Making mindful choices to be a smarter consumer
Buy one get one free. Two for $4. Jeans starting at $19. Up to 70 percent off.
It is nearly impossible to walk through a store without seeing signs like these plastered on every other rack. I love a good deal and getting the most for my money,–we all do. But what is the true cost of the things we wear?
Fashion is an almost $3 trillion industry, according to the World Economic Forum, yet the demand for constant new trends has forced factories to cut corners in order to retain jobs. This newfound “fast fashion” has caused a competitive pricing war where companies, like Gap, H&M, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, and Adidas (as well as many others), tell factories to beat competitors prices or lose business.
On April 24, 2013, 1,134 people were killed and thousands more injured when a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh after owners ignored orders to evacuate. Forty-one people were charged with murder over this particular incident.
There are over 20 million people in slavery around the world and over 68 percent are in forced labor, according to Polaris, a leading organization in the fight to end slavery. Along with that, one in six people work for the fashion industry. Since when should our entitlement and desire for cheap clothing cost people their lives?
Over the last 90 years, the size of our wardrobe has nearly tripled, according to Elizabeth Kline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Kline suggests that in the 1930s, a woman had an average of nine outfits, while the average woman adds over 64 new items a year.
Now do me a favor. Take a minute. Look at the clothes you have on. Do you know anything about them other than the store you bought them at?
Do you know where they were made? Do you know how the person that made that article of clothing was treated?
When you spend money, you are voting for the type of world you want. That being said, are you voting for a world where you are purchasing people’s lives, or setting them free?
There are options outside of fast fashion. Some brands choose to make sure their employees, on all levels of production, are being treated fairly. In doing so, they are combating all fast fashion stands for. Companies like Krochet Kids Intnl., Sseko Designs, Patagonia, and Alternative Apparel believe that people are more valuable than cheap clothing.
Patagonia, for example, is not only labeled as a Fair Trade company, they make sure that the wages paid are a “living wage,” not just a minimum wage. Sseko Designs, on the other hand, employs women in East Africa and helps empower them to get an education. “By creating an environment of dignity, honor and dedication, Sseko Designs provides the opportunity for women in East Africa to end the cycle of poverty and create a more equitable society,” Sseko Designs said.
However, the question of cost still remains. Ethical fashion does cost more. It costs more because the brands do not allow their factories to cut corners. It costs more because the products are made well. It costs more because it is not going to cost someone their life.
“Every day we wrestle with determining what customers are willing to pay for their clothes. We need our retail prices to remain market relevant in order to stay in business, thus we can’t universally raise wages in all the factories we work in,” Patagonia said. “At the same time, we want to be a fair and good partner in our business relationships, and that means looking more deeply at wages. Fair Trade is a first step, but only a first step. We firmly believe that by being in business we can influence change and show what can be done to ensure wage equity throughout the value chain.”
Take a moment to think again. Do you wear everything in your closet? If you are like most people, the answer is likely no. We live in a culture of excess, so that is unfortunately not a surprise. The next time you see something new you want to buy, think. Buy better products, not more than you need.
Be a smarter consumer. I dare you.
— Allie Alexy, Opinion Editor