Is ethical clothing a Christian concern?
Baptist World Aid seems to think so, and I do too. But let me tell you why.
This week is Fashion Revolution Week. A week on the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which resulted in the death of 1134 workers in the factory. Fashion Revolution Week is an online event dedicated to calling on fashion companies to be more transparent about their manufacturing processes, wages, and practices.
As well as this, every year Baptist World Aid put out the Ethical Fashion Guide where they rate clothing brands bought in Australia on their policies, knowledge of their suppliers, auditing and supply, and worker empowerment from A to F. (They also do an ethical electronics guide, but that's not what this post is about).
The reason for these resources and the slow fashion movement is that the clothes that people wear is made by people. Real breathing people with lives and families and needs and feelings, some of them are children. Most of them don't get paid a wage that they can live on. They work more than 8 hours a day, often 7 days a week, in terrible conditions, they don't have access to unions or grievance procedures or other working rights which we take for granted. And putting up with all of that they don't earn enough to feed themselves and their families.
There are many issues with the fast fashion industry. Maybe I'll write more about them sometime. But this is the issue with the industry that grieves me most.
And the reason I think it is an issue for Christian concern is because not only is there terrible injustice in the way people are treated, and the Christian life is one lived to care for the poor and marginalised because God loves us.
Right back in the Old Testament law God told his people how to care for the people in their communities and those outside their communities with care and compassion (Ex. 23:10-11, Lev. 19:9-10, Lev. 23:22, Lev. 25:35-43, Deut. 15:7-11, Deut. 24:14-15). We also see Jesus telling us in the New Testament to love our neighbour, not meaning the people next door, but anyone we see in need around us (Luke 10:25-37).
You might ask, well what can I do? I can't make corporations change their practices in how they pay their workers, I'm just one person.
Well you can. There is actually lots you can do.
1. Learn more about it
Research online about manufacturing practices of the brands you like. The Baptist World Aid guide is a great way to do that, but there are other guides out there which include more stuff about eco-friendly aspects as well as labour practices too. There are also some great documentaries around. The True Cost is on Netflix at the moment and it's a really heart wrenching but comprehensive look at the fashion industry and the issues associated with it.
2. Stop treating clothes like disposable items
Buy things that last, make do and mend, learn to patch holes, take your shoes to a shoemaker and get them fixed if you can. Then when you can't fix them anymore, you can throw them out, or better, make them into something else, even rags are better than adding to landfill.
3. Shop more ethically
Along with buying clothes that are made to last, buy them from places who pay their workers well and who are transparent with their practices. Sometimes these companies are a bit more pricey, but it's worth it if it's a quality product that will last a long time. Shop Ethical is a handy app which updates according to a bunch of different reports on ethical production and not just for clothes! You can also use the Ethical Shopping Guide from Baptist World Aid. (These are options for those in Australia, in the UK there is Ethical Consumer, and I'm not sure whether there are any equivalents in the US at the moment, but if anyone knows of anything, let me know in the comments!).
If you are really on a budget, op shopping is the best option. So much clothing is given to charity shops so in addition to not giving money to corporations which don't care about how their clothes are made, you're giving the clothes a second lease on life, and the money goes to charity!
4. Petition companies to change their production practices
You can do this in a variety of ways. You can use apps like Good On You, or the pre-written letters from Baptist World Aid which provides an easy way to tell brands you like that you want to see change, they also have resources to talk to your local MPs about it. You can also take part in Fashion Revolution Week which is this week from the 24th to the 30th of April. Post on social media with your clothes tags showing and tag the companies you are wearing and ask them 'Who made my clothes?' using the hashtags #whomademyclothes and #fashionrevolution.
By changing our attitude to clothes, our shopping habits and calling companies to account, we as consumers can make a difference in the way our society relies on slave labour for the production of the things we wear. In doing this, we can love our neighbours who make our clothes and care for the poor and marginalised people in our world. And I think that's something worth being concerned about.