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April 2016

Ethical Fashion Everyday Advocacy

Ethical Fashion: Our Clothes Tell A Story, Part 2

ethical fashion our clothes tell a story

Miss part one? Check it out here. Both articles are excerpted from an April 21, 2016, presentation I gave on ethical fashion.

So are you ready? Here are the small steps.

#1. Go through your closet, on a fact-finding mission.

Identify the pieces you love and that look amazing on you and that make you feel so happy when you wear them, even if there aren’t many.

#2. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of a capsule wardrobe.

If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and Google it. is a great resource, but there are tons of people and bloggers who’ve jumped on board with this. The idea is, you’ve gone through your closet, you’ve pared down to only the pieces you love and that make you happy, and from there you form a small collection of totally versatile pieces for each season that you can mix and match and add accessories to. You’ll shop for clothes approximately twice a year, and you’ll love wearing them.

#3. Shop secondhand.

This is by far the best way to do ethical fashion on a budget—because by buying secondhand you’re not contributing to the fast fashion problem—and there are so many great options out there right now in consignment and resale. is actually a kids consignment site that donates to the school of your choice, so you can enter your kids’ school and get your friends and family to also. Pretty cool. If you’re local, check out Repurposed, a thrift store on McKnight Road. It’s owned and operated by Living in Liberty, a ministry that provides a safe house to victims of sex trafficking and does street outreach with victims right here in Pittsburgh!

Another option if you’re getting rid of a lot of clothes at once is to host a clothing swap. They are so much fun; let me know if you’re interested in organizing one. Everyone brings the seasonal clothes they’re getting rid of (in good, rewearable condition), and then you swap! You can even use it as a fundraiser by having people bring a couple dollars to participate.

#4. When you can, stick to slow fashion:

Buy fair trade, made in the USA, handmade, organic, mission-driven (brands that give back, like TOMS), transparent, upcycled or recycled, zero-waste, and from local and independent designers. Also check out the ethical fashion blogs listed in the resources at the end of this post. The idea here is you might pay a little more than you’re used to on a single article or accessory, but you know where your money is going. And the quality of slow fashion garments is generally better, so in the long run it’s a good use of resources. You’re saving money in the end because you can hold onto and wear the pieces much longer.

#5. Whenever you can, mend your clothes rather than throw them away, or even better, make or have someone make clothes for you!

All of these are great small steps to take, but the bottom line is, unless you feel comfortable and confident in your own personal style, they won’t work very well. For a couple reasons. One, if you don’t know your style, you’ll be much more likely to hold onto clothes you don’t wear and continue to impulse buy cheap clothes you’ll wear a couple times or never. Two, if you don’t know your style, you’ll be more likely to buy clothes simply because they’re cheap or “on trend”—to experience the thrill of getting a good deal or of being “in”—not because they make a solid addition to your wardrobe. Again, this will cost you more over time and contribute to the fast fashion problem. Knowledge is power, girls.

To conclude, let’s have some fun. Let’s talk style.

What is your style? Do not tell me you don’t have a style. Everyone has a style. I’ll say it again: Everyone has a style. Don’t worry if you can’t define yours, or if you’re still figuring out how to make the switch from single lady style to married lady style to mom style. Or if your style hasn’t changed since college. That’s okay. There are ways of finding out what your style is. And don’t think you have an excuse because you “weren’t born with the fashion gene” or “everyone has a better fashion sense than you.” They have a better sense of fashion simply because they’ve spent more time looking at it and practicing it than you have.

The first step to finding your style seems obvious, but we don’t take the time to do it. Look around you.

On the street, at work, at church, at parties, on TV, in magazines, online. What looks are you always, always drawn to? Why, what specifically draws you? The whole look, certain pieces, the colors, the lines, the accessories? Make mental notes or start a Pinterest board. Instagram is my go-to for researching styles. I follow fashion people (not high fashion, mostly mom and street fashion), and by simply scrolling through the images I learn what works and get ideas.

seven style terms

seven style categories (source: Pinterest)

These seven words define seven styles (used by Stitch Fix, a great resource for discovering your style) you might identify with. Search them on Pinterest, and look at the outfits people have put together. Decide which style is the most like yours and own it. Start to experiment outside your comfort zone by trying different ways of styling what you already have.

Also, look in your closet.

What outfits do you love and always gravitate toward—which are your best? Which are your worst? Which are the most and least comfortable?

This next one is so important. Always choose clothes that compliment your shape and body type and that camouflage problem areas.

It can be the trendiest pair of jeans in the world but if it isn’t right for your body type, it will not make you look good.

Finally, can’t say this enough: less is more!

RESOURCES (referenced for this article)

Ethical Fashion Everyday Advocacy

Ethical Fashion: Our Clothes Tell a Story, Part 1 (of 2)

your clothes tell a story

Imagine this scenario:

You’re shopping at Target. That doesn’t require any imagination so scratch that; it doesn’t involve enough imagining. And your kids are definitely with you if you’re at Target, so there’s not a whole lot of actual shopping going on. Imagine you’re shopping in the designer jeans section at Macy’s with your best shopping friend. Not in the clearance section either, the full-price designer jeans.

All of a sudden your friend (who has seemingly become quite “enlightened” lately) tells you she knows for a fact XYZ Company employs forced labor to produce its jeans and that workers at its factories are often abused and paid a substandard wage. Would you try the jeans on? I’m going to guess no. How would you feel toward XYZ as a brand? You would be angry with them, right?

Now imagine you are approached by a researcher doing a study, and you’re asked to rate five brands of jeans that differ along four measures—the style (boot cut or regular cut), the wash (regular or dark), the price and, lastly, whether the company used child labor.

You’re told that due to time constraints, you can only view information about two of the four measures before you come up with your ranking. Be totally honest with yourself: Which two would you choose?

This was an actual experiment, conducted as part of a study by researchers at Ohio State and the University of Texas at Austin. The results were published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

When asked which two criteria they would use to rate the jeans, more than 85 percent of participants opted to not find out whether the company used child labor.

According to a write up about the study on NPR online,

“If we’re actually told that a specific product was produced in an unethical way, we won’t want to buy it. Yet given the choice, most of us would rather not know the backstory. We won’t make the effort to, say, download an app or check out a website that could give us ethical ratings of manufacturers. And the reason we avoid this extra checking-up is at least partly that we’re unconsciously afraid of being upset by what we’ll discover.”

The thing is, we likely would be upset by what we discover.


cheap clothes fast fashionThe fashion industry has changed dramatically in just the past 20 years, and not for the better.

Two reasons: Cheap clothes and fast fashion.

Clothes became cheaper because we started manufacturing them in developing countries, where production costs are a lot lower. Today we spend a much lower percentage of our incomes on clothes, around 3 percent, and produce them almost entirely overseas.

In 1960, the average American household spent 10% of its income on clothing and shoes, 95 percent of which were made in the United States.

Today, we import 98 percent of the clothing we purchase, so only 2 percent is made in the United States.

“Trendy clothing is cheaper than ever, and cheap clothing is trendier than ever.” —John Oliver

So the question becomes, how do the big brands compete when the clothing is so cheap? The answer is simple: large volume and low quality. To keep their prices really low, retailers have to sell a ton of clothes, and in order to sell a ton of clothes, brands have to produce them quickly and cost effectively. This is the essence of fast fashion retailers H&M, Forever 21, and Zara.

These retailers design clothes to fall apart. Their bottom line depends on it: They need you, the consumer, to buy often and in excess. The clothes typically only last a few washes before they start to fall apart, and then you have to go out and buy more.

Also because of fast fashion, we move through trends at lightning speed now. In the early 90s, there were two to four fashion cycles per year, they were centered around the seasons and planned months in advance. Today, there is no such thing as cycles, only trends, and they are changing constantly. H&M and Forever 21 receive new inventory every single day. This “trend cycle” explains why we feel like we can never catch up to the “it” style of jeans—is it the Boyfriend? Wait no, that was last fall or spring maybe? Now? It’s the Ex Boyfriend. I’m not kidding, look it up.

Add all of this together, and we’re buying way more clothes. According to the 2013 article “Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes,” In 1960, the average American bought fewer than 25 garments a year. In 1991, it was around 40. Today, each of us buys, on average 70 pieces of clothing per year, or more than one per week. That amounts to almost 20 billion garments per year, or around 28 percent of all the clothes in the world.

There’s a high environmental toll as well, because we’re throwing away more clothes than ever, overloading landfills and secondhand stores, which can’t keep up. Textile waste has increased by 40% since 1999. Appropriate to mention, because Earth Day is this week. We’re shielded from the environmental and human impacts because our clothing is being produced overseas—the problem is far away.

So hang with me, I’m about to bring it a little closer.

Cheap clothes equal cheap labor. According to Jenna Lusk in a May 2015 article for the Village Blog, most of our clothing is produced in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Most Chinese workers make about $1-$2.50 an hour; in Bangladesh it’s less than $1. It’s true the cost of living is lower in these countries, but these poverty wages don’t even begin to cover basic necessities like food and shelter. Women often work 14-16 hours a day just to meet their families’ basic needs, which doesn’t enable them to send their kids to school or save for the future.

“The reality is, the fashion industry is a 3 trillion dollar a year industry, and only 2% of apparel companies source from suppliers that pay their workers a fair and living wage.”—Shannon Whitehead in “The True Cost of Fast Fashion”

And wages aren’t the only problem. Sweatshops employ children to meet demand. Men, women, and children are victims of indentured servitude: As of 2016, there are an estimated 27-30 million people in slavery across the globe. Working and living conditions are often unclean and unsafe. Almost three years ago to the day, on April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza complex, which housed several garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring 2,500, most of them women. The cause was substandard construction—adding floors on top of floors without proper support—and owners had been warned several times it wasn’t safe.

That’s hard to hear about. All of this is hard. The idea of children being forced to work, women being trafficked and enslaved, mothers and fathers being mistreated and underpaid just for trying to provide for their families, it’s very hard. The world is full of so much hard. We have enough to fight for in our own lives; we have enough difficulties facing us in our marriages, with our kids, at our jobs, in our finances. What’s wrong with a little willful ignorance every once in awhile?

Therein lies the problem. Because there are people behind the clothes we wear.

your clothes tell a story

Every item of clothing, every piece of jewelry, every accessory has a story to tell.

Every factory worker getting paid a substandard wage or being treated unfairly is a person, made in God’s image. And as Christians, we should care, and not only that, we should stand up for the vulnerable and advocate on their behalf.

Right about now you might be thinking, “This is all good information, ethical fashion lady, but what does it have to do with me?” or “Fashion? Seriously? She obviously doesn’t understand my life.” This does have something to do with you, I do understand your life, and I’m about to tell you about some very small steps you can take toward becoming a more conscious consumer.

Because “in order to make purchases that support our values, we must be willing to be conscious, thoughtful consumers—even if it means spending more on quality items.” (“The Case for Thoughtfully Buying Expensive Things”)

Excerpted from an April 21, 2016, presentation I gave on ethical fashion and continued here.