Monthly Archives: May 2015

Do you know where your clothes come from?

It’s becoming really trendy to buy ethically. That coffee you sip each morning? Fair Trade, obvs! The apple you had after lunch? Well, local-grown, pesticide-free just tastes better! That t-shirt you’re sporting? Organic cotton, baby!

On the one hand, I love that society seems to be more concerned with what they consume. But the cynical side of me worries it’s just a trend. Having spent a number of years living in Vancouver, I’m very familiar with the hipster, go-green trend. Don’t get me wrong, some people truly live it and truly mean it. A lot of people. And that really is awesome. But for some, it’s more a case of “green is the new black.” And that’s not sustainable. (Yeah, that was intentional.)

Admittedly, I’ve been trying to “go green” myself for a while now. And, while I really do have the best of intentions, sometimes I’m not as diligent as I perhaps could or should be when it comes to my research. It’s not a trend for me, but sometimes, I embrace the “ignorance is bliss” opportunities for as long as possible. And worse, I’m sure I often allow myself to fall victim to “greenwashing“.

Worse than turning a blind eye where the environment is concerned, however, is turning a blind eye when it comes to the suffering of other people. This is a topic that makes me incredibly uncomfortable, because I know that as a typical consumer, I add to the problem. And I don’t know how to fix it.

Have you seen this video? It’s an awesome campaign. I love that they’re getting people to think, if only for a moment, about who is behind the clothing that we all wear. But it’s not enough. So you’re “aware” of the problem; that’s great. What can you do about it? That seems to be where the momentum stops. And not just slows down. Full-on stops. Period.

I have been trying for a while (and not just half-assed, either) to find ethical clothing brands. Ones who are fair to everyone along the supply chain, even those at the very bottom. Yes, I know, I could (and do!) buy from sites such as Etsy, where you can get handmade, quality items. But that’s not always practical when it comes to clothing. I like to have the opportunity to try the clothing on and make sure I actually feel good in it before I make a purchase. Plus, I live in Norway. I have no problem paying a higher price for quality, ethical clothing, but if it’s coming from outside the country, I’m facing some seriously hefty import taxes and, worse, a ridiculous “processing fee” for someone to send me an invoice about that tax. It gets pricey fast and there have been a couple occasions where I pay more in taxes/fees than I paid for the actual item. Absurdity at its finest. I would happily pay more to ensure the people who make the clothing I purchase make a decent living wage, but I don’t see how paying exorbitant fees here in Norway is helping anyone who actually needs it.

Ironically, buying more expensive clothing doesn’t guarantee the person at the bottom of that ladder is actually making a decent (or even liveable) wage, either. A lot of the top high-end brands source their clothing from the same places as the cheap brands. So while you’re paying top-dollar for a name on a tag, you’re likely getting something that came from the same sweatshop as that $8 tank top from the no-name brand. (Possibly the same quality too…)

I wish I could say I have solutions. So far, I don’t really. For one thing, I don’t think a “perfect brand” exists at this point. But if you’d like to learn more about where your clothing is coming from and start making “mindful” choices about it, here are a few good resources to get you started:

  • The Clean Clothes Campaign gives advice on what to look for when looking into your favourite brands. Their main focus is on workers’ rights.
  • Ethical Consumer is one of my go-to sites for advice on “going green” in Europe (it’s UK-based.) On this page, they address ethical clothing. (If you want to extend your ethical shopping to other areas of your consumer life, I recommend snooping around their site even further!)
  • In North America, there’s an awesome product review site that I generally refer to for info about personal care items such as shampoo, toothpaste, etc. They don’t have anything about adult clothing, but the GoodGuide has some children’s apparel information for a few companies.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask. The more companies are questioned by their customers, the more likely they are to make a change for the better.

If you have tips or advice about shopping ethically, please feel free to share!

Lizards are for girls, too

Lindex is a large, Scandinavian clothing line, originally from Sweden and boasting hundreds of stores across Europe. It’s affordable and, when I was just shopping for myself, seemed to have a good selection. And then I became a mom. Not only that, I became a mom of a girl.

Initially, shopping for my daughter was reasonably easy. We’re trying to go “gender neutral” as much as possible, in order to let her choose her own preferences and styles when she’s old enough to care about such things. But the older she gets, the harder that is. Lindex doesn’t help. For the first month or so of a child’s life, there are “neutral” clothing options featured at Lindex. However, even from a month or so on, the clothing is very clearly sorted into what is “for boys” and what is “for girls.” And, you probably guessed it, the boys stuff is blue, greys, greens and browns, while the items in the girl section are almost exclusively pink or purple, with a lot of frills and fluff. The boys clothing features trucks, bugs, dinosaurs and planes, while the girls clothing is adorned with puppies, kittens, tiaras and pom-poms.

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, I actually don’t have a problem with pink. I just don’t want my daughter to be completely inundated with it simply because she was born with a vagina. (Yep, I said the “v” word. Scary…) And, personally, I have pretty much zero interest in cars. But I don’t think my daughter should grow up thinking cars are only for boys. If she loves cars and trucks and wants them on her clothes, fantastic. Don’t tell her she can’t because she’s female. Likewise, if a little boy happens to think frilly, pink tutus are the best thing ever, why should he be made to feel that they’re only for girls? Why is society so obsessed with categorizing us, even from the earliest of ages?

Back to Lindex
Over the past (almost) two years of my daughter’s life, I’ve grown gradually more disenchanted with the chain. Currently based in Scandinavia, I’m lucky to live in a place where true gender equality is tangibly close to reality. Not quite there yet, but I don’t know of any place on earth where the gap is smaller. Sweden even came up with a gender neutral pronoun a few years back and officially added it to the dictionary this year. They’re literally leading the charge on this topic! Which, perhaps unfairly on my part, makes me even more disappointed with a Swedish brand like Lindex being so backward-facing about gender equality. I find they’re one of the biggest offenders when it comes to segregating girls and boys on clothing preferences. The last few times I’ve been in there, I’ve been distinctly uncomfortable with it – and the messages I am potentially sending to my impressionable child by shopping there.

Alright, so they’ve got clearly labelled “girl” clothing and “boy” clothing. No big deal, right? Just choose the clothing you like, regardless of whether Lindex deems it for the opposite gender. No harm done! Well…

Yesterday, I took the opportunity of a particularly early start on our Saturday to bring my daughter into town to run errands. One of those errands was to get some new clothing for her. (Kids seriously grow too quickly.) A Lindex store happened to be in the area. I admit, I was a bit hesitant to go in there, knowing as I do, how stereotype-heavy their clothing is. But, try as I might to find clothing companies for children that don’t engage in that kind of thing, I have yet to come up with a significantly better option. (H&M sometimes does better, but they’re not great, either.)

We needed to get a few things: shirts, pants and PJs, topping the list. My daughter has been obsessed with ladybugs recently, so I added some fun ladybug capri tights to the pile (yep, from the “girls” section.) And there was a “buy 3, pay for 2” sale on shirts, so I stocked up on three “goes with everything” (read: plain white or plain black) tops. I also got her some jeans (they were from the girls section, so all the options had at least some degree of pink on them, much to my chagrin, even if it was just the stitching.) I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the PJ section, unless the flimsy “Frozen” dresses, of which there were three options, were what Lindex counts as pyjamas. And then I came across the socks selection. I had been meandering back and forth between the “boys” and “girls” sections and I guess I was in the “boys” section at that point. (You can always tell because there’s actually more of a variety to choose from.) My daughter was busy ducking in and out of the clothing racks, trying to tempt me to chase her, but I called her over to see some cool little lizard socks I’d stumbled across. “Ooooh!” she exclaimed in excitement, “Mine…?” More statement than politely phrased request, but I pretended she’d asked nicely and added them to the pile. Yep, she could have the socks.

We headed up to the counter (ok, I headed up to the counter, she pirouetted away to check out something else that had caught her eye.) When it was my turn, I unloaded the various items onto the counter, looking over my shoulder to ensure my kid was still in sight. The woman at the till started ringing my purchase through, smiling when she scanned in the ladybug capris. Then she came across the socks. “These are for boys,” she helpfully informed me. If looks could kill, she would’ve been a goner before she even knew she’d erred. I shot a glance at my daughter to ensure she hadn’t heard that unthinking line. My daughter isn’t old enough to understand the concept of “gender” yet, but I fear it’s not too far down the road. “They’re socks,” I pointed out (far more politely than I felt), turning back to the woman, “there’s no such thing as ‘boy’ socks.” She looked at me for a moment before simply stating, “Oh” in a bored tone, shrugging her shoulders and tossing them into my bag.

Part of me wanted to launch into a lecture. Normally, I probably would. But this person clearly didn’t care about why the weird lady standing across the counter from her wanted to buy lizard socks for her little girl. Another part of me wanted to just leave all the clothing at the counter, grab my baby’s hand and march out of there. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t. Instead, I stood there in frustration, occasionally looking over at my wonderful little person, blissfully innocent of a world that will discriminate against her simply because of her genitalia.

“It’s just socks,” you might say. “What’s the big deal?” This time, it’s just socks. But think about it for a moment. Those socks had lizards on them… what on earth makes that something “for boys” as opposed to “for kids, regardless of gender?” As a friend pointed out: last time I checked, there are both male and female lizards in nature. Why is a lizard a “boy” animal and a kitten a “girl” animal? And it goes beyond that. This time, my girl is being told (yes, even if it’s only being implied) she shouldn’t like lizards because she’s a girl. Tomorrow, she might be told she can’t be good at science because of the same reason. No. NO! I won’t stand idly by when someone tries to limit my kid, even if it’s just socks.

Something’s gotta give.

When we got home from our errands and I put my daughter down for her nap, I sat down and composed a letter to Lindex about the incident. If you haven’t already, and are so inclined, you can read it on Facebook. (Yep, I posted it there in the hopes that a little more publicity will urge them to do something). I’ve sent it off to their customer service department and am currently waiting for a reply. How they handle it will determine whether or not they keep me as a customer. And I’m going to keep looking for better options. For one thing, their gender segregation isn’t the only thing that bugs me about Lindex and other big chains; I’ll post about ethical clothing another time. But for now, I’m going to keep working at supporting whatever it is my daughter shows an interest in, and encouraging her to be true to what SHE likes – regardless of whether it’s to my tastes or fits within the stereotype society has assigned to her. I just hope it’s enough.