Since I wrote my piece last weekend about my own dilemmas between ethical fashion and fast fashion, I seem to have stumbled upon the same subject being discussed on more than a couple of blogs. It seems there’s something in the air.
Having read these posts with interest, I felt compelled to write a follow-up last weekend’s post which was, at best, simply a stream of conscious and, at worst, the ramblings of an incoherent shopaholic!
The first post was Pearl’s musings, Budget Fashion: Can you afford to shop ethically? Here are a couple of Pearl’s most pertinent points, that she makes far better than I ever could:
“So, how about we don’t shop on the High St at all, we save all our money for special pieces we know came from ethical sources. We buy handmade clothes from exclusive boutiques… But wait, you need a dress for your friend’s wedding in two weeks’ time and you only have £30, you have a job interview and need a suit this week but it would take you months to save up for one that cost £££s.”
She goes on to quote a comment left on a post over on the blog Jezebel which aimed to shame Forever 21’s practices which echoes these sentiments and remarks:
“I wish that Jezebel would suggest some alternatives to the “fast fashion” and its sweatshops and American Apparel and its perversion. There are a lot of articles condemning places with easy, cute, cheap clothing, but most of the alternatives I can think of in my price range are likely just as unethical.
And, no, thrifting and f***ing Etsy aren’t what I mean. I’m talking about relatively inexpensive places to shop that are accessible to most people, and that don’t require that shopping become a hobby. Maybe a “How to Dress When You’re Ethical, Busy, and on a Budget?” I’m guessing a lot of readers might appreciate one.”
The commenters on Pearl’s post were all pretty much of the same mind – as each other and me: there seems to be a general consensus that fast fashion on the high street is by turns, both unethical and poorly made, thus making little argument for actually buying it in the first place. But – and this is a vitally important but in the whole argument – there are people and situations which arise that mean that, on occasion, these clothes fulfil a need which would be impossible to fill from another source. Whilst most seem to be in agreement that frivolous shopping in a store like Primark – throwing in 50 pence top after £2 dress, is not particularly sensible or necessary, there are occasions when they fulfil a need for a particular item or outfit when funds are limited. (Does this make any sense? I feel like I have reverted to the ramblings of a shopaholic – again!)
On Tuesday, another day and another post about ethical shopping, Jen, of A Little Bird Told Me, questioned, after reading Pearl’s post:
“So if all our high street stores are guilty of being unethical, where can we shop? There are ethical labels like People Tree, but they can be prohibitively expensive. And there’s secondhand shopping, but not everyone has the time or inclination to rummage through a charity shop bin. One of the commenters on Jezebel mentioned they’d just got a new job and had $50 to buy a work wardrobe. A very specific need, a small timeframe and a low budget – of course they’ll visit a high street store. Forever 21, in fact.”
This question of where to shop is one that is echoed throughout the comments left on these posts and one that I asked in my own post last weekend. Harriet’s comment on my post totally struck a chord with me:
“I can’t afford to buy expensive clothes all the time, and even when they are expensive that doesn’t mean the supplier didn’t use cheap unethical labour, so it’s hard to know what to do. It’s always good to hear about shops that do the right thing though.”
If anyone has any advice or ideas about this, please do leave a comment, I would be so interested to hear what you think.
As I mentioned in my post, charity shop and thrift shop shopping are often cited as both ethical and cheap ways in which to shop, however I read a really interesting comment on Pearl’s post, from Mrs Bossa, which made me question even this:
“I used to buy a lot more in charity shops that I do, but I stopped whim-buying there because I realised that my shrugging frivolity-shopping was taking really decent pieces out of the hands of people who aren’t as lucky, circumstantially, as me. That’s not to say I never buy in charity shops now and I do see them as a genuine part of my economic landscape – I’m just trying to be better about it.”
In addition, many charity shops are now being filled with Primark rejects from those who have simply bought stuff cheap and then either never worn it or have worn it once and it has not retained its shape/colour/size/whatever and has thus been discarded.
Another post which dealt with this subject this week came from Jill, at Street Style London, who took a different angle on the whole issue – the human angle of the story of Primark and the people behind the brand – please read it, she tells it far better than I ever could!
The comments on Jill’s post, like Pearl’s, created a bit of a heated debate but, again, with the admission from many, including Jill and me, that we are divided over this subject, that it isn’t all black and white, there are shades of grey, that whilst the efforts of those to be ethical in their shopping habits are noble, there are those who simply cannot afford to have such ethics and that it is not for us to judge them.
I think that what annoys me most about the debates about anything like this, from fast fashion, to global warming, to animal rights, to human rights even, is that there are those who are prepared to simply stand and preach – and, in turn, to judge – but there are others who are prepared to lead by example and do what they can, in their own way, without trying to actively change others. It is these people, I believe, who will have more of an effect on changing the patterns and habits of many more people.
Phew – this is a long long post! I would apologise for this but I’m not going to, because I think every once in a while, it is important to raise the issues that make us uncomfortable and help us to question what we believe.
I’d love to know what you think of this debate – if you’re not too exhausted after reading this!