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As we ponder

No Sweat

The right answer is probably something we don’t want to hear. At this point in time, I feel like I did the last few years of my smoking, that place where I know it’s bad, it’s a disgusting habit, I’ll quit eventually… eventually, but I just can’t quit right now. I just can’t.

Or so I tell myself. And I keep doing what I know is not good for me. I know consumer culture is not good for me, it’s not good for us, and not only is it not good for us, it’s harmful, to the environment, to our pocketbooks, and to the basic human rights of a considerably growing number of people on this planet.

But when you’re talking to an addict, none of that matters. I tell you none of that matters when I’m blue, and searching for that one piece of clothing that’s going to make me feel beautiful, if even just for a moment. My first real conscious bout of ‘retail therapy’ was a Tiffany’s necklace I got when I left my husband. Yes, for that moment, a silver necklace in a blue box made me feel ok about the very serious and painful decision I made.

They say that if something is working for you in some way, it’s hard to give it up. I can only imagine that this is the root of the guilt us first world inhabitants face when we look for a moment at the suffering we usually spare ourselves the sight. Yesterday, Style Bubble posted the Topshop’s use of slave labor in Bangladesh:

So now what? Can I promise a total boycott? Can I go the whole hog and not do the half-hearted pansy thing? We shall see but for now, the key thing I can do is avoidance. This of course brings into question whether I can in all honesty vouch that the rest of my non-Topshop wardrobe is ethically correct. Again, for me, it’s a matter of a lack of education. I can only do my best and try.

Stateside, we have scores of retailers who utilize sweatshop labor, even if the garment is “Made in the USA”, it still has a 50% chance of being made in a sweatshop. And if we pick on some brands like Nike, does that mean we all buy Reebok (who also makes shoes in many of the same factories). Is H&M somehow less evil than the Gap?

Oh dear, who knows? Is it really that hopeless? Our economic system makes is almost impossible to consume ‘ethically’. However there is certainly a demand for ethical products, and the supply is growing… American Apparel makes great clothes that are affordable and not made by small children in a country far, far away. Indie designers are less likely to be sweatshop workers (unless it’s some kind of self-imposed sweatshop). Cristalette is an indie designer who transforms vintage clothes. Andrea Crews is a collective that reconstructs vintage clothing, transforming discarded garments into art. And even if we do make an effort to buy sweatshop free clothing, what about the work conditions of the cars we drive or the lipstick we wear… or the bus we ride?

A couple of weeks ago I remember reading and article ‘Buying Into the Green Movement‘ that questioned the concept of saving the world by making slightly different shopping decisions. It made me realize that organic cotton sweatshop free jeans aren’t the real answer. The real answer is to not buy so many pairs of jeans…. or shoes, or clothes. Period. The real problem is the level of consumption.

So that leaves me to my initial point. Shopping addiction. I know my behavior is going to have to change, and I don’t know at what point I’m going to hit my personal bottom when it comes to mindless consumption. That there is something deep within me that needs to change, the realization that the perfect outfit is not going to make me a lovable person. That the clothes I do purchase should be done with care and consideration. And it is here that I confess my retail sins, and express at least the willingness to try to be a good citizen.

If you want to know more about consumer awareness and action, nologo.org is a great place to start. I read that No Logo by Naomi Klein when it came out in 2000, and it’s well researched and compelling.

Images from top: Andrea Crews, American Apparel, Cristallete, they are sweat free.

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17 comments for “No Sweat”

  1. Ay yi yi. While I wouldn’t recommend anyone consuming wastefully (don’t buy stuff you’re not going to use or enjoy, don’t spend money you can’t afford), I feel like the thought police nowadays are on the verge of sucking all pleasure and beauty out of life. I do agree that purchases should be made with care and consideration rather than mindlessly, but don’t beat yourself up for enjoying some nice things. Just because some of the early white inhabitants of this continent were Puritans doesn’t mean we have to be Puritans too, does it? I mean, why do anything? Everything uses resources: clothes, computers, paintings, ballets, theater, literature, children, schools, LIFE itself. I think everyone needs to find a happy medium where they’re not burdened with unnecessary stuff but not with heavy guilt either.

    Posted by WendyB | August 14, 2007, 12:40 pm
  2. Oh man…I needed to read this! My roommate’s out of town and I’m taking advantage of this to clean my closet out…I have a pile of clothes I’m hesitating to get rid. Maybe I’ll get my craft on and attempt to reconstruct some pieces instead? …um, maybe.

    PS. LOVE that Cristallete jumper(?!).

    Posted by Lexx | August 14, 2007, 3:26 pm
  3. oh dear, i know what you mean… it’s hard to even enjoy a cup of coffee. but it’s still important to discuss these matters, because the more we talk about them, the more solutions come about.

    lexx! holy moly, every time i get my craft on, i end up making more dishrags. so, i have to hand it to you if you can reconstruct some garments!

    Posted by jennine | August 14, 2007, 4:39 pm
  4. Where do I start…? I have to say that this is one of the most interesting post I have read. Very emotional, plus educational. I have to say that I too struggle sometimes with my shopping habits, especially working at a high-end designer store, it’s difficult for me not to just window shop. I can only judge you buy this post. But you do have the right attitude; “That there is something deep within me that needs to change”. I to read “Buying Into the Green Movement” and also was inspired and I’ve added it to one of the many things that have somewhat changed my shopping addiction this year. Among other things: “The Tipping Point”, blogging, The Arcade Fire, my four-year old daughter and to make this shorter… I’ve just added your post to my list of things that are making me a better person. Thank you and good luck to all!

    Posted by V*Kstro | August 14, 2007, 8:12 pm
  5. thank you.
    : )

    Posted by jennine | August 14, 2007, 10:20 pm
  6. im a coffee addict a former cigarrette sucker. until somehow one day i felt a 200 lb person sat on my chest, while at work, bend over like I was a twig and ended up in the ER with pneumonia, cold turkey was given to me in a hughe platter all in one day. miss it like hell but I smell everything now and didnt gain a pound. itsbeen a year (! and ?) Still a hard core caffeine gusler though. arghhh
    Otherwise to this fast forward moment, i think I’d still be a smoker though. buona fortuna! -goodluck-

    Posted by meli | August 14, 2007, 10:52 pm
  7. I hope you don’t mind me playing Devil’s Advocate here, because I absolutely agree with a lot of what is said here. But for food for thought purposes, you bring up our need to be considerate not only for our consumption of clothes, but the general conditions of all men (or that’s how I took it): “And even if we do make an effort to buy sweatshop free clothing, what about the work conditions of the cars we drive or the lipstick we wear… or the bus we ride?”

    It’s funny that you bring those up, because American Apparel, while being sweatshop free, also has problems with sexual harassment in its work environment, to an alarmingly higher degree than most employers do. So if one is trying to be a conscientious buyer, should they stop shopping at AA because of it’s debatably unethical treatment of employees, particularly female employees? Do we learn to pick our battles?

    As far as consumption goes, taking the summer off from school and work has done wonders for breaking me of my shopping tendencies. I think I’ve bought a blouse and two dresses all summer. The being said, I’m really aching for some new shoes. I appreciate your honesty in writing this post, as I think its something that has probably crossed all or many of your readers minds (for themselves). I know it has crossed mine that I have a shopping problem, that basically extends to just the need to buy and have that consumer interaction.

    Either way, yes, I’ve quite enjoyed the post. <3

    Posted by Ashe Romance | August 15, 2007, 7:14 am
  8. I thought the same thing about American Apparel. I think the production of consumer items reflects all other conditions in society…it’s complicated and there are always good and bad players. There will never be a perfect manufacturing world because people are imperfect. There’s good and bad in every individual and in every part of society.

    Posted by WendyB | August 15, 2007, 8:30 am
  9. oh dear, i didn’t know that about american apparel, although, i have a hazy recollection of such a thing. yeah, i think that’s why i was afraid to talk about this, because it’s so easy to say, ‘what about this, or what about that…’

    it’s hard enough to try to be a good person, let alone be a good corporation, but i do agree with wendy about perfection… and the best we can do is try.

    Posted by jennine | August 15, 2007, 9:05 am
  10. Yeah, Mr. American Apparel is particularly famous for pleasuring himself in front of a reporter! :-)
    Sorry to put that image in your mind.

    Posted by WendyB | August 15, 2007, 9:08 am
  11. ok, i’ve got the whole whole charney story now… he’s a character to say the least. he did engage in sexual acts in front of a reporter, who apparently befriended him in the two months of research for the article. it was apparently consentual. oh dear.

    i personally don’t understand the kind of behavior charney engages in, it frankly, gives me the creeps.

    here’s a good article about the whole sexual harassment ordeal:

    Posted by jennine | August 15, 2007, 9:32 am
  12. I too, suffer from shopping addiction. wonderful take on the situation and great articles that you linked. thank you.

    Posted by arienette | August 15, 2007, 1:04 pm
  13. Thank you for a such thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I, too, struggle with the issues you mention. I don’t have any answers, but I do try to purchase more of my wardrobe from indie sources and thrift/resale stores. I also think that if we all stopped shopping entirely, a lot of people (me, for example)would be left without an income. For me, the best answer right now is to try to be very careful who I give my hard-earned money to. I don’t always make the best choice, but I think awareness is the first step in creating change.

    Posted by joy | August 15, 2007, 2:31 pm
  14. Jennine- I think your blog has become one of the best. This article is proof. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Jessica Joan | August 15, 2007, 2:58 pm
  15. Wow, this is an amazing articulation of a lot of the thoughts that swirl through my head whenever I buy something. Priorities really are a hard thing to consider for us first worlders and consuming *less* not just ethically (which is always questionable anyways) shouldn’t be such a challenge…yet I struggle with it all the time.

    Thrift shopping & really immersing myself in the world of handmade has helped tremendously but I’ve still got a long way to go.

    Posted by ambika | August 16, 2007, 2:20 pm
  16. I love your honesty and awareness. As far as addictions, I think i can safely say that we all have them in some way, shape or form, but I find that we can replace our unhealthy addictions with the more nurturing ones (and you have given us some worthy alternatives to explore) thank you

    Posted by NAIK FUR | August 16, 2007, 7:57 pm
  17. There is a range of products that came from Madagascar currently being retailed at the fourth largest department store in the UK. Actually, there is nothing wrong with the products themselves as they were manufactured to the highest possible standard by a small and old cottage factory that provides a cushion against the darkness of hunger and starvation to 250 extremely poor families in Antananarivo.We have all heard about buyers squeezing suppliers on price but what follows must be the jewel on the crown. The products were ordered and taken possession of last year by a London-based buyer, and todate the factory has not been paid a single penny despite the fact that this buyer is being begged on a daily basis.

    Posted by Anonymous | September 24, 2007, 8:39 am

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