This week is Fashion Revolution Week. Fashion Revolution is an organization that puts pressure on the fashion and textile industries to be forthcoming about the working conditions in their factories. And to treat the people who make their products with dignity. Giving them enough pay, time off, and safe working conditions.
Essentially, really, what should be the very bare minimum.
I bring this up because I didn’t realize how much that bare minimum was an exception in the industry. I didn’t realize, either, how attainable it actually could be—that human rights abuses and under-pay wasn’t just a given of a globalized world. I did not expect to have a crisis of ethics and a whole new world of neighborliness open up to me when I moved to the desert in 2010.
During my first term overseas I started reading a book about how our clothes are made and the textile industry. It was all pretty shocking. Sweatshops, massive pollution, unsafe conditions, child abuse.
I’d read a bit before bed, then the next day to go work with street kids. Kids I was training and working with to generate income. I’d get up, get dressed in clothes made by people–maybe even kids!–in sweatshops, and go try to help care for some of the least of these.
I was (and am, I suppose) a person who travelled and spoke in churches. Who wrote blog posts about God’s heart for the poor and I realized I had missed so much about how my actions affect others. To share about how much I cared about orphans, and how much I thought other people should, and yet buy things without a thought as to how they were made, and remain unaware of how my every day actions were negatively affecting the lives of others, was inconsistent. I realized I was a kind of hypocrite. I’d been, like, the Christian girl most of my life, and realizing I had neighbors (people that intersected with my life at the point of transaction, in this case) I was hurting blew my mind.
So I started researching. Reading more. Diving into the history and reports from independent agencies of my favorite brands. Learning about how garment production works, how workers are treated. And the difference between what is on paper and what actually goes down. I read about a pregnant woman in the textile industry, forced to work a shift so long (22 hours!) that she miscarried. The atrocities of child labor, working hard shifts, standing, and punished severely if they slowed down. Systemic rape in garment factories. I read about rivers poisoned by factory runoff, leading to farms and agriculture failing and whole villages of people getting very, very sick. Buildings with safety upkeep so bad that they’ve collapsed, killing and maiming hundreds or more. Advocates for the rights of garment workers threatened and imprisoned.
I’d cared about the least of these my whole life. Or so I thought. Sponsoring a child, making donations, volunteer work, and then, full-time missions among children at risk. Literally giving my life, in the best way I knew how, to love the least of these.
I was devastated by what I hadn’t known before. Broken. And worse, complicit.
And I decided, as much as I was able, I would not be complicit in this abuse anymore.
I’ve always bought many of my things secondhand, and I was relieved to learn that this is quite an ethical way of shopping. So that’s where I started, mostly. I still do frequent eBay, ThreadUp, and Poshmark, and now that I’m back in the US, Goodwill, quite a bit. (I always loved a good treasure hunt as a kid, and this is exactly that.) But I also realized that I wanted to not only avoid the bad, but actively support the good. The companies dedicated to treating workers well. To using fabrics and dyes that don’t harm people or the environment. To caring about, not only the quality of their products, but the quality of the life of the people making their products.
Naturally, cutting corners makes things cheaper. So, generally, the products from people and companies doing the right thing, are more expensive than your neighborhood Target. So it’s meant buying less, but better. I own fewer things, but the things I own are higher quality, will last longer, and, incidentally, I like, wear, and use them more.
If you’re interested in learning more about the textile industry (and even if you’re not!), I HIGHLY recommend you watch The True Cost documentary.
And, if you’d like to start buying more ethically, these are a few of my favorite companies, worth checking out:
Everlane (Mens & Women’s. Clothes & shoes)
Oliberte (Mens & Women’s. Shoes & leather goods)
Seamly.co (Women’s & Kids. Clothes–mega sale on right now!)
Krochet Kids (Mens, Womens, & Kids. Clothes & knitwear)
PACT Apparel (Mens, Women’s, & Kids. Clothing, basics & undies)
Sseko (Women’s footwear, leather bags, and accessories)
Jamie & The Jones (Luxury Women’s Tops & Dresses–the wardrobe of my dreams…)
For the heck of it, my favorite super ethical coffee roasters, JUST Coffee Co-op.
For more ethical brands, check out my Pinterest Board, where I regularly add new brands and items fairly made as I discover them. Feel free to follow along!
Untitled; Acrylic & Glass Beads, 2012.