We all try to be more conscientious consumers. We are willing to spend a little more for cage free eggs or fair trade coffee, but when it comes to our wardrobes, it’s difficult to know how to enact these ethical principles on an everyday basis. The apparel industry is one of the most polluting industries and also has some of the most human right violations. As a designer, I have intimate knowledge of the supply chain issues involved in the apparel industry, so today, I am writing about a few ways that you can be more ethical in your sartorial choices.
- Buy Used
As a business person, I’m not so into this one because it doesn’t benefit the economy, but as an environmentalist, I know that it is better for the earth. If we buy used stuff, we aren’t buying as much new stuff. The environmental toll of producing new garments is pretty high, from the water and chemicals used to process fabrics and finished garments, to the inherent fabric waste made when cutting clothing to fit human bodies. When we buy less stuff and create a smaller demand for new products, companies, in turn, produce less. Also, when buying used, you are keeping that piece of clothing out of a landfill.
- Buy Less
This is the same as concept #1. If you buy fewer pieces of clothing, there will be less waste. Did you know that the average price of clothing has gone down 10% since 1998?! Trade agreements made in the 90's has made clothing so cheap because it has become more price effective for companies to move their apparel production offshore. All that cheap labor comes at a price, though. The average American woman today owns 30 outfits. In 1930, that number was 9! The average American also throws away 65 pounds of clothing a year! That means that a lot of us are buying a lot of clothes we don’t need, and a lot of that clothing ends up in landfills.
- Buy Better Quality, Longer Lasting Items
If we buy less, that means we could spend more on individual items. If we buy items made from nicer fabrics in colors and styles that will suite us from season to season, while they may cost more per item, we will appreciate them more. Find a good cleaner and a good tailor to make these items last longer. This also means that we should forego the trendy fast fashion items that are so easy to purchase on a whim. These items are typically tacky and cheap anyways, and I know that you’re too smart to be a fashion victim like that.
- Know Who Makes Your Clothes and Where They Are Made
Do you know anyone who makes clothes? (Yes, I count!) Then buy from them. Buying from someone you know and trust means you’re less likely to be lied to about the working conditions of the people who made your clothing or the environmental impact of those clothes. Also, know where your clothes are made. Made in the USA is great for two reasons. One, because you are decreasing the carbon footprint of that garment because it didn’t have to be shipped across an ocean. Two, because the US has pretty strict labor and environmental protection laws when it comes to apparel production. That means that the environment was protected within the law and the people who were cutting and sewing the clothing were paid at least minumum wage (just an FYI, the Bay Area has one of the highest minimum wages and lowest labor law violations of any major apparel production region within the US…I will try to find a link to reference this but for now, it’s what someone told me.)
- Buy Eco or Fair Trade When You Can
There are a number of websites dedicated to just this…eco and fair trade companies. Fair trade is important because it brings jobs to people in developing nations in a way that doesn’t exploit them. This is just as good, if not better, than buying made in the US. Also, it might be worth it to pay a little more for organic cotton or recycled polyester since you are lowering the environmnetal impact of your purchases.
- Demand That Your Favorite Brands Do A Better Job
It’s more difficult for a large company to monitor their supply chains as diligently as a small company, like myself, but we have to ask more from them. Vote with your dollars. Don’t support companies that are known to have labor violations or are questionable (I see you, fast fashion). Also, support larger companies like Adidas and Lululemon who are trying to make their supply chains more ethical.
Overall, we all try to do our part to make the world a better place, and we will never be perfect, but we can make better choices. I hope my little guide is a good start for you to be more educated about the fashion industry and its practices. I may elaborate on these more in the future, and please let me know you thoughts and questions in the comments.
Finally, here are some great articles about clothing waste and how it's affecting our world.
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