Column: On being a more mindful consumer of clothing

Where does your stuff come from?

Kathryn Schultz

I often used to shop at Forever 21. With a limited budget, I found quick gratification in buying a bunch of cheaply-made clothes for the price of one high-quality garment. Eventually, I forced myself to question this practice. Forever 21 and similar fast fashion suppliers — and for that matter, most retail stores — produce their inventory in sweatshops overseas where workers, including children under fifteen, are underpaid in poor working conditions.

For me, it’s hard to save up for clothing that comes from the limited options of ethically-sourced stores. Instead, I’ve mostly turned to thrifting — an activity that I already enjoyed.

While reusing unwanted clothes instead of buying new is a good personal choice, it doesn’t have much of an effect on slowing down production in sweatshops. To do that, we need to hold companies to stronger moral standards. Doubling the wages of sweatshop workers would only increase the price of a product by 1.8 percent, according to a 2004 study in the Cambridge Journal of Economics. Another 2004 study by economists Ann Harrison and Jason Scorse found that during the surge of sweatshop protests in the 1990s, student activism was a factor in increasing wages by 50 percent in Indonesian Nike factories.

We need to directly take a stand against poor working conditions and tell companies we aren’t okay with their exploitive practices. As consumers, it’s crucial to be aware of all of the steps it takes for a product to reach our hands. Not only for clothing, but for food and everything else we buy.