The last time I did a stocktake of my wardrobe was about 5 years ago. I just did another one counting all shirts, shorts, pants, jackets, jeans, shoes, sports wear….the lot. The good news is I own less now than I did then. The bad news is that about 50% of it is likely made in sweatshop conditions. How did this happen? Well, I bought cheap stuff because I don’t have a lot of spare money to spend at the ethical retailers and the local op shops are full of second hand Fast Fashion, which is nasty. If I’m honest, I knew what I was doing when I bought it but I chose to tuck away that knowledge and bought the stuff anyway.
After a huge cull, I reduced my clothing stock by almost a third and the stuff likely from sweatshops by 50% by donating it to a local charity. I now have around 30 items left that were likely made in dodgy factories. I’ve kept them because I don’t have alternatives for them or I’m attached to them because I like them or they mean something to me (like the sports events T-shirts that commemorate events I’ve competed in). And this leaves me with an ethical dilemma.
An ethical dilemma is when you are faced with two choices, both of them unwelcome. Either I keep the remaining sweatshop clothes until they wear out or I donate them now, which would likely mean I would need to buy a few additional items from fair trade shops to replace them.
Ethical fashion versus Sweatshop clothes. Social justice versus Inequality. Frugality versus consumerism.
When I look at this logically it seems that the dodgy clothes are already paid for and I should wear them out because consuming more is wasteful. The dilemma hits hard though when it turns out that I’m actually having trouble wearing the clothes because if I try, I feel like I am wearing women’s suffering on my back. I think about those garment workers and the conditions in those factories and it feels distasteful to be clothed in the murkiness of all that suffering.
It reminds me of when I first went vegan and wasn’t sure what to do with my leather shoes. I decided to keep wearing them until they wore out…..but I couldn’t actually make it out of the house with them on my feet because the leather grossed me out.
It seems that there’s a third option emerging out of this dilemma. I don’t wear the sweatshop clothes…..but I don’t replace them either. Which means that I’m down 30 items of clothing and will be existing on about 50 items in total. Which does sound like a lot and certainly sounds sufficient. Minimalism versus Consumerism.
Seeing as I’m being honest, there’s a newish skirt in my wardrobe made by Dangerfield, a company well and truly on the dodgy list. I really like this skirt. It’s covered in a bug design that I bought because I knew my small son would love it. And he does. He wants me to wear it every day. I haven’t been able to wear it again since I let the reality of how it was made back into my active consciousness. I have no idea what I will do about that skirt but it may just be that it’s that one skirt that’s making the whole way forward cloudy.
How have others managed their way through this dilemma? I know I can’t be the only way that has woken up – again- to the realities of what’s in my wardrobe.