Ethics

I have a confession to make.

I am not willing to spend money for clothes (or shoes) that are ethically made.

It is painful for me to admit this, but also important. Reading Roobedoo's Manifesto about ethical purchases and self-stitched garments forced me to examine my own practices and beliefs. And I did not like what I saw - namely, that my practices do not line up with my beliefs.


What this has meant over the years is me happily buying clothes from Walmart, H&M, Target and other retailers that I am pretty damn sure are made in sweatshops.


For many, many years, I have taken pride in finding bargains and not spending a lot of money on clothes. This felt like an end in and of itself. It allowed me to feel like I was living outside the mainstream consumer culture and thus somehow not "part of the problem." I bought my clothes off clearance racks, at discount retailers, yard sales, thrift stores and consignment shops, and I organized clothing swaps.

Some of this I am still OK with - proud of, even. Clothing swaps are rad, hands down. And at the swaps I helped put together, all leftover clothes were donated to local nonprofit organizations that I am proud to support.

I have no problem buying from consignment shops or yard sales. And there are a few local thrift stores, such as those that support the SPCA and Hospice, that I'm happy to support.

But, being perfectly honest, I spend most of my clothing dollars at the Salvation Army - an organization whose beliefs do not mesh with my own. I'm not denying that the Salvation Army does a great deal of good, including locally. Along with the Red Cross, the organization was one of the main local sources for aid when Hurricane Irene hit the region last year. But some of the Salvation Army's doctrine represents a philosophy I would prefer not to support. Yet, I do - with cash - on a regular basis.

And buying clothes made in Third World countries off the clearance rack is probably no different, in the grand scheme of things, than buying them at full price. If anything, maybe it's worse. Maybe I'm sending a message to the executives of these huge brands that I don't value their product enough to pay a fair price for it. Maybe that will bolster their efforts to do everything possible to keep production costs low - which might mean taking it out on the workers, or skimping on quality, neither of which I want to condone.

This is all really hard to own up to. In principle, I'm excited by homegrown companies or individuals who are making quality ethical clothing. But when the chips are down, I balk at spending the money on these garments. I have a very narrow comfort zone for what I'm willing to spend on clothes, and most of these items are well outside that range.

I don't know how to expand my horizons and allow myself to spend more than $100 on a pair of shoes. It feels indulgent, and forces me to ask the question, "Do I need this pair of shoes?" This is a question I don't force myself to answer when I'm spending $2. Which is not great either. Mindless consumption, even if it's only $2, even if the $2 is going to support a good cause, is not a good thing either.

So lately I have been buying very little at all, because I feel paralyzed by all these divergent impulses and influences. And maybe that's an answer in and of itself. Maybe I am learning through this process that I can go two or three months WITHOUT BUYING ANY CLOTHES (this is a radical idea for me) and - gasp! - still be relatively content. And maybe if my purchases become more sporadic and more thoughtful, it will be easier to commit a larger sum of money to something I know is ethically made and of a high quality. That's my hope, anyway.

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