Is there such a thing as an ‘ethical consumer?’ Is consumption wrong? What about ethical fast fashion- would that be ethical? I often ponder these thoughts, around and around in my head they swirl; I can’t help but rest on a side note each time. Over and over I recognise the bigger picture, this picture is the beginning of ethical consumptive thought. Why? Why do I shop, when I do not need.
I want to suggest that the most significant part of ethical living is reconsidering our shopping habits. Dissecting not only the ‘way’ but the ‘why?’ we shop.
Few would deny that brand marketing is built on meeting human desire, it is a fire that is fuelled by the desire for relationship, recognition or status in society. Case and point; after watching a recent coke a cola ad without the sound I realised I was watching friends hanging out together, playing sport, laughing and when it boils down to it, connecting with one another - getting one another - accepting one another.
In this glistening, perfect story telling this coke a cola ad implies the connection of their product with your social success. Some might say that this is positive, this brand is promoting their positive story - the good times had with their product. But at the end of the day what measures the success of the marketing team?
Sales. If Coke a Cola and H&M truly cared about your connection with others they would be selling counselling not fizzy drinks and fashion. It doesn’t take too much thought to realise that taking the cap of a glass bottle of coke doesn’t win friends and influence people.
So to rephrase my original statement; is it ethical to consume?
Perhaps a better question is; is it possible to fully understand ethicality and practice consumerism?
When I first started Make It Ethical, I quickly realised that offering friends and family ethical fashion choices was a plaster on top of a gaping wound! And by that I mean, that it is as much about the shopper as the garment maker. Right back of the beginning of my story, I realised that the key (deep deep down) to my desire to shop was the high from knowing I was improving my look, I was bettering myself and it was addictive. I used to shop every six weeks or so, just because I had nothing else to do and for any occasion. Shopping was a habit but it was also a narcotic.
One day I was confronted by the idea of my own value, not just realising it but acknowledging my inherent value. It’s a hard concept to explain but I was confronted by the question; if I wore shabby clothes one day and brand new fashion the next, what would be the difference in my person - excluding appearance - how would that change my self- value, my confidence and my identity. Perhaps this is an easy question for you to answer and I hope that it is! I tossed this idea back and forward and with it the adages of style and success. Whilst I doubt I will ever be truly free of the desire to present myself in the way society refines me I can say with assurety that my wardrobe and my identity are not connected. I am proud of my style and I wear what I have with grace and style but my identity is much much deeper and I was created with an identity and value that is unaffected by any outfit.
Once this realisation took position in me, my desire to shop waned. Over time I enjoyed shopping less, especially as I saw it for what it was, joy and curiosity removed.
I remember watching the news one night and seeing a clip of a reporter being freed from a Prisoner camp. As she spoke she stood tall and defiant of the regime that had held her captive. She calmly spoke, addressing the audience before her as if she herself was the interviewer. Firm and focussed she shelved her appearance and spoke clearly about her captors. I allowed myself to ask the question; what if I stood there in her place, wearing only dirty clothes, having been tortured and starved, stripped of life and being watched by millions of viewers could I stand tall and speak firmly? Could I accept who I was in that moment, a shabby, grubby yet determined and triumphant woman addressing the world? I could see in that moment that her grace and determination clothed her, she wore her strength, not her rags.
And I asked myself that same question; what clothes me? Unsurprisingly, it is not cotton.
In this moment I started to realise that I am not clothed by cotton but that I am ‘clothed’ in purpose, intention, creativity and irrefutable worth. I am a fiercely loved, treasured, crafted and creating spirit and I am the most beautiful person I will ever be when I seek to understand and connect with those around me in this very way. That there is no outfit that will ever fully measure up to the inherent value that is within me and that when I know who I am I give those around me the same freedom to acknowledge and live out their own value.
No fizzy drink in sight.
It is not at all my intention to answer the questions that I have posed to you, but to challenge you with the questions that have passed through my mind and often still roll around in there.
For me the connection was simple; could I continue to buy the story that fashion brands were selling me when I know how my beauty is measured? And further still, as I seek to uphold the value and dignity of those around me; could I ignore the producers, growers and sewers at the hem of my garments? Could I use my most common connection - everyday purchases of coffee, tea, spices, fizzy drink, bananas and basic clothing items - to uphold the value that I see in myself, in others? To transact in such a way that I acknowledged the value and dignity of my fellow humans, which is, in-fact the definition of ethical trading. Even better, perhaps I could do my greatest good, my greatest loving of my neighbour by choosing to acknowledge the humanity of the invisible, those whom I have the liberty of exploiting. In answering these questions for myself I have found a wonderful freedom and now I shall leave them with you.