The BBC have just released a documentary about Survivors of the Rana Plaza disaster (This World // Clothes to Die For) and I have chatted about it with a few people on twitter like Susie Lau from Style Bubble, Lola from Pastime Bliss and Hannah Vickers from Awaywiththefairies so I’ve currently got lots of thoughts about the clothing industry and ethical fashion rolling around my mind. The documentary starts out with clips from various youtubers doing ‘hauls’ and it is all a bit uncomfortable. Not because these girls are doing anything heinous but because it confronts us with a truth about our own behavior. That we like stuff, we want new stuff, we like it being cheap and accessible and the pleasures of this fashionable world are enough to make us all want to brush the scary thoughts back away into the recesses of our minds each time we pull out our debit cards.
This was the first time I’ve actually seen blogging and youtubing directly contrasted against the issues of garment manufacturing and the clothing industry and I’ll say it hit home. The thing is that I know I often like and want things more than I care about people far away making them in awful conditions and that is a truth I do not like to admit to myself. When I watch a documentary like this, it reminds me of that side of myself that I do not like, and the side of blogging I don’t like. I do not want to be a mass consumer, wanting and buying more things I don’t need and won’t love, and the fact that that behavior is also supporting the mistreatment of other human beings makes me feel even worse. It was realising that I couldn’t keep brushing those feelings to one side which made me want to take an ethical fashion pledge.
The thing is, I don’t really think I should be having to make an ethical fashion pledge. I don’t think I should be trying to hunt out the manufacturing ethics of every company in the small print of their websites and then trying to untangle the empty words from the meaningful ones (shout to M&S there- what are your ‘strict ethical standards’ and where can I read about them, hmm?) In my ideal world, fashion isn’t tainted by this dirty underside of cheap manufacturing, squeezing every ounce of profit out of every item. Companies would be active in pushing for good conditions and wages, would be open and transparent about their manufacturing and would have a chain of supply that they can actually trace with confidence. We would be able to pop into any shop and know whatever we bought could just be enjoyed as an item of clothing. But to get there, I know that consumers have to push for that in some way so I will. I’ll try follow Ghandi’s advice and try to be the change I want to see in the world. Put my money where my mouth is.
Now this is not to say that I am fricking perfect and will never buy an item of clothing made in poor conditions ever again in my life. In fact, last week I broke my pledge for the first time and bought a bikini and kaftan from H&M when I went in with my sister who had vouchers to spend. Being surrounded by so many clothes, on sale, and having a holiday booked I wanted new things for… I succumbed to my wants. But I am trying and most of the time succeeding in making better choices in my purchases. I know that the problems of the clothing industry are myriad- working conditions, wages, chemical usage, material production, sustainability.. the list of horrid scary things about how our clothes are made goes on and on. I know that these things are tied up with complex economic and political issues, that there isn’t one clear path forward to a better place so it can all feel quite overwhelming and pointless trying to do anything about that. But I do know that doing something is better than the current situation. I guess for me a big part of ethical fashion is about forcing myself to be educated about the issues, and then acting upon how that makes me feel. If I read or watch something that makes me feel bad, I will try to make better choices. It might only be a drop in the ocean but it is something.
If you’re interested in learning more about ethical fashion, or just want some inspiration, here are some sites I’ve found interesting and helpful
Ethical Consumer’s Buyer Guides
How do you feel about the fashion industry and manufacturing ethics? Do you try to think about how your clothes are made or does it all feel too distant? What doe you think about what I’ve said? I’d like to know, to open up some kind of dialogue about this.
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