Buying ethical clothing was something that I always intended to do but inevitably ended up at the bottom of the list. I needed to get committed so I decided to get serious and pledge to wearing only fairly traded clothes for one year. These are the lessons I learned:
- It’s amazing to wear different clothes to everyone else
When you buy clothes at a large chain you’ll invariably bump into other people wearing the same item as you. While that’s not the end of the world, it always feels best to wear an outfit that is as unique you can get save from buying all of your clothes is small Parisian boutique. Assuming that you don’t work for an NGO, you’re unlikely to be playing ‘outfit snap’ with your colleagues when you’re wearing Fairtrade.
- Buying Fairtrade only works if you already have a wardrobe
This was the biggest lesson; buying Fairtrade only works if you have an existing wardrobe. I didn’t have to buy jeans, for example, which I think would have been massively problematic without any physical shops to visit nearby. Most women will agree, online jean shopping is not ideal. Needing an existing wardrobe is linked to the next lesson…
- Fairtrade is expensive; the sales are your friend.
While it’s not as expensive as I first thought, I’d say equivalent to buying all of your clothes at Hobbs and Fatface, it’s still not light on an average twenty-something’s purse. It’s not easy being ethical when you’re skint. Although it’s hard to resist the pull of cheap disposable fashion I really believe that the cost of fairly traded apparel reflects the true cost of clothing. Essentially, why should the burden of reducing cost lie with the most vulnerable?
What privilege I enjoy when my choice is: one jumper or two? But the effects of unfairly traded clothes are oppressive. They are modern slavery with children in bonded labour and farmers in a weak position with cotton price volatility. This, in my mind, makes the choice: one jumper or two? an easy one. But I have learned that sales are your friend. The majority of my fairly traded clothes are from the sales but this does require a long term view of your wardrobe; buy a winter coat now for next season, etc.
- It is pretty much impossible to get specialist clothing.
Going skiing? Pregnant? Requiring a plus size? If you are hunting for something specific, fairly-traded clothing is not for you. You have to be flexible, hunting for items constantly without a specific piece in mind. This approach made my search for maternity clothes near impossible. I only managed to buy one item of maternity wear from a Fairtrade shop. This led to a hiatus in my fairly-traded clothing quest. A gap in the market? Definitely!
- Changed walking through town.
The highlight of my year has been the change in my relationship with the high street. Before this year, I always felt as though shop mannequins were beckoning me in à la Confessions of a Shopaholic. It was a feeling that I was always in with a chance of finding a bargain; I was insatiable. Almost as soon as I decided to buy only fairly-traded clothes, excluding the majority of high street brands, I was able to walk past shops without even so much as glancing at the windows; I was free!
Aside from the clear ethical advantages of buying fairly-traded clothes, it is this change in my buying patterns that has been the best outcome from my year. These days I rarely buy clothes on the high street but, when I do, I ask myself one question: one jumper or two?
Places I shopped:
- M&S (Vest tops and camisoles only)
- People Tree
- Sea Salt Cornwall (Some items stocked in John Lewis)
- Braintree Clothing