Don’t Waste Your Money- It’s Probably Not That "Ethical" Anyway.

Remember back when I was an “ethical influencer” and tried to convince you to buy $200 jersey sundresses and $50 tee shirts that were “ethically made”?

I’m back to tell you that at least 80% of the time you should probably not waste your money- that garment is probably not all that ethical anyway. The longer I am in this sustainable fashion world, the more I become convinced of three things:

Yes, but HOW MUCH are you paying her?

Being in Southeast Asia during Fashion Revolution Week makes it all pretty personal. Three of my friends here used to work in the apparel industry and they’ve all separately told me stories of low wages and poor conditions while embroidering tee shirts for Disney (shame on you, Disney!) or sewing bras for big USA lingerie companies.

We had a pretty sober moment in the A Beautiful Refuge workshop as we all talked about the Rana Plaza collapse and shared stories and experiences.

Even though it's not a fashion brand, My thoughts have centered around a particular company with white-hot anger for the past few days. They’re a fair trade certified company operating out of the Philippines that I’ve recently visited. They market themselves as a Fair Trade Federation member and a cause based company that “provides employment for sex trafficking survivors”. Their website is full of photos of women who have "escaped prostitution", and stories of their lives and how this company is "helping" by employing them. 

Beside the very obvious issue of the re-exploitative, sex-trafficking focused marketing (what other business would put personal stories of their employee's pasts up on their website? Or sell their product by talking about the past difficulties of their employee's lives? "You should buy this insurance package from Sue, she's a survivor of domestic abuse who is trying to get her life back on track"- see how ridiculous that is?), if you look past the cheery feel good language - "when you buy our product, you know you are creating jobs for women who need them! Hooray!" There is actually no mention of how much the women working at this company make. 

One of my friends, a single mom with several kids to care for, worked briefly for this particular company. She showed me one of the small products she’d made- which I recognized from the company’s website. I told her that I’d seen the same product sold at some of my favorite fair trade shops in the US. I asked her how much she was paid. She answered with a number that in US dollars equals less than $0.33. Less than $0.33 for a product that retails in the US for $6.00. Because of the detail involved in making each tiny product, there was no way that she could make enough cards each day to live off her earnings, even with the relatively cheap cost of living in the Philippines. 

What I want to know is, who is getting the other $5.67 made from the sales of that product? And why wasn't my friend paid more? Yes, I know that there are expenses involved in running a business… but even after paying rent and water and electricity for the workshop, even after paying for shipping and tariffs and taxes to get your product overseas and paying a staff member in the US to ship out orders and maintain the website... there should still be plenty left over to pay workers decently (I should know, I've had to go through all of this while setting up  A Beautiful Refuge)! 

What's really horrifying is what another of my friends told me- that because of the low wages, many of the women who were supposedly "rescued" from sex trafficking and prostitution through working at this company are actually still forced to stay in that lifestyle- working at the company during the day and then selling their bodies at night. 

I wonder how many other "ethical" companies aren't quite as honest and ethical as they seem. I think about the fair trade sewing workshop that I cut ties with a few months ago (I was planning on placing a big production order with them) because they wouldn't tell me how much the women there made as opposed to the "higher up" staff and owner. 

This year, for Fashion Revolution Week and beyond, I’m not only asking “Who Made My Clothes?” but “How much are you paying him/her?”. I'll be asking this question to both ethical and non-ethical companies alike. 

It's easy to talk a good marketing game, but I won't be fooled. Know that I'll be asking the tough questions. I won't support a company that barely squeaks by with offering workers the lowest possible wage that could be considered "fair" while the CEO buys a summer home and a yacht. 

Moreloop: Making Circular Economy a Reality

It’s incredible how quickly fabric loses its value. In the fabric warehouses here in the Philippines where factory surplus fabrics are dumped, you’ll literally climb over piles of fabric laying on the dirty ground. Much of it will inevitably be ruined and tossed out. It’s such a shame to see such a waste of resources. Much deadstock fabric continues to sit wasted and unused, simply because it’s more difficult for designers to incorporate into design/production than simply ordering new fabric in the exact color, weight, and material needed. It’s a struggle that I’ve been hassled through myself…

Brands I Believe In: Fair+Little

I've struggled in the past year with finding the information I want about ethical brands. That's why I took down my shopping directory here on Life+Style+Justice: I just didn't know that I could guarantee that the brands I were recommending were 100% up to the standards that I want to see for wages, materials, and more. 

VYAYAMA Active Wear

VYAYAMA brings something new to the ethical activewear space by seeking to provide a natural alternative to synthetic yoga wear, using wool, cashmere, and micromodal/tencel made from beech pulp.

I guess I'm writing about politics and religion now, Damn it.

I woke up this morning to a flurry of posts on my social media feeds that made me sick to my stomach. While I slept, hundreds of white supremacist terrorists with tikki torches gathered in Charlottesville. Met by counter protestors, violence between the groups escalated and resulted in injury and even death for one demonstrator. The president of my country failed to condemn the terrorists' actions, instead issuing a statement that basically said both sides (white supremacists and peace activists alike) had behaved badly. 

Kantala: Vegan Handbags That Aren't Made Out of Plastic + Support Weaving Artisans

Vegan handbags usually fit into one of two categories: “vegan leather” (which is usually made of polyvinyl chloride and other non-natural materials that are actually quite awful for the environment) or cloth/canvas (cute, but not very sturdy and a bit casual for those who prefer a more traditional looking purse. Up-and-coming Sri Lankan brand Kantala is bringing something new to the table with vibrant, woven handbags using carefully sourced, all natural materials paired with traditional shapes.

Is Ethical Fashion Elitist?

We often make blanket statements like "If we all changed our consumption habits, we could change the fashion industry!". But are we really asking everyone to change their consumption habits? And is that fair? For me, the answer is "no". At this point in my life, the vast majority of my friends, and the people I spend the most of my time with are not well-to-do and it seems ridiculous to encourage them to buy a $22.00 pair of organic and fair trade underwear when they are just trying to get by and cover rent and food for the month.