ntil recently, I never thought twice about what it meant to consume “consciously.” I didn’t think past the storefront where I bought my clothes; I didn’t question what companies told me about their products. Then, about two years ago, I caught the bug to start downsizing and only buy what I deemed necessary. Still, I didn’t really get it until my mom recommended the documentary True Cost on Netflix—then it all started to click.
You may have noticed that the price of clothes is rapidly going down, down, down. A new season means a sale here, a blowout sale there; and Black Friday getting to the point with lines around the block for the year’s latest trends. But how is this enormous production volume of disposable clothing every season possible? Well, turns out, big national and international brands do not want consumers digging around in their manufacturing practices to find out.
Why? Because when you do dig, what’s unearthed isn’t very pretty.
In the fast fashion industry, operation and materials costs have not decreased as rapidly as retail costs, yet they have to make up for the falling prices somehow. This means, in order to keep prices down, many companies cut corners when it comes to their workers.
The “true cost” of cheap clothing is extremely hazardous working conditions for poor populations, everywhere from China to El Salvador. The perilous effects of dehumanizing impoverished individuals to work endless hours for pennies—just so we can have a five-dollar t-shirt—were exemplified in May 2013 with the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. More than 1,000 lives were lost in this tragedy of negligence, and little to no changes were made to prevent similar events in the future.
In addition to grossly inhumane working conditions, the fast fashion industry also has a heavy impact on our beloved Mother Earth. Manufacturing clothes at this volume of demand contributes greatly to water and air pollution, and is an extremely water-intensive process. This industry is also contributing to and creating landfills as we tend to have little motive to mend a piece of clothing that can be so easily replaced.
However, what I believe to be the largest myth in this era of fast fashion is this idea that we can just donate clothes when we are done with them and all is good. But clothing donation, too, has its own hidden costs. The life cycle of donated clothing goes from the center where we drop it off to countries who we have deemed to have a “need” for our tossed-aside leftovers. This in turn takes away jobs from these countries’ local seamstresses and tailors. From there, our donated clothes may or may not even be used. If not, they circle right back to a landfill where they have the potential to sit for years.
Ok, ok. I think you get it: It’s a pretty toxic cycle. But the good news is you have the power to do something about this.
One benefit of living in a consumerist society is that you, the consumer, hold all the power to invest in brands you believe in. Find brands that align with your truth and vow not to support brands who take advantage of our Mama Earth and other humans. Know that you can change your mind if you learn something new that doesn’t sit well with your soul (I’ve done this several times). Own the fact that we live in a society where money talks, and let your money shout.
If you really want to stick it to ‘em, learn how to mend your clothes when they rip. Commit to buying pieces from reputable brands that will last for more than a season. Buy your clothes second hand. When you are ready to give something up, try going to (or hosting!) a clothing swap, or giving the piece to a friend instead of a donation center.
Finally, educate others when they inevitably ask why you have decided not to buy from particular brands anymore. Education is the most empowering tool of all. There is truly power in process. Being interested and educating yourself, your friends, and your family is a huge step in the direction of conscious living. Know that this is a lifestyle all about balance. It isn’t a shift that happens overnight, and we all mess it up sometimes. You do you—the most compassionate and conscious you that you can be.
After doing a ton of research myself, some brands I’ve committed to are Reformation, Naja, and Girlfriend Collective. And I’ve learned that I value these pieces of clothing much more when I make a very conscious decision to buy from them.
It all comes back to the principle “everything is connected” and the belief that we are all one. As spiritual beings we already know this! Becoming a conscious consumer adds just one more layer of connectedness to your already spiritual, enlightened life.
I encourage you to do your own research and seek out the brands that resonate with you—to expand your desire for connectedness to your consumer habits. This movement is certainly gaining steam and new conscious brands are popping up all the time. What are your favorite conscious clothing companies? Please share them in the comments section below!