Ugh, as if!

Last night on Fresh Air, there was an interview that gave me a lot to think about.

In light of the pretty horrifying Bangladesh clothing factory collapse, Terry Gross spoke with Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. They talked mostly about the human rights and environmental cost of living in a fast fashion culture, and how many of the industry’s problems echo similar problems the same ones food had — and the huge locavore / organic movement that sprang up in response.

I was riveted for the whole interview, and thought about the relationship I have with clothes. It’s not all that great.

Unlike food, I don’t really have any hard and fast clothing policies. Nothing’s off limits, and there are plenty of garments from China / Bangladesh / etc. hanging in my closet. Part of the reason for this is because we’ve really come to value clothes as a deeply-held expression of our individuality and artistry, so we shop more than we did a generation ago. We crave variety as a result: I eat up style blogs like the next person. I like it when I think my outfit is unique.

One thing Elizabeth said in the interview really struck me. She said that when she started the book, she owned 350 items of clothing. “Three hundred fifty!!” I sputtered. Then, I counted the clothing in my closet and drawers.

Turns out, I own 150 pieces of clothing.

Which BLEW my mind. I consider my closet on the smallish side, and I don’t shop all that frequently. But sifting through pieces, I also realized how much of my closet was filler. Clothes I’ve long stopped wearing; clothes I never should have bought in the first place.

I remember when my friend Indiana wrote a moving, heartfelt post on growing up poor and getting addicted to cheap clothing, which led to maxed out credit cards, rented storage to contain all of her garments, and a rock bottom moment of sorts that forced her to reassess her relationship to clothing.  It was one of the first times I had ever read a style blogger say, “hey, maybe all these outfits aren’t what they’re cracked up to be,” and I really admired her for that, because I think it’s an unpopular stance to have in the style blogging world. To call attention to all that consumption.

I’ve spent years trying to figure out “my style,” and I think it’s an ever-shifting thing with no center. But I’m attracted to the idea lately of just being a classic dresser, something I never thought I’d say, simply because it’s easier to invest in a few, ethically-made, quality pieces and be done with it. You know?

I’ll admit: fashion is fun, trying on different identities and pretending to be various people. Am I a hippie today? How about a 60s mod? Etc. But, I’ve always felt a little sheepish getting ridiculously cheap clothing, and now I know why. Elizabeth mentioned that the Bangladesh factory she went undercover in paid their workers $37/month. And then that factory collapsed on people, and that’s the real cost.

Which brings me to Austin. There are tons of places to eat ethically. But where can you shop ethically? It’s tough. Here’s a starter list:

Noonday Collection (WOW)

Good & Fair Clothing, who visited with Austin Eavesdropper last year

ATown, which carries Raven + Lily, a conscious clothing brand

Purse & Clutch

Hill Country Hill Tribers

Ten Thousand Villages

-Tons of Austin handmade shops on this Etsy Austin page

-And from Lauren Modery at Hipstercrite, a great case for shopping at American Apparel

(There’s also fabric to consider too, which seems to be the larger ethical challenge. We find our local clothing producers, but a local fabric-maker? THAT is a tall order. I’ve been Googling around, and haven’t found any in Austin. If you are aware of any, let me know.)

Here’s the last point I want to make about this. Like food, some people can only afford to buy cheap clothing. I get that. I grew up positively begging my mom to take me to GapKids, and my wish wasn’t granted until I was in 5th grade because we couldn’t afford it. Until then, Mom made a lot of my clothes, which I thought was super uncool then, but which I think is ridiculously cool now.

So there’s no need to demonize people on a tight budget. This is simply about shifting one’s relationship to clothing: to think the next time we swipe our card at Zara (gah, a store whose style I admittedly crave) or H&M, just like we started thinking about GMO’s and factory beef and things like that. I know we were all so jazzed to get H&M here last year so I feel like the preachy grandma for raining on our parade. Sorry!

But, I’m going to start putting a little more thought into this. I don’t put any thought into the ethics of my shopping now, so anything will be an improvement.

I’d also really love to know what you guys think about all this too. What’s your relationship to clothing?

PHOTO // Via Glamour