“Wear your values”. What does that mean? When does it apply? How does it work in the real world? Do we even stop to think about what our values are? Values and beliefs are things that are intrinsically linked, and they form the basis of many decisions we make in our lives. I value compassion, freedom, honesty, integrity, and equality. Minimalism, functionality, quality over quantity, practicality and good aesthetic, all without comprising the values I hold.
It’s easy to sit behind a screen and say that we support ethical clothing companies and hate fast fashion, but how do we then transfer that statement to our own habits and practices? I’m sure that many of you have thought of this before. It seems to work out for ‘nice/trendy clothes’; the shirt we might wear to a cafe for coffee with friends, or that pretty linen dress we might wear to the beach, or those cool pair of distressed Levi’s we picked up from a vintage seller. The world of ethical fashion choices seem wide and varied. But what happens the rest of the time, where we need something practical and office appropriate? How do we find work-suitable attire from labels that align with our values? Suddenly we start to wonder if we can do this ethical fashion thing 100% of the time after all. Our choices seem very limited and what we do see doesn’t look very appealing or professional. The Google search for “ethical clothing” is returning results for hippy pants and yoga clothes, none of which one can get away with wearing to an office job. So now what?
This experience is an excerpt from my life, two weeks ago. I recently accepted an offer for a new job in a corporate office environment, and for the next six months, I need to supply my own ‘uniform’, until my probationary period is over and I am supplied with company clothing. I had a conundrum on my hands. I wholeheartedly wanted to only buy from ethical labels, but the extent of my contact with that world had so far not encompassed work-suitable attire. I also wanted to buy clothing that I could still wear outside of work after that six month period, because if I didn’t, they would be a complete waste of money and resources, and go against the whole ethos of ‘slow’ fashion.
I started researching (read: Googling). The initial results were…well, let’s just say that if I had of bought the clothes I first laid eyes on, I’d be rocking up to the office on Monday in drop-crotch harem pants, a fluorescent crop-top and a African-esque headscarf.
Yeah. No thanks.
After those first, less than promising results, I had searched online for hours and was getting the same thing over and over. I tried “ethical linen clothing”, “ethical clothing”, “linen pants ethical”, “cigarette pants ethical”, “cotton shirt ethical” were not giving me much to work with (quite literally; none of these results were suitable to go to work with). I was starting to feel a little panicky. Would I have to resort to buying a synthetic top from Target made by an impoverished woman in Bangladesh? Pants made by a 12 year old in China? My heart rebelled against this. I didn’t want to contribute to that corrupted system any more than I wanted to contribute to the death of animals by eating meat. “Surely, surely there are some suitable labels out there” I told myself.
I kept looking.
Eventually I stumbled across a few websites that had clothing that was more suitable, but still what quite what I was after. If anyone has ever searched online for ethical clothes, you probably know what I’m talking about – the unflattering cuts, the OTT colours and patterns, and the (can I say it? Will I sound like a bitch?) plain old ugly clothes were just not doing it for me. ‘Hipster Grandma Goes To Bingo” was not the look I was after, any more than the fluro hippy look was. Anyone that knows me personally will know that I prefer muted colours and clothing with no (or minimal) patterns, so a pair of brightly coloured pants or a shirt with a busy pattern is basically the quickest way to make me feel uncomfortable.
Needless to say, I kept looking.
I finally got some rewarding results when I found a website called Well Made Clothes, which is an online store that exclusively stocks ethical labels from around the world. These led me to a pair of black, straight-leg pants with a rolled-up ankle, made from organic cotton by a label KowTow (they’re called the Classic Pant, and you can find them here). They fit like a dream, and (to risk sounding like a totally basic whitegurl millennial) are COMFY AF.
I then found a label called A.BCH which has some really awesome pieces that can easily be worn in any season or setting. I bought a plain white cotton shirt and a relaxed fit, sleeveless black top made from finely ribbed cotton and with neckline that is somewhere between turtleneck and close-fitting cowl. When I put this particular top on, I actually squealed in delight. I loved it. In the warmer months I can simply fold the collar under a little so that it’s not so high up my neck, and in the winter months I can embrace the turtleneck in all it’s glory (it is at this point that I will say that if you don’t like turtlenecks, goodbye, we cannot be friends). I liked this top so much that I’m going to order another one.
In light grey.
Told you I don’t like bright colours *smirks*.
But that right there is the beauty of carefully choosing clothes from quality, ethical labels, and choosing clothes that will last you for different seasons and occasions (you can read more about this in my blog post ‘Curating A Mindful Wardrobe – Finding Balance In A World Of Chaotic Consumerism‘). Yes, these clothes will cost you more money up front, but they save you money in the future. They’re something that you’ve invested money in because you really love it and want to kept wearing it for a long time. And they’re not going to fall apart in six to twelve months, as cheaper clothing is literally designed to do (so that you go out and buy more of it). And not only that, but it will support a movement that pushes for the proper treatment of garment workers around the world. You only have the search the hashtag #whomademyclothes to find out what that’s all about.
The labels I found have given me renewed hope and shown me that it is possible to wear your values to work. It was a learning curve and a challenge. And when these six months are up, I’ll have some truly versatile pieces that I can wear outside of work too. Another option well worth mentioning are online platforms like Etsy, Carousell, Depop and Poshmark. I have sourced the rest of my office wear from Carousell (free in the App Store, I might add!), an app that allows users to buy and sell items much like eBay. However, it is the perfect platform to sell second hand clothing, which is what the majority of its users do. I have been able to find brand new clothing with tags still attached, and clothing that has been minimally worn, and buy it for a fraction of its retail price. The most important thing about this isn’t that it’s extremely affordable (although that is a huge benefit) but that you are taking an item and giving it a second life, rather than condemning it to Destination Landfill. Imagine if every single person in the world bought something second-hand, instead of buying something brand new, just one quarter of the time. Imagine the positive impact that would have on the environment and how much this would impact the amount of textile waste in landfill.
What you wear can be so much more a few pieces of clothing that were picked on a whim. It’s a political statement. It’s an expression of your personality, individuality and of your values. It’s wearable art. A good outfit can make you feel so many things – confident, capable, comfortable, empowered, sexy, unique. It takes a particular kind of courage to step into an outfit that visually expresses your own sense of style in an environment that may look at you differently for it. I feel it myself, living in a small town. I have plenty of clothing that I love, but I struggle to wear some of it because I’m worried of what people will think. Will I look like a poser? Trying to dress like someone from a city or a fashion blog? Who do I think I am? Will people think that I think that I’m really trendy or something? All of these thoughts run through my mind when I put on an outfit that might stand out (example: vintage camel trench coat in a small Queensland town in winter) because it’s different to everyone else around me. So I panic and then conform and wear something else less noticeable.
Fuck that. I’m going to stop doing that from now on. Because to everyone else, it might just look like a woman in a trench coat, in a town where people don’t wear trench coats. But to me, it’s something that I really love, and got really excited about when I bought it. I feel like a cool boss lady when I wear that damn coat (even though it has yet to leave my house). But when it does, someone might say,
“Oh, I love your trench coat!”
And I would reply with, “Thanks, it’s vintage!”.
And they might questionably say, “vintage?”.
And I would reply with, “Yeah, vintage! Like, old. It’s been around for a really long time, this coat – maybe even longer than me! But I think it’s more environmentally sustainable to buy vintage clothes, or clothes from ethical labels.”
Boom. Conversation starter. A potential chance to tell someone about a cause worth fighting for, if they’re interested.
Man, I hope they will be. Because we need more people make conscious, sustainable, ethical choices before this world will become a better place. And it just so happens that it can start with you, at home, in your wardrobe.