Social justice is a hot topic right now — but activism is more than just wearing the word “FEMINIST” across your chest (although you can do that too!), and it’s also more than making a clever sign and marching (although protesting helps!). Activism and social justice are a way of life, and they should extend beyond the big showy displays of public demonstration and into all aspects of your life…
…including your fashion.
It’s not the words on the shirt that make you a feminist or an activist, it’s the shirt itself. Where did it come from? How was it made? Whose labor was used or exploited, and what was the impact on the communities and environment from which it came? These are just some of the questions you need to be asking yourself every time you click the “purchase” button if you consider yourself a proponent of social justice
What is Ethical Fashion?
Is your clothing ethical?
The Ethical Fashion Forum defines ethical fashion as “the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.”
By contrast, “fast fashion” — like the mass-produced clothing you’d buy from low-priced retailers with high product turnover, like Zara and H&M — is produced without an eye toward sustainability or community impact.
In other words: ethical fashion is social justice. And here are three reasons why:
1. Women make up the majority — of exploited labor
Did you know that, of the 40 million garment workers in the world, 85% are women? And, of those women, most are underpaid, even while the companies they work for are making money hand over fist.
Not only are the women workers forced to work 14 – 16 hours per day, but they must work in unsafe conditions that can lead to tragedy — and even when their conditions are “safe,” they are still without basic benefits, like maternity leave. (And before you protest that your clothes are “made in America” and therefore better, just keep in mind that we have a terrible record on supporting garment workers in the U.S. too.)
When you buy clothing from companies that sell fast fashion, you’re contributing to the exploitation of (mostly-non-white) women around the world — because you vote with your dollars, and every piece of clothing you buy from these companies is a validation of their business model.
2. Materials impact the community
The environment is a social justice issue. Caring about the sustainability of your clothing sources is more than just about trees, water, or animal rights; our use or misuse of the environment affects people and communities around the world.
From carbon emissions to “landfill fashion,” the production and disposal of your clothing impacts the environment. And while you may not feel the impact of an increase in smog, the destruction of a forest, toxic drinking water, or an influx of material waste (at least not today), there are communities around the world that are hurt by the destruction of their environment so that you can wear the latest trend.
People often can’t fight back against the destruction of their land or their environment, especially when the companies that they’re fighting have more money and influence than they do, so it’s essential to understand where your clothes are coming from, how they were produced, and what happens to the excess when styles don’t sell.
3. Low prices hurt everyone but the retailer
At this point, we all probably expect our clothes to be cheap — with fashion turning over so quickly (and clothing made so poorly that we need to buy new clothes all the time), clothes have to be priced ridiculously low in order to get you keep buying. (Yay consumerism?)
Most fast fashion companies have seemingly never even heard of “Fair Trade” — they need materials fast, and they don’t want to pay for them. The Ethical Fashion Forum reminds us that Fair Trade is a safeguard against the “injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, and most vulnerable producers.” Yes, That means that, while you’re getting a deal on your $9 outfit, the producers of the materials get a raw deal instead.
And while you may feel like you’re making off like a bandit, chances are you’ll be back at the store in a few weeks in need of new clothes. Cheaply made clothing isn’t meant to last, so you may actually end up spending more on the back end for multiple new outfits instead of a few quality pieces that last for years. This cycle of quick consumerism feels like it’s doing good (for you, anyway), but, frankly, we undercut our commitment to social justice with each purchase.
Change Starts with YOU
Sure, it hurts to pay a couple of extra dollars for well-made clothing — just because we don’t see the immediate benefit. But when you consider the long-term costs of not investing in ethically-made clothing, the numbers look a lot different.
You don’t have to throw out your entire closet (Please don’t! We don’t need to add to the landfill!), nor do you have to max out your credit cards on the latest ethically-made clothes. Start small: add a piece or two to your wardrobe from a source that provides transparency around sourcing, pricing, and labor. When you need new clothing, look for small businesses that have a proven track record of sustainability and supporting women and people of color.
An easy way to get started? Shop with SmartGlamour. The company was built on a commitment to true social justice in our production and pricing, so you know exactly what you’re buying and how it’s made when you choose to shop.
We source our fabrics from local small businesses, and everything is handmade by the owner in Queens, NY.
We’ve also made our pricing model transparent so you know why you’re paying what you’re paying. Sure, we can’t compete with fast fashion pricing, but we don’t want to. Instead, we price fairly based on the indie and boutique market rates, and we reduce markup by cutting out the retail middle man.
And, of course, we’re a company founded on the principles of social justice, so when we say “all means all,” we mean it. Our clothes are custom made for women and femmes from sizes XXS – 6X and beyond, and we feature models of all sizes, races, identities, backgrounds, and abilities. We even give back with our products — when you buy anything from our Cecile line, for example, we donate a portion to Planned Parenthood.
You can show off your feminism, your activism, and your commitment to social justice in every new piece that you buy from SmartGlamour — your actions will speak for themselves, no statement tee required.
Want to learn more? Check out this video!