“Give me my phone back!”
I yelled these words in my pitiful 16-year-old voice as I wrestled to retrieve my phone from a friend. She found a list buried deep inside my notes app and to my humiliation began to read it aloud.
“The clothes I need in my closet for senior year: new athletic tennis shoes, new sneakers, five plain shirts, five nice shirts, new jeans, skirts, lots of Lululemon, etc.”
At that moment I felt entirely exposed. No one was supposed to know how much effort went into cultivating my style and following endless trends. But as I scrolled through my lengthy list after finally receiving my phone, I slowly began to realize how much of my identity I found in clothes.
The shame and identity crisis of the 16-year-old version of myself ripples across the world, but for what purpose? An outfit? Validation? More likes on Instagram? I wrestled with these infinitesimal thoughts for one reason—privilege. I had the privilege, which so many of us have, of ignoring the irrevocable damage the mainstream fashion industry perpetuates on the Global South.
Instant gratification overrides the images of an exploited child working in a factory, the single mother earning less than five dollars a day or the 10.5 million tons of clothes in landfills. Instead, we choose to see our image rather than the lives of others and the unsteady state of our environment.
Americans have created a hyper-materialistic culture in caring more about immediate appearances than the corruption engulfing the fashion industry. We would rather remain unaware of the fact that someone somewhere suffers at the cost of a single outfit.
As a byproduct of suburban America, I can attest to the crippling impact mainstream media imprints on consumers. While subliminal, the unspoken narrative of fast fashion has captivated the hearts and wallets of scores of people, many of whom remain ignorant to the effect compulsive buying has on a societal and environmental scale. There are simple things you can do to combat this culture.
- Do Research: Find companies who do the right thing and are loyal to promoting ethical fashion like the Fairtrade brands.
- Educate Yourself: Become aware of the situation of people across the world and how we contribute. Keep up to date with the latest Fairtrade and ethical fashion news.
- Buy Less, Keep More: Every unethical product has the potential to cause pain and suffering to children and their families. Love and appreciate what you have.
- Buy Quality: When you do buy clothes, purchase items that will last and that are ethically produced.
- Buy Second Hand: Combat fast fashion by shopping at your local thrift store. This choice helps to reduce the number of clothes which end up in landfills and prevents spending on unethical fashion brands.
Consumers have the power to determine the state of humanity when it comes to many issues, especially in fashion. We make a conscious choice every time we swipe a debit card or put on a pair of jeans. While it may feel like an individual’s choice to purchase mindfully will not change anything, a movement starts with a single person who realizes the magnitude of their choices.
From the food we choose to consume to the clothes we put on our backs, humanity has the capacity to instigate change within our global community simply through the power of choice. We all have an impact, a legacy which we will leave on this earth whether we admit it to ourselves or not.