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!
Abby @ WinsteadWandering says
This is so eye-opening. I wish ethical clothing brands were more accessible to those on strict budgets because I buy most of my kids clothes on clearance at the end of each season. I am all about hand-me-downs, though, and I think a clothing swap is a great idea!
I agree with you Abby. They are pricier (but for good reason as we’re learning!). I did notice though that ethical fashion brands like People Tree’s sale prices are equivalent to clothes at regular prices. I would definitely go with the clothing swaps and hand me downs as a top option if they’re available to you!
Melinda Mitchell says
Angela, this is great. I’m glad you are becoming more conscious about your impact.
I wear stuff till I grow out of it, (either way), or untill it’s so stained, I’m too ashamed to wear it anymore!
We’re definitely similar in wearing things until they’re ready to be turned into rags! I’m definitely not looking at clothes the same as before I heard the podcast or watched the documentary, which I think is a really good thing as well. I hope it will do the same for others as well, so we can all make small changes.
Christy King says
I tend to wear stuff until it falls apart, too. Some stuff just isn’t for leaving the house (or only in the dark to walk the dog). Totally not approved by Marie Kondo, but it seems less wasteful to wear it out.
I try to buy second hand clothes, but almost never find pants. I have a lot more success with tops.
Hey Christy! Some of my “at home” clothes definitely spark joy (because of the comfort factor) so I think Marie Kondo would approve. 😉 I agree that pants are really hard to find secondhand due to the length issue (for me). I’m going to try more local second hand shops though if I do need anything, especially for my sons.
I was the manager of a small,charitable thrift shop in a small Midwestern city (pop. 12,000). The amount of clothing which we received was mind blowing. Bags and bags and bags full. As I said, it was a small thrift shop. The town had another small thrift shop and a good sized Salvation Army which also accepted clothing. We would sort into salable or not salable (soiled/stained, torn, worn, pilled, inappropriate, etc) The later group was sorted into cotton or knitted articles which were given to our local Hutterite communities which would recycle them into shop rags, rugs, knitted items, saving buttons and zippers to reuse also. We donated the unsalable towels and blankets to a lady to made them into dog beds for the local animal shelter. Anything unsalable aft that was sent to a Goodwill Shop in a larger city that could sell it by weight for paper/ insulation making. As a charitable thrift shop we sold the clothing for very little or simply donated it to people who were in need. We would frequently offer $2.00 bag sales on clothing and shoes. ( we would pack the bags as if they were carry-on luggage?) Many of our customers are low income families so these sales are very popular. Even with all this, we still have more clothes than we can sell so we share with other charitable thrift shops in larger cities, homeless shelters, and reservations.
We try not to throw out anything and are grateful for our generous donors.
Wow Sheila! I’m so impressed by how responsibly your thrift shop handled the donations you received. I hope that every thrift store is so creative and resourceful. I’ve been donating our older sheets and blankets to our local animal shelter and my relatives have a clothing recycling day in their municipality that I save all of our torn and ragged clothing. Thank you so much for sharing!
Great post. Thank you for sharing with us at #HomeMattersParty . See you again next week.
Great tips! Thank you for sharing with us at the #HomeMattersParty
The Rambler says
Wow. GREAT Post! You made me remember growing up with my single mom and sisters and sharing clothes amongst family members until the clothing had exhausted all life. That quote about consumption really made me wide eye the screen. If I go to my closet, I can say with guilt that there are some things not used 30x (sad face). Off to watch that documentary on Netflix! Found you via Happy Now Linky Up.
Lisa @ Fun Money Mom says
That documentary sounds fascinating and I’m definitely going to check it out. I never really thought about the other side of things when I buy cheap clothes. Thanks for sharing with us at Share The Wealth Sunday!
Me too Lisa- it’s easy to forget when we live such a distance from where the negative effects are happening. The documentary was excellent – you should watch it!
Those cheap clothing retailers are so tempting…especially when you spend most of your time getting drooled on or soiled by your kids. I wish that ethical clothing was less expensive or hard to find with limited time. Thanks for providing this eye-opening information and for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!
I know Leslie! Buying cheap clothing is tempting for me when I’m buying for my two older sons. They’re growing so fast I don’t necessarily want to buy them new clothes! But going to try and locate a good second hand store for them and me!