Fashion Revolution Week starts today (it runs April 23-29). The movement asks us, as consumers, to question who made my clothes? This year marks the 5 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse which killed over 1,100 (and injured many more) garment workers in Bangladesh. The plaza housed many factories and at the time of its collapse, produced clothing for companies like Walmart and Zara. Nike, H&M, and Ivanka Trump also source labor from Bangladesh which is known for its poor working conditions and low wages.
The collapse of Rana Plaza spurred a movement that resulted in meaningful, although not complete, change. Unfortunately, since then the progress has stalled and many of the changes implemented have not been maintained. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend this article. Learn more about Fashion Revolution, a non-profit, at their website here.
I'll be completely honest, before I started looking into designing and manufacturing my own line, I didn't think much about who made my clothes. Sure, I noticed that most of the labels on my clothing said "made in China" or "made in Vietnam." But, I didn't want to think much about what that meant. And it's not necessarily a bad thing, there are garment workers who live and work in those countries and are paid fair wages and work in reputable factories.
But, long before I'd decided to design my own line, I'd broken up with fast fashion. Or at least the epitome of fast fashion (think H&M and Zara). I did it for selfish reasons, really. The clothes never fit well. The quality was poor. Oftentimes, it didn't last more than a couple wears and it rarely made it out of the washing machine in a state that I could re-wear it. So, I kept losing clothing I really liked and wanted to wear which meant I had to buy replacements. And that got expensive, time consuming, and annoying (please tell me I'm not the only one who finds it a little heartbreaking to lose a piece of clothing to the washer).
Do I still find myself shopping at Target on occasion? Yes. I know, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it. But, it's the truth. And I don't think it's entirely inconsistent with my commitment to a more ethical and sustainable lifestyle. Whenever I buy anything - from Target or another small, independent designer - I aim to purchase things that I know I will wear or use a lot and believe will withstand the wear and tear. No matter how ethically made a crop top is, it's not a worthwhile purchase for me. I won't wear it enough (ever, to be honest) to make the use of resources worth it. So, I focus on buying the classics over trends and quality pieces or quantity (I find giving up the trends leads to quality over quantity). At least in this small way, I'm doing my part to reduce the need for garment workers to produce more, more, more (which is usually the biggest problem leading to long working hours and no overtime pay) to keep up with the latest trends.
Below are five things I do to be a better consumer when it comes to fashion.
1 // The One Week Test. After purchasing a piece of clothing, if I don't wear it within a week, I return it. I'm usually eager to wear new clothing and if I haven't worn it in a week, I probably won't wear it enough to justify the social and economic resources used to make it. (Exceptions include items bought off season. In that case, the test is "did I want to wear this but couldn't due to weather.")
2 // Three Outfits. Whenever I purchase something new, I must be able to create three outfits with it using pieces I already have in my closet. I have found that if a purchase requires additional purchases to wear it, it isn't worth it.
3 // Multiples Test. Before purchasing multiple colors or patterns in the same item, I buy one and wear and wash it to make sure it holds up and I actually need or want the other colors or patterns. I can't tell you how many times I've bought the same top in three colors only to realize they shrink horribly in the wash (despite following the below instructions).
4 // Wash on Cold & Don't Tumble Dry. As a tall woman, I learned this trick early on out of necessity. But, it really is the best method for everyone. Hot water uses more energy, causes clothes to shrink and dye to bleed. So, wash your clothes in cold water (preferably on a gentle cycle). Don't tumble dry. Instead, hang or lay flat to dry. Again, the heat from the dryer uses more energy and eats away at the fabric your clothes are made of causing them to become thinner overtime and more susceptible to fraying, pilling, and holes. It's also the main reason why your clothes shrink in the laundry.
5 // Don't Buy Just Because It's On Sale. This used to be my biggest pitfall. Don't buy something simply because it's on sale. If you've been eyeing it and are waiting for it go on sale, by all means, go for it! But, don't simply pick something up because it's cheap. This is the lure of fast fashion. Since I stopped shopping at fast fashion chains (and reduced my Target spending), I noticed I actually spend less overall on clothing. Yes, I might be spending $100+ for a shirt, but the price tag makes me stop and think about whether or not I want, need, or will use it. It also means I end up with better quality clothing and clothing I really want to wear, so I don't walk into a full closet but with nothing to wear (which of course results in more spending). Bottom line, those $20 tees add up fast, especially when you need something to wear with them, they don't hold up, or they just don't make you feel great so you end up not wearing them and buying something else. The ultimate cost of clothing is its price per wear, not the number you see at check out.
I'd love to hear from you! What's important to you when it comes to fashion?