When I go mall shopping, I’m generally there for my kids. They want the latest fashion, you know the boring, dime-a-dozen tops and bottoms that every other kid is wearing. This is not hard to find. If anything the problem is that there is too much choice. When I walk into any Aeropostale, Ardene, American Apparel, Aritzia, TNA, Abercrombie or Garage, I am bombarded with piles upon piles of clothing. The abundance is disturbing and the tragedy in Bangladesh highlights why.
We are nowhere near a clothing shortage. There is no need for the current level of production, for the quick and mindless churning out of the 300 pink flowered tank tops that sit on a shelf in just one store out of a chain of 100 other stores across the country that all have their own quotas of 300 pink flowered tank tops. That’s just one tank, in one print, out of a series of about 15 other tanks in their own prints, that number in the hundreds as well. And that’s just the tank tops. I haven’t gotten to shirts, sweaters, blouses, pants, shorts, dresses, socks, gloves, underwear, outerwear and accessories. There would be no clothing crisis if any garment producing factory closed down to relocate to a safe location.
The cost of this tank might be $15, or if I buy 3, I can get a deal of $25 for the bunch. I can mindlessly make my purchase and praise myself for finding the deal – you know the one that’s always on in one store or another – but I congratulate myself anyway for being the savvy consumer. Good for me. Clothes at low-cost. Yet the real cost of the clothing, as I’m sure all of us have heard time and again, is a collective human disaster. Poor working conditions, poor wages, poor working environment and poor for the environment, poor quality and poor transparency. We’re clothing bloated on the backs of people eking out a living to supply us with a nauseating amount of cheap apparel, easily disposed of and replaced with the next season’s model.
The complexity of the issue is not lost on me, and obviously nothing that is going to be resolved in a blog post. The situation in Bangladesh requires global action on both a large and small-scale. What can I do?
1. Make the decision to truly educate myself and my children about what clothing made in a foreign country means. What are a country’s working, wage and environmental standards? What is the true cost of the product?
2. Use the education from step #1. Not just know it and brush it off, but actually use it. Make difficult changes in my purchasing habits to reflect what I know.
3. Think about, really think about when enough is enough. How much clothing does any one person need? How can I work with what the kids and I already have (alterations, building several outfits out of a few pieces, clothing exchanges)?
4. Support smaller boutique stores with perhaps hard-to-take higher prices but locally and/or ethically made, hand crafted or fair-trade items.
5. Sew! Take a workshop and get familiar with basic techniques and materials. Just like our food production chain where we seldom understand where our food comes from, how it is produced and how to grow and harvest our own, we are losing touch with where our clothes come from and how to make our own. I can’t even think of the last time I reflected on the fact that clothing hasn’t always come from stores, especially in the mass quantities we see today.
In truth, I think #1 and #2 will be the hardest of the five. Honoring them will require real change and commitment on my part and greatly influence the success of steps 3 through 5. I will no longer be able to plead ignorance. I will no longer be able to barely satiate my consumer culture kids with cheap clothing to meet their demanding need to assimilate with peers.
Making these changes is going to be very challenging, I dare say frightening. But it’s not horrifying. It’s not like feeling my only choice is to walk into a condemned building so as not to lose my garment factory job, and being crushed to death before the work day is over.