Oh, cheap fashion. Target. H&M. Old Navy. I’ve bought clothing from all of them, quite routinely. I love a good bargain, and although I’ve tried in recent years to really cut back on shopping and be more thoughtful about my purchases, I will freely confess that I hit the Old Navy clearance racks at least twice a year to stock up on blue jeans and blouses.Until today, anyway. Now I think that really has to change, because of this article on the Bangladesh factory fire and the conditions that led to it.
This whole blog started because I realized that living more simply would change my quality of life and my impact on the planet, and it seemed like such a revelation – that I didn’t actually want nine tenths of the Target impulse buys I’d purchased over the last few years; that what I really craved wasn’t more stuff, but a more meaningful life, and that the two might be in some ways mutually exclusive. And yet…if you looked at my closet, you’d see a lot of purchases from bargain brands. I don’t think I’ve given nearly enough thought to how these stores keep their prices so low. That’s one of the major problems sustainable clothing manufacturers face – the price gap between a sustainable, fair trade piece of clothing and a throw-away mass produced one is a wide, wide gulf, one which often dissuades consumers. I think we really have to weigh the suffering of our fellow human beings, and the destruction of the planet, against our desire to continue consuming (and consuming and consuming and consuming). We have to be able to look at the eight dollar shirt and see not only a “good bargain” for ourselves, but also a bad bargain for the state of the earth and for the people who made the shirt.
There are a number of people saying that the Bangladesh factory fire will be a turning point, because it was so high profile and so destructive, that this will be the wake up call we all needed to change our shopping habits. I don’t know that I agree. I think we have short memories for disasters that happen half a world away, and longstanding habits of consume-dispose-consume. But maybe with enough attention it can be a call to change. Maybe if enough of us say ‘this really isn’t okay, I’m not going to participate in it anymore,’ we can effect real change. I think we have to try. So this is my pledge:
For the next year, I’m not going to buy any new clothes except those that are either secondhand goods or new items sustainably produced at a fair wage. I’m going to call it the stop shopping challenge. I think it’ll be better for my wallet and for the planet, but most importantly, I think it’s the right thing to do for the sake of basic human rights. We have to start expecting businesses to do better. As consumers, we have to consider the ethics of the businesses we support. We vote with our dollars. This is how I wish to vote with mine.