Deeply Closet Series: Why Shopping Ethically Matters
While most of this series has focused on consuming less, leaning out your closet, defining your personal style and being a good steward of your discretionary funds, there's one topic we've touched on but not delved into: sustainable, ethical fashion. Thankfully, shopping consciously and ethically has become a "trend" as of late, and we're doing cartwheels because, after learning so much about the fashion industry's impact on the world, our eyes have been opened to the dangers of fast fashion.
Our hope is that this doesn't come across as condemning or condescending, but enlightening, eye-opening, and educational. For way too long, Americans have lived in ignorant bliss of the dangerous supply chain that supports their quick fashion fixes and disposable style addiction. We ALL love the feeling of a good find, and for the most part, we've been pretty ignorant as to its long-lasting consequences. My hope today is to equip you with knowledge going forward to help you understand the fast fashion supply chain and how you can play a part in reversing this trend.
Our motto here is to Love Each Other Deeply, and one of the ways we feel we can most tangibly love others is to support businesses that practice good ethics. Here's what we mean by ethical:
- They maximize benefits to the community and reduce environmental waste and exploitation
- Their practices are sustainable socially, environmentally, and commercially
- They defend fair wages for workers, eliminate toxic pesticide use in their materials, minimize waste, promote safe and healthy workplaces, abide by fair work conditions, and provide upward mobility for workers.
Before I started deeply looking into the ethical (or non-ethical) business practices of some of my favorite fashion lines, I just assumed that companies would provide this for their workers and didn't even question it. Thankfully, there is a lot of material out there to help educate you on not only what the breadth of the fashion industry's impact on the environment is, but what you can do to shop more ethically. Here's a few things you may not have known about the industry:
- The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, only behind big oil
- The global apparel market is a $3.3 trillion dollar industry, accounting for 2% of the world's GDP
- In 2014, the industry employed over 40 million people worldwide, roughly 85% of those workers are female
- China is the largest apparel manufacturer in the world, and their average hourly wage for factory workers is $0.93/hour; Vietnam is the second largest manufacturer averaging $0.52/hour
- In fact, outside of the United States and Great Britain, no other country's workers make more than $2.73/hour (Venezuela)
- The average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste per year.
- 97% of our textiles are made overseas
We could spend weeks and weeks talking about the facts and figures of the apparel industry, but if you are interested in learning more as I was when I first heard of these inequalities, here are some helpful resources:
- The documentary The True Cost (available on Netflix, more info here
- Project Just is a website that helps you learn more about the backgrounds and practices of pretty much any clothing brand you currently purchase from- especially eye-opening!
- There's a great list of books on sustainable fashion here
Lastly, I want to leave you with a few tips that you can start using today to reduce your role in fast fashion and help support companies who are looking to end the exploitation of workers and their environments.
1) Educate yourself: I really recommend picking at least one of the resources above to fully dive into the subject. Where your money is, your heart is also. Don't let ignorance drive your purchasing power.
2) Go on a spending freeze: Take some time to go through some of the practices we've outlined- clean your closet out and donate or sell your no longer wanted items. Take time to create a closet mission for yourself, and really take control of your spending habits. Use this time of analysis to not spend on more clothing and see how you feel on the other side.
3) Shop used/vintage/resale: I've heard so many (understandably) tell me that they would love to shop ethically but it's not in their budget. I hear you loud and clear. First, I would admonish, that you are probably thinking you NEED more than you do (back to point 2!) but there are other ways than shopping "new" to get your fix in a sustainable way. Shop resale, vintage, or even your friend's unwanted pile to find gems of your own! It's a great way to reduce waste and prolong the life of garments, slowing the cycle of fast fashion, and doing it all in a MUCH more budget-friendly way!
4) Give clothing the eyeball test: I hate to call out Forever 21 (because I get it, trends in a pinch!) but when you see a shirt that costs $5.80, do the math in your head. How much do you think the material cost? How about how much it costs to harvest that cotton? How about how much the garment worker gets paid hourly? Think about the bills it takes to run a factory- they have to keep the lights on, electricity running, and water flowing. With all that considered, the factory has to make a profit when sold to the wholesaler or retailer. After that, the wholesaler or retailer has to turn a profit, and they have overhead such as bills, workers, shipping and freight, tagging, marketing, advertising, etc. By the time it gets to you at $5.80, even when you consider mass production, how is it possible that ALL of those factors are being met and satisfied in a profitable and ethical way? Here's a big hint: factories and retailers like Forever 21 are going to make their money- chances are, the short end of the stick is falling to the workers themselves.
5) Support ethical businesses: We're a small and mighty bunch, those of us looking to see a change for the sustainable in the fashion industry. We're TOTAL newbies to this world, and count ourselves lucky to be working with these brave, change-making companies that want to ensure clothing is produced in a socially conscious way. One of the biggest ways we help support this initiative is to invest in Made in the USA brands. Since 97% of all apparel comes from overseas, it's important to support the businesses that buck the trend and make clothing that pays living wages to employees state-side, and who don't sacrifice quality in the process.
Let's keep pressing into this issue, and not avoiding it out of convenience. Let's do it together, and love each other well, with much patience, understanding, and support along the way. We aren't going to flip our closets over night and change all of our habits in one wave, but I think making the right choice, one purchase at a time, goes a really long way.
Thanks for sticking around for the long haul on this one. It's long because it matters to us, and more and more, you'll find us diving deeper into this and providing you with a selection of brands we stand behind. Thanks for being a reader, a supporter, and a friend of The Deeply Co.