So, about a week ago I posted on Instagram that I have recently decided to shop ethically and I wanted to tell you all a little about what that actually means and why I’m doing it. First off, I want to say this was not an impromptu decision. It had been on my heart for quite a while and involved a lot of research and a good amount of personal reflection.
Prior to this decision, I had the shopping habits of an average 20-year-old. My closet consisted of random finds at Target, impulse Zara buys, a lot of trend pieces, and a couple of nice pieces here and there. I had tons of clothes but whenever I went to make an outfit it felt like I had nothing to wear – the pitfall of closets full of trend pieces and no basics.Dress: Nellie Taft | Shoes: Nisolo Dari Boot (I borrowed mine from a friend)
I never felt satisfied with my outfits and there was a part of me that felt the need to constantly be shopping to keep up with the newest trends, especially as I started this blog. I was overjoyed to see the $2 t-shirts at target and the $10 trendy flats at old navy that were so expensive everywhere else. As a broke college student, I honestly did whatever I could to find the pieces that were “in” at the lowest possible price. What I didn’t realize was that all these impulse buys and cheap finds were actually adding up to a lot of money and while I chased this need to always have the perfect outfit at the lowest price I lost sight of the beauty that fashion has to offer.
What I had forgotten was that fashion isn’t about trends. It’s about creating beauty and revealing a truth about who we are on the inside. That sounds cheesy I know but when you really think about it, what a person wears can tell you a lot about them. If all I was doing was buying into the trends and wearing what everyone else was wearing then my style wouldn’t actually reveal who I am, but who I wished I could be. It would make me like everyone else instead of revealing the uniqueness of my soul.
As I started to do more and more research about trends and style I stumbled upon this term “Fast Fashion” and it started to change my life. Never before had I even thought about the people who made my clothing, where the material came from, or how it was so cheap. But, as soon as I started scrutinizing the statistics I was shocked. I couldn’t believe I’d let myself be ignorant for so long. I had no clue that the majority of people working in the fashion industry are living on a monthly wage between $68 to $99 US dollars a month, significantly below a livable wage even in those countries. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only to the oil industries. The average American will throw away 81lbs of clothes in one year alone, meaning about 26 billion pounds of textile each year end up in a landfill. All these little facts started entering my mind and I didn’t know what to do with it.As I was learning this, I was also being taught Catholic Social Teaching in my business classes and, as those two things collided, I knew God was calling me to make a change. Our Catholic faith calls us to put the dignity of the human person before anything else. I was claiming to be pro-life and yet I was ignoring the millions of women who are being taken advantage of in sweatshops around the world. (Side note: in my research, I have found that when people shut down sweatshops for being ‘unethical’ many the women enter the sex trade industry to make money. Countries that were previously underdeveloped are booming because of these sweatshops and I recognize the dignity of the work. That being said, a $3 trillion dollar industry should be able to pay these workers a fair wage without shutting down factories.)
Another huge aspect of Catholic Social teaching, that Pope Francis is calling attention to, is our responsibility in our stewardship over the land. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis makes the argument that “these problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.” We live in a culture where material objects satisfy our brokenness for a short period of time and then we throw them away when the next best thing comes out. The worst part is, this pollution affects the poor more than anyone else. They are the ones living in the slums with polluted water and factory air. God gave us dominion over our planet the day He created us and that requires that we take care of it, even if it isn’t convenient.
After watching documentaries like, “True Cost,” on Netflix, having many conversations with my old boss, and a whole lot of outside researching I knew that I as a person trying to live out my faith, especially in the world of fashion, could not support this throwaway culture anymore. God was calling me to more. Has it been hard to completely change my shopping habits? Absolutely, but after a while, I can now walk through Target and I’m not even tempted by the trendy and cheap clothing.The biggest struggle for me has been how it has forced me to reflect on my personal style and how it needs to alter to fit this new lifestyle. I thought I would have to be more minimalist and while on paper it seemed great (especially since people on Instagram make minimalism seem like the greatest thing ever) I realized that wasn’t for me. My soul is passionate and colorful and crazy and unique and I need a style that reflects that. Through a lot of searching and thrift-shopping, I have found a way to pursue a new style that is completely me and ethical.
This post isn’t here to guilt you into changing your shopping habits, but it is here to encourage you to educate yourself and evaluate how you view clothing and the fashion industry in light of your faith.
When I first started shopping ethically I was immediately scared off by the price tags and figured that I could never do it with how expensive it all is but the more as I dedicate myself to this the more I realize how much I am saving. For my Friday Feature this week I will do a, “How To” in shopping and dressing ethically on a college budget for any of you who want to pursue this and have no clue where to start. This dress for example! It was made in America by this company Nellie Taft and it is so so affordable!
I have no idea if my one change will change the world as radically as it needs to be changed but I won’t let the culture of waste stop me from trying.