (this is mostly for my youngest son and me!)
- shop local thrift stores for secondhand clothes (although I did mention I hate to shop – and this extends to thrift stores)
- shop ethical brands, mostly off season when their clothes are discounted
- Resources I’ve found that can help us do that: Not My Style “that will tell you how much your favourite fashion brands share about how they treat the women and men who make our clothes” and Cladwell a website that will help you develop a capsule wardrobe. I signed up for their free color quiz and it turns out I’m “deep winter”!
- Participate and maybe organize a clothing swap. I’ve participated in two of them in the past and they are great ways to purge your closet and add a few new pieces to your wardrobe.
Starting a capsule wardrobe
I’ll be going through my clothes again now that the weather is officially staying cooler. I’ve decluttered my clothes about a year ago. This time around I’ll be intentionally developing a capsule wardrobe for the season. Courtney Carver’s Project 333 and Caroline at Unfancy are two inspirations in the capsule wardrobe movement.
Whether you enjoy buying clothes on a weekly basis or only buy sporadically online, we can all bring more mindfulness to our clothing purchases, remembering that the true cost of an item isn’t reflected in the price tag.
What’s one action you can commit to? Do you know of other resources that can help us make conscious consumer decisions? Please share them!