The Ethical Fashion Dilemma

Oh, what to do, what to do? I’ve mentioned it here before, so it may come as no surprise that I am crazy indecisive. Like, I flip a coin to decide what pizza topping to get, indecisive. And lately I’ve been feeling indecisive about if I’m ready to take the next step in the ethical fashion movement. Am I ready to make that my “thing”?

I know there are consequences to buying cheap, fast fashion: waste, hazardous chemicals, unsafe work conditions, unfair pay, unsustainability to name a few. So it seems like an easy answer. But, I’m afraid to commit and here’s why.

First, I don’t trust myself. By that, I mean I don’t 100% trust my style judgement yet. And that makes the idea of spending more money on items scary. Because sometimes I think I’ve found the perfect item and it fits well and it pairs well with my other clothes, but then I just don’t wear it for one reason or another. (Sometimes I don’t even know why I don’t wear it, I just don’t.) If that item is a $15 top the damage to my pocketbook is minimal and I don’t feel as bad passing it along. If that item is a $75 top it’s a little harder to swallow the mistake.

I’m making progress and feeling more confident in my personal style as I continue building my capsules. I am getting better and better at sticking to what I love and thinking over every purchase, but spending big money on clothes scares me. Or maybe that’s the point? Maybe we shouldn’t take our purchases quite so lightly?

Second, I love having to option of adding a couple of cheaper, trendier items each season to keep my capsule feeling fresh. These accents pieces bring life to my base wardrobe in the form of prints, colors of the year, and texture but without much risk if the same items aren’t “in” the next season. It makes me nervous to close that door.

Third, I would miss my favorite stores. Say goodbye to my trusty Old Navy and GAP? And what about H&M that I literally just discovered and kind of fell in love with? I have an Old Navy credit card that we use for our big monthly expenses and get rewards for, so I get to do most of my shopping for myself and the family free…that’s a tough thing to give up.

Which brings me to, my budget. I am a bargain hunter through and through. I love scoring a good deal. With four kids and two teacher salaries (did you know my hubby’s a teacher too?), it’s kind of important. And, unfortunately, ethical fashion comes with a heftier price tag than I’m used to.

So, with that said, does this have to be an all or nothing? Or is it good enough that I start taking baby steps? Can I be partially ethical? I love how Karin at Truncation has decided not to rush itAs my friend, Andrea, so eloquently points out, there is a lot of gray area in ethical fashion. And I’m in it.

So here are a few ideas I’m going to focus on moving forward. In the next few weeks I’ll be elaborating more on how I’m incorporating each of these ideas.

My baby steps into ethical fashion:

I’d love to hear what you think…where you fall on the ethical fashion scale?

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25 Comments

    1. I ponder this a lot, too. We have a Gap card and I’m exactly in the same boat. So many of my clothes come from Old Navy or Gap for free, so it would be so hard to just drop it. I’m totally with you on buying second hand. Poshmark is my new addiction!

      1. Becky,
        It’s a hard thing to give up – the rewards are so good! I actually read a ranking that put Gap above a lot of other large retailers in terms of their “ethical-ness”. For me, for now it’s about finding the balance and avoiding impulse purchases that fill my closet with unworn items I don’t need.

        And yes, poshmark and thred up are the first places I go to when I need to find something! Do you sell too?

        xo,
        Paige

    1. I started moving towards more ethical clothing choices this year after watching the documentary True Cost (available on Netflix). After that I simply couldn’t continue to buy from fast fashion/high street shops like Gap, Zara/Inditex and H&M. But I live in London, which isn’t exactly a cheap place on any front…so finding a ‘bargain’ ethical store isn’t easy. Also most of the ethical stores here are not exactly my taste (I’m not into boho hippie chick). For the US one of the very best places for ethical/transparent shopping is Everlane. It states right on each clothing description page how much the fabric, labor, & transportation cost to get the item into the market. You can even see what factory is was made in and click the link to see pictures. Unfortunately they don’t ship internationally or my entire closet would be their catalog. The prices are pretty reasonable for knowing it’s a good ethical company.

      A great book for resources is Magnifeco by Kate Black. She talks about the why and how we should make better choices, and also has a great comprehensive listing of stores to shop from. A more in-depth look at the behind the scenes reasons to buy ethical can be found in Guardian journalist Lucy Siegle’s book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? She has a more facts approach and talks about some serious violations of our favorite stores (Gap and Disney have been caught numerous times for child labor violations, which is hard to swallow).

      I have a few (okay more than a few) items in my closet that I bought at a high price and simply do not wear (some ethical and some not), and I feel guilt every time I push that $65 skirt out of the way to wear those $20 pants. I am trying to do more charity store shopping so at least my items were second hand (London has some amazing charity shops!) Ethical fashion is not an easy road to travel down but I just keep reminding myself of what I’ve read and seen when I think about buying something. I might still buy it but at least I pause long enough to really consider if it’s worth it.

      1. Andrea,
        I have yet to watch True Cost – it’s on my summer break must watch list – but I have a feeling that may help me see it even more clearly. And thank you for the book recommendations. I feel like there is so much information out there that it can all be a bit overwhelming, so it’s great to have a few good recommendations for a starting point.

        I have not purchased anything from Everlane, but I hope to add a tank top or 2 if I need them for summer. I love the way their site is set up to be so transparent and the prices are much more reasonable than I would expect.

        I think it is a great step forward just to be more aware and mindful of your purchases and then if you cannot find something ethically, at least you know you’ve really considered it and are not shopping impulsively.

        Thanks so much for weighing in,
        Paige

    1. I am totally with you. I have an Old Navy card and end up getting nearly all my clothes/husband’s clothes for free through rewards. But the hardest part for me is that the entire Old Navy/Gap family of brands has a huge selection of petite clothing online and I need that. I can’t bring myself to spend $75 on a sweater from Everlane when it doesn’t fit me correctly. I’ve bought a few items from ethical retailers and they all need to be tailored to fit and I just can’t afford that on top of the higher price. I end up not being happy with those purchases since they don’t fit right or look good on me. I’ll happily jump on the ethical retailer train when there’s a wider variety of sizes offered.

      1. Teresa,
        That is so true about the range in sizes that are available at the bigger brands (particularly the Gap family). I am short too, so I rely a lot on the petite/short sizing. I also feel that a lot of the styles available at the ethical stores aren’t really me, though I may just need to do more browsing and discover new stores? My goal is that if I find it necessary to shop at these stores that I buy from the higher quality lines to prolong the use I get from my items.

        Thanks so much for your input,
        Paige

    1. I feel ya Paige! I have found my venture into slow fashion to look remarkably similar to my real food journey. I wrote about this realization recently (you can read the whole thing here: http://cladwellguide.com/blog/2016/4/13/confessions-of-an-almost-capsule-wardrobe-dropout) but in my opinion, no real resolve to lifestyle changes happen with one single decision. There is almost always an identifiable catalyst, but real change is effected through a series of baby steps and countless small decisions that occur over a long period of time. 🙂 And I love that you are opening up this kind of dialogue here on your blog!

      1. Laura, yes! I love your comparison of ethical fashion to organic/whole foods – that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling. I know organic/farm fresh/etc is best, but our budget doesn’t allow for 100% whole foods. We do the best we can. The way I look at it, some is better than none and I think that’s the same mentality I need to take here. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

        I love that blog post – thanks for sharing!!
        xo,
        Paige

    1. Re: the old navy credit card — you might want to consider switching to a cash back credit card. These can tend to have much better reward structures than the points systems. (For example, there’s an Amex that gives you 6% cash back on groceries and 3% on gas!) Earning a lot of points make us *feel* like we’re getting a great deal, but the points-to-dollar conversion is generally much more in the retailer’s favor than yours. Moreover, you can then use those cash rewards anywhere you find a great deal, rather than just Old Navy.

      Think of it this way — you’re not actually getting free clothes. You’re just paying for them a different way. With a cash back card, you could still allocate the cash back as your shopping budget, and likely end up with a much bigger one than you would by using points.

      1. Amanda, I think you’re right. Getting rid of the card would help me break my ties to the Gap family stores. I need to shop around and find the card that’s going to give me the biggest bang for my buck…literally ;)!

        Thanks so much for your input,
        Paige

    1. It’s not an easy journey, but I have found it has made such an impact on me well beyond shopping– for me, it’s about being more mindful overall. I was buying excess, things I didn’t need or wear enough (or at all!) just because items were cheap. And then there were the “sympathy purchases” of items that were on sale and just too cheap to pass up– just to realize I actually hate the style, or the fit.

      I quit fast fashion cold turkey 2.5 years ago, and never looked back (I am also terrible at moderation!). If affordability is an important consideration, as you mentioned, second hand is such a great idea! Also, clothing swaps with friends. But I also saved a TON of money when I stopped buying fast fashion because I was only buying a few new pieces and I loved them all, and took great care of them. It’s a hard journey, but it’s paid off in so many ways! I would encourage you, even if you don’t give up fast fashion completely, to make some guidelines you are comfortable with and stick within them!

      1. Sara,
        Thank you for sharing! I think my ultimate goal is that these baby steps show me it’s going to be ok to just quit fast fashion cold turkey. I really hemmed and hawed about the Capsule Wardrobe for a long time before taking the plunge and I’m so glad I did. I think I also have a fear of failure – that I’ll commit to it and then slip up with a few fast fashion purchases and feel like a hypocrite. I like that the more expensive purchases help slow down my buying process so that I really consider if it’s truly a need.
        xo,
        Paige

    1. I have shared similar thoughts as you before making the firm decision. The True Cost made such an impact on me that it shifted my perspective and made my worries less significant. Ultimately, I didn’t NEED anything new, I wanted new things. So I was in control of when those things could come into my closet. I started with accessories, then staple Tshirts, then a couple dresses. I’m also just repeating the clothes that I already own because that is sustainable. It’s such an intimidating process to begin but I think you will enjoy the journey. Plus, you have lots of support!

      1. Brenda,
        Thanks for sharing! Yes, I have found so many great resources in this cool little ethical fashion corner of the internet!! I like the idea of investing in your staple pieces as needed. I am also very excited to (for once) be wearing all of my wardrobe regularly – it feels really good to know I’m getting the most out of my clothes and purchases.
        Thanks for the support,
        Paige

    1. I definitely am struggling with this as well. I have a different and changing body post-baby. I’m just not ready to commit to expensive statement pieces. For now I’m upping my second-hand game (Poshmark makes it SO easy) and taking good care of what I already have to extend its life. Working on the not wanting all the things all the time too!

      1. Dee,
        I am right there with you! That is one reason I haven’t done more investment pieces (though the secondhand shopping is working out quite well). Poshmark and ThredUp have been the source of most of my additions as I’ve been adding larger sizes 🙂

        And yes, to resisting the urge to add the “latest” popular item. I’ve had to fight the urge to get some of the cute peplum tank tops that I keep seeing all over.

        Thanks for sharing!
        Paige

    1. I’ve been dressing rather “slowly” for a while now, but I’m becoming interested in how my clothes are made. The challenge is that many of the explicitly ethical companies don’t have a wide variety of sizes available, although one of the often-mentioned companies recently increased their size range, and others may follow suit.
      In addition to trying to avoid trendy items I also try to buy clothing that I can wear for most of my purposes. This means limiting items that I can only wear in certain situations, such as distressed denim, T-shirts with witty sayings, and fancy dresses. I can get much more wear out of denim in good repair, plain t-shirts, and basic dresses that can be fancied up or dressed down depending on accessories.
      Thinking of all this is especially timely because I recently added a new activity for which I need to “polish up” my previous style, and I want to add just a few well-chosen pieces rather than going out and buying wildly.

      1. I love thinking of not only how your new pieces fit in with your current pieces, but also how to select those pieces to be most versatile across a range of activities! That’s actually a great thing for me to add to my list of questions since I try to choose items for both work and home. Thank you!!
        Paige

    1. I think the best first step is to shop secondhand. Thrift stores are great if you’re in the mood to browse, but if you’re looking for something specific, try eBay. You won’t spend any more money on a used item than you would on something new from Old Navy, but for the same amount of money the item you’re buying is likely of higher quality and your money isn’t going to support anything unethical. And if you do decide later you don’t like what you bought, you can donate it right back to a thrift store without any guilt.

      1. Madelyn,
        I am a huge fan of secondhand shopping. I used to be big into thrifting, but kind of quit cold turkey when I started capsuling because the temptation was too great to add things I didn’t need, but the chances I’d find exactly the right piece to add was small. I love online secondhand shopping and I would estimate 25-35% of my current wardrobe is from eBay, Poshmark, or Thred Up – especially as I added items to navigate my postpartum figure. Thanks so much for your input!

    1. Paige, I hear you on all your points! And I’m all about baby steps. 🙂 Ultimately, wouldn’t it be amazing if/when large companies like the GAP became more transparent and ethical? I think consumer advocacy can be a powerful force, so I encourage everyone not to overlook writing a letter to your favorite store letting them know what’s important to you. Everything is demand-driven so even though one letter may feel like a drop in the ocean, this movement is building momentum and eventually big stores will have to respond with their own baby steps. Keep it up — it’s not easy clothing and feeding a family of 6 so great work even entertaining the idea of a more ethical capsule wardrobe. 🙂

      1. Alisha,
        Thank you so much for the support and great advice about the power of all of our small acts! I agree that if the bigger companies start to see all of our small changes, they too will make their own small changes. I feel the food industry is also on a similar path. Thanks again for the great input,
        Paige

    1. Paige, I really love this article. I was in your exact same shoes about a year when I started my 90/10 Socially Conscious Style Challenge (for myself) and wrote about it periodically on my blog.

      http://www.honestlymodern.com/tag/9010-scsc/

      While doing this challenge, I learned SO MUCH! This time around, I changed my challenge up and focused on just purchasing less (I’ve limited myself to one new piece per month, on average, for one year). All of this has taught me so much more about the clothes I love and how little I actually need (or really want). As I’ve learned more about what happens to the clothes in the supply chain, it’s made me enjoy less the clothes that come with a lot of unethical baggage.

      I suspect that as you pursue this journey (and a journey is rightfully is, because it’s not easy and it’s a bit against the grain of our everyday status quo), I think you’ll find it gets SO MUCH EASIER over time.

      I’m your newest follower and look forward to how your ethical style adventure grows. 🙂

      Jen (HonestlyModern.com)

      1. Jen,
        So nice to “meet” you! I love that no matter where someone is on their ethical fashion journey, everyone seems to have started in the same place, so there are tons of great resources out there! I love your approach of focusing on one of the baby steps at a time. As I wrote all of these posts I realized how intertwined all of the steps are, which really feels good to recognize I’m on the right track. I will be pouring over your blog for the rest of the day 🙂

        xo,
        Paige

    1. Many people think that fashion brands are either 100% ethical and sustainable, or 100% unethical, whilst in reality most brands fall somewhere in the middle (although there are brands that really commit to being ethical and improving the conditions of their workers, and those that really don’t care at all). What I’d like to see is for people to start acknowledging the brands with the most unethical practices, and start boycotting them (thus creating pressure for those brands to do better). The 2016 Australian Fashion Report (https://www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/Be-Fair-Section/FashionReport.pdf) has given each major fashion brand a grade (A-F) based on how ethical, sustainable and transparent the brands are. I was so happy to see that Zara had scored an A, because I love love love it and honestly wasn’t ready to let go.

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