Two months ago I started a capsule wardrobe, which you can read about here. My goal was to keep the selection of clothes and shoes I wore for three months to 35 items.
Well, now I’m reporting back on what I have learnt from this experience. I’ve previously read and thought a bit about ethical fashion but during this fashion fast from our consumer habits of fast fashion I did more research about the true costs of cheap clothing.
I’m a student on a budget, so previously I have been all about the cheap deals. A t-shirt for $5? Yes please. Nice dress for $20? Winner. But the reality is, it takes more than $5 (or should) to make a t-shirt. If I wasn’t paying the full cost of the materials, labor and shipping involved in the production of my clothes, it meant someone else was paying that cost instead.
Often, it’s the most vulnerable people who are paying that cost. The underpaid cotton pickers. The workers forced into working for a wage so low it’s essentially slavery. I know this. I knew this when I was buying mass produced cheap clothes, yet I still bought the $10 jeans.
The ugly truth is that I didn’t and don’t, particularly want to pay more for the clothes I wear. I wanted ethical fashion at an unethical price. I cared, but not enough to change my habits and to let it hurt me where it counts – my bank balance. Paying more for clothes meant less money for other things. Less outings with friends. Less coffees to assist my assignment writing. Less of the other things I like to waste my money on.
So why fight this battle? Why make this moral dilemma the hill to die on?
It’s true that there are a lot of problems in this world. Most days, it feels hard to know which battles to fight. Which causes are most worthy of my attention?
So I could give up. I could say that one person will never make a difference, and so it doesn’t matter how I spend my money and what clothes I buy. But the reality is that I would still be funding the greed of this companies and allowing workers to be taken advantage of. I would still be giving my hard earned money to a cycle of poverty I am morally opposed to.
So I am trying to make better choices. Partly because I want to change the system, but also partly because I need to be able to sleep at night, and I can’t square my conscience with being a part of this system of exploitation. I am trying to buy from stores with good ethical ratings, even if it means spending a bit more. I am trying to buy less clothing overall – because my capsule wardrobe experiment showed me that I don’t need anywhere near as many clothes as I might have thought I did.
Trying to buy clothing ethically? This guide is very helpful. The Baptist Church of Australia puts out an updated guide every year, and on page six of the 2016 guide, they have rated a number of popular brands in Australia by categories such as policies, knowing your suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships and worker empowerment.