Oh hi friendly readers! It’s me! Soph! You know. That girl! No, not THAT one. This one!
I have been MIA lately – no, disappointingly not the bad-ass rapper – because I thought it would be a cool idea to get a Masters. After a semester of this, I can report that getting a Masters is indeed a cool idea because you get to learn heaps of things and start a new career that pleasingly reduces your existential dread, but is also sometimes a less cool idea because often you don’t have any time to write, maintain social relationships or wash your hair. Now that I’ve finished the semester and washed my hair at least once, I can attend to my long-forgotten digital baby, The Ethical Something Or Other Dot Biz.
When I think about my jouuuuuurney to this blog, it started in a big way with my own reading of a bunch of other clever writers online who were blogging about their own stories of minimalism, intentional living, and slowing the hell down. I still keep up with a few of them, and I think you should too! So here, in no particular order, are five excellent places to start if minimalism is floating ya boat.
Note: This post has some disturbing images and words about the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. It’s a difficult one to read, but if you can, please do. This is part of the real price we all pay for fast fashion – horror, brutal injury, and loss of life.
It often takes a crisis or disaster to bring things to our attention. 2013 was perhaps the height of my mindless fashion binges. I never thought about what I wore. I didn’t know a thing about where it came from, or in what conditions it was produced. I thought sweatshops were just things that Adidas and Nike did in the 90s and that we were all good now, yeah? If common sense or a smidgen of critical thought somewhere in my brain happened to gently suggest that perhaps those practices haven’t really gone anywhere, given how little I liked to pay for tops…well, I would just silence the pesky little dissenter. I had carried on like this for years, I wasn’t going to stop because of something silly like, I don’t know…facts. I remained comfortably cushioned in my ignorance until images like this one seemed to leap out from my TV and laptop, grab me by the shoulders, and shake me into facing what I had been supporting.
This was Rana Plaza, a commercial building in Dhaka. Inside it were the factories of five garment manufacturers where at least 2,500 mostly female local workers made apparel for brands like Primark, Mango, Bennetton, Accessorize and Walmart. The building was dodgy to begin with. It had been planned to accommodate the banks and shops on the lower levels; the four levels of the garment factories did not have proper planning permission and were not built in line with safety regulations.
On Tuesday, 23 April 2013, visible cracks appeared in the building. Workers in the lower level banks and shops were ordered to go home due to the safety concerns. The factory workers, however, were assured by their bosses that the building was safe. There were also reports that managers threatened to dock the employees a months’ pay if they didn’t come in the next day. Garment workers are already notoriously underpaid, and many were already owed what little money they earned in arrears.
Faced with little choice, employees arrived for work at 8am on Wednesday, 24th of April. Their shift would ordinarily last until around 9 or 10 o’clock at night. But at around 9am, the building collapses, trapping, killing and injuring thousands of the workers inside.
One survivor shared his recollection:
Mahmudur suddenly felt a jolt. Within a moment, he noticed his colleagues running back and forth, screaming. It took Mahmudur little time to understand that something ominous was going to happen. As soon as he along with others moved 20 feet towards the staircases, the building began collapsing, giving him the feeling of a lift going down. “Darkness engulfed the entire place with thick clouds of debris. I heard screams around me. My heart started pounding,” said Mahmudur, a quality inspector of Ethar Tex Ltd on the fifth floor.
“I lay down near a pillar, thinking that perhaps I was going to die. We were being roasted inside,” he said. The roof curved and fell on him, leaving a space of three feet above him.
(extract from http://www.thedailystar.net/news/inside-the-hell)
The final death toll was 1,134. Around 2,500 more were seriously injured.
Rana Plaza certainly wasn’t the first garment factory collapse – fires and structural problems have plagued factories in Bangladesh (and other developing countries where manufacturing is based) for years. The demand for cheap clothes, and plenty of them, for the big brands, means factories are generally hastily constructed, not fit for purpose, unsafe, crowded, or unsanitary. And that’s just the buildings themselves. Workers are drastically underpaid – many only receiving a shockingly low ‘minimum wage’ (far lower than the recommended living wage of the country), forced to work long hours (the 14 hour days of the Rana Plaza workers were not at all uncommon) without leave or days off, and discouraged or even forbidden from unionising to improve their conditions.
The Rana Plaza collapse prompted the implementation of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, which has been signed by retailers who commit to improving safety conditions in garment factories. Three years on, progress has been slow. At least 35 factories have been shut down following the reviews that the Accord mandated, but many more that had identified necessary improvements are still yet to be made.
Meanwhile, the minimal compensation for the victims (Benneton, for example, were very slow to donate to the compensation fund but, prompted by a petition with over one million signatures on it, donated $1 million – a drop in their billion dollar pond) was only recently finalised.
The pattern of unsafe conditions and lack of workers’ rights continues across the many developing countries that rely on the West’s voracious appetite for fashion – the faster and cheaper the better. It’s a relentless and horrifying picture, but one I only opened my eyes to in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse. It’s always Rana Plaza I come back to when I get a shopping pang – always images like these that I bring to mind.
Want to read more by an actual expert, not some hack blogger? I recommend starting with Lucy Siegle’s excellent book To Die For: Is Fast Fashion Wearing Out the World. For up-to-date analysis on the issues around the garment industry, cleanclothes.org and labourbehindthelabel.org are great resources too.
Soz to indulge you with a fave Gen Y pastime, but this selfie is kinda important.
This week is Fashion Revolution Week. It’s a global movement which encourages consumers to ask brands WHO IN THE NAME OF BEYONCE SOURCED, CUT, DYED, PRINTED, TREATED, SEWED, AND PACKAGED UP MY CLOTHES. Or, as their marketing bigwigs have put it in a snappy hashtag, #whomademyclothes.
There is f*** all transparency in the fashion industry’s supply chain. Many brands don’t even know everything about where their clothes are being made. But what we don’t know can hurt us. It is hurting us. Under incredible time and cost pressures, manufacturers outsource and undercut prices in desperate bids to win the business of the big Western names. This leads to all kinds of awful working conditions, workers not being paid a living wage, unsafe and unsanitary factories and really scary environmental impacts.
It’s pretty easy to feel fatigued as a consumer when you’re faced with that reality. The problem is huge, it’s systemic and it’s insidious. It is so deliciously tempting to just ignore it.
Please don’t ignore it.
Fashion Revolution Week’s big campaign is around the #whomademyclothes hashtag. It’s pretty simple – you snap a pic of yourself with a tag of one of your fave brands, you ping it to the 19 year old intern who’s running their social media account, and you use the hashtag #whomademyclothes. If you’re a selfie kinda gal or guy, why not make this week’s exercise in radical self-love (or radical ego stroking) a little bit more useful and, I don’t know, hashtag-y?
If you think this whole thing reeks of slacktivism, I feel ya. The critic and ex-marketing slave feels a little dead inside at the mere whisper of hashtag campaign. But, if I had to get behind one, this would totally be it.
Brands won’t do shit without consumer pressure. If we tell them what we want is cheap clothes, that’s what they’ll give us. But it will continue to come at a devastating cost.
If we tell them what we want is human rights, reasonable working hours, a living wage, measures to stem environmental impact, practices that don’t harm animals – then, eventually, they’ll take notice. But we need to be loud and clear, because they are dumb and awful.
Soz. Bias and tireds are coming through. Where was I.
If selfie-ing and hashtagging aren’t your thing, I get it. But there are plenty of ways you can lend your voice to this movement. This week is the best week to do it, because there is a worldwide, consolidated effort behind you. If you don’t wanna selfie, try tweeting, emailing or Facebooking your fave brand, and use the #whomademyclothes hashtag. See what they come back with. Is it radio silence? Is it a generic sounding statement hidden in their website? Or is it something more substantial? Think about what they’ve said – and what they haven’t. Is it enough?
Finally, check out Fashion Revolution’s booklet on How to be a Fashion Revolutionary. It’s a great overview of some of the key issues, plus how to make your voice heard.
You ARE powerful as a consumer. Every time you buy, you vote. Every time you stop, think, and ask the right questions (and maybe even make a better choice), that sends a powerful message. Think about what you’re voting for. xx
Courtney Hade is my friend, ex-colleague (notable fact: I baked her a gluten-free rainbow cake for her last day at work and I am NOT a baker – so she made an impression!), intrepid traveller, health and wellness guru and one of my minimalist heroes, maybe without even setting out to be. Last year, Court and her new hubby Drew quit their jobs, packed up a 4WD and a caravan and took off around Australia for nine whole months. In this awe-inspiring display of grabbing life by the balls, Court not only lit up my Facebook feed with amazing pictures from corners of the country I hadn’t even heard of, she also inspired me to think differently about what a full life meant. I’d say Court’s a bit of a natural minimalist (she ate weird leftovers out of jars long before it was trendy), but life on the road cemented a lot of her ideas about what’s important. She’s the perfect person to share some insights about finding minimalism on the road – and taking it home again. Enjoy!
You and Drew went from living in a comfortable two bedroom apartment of your own to living in a caravan for nine months. This meant a pretty huge downgrade in the quantity of stuff you could realistically have. Was that daunting when you were preparing and starting out?
Hell yes! Drew and I set ourselves a major challenge to leave our jobs, downsize our lives to travel this gorgeous country of ours for nine months. Screw waiting for retirement, we wanted to see the sights while we were young enough to explore every nook and cranny.
It’s quarter time in the year-long game that is my ethical wardrobe challenge. Time to go get a pie, everyone! Quarter time is also a great opportunity to look at your stats, and have a bit of a huddle. I know sports things like this because of my deep love of the pivotal sports movie, A League of Their Own.
March in review
After February’s craziness, it’s felt great to have all the change and upheaval behind me and to settle into a routine, even if the routine is enough to send me mildly insane. Life’s busy, which continues to be a great weapon against mindless shopping, and also a great weapon against achieving the (very high) number of hours of sleep I would like each day.
For the first time in 2016, I went shopping! All within the wardrobe challenge rules, of course. My motivation was mainly to get some flat, work/placement-appropriate shoes to wear in the summer/autumn/spring (my pre-challenge shop included a couple of pairs of ankle boots and a pair of brogues for the winter, but I didn’t want to bust them out too early). I’m lucky enough to have a pretty giant Savers near my new place – a big ol’ ‘recycle superstore’ full of second-hand gems. Savers stores are as Melbourne as soy lattes, and while their sheer size and volume of stuff is overwhelming, they are brilliant if you have the patience and time to have a leisurely browse through. They partner with non-profits to get clothing and homewares donations, and send excess to developing countries (admittedly, a practice which can be really problematic – check out this BBC report and WhyDev’s article).
I am a huge convert to the humble clothing swap. It involves so many things I love: my friends, free stuff, more ethical/environmental choices, decluttering, and wine/cheese/other excellent snacks.
To backtrack a little, I’m a proud founding member (a term that nicely elevates the result of a drunken conversation at a bbq about how our friends and I could “be more classy”) of a local book club. The book club started off with the greatest of intentions, and we all trotted in clutching our Gone Girls or Rosie Projects or whatever had the Oprah Book Club seal in 2012. It quickly descended ascended into a glorified wine club where, if you managed to read a book that month, you were welcome to talk about it for a bit, but equally it was totally cool if you hadn’t, and if you had helpfully brought along the latest edition of Who Weekly, more power to you.
Given the already pretty loose format of these monthly gatherings, it was pretty easy for me to suggest an alteration to the traditional line up of wine/cheese/celebrity + domestic gossip. I simply bribed our gracious host, hijacked the group email, and off we went. If I do say so myself, it was a cheesey, winey, free necklace-y hit, and I therefore now feel utterly qualified to dole out advice on how you too can host your own non-sucky clothing swap.
As predicted, February was kinda intense. It was like the life equivalent of going outside on a really blustery day, where you’re struggling to stand up straight, you’re involuntarily contorting your face all kinds of ways, your hair is somehow exiting vertically from your head, and you’re pretty sure a bug just flew into your mouth. You’re a bit of a mess, it’s a little stressful, but you also sense it’s sort of exciting. (Wind is my least favourite weather phenomenon, but I remember telling a thoughtful writerly friend that once and he said, “no way – feeling the wind in my hair? It makes me feel like I’m alive!”…so now I try and think a little differently. Mainly I just associated it with hayfever or being completely incapable of riding my bike into headwinds.)
This month involved packing up and moving out of my old place (including selling and donating a whole lot of household stuff) and into my new one, and leaving full time work to go back to uni. Another important wardrobe challenge-related milestone from this month was my first ever clothing swap.