Ethical fashion

I posted a summary of a Tearfund’s third annual ethical fashion report on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and got some interesting responses. Some people were understandably defensive about their favourite F-scoring brands.

It’s hard to be an aware and ethical consumer – there is so much to consider, so much information to take in. You almost need to be a specialist in supply chain management as well as an expert in global politics. And that’s not even considering the environmental aspects of fashion. For each item I purchase, I need to consider the materials it’s made from, where the individual parts have come from, where and how it was assembled, how it got here. It’s impossibly overwhelming!

When I first started teaching global sociology in the early 00s, it seemed as simple as avoiding products from China and buying New Zealand made. Now I know it’s not as simple as this – it is possible to buy ethically-made products from China (setting aside the issue of purchasing items that have come from an undemocratic nation), and not all New Zealand brands are ethical in their practices.

Recently, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume LESS fashion. Every time I look at an item of clothing I think I need, I take the time to consider this more carefully – do I already have one? Can I get by without it? Is it replacing something that is perfectly fine? My main strategy is to wait – I usually find that after 2-3 weeks of considering a purchase, I decide I don’t need it after all. Another strategy is to avoid poorly/cheaply made items in favour of buying better quality stuff that will last longer. This works best in conjunction with the first strategy … no point in buying things that will last years and then replacing them anyway next season!

Here’s the thing … if you know me, you know I like buying stuff – I love gadgets! And shoes! And nice knitwear! Let’s not pretend that I don’t love to buy new season Lululemon every year (luckily they score an overall A- from Tearfund). I’m not even close to being a perfect, ethical consumer. But I like to think that I can try to be better, so that the people who make my Lulu yoga tights get to have a better life.

I don’t want to give up and I think that small things I can do will make a difference, so here’s what I am committing to:
* Consuming less
* Buying better quality items so they last longer
* Worrying less about fashion and more about what will keep me warm / cool / dry / comfortable
* Keeping what I have for longer
* Being aware of ethical clothing producers, and choosing them ahead of the easy / cheaper options
* Avoiding single-use plastics
* Recycling as much as I can
* Not consuming anything from the dairy or beef industry

Do you think it’s enough for each of us to pick a few things that they can do differently and stick with that? Or are we just wasting our time?

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