In 2016, I’m trying to walk the talk via The Great Money Experiment—a year of avoiding giving my money to Big Business.
Fashion (clothes, shoes, jewelry, purses) is an easy, but also hard, category for me. Easy, because I made a commitment back in 2009 to buy only clothes I need—or really, really love. When you’re not buying much, it’s easy to avoid giving money to Big Business. But it’s hard in the context of this project, because I need to have something to write about!
But let’s take a step back and think about the apparel industry for a second. Is it, like the food and beverage industry, dominated by a handful of multinational companies? Let’s see…
- Gap Inc. (includes Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, and Intermix) is quite well represented in the typical American mall. Gap’s CEO’s total compensation is over $16 million a year.
- H&M (of my home country, Sweden) is a multinational giant. Chairman Stefan Persson is worth $21 billion.
- VF Corporation owns a number of brands you may know, such as Lee, Wrangler, The North Face, Vans, and Timberland. The CEO has a total compensation over $17 million annually.
- L Brands owns Victoria’s Secret, PINK, and La Senza (and Bath & Body Works!). CEO Leslie H. Wexner took home over $24 million in 2014 (that’s more than the CEO of Wal-Mart’s compensation!).
So yes, Big Fashion is definitely a thing. (I know you’re not surprised.)
Related to the Big Money aspect of fashion, one serious concern with clothing manufacturers is the working conditions of the people who actually make the clothes (and shoes and so on). You can imagine when a t-shirt costs $5.99 that the person who made it didn’t get to keep a whole lot of the profit. But according to a recent poll, price matters more to 67 percent of us than where the clothes are made. (Sad!)
The vast majority of garment workers in the world (60 million) are women (80 percent) and most clothing is consumed by women. Are you willing to throw another woman under the bus for a cheaper shirt? –Starre Vartan
If you’re interested in learning more, you might want to watch The True Cost, a documentary about the clothing economy. I have yet to watch it, but plan to do so soon!
What to Wear?
Until this past Saturday, I hadn’t bought any new clothes since last year. But our family is going on an actual vacation to celebrate the fact that we’re all still alive after this school year, so I thought it would be nice to have a couple of new dresses geared toward a hotter climate. (And then I’d have a shopping experience to write about.)
I headed to a local boutique (where my daughter happens to work) and started looking through the racks of summer dresses. I picked up a blue on white striped sleeveless dress by Gilli, which is a company based in Los Angeles since 2008. Their clothes are made in the United States, and their website states that they “choose to work only with contractors who are 100% compliant with the standard labor laws in the United States.” I also fell in love with a flowy bamboo dress by mittoshop—also located in Los Angeles and making clothes in the USA. Both dresses cost less than $40 each.
My point is, it’s not hard to find affordable, fashionable, made-in-the-USA clothing if you know where to look. Even better, of course, is to hit up a consignment shop or second hand shop. Or do a clothes swap with friends once or twice a year. (I always leave my sister’s house with “new” clothes.)
For basics, which you probably don’t want to use second hand, I’ve fallen in love with PACT—change you can wear. On their website, they proclaim: “All PACT apparel is sweatshop free, ethically produced, and part of a movement transforming the way apparel is made. Sure they’re (comfy, amazing) clothes, but they’re more than clothes. They’re an impetus for the best kind of change.”
Sure, PACT wear is not cheap, but it shouldn’t be! Think of all the materials and work and transportation that goes into making and selling clothes. We shouldn’t be able to buy new clothes every weekend—it’s not normal. We need to slow down our consumption and pay real prices.
Moving toward slow fashion is certainly a good approach to dressing oneself—ethically. What I’m finding over and over is that when somebody at the top is making lots of money, many people at the bottom get squeezed—as does the environment. Buying cheap clothes is like buying artificially cheap food—you know you’re not paying the true cost.
P.S. I’d love suggestions for socially responsible shoe manufacturers. I need some walking shoes for warm weather that will be kind to my joints and can pretend to be business casual.
Image credit: Jileen Hohle
News and Events
- I survived my first semester of MBAing!
- Speaking (and laughing) at the Laugh-Fest of the Midwest on May 14.
- Completing my Yoga Calm certification in St. Paul the weekend of May 21–22.
- Speaking at Northeast Iowa UU Fellowship on June 26 @ 10 a.m.
Her Lost Year
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the publication of Her Lost Year. Our goal is to reach 1,000 copies in circulation. Help us by spreading the word!