Who Made My Clothes?

The truth about your clothing and 6 ways to shop ethically.

By Sarah Whitton

Hidden within the fashion industry lies dark secrets and unspoken pain. At first glance, a cheap shirt, dress or pants from a chain store may appear to be totally harmless. However, when we understand how and who made these clothing pieces, and under what conditions the truth, is appalling.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries. The country relies on garment making for over 80 percent of its exports and around 4 million jobs. Yet working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment factories are extremely dangerous.

The Rana Plaza factory disaster 2013 left more than 1,130 garment workers dead, and 2,500 people rescued from the building alive but most suffered terrible injuries. Many people are forced to work 14 – 16 hours a day, seven days a week. The workers receive an average of 3,000 taka a month (approximately $50), far below the considered living wage of 5,000 taka a month (approximately $80), which is the minimum required to provide a family with shelter, food and education.

The Rana Plaza collapse, 2013. Image via Takepart.

Workers are also in unsafe, cramped and hazardous conditions, which often leads to injuries and factory fires. Other horrors in the garment factories include sexual harassment and discrimination (especially against women), violence, forced labour and even child labour. These seemingly unimaginable circumstances are in fact the harsh reality of how many of our clothes are made.

Workers protesting for better garment factory rights, image International Business Times.

By purchasing products from garment sweatshops, you will be supporting these atrocious companies that continue to inflict suffering on the lives of innocent people. Purchasing products in an ethical way is to stand against supporting the pain and suffering of anyone who has worked or even died in a garment factory.

If more people were aware of who made their clothes we could make a bigger impact on the lives of people living in poverty. It’s simpler than it seems to be a more ethical shopper, and here are just 6 ways to stay stylish without hurting others in the process:

Buying from ethical brands is not hard, and there are many new and upcoming brands that produce amazing clothing. Paying a little bit more money for ethically sourced clothing helps someone else live a safer life and helps to alter the poverty cycle. In my opinion, someone else’s livelihood is definitely worth a few extra dollars. An easy way to find great ethical brands near you or online is to check out Ethical Clothing Australia’s list of Ethically Accredited Companies.

Check out Australian ethical brand Vege Threads!

You are guaranteed to find something different in every op-shop, every time. Thrifting/op-shopping is an amazing way to find one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that you couldn’t get anywhere else. The money raised by the stores usually go to charities or a good cause too which is an extra bonus. Some great stores in Perth are Good Sammy’s, St. Vinnies, Save The Children, Salvation Army and the list goes on.

The wonders of op shopping! Image via Her Campus.

Seeing as vintage items have become more and more loved lately, there have been many new stores popping up that are worth a look. For people in Perth, I recommend looking at the Vintage Shops Australia site.  A few quick favourites of mine include; “Bluebird Vintage”, “Miss Brown Vintage & Re- Modified Vintage Fashion” and “Milk and Honey Vintage.”

Bluebird Vintage is just one of the many vintage gems of Perth. Image via The Culture Trip.

Online stores and Apps are great ways to find a more diverse range of products and even designer brands for cheaper prices. From buying second-hand products, you will not be supporting unethical brands and will be using your money for a vote against unsustainable, unfair practises. Some apps and websites that I use are Depop (App/Website), Swap Group (Facebook), ASOS Vintage Edit/Eco Edit/Market Place and Vinted.

Depop is an excellent app for vintage finds.

Events that embrace second-hand products are 1. so much fun and 2. way more ethical. Car boot sales, swap meets, vintage stalls, farmers markets and general markets all usually have great vintage and second-hand finds. The key to finding great ethical pieces is to know what is on in your area and research what they have to offer.

There are heaps of vintage events happening throughout the year. Image via Huffington Post.

Sewing is a hobby that is becoming popular once again, and there are countless online courses that teach you how. But if sewing isn’t for you, here are other ways that you can revamp your clothes, such as embroidery e.g. words/outlines, dying/bleaching, rips/cut-outs, adding buttons/patches/broaches etc. Looking at DIYs on YouTube and Pinterest is also great, and my favourite YouTube DIY channels is called Coolirpa.

Sewing is so much fun and a great creative outlet. Image via A Beautiful Mess.

There are so many more ways to shop ethically, and it has never been easier than now. There are many online guides to help you with ethical shopping and start making positive changes. It is so important to support ethical brands and shop ethically to try and stop the horrors that garment factory workers have to face every single day.

Any contribution, no matter how big or small, is one step closer to freeing people who are stuck in the poverty cycle, and ensuring they have a better future for not only themselves but their families.

Please take a stand against fast fashion, and join with millions of others who ask this important question; who made my clothes?

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