Budgeting and Shopping for Deals on Ethical Clothing

My senior year of college, I got a part-time job at Athleta, which then became my only job after I graduated and couldn’t find a full time job for the next 8 months.  At that point, I was making slightly more than minimum wage and just covering my basic expenses, it felt like saving money was so far away. If I had leftover money, I spent it, often at Athleta (I had a 50% discount). At the time I thought that I had this limited time to buy nice clothing at an extreme discount so I was lucky to use it. I would use these things forever! I was wrong. Five years later, I don’t have a lot of those things anymore and I feel dumb for having bought stuff that I didn’t wear a lot after my brief retail salesperson career and not saved that money for something actually useful or paid down debt faster.

I know that I am an emotional shopper. I buy things when I’ve had a bad day, or when I’ve had a really good day! It’s a way to treat myself. But, I recognize that the more I do this, the less it’s an actual treat. And I know that–at least at this point–moving into a strict budget with no room for buying things that I want instead of need would also make me miserable and probably wouldn’t work in the long run. So, where’s the balance? And, if you’re eschewing brands that make $6 t-shirts in sweatshops, can you still be a savvy budget shopper?

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:  Continue reading “Budgeting and Shopping for Deals on Ethical Clothing”

When Minimalism Feels Oppressive

For however much I am trying to be more thoughtful and purposeful about my consumption, I am not a Minimalist and probably won’t ever be one. I’ve got a lot of stuff. Craft supplies, DVDs, games, books, tchotchkes… I live in a small, city apartment and this thing is full.

That being said, sometimes I lust after pictures of those perfectly curated instagram-ready homes that have like monochromatic themes and clean lines and no clutter. (No clutter! What a dream!) I am very fortunate to have stuff and also have a partner who gives me a reality check when I get too amped about cleaning when people come over.

However, when thinking ethically/minimally about consumption, I think it’s important to not start treating minimalism as its own product to fetishize and consume. The Financial Diet just posted about this and it’s full of some good real talk:

Long story short, the past 10 years or so has sold us one of the most oddly logical, yet no less cloying, answers to our hyper-consumerist late capitalism: minimalism as a secular kind of religion, an add-on to the cultures of yoga and green juices and general living well by putting together a tapas platter of cultural and spiritual practices without ever fully committing to one.

So, it’s not an article against minimalism so much as against minimalism as a product that purchases superiority: With $5,000, you too can get rid of all of your clothing and own a 100% ethical, sustainable wardrobe of shapeless tunics and solve all your problems! 

Even ignoring the class angles, this idea that any “decluttering” in your life is automatically a positive thing is simply an aesthetic choice being reframed as a moral one because, let’s be honest, it’s really easy to look at a lot of what (mostly) women own as being totally frivolous. Makeup, more-elaborate wardrobes, cozy home decor, art, supplies for hobbies, nice home goods – it’s not a coincidence that most of the stuff we’re being told to flush away from our lives happens to be stuff that women mostly accumulate.

And, yes, there is a very strong capitalist-critical argument to be made about buying in more intentional and ethical ways, but color me shocked that very few of these minimalist troubadours ever really take things to an economic or class-based argument. It’s about reducing for personal enlightenment and pompous blog posts, it’s not about arguing for a more equitable society in which people consume proportionate to their needs.

The class dynamics of consumption are important, and it’s hard to see that zoomed out view when you’re thinking about yourself. If I commit to buying sustainable and ethical clothing, will Walmart go out of business? No. But I’m going to feel pretty good about my own shopping practices without looking at the systemic issues that depress wages, exploit workers and segregate ethical and environmental products into price points that only the wealthy can afford.

My approach (so far) is trying to be realistic about what I use and need. (“Need.” Do I ever “need” another dress?) I can appreciate the minimalist #inspo blogs and instagramers I follow and definitely get ideas from them, but I am never going to be the kind of lady who wears $250 linen culottes and an oversized kimono cardigan. That is not my style, and I would look like a clown and feel extremely uncomfortable.  My mindful shopping can’t just be theoretical, it has to be practical.

I want to be mindful of the way I consume and why I consume (a work in progress) as well as mindful and thoughtful about the broader systems that perpetuate inequality (a much larger task). That second part is something I’m still mulling over and researching… and it seems like it’s definitely an uphill battle, particularly with this current administration (like for regulations that would protect labor and ethical manufacturing or crack down on companies that use cheap overseas labor). So, this is kind of a bummer post, but I liked the article on TFD and think reminders to check my privilege are helpful and warranted.

Read more:

Minimalism is Just Another Boring Product Wealthy People Can Buy
    –This reddit thread
discussing the article is also interesting

Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter
On the immigrant experience and why minimalism doesn’t always translate

How to Declutter Your Life, Assuming You Can Afford to Buy New Possessions at Any Time
some satire to lighten it up


Clothing Manufacturing is a Women’s Issue

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, which, like many holidays with more radical roots, has kind of been co-opted by capitalism.

International Women’s Day was actually not created so that we could post #inspirational memes or pictures of your #WCE girlfriends. IWD was in fact created after female textile workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York went on strike over labor conditions in 1909. (After the strike ended in 1910, in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred, which prompted more government oversight into the safety of factories and working conditions.)

It is crucial to remember the roots of IWD because the same gendered power imbalances are still an issue today.

Jewish factory workers on strike

The striking workers in 1909 were largely Jewish immigrants and the victims of the fire in 1911 were mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants who took on factory jobs because they were available–not because they were good jobs. This dynamic still rings true. Although most clothing manufacturing today occurs outside of the United States, most garment workers are female (estimates range between 60-80% of all garment workers). These workers are typically paid very little and frequently work in unsafe conditions. (The 2012 factory explosion in Dhaka, Bangladesh is one modern example among many.) To keep up with consumers’ want for fast, cheap fashion in developed countries, clothing manufacturers make clothing as cheaply as possible to maximize profits and keep prices low.

Modern garment workers are threatened with violence and loss of jobs if they demand better working conditions. With depressed wages everywhere, leverage is hard without a united front of workers, although workers who form unions are also often punished. In Cambodia, the government denied a request of female garment workers to use city hall for a rally space on IWD for fear of appearing “political.”

Police outside a factory in Bangladesh after a 5 day strike in 2016

Consumers have the power to vote with their dollars and demand more from companies who produce clothing under unethical conditions. Likewise, this is something that matters not just for big brands but also for one-off t-shirt fundraisers or merch associated with causes. Broadly’s article, Was Your Feminist T-Shirt Made by Factory Workers in Exploitative Conditions? brings up important points. When you’re buying a t-shirt off zazzle or from a t-shirt table at an event, how do you know where that t-shirt is made? And isn’t it extra ironic if that t-shirt is emblazoned with a message about gender equality?

Thinking about clothing production as a gender issue (even if there are also factory workers who are men and who can and should benefit from improved conditions and wages along with their female coworkers) is important because it gets at some of the systemic inequalities involved in labor issues. “Women’s jobs” have historically and continue to be under-valued economically and socially. Think about who you imagine as a nurse vs. doctor or teacher vs. professor, or cook vs. chef. In professional hierarchies, women are more frequently in the lower-paying, lower-prestige positions. (Some of this is by choice, but choice is also guided by opportunity and social norms, so don’t give me any of that “women choose lower paying jobs and that’s why there’s income inequality” nonsense.) For professions that are dominated by female workers, like garment workers, systematic low wages are not just an issue of fair pay  but gender inequity.

(Locally, this dynamic played out yesterday as over 900+ female teachers called out from the Philadelphia school district for the IWD Day Without a Woman strike. Teachers are predominately female and in Philadelphia, have been working for over 3 years without a contract. They are underpaid compared to their suburban counterparts and in a chronically underfunded school district. Funding Philadelphia’s schools properly is important for students and for their mostly female teachers!)

IWD is now over, but gender equality is an issue every day. Don’t get lazy, keep learning and listening and challenging default narratives about gender and labor!