Author Anna Lappe’s once said, "every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want" - this quote haunts me each time I make the decision to buy any piece of clothes and sways me to buy quality, more expensive clothing over any cheap, trendy piece. Let me explain.
These days, we buy more clothes than ever in history, but cheaper. In 2019, Americans are expected to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, or 82 pounds of clothing each, according to the Council for Textile Recycling.That’s nearly twice as much as we threw out a decade earlier. And as time passes and we spend as much on a shirt as a latte, we value our purchases less and less.
75 million, mostly 18 to 24-year old women make our clothes in factories around the world. They earn low wages ($3 a day on average), work in unsafe conditions, and don’t have much rights or protection. In fact, the fashion industry is an example of an industry where modern-day slavery exists due to the lack of transparency in unregulated production and illegal work practices. Many large fashion brands lack control of their supply chains by contracting out various parts of the garment production process, thus making illegal practices such as child labor, sweatshops and trafficking possible as it goes unnoticed – out of sight, out of mind. For instance, 1.6 million children in Nepal are forced to work, or 21% of all children in the country, according to the ILO’s 2008 report. And according to Feminist.org, “85% of sweatshop workers are young women between the ages of 15-25”. When we choose cheap, trendy, fast and disposable fashion, we trap women in these conditions. Our decision to buy fast fashion comes with a tremendous cost that has negative impacts on the people who make our clothes, as well as the environment (fast fashion is synonymous with synthetic fibers that use hazardous chemicals when dying and processing clothing).
What can you do? First off, we need to be more mindful of our clothing purchases. Do your research and shop those brands that are environmentally friendly and ethical, (examples include Mara Hoffman, Elizabeth Suzann, Reformation, Nudie Jeans, Everlane, and The Artesao's collections). Read brands’ ‘about’ page to understand what they’re about. If you believe in say a political cause, support brands with a charitable component for that cause, such as Lingua Franca, a cashmere sweater brand that ethically employs embroiders in NYC to hand stitch political messages such as, “I miss Barack”. Buy less clothes and when you do decide to buy a new garment, know what your money is supporting by researching the brand. Find your true style without being a slave to the latest trends. After all, every purchase decision you make is a vote with your money. You’re wearing your values on your sleeves, literary, so make your purchase decisions based on things that are meaningful to you. Let your wardrobe reflect your true self. Use fashion as an everyday tool to express your ideas!