7 Steps to Building an Ethical Wardrobe

As I was thinking about my wardrobe and how to make it a more ethical wardrobe, I remembered something: The Royal Wedding just took place two days ago, and boy was it a spectacle. If you watched it, great. I didn’t. Not really a fan of going gaga over an undeserving monarchy responsible for so much destruction and trauma around the world, no matter how “cute” the Queen looks. And no matter how “progressive” the younger prince is portrayed as for marrying a foreigner.

The bride, Meghan Markle, wore a white dress at the wedding, as is the norm. She wore a diamond bandeau tiara, which belonged to Queen Mary. She also did something very curious. She had her veil embroidered with a flower from each of the 53 UK Commonwealth countries. The designer, Clare Waight Keller, created a veil “representing the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country united in one spectacular floral composition.” The veil was made from silk tulle, with flowers embroidered in silk and organza.

Now, check out the description of how the veil was made: “The workers spent hundreds of hours meticulously sewing and washing their hands [every] thirty minutes to keep the tulle and threads pristine.”

royal wedding meghan markle veil
image copyright: Getty

 

Now, why am I mentioning all this?

This post is about ethical fashion. Let’s take a critical look at the bride’s veil:

  1. She’s not vegan or cruelty-free, I get that. So, having a veil made of silk is not an issue for her personally, and I get that too. But take a look at what is involved in making silk from silkworms.And the tiara that’s encrusted with diamonds, possibly from South Africa? The royal family has tons of jewels with diamonds of dubious origins, many from India too. The fact that no article gushing over the tiara mentions the diamonds’ origins is very sad. As the saying goes, “All diamonds are blood diamonds.”
  2. Unnamed “workers” spent hundreds of hours in service of a frankly unnecessary detail of the veil. Who were these “workers”? Were they fairly compensated? If they’re located in the UK (or Europe), they probably have been fairly and adequately compensated, because their laws insist on it. But if the artisans were from poorer countries, and if the veil was embroidered there, then there is a high possibility that they were exploited and overworked.And all for what, exactly?
  3. The tone-deaf idea of embroidering in a flower each from the 53 Commonwealth countries in the veil? The UK was an imperial power that brutally repressed and plundered all its colonies over several generations. The British monarchy may be proud of that, but to the citizens of these countries that are still reeling from the effects of colonialism, this is just an arrogant slap on the face. To pompously parade this history via pretty embroidery, when the British Empire went about systematically destroying workers’ rights and artisans’ livelihoods in their colonies, such as the weaver’s industry in India, the handicrafts industries, and the livelihood of craftsmen, is galling.

 

This is just an example of the complicated history a simple piece of clothing can have. We all wear clothes, every day, but how far removed are we from the conditions those clothes were created in, the people who created them? How responsible are we for those conditions and the welfare of those people?

The clothing industry, for those who don’t know it yet, is the second largest polluter in the world – second only to the oil industry.

Is there a way for individuals to get some control over the industry’s appalling practices, and the exploitation and rampant ecological destruction involved?

Yes, it’s called Ethical Fashion.

WHAT IS ETHICAL FASHION?

It’s not that complicated, really. If we can understand what “ethical” means, then we can imagine what “ethical fashion” might mean: Fashion items that are produced ethically, without exploiting human labor, without meting out cruelty to humans or animals, without damaging or destroying the environment.

ethical wardrobe

Of course, some people might argue that each of these aspects fall on various points of a spectrum of ethics. But that, again, is not complicated to refute:

If you wouldn’t be okay with any of this, would you expect other to be? In places far away?

Do you see why it’s important to transition your wardrobe to an ethical one?

I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to have nothing to do with clothes that have been made by overworked and severely underpaid laborers being exploited by corporations that pocket the significant profits. Or, clothes that have been produced in factories that pour out toxic dye into the local rivers. Or, clothes made of animal body parts.

None of that is ethical.

If you agree, read on. If you don’t…er, what are you doing here, on this blog?:P

Follow the seven simple steps listed below to lower your dependence on fast fashion, support ethical brands, and…maybe even improve your wardrobe!

 

MAXIMIZE YOUR CURRENT WARDROBE

ethical wardrobe

ethical wardrobe

Wash and handle all your clothes with care. Not only did someone spend an awful lot of time and effort to make it, but the better care you take of your clothes, the longer you will be able to enjoy them. 

Read the washing instructions on the labels and follow them. Wear your robust, quality pieces more often, because they’re well made. If something seems like it’s fraying very easily, wear it less often. Or…

ethical wardrobe

Recycle and DIY worn-out pieces (or pieces that you’ve gotten bored with)into new items. You can create a chic dress out of a t-shirt, or convert an old sweater into socks.

Borrow clothes from your friends and cousins, or swap with them. Learn the basics of sewing so you can easily fix a button or a zip.

Turn your old tshirts into grocery bags, or if you’re more creatively inclined, you can try this.

ethical wardrobe

If all else fails, discard your clothes thoughtfully. Either donate it to someone who needs it, or dispose of it into the correct bin. 

So! With some effort, you can get more bang for the buck you’ve already spent. With good care, and some creative repairing, you can prolong the clothes’ lifespan.

But what can you do when you NEED to purchase a new outfit?

 

BUY ETHICAL 

ethical wardrobe

 Research animal-origin clothing material, and ethical brands and labels. With increasing awareness, brands have come up that focus on making and selling responsibly made clothing. And more people (aka consumers) are looking for responsibly sourced clothing that has been made under ethical conditions. The industry has also come up with specific guidelines that define ethical clothing

As you learn more and more, you’ll stop purchasing fur, leather, silk and other animal-origin clothing material, and opt for the more cruelty-free, vegan options such as organic cotton, hemp, jute, etc.

And as you learn more about brands and companies that follow ethical practices, you will be able to limit your buying to just them, thus supporting the ethical fashion movement.

 

ethical wardrobe

Invest in quality pieces that will last a long time. Remember Grandma’s clothes? Which your mom wore in college, and now you can wear it and it still looks perfect? That’s because it was very well made, high quality and therefore very long-lasting, and not a product of fast fashion. 

You may hesitate to spend more now (and if you’re short of money, that’s perfectly understandable). But if you are able to, it’s definitely worth paying more money for a better quality and longer lasting item. Quality over quantity, folks.

 

ethical wardrobe

Buy vintage. More of the same type of clothes that Grandma wore can be found, luckily, at thrift stores at really cool prices. Try buying second-hand and used clothes. I used to balk at wearing clothes that someone else once wore. But hey. It’s just an outfit! Made of cloth. It’s been washed (carefully!), and it looks fantastic on me. What else do I want?!

Head to your local thrift store (if you don’t know where the nearest one is, check this out) and start picking out your new vintage outfits! This is actually a much more fulfilling experience than shopping at H&M or Zara, trust me! And this way, you can give a new life to some forgotten but beautiful outfit hanging in the corner of the store.

ethical wardrobe

Buy local. Just like fresh produce, it’s best to buy locally made and/or locally sourced clothing. Not only can you more easily verify the conditions of the employees who made the clothes, but labor laws in the US (and other developed countries) are way more strict when it comes to protecting workers’ rights. So, if an item was made locally, it was probably made under satisfactory conditions. 

 

So, that’s it. Remember to keep in mind that nothing is worth the exploitation of people, animals or the environment. Especially when the reason is to make clothes faster or cheaper or in greater quantities. 

It’s just not worth wearing all that blood, sweat, tears and bad karma on your body. 

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7 Steps to an Ethical Wardrobe

 

12 Comment

  1. Wow didn’t know that about the flower detail on her veil. I’d like to think, given her track record in humanitarian work, that she consciously included these flowers as a respectful effort to include the UK commonwealth nations. That said, you make a fair point about the labor required to make it. This is a really terrific list of easy changes we can make to our lifestyles that have a big impact on the environment!

    1. Yes, the veil is very interesting, but the PR around how much effort went into creating it sidelines the actual artisans and their art and effort. This doesn’t sit well with me. She’s a member of the British royal family now and there is a lot of scrutiny over what she wears, so her public life is tough for sure! But being more mindful of the labor behind her clothes will only make her look more caring and like the humanitarian that she is.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Thanks for these tips. I recently found out that one of my favourite brands is completely unethical and this is definitely an area I need to take action in.

    1. Yay! There are a lot of really stylish and affordable ethical brands, so have fun discovering them! (I hope to write a post on them soon, too:))

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Although I appreciate your passion for this topic and the extent you went to make more information available to readers, I couldn’t read the whole thing. Yes, the tiara may have been made from ‘blood diamonds’, but Meghan Markle didn’t buy them or call for their unearthing. She simply wore a family heirloom, hardly a reason to be ostracized. Her vale is absolutely extreme but again, she didn’t rule over those commonwealths. You can’t hold that against her or anyone else! As a foreigner, her gratitude towards the royal family and its culture is to be admired.

    I’ll end there. Good luck with your future writings!

    1. I didn’t say Meghan Markle was responsible for the diamonds. It’s interesting, because this is actually similar to what we as ordinary consumers face with the fashion industry. We, personally, are not responsible for the conditions of the factories in, say, Bangladesh or wherever, and the exploitation of workers. But by choosing to continue to buy these products that were made there, we support the perpetuation of those conditions.

      We, just like Markle, have a choice: to continue to do things as they have been done (because of ‘tradition’ or ‘profit’ or whatever), or to choose new, more respectful and compassionate ways of doing things. I’m not saying this is an easy choice. But it seems to me to be the right choice.

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your forthright feedback.

What do you think?