[What I had for breakfast today: a sweet little pullet egg, jasmine rice, Adam's fabulous kimchi, and a bunch of mustard flowers I'd pulled off our greens in the hopes the plants won't bolt before we're ready to pick and pickle them.]
A while back, I wrote this post about dressing for healthy hedonism. In it, I explained how it's important to me that my apparel empowers me to interact with the world in a positive, effective way: my clothes have work to do. My clothing empowers me me earn the trust of my patients, squat down to examine the world of rocks and worms that Kamal might discover in the garden, squeeze in a quick Vinyasa practice or set of pushups between meetings, ride my bike and walk all over town, pull a bunch of weeds on my way to the chicken coop, and eat with unrestricted enthusiasm Adam's phenomenal cooking.
Today I want to talk a little about flipping that philosophy around: you can use your clothing choices to empower the world, too. Just like switching to bar shampoo or practicing random generosity, being conscious about the clothes you buy is a small, straightforward change with tremendous, wide-reaching, exponential effects.
If you buy your clothes secondhand, you're already effecting this change by helping to maximize the resources that go into the fabrication of the clothes and to minimize the amount of clothing waste that goes into landfills or fuel required to recycle textiles. For the new clothing you buy, though, think about how powerful your purchase can be.
Think about all the people involved in producing the piece of clothing you're considering. Think about the people that farm the cotton or raise the sheep that make the fiber for the clothing. Does their work require exposure to pesticides? How are the sheep treated? Think about the people that weave the fibers into fabric, and the people that cut the fabric for the garment, and the people that actually sew it together. Where do they work? Is the environment safe? Are they respected, paid fair wages? Think about the creative process involved in the design of the garment--was that designer recognized and compensated, or was he or she plagiarized by the company you'd be paying? Think about future generations living in the areas where the clothing and its elements are produced--are fabric dye and waste effluent being poured into the water supply? Will the chemicals used to grow the cotton poison the soil for other crops in years to come?
Think about whether you are willing to support forced labor, human slavery and child abuse with your own income. Think about whether you are willing to assume responsibility for pouring lead and mercury into anybody's drinking water. Don't take part in the culture of passive denial just to take home a cheap and pretty blouse. If you wouldn't force a child to drop out of school in order to sew your clothing, if you wouldn't dose that child's breakfast with arsenic and cadmium, if you wouldn't fire a woman for being pregnant or shoot a man for asking for a living wage, then do not support the people who do.
If a company doesn't have a clear message on their ethics on their website and I'm considering purchasing their clothes, I'll send them an email to ask about it. Usually it looks something like this:
"Hi! I really like the clothes on your site. However, I can't find any information on how you source your fabrics, what your labor standards look like, or what your sustainability practices are. Before I make a purchase, I try to make sure that the clothes I buy are ethically produced. Could you reply with some of that information? Thanks so much."
Sometimes nobody gets back to me, which says to me that the company knows they don't have anything to say I want to hear, and then I give up on that particular garment, no matter how lovely it might be. I'm hopeful that by sending the email, it at least lets the company know that some of their would-be customers prioritize the good health and happiness of all people, not just the ones in their own demographic.
But yesterday I did get an email back from a company whose pieces I've been eyeing, and it made me feel good. Mary-Rose at Knixwear wrote:
"Thanks for your interest in Knix Wear! I am proud to say that our underwear is ethically manufactured in Seoul, Korea. Seoul is a very busy industrious city in Asia and the factory we work with is quite advanced in their manufacturing abilities since we use a bonded process for underwear construction. I have seen photos of the factory and spoken with our suppliers personally and can confirm that everyone involved is treated well and paid fair wages.
Our CEO and Production Manager travel to the factory over 5 times each year to check on production and to make sure everything is being done in a good, fair way.
When we discontinue a product to create a new style or colour, we donate all of the left over stock to women's shelters."
So that's a good start, and I'll make a purchase from them soon.
I'd love to hear the small choices you make every day that resonate with wide and helpful results--for the planet, for other people, for your community. Every action we take has consequences. Let's engage, together, for the greater good. Let's collect enough small choices, enough happy consequences, to save the world.