My journey toward kinder living went into overdrive on April 24, 2013. On that day, the Rana Plaza Building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,138 garment workers - mostly young women - who were creating clothes for people like me to buy. Their bosses knew the building was unsafe but made them work anyway, all so I could have cheap clothes.
It's fitting that as this anniversary looms near, we focus this month on understanding our role in this kind of injustice, and what we can do about it.
As Fashion Revolution puts it, "Whether you are someone who buys and wears fashion (that’s pretty much everyone) or you work in the industry along the supply chain somewhere or if you’re a policymaker who can have an impact on legal requirements, you are accountable for the impact fashion has on people’s lives and on nature."
There are excellent resources of information about the fashion industry, and I encourage you to explore a couple below, but I'll start with a story, of Sunita (click on her story here). Sunita lives in India, which has some of the worst gender disparity in the world. After having a daughter, she feared for her girl's future. "Out of a desire to make sure her daughter was provided for, Sunita joined a local jewelry-making group. The work was far from easy—Sunita was abused and never paid a fair, livable wage. Many of her workdays ran late, sometimes lasting more than 9 hours. Throughout the three years Sunita worked for the group, she never earned more than 40 rupees, or about $0.65 per day."
Sunita later learned of a jewelry-making group in New Delhi - a partner of Noonday - that offered good pay and educational programs. Soon, she was providing for her family and spreading the news to other women in her community about this opportunity.
Sunita's "before" story is all too common in the fashion industry, with brands that care more about profit than people and planet. But fortunately, her "after" story is becoming more common, because people like you and me are making noise and voting with our dollars for a better world. Let's demand better, rethink how we think about fashion, and create change, together.
Stories like this are what ignited a fire in me to join Noonday's mission of changing the world through fashion, because we all can be part of stories like Sunita's, simply by putting our wallet to work to create a better world.
According to the UN, investing in women's economic empowerment has a direct impact on gender equality, poverty eradication, and inclusive economic growth. It means fewer women being abused and disempowered, and more women leading, able to look beyond their families' needs, and involved in their communities.
In other words: in an industry that employs many women worldwide, revolutionary change means empowering women and, in turn, empowering families and communities.
Take a look at an overview of the issues at Fashion Revolution. In short, many of the world's 75 million garment workers are not earning a living wage, and/or do not have the right to things like organizing into unions, taking medical leave, and more. They work in unsafe and abusive settings. Fast fashion produces cheap clothing not built to last, creating a huge environmental toll in the production and waste, degrading artisanal business, and harming third-world economies when our discarded clothing floods their markets, undermining local businesses.
Fashion Revolution states, "A century ago, we spent more than half our money on food and clothes, today we spend less than a fifth. As a society we purchase 400% more clothing today than we did just 20 years ago. Every time we buy something that costs less than we think it should, we are implicit in the impacts of that transaction.
"We need to break our addiction to the need for speed and volume. We need to realise the true cost of our cheap bargains. Ultimately, we need to buy less, buy better and keep asking questions about the realities behind what we’re purchasing. We need to love the clothes we already own more and work harder to make them last."
When you see a shirt that costs five dollars, do you get excited? Or does this set off a red flag for you, because when you consider the cotton growing, spinning, dyeing, sewing, transportation, retail overhead, and more...you realize perhaps the item is cheaper than it ought to be? This is called externalized cost; in other words, rather than you as the consumer paying what the item truly should be worth, someone else is paying. The environment is paying because shortcuts were taken, garment workers are paying by not earning what their labor truly should be worth, etc.
So we must begin with a mindset shift. We must be aware that fast fashion is artificially cheap, and inspired to instead buy fashion that is ethically made and made to last.
We'll focus this month on identifying brands and habits that are kinder; care and disposal of items we already own; and activism. As always this will look different on everyone! Some people will start buying all fair trade items while others will scour thrift store racks. Take some time to think about what this month's challenge will mean for you and your family.
- Find kind brands. As you know, Noonday Collection is my go-to for accessories, made by artisan partners committed to using their businesses for big change - beyond just "do no harm"! Noonday is an active and highly respected member of the fair trade community. See some of my favorite fashion brands - and coupon codes - in your Ethical Shopping Guide, which you got when you joined the challenge (still need to join? Click here). Looking for brands that are B Corps and/or members of the Fair Trade Federation is a good place to start. Don't forget about undergarments, shoes, kids' clothes, and more too!
- Be inspired. This post is so filled with bad news, but there are so many great ethical brands and fashion influencers to look to who show that ethical fashion is stylish and fun! Some great Instagram follows are @jessicahonegger, @noondaycollection, @stillbeingmolly, @elegantees, @redcarpetgreendress, @blythehill (founder of @dressember), @shop_trove, @conservationista, @therootcollective, and @shantides.
- Buy clothes that last. Click here to learn how to identify quality in your clothing. You may not have the funds to overhaul your wardrobe, but perhaps buying fewer pieces, and adding one quality piece at a time mixed in with some thrifted items, will make for manageable change over time.
- Buy fashion you love and will use. This sounds like a no-brainer, but if you say "meh, I don't love it but it's cheap and I'll get a few uses out of it," just say no. This is a crucial and counter-cultural mindset shift. If you need something for a single event, consider borrowing instead of buying. As you may know, there's a lot of buzz about capsule wardrobes, where you focus on a few quality items and wearing them well; I haven't tried this, but a simple Pinterest search will surely yield lots of resources! Even if you don't do a full-on capsule wardrobe, those who do will have tips on what pieces will go a long way in your closet.
- Buy used. Although used clothes aren't creating demand and jobs for ethically made goods in the same way that fair trade items are, they're an excellent way to get more life out of clothing before it goes in the trash, and a great way to save money too. Find thrift or consignment stores near you or see my ideas in the Ethical Shopping Guide.
- Care for what you have. Follow wash instructions to make your clothes last. If you have a pair of high-quality shoes, take them to a cobbler to replace the soles when needed instead of throwing the whole pair away. If your jewelry becomes damaged, see what you can do with a pair of pliers, super glue, trip to the craft store, or a crafty friend. As for tears and rips in clothing, I'm the first one to say I'm clueless about sewing, but Martha Stewart offers some advice for simple mending.
- Be responsible when getting rid of clothing that's still usable. If you're used to just bagging it up and schlepping to Goodwill, it's good to better understand the toll these donations take. A far better approach is for you yourself to find someone who will take or buy your clothing and make use of it, through a clothing swap, donating to Dress For Success or a shelter, and more. Moreover, understanding that donating doesn't negate the harm of fast fashion will help shift your mindset: buy less, and buy better. Learn more about the pitfalls of donating here.
- Be responsible with clothing that's no longer usable. See here for tips on textile recycling or reusing items in your own home. Do not throw clothing into a landfill!
- Take action. Fashion Revolution has great ideas for making your voice heard, particularly as Fashion Revolution comes up the week of the Rana Plaza anniversary.
- Create a marketplace for ethically made goods. If you're curious about starting your own business to make an impact in this area, check out the Noonday Ambassador opportunity and let me know of any questions. I love having a platform for sharing about this important topic, while impacting ethical artisan businesses around the world, so I'd love to share what this could look like for you, and coach you, as we continue to spread the message! Or if you want to simply host a marketplace in your home, contact me to book a trunk show locally, or I'll help you connect to an ambassador in your area if you're not local.
As always, I hope you'll take time this first week to equip yourself for change. Need to do a quick search of great consignment stores near you? Need to plan a clothing swap with friends? Need to ask in our Facebook group about a specific item and where to find one that's ethically made? Need to put together a simple sewing kit and gather some mending projects together so you won't be tempted to just replace rather than repair? Take the time to get ready, and share over in the group what you're up to!