It’s the dead of winter here in Ottawa, the dead time between New Year’s and the return of normal life. Back in the day, I would fill this weirdly unreal time (between the craziness of Christmas, and the start of the school term) with marking. After Christmas, when boxing week sales made me not want to venture downtown, and Hubby was mesmerized by hockey on television (World Junior Hockey tournament, Spengler Cup, plus the regular NHL games) I’d allot a few hours a day to marking the major essays that my senior students had submitted on the last day before the break. And when school started again, I’d have that Herculean task all done and dusted instead of hanging over my head.
So what do I do now, when the chaos of post Christmas traffic, crowded restaurants and stores, not to mention all that hockey on TV, keeps me in limbo? I do my closet inventory. Naturally. Nothing like a good stock-taking to start the year off right. This year, I’m asking myself if I’m any closer to being an ethical shopper. And, if I’m honest, if it’s even possible to be an ethical shopper.
|Consulting my little book of lists
|What I wore in South America
Spring and Summer:
|New spring 2016 stuff
|Love my DIY cropped jeans. The tunic, not so much
Fall and Winter:
|My fall purchases. All of these items hit my sweet spot, and passed the sigh test.
So how did I do in 2017?
Total new acquisitions this year = 25 pieces. A small improvement over last year. As a fledgling ethical shopper my progress is pretty good. But is it good enough? Because, of course, it’s not just about the number of items we buy is it?
If, as the article in The Rack counsels, we’re to be more “conscious shoppers” (as opposed to unconscious shoppers, presumably) we have to shop wisely, and make fewer impulse purchases. Of course that entails knowing what we already have in our closets. I chuckled when I read this article which said that one in seven women admits to buying a new, duplicate piece, because they couldn’t find the original, or had forgotten that they already owned it. We have to know our style, what will look good on our bodies (as opposed to on the mannequin or on that nineteen year old celebrity on IG.) And we have to be able to find pieces to buy that we’ll love and will wear for a long time. This can be difficult. And takes patience, and time many of us don’t have. This part of the ethical shopping equation is my forte: organization, knowing what I have, and what I want, and don’t want, and having the patience to pursue the perfect piece. I’m there already and have been for years.
One area in which I think I’ve improved from last year is the recycling/re-purposing old pieces into new outfits bit. I love my new DIY white jeans, made from a five year old pair of Hudson jeans which were on their way to be donated. They worked out so well that I tried the trick again with a rarely worn pair of brown boot-cut jeans, making them perfect to wear with my old Prada ankle boots. And since I was on a roll with reviving old stuff I own, I inquired at a tailor shop a couple of weeks ago about taking the shoulder pads out of my houndstooth blazer from the eighties. The oldest thing in my closet may just see the light of day sometime soon. So that’s pretty good, I think. Three old pieces getting a new life.
But one area in which I’ve made no progress whatsoever is in buying “sustainable” brands. Or even finding sustainable brands. Other than Eileen Fisher, that is. And we know how that turned out. I’ve found a couple of sites which list brands which are supposedly “ethical” and “sustainable.” Sites like Sustainably Chic and Racked. Racked sourced its recommended brands from a list produced by an organization called Project Just which says it is “committed to documenting the production practices- and specifically their environmental and social impact- of some of the biggest names in fashion.” I tried to access the Project Just website and their “Seal of Approval” list but it appears to be off-line for the foreseeable future. I did, however, find this little article on Medium.com which tells the story of six hard-working researchers from Project Just who tried to investigate the Ivanka Trump clothing brand. It’s pretty interesting.
And then I read the article So You Say You’re an Ethical Shopper by Michael Hobbes, written in response to his earlier article The Myth of the Ethical Shopper which I linked to in a post last year. Hobbes pretty much says that trying to buy “fair trade” whatever, or even to ascertain if something is “ethically sourced,” or “sustainably produced” is an exercise in futility. And doesn’t achieve what we want to achieve anyway, which is to pressure companies and governments to get rid of sweatshops. Hobbes says that the days of consumer boycotts are gone; they don’t work anymore; that “we are not going to shop ourselves into a better world.” For as much as we may feel ethically superior because we buy fair-trade coffee and locally made tee shirts, what do we know about everything else we consume: from cars to dental floss?
Quite frankly, my friends, this whole research thing is beginning to give me a headache. It’s soooo hard to know who to believe. And what to believe. And therein lies the source of my headache. Sigh. It’s just all so complicated. And a little discouraging. Does any of this ethical shopping do any good, I wonder? Is it even possible to be an ethical shopper?
But back to my evaluation. Here’s my report card for myself for 2017… such as I might have given to a student back in the day when I’d have spent this whole week marking, instead of fun things like evaluating my closet and reading about shopping.
|Teacher’s overall grade for teacher.
I’ve not given up on the idea of ethical shopping. For one thing it’s always good to spend our money wisely, and not waste it on fast fashion items which are so poorly made they end up in a landfill after a few wearings. I think it’s better for our mental health to have a well organized closet, and not stress each morning about what to wear because we don’t know what’s in there. Thrifting, recycling, and re-purposing old pieces is good for the environment as well as being fun. And as for buying only ethical brands, well, if I can find them in the bricks and mortar stores around here, I will. But the brands I liked in the lists on Sustainably Chic and Racked were from the UK or Sweden or other places far away from here. It seems counter intuitive to buy them for one ethical reason and at the same time hurt the environment with all that shipping. Michael Hobbes says in his article that shipping is perhaps the least overseen part of the supply chain. So… as I said…it’s complicated.
One article I read today suggests fledgling ethical shoppers like me need a simple mantra to follow, similar to Michael Pollan’s formula for healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A shopping mantra? Wouldn’t that be good? I love to follow simple rules.
So how about this?
Plan carefully. Purchase wisely, not too much. Mostly quality.
And ethically… if possible.
How about you folks? Anything to add? About “ethical shopping?” Or about anything, really. Or are you still lolling on the couch, waiting for normal life to resume next week when the kids go back to school and everyone else except us retirees goes back to work?