Originally published on June 23, 2016.
Things eventually started to level themselves out again, where I was no longer binge-buying, but I still chose to bury the guilt I felt of buying cheap items as far back into my mind as possible. Since then, those thoughts have only haunted me.
This is the inspiration behind Shop Ethically, a new blog and Instagram account I’ve started. I’ve been spending less time on Instagram lately because I feel like I can’t open up my feed without seeing ad after ad after ad. I am 100% guilty of advertising on my own account, too. What I hate is the crazy drive to buy more (as if my hundreds of clothes aren’t enough). I can honestly say that the more time I spend on Instagram, the more time I spend shopping and buying what I see on Instagram. I. Hate. This. About. Myself. And about our culture.
I started watching True Cost today, a documentary exploring fashion and its impact on both people and the planet. Did you know that prior to 1960, 96% of our clothes in America were made in America? Now, only 3% of our clothing is made in America. The rest is made in other countries (mostly developing countries, largely Bangladesh). People also used to own way fewer outfits, too. Probably because clothing wasn’t nearly as cheap as it was today and wasn’t mass produced.
First and foremost, my purpose with Shop Ethically is most definitely not to promote consumption. I believe our North American culture owns far too many items. We buy too much, spend too much and we don’t need half of the items in our closets. That being said, I remember 8 years ago feeling helpless. Helpless because I had no idea where I could buy my clothing from. Clothes that were ethically made. The bottom line is, while we don’t need to buy the latest trend, we do need to clothe ourselves. Shop Ethically’s purpose is to help promote companies with products that are ethically made. Instead of buying a product made unethically, you can buy one from a company with the highest global fashion standards. There is a catch. I know that a lot of ethically made products are expensive. Well-made products do not come cheap, especially ones made in America. I think this is actually one of the beautiful things about ethical shopping. It slows shopping. It slows fashion. Plus, it helps me become smarter with my money. If I’m going to buy ethically made products, it means I have to save up to buy them. How can I save up for them if I don’t have a lot of extra money? I can’t stop buying $10 t-shirts from Target and $20 dresses from Forever 21. I have PLENTY of clothing, I certainly don’t need anything else right now, so instead of shopping for a trendy item, I can save that money for something I know I will eventually need in the future, like a good new pair of ethically made running shoes (which I have yet to find). I’ve thought about donating all of my clothes that aren’t ethically made, but that will leave me needing items I already have and needing to spend money which I don’t need to do. Instead, I can slowly purge and slowly rebuild my closet (this might take years, but it will also challenge me to own less, and stats show that the less material possessions you have, the happier you are). I also don’t want to simply donate everything because according to the True Cost documentary, only 10% of donated clothing items are sold. The rest are tossed or shipped overseas.
Here are where things are a bit tricky, and some of the details I am trying to figure out…
I launched the Shop Ethically Instagram account today, and I honestly didn’t think that many people would respond so positively to it. It’s not that I didn’t think people had good intentions, I just didn’t think it would get any response, at all. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me today about starting Shop Ethically. All that to say, I’m realizing that I started this Instagram account without thoroughly doing my research and defining what makes a product ethical. Please bare with me as I work through these.
Here are some things I am going to work on:
1. Define what makes a product ethical, and what standards companies must meet in order to be on the Shop Ethically account. This is going to take some time defining, especially when it comes to products like leather. If you have feedback, comment below!
2. How I am getting these products. I think a lot of fashionistas find fashion blogging appealing because many of them are gifted free products in exchange for an Instagram or blog shoutout. I will be completely transparent and say that only one of the products on the Shop Ethically account that I tagged is something I purchased (the black Everlane t-shirt). The rest have been gifted to me (not for Shop Ethically, but for promotion on my own account, or simply for feedback on its design). The thing is, I don’t want this to be about me, nor do I want it to be about me getting tons of free, new products. This isn’t about how cool I dress or look or anything like that, which is why I haven’t shown my face in any of the posts on the Shop Ethically Instagram account. I want it to be about the companies instead, and the good they are doing. I don’t entirely know how I combat this. Some ideas I’ve had are to always say whether an item was purchased, gifted, borrowed and whether I kept the item or will be giving it away or even back to the company. It’s a way of being transparent, and if you have suggestions or thoughts on this, please comment below.
I’m only half way through the True Cost documentary, but I had to stop to come write this post. Here are a few interesting facts I’ve learned from the documentary, as well as some helpful reminders:
- HUMAN BEINGS are being paid incredibly low wages, many below the living wage, in order to produce cheaper clothes for Americans and Europeans.
- This also means that the working conditions are low, there are children working in these factories, and some of these factors don’t follow local labor laws.
- The argument “but they create jobs” (such as the garment factories in Bangladesh) is an incredibly poor argument. People’s lives are still at risk, and why yes, it may be safer than something like coal mining, their lives should not be jeopardized for our consumption. There absolutely has to be a better way for these people to be making our clothes that help women’s needs and social and environmental development.
- 1 in 6 people in the world works in the global fashion industry.
- The average American throws away 82 pounds of clothing per year, most of which are not biodegradable, meaning it will sit in a landfill for over 200 years producing toxic gasses.
I really don’t know where this project is going to go, but I hope it helps inspire people to research where their clothes are made, how they are made, the conditions they are made, where the materials come from, etc. It seems like a daunting task, which is why Shop Ethically is here to help. This is a very new project for me, but here are some companies I truly believe in and have ethically made products:
- Noble Denim
- Tamar Shalem Shoes
- Matter Prints
There are a few more, but the reason I list these 5 companies is because I have a close relationship with all 5 of them. What I mean by this is that at one point I had emailed them asking for information about their products, and they have been entirely transparent with me. They have always emailed me back answering my questions and have been incredibly helpful. They have become so helpful that I have people who I consider actual friends at those companies. People who I email back and forth with not just products, but about life! I’ve developed friendships with the people at these companies. These are companies I believe in and who are transparent.
In the end, I may not have the newest and trendiest and therefore most desirable and sexy item, but at least I can be genuinely proud of what I'm wearing, and not because it makes me look cool, but because it has an amazing story behind it. One that promotes goodness.
Lastly, I know I have to have grace for myself. I can’t make this project perfect, and I’m sure I’ll be critiqued for it, so please, please, hold me accountable, and help me make this account what it should be. In the meantime, I’ve been doing Project 333, a project that allows you to only wear 33 items for 3 months straight. Everything else you own gets packed away and stored out of sight. I have only completed the first month, and so far it hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. To learn more about it (and perhaps try it for yourself!), click here to read my blog post on it.