Two things happened to me in the last 6 months which made me completely rethink how I buy for my kids:
1) I happened across this pretty damning Australian Fashion Report.
2) I watched The True Cost Movie on Netflix.
Here are some of the things I read and heard:
* The True Cost documentary cited instances where leather tanneries were pouring chromium into the Ganges River in India.
* In the Australian Fashion Report, several of the big chains I shop at, and not necessarily just the cheap ones, would not specify where they sourced their leather or wool.
* The movie also showed a Punjab village where an insane percentage of children had disabilities from the pesticides in genetically modified cotton crops.
* The documentary also briefly covered the tragic 2013 Savar building collapse and showed how the situation continues to escalate. The low prices and 'bargains' we all exclaim about at our biggest chains are causing a literal collapse of the garment industry, setting wage bars too low and perpetuating poverty. Basically, if you're paying under $10 for a t-shirt, it's probably not enough...
* This was all juxtaposed with fast fashion ads ("GET THE LATEST LOOK!" "DISPOSABLE CLOTHING! TRY IT NOW!"), teenage girls flaunting their $6 purchases on YouTube, Boxing Day sale craziness....all in all: it painted a fairly grim picture of the Western World standing on the back of those less fortunate.
A few extra facts from this site:
1. The fashion industry is the world's second-largest polluter.
2. The world now consumes a staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing each year, up 400% from two decades ago.
3. One-in-six people work in the global fashion industry. A majority of these workers are women earning less than $3 per day.
4. 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years. Partly as a result of going into debt to buy genetically modified cotton seeds.
5. Only 10% of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold. The rest end up in landfills or flooding markets in developing countries like Haiti where they are bought by the box and kill the local industry.
What I saw and read could not be unseen or unheard. I was determined to find away to move forward but...honestly....I didn't think I could afford to shop ethically AND fashionably for 4 little people. Wrong! Guess what? I've come up with a new way of shopping for my kids that is still fashion-savvy but more ethical, of equal cost and in fact, time-saving. I'm calling it: Moderate Minimalism. It's not perfect. It requires forgiveness for incidental purchases when I'm rushed or stressed and past transgressions when I just didn't know but it's a step in the right direction and it's easy. Here are the new rules we've been following:
Figure out what you need, before you need it.
Take 20 minutes to lay out the kids' next-season wardrobe and check for gaps. Before you do this, decide how many of each item of clothing your kid will need (this site recommends having enough clothes for 7-10 days but I honestly think 4-5 is enough. Unless you leave your dirty washing pile for 5+ days at a time...!) so you can check it off against what you have. Write down what you *need* in an iPhone note or similar (Evernote with photos if you're hardcore!), so you can refer to it and you're not making impulse purchases or wandering Westfield grabbing 'cute' things. Also consider this great rule from the True Cost website: will your kid wear that item 30 times? Great litmus test!
NB: If you're disappointed you don't *need* a jumper that you really, really wanted - buy the next size up and pop it aside for next year - just don't forget it like I do! :)
Capsule that wardrobe!
I know. 'Capsule' is the buzz word of the season. But creating a wardrobe where everything coordinates (or mostly) doesn't just save money, it saves time and stress as you're not having to 'supervise' your kid and vet their clothing choices. It all goes. For more info on capsule wardrobes and living within your 'needs' check out the Minimalism documentary on Netflix or Google 'capsule wardrobe'.
If you have to buy, make sure you love it.
Buy pieces that you love, especially for sentimental reasons. I'm such a sentimental shopper, I'll buy things that remind me of my childhood or my Mum or that fabric I had on that quilt (or those Women's Weekly Cakes....!!! How amazing is this pinafore by Eclectic Bambino using my AWW Cakes fabric?). I have to hand my kids' clothes down to other children so buying for love, not trends, means I won't fall out of love with those items when they're pulled out of the wardrobe in 18 months.
Buy handmade and well-made.
I can't vouch for the majority of handmaidens and small businesses but I know for certain that the ladies who purchase my fabrics from Next State Print purchase ethical fabrics, because Next State are fabulous at sourcing these. I also know that these handmaidens sew the garments theirselves with a lotta love, which means it's done ethically. But we can't forget those businesses who have sacrificed time and margins to ensure they provide ethically-made goods when manufacturing. Just because goods are made overseas doesn't mean that workers are exploited: ask questions of your favourite companies and if they're paying their garment makers a fair wage and ensuring great living conditions: go nuts! Moderately :P
Did you see that statistic about landfill? Eek! Just when we felt good about our high-and-mighty-selves for donating to Salvos (cough cough chucking out our old wardrobes so we can start afresh)...! As much as I would love to justify buying new everything every time after watching these movies and hearing the statistics I just can't. So here's a moderate option: check out bricks and mortar and online op-shops (my two fave online at the moment are Use-Ta in Melbourne and RadVintageShop on Etsy - pop your favourite secondhand haunts in the comments!).
How good is this outfit? 25% awesome Aussie designer, ethically made, 75% up cycled, handmade and vintage):
Above: Old-school cape from Etsy in France, grey Bardot jumper from Melbourne op shop Use-Ta, hand dyed tights from Moon Room on Etsy in Australia plus new-school Elodie dress (yes, Japanese crane design by yours truly!) from Minouche.
Or either this amazing Mickey or Sonic jumper with these fab Kapow tights (again, by me and on special!!!). We all love new things and supporting designers but there is such beauty and value in re-loving our older goods.
There are also many buy-sell-trade groups for designer clothes. I know this doesn't bode well for many makers but well-made clothes become sought-after seconds. You can get almost as much for quality secondhand designer clothes as brand new. Especially the super cool, well-designed pieces. The increased resale value means customers place higher value on buying those goods, knowing they can get a decent return. Also, because customers are happier to pay more for re-sellable goods it pushes companies to make quality, lasting goods. The whole industry is raised by supporting quality!
The benefits: time and money.
This doesn't mean we have to stop supporting our favourite businesses. In fact, it means the opposite. By cutting out my fast food (fast fashion!) I've stopped grabbing bits and pieces here and there and saved $4 + $20 + $8 + $7 + $15.....etc. That means I can properly research a cute top or wait for my fave company's latest release and put in a purchase without feeling the guilt or buyer's regret of that cheap top or trend-y top (that is no longer trendy next season)...
This has also saved me time - we don't need to loiter at the shops just 'looking' and having my kids bombarded with the BUY BUY BUY message of shopping centres. We can get outside and get some fresh air instead (I shop from my phone or computer at nighttime) OR we can ferret through an op shop, which is one of my favourite pass-times and much more kid-friendly!
Let's be honest. A good majority of people don't have the time or the energy for any of this. I get it. I really do. So here's a really simple way to keep yourself in check: download the Good On You app and use it when you're next at your local shopping centre. Most Australian fashion retailers are featured - enter their name in as you walk into their store and have a little read about where their goods are sourced, how they pay their workers and their commitment to the environment. Then you can make an informed decision about what you support, or don't :) Sometimes it's the lesser of a few evils, but even these tiny decisions can help move our world, particularly our 'third' world, into a brighter future.
If this has been helpful or you have any tips or know any fabulous Australian companies producing ethical clothing I would love to hear about it! Comment here or on this Instagram post :)