April 24, 2013. That’s the day that the Rana Plaza Building in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured. It was the fourth-largest industrial disaster in history. There were actually five garment factories in the Rana Plaza–all manufacturing clothing for big, global brands, and the victims were mostly young women. The thing is, is that the fashion industry is actually the second-largest global industry after oil. People and the environment are suffering as a result of the way that fashion is made, sourced, and consumed. So back in the ‘40s and ‘50s and ‘60s, back when our parents, or our grandparents, or maybe you listening–when you were growing up, you owned maybe 20 to 30 articles of clothing. There were 4 seasons of clothing: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. Brands that were manufacturing (and 98% of clothing was made here in the United States at that time) were coming out with new things once a season. Well sometime in the ‘90s, let’s say early to mid ‘90s, that began to change. Over time, brands started coming out with 52 seasons of clothing. Yes, that is new clothing every single week. When you think about it, when you go from 4 seasons of clothing to 52 seasons of clothing, obviously the amount of clothing that is being produced every year, is a whole lot more than it used to be. Then on January 1, 1994, NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement, came into effect, and that basically began an outflux (if you will) of production of our clothing leaving the United States. So it kind of reversed, where as 98% of our clothing was made here in the United States, it flipped and now about 90-98% of our clothing is now made overseas. I’m not going to get political, I’m not going to go too much into the whether I think NAFTA was good or bad or anything like that, but, these are just facts. These are just facts about our clothing production and how it’s impacted people and the environment. Because let’s think about it, the way our society is now, we want fast, cheap fashion. And that comes at a price. That comes at a price of the people who make it, and the environment that it’s made in.
This week is a little different. This is something that I am introducing to the podcast: Solo Episodes! This week your host and guest is, me. No, I’m not going to be weird and interview myself. After my 100th episode, I got a lot of questions. As a result, every 10 episodes I will be doing a solo episode: content you really want to hear and things you really want to know. For this first episode, I wanted to answer the most common questions I get from bloggers and readers: Why I started shopping ethically? Why I think shopping ethically is important? And how do I make the choice to purchase from a brand (how can I tell if a brand is ethical or not)?
A GATEWAY TO ETHICAL FASHION
In 2011, I took my first trip to Kenya for a missions trip. As an activity, the group I was with stopped at the Kazuri Bead Factory for a tour. It was here that I was able to see firsthand what stable employment could do for a community and for a person. This group works to hire primarily single mothers–a group that really struggles, everywhere, but even more so in the developing word. It was really eye-opening for me. I started to think more about where the things I bought were made, so I started to do research. I had heard the term “fair trade” before but had only thought of it in the context of coffee or tea–not in terms of anything else. That was the catalyst that got me interested in ethical fashion.
MY CONSCIOUS CHECKLIST
-Are they a member of the Fair Trade Federation?
The Fair Trade Federation has a set of standards and requirements that their member companies must meet. You can pretty much guarantee that if they are a member, this is a company you want to buy from.
-Are they a Certified B Corporation?
These are socially conscious, social good organizations that have, again, met a set of standards and requirements.
-Do they have their Global Organic Textile Standard certification?
This means that their fabric is composed of at least 70% organic fibers.
-Do they market themselves as an ethical brand?
Here, you have to use your judgement! Some smaller ethical brands choose not to be members of these groups or receive these certifications because of the fees involved. One great example is Elegantees. At the smaller level, these businesses will take the expense they would be putting towards these memberships and certifications, and they’ll invest it back into their business and their makers.
-Are they a small business?
I love to support small businesses! It helps lift up local employees and economies.
-Are they manufactured in the USA?
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an ethical company, but it is a good indicator. Look at their costs and how they are marketing themselves!
-Do they state anywhere on their website about their manufacturing company? Is this something that they are proud of?
I don’t fault companies that don’t meet this qualification. It may not be something they want to market front and center, even if it is something that is important to themselves as a brand.
ASK: WHO MADE MY CLOTHES?
If you can’t find these qualifications anywhere on their website – email them! You can find out for yourself if your favorites companies are ethical by reaching out to them directly to find out about their manufacturing processes. What measures are they taking to make sure that their workers are treated fairly and like human beings?
Here is the link to the blog post I wrote with the Letter to Lilly Pulitzer that I mentioned in the podcast.
Join my Purchase with Purpose Facebook group and let’s continue the conversation! https://www.facebook.com/groups/purchasewithpurpose/