I’m not much for fancy clothes. I wear stuff I like that makes me feel comfortable. And I don’t tend to go shopping unless I need something. For example: my black ballet flat shoes I’ve had for like six years finally wore out when the toe had a hole in it. I noticed it when I walked through a puddle and water came gushing in. If you look at my clothes, it’s a lot of the stuff I’ve had for years. I wear things until they fall apart.
Maybe it’s because we didn’t grow up with much. Maybe I’m just low maintenance. But I know it has something to do with my awareness of how fashion works and the industry that manufactures it. Thanks to the internet and to the owners of small, local clothing businesses, there are things I can’t unknow.
It started out with my attempts to find items that were made in America. Several years ago all I could find was clothing from American Apparel. American Apparel was based in California and I bought shirts from them for years. But when the head of the company turned out to be kind of a skeezeball, I stopped buying.
I would ask the question when I was in stores. “Do you have anything made in America?” It was nearly impossible to find anything in any large commercial chain. Just blank faces and shrugs from the staff.
Why was I asking? Because goods made in America meant I was supporting people here, in my country and community. I associated it, too, with quality. I’d had stuff made in far-flung countries that fell apart too quickly. I was content with keeping my dollars at home.
What made my quest nearly impossible was the fact that manufacturing had been largely outsourced to cheap labor overseas.
Not long ago, we made clothing here. Check out this old commercial from the 70s that celebrated American made clothing:
Somewhere along the way that changed. We shipped it all overseas and these nice ladies and men lost their jobs. And yes, sure, now some other human being is being paid to make that article of clothing. I think I’d be okay with it if I knew they were being paid fairly and in good working conditions. But a majority of them aren’t. News stories in years past have documented how large manufacturing shops have collapsed or had fires break out that left workers injured or dead. The wages these people receive are meager at best. By buying these clothes, we perpetuate a system that is exploitative and unfair.
When you’re at the mall and you see shirts for dirt cheap or giant sales, realize the manufacturer planned for that. So to make any profit at all, the amount they must pay for labor and materials has got to be impossibly low. Some people might say, “hey, that’s capitalism” but paying someone just enough so they’re not technically a slave doesn’t sit right with me.
Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert. I’m not saying I have the answers. And I’m also not saying I’m 100% perfect. I don’t make a lot of money and sometimes the shoes or purse or whatever I own were made overseas. I’m not preaching perfection. I’m saying we should try to be more knowledgeable. We should care. We should adjust our habits where we can.
I have seen a resurgence in made in America goods. Fair trade clothing items are becoming more common too. Again, with the internet, you can find more information and shop clothing that is more in line with healthier manufacturing practices. There is a potential to fill your closet with clothing that is not to the detriment of others.
I’m sorry if this is soapbox-y. I just care about this. I think we can all be a little better with some extra consideration.
If you want more information about fast fashion and common manufacturing practices, check out the documentary “The Real Cost”. It’s on Netflix streaming. For more information about ethical fashion (or eco-friendly fashion, another thing I try to incorporate into my buying habits) check out ecouterre.com.