Did you know the fashion industry is the world’s second highest polluter—right up there with OIL!? It doesn’t have to be this way, guys.
Photo courtesy of Love This, from last year’s Fashion Revolution Day.
I’ve basically stopped shopping for clothes, and I’m not happy about it. I mean, sure, I’m saving a ton of money. My house has way, way fewer things in it. I have learned to detach from the feeling of needing and wanting shiny new things.
But man, is it boring to wear the same few outfits all the time.
It’s not just Marie Kondo who’s made me hit pause on the flow of new goods through my front door, although that sure helped. It’s–and I’m so embarrassed to say this–a 2015 documentary by Andrew Morgan. The True Cost is a no-holds-barred look at the little people in the garment industry: the workers in developing countries who are being exploited so we can get out cheap goods. The other little people? Us. The consumers. We’re constantly told we don’t look updated enough, that fashion is always changing, that we need more, and what we get will finally make us feel at peace with ourselves.
The only people who win are those at the top–we’re broke and unhappy because we keep just buying cheap, trendy clothes in search of something that we will never be able to find; the workers are broke and unhappy because they’re suffering from terrible conditions and obscenely low pay, not to mention the disappearance of any inherited cultural artisanship (they’re far too busy making our stonewashed jeans just the way we like them); and the rest of the world is suffering from the environmental effects of too much manufacturing using too many pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
The worst thing is that, now that you know what you know, you can’t even throw out all your irresponsibly made clothing. It’d just add to the entire problem! You must keep something until you no longer can wear it anymore, and then you must do your best to keep it from a landfill.
And if you DO buy something new (used is better), you should make sure it comes from a company with seriously good ethical standards. And, just like calling something “healthy” or “clean,” you really have to know what the vocabulary means, as greedy greenwashers will try to trick you into believing their company is doin’ it up with a conscience.
THE WHOLE THING IS SO OVERWHELMING AND MAKES ME FEEL SO TERRIBLE, so it’s a good thing that Amber Lantz from Love This emailed me when she did.
Amber and her business partner Rupa Singh are Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Operations Officer (respectively) of a company that feels it should be easier to do all of this. One day, says Rupa, maybe it’ll be the norm to be so ethical.
But until then, we need help. Love This aggregates “beautiful, ethical, handmade” products that not only avoid being part of a terrible chain, but actually actively contribute positively to the lives of the makers. You, in turn, get a shirt, a candle, a notebook–whatever you’re into-that isn’t hurting your planet, other people, or your wallet (because it’s made to last).
Really they’re much more than a retailer. Amber and Rupa met at Ten Thousand Villages in Carytown–arguably Richmond’s longest-running fair-trade-focused vendor. Amber had done a stint in Cameroon with the Peace Corps and seen first-hand the effects our consumption has on developing countries. She then got a job with Ten Thousand Villages and hit it off with a customer who showed a lot of curiosity and dedication around knowing how things were made. That customer, Rupa, who would end up becoming an employee herself.
“When you’re in a store,” says Amber. “You don’t really see how your purchase are implicating the people who make it as well as the environment.” She and Rupa felt like there could be more education involved in the shopping experience, so they conceived the idea of a small mobile environment, where they could talk to each person who came by to check out the goods.
Because it’s consumers who it’ll come down to. “We vote with our dollars,” says Rupa. There are companies who aren’t in it entirely for the money, but we can’t quite expect every company to move in that direction without some serious pressure from their consumers. “The buttons, the dye, the fabric…all come from different places before they even get to you. The fashion industry can still be creative while having quality materials and making people and the planet just as important [as profit],” Rupa continues. “The clothes that we buy defines who we are without us even knowing it.”
Here’s a great minute-ish video from Minute MBA:
Changing people’s mindsets from “my clothes are disposable” to “I love this shirt because I know someone was treated well when their hands made my clothes for me” is a constant goal for Love This. They’re just as much into writing blog posts about where else to shop in RVA as they are selling their own goods. The good brands need to be supported, wherever they’re sold. “Before these socially conscious companies came along, sex trafficking was the only other option [to working at a sweatshop],” says Amber.
Yet our brands and those in Europe are thriving away, putting pressure on their producers to make more for less, to beat out the other brand, and to do it as quickly as possible.
In 2013, a large factory collapsed in Bangladesh. The upper floors had been built without a permit, the original construction wasn’t meant to house heavy machinery, cracks ran rampant, and 5,000 people went to work there every day.1 More than a thousand people died when the eight-story building collapsed, with 2,500 injured–mostly women.
Fashion Revolution Day
Tomorrow–the three-year anniversary of the week the factory collapsed–you’re invited to wear your clothing inside out. When people come up to you and politely notify you of your error, you’re going to have a unique opportunity to tell them all about what you stand for. Ask them to check their own tags and note where their clothes are made. Ask them if they know who makes their clothes, exactly. Listen, they came up to YOU–now is your moment!
Love This co-hosts an interactive Fashion Revolution Day event at VCU to join the nationwide campaign to challenge consumers to think hard, be aware, and demand more from their favorite brands. Stop by the commons and see some visuals of the factory’s collapse, a mock runway with ethical outfits styled by local retailers (whether that be new, vintage, or handmade), join others to write the names of the country where your clothes are from, and, of course, shop from some of Love This’s recommended retailers.
I highly recommend tracking down Rupa and Amber and asking them questions. They will not be shocked that all your clothing is from H&M, and they will help you find super cool stuff elsewhere. Some of their favorite Richmond sellers: Lola Pepper, Yesterday’s Heroes, Ten Thousand Villages, Addison Handmade & Vintage, Verdalina, and Rumors Boutique.
While you’re there, or while you’re anywhere, Instagram your pic of yourself with your tag out, tag the brand, and hashtag it #frdrva16 and #whomademyclothes. The revolution is here!
- In case you’re interested, the brands produced there were Benetton, Bonmarché, the Children’s Place, El Corte Inglés, Joe Fresh, Monsoon Acessorize, Mango, Matalan, Primark, and Walmart. ↩