I just bought this sweater from a popular clothing brand because I had a gift card. I already felt guilty about it because I knew this brand was not ethically minded. Meaning, they are known to use factories with unsafe work environments, utilize slave and child labor, and do not source materials in a sustainable way. But these kinds of companies are LARGE and pervasive and are sometimes unavoidable. So, when I shop at unethical retailers (because let’s face it, when I have free money – I use it!), I focus on buying items that are versatile and built to last. I spent a lot time lingering at this store trying to settle on a piece that fit my criteria for building an ethical wardrobe. It’s neutral, it’s basic, it’s durable. Okay, done, swipe, shudder, and move on.
I wore and washed this ONCE and now the gaping HOLE (pictured above) sneered at me as I took it out of the drawer. I was then thrust immediately back to that day in the store with my children whining about pizza and the litany of thoughts zooming through my mind as I wrestled with this very complicated decision…
I have one gift card. I have to use it! Spend wisely. This is not an ethical store. I need to be very conscious of what I buy! No, you cannot run around the racks. Does this sweater go with enough items in my closet? Is the person who works here judging how long this is taking me? Yes, we will have pizza after this. Only if you’re good. Now I remember why I shop online.
When I saw the hole, I felt like crying. I know that probably sounds silly. After all, it’s just a sweater. This has happened to all of us, right? We laugh at ourselves and say, “Well, now I know why this sweater was so cheap!” But that hole represents so much more than MY wasted money or my wasted opportunity to get compliments. This isn’t about me at all.
The person who made this sweater likely was paid very little, if anything at all. She is hungry and goes without meals. She sent her children away because she cannot afford to house and feed them. She is at great risk of injury or death due to her unsafe work environment. Modern day slavery is very real. We are hidden from it as American consumers partly because we want to be. Yes, companies go through great lengths to distance us from these horrible truths, but the bigger reality is: we don’t want to know. We like paying less for cheap things that get holes in them so we have an excuse to buy more. We think it makes us feel good, but in reality we are just fueling an industry that represents and provides wealth for very few people. Our endless cycle of replacing poorly made items makes us feel nothing at best. And at the worst, we contribute to a global systemic problem of poverty, hunger, broken families, and death. No, it’s not just a sweater.
We have an immense amount of power in our choices. Beyond bright or neutral, tight or flowy, our clothing represents who we are, our personalities, and what’s important to us. We want to feel confident in how we look AND how we contributed to someone else’s success. Let the holes in our sweaters represent a life well-lived and full of adventure, and not one trip through the washing machine in exchange for a person’s dignity.
For more insight into the significant problems facing the garment industry today, check out The True Cost, available on Netflix. #lifechanger If you do, please drop a comment or an email and let me know what you think!