Ethical Fashion: A Resolution to Shop More Responsibly

Ethical & Sustainable Fashion

I’m not a stylish person by any means (and this is not a fashion blog). I only just discovered how the “tie-front” look can elevate your t-shirts. And I still have no idea how to dress things “up” or “down.” I’m also a bit impulsive when it comes to what I buy. And yes, I online shop excessively and I get promotional emails in my inbox each day. I’m basically fast fashion’s number one target. But not any longer. Starting now, I am committing to making more ethical and sustainable choices with my wardrobe.

I’ve thought about ethical fashion before and I’ve looked into brands that were committed to fair trade and sustainability. But the price tag that came with it was overwhelming. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that’s what fast fashion does. It gets us accustomed to cheap clothes without thinking about the resources and labor that go into their production. And at such low prices, we often end up buying more and more of things we really didn’t need.

Despite how packed my closet is, I find myself repeating the same outfits every week.

There’s a striped shirt I wear weekly, even though it’s three years old and has a hole in the side. I wear my yoga studio’s tank tops every week. I rotate my two favorite graphic muscle tees every week. What am I buying new clothes for?

that striped shirt, part 1

At work, I repeated outfits all the time—and luckily for me, my office was super casual. In the summer, I would wear short-sleeved tees with skirts or jeans. During the winter, I would rotate all my different flannels with jeans. And when I went out on weekends, I would keep wearing flannels, but with leggings. I don’t even know why I bother shopping for parties or going out. I pretty much live in tank tops and leggings when it’s cold, and in flannels and leggings when it’s hot.

It’s weird to think of all the ways fast fashion has tricked me.

Yes, those backless maxi dresses are beautiful. And so are those cold shoulder tops. But I always go back to wearing the same damn thing anyway. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve bought something only to never wear it, or only wear it out of guilt. When I think about all the times I’ve wasted money this way, the $50 fair trade shirt seems so sensible.

And honestly, trendy pieces get boring. Again, I have no sense of style. But what happens when something falls out of trend? Do you just put it away in a box and hope it comes back in style?

Right now I’m more excited about finding timeless pieces, and finding versatility in what I already own.

that striped shirt, part 2

Maybe opting out of fast fashion will help me get more creative with my (currently nonexistent) style.

I’ve been on the search for an ethically-made dress to wear to my friend’s wedding this fall. But as I’m unemployed and cannot afford to drop $200 on a Reformation dress, no such luck. This leaves me with two options: thrifting, or “dressing up” something I already own.

I’ve never experimented with clothes, never paid any attention to the finer details of style. Like the tuck-in, the tie-front, the statement necklace, the folded sleeves, even the cuffed jeans. So naturally, I’ve never tried to dress anything up or down. But with this commitment to responsible fashion and a much tighter budget, I guess I have to try.

that striped shirt, part 3

Even more than the creativity aspect of ethical fashion, I want to know what it’s like to want less.

Ah, minimalism. I don’t really get it, and this is not a minimalist blog or any kind of eco-living blog. But I go through phases where I don’t shop for months, and then others (like recently) where I’m online browsing everyday. I don’t know what sparks that appetite for more, but I want out.

On an objective level, I know that I don’t actually need or even want most of the things I covet. And yet I buy them anyway. How many variations of the striped t-shirt do I need? And how many scarves? (Certainly not as many as I own.) I’m a sucker for sales and well-designed websites—I think those are the biggest psychological pulls for me. And things like rewards points and cash back are the icing on the cake. It’s strange to know how the capitalist machine works and still fall prey to it anyway.

Most important of all, ethical fashion is a feminist issue.

Most of the people making our clothes are women of color in countries that “the West” has and continues to exploit. I think about the feminist t-shirt controversy from a couple of years ago. And I think about how fast fashion brands have co-opted feminism to sell clothes while continuing their unethical practices.

Political and fashion blogger Hota Katebi wrote this post on the political value of fashion, and it’s eye-opening. We spend our whole lives in our clothes and often never think about the people who make them. A couple of weeks ago I bought some clothes and bags from a women’s textile collective here in Thailand. I spoke to them and got to see them work for a bit. Looming in action is a mesmerizing—and intimidating—sight.

Looming at a textile collective in Thailand

You don’t need to see garment manufacturing in action to know it’s labor, and to value that labor. At least, you shouldn’t have to. Fast fashion obscures that reality. I appreciate movements like Fashion Revolution that push us to ask brands, “Who made my clothes?” Because it’s so necessary and yet something we take for granted.

What feminism ignores the working conditions of people in garment factories, most of whom are women of color? What feminism neglects the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, when indigenous communities and communities of color are the ones most impacted by pollution? It’s the kind of feminism I always criticize, and one I’m choosing to no longer be a part of.

Ethical fashion isn’t super accessible for a lot of us. That’s why it’s important to start with the clothes you already have.

There are serious class implications with ethical fashion. I’m not going to pretend like we can all afford a $100 pair of jeans, even if that’s probably what it costs to manufacture it ethically and sustainably. The best way to support ethical fashion is to buy less and work with what you already own. The second best alternative is to buy secondhand. These are steps I’m going to take to consume less and vote with my wallet against fast fashion.

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