Monday, 27 February 2017

Netflix recommendation: Ethical clothing & The True Cost

I've recently started to think about where my clothes come from.

I've never been mad into clothes, I wouldn't really know anything about the latest trends unless by osmosis from my guilty pleasure interest in celebrity gossip, and I definitely couldn't be bothered to try them. There could be times where I had had a particularly difficult week in work, and in order to get pumped for the weekend ahead, I might look for a new dress or skirt or top. As a self-confessed cheapo, I would look in the usual places of Penneys (Primark), H&M, New Look, Forever 21, Bershka, etc. I figured, if I chose something especially outlandish or 'on-trend' and never wore it again, or if it was one of those materials that probably wouldn't survive the wash, well, it didn't exactly break the bank. I would look at people who seemed chained to brands, and feel secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) smug that I had paid as much for my whole outfit as they had for their t-shirt. As someone who hasn't really changed in size since my late teens, I still have clothes from 10 years ago that I could easily slip into tomorrow (though my clothing tastes are less technicolour these days), so when I finally do decide to do a clear out for the charity shops, there is a lot to go through and feel charitable about. If I got use out of them once or twice, and then send them to charity shops, it's basically a win/win, right?

I found The True Cost, a documentary on Netflix, to be eye opening in a way that it shouldn't be. That is, we should all really know this stuff already. Maybe other people do, and I've been sitting in my bubble, blissfully ignorant to the significance of my Friday evening clothing purchase. I would recommend watching the documentary because it will explain and present everything in a much more cohesive way, but I wanted to discuss the important bits that I took from it. I had heard, as I assume everyone has, of the terrible conditions that people work in when manufacturing clothes, poor wages, long hours, and lack of job security. I had even vaguely heard of a building collapse which killed many workers, which may have been connected to Penneys (Primark). I hadn't looked into any of this and, to be completely honest, I'm embarrassed to say that I assumed there had to be some part of the story that was not being reported on, because surely it couldn't be the fault of anyone for a building to collapse so suddenly? Surely it couldn't have been foreseen or preventable?

It turns out there were many things that I had never considered, such as the right to unionise, the effect that such low wages and long hours would have on single parents, and the toxic materials that factory workers encounter, as well as the effect that the disposal or treatment of these materials would have on the local population.

Henry Street/

The main thing I took away from The True Cost, however, was how I never considered what happens to those clothes that I send to charity shops when they've done their job for me, or what happens to the clothes that are not sold when there is a new collection (which often seems weekly). Have you ever wondered how, in old films, people seem to fit everything they need in such a small suitcase? Not so long ago, you would buy clothes to last, even getting them made to measure, and would only change with the change of seasons. You take things in or let them out if your size changed, and this would often be done by a local business, and you would mend them if they broke. In such a short space of time, we have evolved into an era of "fast fashion", which demands the latest fashion at the lowest prices, with quality and longevity being almost irrelevant. (I would sometimes want my clothes to rip or dye in the wash, so that I felt I had an excuse to buy more.) It's difficult to know who started the "fast fashion" movement, but there is now an unhealthy co-dependent relationship between the consumer and the fashion companies, where the consumer feels the need to update their look every month, and each retailer feels the pressure to continually churn out new collections at a low price in order to remain competitive. Would you be as likely to pop into Penneys every week if you knew they'd have exactly the same stock as the previous three months? So many retailers rely on casual purchases, where you might even be browsing with a friend, or using it as a meeting point, and still you'll come out having bought something, because why not? Well, that top that you bought and never wore and gave to the charity shop actually couldn't be sold, and was shipped to Africa, where they couldn't sell it either so now it's in their landfill.

I think we have a responsibility as consumers to make more informed decisions. Personally speaking, I am now aiming to not purchase any clothing at all. Any clothing I do purchase (either for a specific occasion or essential items that need to be replaced) I hope to source from an ethical company, and I will aim for it to be sustainable so that it does not need to be replaced again anytime soon. I learned, from a big move a few years ago, that living out of boxes and having only a few skirts, dresses, tops, and hoodies to rotate every week is not a bad thing. In fact, it's actually freeing to not have as many options and, if everything matches, there are still endless combinations to choose from. Going forward with this blog, I hope to enlist the guidance of some fashionable readers with making the most of the clothes that own, and wearing clothing combinations suggested by you that I might not have otherwise considered.

I would advise anyone and everyone to watch The True Cost, because clothing is something that we all have in common. If you're someone who only buys from Dunnes, or M&S, or pay far more money for your clothes that I would have -- you are not excluded. The higher price tag does not mean that the manufacturing is any more ethical than any other retailer. I'm not asking any action from anyone, other than to learn about the decisions you are making. We have a responsibility to make informed decisions, and if you watch The True Cost and still decide to make the same purchasing choices, at least you are doing it with your eyes fully open.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are you already aware of "fast fashion" and the corresponding ethical, sustainable clothing movement? Have you seen The True Cost and had a different take?

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