Two girls protesting child labour (by calling it child slavery) in the 1909 New York City Labor Day parade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A stark and much-discussed reality facing women of all sizes is money, and how it intertwines with fashion. Fashion sustains itself by making sure that clothing items only stay in fashion a short time; this is intended to keep women buying fresh clothing, rather than using items for a few years. So while that â€œletterâ€ to fashion magazines casually mentions a woman seeking clothing for the (three month) season on â€œjustâ€ $1000 (approximately what I can afford to spend in a year on clothing, shoes, socks, purses, and undies included), rest assured that thatâ€™s not a typical budget. Iâ€™m willing to guess that the magazine just made her up, anyway.
Along with high pricing, womenâ€™s clothing is notorious for its poor construction; less effort is placed into sewing womenâ€™s clothing with quality and integrity, so what doesnâ€™t go out of fashion should society resist, will fall apart after a few rounds in the spin cycle and force someone to buy a new, equivalent item.
As if the open-face conspiracy of the fashion industry werenâ€™t enough of a problem, when clothing that is affordable and quality is available, it comes with an accessory of guilt. Sweat shops and/or child labor very likely produced something youâ€™re wearing. You might unknowingly be supporting a slave ring. The fabric of your clothing could be contributing to an environmental blight, even if itâ€™s natural fiber. Also, your decision ripples more immediately through your own community. Purchasing your clothing at such a low cost could lead to an economic downturn in your own town.
Itâ€™s horrifying, how this ethical cluster forces us to make compromises to support our own economic and social lives through our appearance. With every purchase each fatshionista makes, sheâ€™s very likely supporting a practice that goes against her own beliefs or that somehow creates more grief in the world. Itâ€™s almost enough for me to apply for a job in a nudist colony and just knit my own socks.
Even though thereâ€™s no way to immediately escape the ethical mire if you canâ€™t afford $300 for a jacket, or $700 for skirt, there are ways to turn your decisions around, albeit indirect ones. Iâ€™ve come to the conclusion that, with what I make per year, I canâ€™t afford to sidestep my ethics, especially since Iâ€™m possibly the worst seamstress I know.
Hereâ€™s how I live with myself, when I purchase clothing that has a dubious effect on the world:
1. Offset. I canâ€™t always manage to donate money to a charity that supports undoing whatever it is Iâ€™ve done to the world to get that skirt and sweater I need for the office. But that doesnâ€™t mean I have nothing to offer to change the world. I can write letters to government officials in my own country and in the countries where the product is made, telling them I know whatâ€™s going on and asking them to change it. I can give a percentage of what I paid to a charity. I can do some volunteer work for a specific cause, as another manner of offsetting â€“ and build up some professional references while Iâ€™m at it. Also, write to the company and tell them you object, but be prepared with a few alternatives, and realize your actions will result in a necessary price-raise.
2. Make â€˜em take a loss.. Itâ€™s a riskier game as it doesnâ€™t always work in your favor, but I sometimes wait to get an item until itâ€™s on clearance. This way the store offers it at a loss, and even though I buy it, Iâ€™m (hopefully) sending a message that I will not let the company in question profit from its bad behaviors.
3. Recycle. One of the last things that the fashion industry really wants to see you do is reuse old clothing. For that very reason, you should do it. You can do thrift store shopping, or if youâ€™re craftier, look into clothing reconstruction. Iâ€™m not quite so handy and Iâ€™m a bit more conservative, so I ask friends who are to do any reconstructs for me â€“ Iâ€™ve heard of everything from changing jeans to a denim skirt, to cutting the crotch out of hose to wear as a sheer top at a nightclub.
4. Sew. Sewing is a magic power I wish I had, and that my mother tried to teach me; she regrets that failure probably more than I do. Still, if you have the skill, make the most out of it. While the time and material costs are equivalent to what it would cost you to just buy an item off-the-rack, and you still should pay attention to where your fabric comes from and how the fibers are made, there is much less of an ethical mire for you to wade through as you make clothes that are fetching, lasting, fitting exactly, and affordable.