Would you pay more for clothes if they were manufactured ethically i.e. produced in a factory with fair working conditions and wages? What would ethical shopping look like to you?
Before answering, look at a garment that you recently purchased and find out the brand and where it was made. Take a picture and tweet it with the info (or post it in the comments section below).
Two weeks ago, KQED Do Now examined the human cost of making clothing cheaply, stating that U.S. fashion companies design their merchandise in the United States and then outsource the labor in countries like Bangladesh where workers are paid very little to sew the garments. Has the tragedy in Bangladesh changed our thinking? Have we made the connection between the cost of clothes and the conditions of these factories? Are we ready to acknowledge the human costs of this relentless fashion treadmill and shop ethically? If workers are to be paid a living wage, would we be prepared to pay more for clothes?
Take a look at the label on your latest bargain, those trendy, cheap items from stores such as H&M, Esprit, Lee, Wrangler, Nike, J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart. Where were these clothes made?
In her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, journalist Elizabeth L. Cline describes buying “seven pairs of $7 shoes” at Kmart and admits to being a “reformed fast-fashion junkie. She writes “because of low prices, chasing trends is now a mass activity, accessible to anyone with a few bucks to spare.” Fashion trends dangle the constant lure of display and self branding in front of us and the drive to keep up becomes relentless. Quality is not the issue, but the fear of losing face in the social mirror.
There is now an “ethical fashion” movement and clothing companies like H&M, for example, has a “Conscious Collection.” American Apparel and Fair Trade Fashion offer natural, organic cotton or handmade clothing and sweatshop free production. Is then organic and locally produced clothing a way of shopping ethically? Does it also become a marketing strategy?
Another option is to follow Cline’s advice to “make, alter and mend” by which she means buying recycled clothes and taking care of the clothes we have, rather than discarding clothing on a whim because they are cheap and easily replaceable when the fashion moves on.
This could be a sustainable solution to the damage to the environment of endless stuff, which is disposable and easily replaced by yet more and cheaper versions of the same. But is it a choice we are ready to make?