Confident BeginnerA Jack of no Trades
In the past two weeks, I have listened to not one but two(!) podcasts that dealt with the issues of fast fashion and the incredible pitfalls the fashion industry has with cost, materials, and labour. After listening to the first podcast, which was last week’s episode of Fashion Hags,titled How to not be a dumb doofus when shopping for clothes, I was like ‘Natasha, maybe you should write a blog about your thoughts and experiences with fast fashion’. Skip ahead a few days as I listened to the Seamwork Radio podcast with Jacqui Palhegyi, and I was like ‘FINE, I WANT INTO THIS GAME AS WELL’
I am going to recant a story that may be the most told story of my life.
A few years back, I was shopping at Old Navy for jeans. Having always been a voluptuous woman with child rearing hips, the Ol’ Navy was my go to for pants as their sizes have always been very kind to the grown ass(ed) women. I knew their clothes were not great, and always threw a blind eye to the big cardboard boxes that read ‘made in Bangladesh’ in the store because, you know, #whiteguilt. I had just finished purchasing a bunch of clothes and as Brian and I were leaving the store, he bumped into an old friend of his, who was now the store manager. This friend, who shall remain nameless (defs can’t remember his name), was talking about the great benefits and sweet paychecks he now received as a store manager of Old Navy. Good for him, I thought, because it takes a particular person to walk into retail every day and not want to murder everyone in a customer service fueled rage. But then he said (and yes, I paraphrase due to time and retelling):
“Oh yeah, this company is insane! You know those markdowns of $0.97 clothing items, OLD NAVY STILL MAKES A PROFIT ON THOSE CLOTHES”.
Cue the Martin Scorsese dolly-zoom style of movie-esque shock that was most assuredly visible on my face. I was astonished (not in the good way) and I was very, very mad. Mad that 1. I had just spent over $200 on these clothes that obviously are not worth it and 2. that the little children that my #whiteguilt knew had made my clothes were, like, actually for real being exploited. And not just like ‘remember that movie you watched in the 90’s about Nike’ exploited, like ‘bish you just helped a rich white CEO pay for a golf game while a child is working a 18 hour day making your fat ass pants’ exploited. Now, I know this may be a fabrication, but all I remember doing is backing out of the store in shock, walking backwards through the mall, and not turning around until I bumped into my car.
After that, I didn’t buy any clothes for a year and a half. I didn’t even go into a mall. I would see an advertisement for Old-Slavey and recoil in disgust. I feverishly googled a variety of exposes about fast fashion and how terrible the industry actually is. I read up on the Rana Plaza Collapse and for real bled #whiteguilt all over the fucking place. I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline and told every single person I saw about it (even if they didn’t want to hear/didn’t know who I was). Elizabeth not only addresses the issue in the floundering USA fashion economy, but actually travels to China and Bangladesh to talk to industry locals. The book is a few years old by now, but it was a fascinating read that I highly recommend. By buying fast fashion as a society, we have made it easy for companies to churn out cheaply made clothes with increasingly poor materials in abhorrent working conditions without repercussion. Elizabeth even puts American Apparel on blast, as one part of her book states that the employees of American Apparel do not get paid enough to purchase the items of clothing in their stores. WHAT?!
However, as with any realization of ethical ineptitude that we now face in our world, it is a struggle for my middle-class stature (and wallet) to effect change. At the time, I googled ethically made, organically sourced, plus sized jeans on the internet one night and just got a link to a big fuck you sign cause that shit didn’t exist. After years of mall shopping and scouring for sales, it is hard to shift your mindset over to the thought of how and where your clothes come from, but if I can buy $8 dollar eggs because I know the chickens had a baller-ass life, I knew I could start changing my mind about the fashion industry as well!
Since that time in my life, I have made concessions and changes in my day to day life. I don’t buy clothes that often, and I definitely do not buy clothes that I think I can make myself. If I can create it, I would much rather put in the effort and have a garment that I am proud to wear, rather than something that I purchased from any major big-box store. Even if I just think I can create it (#CONFIDENTbeginner), it will still mean much more to me than any garment on a rack. Plus, there are so many different patterns and styles of fabric! If I had the time, I would have 1500 hand made shirts out of every fabric that Cotton + Steel has ever created. And, yass for real, sometimes I do need to go back into Old Slavey for the same style of jeans that started this whole life-change; however, I am always trying to be better and researching more sustainable places to purchase clothing. It really just means having to put more effort into where you shop and what you buy. Don’t shop just to shop. Check the internet to see stores who source ethically. Know where your clothes are made and what the working conditions are. And, the big one, realize that you will be spending more money, but you will be receiving a way better product. Your own personal style is what you make it, and you can easily stay ‘on-trend’ without having to shop at stores that do not use sustainable or ethical standards. Learn how to knit your own Coachella tank, or re-purpose some vintage clothes for your own #summergoth look. (note: Brian has claimed #summergoth in our house, but I want in so god damn bad).
Eco Fashion Week just ended in Vancouver, but check out their website to learn more about fashion-conscious and sustainable-minded clothing. Eco Fashion World has a Vancouver guide to Ec0-Fashion retailers in our city (and other cities, but Vancouver is the best obvs). The Fashion Hags blog has some great resources if you are looking for more information, or just to look and see how freaking awesome Abby, Katie, and Evan are.
Alright, rant over. Soap-box has been stored for now. Y’all get it. PEACE!
PS: god plz, can I be a Fashion Hag? We could all sit out front of Matchstick Coffee and drink (soy) lattes and pet small dogs while we all wear black skirts and turquoise jewelry under a Pendleton blanket and sing Adele lyrics. TRUE DREAMS, PEOPLE. But then, I guess, you know, inevitably, someone would say something like ‘hey remember when we all went to fashion school and can sew actual real world garments and have absolutely no issues with simple tasks like setting in sleeves or buttonholes’ and then I would have to be all