RISE to the Challenge: Things to Consider Before Buying New Clothing
So here’s something I was aware of prior to my ethical fashion exposé, but choose to ignore annually in favor of quick fixes: I do not own summer clothing.
(It should be noted that I detest hot weather; I overheat quickly and I sunburn easily. Add in southern summers and you have a truly winning combination.)
Even after giving it an unreasonable amount of thought, I still have absolutely no idea how I got this far in my life without having at least a semblance of a summer wardrobe. In the Carolinas, summer often lasts from May to October—surely I haven’t spent my entire life sweating my way through almost half of the year. Even discounting the years before I bought my own clothing, I’m still left with a moderately shocking number of years lived never having assembled a wardrobe that stands up to red thermostat.
This problem lends itself to one obvious solution, doesn’t it? Go shopping! Put together a budget and stop sweating it, girl! (See what I did there?)
Except, since beginning my transition into ethical living via what I wear, answers to these kinds of dilemmas are never that simple. Shopping involves a significant amount of research and forethought that is very much counter to our fast-fashion culture. Each purchase must be intentional, not only because the goal is to integrate it into a wardrobe that serves to outwardly express individual style, but because each piece is a dynamic reflection of context. Who made this? Where did they make it? What did they make it out of? Where did that material come from? What were they paid to make it? What were the conditions like in the place they made it?
Conscious brands and consumers are aware of a back story. Hands, feet, hearts, minds, and a brilliant earth have gone into the production of the objects we hold in our hands, and they are not taken for granted. The invisible becomes visible, and as an ethical fashion/business community, we are holding ourselves and one another accountable to create good from our discontent with current culture.
I recently read an article published by The Good Trade that proposed a list of six conscious questions to ask yourself before you buy new clothing. Honestly, it was encouraging to actually have a line-item list of advice from a well-seasoned expert about how to go about this process, since I’ve been figuring a lot of things out by myself through trial and error. It was edifying to see that I was already making use of some of the suggested conscious shopping questions, and reassuring to see them all assembled in a nice, orderly list. (Finally, something straightforward! A single, flickering Type-A light in the midst of the nebulous darkness of ethical ambiguity!)
The questions were:
Who made this?—The quintessential ethical fashion question. The only way to answer this with confidence is for companies to have a close relationship with their suppliers and a deep knowledge of each aspect of their supply chain. As the article states, “there should be no invisible faces within the fashion industry.”
Is this price fair?—The low price of a garment is reflective of more than just the physical quality. It probably had to go through a multiplicity of processes to get to you, and once all of
bottom of the chain.
What fabrics are used?—Look for Fairtrade and Organic certifications on natural fiber garments; even cotton production can get seedy. Furthermore, is this fabric a sustainable material? Recycled?
Is this brand transparent?—Here’s something I thought little about before about a month ago. How forthcoming is the brand with their practices, factories, environmental impact, and supply chains? If they’re not outright with something, there’s probably a reason. I’ve also begun looking for language on fast fashion company websites that try to defer attention by claiming that they’re promoting a certain desirable lifestyle, confidence, free-spiritedness, etc. instead of promoting the lives affected by their business practices.
Do I truly need this?—Always a killer question. Sometimes one worth asking a couple times before you purchase. Often answerable with a begrudging, “probably not…”
Will this piece last 30 wears or longer?—This doesn’t sound like a lot at first, but when you compare it to wearing that piece for a month straight without it falling apart, stretching out, or becoming otherwise unwearable, it comes into perspective. Of course, it’s not truly the same, and can also be applied to whether it’s stylish because it coincides with a trend that very well may be long over by the time you’ve gotten to wear it even five times.
So, what seems like the only solution to my summer clothing deficiency has officially become less daunting. I doubt that any piece I buy will check all of these boxes, but that’s okay. The questions above are not meant to be a rubric by which to grade your garments. It’s simply a guide to help make multifaceted decision. (One that used to be as simple as, “oh, this is less than $30? Cool.”)
If you have any summer suggestions (or any helpful tidbits) comment or reach out to RISE Creative Co. and help a sister out!
Here’s hoping that I’ll stop sweating soon.
Picture from Caroline Joy Rector of Unfancy