Yesterday I read a fantastic post by Pearl from Fashion Pearls of Wisdom on ethical fashion. Ethical fashion is quite a contentious issue for me. As a regular high street shopper I’m aware that the clothing choices I make are not always the most ethically-sound, so I try offset this by shopping secondhand wherever I can.
What I found most interesting about Pearl’s post was the idea that for many people, there really is no alternative. Pearl linked to this post on Jezebel – it’s a story about the American fashion chain Forever 21, highlighting the unethical practices the company are involved in. There’s a definite air of ‘you shouldn’t be shopping here because it’s unethical’, and the commentators have picked up on that. The frustration in the comments is palpable – if we can’t shop at Forever 21 because it’s unethical, where CAN we shop?
In every industry, there are brands that are pushed forward as the ‘spokesmodel’. McDonald’s gets all the flack for obesity because it’s the ‘spokesmodel’ for the fast food industry. Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut – they’re all just as bad for our waistlines, but they feature far less in the media because McDonald’s is McDonald’s. Similarly, in the UK fast fashion industry it’s Primark who have been pushed forward as unethical, when similar policies could very well exist in every high street shop from Topshop to Gap. Price doesn’t give any indication of ethical practice – Topshop’s prices are double Primark’s, but their garments could have been made in the same factory.
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.
Here are some of my key pieces for summer – one bought in Primark, one in a charity shop and one in a vintage store:
I am guilty of impulse shopping but I wouldn’t say I’m a thoughtless consumer – I work out what I need (and want) for each season and then search for these things on the high street, in charity shops, car boot sales, vintage shops and on eBay. I clear my wardrobe out every three months and never, ever throw things away – they’re donated, recycled or sold on.
Trying to find information on ethical ways to shop is difficult. There are countless ‘green’ guides, fair trade brands and eco fashion ranges, but for those on tight budgets who just want everyday clothing without the hassle, it’s hard to see an alternative to the high street. It’s a very personal choice and one that needs to fit with your lifestyle for it to be sustainable – one answer doesn’t suit all, and that’s something the fashion industry and the media need to take into account.
What do you think? Do you buy from specific ethical brands? Are you a second hand shopper? Or do you feel a bit confused by the whole issue?