Hi, I’m Mehendi Siraj, Sustainable Supply Chain Intern at MATTER and also assisting the team in creating an Artisan Impact Metric. Throughout my two months here, I’ve learnt plenty about ethical and sustainable brands and hence the team had me working on this “how to shop ethically guide”.
Instead of telling you what to buy and what not to buy, I thought I would just tell you how I feel and what goes through my head when people ask about being a socially responsible shopper.
As a broke college student who works two part time jobs to finance her spending, there is nothing more I like than cheap thrills. In fact, it has now come to a point where I actually genuinely enjoy the taste of cheap, junk food more than anything of quality. Despite all of that, you can imagine the surprised and baffled faces of those who know me when I tell them that I don’t shop at fast fashion labels.
Why? Because I cannot and will not support fast fashion. I don’t support fast fashion because someone’s whose life is already in a more precarious position than mine pays for my clothing by endangering their livelihood and that is not okay.
But you probably already knew that. Leading publications have released articles (such as this, this and this) and there even has been a much-lauded documentary on the topic but the message seems to fall on deaf ears. I am not here to preach or write another article on why you should shop ethically but I do want to highlight the repercussions when we buy from retailers who turn a blind eye to ethics.
MATTER’s artisan partners are paid at or above market benchmarks, and the factory that we work with to enable garment production is internationally certified and compliant with labour standards.
The problem isn’t just that people are
getting paid less and less or that their working conditions are getting worse
and worse, it’s that this is causing a cycle of oppression where people are
getting stuck in poverty because they don’t have a choice. They don’t have a
choice because we are putting them in that position. Our sartorial choices are
robbing thousands millions of people of opportunities and this is not okay.
Let me illustrate: Most families who work in the garment industry, on average, have three to four kids. However, often there is only one parent working. When clothing companies try to reduce their costs, they pressure suppliers to cut down costs and in turn suppliers push these reductions onto the workers. So when the sole breadwinner has to accept a pay cut to continue working, someone else from the family has to find work to makeup for the lost wage. As often is the case, very rarely do living costs go down when people’s income go down (especially when it’s forced). The other family member who ends up helping to pay the bills is often the oldest child who is very frequently of school going age himself but because he has to support the family, he does not get to continue his education. The same thing happens when factory owners compromise the working conditions to cut costs. People get sick (or they die) and are unable to work and their children have to starting looking for jobs, forsaking their education. When a generation is stripped of their education, they once again face the same limitations that their parents did and they become powerless, especially in a time where more people are getting educated than before. They get trapped in a cycle and it becomes harder and harder to get out of it. The lack of laws, the lack of rights, our thirst for cheaper, trendier clothing and businesses’ conquests for greater profits oppresses a whole generation and that is never, ever okay.
MATTER adheres to timeless principles of style rather than runway trends, with season-less styles and seasonal fabrics. Styles are tested by time, and are phased out or brought back accordingly.
Of course shopping ethically isn’t easy. (Nothing worthwhile is easy) When you choose to shop ethically, it could very well mean that the next time you are in a mall you can’t purchase from 90% of the stores. And then of course, not all of us have the choice. If you are struggling to pay your bills and can only afford to spend very little money on your clothing then please, pay your bills. Buy that item from fast fashion because this is isn’t your priority at this point in your life. However, most of us have the choice and we refuse to make it and I understand why. It takes more time, effort and money and honestly (it feels like) ain’t nobody got time for that in this era of FOMO.
MATTER makes a personal visit to each of our partners and artisan clusters, which gives us the assurance that these workplaces are good to work with and good to work in.
Then there is the million-dollar question
of who and what is ethical? There are many ways to approach this question and
to make your life easier, I’ve made you a list (because everyone loves list).
Though I know that it can sometimes be difficult, the joy of finding brands that subscribe to ethics while still producing items that you adore can be summed up by this GIF:
(Yes that’s totally me…if only I had an empty elevator to run to every time I made any discovery.)
And then of course there are times when you keep looking and looking and can’t find what you are looking out for.
But then you have to remember that some things take time, and this took 14 years for it to happen.
Good things happen to people that wait, so you persevere. You will find the brands that speak true to your heart, a story that you can relate to with products you can stand by.
At the end of the day whether you choose to shop ethically or not, remember no one is judging you. It is, however, important to acknowledge.
To acknowledge the people that make our clothes, to admit their existence and the conditions in which they exist, to recognize their importance and realize they are not heard. We don’t hear their voices, we don’t read their stories, and we do not see them represented in our media. We don’t pay attention to them and it is important to acknowledge that. If you do decide to change your shopping habits, do more research and spread awareness about this issue.
It is not a simple case of what to buy and what not to buy. It is a complex issue and won’t truly be resolved until an institutional change or reform takes place. But remember: We all spend our lives chasing for power and right now, we have the power. So exercise your power and make a choice.