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!