Clothe yourself ethically

My concern for the textile industry turned into a New Year’s resolution.

by Meghan O'Connor


Over winter break I found myself amidst the masses that went to spend their holiday earnings at the Mall of America. My fast-fashion philosophy promptly landed me in Forever 21 where I dashed from one corner of the store to the other. After I arrived home with my large bag of apparel, including a skirt that I spent a mere $3.50 on, I started to think about how such inexpensive clothing was made possible.

Fashion has become a means for instant gratification for consumers. Often enough, companies leave many questions on a piece of clothing’s origin unanswered, leaving me curious of just how ethical my clothing is. We seek quantity over quality, which gives us more bang for our buck, but what are the other costs we’re paying?

The truth of where each garment comes from and under what conditions it was produced is nearly impossible to uncover. But, the fruits of the research that I have done on the roots of my clothing are nothing short of alarming.

Even the reliable brands that are in nearly everyone’s closets are not all they are cracked up to be. H&M, Abercrombie and Fitch, Gap and Nike are a few companies that have a history of depending on sweatshops overseas.

These companies have fallen victim to cheap and dirty labor that fails to meet the country’s working conditions and industry regulations.

Due to my utter disgust in many companies production practices, I began a vehement hunt for ethically produced clothing and their suppliers. Sadly, it is easier said than done.

The companies that do practice ethical production typically make it known in their mission statement, so keep your eyes peeled. One simple way to ensure that you are buying ethically produced clothing is to look for the “Made in the U.S.” label. This isn’t a flawless technique, but it’s a good start.

It’s not just sweatshops that are a result of the current status of the clothing industry. It’s also the sheer quantity that we purchase, due to the low prices.

A trip into Target can just as quickly become a ravenous shuffle through the clearance rack to land that next great find. The majority of these clothes will then wind up on the shelves of Goodwill or the Salvation Army. We all assume that by donating these short-lived garments we will be clothing the under-privileged. While this is no doubt a very humanitarian effort, these clothes are typically sent to Africa after having too long of a shelf life in any one of these consignment shops, becoming one of America’s leading exports by volume. 

Because so many shipments of past fashion fads are arriving in Africa, Africans are becoming increasingly selective, and a large amount of this clothing winds up in landfills.

A lot goes into making a garment considered made “ethically.” The production of the piece itself may have been ethical, but the makings of the fabric may not have been.

I don’t see the quick fashion craze ending any time soon. Moreover, the questions surrounding who is making our clothes are largely unavailable to the average consumer. I have made a vow to restrict my apparel needs to only ethically produced clothing.

I’m not naive. I know that one person’s choice to devote themself to ethically made clothing is not going to make an impact on a grandiose scale. Yet, I feel passionately enough about it to make this commitment, and I feel passionately enough to help others make a similar resolution.