I’ve been an ardent admirer of creative mending for many years, and I love to follow the #visiblemending hashtag. As I was perusing some recent posts, I noticed that a lot of them were all talking about #fashionrevolutionweek, so I clicked on the hashtag and was transported to post after post discussing the need for higher standards in the fashion manufacturing industry, such as safer conditions and basic rights for garment construction workers, and a deeper commitment to sustainable and environmentally-friendlier practices on behalf of clothing manufacturers and distributors. All the #visiblemending posts were popping up as an example of consumers taking personal responsibility to not add to the growing problem of overflowing landfills of clothing–if you mend torn clothing instead of throwing it away, it 1.) Doesn’t add to landfills, and 2.) Means you’re not buying more clothing.
I’ve been watching this fashion revolution/slow fashion movement for a couple of years now, first inspired by the thought-provoking writing of Karen Templer over at Fringe Association, and furthered by my quilterly instincts to always find extra uses for fabric after its first life as a piece of clothing and curiosity about how people manage to live “like that,” meaning “sewing their own clothes.” “Where do they find the time?” “Is it truly cheaper?” (Anyone who quilts and/or knits can understand where I’m coming from, am I right?!?!)
My best friend sews a lot of her own clothes and is always stomping me in finish times when it comes to garments vs. quilts, which has been doing a lot to change my opinion about whether sewing clothes is the huge time commitment I once thought it was, and I’ve also knit a few sweaters in my day and have come to realize that they’re also not a huge deal-breaker, time-wise. But to truly commit to a DIY wardrobe…truthfully, it sounds a little too minimalistic-yuppy/I-only-eat-organic/pumpkin-spice-hipster for me. No thanks. I’m a fan of science and don’t feel guilty about the technological advances we’ve made in many areas that allows so many of us to live better lives beyond what our ancestors could even dream. This isn’t Little House on the Prairie–women today are so liberated to not have to worry about sewing up their families’ wardrobes, and enjoying that extra time that’s not tied up in sewing is downrightfabulous. Not going to feel guilty about that, either.
But then I saw this post:
…and I literally gasped aloud as my heart did a slow-clap standing ovation.
So often, when you hear about sweatshops (which I first became aware of in the ninth grade) and the wish for better working conditions for overseas workers and the need to Buy American (because I live in the USA), people will say something like, “But just think of those factory workers overseas and how us buying those cheaply-made goods allows them to have a job and earn money!” Followed by a proverbial pat on the back for helping out those impoverished, third-world workers that would probably starve and just die in the street were it not for wages they earn making near see-through t-shirts of inferior quality that end up with holes at the belly button after three wearings so you’ll have to buy MORE of them.
But with the age of internet and instant access to what’s going around the world, we are privy to the knowledge that conditions in those factories are downright scary, and very exploitive. That horrible factory collapse in Bangladesh back in 2013 (read: FIVE YEARS AGO) that KILLED 1,134 people and seriously injured 2,500 more? Nothing has been done to help the survivors’ families. I am not the kind of person who can brush aside the idea that my easiness of living comes at the expense of another human’s fundamental rights. Crap wages, unsafe working conditions, environmental irresponsibility…by purchasing, and thereby supporting, a company’s product, when that company engages in this type of behavior, that is the same thing as me shaking their hand and saying, “Yes, I agree with what you’re doing.” Each of us votes with our dollars.
And, simply put, I don’t agree. I’ve never thought it was OK to take advantage of other people simply because you can, either because they don’t know any better or because you’ve found a loophole that lets you get away with it legally. It’s disgusting and completely devoid of the basic code of existence that I think human beings need to live by. I’m not going to do that to other people simply because I lucked out with the golden egg of opportunity that was “being born in North America.”
Does that mean I need to start making all of my own family’s clothes? Not necessarily–there are options to buy ethical clothing, which means that the clothes are created by workers who are paid decent wages, and given safe places to work, from ethical materials that were responsibly produced and dyed. The big difference in going this route is cost. Paying a worker a livable wage means that their end product is going to cost the consumer more money. Using responsible, quality materials that won’t fall apart after a year costs more money, too. (Us crafty types already know about this particular point in the form of wool vs. acrylic, and big box store fabric vs. quilting shop cottons–you do get what you pay for.) But I am a stay-at-home mama to four; making our clothing is going to be a far more economical route for me than purchasing it at fair value.
In the wake of all this paradigm-shifting, I have a bright moment of joy to share with you: Our family was talking about this issue over breakfast the other day, and I shared the “You can’t exploit women in one country to empower them in another” quote with them, which led to explaining how the clothing industry works, and what it means to look the other way and ignore when bad things are happening. I used the word “integrity” to explain what I meant, and noticed that my fourteen-year-old daughter perked up when I said that word. Towards the end of our discussion she said, “I think learning to sew my own clothes would make a good ‘Integrity’ value project, don’t you?” and in that moment I wanted to cry from happiness because this girl gets it. In a world where teenagers (especially white, middle-classed teenagers, such as my daughter) are painted as screen-addicted, entitled brats, this girl empathized with a less-advantaged girl somewhere else in the world and thought of something that she herself could do, at the cost of her own time and effort, to hopefully lessen that negative impact. I wasn’t that compassionate at fourteen, so I’m proud of her heart.
There is so much more to say on this topic, but for now, this is enough: Things are going to change around here, and it’s going to take me a little while to figure out exactly what that means.