Part 1: Closet Case

Rana Plaza building collapses killing 1,134 garment workers five years ago today. 

I scrutinize every piece of food that enters my mouth. I make 90% of my cleaning products. My garden is full of both beneficial and not so great bugs. You’d be hard pressed to find a package in my pantry. My driveway and walkways are adorned with weeds. My medicine cabinet is sparsely decorated with a mix of local, organic, and homemade natural remedies. Even my laundry practice is over thought and responsible. But open the doors to my 1950’s closet and you will find a mix of fast and slow fashion, with a heavy emphasis on fast fashion. Why is is that I have flipped so many aspects of my life but put little thought or energy into the very clothing that covers my body 24 hrs a day? Though I believe I really have always known what was going on behind these brands, it has really only come to the forefront of my thoughts in recent weeks. Can you say hypocrite???

Before I dig into the revelations I have experienced I have a confession to make.

My name is Lily and I am a recovering Fashionista.

It’s true. Mrs. Do Right by the Environment owned 62 pairs of shoes by the time I was college bound. I literally worked to buy clothes through my teen years. I saved my lunch money to purchase shoes from the boutique down the street from my childhood home, where Craig and I were not only on first name basis, but he would put things aside for me in my size. I wore high heels to almost everyday of my high school career. I learned to sew at an early age, I learned to knit at 6 years young, and I got my sewing machine (which I still use) in fourth grade. My Grandfather loves to tell everyone that even as a little girl I shopped with my hands – meaning I had to touch everything, dissected the fabric, the weaves and the fabrication. I was bound and determined to be a fashion designer. I made clothes for myself and my sisters. Dressed them and my friends up for fashion shows which I put together in the hallway of my childhood home. I begged and pleaded and offered to pay the cost for my parents to purchase the “style network”. Once we got it I set an alarm to wake up at 3 am to watch the unedited runway shows each season. I will never forget the moment I watched Tom Ford send Kate Moss down the runway in black leather knee boots with steel heels in 1997…..I was not even a teenager yet. For me fashion was not about putting something on to get through the day, Fashion was art. My closet was filled with fast, slow, vintage, and handmade treasures. Whether it was a vintage belt made of feathers or ribbon weave sweater nearly every piece in my closet was thoughtfully chosen and allowed me hours of putting outfits together. Getting dressed to do anything was full of purpose. So how did I get from that to where I am today – someone who shares her  closet with her husband and could pretty much get by on a normal week rotating 8 key pieces of clothing? The LED lightbulb inside my head has turned on, but it still flickers.

I grew up and spending all your dollars on clothes gets a little ridiculous, I mean you can only go so hungry. It was when I was pregnant that that girl who felt denim was too casual for everyday wear became completely in touch with the world of waste. I had always been an environmentalist but I never made the connection to my clothes, or maybe subconsciously I didn’t want to. My focus was more related to the desire to own less stuff, and then a huge dash of frugality set in. I would much rather spring for an expensive cheese then I would buy a pair of shoes that I would actually wear. Slowly but surely I just stopped shopping. My financial advisor says I have my priorities straight, but sometimes my reflection in the mirror disagrees. I had given up most of my high heels when ironically I started dating my 6’6 husband in my last year of college. I embraced less waste and then zero waste and eventually minimalism, my goal is still a curated closet once this baby weight melts away. Recently I read “Greening the Global Economy” and Elizabeth Cline’s “Overdressed” was mentioned so I picked it up at the library. As I started to dive in I saw an Instagram post for the documentary “the true cost”, I watched the trailer and cried. I decided that rather then watching it alone I should host a movie night with some girlfriends. Knowing that it was going to be a preach moment I got many declines except Missy and Molly who gladly accepted and kept me from crawling into a ball during my aha moment. Early in the film Molly looked over at us and pronounced “my Costco leggings are burning my legs right now”, my J.Crew tee was certainly making me sweat and I rarely do that. Do you know why the rest of the world hates American’s? It could be Trump, it could be ignorance, but I am willing to bet its our cheap materialistic consumer entitlement. Yes that is it.

Getty Image from here

The devastation to other people’s livelihoods both abroad and in our own backyards is mind boggling! Not to mention the amount of pollution and waste of natural resources we consumers are causing. Did you know your kid’s Target shirt probably ripped a family apart? Or that your leather shoes from H&M have poisoned the ground water that entire communities depend on for their lively hood? That crap about environmental and humanitarian responsibility on their website is garbage. Those checks they do are on decent sweatshops that actually outsource their work to sweatshops that put bars on the windows and locks on the doors so their workers can’t leave and what happens when the building catches on fire? They die! Those fire extinguishers are just for show, no one actually knows how to use them. Oh yeah and that hole in the ground is actually a toilet for everyone in the six story building – a building that is on US soil for that matter. All so you and I can buy the flavor of the week at a whopping $10.99 wear it once or not at all and then donate it to Goodwill and pat ourselves on the back that we are sharing our super trendy clothes. Its horrifying. Horrifying. You only buy high end designer duds? Don’t think you are in the clear that designer monogramed leather bag that screams “I paid a lot of money for this label” is just as guilty as your GAP khakis. Only that bag which costs the designer pennies to make, was sold to you for thousands of dollars because they can. It’s just as harmfully made and the status concept is what is driving the less expensive throw away culture. You decide which is worse.

So what does one do? The film reiterated several times that these statements on companies websites were just a piece of paper and that there are no real standards to mark that what they say is true. The book dove in deeper to reveal that the “checks” that are done are usually done at a workroom that “finishes” the products while the real labor was outsourced to another sweatshop with less than workable conditions. Not to mention the fact that the factories are constantly changing based on who can give the best price and turn it around the quickest. Details like minimum wage and working age do not mean the same as what they may mean in the Bay Area. There is no overall set of standards by which to compare. SO is there really no way of knowing??? After the film was over we all looked at each other and said now what? Where can we shop when we need to? How will we ever know what is legit and what is not? How can we convince our family members to stop infiltrating our lives with unwanted stuff that is made inhumanly and so wastefully without making them feel like we are constantly preaching? Its certainly no easy feat. Its Capitalism at its very worst. It reflects everything that is wrong with the world right now. It is downright depressing. But have hope we can create change in our own homes.





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