It has officially been a full six months since I made the decision to stop buying clothing for all of 2014. June was a great month! My sweet fiancé Alvin and I were finally reunited after spending five months apart, I started constructing my own clothing piece to learn first hand what goes into making clothes, and I found several wonderful and ethical companies to support once Fashion Fast comes to a close.
While Alvin visited in the middle of the month, we were lucky enough to meet and discuss theology and praxis with Luke and Taylor. About half way through our conversation, Luke asked about what things Alvin and I want to do to positively and constructively bring about change. He made a good point that it’s great to avoid companies and practices we disagree with, but abstaining, avoiding, and protesting can only go so far if the ultimate goal is to affect change. I agree with him wholeheartedly, and it was great to be reminded of something so important. Our conversation really motivated me to start getting my hands dirty and at least figuring out what companies are worth investing in.
What’s In A Shirt?
For those of you who don’t know, knitting is one of my favorite hobbies. I started knitting about a year ago after I saw a video tutorial on how to “arm knit” a scarf. Since then, I’ve been hooked. Until recently, I’ve only made relatively chunky scarves and headbands since I don’t quite have the extra cash to spend on new knitting needles and endless balls of yarn. About a week ago, though, I decided to take the next step in my knitting career and start a project that requires several skills that I do not yet have:
I found a lovely pattern for a striped shirt, and couldn’t stop think about making it for myself. Not only will I gain an awesome piece of clothing (if all goes well) to wear when Fashion Fast is over, I will also learn what it actually takes to hand-knit a garment. I’ve already put about six to eight hours into it, and it’s only this big!
I’ve already learned quite a few things:
The original pattern calls for two separate types of lace weight silk yarn— both of which are around $13 per 100 yards. This shirt requires about 1000 yards of yarn— making the price of original materials alone approximately $130. Obviously, this was unreasonable for me. Instead, I chose to go with Loops & Threads Woollike super fine yarn in ivory and black. Each skein contains 678 yards, so I only had to buy 3 skeins at $2.99 each. Obviously, there is a difference between lace weight silk yarn and super fine weight acrylic/nylon yarn— my end product will be quite a bit different than the original, but I’m okay with that!
Without factoring in the cost of labor, the original shirt with premium silk would cost at least $130, and mine would cost at least $9. What this tells me is that any piece of clothing that is “knit” should be well over $9 if it is being sold at regular price. The only reason a piece of knit clothing in particular could be marked at such a low price and the company make any profit is through sketchy material sourcing, mechanized and shoddy construction, and unfair wages. I’ve written before that Fast Fashion retailers like Zara, Forever 21, Target, and the like rely on high product volume and low prices rather than moderate product volume and moderate prices. This explains one reason why Fast Fashion retailers can price a “knit” shirt around $9 and still make a profit. Consider this, however: if one worker was paid even $5/hour for 8 hours to knit one shirt by hand (they would be knitting impossibly fast) with the materials I purchased for my own shirt, the shirt would have to be sold for at least $50. A shirt hand knit with average materials by a skilled person for a decent wage— at least $50. If the premium silk was being used, the shirt would have to be sold for at least $170.
For most of us, it seems outrageous to spend $50 on a simple knit shirt. It definitely does to me. At this point in my life, I can’t afford to spend $50+ on a single shirt, and I’m guessing most of you can’t either. Or can we? Until the last 60 or 70 years, clothing was always an investment— its construction allowed for changes and alterations to be made, and it was made out of long lasting, durable fabrics. Maybe if we knew about some companies who strive for all of these things, we would be confident that our $50 really is worth it, and that our clothing really is an investment.
Companies Doing It Right
I almost regret finding these amazing companies six months before I’ll be buying clothes again since their pieces are so tempting! They all carry simple, chic clothing that will no doubt be extremely important for next year’s project.
Threads 4 Thought is committed to using sustainable materials, and providing their workers with fair wages and safe working conditions. They sell both men’s and women’s clothing. Read more here and here.
Imagine Goods sells both women’s and men’s clothing, and partners “with vulnerable and marginalized people around the world to make products that, in many cases, give them the first fair wages they’ve ever received.” Read more here and here.
Raven + Lily sells jewelry, various small home goods, bags, scarves, and apparel, and helps “employ marginalized women in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Kenya, and the United States at fair trade wages to give them access to a safe job, sustainable income, healthcare, education, and a real chance to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.” Read more here.
Ethica connects “consumers and companies that share a commitment to social and environmental responsibility.” They sell various fashion pieces from a wide range of designers who are committed to “sourcing ecologically responsible materials, developing sustainable production processes, treating their workers well, and giving to charity.” Read more here and here.
Reformation is committed to making “killer clothes that don’t kill the environment.” Each piece is crafted from different materials, and many are crafted entirely from scrap fabric. You can find out exactly what has been used to create their amazing pieces on each individual product page.
Everlane cuts out the middlemen of traditional fashion production, uses high quality fabrics, and uses the best factories they can find. Information about the production of each garment is available on its individual product page. Learn more here.
Nisolo sells beautiful and simple men’s and women’s shoes, bags, and accessories. They operate with a “hand-up model that empowers makers in emerging economies by connecting them to the global marketplace in a responsible manner.” They “facilitate international market access, pay above fair trade wages, offer skills training, and provide safe working conditions” for the artisans who craft their beautiful shoes, which provides them with “consistent employment, an average income increase of 300% per producer, improved living conditions, inaugural access to education and savings, and above all, dignity and empowerment.” And did I say that their shoes are beautiful?! Learn more here and here.
Zady is the perfect antidote to Fast Fashion. They believe that “we should not be compelled to accept throwaway goods as a way of life” by “[buying] more and more instead of buying ‘good.’” It’s like they’re speaking my language. Learn more about Zady here.
This is only a small sample of all the great companies doing great things for great people out there. I hope you’ve found it helpful.
I want to hear from you! What are some of your favorite companies committed to ethics, fair trade, sustainability, and the like? How much are you wiling to spend on a piece of clothing if you knew it was truly benefiting people?
Keep an eye out for next month’s post. I have a huge and daunting task on my plate for July.
Excellent points made on the true cost of goods! (And thanks for the shout-out! <3)
1. Take a picture. (Either of an Imagine Goods item you already own, or something you saw on our website that you love!)
2. Tag imaginegoods. (On Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram)
3. You’re all done! (Each post counts as a separate entry; drawing will be held on June 30.)
(Yes, there are some legal-schmegal things to say about this. See here if you’re into that kind of thing.)