5 Tips for the Conscious Fashionista

We all know by now that many of the clothes we buy are being produced under problematic labor and/or environmental conditions. “Outsourcing” is one of the driving factors behind this trend. Outsourcing means moving the labor intensive textile industry to countries like Bangladesh or Cambodia where labor is cheap and working conditions bad. People in these countries are willing to work for almost any wage, even if it is below their living expenses.

You might ask yourself, why would anybody work for that kind of money? The answer is simple: there is no alternative. Most workers have very little formal education or qualification so they cannot just go find another job in an industry that pays better. And in most developing countries, there is no social welfare state that could offer a last resort. Too often this means badly paid work or no work at all.

To add insult to injury, the current state of the international textile industry provides us with products that are cheaper than locally produced products, even though the living conditions are worse in these countries. If you then consider that the worldwide consumption in textiles doubled in the last ten years, it tells you a lot about the current living conditions in textile-producing countries.

Luckily, people are becoming more aware of this issue. Consumers want to know what they can do to undermine the systematic exploration of people in the textile industry. In order to tell if products are being made in a sustainable– or at least more sustainable– way, transparency regarding labor and environmental conditions is key. This is why many people turn to labels associated with the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO). Certified products stand for higher labor and environmental standards, and on the surface, labels seem to be a good shortcut to achieve this goal.

But unfortunately, it is not that simple. Labels are only a solution for bigger companies with necessary financial resources because the process to become a certified company is very expensive and time-consuming. So how can you find out more about the products you want to buy? Instead of blindly following labels, here are some ideas:

1 | Ask– Ask store employees if they know where the products they sell are being produced. If you don’t get an answer, you’ll know that the store or brand doesn’t have a very high priority regarding this issue. Otherwise employees would be properly briefed.

2 | Buy small– Often small, local brands actively care about the labor conditions of their producers. Not being able to compete with the fast fashion industry (pricewise, offering a new collection every couple of weeks, etc.) makes many of them take the high road in terms of production. Additionally, these brands usually sell small quantities, making outsourcing to very poor countries economically unprofitable. Reframe this and it is actually a hidden benefit– not everyone and their mom will be wearing your new t-shirt!

3 | Go vintage– Buying vintage has two advantages: no new resources are wasted and the quality and materials of vintage pieces are usually much better than the clothing that is being produced today.

4 | Take the high road– Buy high quality items. Try to avoid synthetics mixes such as acrylic and polyester. Yes, they are usually cheaper but they will also fall apart after two or three laundry cycles. As my favorite saying goes “Only rich people can afford cheap stuff.”

5 | Follow your favorite sustainable brands on social media– A lot of sustainable brands support each other and will keep you posted about the revolution. Here is just a small selection of our favorite sustainable brands: ReformationNY StudyA Peace TreatyMaiyetAllbirdsThe Fab CollectiveHelpsy and Eco Alphabet.

Lisa Jaspers is the founder of FOLKDAYS, a fair fashion label from Berlin specializing in handmade apparel and accessories straight from the original source.

Comment