How Do We Re-cast Ethical Clothing Consumption?


Ages ago, I was chatting with a friend about the complexities of sustainability. I was taking an ecology class at the time, and my mind was consistently blown by how difficult it is to capture the impact of human production and consumption on all levels. Just when you think you’ve got the whole Megillah, someone asks a well-researched question and it all falls apart. My friend gave an example that I keep going back to: He pointed out that hybrid cars are considered one of the most environmentally friendly purchases that humans can make. But say you’ve got a car that still runs just fine. Even if you re-sell that one, you’re still buying something that you don’t, technically, need. Is that waste? Which is better, to trade in an older gas-guzzler for a more efficient hybrid, or NOT pay money for parts, labor, shipping, and maintenance on a car that you never needed in the first place? How the hell are we supposed to know? Measure? Even estimate?

I feel similarly overwhelmed when it comes to concepts of sustainable fashion. This post from Franca at Oranges and Apples expresses, quite eloquently, many of my own thoughts and frustrations. I encourage you to read the whole post, but here’s a key paragraph:

Buying from charity shops and thrift stores can’t be a true alternative to buying new for everyone because the second hand and the new economy are intrinsically linked. If everyone stops buying new and holds on to what they have, there are no more charity shop donations, and hence no more charity shops. The whole system would collapse.

And as for handmade, from a purely resource use point of view, it is probably worse for the environment because of the outlay in the tools of the trade. Sewing machines are a resource expensive to produce, and the fewer of them there are out there, the better. One person (or factory) making 100 dresses on one sewing machine is better than 50 people with 50 sewing machines making two dresses each. This is purely from resource use point of view. There are of course good arguments for hand-making stuff … but I’m suggesting that we are a bit more critical about all of this.

As am I. But how?

As Franca points out, clothing hasn’t been a merely functional class of object for centuries. Clothing is tied to personal identity, and no two ways about it. So a reductionist mandate for fewer, longer-lasting, more practical clothing won’t work in the long term because identity is entwined with appearance. Sustainably-produced fabrics crafted into handmade garments are a fantastic option for those who can both access and afford such garments, but what about the rest of the world? How can those living in poverty possibly be expected to shell out $100 for a pair of organic cotton pants? I realize that any positive action is valuable, but this feels so gigantic and multi-leveled that I’m not sure where to start and what will truly have an impact.

What do you view as sustainable clothing consumption? How do you vet the places from which you purchase clothing and accessories? Have you read anything that offers viable suggestions for the creation of a sustainable clothing economy? Do you believe that those who can afford to have a responsibility to support sustainable fashion? How do we re-cast ethical clothing consumption so that people can embrace it long term?

Image courtesy gorgeoux.

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  • talitha_3k
  • The Raisin Girl

    I think the first thing to do is separate "ethical" clothing consumption from "sustainable." Because they're different, at least in the sense that sustainability is just one characteristic of ethical fashion. Honestly, I have never given much thought to whether my wardrobe is sustainable. I do tend to buy only things I love and know I will wear, and then I wear them until they break or no longer fit, and then I repair them and keep wearing them until they're such rags that all they're really good for is cat toys…and then I use them for that. I also have no qualms about hand-me-downs. In my family, the women tend to pass on their old stuff to the girls. I'm lucky; I usually get my Aunt Shirl's clothes, and she has EXCELLENT taste.

    When buying my clothes, though, usually I consider several factors, and sustainability hasn't been one of them. I do consider things like price, value for the price (quality of garment), fit, flattery, how much I love it. And then I consider things like the production practices, business ethics, and reputation of the company that made it. I don't buy Dolce & Gabbana because of their objectifying and nearly pornographic ad campaigns. I don't buy things that say "Made in China" if I can help it at all. I don't buy fur, EVER. Things like that.

    So, sustainability is what you were asking, but you left the door open with the word "ethical," so I stepped right through it and rambled about that as well. :S

  • Tina Z

    There are exceptions to the buying new versus buying old paradox. I think of souvenir and branded t-shirt/clothing shops as completely wasteful clothing. Think Disney or the Superbowl. Commemorating a trip or event with clothing seems unnecessarily wasteful and we try to make ourselves feel better by exporting the surplus to less developed countries. In reality, doing so clogs up aid networks by putting them over capacity. Want a malaria net? Sorry, all we have are Celtics t-shirts. It's not that simple but that gives you a general idea of what happens. Documentaries like "Darwin's Nightmare" show people in a Tanzanian town wearing defunct logoed merchandise (the t-shirts printed for the championship team who ended up losing). Same goes for old shoes, btw. I don't think anyone will cry over a lack of branded t-shirts/clothing at the thrift shop if everyone stopped buying them new.

  • Scholar Style Guide

    Thanks for this post, Sally. I have been grappling with a lot of the same issues, and I don't have any answers, but I do have more questions.

    I wish someone would do a study into the economic and environmental impact of online shopping vs. traditional retail store shopping. Sometimes I feel guilty about doing so much shopping online b/c of the shipping involved and because it takes business away from my local stores, and employment at those local stores presumably helps individuals in my community make a living (even if it's a corporate store, like the gap, etc.). But then, there are some online companies whose business models I really admire– I'm thinking specifically of Zappos here– and I want to continue to buy from them. And obviously it's better to ship items in bulk to stores than to ship individual items to my house, but how *much* better?

    For all these reasons, I try to limit my shopping as much as possible, and when I do buy, I try to make thoughtful decisions about what to buy from where. I'm really interested to see what others have to say on the subject.

    -Liz

  • Casey

    This is one of those topics that is not cut and dried, and ends up being highly personal (since, as you pointed you, fashion is intrinsically intertwined with self expression). For me, it's a mixed bag. On one hand, I'd love to be able to afford sustainable materials and garments, but I'll admit I can't. So I turn to things like thrifting/recycling old clothes to lessen my impact on the constant stream of "wasteful fashion". I don't buy things I don't need, and I often opt to buy second hand. Rarely do I go into a store and buy something new–partly because I know the manufacturing processes are so awful. I treat things more in the manner that my grandparents did during the Great Depression: use it and reuse it until it can't be used any more. I think for me, sustainability in fashion boils down to using common sense, not getting caught up in the "need" to have just for having (as Tina Z pointed out, things like Disney tshirts and such are really pointless and contribute to the problem), and stop and try to consider whether what I'm about to buy (thrifted or not) makes sense or not. But, whether we like it or not, we do live in a consumerist culture. I think the key is educating consumers and finding more responsible ways of using resources and doing things going forward.

    Just my jumbled thoughts. 😉

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  • isleen

    I don't think there is any easy or simple answer, largely because every article (not just clothing) manufactured in an economy of consumption takes its toll on something, whether it is resources or environment. However, first world countries (like the USA and much of Europe) have drastically reduced the environmental and social impact of most of their industries. Buying goods made in those countries can help with some ethical issues. On the flip side, if we don't trade with countries who are still toiling up the economic benefits scale, then they never get the boost they need to arrive at a place where they can worry about things like paying workers a living wage, not depleting resources, etc.

    The only possible answer for how to shop is: it depends on your lifestyle. Someone who works in a metro area may benefit more from shopping vintage and owning a well-curated closet. Someone like me, who has a more relaxed schedule, can be activist by shopping less and buying better. Where I've struggled is with my sewing hobby, which requires that I consume textiles and feed the cotton/dye industries which are some of our worst polluters. I am trying to get into using reclaimed textiles in order to balance out the issues I face, but it is still a challenge — a lot of ready-made items don't have enough material to cut out patterns as is and in either case, I'm going to end up throwing away scraps, thread, sometimes entire garments when something doesn't work out.

    It's a dilemma.

  • purplesews

    Well, population is only growing through immigration in the US, so if we give everyone who comes here a chance to bring their luggage we could all just keep recycling the same clothing through the thrift stores until it falls apart in the wash!

    Oh, i jest. Terribly.

    I have had to accept that I can't make everyone do the same thing I'm doing; thrifting might not be a solution for the entire world, but it is a solution in a world where some people keep going to the Gap and then donating their clothes. (And of course even people who wear thoughtful investment pieces will still have body changes beyond what tailoring can deal with, move to different climates, slowly get sick of the color green – there will always be a used clothing market!)

    As far as new clothing, I have a list of vendors that I will always buy from because I'm familiar with their ecological and labor credentials – like the store brand at Sock Dreams, and Patagonia for all my khaki needs. (Patagonia organic cotton pants sell for $70 and regularly hit the outlets for $30 or $40, by the way.) One thing I will say for brand loyalty – instead of having to constantly guess whether I'm a size 8 or size 16, I know all the quirks of the few brands I patronize, and can pretty much instantly tell what will fit me and what the materials will be like from the website.

    Finally, if one woman with one sewing machine making a hundred dresses is your goal, then shoutouts to Etsy for letting one woman set the conditions under which she will make those hundred sewing machines. Now, whether she is incorporated as a small business, and is able to set up a retirement plan and health insurance for herself, that's a different question.

  • Denise

    No answers here. And it got harder after seeing "Blood, Sweat and T-shirts," a BBC series that followed six young people from Britain as they were taken from place to place in India in the garment industry. Very hard to watch.

    Like others have said here, this is a very complex and convoluted issue. On one hand, buying anything ensures someone a job, and buying everything is indiscriminately wasteful.

    For myself, I tend to buy fewer, more (relatively) expensive things and wear the heck out of them. And I tend not to buy a lot at big box retailers like Walmart, Kmart or Target. But that's just me.

  • Miss Outlier

    This is a topic that has always bothered me as an engineer (my specialty is manufacturing) – I KNOW how much energy and cost it takes to produce things. Your hybrid car example is perfect – often, the politically correct "green" choice is anything but. The "green" label is usually a sham. When you take a global view of things, even riding a bike is worse than driving a car – because riding a bike is correlated with a longer life, and if you live longer you will consume more resources than if you died quicker. 🙂 I'm not advocating people quit riding bikes (or that people die, goodness) just illustrating the point that it truly depends how you define the problem.

    For myself personally, I know that the "organic" clothing is not worth the money, and usually not really any better for the environment when taking a global view. I use my clothes until they wear out, and that decision is the best I can do to make an impact.

  • Hearth

    I have to agree with a few of the previous posters – first let's get rid of disposable clothing (endless logo tshirts, cheap see-through knits, etc), and then go back to the well-made items of the past… and see how much that improves everything, and go from there.

    Someone making a NICE skirt, with good seams, a nice lining, all the doo-dads your grandma taught you to look for… that person is less likely to be a sweatshop employee working for dimes. Sure, more expensive, but the point of all those details is that they help the garment last and last.

    That too is the point of home-sewing. My home sewn clothing, even the early efforts, lasted ages longer than my mall clothes. Not to mention that since I put the effort into creation, I then put the effort into taking in seams when I lost a little weight and working to get stains out instead of round-filing them.

    Haven't other home-sewers noticed the same? Mall clothing – at least the every-day wear – just doesn't hold up anymore.

  • Cynthia

    I like to wear natural fibers, and I am willing to spend enough to get something that will last a few years and through many washings. However, I am not a wealthy heiress, so I end up shopping a lot at non-couture, but not bottom-of-the-barrel places. Eddie Bauer, Gap, Boden, midlevel department stores, etc. I have well made basics from lines like this that I've had and been wearing for 3-5 years. I've been trying to condition myself to buy less, but more classic and flexible items…but that doesn't always happen. I like to have choices and variety and some new things every year.

    On the other hand, I have Depression-baby parents and I grew up pretty poor, so I can never bring myself to throw away clothing unless it's somehow irretrievably wrecked or stained. I always have to pass it on somehow…to my sister, cheap on EBay, or donated to Goodwill if nothing else. But that means I also have what I consider a minor hoarding issue surrounding clothing. I like to buy it, hate to waste it, have a closet full of things that don't quite fit anymore but I'm still deciding if I could somehow salvage them or at least pass them on responsibly…it's not pretty. There's a whole bunch of tangled threads re: waste, guilt about spending money on "frivolous" items, etc. that makes this a very fraught issue. Right now I don't strictly "need" anything by the standards of most of the world, but that hasn't stopped me from shopping.

  • Lizzy

    Natural fibers are a must for me, and biodegradability is the reason. However, it's important to always remember natural fibers are not "clean" in the sense that cotton and rayon (these I know about) are very dirty to produce and hard on the environment. Still, their impact on the earth won't be as long-term as fibers made out of petrochemicals, such as polyester, so I choose natural fiber.

    With clothing, as with everything else in my home, less is more. My husband and I have finally come to understand that living within our means means living with less. However, this also means I'm a one-sewing-machine-two dresses person, as it is impossible to buy off the rack and have something worth keeping in my very small closet.

    Thank you for this post. I think it's important for all of us to be aware of the impact of our choices. However, I think we need to consider that real environmental protection needs to come at a national policy level to make a significant impact. For example, instead of depending on each of us (and the least of us) to independently choose organic cotton, perhaps cotton producers could be required to account for their environmental impact in their processes. I do believe each of us can make a difference, but let's force multiply the thing and collectively care for our world.

  • akabini

    I love isleen's thoughts, and to paraphrase her (already!), I also like to "shop less, buy better."

    I'm working hard to boycott what we in my household call "CPC": Cheap Plastic Crap. This can translate into just about any arena — anything that's shoddily built, out of component parts that are not built to last. Clothes, household objects, cars, even houses are so often made from cheap materials that don't last, and that's simply a total waste of your money and the earth's resources.

    As it relates to fashion, I'm not a huge fan of throwaway, seasonal pieces. I won't buy something unless it's timeless, well-constructed, and is as close to perfect as posible.

    I had to re-do my wardrobe recently after losing 50+ pounds, and I used Tim Gunn's model of the Ten Essential Items to build a foundation for a new wardrobe. I'm also a hand-knitter, and am working to knit more of my wardrobe, creating functional, essential pieces rather than knitting cool things from the latest pattern that's gone viral.

    I encourage fellow knitters to work their next project out of the best yarn they can afford — it's just heartbreaking to see fabulous Aran sweaters that my older friends knit in the 1960's out of skritchy acrylics. Heartbreaking. And the same comment applies to your garments: natural fibers, or high-quality synthetics, will look good and wear better for years to come – and I think that's the key to sustainable wardrobes: what can you buy that will look good the longest?

  • Dr. Da

    While I agree that thrift stores depend on people buying from traditional retail and then donating, I still think thrifting helps fight consumerism and is good for the environment. I sort of view it the same as pets. As long as there are cats and dogs and other pets looking for homes, I will always go to a shelter or humane society before a pet store or breeder. If some day there are no animals in shelters (wouldn't that be fabulous?) then I would be willing to go to a pet store or breeder. As long as there are good clothes in thrift stores looking for a new home, I will take them over something new from the mall.

  • ambika

    What a thoughtful post. Franca's point about charity shops is well put but there's also the element of people getting rid of things because they don't fit anymore (weight gain or loss, children growing up, etc). I realize this is a bit facetious since I'm sure the vast majority of what gets donated is simply because the owner is tired of the object but it's something to keep in mind.

    & I definitely don't sew because it's more economical. The amount of fabric I have to throw out alone, that I'm sure would be more efficiently cut in the first place in a factory environment, always horrifies me.

  • tinyjunco

    just a quick post, time crunch – lotsa good points from everyone. when i was little in the sixties and seventies, people had fewer clothes than now – now clothes are cheaper (they cost less (cheap) so you can buy more, plus they're crappy quality(cheap), so you need to buy more).

    my sewing machine has made more then a hundred articles of clothing, as have most 'hobby' machines i know about. and homemade garments do last a LOT longer than store-bought, esp. nowadays.

    what's that slogan – reduce,reuse, recycle? (the idea being that in that order they will be the most environmentally sound). mostly i just make/buy less of better quality. i focus on things i REALLY LIKE, since i'll be wearing 'em out. the 'shop to make jobs' argument is kinda slippery, who wants more slave-wage jobs, who wants to keep perpetuating this unsustainable system? so i also try to put my money towards what i would like to see increase.

    this also brings up the question of 'what is enough?' i like living simply and not feeling as if i'm drowning in a sea of obligation to my 'stuff' (which is the case among people i know). i feel it's worthwhile to strive for that balance – not too little, not too much, just right….it's another way to get to know yourself, and to live that out in the world. steph

  • Stacy

    I basically buy clothing for my entire family's needs (me, son, daughter, hubby), and it has changed over the years.

    I used to love those sales at Old Navy to stock up on t-shirts. Now I can hardly stand to walk in the store due to the labor practices overseas. I make most of my kids' clothes and a lot of my own. I tend to buy quality pieces or things I can't or won't make myself (sweaters being one and jeans being another).

    As for handmade being wasteful, yes it is to a degree. However, I am the one working slave wages for my kids and myself and not someone else. I am also pretty darn good at it, so they are quality pieces that I can pass on to friends that are happily holding out their hands.

  • LK

    I try to go vintage since its a nice alternative to buying brand new and if you hunt well enough is cheap. Learn your measurements and hop on ebay. I just got two goregous dresses with shipping for under $25. Now for someone like me, and like many of us, who has very little money a find that that is priceless.

    I'd personally love to do the organic, cruelty free, environmentally friendly everything. But the truth of the matter is its too expensive for someone who barely gets by on their paycheck. I do what I can, I think that is all we can ask of ourselves.

  • Emma Clark

    Great post which raises some interesting questions.

    For me, sustainable clothing is pre-owned (from charity shops, clothes swaps, eBay or gifts from friends) or Fairtrade. The majority of my wardrobe is from these sources.

    I choose not to buy from certain shops due to their human rights and employment records. Where I do buy on the high street, I try to buy classics that I will wear a lot to ensure I get more use out of them.

    I accept the fact that this is a very simple response. I used to work for a fair trade company so I understand the arguments about cotton vs bamboo vs not producing the clothes. However, I think it's best to do something than be paralysed by the complexity of it all.

  • Inder-ific

    Ah, a topic that is close to my heart.

    I think it's easy to get discouraged when we try to analyze the very long term sustainability of fashion. It is true that a healthy second-hand clothing market depends on a healthy first-hand market. Thus, in the long term, if people stop buying new clothes, the second-hand market may atrophy.

    However, that is not the current situation. And in the foreseeable short term, buying second-hand clothing is great, and truly more sustainable than buying new clothes.

    On the other hand, even buying new clothes is sustainable if you love the items so much that you wear them to death, until they become gardening clothes, and then rags, and finally cat toys, as a prior poster mentioned.

    I am concerned that when we say that fashion is a means of self-expression, we are really making excuses for our addiction to nonstop consumption. I mean, yes, fashion is a means of self-expression, one that I personally enjoy. And yet, truly, do we need closets jam-packed with clothing to express ourselves? Do we need to go shopping every month for items to add to our already-exploding collections? No. We can learn to express our sense of style better with less items, and take better care of the items we have.

    So, in my opinion, we don't have to think through a long-term strategy, because we are still learning to cope with our short term strategy – make do with less. Once we figure THAT out, we'll be more ready to look at the long term, but right now, most of us are nowhere near that.

  • Lorena

    Sal,
    You bring up the most interesting topics.
    Although I do not have an answer I try to do my part.
    I live in a country where thrift is non existent, where recycling just begun a few years ago (and nobody does it) and a law was just passed that the government can take down any forest they way without consultation or permission.
    So, my surroundings could care less about recycling even though islands that belong to my country have begun sinking due to global warming.
    My part is trying to make people aware, using cold water for anything 95% of the time, walking to work, carpooling and gathering all my paper goods and taking them to a place where they can be recycled.
    It's difficult and people look at you funny.
    But, I have to start somewhere!

  • Candice Virginia

    I've enjoyed reading the comments above me.

    I have a hard time associating hand (home) made clothing with wastefulness, but that is partly because I come from a long line of women who made everything they ever wore and everything their loved ones ever wore.

    Specifically, when you make one item of clothing, say a pair of trousers, and you wear it every three days for two years, it doesn't seem possible to me that you could be lumped into the excessive-consumption category.

    Especially because by wearing that pair of pants every three days for two years, you are passing up the opportunity to purchase countless pairs of (outsourced) pants. You are saving money, energy and potentially even innocent lives.

    Then again, for me, the argument I just made always confuses me, because even if you aren't consuming it, won't it just be consumed by someone else? This is a slice from my vegan philosophy, yet to be honest I still don't know if I fully understand the implications of choice and sustainability.

    This brings me to the thrift store debate. It's difficult to point a finger and proclaim the entire institution of thrifting as good or bad, black or white. For some, I think thrifting becomes an obsessive impulse, just like department store shopping. You'll see this reflected in the interesting pricing schemes stores like Goodwill work up. But for others, thrifting represents a genuine attempt to live a sustainable lifestyle; it is a means to an end, not a frivolous, "what can I acquire today" spree.

    As for me, I'm not sure where I fall in all this. I don't shop much. I don't have the money or the inclination to buy new clothes all the time. But just because clothing isn't extremely important to me doesn't mean I don't value having nice clothes in my closet.

    In the past few years, I have rarely bought new clothes (mostly thrifted) but I can't claim to NEVER buy new. And I'm not sure I would want to stop buying new, honestly. Thanks for the thought-provoking question. I'm sure to give this more thought in the future.

  • Charlotte

    It's unlikely that people who donate their high-end, barely-worn garments to thrift shops will suddenly have a change of heart, en masse, and begin thrifting themselves. My clothes are almost exclusively thrifted, and it's unlikely that I'll start buying NEW high-end garments. I think this symbiotic relationship works well, and will continue to work well. Few of the women who can afford to give their Eileen Fisher garments to the local Goodwill are probably at their sewing machines nightly, crafting new garments for themselves.
    The major concern for me are the ethics of manufacturing. As one who can't afford the $100 organic cotton tent dress (I'm a liberal arts academic) I will happily make my own (aware of the issues that Isleen so wisely points out concerning textile production, aware of the issues that Hearth states so eloquently about making a garment last longer if you've put the sweat in to make it yourself) or buy one second-hand. What I won't do is buy one from a company that exploits its child workforce.
    As someone will inevitably point out, the child workforce may be supporting a village full of families who farm, so if people stop buying the garments, who is being hurt? The village that has now lost the income from the garments no longer being sold.
    What would happen in the ideal world is that the manufacturer would pay the child workers a decent wage, limit their hours, and send them to school for the rest of the day so they can become educated and eligible for better employment. In the exquisite shorthand of the day, ROLF at the prospect of this actually happening. More likely, the manufacturer sets up shop in another country, puts out promo about improved labor practices, and then goes about business as usual.
    I don't throw ANYthing away. Clothes I don't wear anymore go to Goodwill. Clothes too beat-up to go to Goodwill are cut into pieces for quilts (which I make for friends as gifts) or recrafted garments or, if they're really wrecked, for rags that I pass on to my son, an artist who has worn almost exclusively thrifted garments since the day in middle school when he realized that the $45 he'd asked me to pay for a cotton shirt at the mall would purchase an entire wardrobe at Goodwill.

  • tinyjunco

    re: home sewing, it can defintely be an expensive, wasteful hobby. however, i've sewn my own, family, and friend's clothes for 30+ years now, always with the goal of saving money and materials. it's possible for home sewing to really cut down on waste.

    i've bought one machine and one pair of shears. no dress forms, special tables or storage cabinets. i design my own patterns using old sheets, packing newsprint, etc. and lay them out to generate the least amount of scrap possible. scraps are used for accessories, linings, trim, muslins, etc. i cut the buttons off ALL clothing that has worn out – i have a few sets i've used over several times. if i get bored with an item, i'll alter it in some way before i'll buy something new to replace it.

    and, using a similar amount of materials as in a mass-produced garment (less where using scrap or recycled materials), i can make something that lasts twice to four times as long, reducing consumption.

    in the eighties and nineties it seemed the bulk of hobby sewers were producing hobby/art type garments as a status leisure activity. but since the turn of the century i'm happy to see an upsurge of more practical sewing for day-to-day needs.

    sorry about the double post, this is kind of a hobby horse of mine! thanks for listening to me let off some steam, steph

  • Sal

    As always, you folks amaze me. The depth of your knowledge and commitment to ethical and/or sustainable consumption is awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing your views and practices – I'm learning a ton.

  • Bethany

    For Cynthia, another option for clothes that are stained and thus can't be given away is to give them to your local shelter to use for the animals. If you like to sew, a stained old shirt is easily stuffed and makes a shelter cat or dog very happy. If you don't like to sew, many shelters will do the sewing themselves or just use them as they are to provide something softer than concrete for the animals to lay on.

  • gayle

    What a fantastic discussion. Ethical fashion is a tricky road. I speak as a designer/ owner of a an eco jewelry line. http://www.gcbdesigns.com. Ultimately the most eco/sustainable decision any of us can make is not to consume/purchase or use anything. I don't see this happening. When I started on the road of an eco line I had a terrible time finding suppliers and venders that understood or cared what I was trying to do. After a long journey I've established a chain of supply that works. Please know that in every industry there are people that do care about the products they produce and the shorterm and longterm impact they have. Support these companies so that they can thrive and inspire others to produce similar business models. In the future I hope discussions like these are redundant!

  • Elissa

    Hey! I left a comment earlier, but it didn't show up… hopefully you didn't think it was disrespectful! It's actually been happening a lot to me on your blog recently! Just a heads up!

  • Sal

    Elissa: SHIT! I never even got notice for it! I am going to KILL Blogger …

  • Eve

    Reduce > Reuse > Recycle

    Tinyjunco said it first, but it bears repeating. This slogan helps me sort out my environmental priorities, for clothing, and everything. REDUCE is the one I am working on hardest of all, because it makes the biggest impact.

    REDUCE means, to me, do I need anything else at all? Loving the clothes I have is always a greener option than buying or making new (or new-to-me) clothes.

    Wardrobe dissatisfaction generally comes from the same place as personal dissatisfaction — comparing to "everyone else" and feeling less-than. Just like we are Already Pretty, maybe our wardrobes are Already Enough.

  • The Waves

    This is one of those topics I could spend hours debating just in my own head! The problem of 50 home-seamstresses as opposed to one that manufactures 50 dresses is very accurate, but what are the follow-up costs of that mass-manufacturer? Among other things, there are transportation costs, poorly paid and ill-treated labour, and marketing costs of big fashion houses to consider. Mass-manufacturing also promotes the ideology of throw-away fashion. Regardless of how wasteful it might be to have to produce 50 sewing machines for at-home-usage, I'd still be inclined to think that in the long run, home sewing produces more sustainability. There are no marketing costs, no transportation costs, no packing costs, and the home seamstress is likely to produce clothing not just for herself, but for her kids, friends etc.

    As for second hand shopping being dependent on new production, this is undoubtedly true, but at least for now, buying second hand sends out a message. The less new stuff we buy, the more clearly we demand clothes that are sustainable, clothes that last. If this leads to the death of the second hand market in, hmm, a 100 years from now, at least from the logical standpoint the end result would still remain that less stuff was eventually produced.

  • jesse.anne.o

    I think this is a very good question and even if there is no definitive answer, it's a good thing to think about.

    I have a sort of "matrix" that I put stuff through when I buy (and that matrix can consist of the parameters I *remember* at that given time) which include: vegan?, construction?, labor practices? where's it coming from?

    Recently I'd decided that anything new I'd ask my seamstress to sew for me. She replied by asking if she could just give me lessons and I am still considering but my overwhelming feeling is that I have tried lessons thrice – I don't like sewing, and I barely make time for housecleaning with my schedule let alone taking the time to unbox my sewing machine and clear the cats out of a pin/needle-laden area for the afternoon. Aside from the waste of excessive machinery – I just don't sew WELL. And you know what, half the vendors I see at Renegade and the like don't *either* – or they don't use quality materials so I am adverse to buy from what I call the felt-and-glue-stick contingent.

    And – at risk of sounding like a horrible person – I follow Wardrobe Remix and similar sites on my reader and for a great majority of the things produced there, while I'm happy *someone* is willing to wear them — well, you just couldn't convince most of the world to go that arts and crafts in their daily-wear. Including me. {hangs head in truth-telling shame}

    I do have to say, though, that I've recently culled things from my closet due to fit or just non-attachment and having surplus *and* having recently participating in many resale-drop-offs, in-person swaps and online-swaps, I am sort of filled to the gills with clothing. And you know what, I'm happy I don't get to keep most of it but I get to play with it for a little while. So I'm wondering if a larger concept of "community clothing" comes into play. Or if that's dead-set against our mission to have clothes reflect our personalities? (My sense from doing an online blogger swap ring is that an item on 5 different people will look 5 different ways, regardless, though!)

    Anyway, great question.

  • jesse.anne.o

    I meant Wardrobe Refashion, not Wardrobe Remix (which I also follow, and favorite lots of outfits out of!)

  • Jingle Bella

    My clothing choices aren't fantastic with regards to ethics, and I know that. What I try to do at the moment goes like this:

    Reduce / reuse / recycle:

    Wear everything out and repurpose it when it is worn out, if I can. I'm not fantastic at this, but e.g. I have some cushion covers made out of patchwork squares of old jeans / old corduroy trousers / an old corduroy skirt; my shoe-polishing cloths come from some old pyjamas. I've also donated some old clothes to my sister to use as materials (she does art), and have donated things that are still in good condition to charity shops (or if they're unsaleable they go to textile recycling).

    When acquiring new things:

    -Only buy things that will become a regular part of my wardrobe and be worn /often/ (with a few exceptions e.g. ball dress, suit for job interviews).
    I try to do this for accessories too although I'm not as strict on jewellery as it's small and takes up little space and part of the reasons for wanting to reduce are space restrictions.

    -If I am looking for something specific, first check if I can find an item that fills my requirements and is in some way certifiably ethical e.g. fairtrade cotton or accessories.

    -If I can't, then usually I go for the cheapest. The rationale here is that it frees up more money that I can use next time so I can afford the fairly traded / made in the UK / etc item next time.

    Obviously I also look at how it's made and whether it'll last but frankly my Primark £8 jeans work as well as previous New Look £20 jeans.

    If I know, for sure, that a particular high street shop is more ethical in its practices than another /then/ I might decide to choose it, but only if I'm sure – I rather suspect that lots of mid-range stuff is just as bad ethically as the cheapest stuff, so I'd rather buy the cheapest and save some money so I can buy other things I am /sure/ are better.

    -Occasionally go into charity shops (i.e. thrifting). The pickings aren't good enough where I am to make this a primary source of clothing (just in terms of finding enough things that fit me well, let alone things that fit me well and I like)