I am not perfect, this is a fact I face every time I check my credit score or look in my closet. I, like most modern consumers, am guilty of enthusiastic consumerism. I have been coerced by low prices, abundance and the dopamine rush of the new. However my purchasing habits have changed in the last few years. In fact there seems to be a growing population of buyers that are becoming more conscious of the things they buy and the amount of things they need to be happy. But, for every person becoming woke to the hazards that garment production creates in our environment, in our landfills and in the life of garment workers there are infinitely more people that do not give a damn how their garments are made and whose life textile and garment production negatively affects.
I was one of those people. I am, on occasion, still one of those people. Growing up on a tight budget, going to school on an even tighter budget and living as an adult with increasing budget demands it’s easy to be lured in by knockoffs, “close enough’s”, cheap fashion and convenience. After a long 70 hour work week I’ve been known to stop off at Rite-Aid for a cheap pair of tights. And socks. And then there’s the Amazon purchases of sports bras, leggings, and tanks tops. We all, no matter how ethically minded we believe ourselves to be, have dirty laundry. ( See what I did there?)
I’m not sure anyone can claim that all their purchases fall into one or more the following categories; sustainably produced, labor adequately reimbursed and work conditions made safe, made to last a lifetime or bought second hand. How many of us can say that the entire contents of our closet can be considered ethical fashion? So what is the answer? Well we can probably start with percentages. If we can’t be ideal consumers all of the time how about part of the time? How about applying this percentage approach to brands as well? Instead of textiles increasing exponentially in landfills by the year how about we work towards a stand still? That would be a great start. How about we ban the practice of destroying and disposing of goods by companies too lazy to figure something else out? How about using just some the investment of time and money into wearable tech into making the production and recycling of textiles more efficient?
All of these small improvements made to the manufacture and consumption of clothing and accessories would be incredibly impactful. Except for the one little thing that gets in the way. Companies, brands, designers and consumers would all need to be informed of, and then admit to, the fact that there is a problem with the way we manufacture and consume fashion. Are brands going to want to say “Hey, listen, we know there’s a problem, several in fact, but what we’ll do is make 20% of what we produce fall under the guidelines of sustainably made and ethically produced.”? Probably not. Because they would then need to admit that 80% then falls into the other “not so much” categories. Right now we have brands that are either fully invested or are in no way associated with the ideals of ethical fashion. Much like a lot of other aspects of society, food consumption, politics, religion, it’s all or nothing. Because in being a “kinda something” things get complicated. Fashion businesses do not like complicated. The entire fashion industry was built around a robust history of making things easy for the consumer. From defining their brand lifestyle, their sizing, their price points and the usability of their websites. They are not interested in making things complicated by introducing ethics into the equation.
That is unless the consumer makes it clear that this will drive where they spend their money. Like any other revolution that has made lasting changes, advancements will be slow. It will take time. And because ethical production and consumption has many wheels moving concurrently it will take a sustained and consistent message. And what’s the message? You don’t need to perfect, you just need to be more informed and conscious about what you spend your money on. Just a small change in the percentage of what fills every closet can make a large impact on the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
So along with the guilt that I experience when reviewing my credit report I will suffer a little guilt every time I buy a pair of emergency tights. I want to become an ever more conscious consumer by seeking out companies, brands and designers that are doing what they can to improve the current state of affairs. I will save up for purchases. I will ask where my clothes are made. I will not buy something because I haven’t done my laundry in weeks or I just want something new.
It’s not the best I can do but it’s not the worst. I’m ok with that. For now.