Just some random links and thoughts on sustainable style and ethical shopping this week…Let’s discuss!
The Value of Clothing
This is a good piece in the Guardian about the consequences of Mari Kondo-inspired de-cluttering: many of us are purging and donating clothes, but it turns out that in Britain at least, one-third of all clothing, donated or not, goes to landfill anyway. That means that on average, one out of three pieces we may donate gets thrown away, not used like we hoped it would be.
This high percentage (also in the US, incidentally) is partially because of the low quality of a lot of clothing nowadays – it can’t possibly be re-sold – but there is also over-saturation; we simply have to much stuff.
What’s the answer? For me, it’s buying less over time (and trying not to re-buy everything I purge), and valuing our clothing more: buy high quality, take care of what we have, don’t over-launder it, repair it over time, and wear it often.
Gloria sent me a link to this article on Lenny about being a socially responsible shopper – it’s a good concise piece with some resources for more sustainable, earth- and people-friendly shopping. And fun too. But speaking of Lena Dunham, I might be over her…and Girls. I just feel OLD when I watch now.
We Hate Ethical Shoppers
A couple weeks ago, I read some articles on a study about ethical shopping and wanted to write a whole post about it. Then a reader sent me a couple links with some good comments, and I started thinking about it again.
To summarize, the study finds that:
No one wants to knowingly buy products made with child labor or that harm the environment. But a new study shows that we also don’t want to work too hard to find out whether our favorite products were made ethically. And we really don’t like those good people who make the effort to seek out ethically made goods when we choose not to.
Before even reading more about the study, I thought, well, yeah, sure, it’s guilt and jealousy that makes the consumers who chose to remain ignorant on ethical issues judge those who try not to ignore those issues more harshly. I know this because I feel/have felt the same way about things I know I should care about/do differently, but don’t for various reasons. If I don’t, I can definitely react “negatively” to people who do because I feel guilty that I was not principled enough, and jealous that the other person made the effort that I should have also.
And of course one of the study author’s herself says
“Willfully ignorant consumers put ethical shoppers down because of the threat they feel for not having done the right thing themselves,” Reczek said. “They feel bad and striking back at the ethical consumers makes themselves feel better.”
On the other hand, though, many ethical shoppers and consumers (and writers) CAN be quite holier than thou and denigrating of people who choose not to consider ethical issues when buying clothes. Like vegans, LOL (I can say that because I have been a vegan…but I’m mostly joking). Yes, some vegans and ethical shoppers are snobby and judgmental to a certain extent, but again, I think most of it is just perception, and our own feelings of guilt.
Another interesting point the study brought up is that many shoppers are not willing or able to do the work necessary to find out how an item is produced, where, and if, as the study uses as an example, it was produced with child-labor. I cannot grasp that myself, because I always want to know as much as I can about everything, and am constantly seeking out information, but I do know people who aren’t like that. Probably most people aren’t. They don’t know where to begin, and get overwhelmed, or many are simply just ignorant of the issues.
Ultimately, the study raises more questions than it answers, but it’s interesting to think about the questions. How do we get people to care? How do we make the information more readily available? At what point does a shift occur? When prices come down?
This video by Fusion Network made the rounds on Facebook recently, partially because of the cute butt at the end. But it’s also a not-so-well-known look at organic cotton vs conventional cotton: farmer suicides in India. The True Cost movie also touched on this issue, but GMO-modified seeds aren’t usually one of the factors we think about when choosing organic cotton, it’s pesticide use, and health risks from residue getting in the water table.
Anyway, it’s worth a look, but then, please also read this contrarian piece that debunks the “myth” of the GMO/farmer suicide link because there are ALWAYS multiple sides to every story. Of course, I think that’s a rather moot point, because choosing organic cotton is always a better idea, but doing so isn’t going to miraculously decrease the number of farmer suicides in India – we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it will.
Ah, denim, the bane of my existence. As if finding a great fitting pair wasn’t hard enough, it also turns out
Synthetic indigo dyes derived from coal tar and toxic chemicals are slow to decompose and are used in most jeans
Also, and I knew this already, denim uses a TON of water to produce, distressed denim even more. Some brands make an effort to use less water, and some use organic cotton, but they are few and far between (Eileen Fisher uses organic cotton in her jeans, but I’ve yet to find a pair I’d buy). I’m going to make more of an effort to find and review more inherently sustainable denim, but I do still believe we can do better now by buying fewer pairs of jeans, and only what we “need.”
It’s a tough issue, because I don’t have high hopes for a lot of denim brands on me, I’m rather picky about fit. And if jeans don’t fit well, I won’t wear them, which would quickly take a “sustainable” pair to un-sustainable. More on this over time…
*Actually, I went denim shopping yesterday and tried on some Eileen Fisher. Will report on that next week!
My main beef with ethical shopping is that it’s still consumption and it seems like such a passive way to do good. We all need to buy and consume to a certain degree, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing the most ethical or sustainable product if you’re going to buy something anyway, but when I’m strolling through the aisles of Whole Foods, I see a lot of products that are marketed as environmentally friendly that just don’t need to exist at all or are not necessarily a reliable substitute for a more conventional product.
My biggest struggle is also with over consumption. Buying ethically poses less of a challenge, especially when it makes you realise the difference between quality, well-fitting clothes vs the ones fast fashion churn out. Even when I wander into Zara, H&M etc. I am never tempted to buy anything because everything looks and feels so undesirable up close. So for me, going forward, I want to try and change my consumption patterns – stop shopping recreationally (and the hardest is online,m via my phone!) and really consider before purchasing.
Thank you for posting this article, Gretchen! Anyone that’s interested in great ethically made clothes can check out SEVEN SISTERS in Portland, Oregon or online at http://www.sevensisterspdx.com @sevensisterspdx on Instagram. Full disclosure, my shop!
Jess | Rose & Fig says
I literally could not be more attuned with your thoughts! Over the last couple of years, I’ve become acutely aware of all the undesirables lurking in the store-rooms of most clothing companies’ labor (and environmental) practices.
I try to keep an informative, not arrogant, attitude about it and hope that blogs like yours will keep encouraging folks to seek out information, which will pressure more companies to increase their transparency.
How many pairs of blue denim jeans does any one person need, assuming they aren’t working on a ranch or doing other jobs that require manual labor? It seems to me that many American women have so many clothes.
Andrea H says
Such great links and food for thought Gretchen. It’s interesting to hear others’ takes on the ‘ethical shopper.’ I think the shift will come when it gets to a point where it’s affordable for more people. Honestly, I think it’s affordable now, but people would almost always rather have quantity over quality. 🙁
Grechen Reiter says
what’s “too many” pairs of jeans, black pants, dresses, etc. is for each individual woman to evaluate, not me, or anyone else…that’s the problem that a lot of people see with “ethical shoppers” and one of the points the article makes: judgement isn’t productive at all, and oftentimes backfires.
Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 says
Hi Grechen! I am constantly thinking about this. I made such an effort to buy sustainably- and ethically-produced clothes post-Rana Plaza. It felt good, but so often, the clothes did…not. Half the Everlane stuff I have purchased really doesn’t fit or flatter petites or women with curves well, and while I was a fan of the $15 U Neck tee, they cling and feel awful and fail to flatter my newly postpartum body. Honestly? I am getting rid of 90% of my Everlane, 50% of my Horny Toad (though I do like the dresses, if they are a bit casual and short for work), and tempted to go back to the cheap big box for tees and tanks, which I wear until they stretch and fall apart (and I’m planning on replacing merino tanks with these big box ones because they simply fit and flatter better these days).
I struggle with the idea of minimalism as a revolving door for stuff and with sustainable items that aren’t made or cut well. Your Eileen Fisher jeans point is a perfect illustration of this.
For me, the best bet is often to buy used, but now that I have infant twins, I feel so stuck. My wardrobe no longer works for the most part, I don’t have as much time to shop, and I’m not happy defaulting to the big box, even though sometimes those items work better for me.
It’s hard. And exhausting. And, frankly, defeating.
Grechen Reiter says
such good points rebecca…worth addressing in a full post i think – it doesn’t any good to purchase “ethically” or sustainably produced clothing if it simply doesn’t work for us. everlane is quickly becoming less of a go-to for me, but i keep trying. every once in a while something is a hit. and i did go and try some eileen fisher jeans on in the right size, and i think they are a good sustainable/organic cotton option now, although they’re quite a bit more “boring” than i normally like.
our wardrobes SHOULDN’T be a revolving door is the problem, but it’s harder than it seems to find good quality, well-fitting basics and not-so-basics – things that are interesting and unique. that’s the challenge…
thanks for your comment!! I will get to a larger post/discussion soon. we need a support group LOL
Andrea H says
I do hope you’ll expand on this topic!
Darned right, we need a support group!!! I’m beginning to think our real beef should be with advertisers. I don’t know about all of you, but I own WAY more clothing now than the previous generation, and so do my daughters. Not just clothing, but accessories, makeup, electronics, kitchen supplies…I could go on and on. Somehow, we’ve bought into the belief that we can buy the perfect life. And we all know how that turns out…
I think you’re right, Grechen: It’s about owning less and buying better.