When I set up the rules for my 2016 wardrobe challenge, I gave myself a little bit of leeway. I didn’t want my rules to be too hard-and-fast, because I don’t do well with extremes, and didn’t want to be setting myself up for failure, or even worse, unpleasant success! I hate unpleasantness! So part of my challenge guidelines included allowing myself to buy new socks, undies, and exercise clothes when I needed to. In the spirit of sharing and honesty, I have bought some new socks and undies this year, thanks for asking, what a ridiculous thing I have disclosed on the literal internet. One pair of socks has bacon and eggs on them and continues to be a genuine highlight of my year so far.
I wasn’t buying ethically for socks and undies – at the moment my student budget makes that difficult – but I thought I’d dip my toe into the ethical brands water with my first ever ethical clothing purchase.
Doubtless you will all fondly remember my seminal February blog entry, ‘I fixed a necklace.’ In this formative piece, I bravely brought superglue, a broken necklace, and feminism together in a pioneering DIY effort never before seen in the blogosphere. Today, I forge bravely on into the DIY territory that I so clumsily inhabit once to twice a year and expand into the realm of…polymer clay!
While a large motivation for my 2016 wardrobe challenge is to do with the ethics of fast fashion, the challenge also came out of the reading I did about minimalism. With the help of some great blogsthat I devoured while sitting in the windowless basement room of a hospital (no, not confined against my will – working a casual job as an audio typist of radiology reports: a job that I still do, and find really appeals to my inner nosy Nelly), I learnt more about the idea of living with less.
Minimalism means different things to different people. I’ve probably thrown around the term quite a bit without really spelling out what it means to me. Which is great, because NOW I HAVE SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT, YOU GUYS!!
What follows is my own understanding of the principles behind minimalism, and how it applies to my life and my wardrobe. This is far from an exhaustive guide (lucky I’ve already written a handy disclaimer about how I am not an expert), but perhaps that makes it appropriately minimalist and I am just super on-brand? Different takes of minimalism will naturally resonate with different people. For me, it was the fashion side of things (particularly the philosophy behind Project 333) that really flipped my pancake. On the other hand, while I admire and respect those involved in the #zerowaste movement, my unshakeable love of convenience will likely preclude me from ever approaching anything quite so extreme. The great thing about minimalism is that it can apply to almost any aspect of your life, so I’ve kept this post deliberately broad. Keep your pancakes handy you guys, cos they are about to be flipped.
You guys! Hi! I’ve missed you! I know, I know. I never write, I don’t text. I used to call you on your cell phone, etc.
I’ve been around, I promise. I’ve just been trying to keep my head above water. If the water is an intensive Masters course and particularly a full time, unpaid placement at a challenging high school, and my head is, well, my actual head.
So, I BET you are just dying to know. Am I still doing my 2016 clothing challenge? Or should I scuttle away from this domain name in shame, and cower somewhere in the far reaches of the ASOS app?
As you’ll of course remember because of your unwavering commitment to this blog, I recently gave vegetarianism a go. According to the blog entry about it, that was about four months ago, so again, of course, you must be gagging for an update. Here it is, friends.
My lax approach to this dietary choice has really found a rhythm. It’s more like my nephew’s rhythm on his ‘tar (small tourist-branded ukulele he got in Fiji that was a runaway hit) and his ‘ano (one of either a little toy keyboard that he likes to scroll through the demo songs until he gets to his favourite – hilariously, the 15-second snippet of ‘A Time For Us,’ the love theme from the 1969 version of Romeo and Juliet, or an adorable mini grand piano like Schroeder’s in Peanuts) – which makes up in passion and enthusiasm what it may lack in actual rhythmic accuracy.
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