May 19, 2014

Help! I Haven’t Bought Clothes Since April 2013. ~ Ashley Williams


Do you remember hearing the news?

That more than 1,000 people were killed in a building collapse in a clothing factory in Bangladesh last April? I tried to ignore it. To slip into my perfectly-fitting F-21 jeans. But when finally faced with an image of a man and a woman clutching each other, dead in the rubble, I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t been an active participant in their deaths.

I had vivid nightmares about the collapse and I haven’t been able to buy clothes since.

As far as I known none of the “cheap-y” brands that I buy were connected to the factory in Savar, Bangladesh—but they are part of the bigger issue.

Just five months prior to the Savar tragedy, 110 people were killed in another fiery collapse at a garment factory in Bangladesh (one of the largest exporters of clothes in the world). Both collapses killed mostly women, working for low wages and who were working behind locked doors. (If you’ve got to lock your employees in, that seems like problem number one).

And while a few articles do acknowledge that the jobs provided by these factories have benefited many women and the country as a whole, the conditions many of them are working under are still often sub-par.

This piece by the NeW York Times gives more details on the working conditions at the Savar factory and how employees were pushed to return to work the day after the ceiling started cracking.

The Western nations’ demand for inexpensive, trendy clothes, manufactured at the quickest and cheapest pace, are contributing to low wages, cut corners and other abuses.

I honestly can’t afford super-expensive clothes right now, because I have nearly $100,000 of student loan debt, I live in New York City and I’m re-starting my career as a self employed health coach.

I know lots of my friends are faced with similar financial situations, whether it’s being stuck in a dead-end job or paying off a recent wedding. Times are tough and for our generation, it’s been a struggle to even get our financial feet underneath us.

But is any of that an excuse to buy cheap clothes that are made by people—sometimes children—in horrible conditions? I think most of us, in our heads at least, would say “of course not!”

As an ethical vegan, political activist and lover of human rights, I believe wholly in voting with our dollars.

With every purchase we make, we get to tell businesses “yes, this is something I support,” or “keep giving me more of this thing, at this price.”

I’ve allowed myself to turn a blind eye to the industry that sells me five dollar tank tops and 21 dollar sweaters.

Here’s the truth: I’ve been putting my own desire to look cute above the well-being and fair treatment of other people.

And that makes me feel awful.

It doesn’t align with my values or make me feel good about my choices. I’m often at a loss when it comes to other people who don’t want to know about the conditions of the animals they eat as food.

Yes, I judge them (sorry, friends!). And yet, I was doing the exact same thing when it comes to clothes.

When I started writing this, I’d hope to tell you about some uber-cheap clothing alternatives, for those of you as broke as I am. Honestly, I  couldn’t find any.

So our options are: buy less; shop second-hand; shop on Craigslist and eBay; swap clothes with friends (I’ve heard clothing swap parties are super fun!) and of course making our own. And yes, I realize many clothes our friends have or that we buy second hand may have also been made under poor conditions, but at least you wouldn’t be continuing to funnel money into the industry.

Some sites I found to help you shop ethically:

Shop Future Standard

Style With Heart

Ethical Consumer

Fair Trade Federation

Ethical Fashion Blog

Sweat Free

Also for more on brands that do use “sweatshop” labor: go here and here.

So here’s where you come in: help me live my values. If you know stores or sites where I can shop ethically and sustainably, while still dressing cute and affording to eat: please tell me in the comments!

A quote that shapes my outlook on so many things is from Dr. Jane Goodall:

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.”

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Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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