From the heart felt response to my post ‘Can you afford to shop ethically?’ I realise it is an issue close to the hearts of many of us. We want to buy clothes that are fashionable – we do not want to buy them at the expense of another human beings suffering. It doesn’t sound a lot to ask does it? Someone makes the clothes, we buy the clothes – we earn our money so why not spend it all on new clothes if we please?
But life isn’t that easy. We have no idea where most of the clothes hanging in the shops are made, if the people involved in manufacturing them were paid and treated fairly, was the cloth produced from ethical sources? How about the carbon foot print of the garment? What does that company do with dead stock? The waste of plastic and card involved in production, is it recycled….You see even the definition of ‘Ethical’ means different things to different people.
(Failed attempts at an outfit post due to the dogs playing silly beggers! Wearing Vivienne Westwood for People Tree top, Topshop jeans, Vivienne Westwood boots)
There really is so much to consider, whilst we can all take steps to shop more wisely this is not an issue we can fix overnight. I think the main thing we can do is heed these wise words:
‘Buy Less, Choose Well’
If we put some thought into what we buy, try our best to only buy things we ‘need’ – OK ‘want’ but will actually wear! Try and shop in charity shops and buy vintage, try and shop places with an ethical policy in place, little by little it can all help.
There is no quick fix because there are so many knock-on effects of our actions. Imagine if the UK stopped buying from the high street, in fact imagine if everyone in the UK boycotted Primark, for example. Not one person would shop there and they had to close down the stores. Think of all the staff that would loose their jobs, managers, sales assistants, security, cleaners, head office. Think of the manufacturers workers, they would all be set free from their sweatshops? Would they thank you for this, to them is having a job and income even if it is not the best job, is it better than having no job and no money to feed their family at all?
Ideally the pressure should be on the companies to insist their manufacturers are ethical – none of this sub-contraction get out clause. We want to know exactly where the clothes are made, we want this information available in plain English, clear and simple.
To me a bargain isn’t defined by how much I paid, but by how valuable it is to me. If I buy something which I will wear often, is made well, that will last me for years to come, then that is a bargain. So my personal attempts at shopping ethically are this: to only buy things I will get a lot of use out of, to by second hand / vintage too, only buy quality goods and to buy things made in England to support our economy where I can.
(Sirius, Ruby & Simba getting in on the act)
There is a growing collective of brands which name themselves ethical such as People Tree, Ciel – who now has a collaboration with whistles and Kitty Cooper etc. But, and I really hate to say it, I don’t really like any of the clothes they sell. Well no it isn’t that I don’t like them but they aren’t quite my style, I have never bought anything from them as I have never liked anything enough if you see what I mean.
On the other hand some of the designers I do like already are making moves towards being more ethical.Vivienne Westwood designed a t-shirt for people tree which I loved (and am wearing in this post). Dame Viv has also just launched a new collection of bags made in Africa – more on that in a later post, one of which I want to buy. But I hold my hands up in all honesty and tell you I want these things because I like them and am not buying them just because they are ethically made – although I am extreamly happy about the fact they are. Also as many of you have pointed out in your comments these shops are very expensive and are limited in size ranges.
What you said:
I’d recommend People Tree if people are looking for decent, stylish, ethically produced stuff. They’re normally a bit out of my price range but the sale prices are really quite reasonable and they sometimes do mystery bags where it’s 5 items for ┬ú30 – bargain! I’ve got a few gorgeous things that way. Alex
in our consumer driven society it is very easy to trick yourself into believing that you absolutely have to have a new dress to go out in or a completely new outfit for an interview, I know I do it often enough. But in most cases this isn’t true, we have wardrobes with perfectly decent outfits but the shops, magazines and even our peers make us believe we need a new outfit for every minor occasion and should never be seen in the same dress more than a handful of times (at the most). Jolly Good
The tighter my budget I swear the better my outfits become, because I have to think about it and go outside of my comfort zone. Little Miss C
I don’t agree with the elitism of eco-conscious shopping either, and I don’t think that people with less money should be criticised for wanting to purchase things; wealthier people are lucky that they have the option, but they are no less ‘materialistic’. Mrs Bossa
The only thing we ‘need’ to do is clothe our body so we don’t stroll around naked, or in discomfort due to the temperature. It seems that we are now a society of rights – we believe we deserve new clothes and a constantly changing wardrobe. Roz
I think that it’s important to pressure retailers to clean up their practices, rather than blame the consumers.
There are so many amazingly insightful comments on the original post, these are mere excerpts, well worth going back to read in full.I also want to recommend the following posts on the issue:
Guardian – Linda Grant Cheap at twice the price (also has a list of ethical shop links)
Rosel – My ethical dilemma with fashion blogging
Emily – Ethical fashion vs fast fashion
Jen – Ethical fashion – does it work for you?
Jill – Prime Mark – I was intending on posting about this issue myself but felt Jill’s post summed it up really well. Jill kindly copied me in on an email regarding the legal battle Primark won after parts of a recent Horizon documentary were found to be falsified. This was enough for me to undermine the entire documentary if they had found actual evidence then they would have used that no matter how ‘undramatic’. I am not saying that totally excuses Primark, but it does clarify some issues. You can read about it yourselves on the Primark Website, which I have to say goes a long way to promote their ethical considerations.
I will be blunt though, what I would like to see is some facts and figures from Primark and all the High St retailers as to how they can afford to sell things so cheaply whilst paying everyone in the chain a fair fee and still make a profit. Actually, how about that, Phillip Green et al, should you have nothing to hide?
UPDATE: Just wanted to add this link on the problems met by ethical fashion label Edun, thanks Wendy B