The reason people don’t buy ethical fashion is usually for one of two reasons;
They think it’s too expensive
They don’t know what to buy
But soooo many of us aspire to be conscious consumers and value both the products we buy and, in principle at least, the people who make them. Fashion should be fun and creative, a source of pleasure as well as practicality, shouldn’t it? But buying something gorgeous that has been produced by an enslaved garment worker – yes, a SLAVE – just doesn’t cut it. And the more we hear about high street fashion, the more we realise that that’s exactly what’s happening.
At some point you’ve decided you are no longer willing to buy into human slavery and would prefer to use your consumer power to encourage fashion retailers to provide safe working conditions and pay a living wage all along the supply chain…
Great! Here’s how:
- DON’T CHUCK OUT all your fast fashion. It will just go to landfill, and if you care enough to boycott sweatshops, you probably care about the environment too.
- DO FILTER through what you have in your wardrobe already. Bundle up anything that doesn’t fit, anything you haven’t worn for a year or anything you know deep down you just aren’t going to wear, and take it to your local charity shop or clothing recycler.
- CONSIDER A PROFESSIONAL STYLIST in to help you assess your wardrobe for colours and styles that particularly suit you and make recommendations about what to buy in future. You might be surprised how affordable stylists can be… Besides, from now on your wardrobe is a collection you invest in, so buying great pieces and making minimal style mistakes is a good thing. Gotta say, I know a local (to me) Kent stylist (check out Elisa Traynor’s website here) who does colour analysis, wardrobe styling and – if you want to push the boat out – personal shopping too. She’s totally realistic about budget and all about wellbeing and body positivity. I have found her colour advice particularly useful when buying new pieces as well working out how to wear existing garments even if they’re the “wrong” colour.
- PHONE A FRIEND. If you think hiring a stylist is a rubbish idea, but you have a friend who’s style you admire, maybe ask them to help. Notice for yourself what colours and styles you wear when you get a compliment, and which ones tend to get your friends asking if you’re ok, or make you feel like you need to hit the gym or pile on another layer of makeup.
- BE SURE ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO BUY. You are no longer shopping on a whim, or buying something just because it’s reduced, or buying garments for a single wear. Be fussy. Only buy clothing you know will suit you and that you will wear for years to come. Invest in classic, beautifully made pieces. I can honestly say that the quality of every single ethically produced garment I have bought has been impressive. From super-soft kids’ t-shirts and jeans, to bamboo socks, linen shirts, gymgear, jackets, sunglasses… everything! Ethical manufacturers want your repeat business and they make products to last. (They also tend to have great customer service, so if you do have a problem, get in touch!)
- RETURN ALL THE CATALOGUES you get through the letterbox and unsubscribe to all the fashion marketing emails. Even the ethical fashion ones!! They will only encourage you to impulse buy. When you need something new you will know. That’s the time to look.
- LOOK AT THE LABELS! When you know what you have and what you want to buy, start doing some research into your favourite brands. The sad truth is that unless a brand markets themselves as ethical and has certified labelling to prove it, it’s highly unlikely that they are. If a company is going to go to all the trouble and extra expense of meeting ethical standards, they are going to display evidence loudly and proudly that they are doing so. Check out Ethical Consumer website for the labels to look for.
- NO JOY WITH THE LABEL? Consider where your garment was made – clothing manufacturers are required by law to include a “Made in…” label in every garment.
Personally, I don’t want clothing brands to take their manufacturing away from China or the many third world countries that rely on our trade. I would just like those companies to pay their workers a living wage. Bear in mind that a living wage in Bangladesh is not the same as a living wage in the UK, so this wouldn’t necessarily hike up the prices of mass produced clothing in a dramatic way… what it would mean is that the largely female workforce could afford to eat, have somewhere safe to live, provide adequate childcare or education for their children (so they don’t become the next generation of slaves) and have a small amount of disposable income. However, in terms of avoiding sweatshops, some ethical shoppers choose to buy garments which are made in Europe, USA, Australia or any other country where workers’ rights are protected. Don’t kid yourself that these countries don’t have sweatshops too though! If the garment you’re buying is super cheap, it was probably made in a sweatshop. Use social media to ask the question, “Who made my clothes”. If you get a quick, clear answer, great! Kerching! If you get a lengthy ethical policy full of good intentions but no actual commitment to a living wage and safe working environment… it’s buyer beware. Most likely you will hear nothing. Come to your own conclusion.
- GO THROUGH THE 5 STAGES OF LOSS AND GRIEF. It’s tough. But you can do it.
- SEARCH FOR NEW BRANDS TO LOVE. There is an absolute plethora of exciting brands which go about setting up or using worker’s cooperatives, Fairtrade factories and the like. They empower employees, providing them with fair pay, healthcare, childcare and a chance to escape poverty and abuse. That’s something you want to be a part of! Some brands are listed in the Love this! section of this very website and over time I will try to list many more. But for now, be an eo-warrior and search on Ecosia (find out about Ecosia here) for ethical fashion, ethical clothing… something like that.
- SHOP THE SALES. Some ethical brands are more expensive to buy than high street brands. It’s true. (But they last longer and mean you aren’t contributing to human trafficking, slavery etc, so it’s worth a bit more, right?) Try new brands when they come on sale. I am always surprised how early in the season this happens. My children and I are usually still wearing woollies when Summer clothing goes on sale, so wait till you actually want to wear new season’s clothing before you shop.
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE DELIVERY AND RETURNS. Not shopping on the high street (with very few exceptions) usually means you can’t try clothing on before you buy. Once you get to know a brand, you will know how it fits. In the early days, buy two sizes and return one, or just be prepared to send something back if it arrives and you don’t love it. Easy.
- SPREAD THE WORD. Over a relatively short period of time you will develop a list of go-to brands. I make a point of giving these brands as gifts and telling anyone who compliments me where an item is from. Don’t forget to tag brands if you post images on social media too!
I always love to hear from readers about their ethical fashion journey… what brands do you love? How did you manage the change from fast fashion to slow fashion? What made you make your own pledge to shop sweatshop free? Let me know… Email: email@example.com Twitter: @manytimesmummy Insta: @stripped.bare.fashion
Featured image credits: “Who made my/your clothes?” dazedimg.dazedgroup.netdna-cdn.com, makeandbelievemagazine.com, ravishly.com