I am very excited to introduce today’s guest writer Emily from Scribbles From Emily! Emily passionately believes in the power of words, and hopes to encourage and inspire with the ones she writes. She blogs at Scribbles From Emily about finding the beauty in every day. I was completely inspired by her series on ethical fashion and when I was led to post about human trafficking and the way I shop, I knew for sure I had to ask her to guest post and share her knowledge! Be sure to stop by her blog and say hello!
I believe that most of us want to change the world. On some level, we want to leave a mark on history. We want to be remembered as someone who truly made a difference. But when we look at the problems in the world, we’re quickly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues, issues like the orphan crisis, poverty, and human trafficking. Change looks completely impossible for all but the activist types, those people who have given their lives to working in the slums of Africa or the Amazon jungle. After all, how much can ordinary woman with things like family, jobs, and busy schedules do?
The first time I heard of human trafficking, also known as modern day slavery, I was in high school, researching for an essay about “problems in our world.” Unlike I had previous thought, slavery was alive and well. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any time in history. Some estimate the number of those enslaved is around 27,000,000. That includes forced labor, sex slavery, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking.
For years, I felt powerless to help. Then last fall, through God working on my heart, I began becoming a conscious consumer, thinking about what and how much I buy, and whom I buy from. I realized that through my ignorance, I was unknowingly supporting companies who make their money by exploiting those most vulnerable through forced labor, child labor, debt bondage, and other means of manipulation. By supplying demand, I was contributing to the system that sustains the abhorrent practice of human slavery.
I also discovered something that surprised me: it’s not that hard to make a difference.
You see, unlike the fashions of the past that evolved slowly, today’s industry revolves around “fast fashion,” frequently changing styles that consumers are encouraged to purchase every season. Because the styles are constantly changing, companies seek to manufacture their clothing for less. As a result, they source their materials and labor overseas, often in questionable circumstances.
However, there are a few companies bucking the industry trends. According to an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, “Ethical Fashion aims to address the problems it sees with the way the fashion industry currently operates, such as exploitative labor, environmental damage, the use of hazardous chemicals, waste, and animal cruelty.” There are six genres of ethically made clothing that address those specific issues:
- Vegan: not made with any animal products, such as leather
- Ethically produced: includes fair trade and organic certifications, clothing made with respect for people and the environment
- Craft/Artisan: skillfully handmade products
- Custom: made-to-order, “slow” fashion
- Recycled: made from existing materials, often former garments reworked into new ones
- Vintage/Second hand: using what’s already in the system, and supporting local communities and businesses
By shopping with ethical fashion companies, every dollar spent sends a message. A vote, if you will, for change. When we don’t buy what they’re selling, it speaks loud and clear that unethical sourcing or manufacturing is not ok, and when we give our business to ethical companies, women are able to escape prostitution, parents can send their kids to school, and local economies improve.
Here’s four ways you can make a difference with your shopping and support ethical fashion:
Buy Fair Trade. You might have heard of fair trade coffee or chocolate before, but did you know that clothing, textiles, etcetera can also be fair trade certified? According to Fair Trade USA, “Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. We’re a nonprofit, but we don’t do charity. Instead, we teach disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to their advantage. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives.”
How do you know if an item is fair trade certified? It should have the fair trade logo on it somewhere, or on their company website.
Buy Better. Not all companies that want to pay fair wages can afford the certification process, or want to deal with the lengthy process it requires. Although these companies aren’t fair trade certified, they still follow ethical practices by revealing their sources and following up with suppliers and manufacturers.
An invaluable tool to compare brands is the Free2Work app and website. As part of the Not For Sale organization, Free2Work evaluates brands based on several criteria and given a letter grade. Practically speaking, this makes it easy to pick better options. I can’t afford to replace my closet overnight, and pitching all clothing I’ve already bought doesn’t really help anyone. But, by using the Free2Work website, I’ve been able to choose better options going forward.
Maybe you can’t afford a pair of $100 jeans from PrAna. Instead of buying a $20 pair from Walmart, with a Free2Work grade of D+, you could buy one from Old Navy, which has a solid grade of B. Or, you get a pair of PrAna jeans for less using the next tip.
Buy Thrift and Used. Shopping clothing that’s already out in the system is a form of recycling. Plus, many thrift stores, like Goodwill and Savers, give back to their local communities, so it’s a win-win! You could also host a closet swap with your friends, and shop each other’s unwanted clothes. If shopping on eBay or thrift stores intimidates you, there’s loads of excellent information on the subject that will give you the confidence to give it a try. Here’s a round up post of some of my favorite thrifting tutorials from around the web.
Buy Less to Buy Better. Yes, it’s on sale, and it’s cute. But do I really need it? After my experiment of wearing only ten items for an entire month, I realized that I “need” a lot less than I thought! By cutting down on impulse buys, now I can afford those pricier fair trade items.
Have you heard of human trafficking or ethical fashion before? If you have any questions, ask away in the comments below!