I have a confession to make. Last week I bought a pair of tights for $7.50.

It sounds pretty innocent, but there was a long chain of events leading up to that moment, standing at the checkout, handing over my card and paying $7.50 for black cotton long legged tights. The story is something like this:

A while ago I decided it was time to buy some tights. It made sense for my job. I’m spending much more time outdoors nowadays, I wanted to prepare for cooler weather by having more options for layering. And also I have a few skirts and dresses that would go well with a pair of tights. Easy. But I didn’t act on my decision very quickly. A month or two went past before I had time to get to a shop that sold nice and cheap tights.

And then this ad came out:

I saw it for the first time watching TV at my in-laws. I have a weird feeling every time I see it. The music is so catchy! But it doesn’t feel right that things should be that cheap…

And then this happened. A clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed leaving hundreds of people dead and something like a thousand people injured. Suddenly the eyes of the West focused in on Bangladesh, and the plight of underpaid sweatshop workers, and what are we actually doing when we buy cheap clothes for chain stores?

A few days later I was standing at a clothing table in Kmart, finally fulfilling my plan to buy tights. I found the black, cotton, long legged tights and picked up a pair to find my size. Turning back the waistband I saw three words in glaring caps: MADE IN BANGLADESH. For a moment I was paralysed with the memories of the photos, footage and stories of the disaster. The moment passed. I suppressed the feelings, picked them up and headed for the counter. The music from the Kmart ad was playing (“Bom bom bom!”). Now the tights are in my drawer at home, and I feel terrible for buying them.

I could shrug it off. What difference does one pair of tights make?
And I am poor! A two person household on one minimum wage and a study allowance – cheap clothes is the only way I can do it!
Hah. As if. We are still among the richest people on the planet: we can afford to pay rent, and feed ourselves, and cook meals for friends, and buy birthday presents for loved ones…. I think I should listen to my oversensitive conscience. There has to be a way to not buy clothes that put people’s lives at risk,

I’ve been trying to think of alternatives to buying cheap clothes produced in dangerous work environments. The obvious thing to do is to only buy clothes that have been made under good working conditions. However this has a couple of downsides: it takes a long time to research places to obtain these clothes. And then after finding them, they cost lots of money! I don’t know if I could afford to put a whole outfit together, let alone a whole wardrobe. Here are other things to try that might work better for my situation:

1. I should stop being swayed by what is in fashion. I should probably stop browsing Pinterest and Modcloth for clothes that I am never going to buy. It’s just not helpful.
2. I should buy more clothing from op-shops.
3. I should do the research on garments and working conditions.
4. I should make some more clothes myself.
5. I should actually try the “obvious” solution above. If I stop caring so much about fashion, maybe I won’t mind having fewer clothes and outfits.

Any other tips exploring the ethics of clothing and putting things into practice?


5 thoughts on “Confession

  1. ringsandcoffee

    You have K-Mart in Australia? Many stores here closed over the past decade, but a few still hang on somehow.

    I am also in the poor department (but still go to Starbucks, etc, far too often) and in need of new clothes. To be honest, I look at where things are made, but it doesn’t strike my conscience as much as you or others. The bigger issue for me personally is that 99% of what I see in the stores I think is hideous and/or doesn’t fit me well. The only place I know of with decent working conditions is American Apparel, but much of their stuff again falls under the hideous label.

    Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I remembered an article someone posted a month or so ago that might be helpful to you. I’ll look for it later today.

  2. jennigan

    Research isn’t too hard! And the good thing is, when you do it with once, you can generally stick with those brands.

    So, underwear, I go here:
    Jeans, I go here:
    This is another good one: (I’m planning to get sneakers from them when my old ones eventually die). There are a few shops in Sydney that sell eco clothes too, like the Trading Circle in Summer Hill and Braintree Hemp in Newtown. And as you’ve mentioned, charity shops are pretty good too. The clothes might not be made in good factories, but at least you aren’t creating direct demand for new and cheap clothes.

  3. Anonymous

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    1. etimodnar

      Re: ALL MY THOUGHTS!!!

      Oh, it’s not your fault!! 🙂

      It’s just SO HARD navigating the water of being an ethical consumer that there are some things (like bras, undies, socks, whatever) that I’m like “no! This far and no further!”

      I was trying to be sympathetic to your dilemma while also sharing how I deal with it 🙂


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