Fashion Is A Form Of Self-Expression

I, like most fashion activists, love fashion, the craft, the imagination and the intricate details that go into making each garment. I also revel in its ability to make us dream. Dream of who we could be in the world if we only wore the right clothes, as well as dream of the special days to come in our lives such as birthdays, wedding, maternity, even red carpet events.

Indeed, long gone are the days of dressing purely for function. Today, being well-dressed is about self-expression, creativity, status and beauty—but there’s an ugly side to the fashion industry. A side that the powers that be would rather we not know about.

Did you know?

  • One in six people work in the global fashion industry

  • The wages of workers in garment factories can be as low as US$1-$3 a day

  • It would only cost an extra 1% of the retail price for living wages to be paid to the workers

  • Garment workers in developed countries can also be exploited

  • 80% of garment workers are women

  • Fast fashion brands release new clothes weekly and/or monthly by design to make you feel like your closet is always out of style

  • 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed each year

  • It takes 7,000 liters of water to produce a pair of jeans

  • 10.5 million tons of clothing is sent to landfills yearly in the United States

  • One billion rabbits are killed yearly for their fur

The Choices We Make Have Impact

Faced with all of these issues, shopping according to your values can mean different things to different people. Here are the main four value-based choices you can make as a consumer when it comes to how you buy clothing, shoes and accessories.

  1. Sustainable and eco-friendly: If you value the environment and want to buy products that are manufactured in an environmentally-friendly way from sourcing to packaging, choose to support sustainable companies.

  2. Ethical: If you believe that garment workers should be treated with dignity, compensated fairly and be in safe working conditions, shop for goods that have been ethically produced. This category can also include locally-made, artisan-made and handmade fashion. See What is ethical fashion? (VIDEO)

  3. Vegan, cruelty-free and PETA-approved: If you are concerned for the welfare of animals and would rather go naked than wear animal skin and animal byproducts, invest in vegan, cruelty-free and PETA-approved products.

  4. Charitable: If there are causes near and dear to your heart, look for brands that support the same causes by donating a portion of their proceeds.

So you know about the issues in the fashion industry.
Now, how do you shop according to your values?

1. Determine your values

Wherever you find yourself on the [journey towards sustainable and ethical living], start there and evolve from that point on.

This first step might sound simplistic, but I would be naive to think that we are all at the same place in our journey towards sustainable and ethical living. It is up to you to decide what matters to you most. My awareness started with the unethical treatment of people and grew from there. For someone else it may be all about the environment while another might cringe at the thought of wearing animal skin. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, start there and evolve from that point on. This is not to give you carte blanche, but to allow you the freedom and room to grow in your awareness without silencing your conscience or becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues. Just choose and grow from there.

2. Do your research

Start with the brands you already shop and love. Find out what their manufacturing practices, charitable efforts, sustainability standards and animal cruelty policies are, as well as their commitment to corporate social responsibility. If this information is not readily available on their website, contact them via email or on social media. If you choose the social media route, I encourage you to join the Who Made My Clothes? campaign.

3. Expand your horizons

Once you’ve done your research you may realize, to your dismay, that the brands you support are shady and have well-crafted PR statements to camouflage their unethical practices. What is a girl (or guy) to do?

The sustainable and ethical fashion industry is thriving. Whatever garment or accessory category you are in the market for, there’s a brand for that.

If this was 10 years ago, I would tell you to get into fetal position and cry. But thankfully, it’s a new day and the sustainable and ethical fashion industry is thriving. Whatever garment or accessory category you are in the market for, there’s a brand for that. They might not be as well-known as the brands you currently wear, but that is why there are resources like The Good Trade and Conscious N Chic to help you.

4. Change your mind

Spoiler alert: shopping ethically may not fit your current budget or shopping habits.

Those of you who know me know that I keep it real, so I must warn you that you may need to rewire your mind in order to adopt this new lifestyle. First, prioritize investing in quality timeless pieces that will last for a long time and prevent you from buying new pieces every season. Second, exercise self-control understanding that buying new clothes every week is not sustainable for the planet or your wallet. The thought of spending your hard-earned money on pieces that won’t last shouldn’t sit well with you. Besides, most of us end up wearing the same 15 pieces all season long, anyway.

Exercise self-control understanding that buying new clothes every week is not sustainable for the planet or your wallet.

Shopping according to your values can be a daunting task but it is worth it. I look forward to hearing how your journey is going. Remember to go at your own pace, learn and always stay conscious and chic!


Kathleen is a marketing strategist as well as the Editor-In-Chic and founder of Conscious & Chic, a hub where style aficionados can munch on all things ethical in fashion, beauty, food and travel. Bridging the gap between creativity, social impact and business is one of her many passions due to her Finance, International Business and Fashion Design academic background. You can connect with her @ConsciousNChic and@KathleenElie on Instagram. She’d love it!