5 tips for an ethical wardrobe

A handy guide for responsible shopping

It can seem impossible to ensure the next addition to your wardrobe isn’t adding to the global misery of sweatshops and child labour. However, as more and more people focus on Fair Trade and start taking the big brands to task on ethical practices, it’s becoming more and more valuable to clothing producers to make sure their clothing is being made in safe working conditions.

To help do your part, here are five easy steps to making sure your shopping habits are a part of the solution, and not the problem.

1. Read the tag

Winnipeg-based custom clothing designer Lisa Dyck says Christians need to start caring about where their clothes are made. Dyck, who grew up attending an Evangelical Covenant Church in Minnedosa, Manitoba, says that while her business is not a ministry, ethics are important, “How could you go out and say that you care about people…and have your clothing made where people aren’t being paid?” she says.

Ultimately, checking where your clothes are made and buying ethically, though challenging, is indeed an issue that Christians need to take note of, and one that the Church needs to lead the charge on.

“Purchasing is an ethical activity,” Val Hiebert, a professor of sociology at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba says. “There’s ethics involved in where we put our money and what that money then supports.

“Don’t we have something in the Bible about the least of these? I seem to remember something about that,” Hiebert says. “I think this is exactly where the Church should be…because this is about justice. This is about everything the [biblical] text calls us to.”

Jordi Boixareu:Flickr

2. Don’t let the fashion industry dictate your habits

The average person can only be a part of the solution if they’re willing to buck the culture of consumerism first and foremost.

Hiebert says that at their core level, injustices in the textile industry have more to do with a society that encourages buyers to discard clothing for no real good reason.

“We never really stop to think about how duped we are,” she says. “We take thousands and thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good clothing that the fashion industry convinced us last year we had to have, and have convinced us this year we can’t wear.”

churl han:Flickr

3. Re-evaluate your actual clothing needs

The easiest step to curb the injustices of the garment industry is simply reevaluate your actual clothing needs versus the things they’ve been led to think they need through the culture of mass marketing and covetousness.

“I would say it’s possible, but the current standard is to have a closet stocked full of clothes,” Dyck says. “If you didn’t think that you needed a new shirt every time that you went out the door, then it would be fine.”

“There’s a good third of people that come into the [simpler living] movement because they’re just tired of the consumption lifestyle and they’re stressed to the max,” Hiebert says. “They just want out.


4. Consider recycled clothing

There is an emerging industry of making new clothes out of reused or recycled fabrics, often from thrift stores, something that Dyck has done in the past as a response to how quickly quality fabrics are often discarded.

“There’s so much stuff out there...why would we just keep making stuff when there’s so much stuff already?” she says. While she admits that this part of her business has slowed down, recycled clothing could be a way for people to cut down on outsourced and often unethical labour, should her customers demand it.

Hiebert says that the availability of Fair Trade garments along with the rising trend of second-hand or thrift store shopping are other ways that individuals, and Christians especially, can take part in real ethical change in the garment industry. Such ideas, though sometimes looked down upon, shouldn’t be a cause for uneasiness among consumers.

“People have these stigmas—they think that it means, ‘Oh boy, I’ll be able to recognize a thrift store shopper.’ But you can’t,” saying that much of her own wardrobe comes secondhand, which few identify even in her classroom.

Maria Morri:Flickrr

5. Don’t get discouraged

Such realities seem to paint a bleak picture on how the average consumer can make a difference, yet Hiebert seems hopeful that a new way of living is beginning to catch on.

“The market itself I think is telling us that there’s a significant amount of interest in thinking differently about what we buy,” she says. “So when people say to me, ‘Oh, it’s just too overwhelming; I can’t help that little kid in China who’s making jeans anyway,” I guess my response is, ‘Well actually, you can.’ We already have evidence of it.”

Hiebert says she’s most encouraged by the newer generations who are already catching on to these ideas.

“I have the great joy of, every year, having a whole bunch of fresh-faced students in front of me who actually are just starting their lives,” she says. “They’re not yet completely caught in consumption patterns the way we adults are.

“They give me a lot of hope; because a lot of them are very open to these ideas… probably in the next 30 years, I would say, we’re going to reach a place where those who have learned simplicity practices…are going to be teaching other people how to do this.”


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About the author

Rob Horsley is the former Managing Editor of ChristianWeek.