When you first start looking at ethical and sustainable clothing you might think, like I did ‘I can’t afford to buy these clothes’. However the more I learned about how most of the clothes on the high street are made the less I wanted to support these cruel and harmful ways of production. Even if a company was showing signs of trying to make improvements it just didn’t feel right or acceptable that people and the environment were currently suffering for my purchases.
Rewind 12 years back when I was a student sitting in my flatmate’s/shopping buddy’s bedroom. She was crying, complaining that she had nothing to wear and staring at her triple wardrobe full of clothes most of which we picked up in sales while browsing the shops after uni, which happened several times a week. She broke down saying that she has all these clothes but they are all rubbish. I thought how is it possible that she doesn’t like any of them? I too had built up quite a collection myself of random sale items. I remember looking down at myself one day thinking this outfit is awful, such a mismatch and not in a good way. I just put it down to not having an ‘eye for fashion’.
Over the following years I gradually slowed down on my thoughtless impulse shopping, I made myself more aware of what I already had and began to edit down my wardrobe. I had bought a lot. I got rid of a lot, giving to charity things that I had hardly worn. I had more than I could possibly wear plus I had things that I couldn’t wear, that just were not practical for me, my shape or my lifestyle.
I later became more aware of ethical issues. Torn between the idea of spending more than I usually would on an item or buying an unethical product I ended up barely buying anything at all. I walked past shop windows refusing to be enticed by their big sales or individual items that caught my eye. I didn’t really need to do a lot more shopping but there were a few simple items I was missing, like jeans that fitted well, comfortable shoes and jumpers that were actually warm. Eventually I gave myself an allowance of £50 a month to spend ethically. If something was over £50 I would have to save up for the following month.
I’m sure there are many others who shop like I used to, buying multiple ‘bargain’ items. I think most people probably have more clothes than they need, how else could so many high street stores be in business? Have you noticed how there are so many more clothes shops for women and the women’s sections are much bigger yet there aren’t a load of men walking around naked? Maybe we shop too much? That’s not to say some men don’t also have more than they need. How can these big high street stores and brands be so successful with huge profits when their prices are so low? Perhaps it’s because it’s a lot easier to get you to spend £10 ten times than it is to get you to spend £70 in one go.
Mass consumption of clothing is a relatively new thing. Clothes were not always as cheap in relation to our earnings, as we know them to be today. Sustainable and ethical clothing is seen as expensive, but it is merely what it costs to make and to keep the businesses going, there are no huge profits. You get better quality materials and workers are paid fairly for their work. Think of how much time it would take you to make an item of clothing, add the cost of the material to the value of your time and I think you will begin to ask ‘how can all the other clothes be so cheap?’
I originally decided to shop for ethical and sustainable clothing because I was concerned with the way workers were treated, their working conditions and how chemicals used in the production of materials affected the environment and peoples homes in the areas where they were made. I had not even begun to realise the benefits it would have on myself. My clothes feel so nice and comfortable. I know in my head they are made from lovely materials that don’t cause harm to the environment, no one has suffered to produce them, which makes me feel good about wearing them. Each piece is thoughtfully selected so I cherish and care for them and will wear them to death (which may take a while as they seem to last well). I actually save a lot of money by buying a lot less and getting more wears out of each item. My amount of washing each week has drastically reduced. I have more space in my home. It’s quicker and easier to find an outfit in the morning and people have actually started complimenting me on what I wear!
So before you decide that ethical and sustainable clothing is too expensive for you, take a look in your wardrobe, start to add it up and see if you are getting your money’s worth. You might find you can’t afford not to buy ethical!
Guest Blog by Jenny Rolfe Herbert, Brighton UK Instagram: @jrolfeh