We’re Inconsistent

We’re Inconsistent

Film still courtesy of The True Cost

I’ve always been a fan of practicing what I preach. Making sure that what I actually do is consistent with what I say and what I believe. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? But for many of us, there’s a huge inconsistency in one every day part of life: our clothes. We fight for human rights, fight against trafficking and slavery, march for equal pay for women, attend galas, give time and money, cry over videos on social media then share them, snap a perfectly posed pic at any number of events and post it for the world to see. All powerful and necessary activities to promote these causes. So what’s the problem?

Most of us are doing it all in clothes that promote the very practices we’re fighting to end.

At the end of the day, we’ve turned a blind eye to how our clothes are made because we’re more concerned about how we look. Ouch. I’m gonna get some emails about this one. I hope so. I hope that I can engage in an honest conversation and help you in your journey. But before you hit send, consider this:

Would you take a job that paid you a fraction of fair wage for the position and what you’re worth? Let’s say you’re going to pick up some holiday hours at a local retailer in the mall. They offer you 16-hour days, 7 days a week, no breaks and $1.50 an hour with no tips, no chance for promotion and no possibility of a raise. Would you take it? What if you had no money and needed to eat? Why not?

Now let’s assume you have a kid and this job offer is your only option. You have to feed your kid, so this should help, right? Where are you going to leave your child during the day? Or really for 16 hours, 7 days a week? I mean, come on, it’s better than nothing, right?

This sounds completely ridiculous to most Americans. Of course you wouldn’t take this job! For (most) Americans, there’s always another job, another store, a better package, social services or unemployment to fall back on, labor laws to ensure minimum wage (although that’s still not enough to feed a family). It’s hard for us to even imagine this scenario happening because our reality is so different. But it’s the reality for people many places in the world. There are no other options for them. And there’s no reason for their employers to change their practices, because Americans approve these practices every time they purchase clothing made in this way.

Here’s two responses I hear on a consistent basis:

From those in the fashion industry: “Well, it’s better than no job, isn’t it?” This breaks my heart. This seems careless and self-centered to me. It communicates that as long as we get what we want for the price we want it doesn’t matter how humans are cared for in the process.

From customers, I hear: “I just can’t afford to shop ethically for my kids.” I get it. I have three of my own and it’s hard. But I still don’t think that’s an excuse to put our stamp of approval on unethical treatment of humans when we do spend money. There are ways to be thoughtfully ethical without spending lots of money. Second hand, clothes swapping, hand me downs, and buying less overall are great ways to accomplish this end.

In all honesty, my personal journey through ethical fashion has been very little about money and more about standing up for my values and dealing with my own pride and selfishness. It’s been a long and hard process, but I realized I am not comfortable advocating for justice verbally if I’m not advocating for it with my spending. We have to do better. Let’s make our actions consistent with our words and fight for the fair treatment of all.

New to this whole ethical fashion thing and want to learn more? Some great places to start are watching “The True Cost” (rent for $3 on Amazon) and reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline (also available on Amazon).

Post got you thinking? We’re open to kind and honest conversations, questions and comments, even if they differ from the position stated in this post. All rude comments and communications will be deleted.