When it comes to current media stories about ethics within the apparel industry, the overall message seems to be that everyone outside of the industry just woke up and realized that there is a person at the other end of his or her t-shirt. In fact, there were over a thousand people who were at the other end of our t-shirts that are no longer with us because of a lot of unacceptable decisions.
Any woman will tell you the power of the perfect outfit to inspire feelings of confidence in times of insecurity. Every artisan group will tell you the power of putting a face or a name of a maker to an item when it comes to selling their products in far away countries. And nearly every week, I share stories here of things from my closet that are inseparable from certain feelings and memories.
But not every piece of clothing I own generates feelings, and I bet it’s the same for your closet too. The athletic socks I wear during a workout, the old t-shirt I sleep in, the jeans that aren’t my favorite but I still wear occasionally – these are the items in our wardrobes that we hardly notice. But at the other end of each of these feeling-less pieces was someone sitting at a sewing machine and making them for us.
I struggle regularly to make sure all of my clothing purchases meet my high standards for ethical production. I walk in stores and walk out empty handed all the time now. And it is undeniably frustrating. I want clothes that are ethically and sustainably produced, but I want to feel amazing in them and I would love to avoid credit card debt in the process. And as frustrating as it is for me, after all the research I do on this subject all of the time, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the average consumer.
But among all the sadness of the recent Bangladesh tragedy and the frustration of a fruitless search for ethical clothing, I found myself feeling an unexpected but desperately needed sense of optimism and relief after receiving a package in the mail containing an organic cotton tank top, a responsibly-dyed silk blouse, and a domestically-produced knit skirt. Trying each piece on, one after the other, I was overwhelmed with feeling: “it is possible!” my gut was screaming out! I can have an “ethical wardrobe.” I know ethical fashion is the right choice objectively, but I had no idea that it could feel so good.
And you can feel this too. It’s not easy….yet. But the more that we demand it and the more that we listen to our guts that faceless companies with cheap prices and feeling-less uninspired fashion are taking us further away from creating a world we are proud to live in, the easier and more fun it’s going to be for us to shop, even if the way we shop is going to change.
I love sharing stories on This I Wear but as my own struggles have shown me, some practical help for finding ethically-produced clothing is necessary too. Stay tuned for new series on where and how to shop for stylish, budget-friendly ethical fashion.