Money Talks

The human cost of "fashion finds"

Money Talks

I’ve always been semi-fashionable. Maybe not the most trendy, but at least well put together. More than having name brands, though, I’ve always been more interested in finding a deal. Anytime I would get a compliment on my outfit, I’d tell the person how much I DIDN’T pay for it. I felt like I had conquered shopping if I walked away with some “steals.”

Recently, however, two events in my life that changed all of this for me. First, I educated myself on ethical fashion. Did you know that in the vast majority of the clothing industry, the person who makes your clothes only earns on average 0.2-0.5% of the cost of that garment? So for a $30 shirt, the seamstress would make between $0.12 and $0.30 for their time.  Even worse, manufacturing workers often work under unsafe, unhealthy conditions, deprived of their basic human rights.

But wait, I haven’t mentioned the "Thrifty" clothes like these often are made under unethical manufacturing conditions.second event – I learned to sew. And it’s harder than you think!! Even when your skill goes up and it’s no longer hard, it still takes time. A simple t-shirt could take a professional seamstress about 15 minutes to complete. But a more complicated shirt with pockets, buttons and a collar could take about an hour…maybe two. So we’re down to $0.15 per hour (Yes…fifteen cents). I wish I could tell you that pricier clothes reward their workers with better salaries, but that’s usually not the case. The extra cash is kept as profit.

So how about that $5 t-shirt? Sounds like my kind of steal! Not anymore. I had to face the harsh reality that my thrifty trends have a human cost. There are people literally starving so that I can feed my desire for more. That doesn’t settle well with me. I had to ask myself if I was willing to make changes even though it would probably mean I would have fewer clothes and pay more for the ones I have. It sounds really silly writing it down. It’s just clothes, right?! But we love them. We consume them like hot dogs at a baseball game (okay, maybe like wine on girls night). There’s no awareness of where they come from or how they’re made, but for the sake of a good Instagram shot, we buy.

But we don’t have to. Did you know our money can talk? It tells people and companies who and what we support. It’s even louder when it goes away. So I’ve started to speak up by refusing to pay for clothes that are made by companies that have unethical manufacturing practices. Can you imagine how loud we would be if all of us did that? We’ve gotten really loud about equal pay for women here in the US and companies are finally starting to listen. Why can’t we be just as loud about fair wages for manufacturing workers?

Honestly, I didn’t want to at first. Because I knew that it might mean my clothes will cost more. But that’s the point. It’s an ethical decision I had to make. Am I willing to “sacrifice” a little on my end in order to improve someone’s well being and livelihood on the other end? I decided that I am. Are you?