As a relatively wealthy (read “student broke”) western woman, I can look at my over-full, exploding closet and still say “I have nothing to wear." If you're a woman, chances are, you recognize this statement.
That moment you realize there's a party coming up and it requires a certain outfit can only mean one thing: Shopping time. Obviously, some of the first stores that come to mind for a quick fix on the problematic “empty wardrobe” situation are H&M, Zara and Forever 21. They're somewhat cheap and have everything that's trending on the fashion front.
So, I shopped there. All the time. Never did I even consider the clothes and the backstory they have. I have never thought of the people who made it, the place the clothes are made in, the journey they cover from beginning to end, the fabrics they're made of or what the production fumes do to the environment.
It was only when I read an article for my international business context class on the idea of global value chains that I got metaphorically bitchslapped across the face. A global value chain is the line of all things and people used in the production of a product or service.
The article explains how the individual elements of each value chain moved towards different corners of the world. To create a cheap and highly efficient production, tiny elements of a product were then flown across the world to be put together. So the buttons, the zipper, the cotton fabric and synthetic lining were all coming from different places in the world.
Awesome. Me wanting that $5 T-shirt for a birthday party has created a larger carbon footprint than the one I have made myself over the past 25 years of living.
And there's more. The globalization of the past few decades also shifted bargaining power from lead companies to the supplier. A cheap factory now has the upper hand in this business relationship. And even though this is not necessarily a bad development, it means they also get to decide about the factory circumstances.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written up by special representatives of the United Nations and was universally accepted on December 10, 1948, in Paris, France. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed it as “a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations," but unfortunately, as we all know, there are a lot of people in the world who give somewhere between zero and zero f*cks about this.
While I was dreaming about that new outfit I'd be rocking next Friday, children and women in developing countries were working 19-hour days to create it. I woke up, and reality wasn't pretty.
Luckily for us (all the people who have just been bitchslapped into reality), a lot of people had woken up long before we stopped dreaming. There are green entrepreneurs popping up like flowers at the start of fall.
I'm trying to solely support and use their services now and hope to contribute to a small step in the right direction. This is what happens when you make this decision:
1. Saving Money
Once you push through and decide to give stores like H&M the finger, you'll realize how much sh*t you've bought the last couple of years. You will come to realize you lost so much money on things you never really needed.
Think about it: Don't you (almost) always buy something? Anything. Even if it's hair ties or a simple, $4 bracelet, a cool tee here, skinny jeans half-priced there. Those fake leather sneakers you needed. For that one night. That one time.
All of these buys are useless. They drain your wallet and fill up your closet space while you stand in front of your closet and wonder why you don't have anything fancy and high-quality to wear. Some 90 percent of what's in there is probably washed and has armpit stains because you went dancing and sweated your ass off the other week.
Once you give fast fashion up, you'll save much more money.
When you realize you have money left to spend at the end of the month, you start prioritizing. This is money you could spend on food, fun nights out, books, movie theaters and other costly things.
For a while, you will be really proud of yourself for not wasting your money on bullsh*t, and instead actually enjoying it through high-quality experiences.
3. The New Shopping
As with everything in life, things pass. And after feeling mature and proud of yourself, you start to feel that shopping itch again. It's understandable. We all have it. We all feel it.
Here's what you do: Look into your closet and ask yourself "What's missing?" Every time you imagine a fabulous outfit, what is the one object you don't have? What types of shoes, pants, jackets, etc. do you not have that you really want? Pick one, and then go find yourself a high-quality clothing store.
The biggest lie we tell ourselves is green, sustainable, high-quality, clothing stores are unaffordable. It's not true. Even if you put minimal effort into it and just Google the eco-friendly clothes you're looking for (you cannot be too lazy for Google), shops will pop up. In your neighborhood, in your city, there are stores that are consciously buying beautiful items for which no one suffered to make. They are good quality, and no children's hands were involved.
Shopping like this has gotten me the best buys ever. All of my clothes still look pretty. I have 2-year-old dresses, blouses and jackets that still look awesome. And I can now pass fast fashion stores and smile, knowing that all my clothes are better than theirs.