Recently I hit up a local vintage sale ‘Worth The Weight’ Vintage and thought what could be a better time to talk a little about ethical fashion and how the way I shop has shifted over the past year.
I’d always heard about the ‘sweatshops’ that some clothing was made in and the rumours of children being forced to work in factories, but I was disconnected from the harsh reality that our minds sometimes prefer to skim over; from the truth of the suffering that occurs at the expense of our taste, or convenience, or because of societal norms that have been constructed over years. Just like I was aware of the other acts of inequality that still exist or are even viewed as ‘normal’ in the world we live in, I knew that some dodgy stuff sometimes went down in the production of our clothing that fills the high street stores, but I didn’t know enough about what went on - I never really thought about it deeply, it never bothered me - buying clothes from the high street was normal, and something everyone did.
UNTIL, IN JANUARY THIS YEAR, I WATCHED THE DOCUMENTARY ‘THE TRUE COST’.
And I was horrified. My desire to live compassionately not only affects my food choices and how conscious I am of my environmental impact, but has been something, that when I think about it, I have strived to do since a young child. I was taught to always endeavour to treat others with love and kindness - in the same way in which you’d like to be treated yourself. I would be ready to call out racism, sexism, homophobia - any acts of inequality that I see, so how, after learning the truth about the fashion industry, could I let this one be swept under the rug?
SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH FAST FASHION?
I would definitely recommend watching the documentary mentioned, because it explains everything much better than I will, but I’ll try and condense the main points that hit me.
The workers are treated terribly. From working conditions, to the wages they’re paid - less than a living wage - everything about the environment is less than humane.
It promotes a consumeristic mindset. The whole fast fashion industry is built upon the want of the public to keep up with trends; companies thrive off the influence they have on people, especially the younger generation, who don’t want to feel left behind or any less ‘cool’ than their peers. It encourages the idea that self-worth and self-acceptance are only things that can be found in the external, by changing your appearance or accumulating more/newer items.
It contributes to the idea that things are disposable, when in reality, there is no such thing as ‘getting rid’ of something. Cheap clothing websites have become increasingly popular - I know I’ve been sucked into the sales and the student deals. Ironically, it’s the cheapest fashion that has the highest cost on our world - whether that be the human treatment or the environmental factors. Buying a cheap dress you know you’ll only wear once to a party before you pass it on, a top that is made badly with cheap fabric that will rip and cause you to ‘bin it’, the online shopping spree before your trip-away in the summer - I know i’m guilty of all things similar to these. There’s nothing you can do about past mistakes, but there’s nothing stopping you becoming conscious of your impact.
Environmental issues - the clothing industry is the second-highest polluter of clean water (Institute of Sustainable Communication), is responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions (Forbes.), I could go on with the facts, but I think you get the picture.
SO HOW CAN WE SHOP MORE ETHICALLY?
You’ll be pleased to know that there is an abundance of sustainable clothing brands out there, however these can be a bit out of budget for most of us, as the true price of clothing, reflecting its quality and ethical production is a lot higher than you might expect. However, there are still a lot of alternatives out there, that make ethical fashion a lot more accessible - in essence, to me it means being more mindful of my consumerism, and I view it as spending less money by simply buying less, rather than spending more.
I love Vintage clothing - not just because of the 70’s and 90’s styles that have been making a comeback in the last couple of years, but because this kind of fashion is arguably one of the most beneficial for our planet. Upcycling clothing pieces rather than letting them go to landfill; giving them a new lease of life when the trends deemed them as ‘out of fashion.’ Whilst vintage shops are great, and you can often finding me browsing my favourite ones in the West end of Glasgow, my favourite way to shop vintage is by attending events.
Worth The Weight Vintage, the event I attended in glasgow, is a vintage wholesale company that runs sales around the UK, where you can buy clothing by weight. Many vintage shops, although great, can be pretty pricey - so attending these events are a great way to shop ethically in a way that is kind to your pocket! (Stay tuned for a haul of what I found at the event!)
Searching charity shops, or ‘thrifting’, depop, ebay… as easy as it sounds!
MINIMISE HIGH STREET USE
Try only to buy items you know you’ll have long-term and that you can’t find elsewhere - for example, you might struggle to find jeans due to size and shape, and although you might have to buy them new, they are an item you’ll have for the foreseeable future, unless you grow out of them.
...My wardrobe is your wardrobe, amarite??
But most importantly…
QUESTION BEFORE YOU BUY
Do I need or want this item? - what do I already have in my wardrobe, is it something I’m missing or need for a particular event/job etc, do I want to add another material item into my life?
If I recognise it as a want rather than a need, I take into account the intention behind it. What would I gain from this item - is it something that I’m wanting because wearing the item would make me feel good/allow me to express myself through fashion, or is it a superficial want ‘to feel good’ that is actually masking inner discomfort or low self-esteem that would be better addressed in a less consumeristic/materialistic way?
A LEAVING MESSAGE:
When it comes to living more consciously, it is not about perfection. It is simply about trying your best with the circumstances you have. It’s about the intention - the time spent looking in your local charity shop, even if you ended up having to buy something new. Every little effort, every positive and hopeful thought or action creates a bigger picture; one where we are treating our world - the people in it and the earth we walk on a little better. So don’t beat yourself up about the ‘mistakes’ you make or the things you could do better - focus on the good, on the things that are achievable FOR YOU.
About the Author - Alex