I’m an 80’s kid. I grew up in the world of fast fashion. As a child I wore what was bought for me. As a teenager I used my pocket money and then wages to buy high street fashion. As a student I dabbled with many styles but pretty much always bought from the cheap high street chains. The idea of a capsule wardrobe was completely alien to me. If I needed a fancy dress outfit, a ball dress, a seasonal change of clothes, I would think nothing of wondering into Exeter town centre and purchasing what I ‘needed ‘with fairly little cost. Monetary cost that is. My wardrobe was vast with stuff, yet empty with personality.
Now I’m nearing my 30’s. I’m fairly settled in my fashion choices, I know what suits me and what doesn’t and I prefer to buy clothes that will last many years in both quality and style. That doesn’t mean I spend huge amounts of money though. I often charity shop, ebay or vintage shop for what I’m after. I don’t mind waiting till I happen across it rather than rushing out immediately and scouring every shop and then end up settling on something that maybe wasn’t quite right after all.
I am a careful consumer, I don’t often impulse buy and if I do, it’s for something truly fantastic, (or a pair of shoes that actually fit my giantess feet.) Careful budgeting is a personal choice. It doesn’t address the issue of being an ethical consumer, which has become a big topic for me this week.
We’ve all seen or heard about the terrible Rana Plaza factory disaster which happened last year, the BBC posted this article of stories of survivors a year on. They are all struggling. We are still buying fast fashion. Fast fashion which has proven to be lethal. Lethal not to us, the consumer, but to those labourers who are forced to keep up with our demand, by companies whose only interest is in profit margins and certainly not the safety and welfare and wellbeing of their exhausted workforces.
I saw a post on Facebook about a girl who bought a primark dress with a plea for help stitched into the dress. The article can be found here. The plea was “forced to work exhausting hours.”
What was the purchasers reaction? To state that she was so appalled that she couldn’t wear the dress again and it had got her thinking about cheap fashion and how it was made. Fantastic! The label had done it’s job and I think this particular person will definitely reevaluate her shopping choices next time round. Plus as it has been shared on social media and picked up by the newspapers there is an even greater awareness and I think more labels may now have been found in other primark clothes. (Primark are apparently investigating but they haven’t released anything informative at the time of this post.)
As great as this is and as much as this may get us thinking about cheap fashion, I can’t help but find it terribly sad that our society has reached this point. That we seemingly have no ability to identify the source of our products as consumers and take some responsibility for it. That we have to be reminded by something as shocking as this label to take action against such exploitation against labourers. To me that plea was saying, “STOP. Stop buying this cheap product. Something this cheap cannot be made ethically. Please stop and think about how much power you have as a consumer.”
So I’ve made a vow to myself. I’m not a perfect consumer. I’ll be honest. I have a serious lack of time. I don’t have the ability to lobby companies and drum up lots of publicity and take this on as a cause. I have an 11 month old and a job. at 7:30 when my daughter goes to bed I can barely string a sentence together, (or hang up the washing straight) but I CAN and I WILL do better as an individual consumer. I can be more ethical and I can have a positive impact by making good choices and teaching my daughter as she grows up to do the same. Fast fashion = Dangerous Fashion! So here is is what I have been working on:
I have gone through the contents of my whole wardrobe (summer season, I’ll do my winter stuff too when September comes) and categorised everything. I now know how many dresses/trousers/shorts/tops/long sleeves/jumpers etc etc etc I have in my possession and I can see them all at a glance instead of having to dig around in a never ending pile of textiles. This means that not only is putting an outfit together a much easier task but I also know if there are any genuine garment gaps in my wardrobe – no more doubling up!
This might not seem like a big deal, but I feel I have much more control over my fashion. I counted all my garments and was very pleased to note that about 70% was actually second hand/vintage or slow,ethical fashion. Plus the majority of the 30% high street fast fashion I own was purchased during pregnancy or the breast feeding months and was mostly Marks and Spencers Fairtrade clothing, which I don’t feel too bad about. So it seems I’ve been gradually heading towards this point for some time, without consciously acknowledging it.
The more taxing bit will come when I want to add to, or change parts of my wardrobe. So I’m vowing to myself that I will only buy ethical brands that have proven track records in both their labour and environmental policies. I’m also going to work hard towards being able to make my own clothes properly so that I can reduce the need for high street as much as possible.
Hurrah, moral compass pointing at excellent. But wait, what about my daughter Penny. Hum. I can’t do all these wonderful moral things for myself and then pop into Gap for her clothes. I definitely don’t have the time to make all of her clothes and why would I when she’ll be out of them in the blink of an eye. I definitely cannot afford to buy organic ethical clothes for every season either (trust me, I’ve done the research.) Luckily my steely determination to save money at every turn means I have already been buying second hand clothes since she was born. Each season/growth spurt I pop on ebay and buy a bundle of clothes from other parents wanting to declutter and make a bit of cash. This isn’t a perfect system because I do end up with some clothes that I don’t really want or need for Penny and mostly the clothes are still high street made. BUT I am not the original purchaser, so the big fat companies are not making any profit from me personally, clothes that already exist are being kept out of the landfill AND other parents are getting some money back in their wallets. To be honest 90% of what I’ve got in the bundles so far may be second hand but babies grow so fast that the clothes are hardly used. So on the whole I think it’s a win. When I’m done with them, whatever is still in good condition I will resell on ebay and the rest I’ll recycle or up cycle.
I think this is the best I can achieve as an individual consumer at this point in time. Have you changed your consumer habits recently? Has this inspired you to make changes? I hope so, for the sake of the unnamed labourer who reached out to her western counterparts for help by stitching a label into a piece of fast, dangerous fashion that she was forced to make.
Until next time and thanks for reading