What You Wear is Who You Are

Reading other blogs is an inspiring an enriching task. Recently I stumbled over posts on how to choose sustainable and ethical clothing.

Whenever I buy, let’s say a new computer (don’t worry, it doesn’t happen that often), I do a thorough research taking all aspects into account: quality, price, how things are produced and what the company stands for.

I would love to do the same for clothes. But how do I go about?

With my post on Patagonia’s approach to sustainability I already introduced a company which does a lot to distinguish itself from others. Nevertheless, they seem to be the exception. What kind of things do we have to look for when choosing our clothes?

My highly appreciated blogger-colleague Rob from Know Thank You has recently written an amazing post on how to choose the right running shoes. He writes: “First we found manufacturers selling athletic shoes that contained no animal products and byproducts. Second, among those manufacturers were a select few whose manufacturing and supply chain policies resulted in less damage to the environment”. Finally, he went as far as asking the companies directly on how they produce and what they do for the environment. Now, imagine companies would get hundreds of emails like that every day, don’t you think that would make them change eventually? You can read the whole article here, I can only recommend it!

Another great blog, Chrunchy and Chic recently explored how to “find sustainable clothes. From this article I learned that “Since ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco’ mean different things to different people, (here are) 8 different criteria you can use to search: vegan, ethically produced, craft/artisan, custom/made-to-order (‘slow fashion’), fair trade certified, organic, recycled, and vintage/second hand.” Which to me is an amazing starting point on what to look out for. The post also recommended to have a look at what mulesing is all about. I did. And I will not keep it from you.

The best way of understanding the pratice is by watching the following video. It’s Pink for PETA, don’t be surprised. You better sit down to watch it:

So, in short we can say that buying clothes responsibly is not an easy task. Let us recapitulate: both materials and conditions of production must be taken into account. On the material side we have the vegan aspect (avoiding wool and therefore mulesing, avoiding fur and leather…) as well as organic and sustainably – and even possibly local – grown resources (cotton, etc.). On the production side we have the whole spectrum of fairtrade conditions (fair wages, protected terms of employment, right to build workers’ unions, no child labour, no health threads, etc) as well as environmental standards for production (avoiding pollution, deforestation, ect., and including recyling if possible). Finally, we can opt for alternatives like slow/artisan fashion, second-hand products and most important: we can opt for not buying.

Have you ever thought about these things when shopping for clothes? Personally, thinking about all this makes it rather unlikely I will buy anything anytime soon.

Picture by Antoon’s Foobar. Danke schön.

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3 thoughts on “What You Wear is Who You Are

  1. Thanks for the shout-out! American consumers seem to consider only two criteria when making purchases: lowest possible sticker price, and fashion. Is it cheap? Is it cool? Such decisions often overlook hidden costs to our fellow humans, to other animals, and to the environment. It is important to ask quality-related questions of manufacturers… if we do not demand quality, manufacturers have no reason to produce it.

    • American consumers seem to consider only two criteria when making purchases: lowest possible sticker price, and fashion. Is it cheap? Is it cool?

      While I agree with your overall sentiment, I’d strongly caution against making such weeping, inaccurate statements; you may have thrown that “seem” in there to cover yourself, but it’s still reading like a generalization. I think this is true for a certain type of American consumer, namely middle class-and-up with disposable income who is concerned with fashion. Someone living at or below poverty level (which 58% of young Americans will do at least one year of their lives*) must take cost into consideration, but the “cool” factor may be one of the lowest concerns, if any at all. When you have less than $20 dollars to spend on clothing (for example), you’re thinking about buying your 5 year old son a pair of shoes that is a few sizes too big, but with some socks stuffed in, will last for years (not just a season), and a sweater for your daughter that is four sizes too big so she can wear it until he gets to middle school and then pass it down to her younger sibling(s). Such a person, if they could shell out an extra few cents/dollars for something they’ll be able to use for many years to come, will do so, and it would not be for the two reasons you mention.

      * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_the_United_States

  2. Your last point is one that I think very few people care to consider (no thanks to the way our economy is set up). “We can opt for not buying” sounds extreme, impossible, even, given the fact that we must “consume” at the very basic level food, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. But of course, we assume that the only way we can get anything is by throwing money at a person in exchange for something that they have. That’s one economic system.

    Another, much older system is bartering, where goods/services are directly exchanged for goods/services, without the banknote getting in the way. A benefit to this is if someone lacks money but has a needed good/service/skill, they can trade that for something they need. That’s one way to avoid “buying” things.

    Then there’s also communal sharing or goods/services, so rather than a one-to-one trade, there’s a pool of such things that the community replenishes and takes from.

    Those are the few off the top of my hear. Each (including the system we have now) has its benefits and drawbacks. The benefits I see from the latter two are greater transparency in the source of the goods and services (the material and production aspects you mention), more so from the one-to-one trade (farmer giving tomatoes to a carpenter to fix his fence).

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