Do you know that famous quote attributed to Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”?
It’s one that really resonates with me. It doesn’t demand perfection, but it is a clear call to action to do better, and to do more.
There are those who want others to notice that they live their ideals. You know the type, the ones who bore you with statistics about how we’re killing the planet with plastic, but then you see them out one day drinking from a takeaway coffee cup with a plastic lid. Which would be ok, but they’re trying to hide it from you because eco-consciousness is something they feel good about. You’ve seen that they’re not perfect, and that’s going to bruise the ego!
Then there are those of us who think that you don’t need to be perfect, you just need to do something. Be A change rather than THE change.
Staying with the coffee cup example, it’s almost impossible to go plastic free in the city all the time. It’s a LOT of effort. It could mean going without that coffee because you’re too rushed to sit down and you forgot to bring your re-usable cup. If you’re the sort of person who thinks every minute of your day should demonstrate virtue, that’s going to be a problem.
It’s estimated that Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year. That’s an amazing statistic, but if you consider that if we all drank from re-usable cups just 50% more of the time, that could save half a billion cups. It could also lead to better practices in cafes, with more giving discounts for bringing a cup, or realising that the cups they buy matter to customers, so encouraging them to buy biodegradable. Suddenly we find ourselves creating new habits and using disposable cups only occasionally because it’s easier and cheaper for to do it.
Remember that the market responds to customers, not the other way around. This is the power of ethical consumerism.
Ethical choices in clothing aren’t much different. You can make an important contribution by changing something, and to do that you don’t need to change everything all at once. For those of us interested in the rights of fellow human beings who make our clothes, it doesn’t take a lot of digging to understand just how much our purchases matter, and how much power we have as consumers. The lead up to Fashion Revolution Week is a great time to think about how you can create change, how you can add to the demand for conscious fashion in a way that makes sense for you and your lifestyle.
Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes campaign began as a response to the tragic Rana Plaza factory fire and building collapse in Bangladesh on 24th April 2013. 1,138 people were killed that day, and many more injured. While some positive steps have been made in the garment industry since then, such as the progress of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, unsafe practices and terrible conditions for most workers continue. Most of those workers are women, and it’s very common for them to work 14-16 hour days for wages that still do not lift them above the poverty line. Imagine working 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, and then not being able to afford basic medicine for a family member!
It’s not only Bangladesh that fails to protect garment workers from deadly and unfair conditions. Child labour is still a huge concern in the industry, especially in the growing of cotton and production of fabrics. Factories where female garment workers are locked in and refused the right to free movement are also a significant issue, effectively meaning they have unwittingly signed up to forced labour.
So what to do about this terribly flawed industry?
Ideally, we’d immediately ditch the ‘fast fashion’ that contributes to it, and only buy clothes from ethical retailers. However, the ethical clothing industry isn’t always easy for everyone to access. Price points are higher because people in the supply chain are getting fair wages, and choices are limited.
So my answer is to do what I can, when I can. It’s worth the small amount of effort on my part to look for ethical versions of the clothes I like and need, or to think twice about throwing a garment out when I could get it mended. The more we all do this, the more choice will become available, as the market will be able to respond to increased demand. Over time, more pressure will be put on supply chains to source ethically. It will also put more pressure on politicians to legislate for worker’s rights, rather than against them.
Fashion Revolution Week begins Monday 24 April, so why not try a few of the following ideas on for size?
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