The most important part of this challenge for me is to really consider how easy it is for me, a working, single mum, to do my bit in challenging the questionable ethics of the high street supply chain within a realistic budget – that is to say the money that until now has been spent on clothing at supermarkets and discounters.
According to comparemyspend.co.uk the average UK household spends £1,217 ($1778 US) on clothing and footwear each year- and (I can’t be certain but) I imagine that this is predicated on a household of four – two adults and two children. So extrapolating from this I shall set my clothing and shoe budget at an annual £304.25 – a monthly spend of £25.35 a month – perhaps rounding up to £26 (around $38 US) for simplicity’s sake.
£26 – doesn’t feel like much – it’s easy to see now why we are so drawn to Primark and other cheap clothing appeals to us. Why commit a large amount of money when it’s so convenient not to when contemplating the beguiling array of colourful mass produced fashion.
The victory of temptation over ethics factor is borne out by our spending habits around eco-fashion. In its apparently last Ethical Consumer Markets Report of 2012 The Co-Operative highlighted that spending on goods such as ethical clothing were one of the biggest Ethical consumerism casualties of the worldwide economic downturn. The annual spend on ethical clothing in 2011 was a paltry £52 in 2011 (but up on the 2000 spend of just £23). So if I complete the challenge for two months I will already have spent the average.
So where can I go to spend my £26 in a guaranteed ethical way? The Guardian offers readers an array of ethical clothing via its ethical clothing directory, but alas (as with many Guardian retail efforts) these are aimed at the higher earners and certainly not within the reach of us denizens of the clothing aisles of supermarkets.
Ceri at The ethicalfashionblog.com also offers some great tips – lots of fabulous finds – but still well out of reach of my average household budget.
The options for a real entry level ethical wardrobe, when using a modest budget, are really stationed at the point of charity shops and thrift/vintage shops. My consideration here is that the clothing offered is often not ethically sourced – it is still the same high street exploitation garb which is donated – so for me this is a somewhat defining element in the question – how do you define ethically sourced?
For the purposes of this challenge it either has to either a) do no harm at the point of production – ie a verified track record in worker’s rights, knowledge of the supply chain and limitation on the environmental impact of production or b) having been unethically produced is re-used or recycled in a way that offers benefits back to society – namely being in a charity shop. I will also consider offerings from vintage stores with a strong link with charity, but I don’t want to commit my limited budget in a way which doesn’t achieve, even in a small way, betterment of the world overall – rather than a null impact.
So where to start? Most people start from a standpoint of having an accumulated wardrobe – my plan is to review and purge my clothing – I can retain clothing which has either been previously sourced ethically or has been given to me as a gift. All other items of clothing must be donated (and cannot be rebought) unless they have a specific significance outside of being a gift. Well, that pain shall be postponed for another few days I think…