What Colour is Honesty?

Recently I won a competition on Fashion Hayley’s blog called “To Die For – Is Fashion Wearing Out the World” by Lucy Siegle.  It’s been an interesting read and particularly timely since I’m currently working for a fashion company.

Do you ever think about where your clothes come from?

Recently Chris posted a video on his blog of a young child being run down in the street in China.  Many people passed her but none of them stopped to help as she lay there dying.   Naturally, most people commenting were outraged.  If you see a child, or anyone, dying, you help.  That’s what makes us human.

But what about when you are standing by and letting a young child be worked to death in conditions that shock Dickens?  A child that has to crawl around under machinery, using their small nimble hands to pluck out the fibres that get stuck between whirring cogs?  Can you say with 100% certainty that nothing in your wardrobe has come from a factory with these conditions?

Even if you buy from an “ethical” label, there is no guarantee that the manufacturer they use – the one with the shiny factory that they let people tour -  hasn’t subcontracted his work to one down the road where they keep young girls locked up overnight in dodgy rooms prone to fire.  That they don’t beat and sexually abuse those girls. 

And, even further down the supply chain, where has the fabric come from?  What is the human and environmental impact of the manufacture of that fabric?

If I’d have thought about, I’d have said that maybe some of the clothes in my wardrobe might have been made in sweatshops.  The cheap stuff that falls about quickly.  But I assumed that most of this stuff is pretty heavily regulated now.  Someone, somewhere is doing the shit that needs to be done so that I can feel reassured that I’m not the bad one.

That’s what we do.  We farm off the responsibility.  The things that we would never stand for in our own country get sent offshore so companies can keep making money and we can keep getting bargains.  But we all live in the same world.  We are allowing those people to die.  And the pollutants that get pumped into rivers and land don’t know national borders. 

As far as clothes consumption goes, I don’t spend a lot.   The trend now is fast fashion.  You buy something today and it’s out of fashion in a month’s time.  So you throw it away and buy something else.  Clothes are getting cheaper so it’s easy to do. 

I don’t hold with that.  I buy clothes I like that are outside the current fashion and hold onto them for a long time.  I even mend clothes.  I buy stuff from Etsy that is made by the seller.  Or I buy vintage.

I can look at the clothes hanging in my wardrobe (well, hanging rack) and not feel so bad. 

Then I open my drawers and see the t-shirts and knickers and long sleeved tops.  I have no idea where they come from but I can imagine there aren’t much ethics in the making of a pack of 4 for $10 knickers.   When I left Japan, I had a bunch of cardigans and tops that I threw out.  They were from Cotton On in Australia and I could replace them with new versions  for $10 or less per item.  It wasn’t worth transporting them home.

We are sitting on the top of a big pyramid, aren’t we?  Even if you don’t have much money, if you live in a Western country you are well off by world standards.  You might hate your job but you have working conditions and can go home at the end of the day.  You don’t have to struggle and struggle so more just to put insufficient food on the table.

I have no idea how to even deal with this.  Do you stop buying clothes?  If you do or you only buy vintage, does that mean instead of being worked to death, these people starve to death with no source of income at all? 

You can’t trust ethics to businesses but you can’t research every item of clothing yourself.  Even if you had time, you don’t have access to the information.  It’s a crazy world we live in.

Meanwhile I sit at work and look at invoices from my company’s wholesalers in China and wonder about them.  Are there people on the other end slowly dying to get these things to us?  I want to ask but I don’t even know who to ask, if anyone in my company even thinks about these things.

On the invoices we have items listed in the colour “honesty”.  What colour is honesty?