In an alternate utopian reality, where all people realized that our survival as a species depends on the health of our planet, we wouldn’t want to wear clothes we wear now. In that world we would see that our purchasing power has the potential to be either a tool or a weapon.
I invite you to look in your own closet. Go ahead, poke your head in there and examine what you have on those hangers. What do you see? Clothes, shoes -maybe purses hanging somewhere. Now look a little closer. Check out the tags on the things you own.
All clothes that are sold legally in the western world are supposed to indicate the country they were made in, the name of the maker (brand), care instructions, and the fabric content. Most of us have items acquired because we liked the style, we’re loyal to a brand, or we found something in the colour of the season that we simply had to have. Sure, these are all valid reasons to want to purchase something, but maybe there are more questions that need to pop into our heads before we take out our wallets and buy our next forgotten trendy item of clothing.
For example, in that utopian world that I was talking about, we wouldn’t have to worry about what country our clothing and accessories are made. Why? Well…because all places in the world that manufacture fashion goods would have the most strict regulations of chemical waste disposal; they would employ only people above the age of 18 and they would pay those people a descent living wage. Also, the people making this clothing would be given health and retirement benefits and would be sure to have a job- even after the busy manufacturing season of the year is over. And once our clothes were made, they would be shipped to us using only efficient and sustainable modes of transportation.
But let’s face it. That sequined item that you have in that closet of yours, the one that says: “Made in Vietnam”, or “Made in Bangladesh”, or “Made in India, is probably made by exploited temporary workers in their early teens. They’d be employed because, in order to be able to lay the sequins neatly on the fabric, you’d need small, young, steady hands. Sad? Only if you care, I guess. If you only care about whether you’ll look hot or not, then it doesn’t matter. In the utopian world I created with my imagination, people would look at an item they are about to buy, read the label, and the label would say “Made Locally”.
Why “Made Locally”? I think that we are less willing to put up with exploitative workplace practices, when the exploited workers are close to us- or at least live in the same country as us. Of course, when the people suffering are an ocean away -hemispheres apart from us- it’s much easier for us to ignore their reality.
Let’s go back to that utopian world of mine. In that world, when I asked you to take a look in your closet, you’d see all the clothes are made from natural fabrics. You’d wear light cottons, silks, hemp, and bamboo fabrics, during the spring and summer. You’d also have various types of wool stuff to keep you warm during the colder months. In this alternate reality the clothes you’d wear would be completely biodegradable. When you’d be ready to let go of your used clothes, you’d be able to grab your old t-shirt, and stash it together with the vegetable compost, because it’s plant-based fabric would eventually decompose into organic waste. The best part about this utopian world is that the clothes available to us would be stylish, fit really well and we’d feel great wearing it for longer than just one season.
I guess this sounds a lot like “wishful thinking”. Most people would think that it is not possible to have great looking clothing that is also made from sustainable fabric and doesn’t end up perpetuating slavery-type working conditions. And that is where you’d be wrong. Because my friends, as John Lennon said- “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one!” I’m not the only one (or the first one, for that matter) to ever imagine that the fashion world could use a bit of change.
I am not the only one that can make a difference. In fact, we all can. We can look into our closets, read the labels on our clothes and become aware of the human and environmental costs that these clothes may represent. Do the clothes you own make you feel good about your decision of buying them? Are you sure you are asking yourselves all the relevant questions when you’re buying more of the same clothes?
I mentioned earlier that our purchasing power has the potential to either be a tool or be a weapon. It can be a weapon that enslaves people in the other side of the world, a biological weapon that pollutes our riverbeds and our air, and a way of filling up our landfills with non-degradable trash that becomes the problem of future generations. Fortunately, it can also be a tool to point designers in the right direction. To let them know what is important to us, as consumers. It can be a tool to push for more ethical ways of employing people in the manufacturing sectors and a tool to demand better practices in the overall industry. The great thing about this is that when you start making different choices, your actions will make other people take notice. Soon enough, you’ll be able to truly feel good about the clothes you’re wearing because they’d be contributing a much better society.