Ethical Clothes Shopping

On the very day that I read the post by Boy in the Bands on “want[ing] good assurance that the people who make and sell [clothes I buy] receive a fair wage and decent work standard” I went to The Garment District here in Cambridge which is the best second hand store I’ve ever ever been too. BiTB was pointing out Justice Clothing. Do have a look (after you read this).

So I felt a little inspired to write something on ethical clothes shopping, something which, honestly I have always struggled with. 1) Is it ethical to buy things that cost so much? and 2) Is it ethical to buy things made with animal parts (leather, wool, etc.) and 3) Should I boycott all stores that have things made by cheap, sweatshop labor?

The GarmentDistrict has helped to answer some of these questions for me because relatively little gas and energy is used in shipping the clothes (many are local consignments), no new sheep suffer for the wool, no new cows are killed for the leather, and no more workers in poor conditions sweat and toil to make the clothes. By buying second hand, one does not contribute any demand to any of these very sad and harmful things (sheep, cow, worker suffering, and increased energy usage and pollution).

I’ve always loved buying second hand, but it was hard to sort through the clothes at Goodwill to find something wearable, and Poor Little Rich Girl in Davis Square and Second Time Around in Harvard Square can be a little snobby and are quite expensive for second hand stores. Second hand is a great way to spend lots of money on clothes when that money could be put to much better uses (like, say, increasing your pledge to your church or donating to a NGO that helps set up cooperatives in developing countries, etc.). Plus, get this:

At present, The Garment District Inc. processes several million pounds of clothing a year. Much of it purchased from charitable organizations, providing them with sorely needed revenue. As it comes in, the clothing is carefully sorted and categorized. Approximately one piece in thirty is selected, steamed, and tagged for sale in the store. Other useable items are sold through Dollar-A-Pound+. Clothing not stylistically interesting to retail customers is baled and shipped to the developing world for reuse. Items which are unrepairable or soiled are sent to a “shoddy mill” and are ground up for other “post-consumer” uses. Over time The Garment District has also developed a very substantial consignment department, and consignors are always welcome to call. The staff is committed to the mission of being an ethical recycling company which offers “high quality clothing for any taste”.

I don’t know about my regular readers, but I know that if any readers of Beauty Tips for Ministers mosey over here, we are likely to be kindred spirits in that we do like to buy clothes. Both because I like to look sharp in general, and because if I don’t try to look sharp and a little older at my job, I could easily pass for a 17 year old. I know, I know. I will appreciate it when I am older. But when people still ask you what grade you are in when you are an intern minister and a grad student and married, it does wear on you a bit. But back to the point – lots of us like to buy clothes because it is fun to have new stuff to wear and we want a selection. But who can do that with $50 shirts at J. Crew, or, $89 shirts at Ann Taylor? And even if we could, is it ethical to spends so much on clothes when there are such pressing needs that our money could go to? I think we need to ask ourselves about this with our consumption.

Although it does take a little bit more work, you can save tons of money by shopping at a second hand store and do your part for the environment. And, if you try out The Garment District or another place like it (there are also consignment stores specifically for professional clothes), there is enough selection so you don’t get frustrated and decide you must resort to the mall. Even the on-sale stuff at the nicer stores at malls is really quite expensive. And, I’ve really tried to make Old Navy clothes look sharp and professional, but truly they just don’t look as nice. And, again, it contributes more to suffering and exploitation, uses energy getting it from here to there, and helps put more $ in the pockets of big corporations rather than local businesses.

Got other tips for ethical clothes buying? Please share!

p.s. I know some may not be aware of the harm that raising sheep for wool does to the sheep. If you are interested, you can take a look at this. No shocking pictures, just text.

One Response to Ethical Clothes Shopping

  1. LaReinaCobre says:

    I had no idea about a lot of that stuff. The only piece I am dubious about is the Muslim ritual slaughter piece. Muslims are supposed to kill their animals in a humane way, with minimal pain, so I’m not sure what Muslims killing lambs to eat (Muslims don’t just kill animals as a sacrifice as the article might suggest) for TWO holidays a year has to do with the rest of the sheep mistreatment story.

    But on the whole, this was very informative.

    I almost took a job shearing sheep in Eastern Oregon. I sometimes still regret not having done it. I think I’d have learned a lot and been closer to animals. And then I’d have first hand knowledge of some of these things.

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