We’re not the first, and won’t be the last, to live through difficult times. That being said let’s not diminish the magnitude of the issues and circumstances we’re dealing with around the world. With so much going on, in governments, politics, economics, social issues, and with the natural environment it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Like… immediately. We all want to be good people and do what we can to make the world a better place but it’s almost impossible to know where to start. When something happens we’re all about marches, protests, making signs, and other crafts. After weeks, months, or longer, compassion fatigue sets in and we can’t maintain that same level of adrenaline-fueled outrage. What can we do? How do we live a life of peace, joy, and compassion for ourselves and others?
Earlier this month I read an article that made me feel that adrenaline-outrage rush. It presents the findings of a research study conducted at Ohio State University’s College of Business. The study found that when given the option people don’t want to know how their clothing is made. But that’s not all, the people who choose not to know were also much more likely to negatively judge those who did want to know about the labor practices behind the products they purchase. Furthermore, the willfully ignorant participants were then less likely to care about ethical labor practices themselves. It shows the worst kind of vicious cycle at work in our everyday purchasing habits.
Ethical shopping is just one (of oh so many) issues. But it’s one I care about and can stand in as an example for other issues as well. I know it’s hard to make awesome decisions. Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
How to care: Ethical Clothing Shopping
1. Accept that you will not single-handedly fix every issue in the world. That’s alright. You CAN improve your own behavior, and that will make you feel empowered, which in turn will motivate you to keep going.
2. Start small. When I first decided to shop more ethically I started with small, doable actions such as not buying certain brands. Start with a quick online search for the brands you buy most. If any of them stand out as being egregiously unethical cut only those brands out of your shopping habits.
3. Find alternatives. Use the Detox the Catwalk site and Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan to find better brands to buy instead. Use the SpendRight site to buy better according to the causes you value most.
4. Buy quality and consume less. One of the best things we can all do for the world is consume less things, in every category. Don’t get me wrong, I have TONS of things in my house. But I do everything I can to make sure they are things I love, that add value to my life, and I try to dispose of them in the best way when they no longer serve their purpose. When possible purchase things that are really meaningful and that you’ll want to enjoy for many years. Always get the best quality you can afford. Rather than buying six $5 tees, get one or two better quality ones that will last longer. You’ll save money in the long run, and fewer garments means less water pollution and less material in landfills.
5. Have some trustworthy sources for the causes you care about. I don’t advocate spending days and days googling every piece of information on a topic. That’s a recipe for burnout. I really liked the documentary The True Cost for information and stories about the clothing industry. It shows the real life consequences of our everyday actions, in a non-judgemental way.
6. Learn new skills. I wasn’t born shopping ethically, and for many years I bought only what I liked best and was cheapest. When I started knitting and sewing I realized how much time, effort, and skill goes into the creation of a simple garment or accessory. For example a hand-knit scarf takes about 20 hours to make, a sweater about twice as long. So when you see that type of item in a store for a low price you can calculate how little the person who made it was paid per hour of their labor. When you choose to make instead of buying you know exactly what the labor conditions are, you get to customize the design, materials, and colors, and you get something you could never buy at a fast fashion store: the feeling of personal accomplishment for making something you can wear and also for making the world a little bit better place.
These steps could be applied to any issue that you choose. What are your values? Use them to guide you. Start small, choose just one issue to start with. It could be labor practices, minerals, food production, product life cycle (what happens to products when they are thrown out as trash), human and civil rights. There’s so much we can each do to make the world a better place. Don’t judge others. You’ll have your core issues and someone else will have different ones. That’s a GOOD thing. That way ALL issues will be resolved, together, and with some down time for everyone. Use the time to get together with your friends, be there for them about the causes they support and speak up for yours.