Fashion and Ethics: Why Should I Care and What Can I Do? by Katie Metzger

Look at the clothes you are wearing right now….Would you believe that 80-90% of what you are wearing was made in inhumane, unsustainable conditions? Well, the sad fact is, this is most often the case. Sweatshops are not a thing of the past. Buying high-end, well made clothing does not mean that it is made in different conditions than Old Navy or Walmart clothing. This is hard to swallow, and as someone who loves fashion it can seem too overwhelming to even think about. However, information and acknowledgement is where change begins. So why should you care and what can you, practically, do?

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

When discussing the issue of ethicality in the clothing industry, one may have images of sweatshops and child laborers in developing nations toiling all day in inhumane conditions. Although this image may seem extreme, it is a very real aspect of our current garment and fashion industries worldwide. Sweatshops from Bangladesh to Cambodia routinely pay their workers around $1.20 per day for their work. This is not a living wage, even in poverty stricken communities. The chronic underpayment of garment industry workers creates a cycle of poverty in already struggling communities, in turn contributing to other social issues resulting from poverty. Sweatshops are not only present in developing nations but are also a growing problem in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in recent years up to 11,000 U.S. based factories were cited as violating workers rights and not paying laborers a minimum wage. This shows the problem of human rights violations in textile and garment factories is not only an international problem but a domestic problem as well. Additionally, many companies touted as being ethically made have had numerous sweatshop scandals. When it comes to clothing ethicality we must learn to be active, not passive, consumers of information.

In 2006, a study was done by the American Sociological Association regarding the marketability of fair trade products; this study found that an overwhelming majority of consumers would pay $1-$5 more for items they know are made in an ethical way. Although large strides towards ethical production have been made in the coffee, chocolate and food industry, the clothing industry remains hugely underserved.

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

I am someone who loves fashion and clothing. The thrill of a new dress or pair of shoes is not lost on me. But I also recognize that, as a person who believes that each human bears the image and likeness of God, I am required to evaluate and educate myself about the impact of my purchases. As I’ve become more interested in ethicality and the fashion industry I keep asking myself, “What can I, practically, do?”. Not all of us can afford to shop exclusively from fair trade clothing brands, and more often the fashion in fair trade clothing is extremely lacking. So what small changes can we make to have an impact on the clothing industry?

1. Realize that someone is paying the price for your clothing…is it you or the garment worker? Jeans should cost more than $9.99. When you come across clothing that is extremely cheap ask yourself, “what kind of production practices lend itself to producing a $3 tank top”? The answer is usually pretty obvious.

2. Inform yourself about your favorite brands. It is well-known that companies such as Forever 21, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and Walmart have unethical supply chains. However, information is severely lacking for many brands. Do some digging online and if nothing is available, request information.

3. If you are unsure, shop local and second-hand. Finding local markets and boutiques supports your local economy and makes it easier to engage in conversation and get information. Also, second-hand and vintage shopping can be a cost-effective and fun way to go! Most of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe were found at great vintage stores. I love that shopping locally and second-hand gives me a unique wardrobe and personal style.

4. Start exploring and support fair trade fashion companies. As I stated earlier, finding fair trade clothing that is actually fashionable can be a struggle. Many fair trade clothing companies are either insanely expensive or produce clothing you wouldn’t want to wear. However, lately there has been a surge of new fashionable clothing companies that are competitively priced. Myself and my business partner are actually in the process of launching a fair  clothing brand, Same Thread, that produces fashion forward, ethical clothing that also provides economic opportunity to women in Thailand. I hope to be a part of the change towards ethically and reconciliation that I know will take place in the fashion industry. Join me!

katie
Katie is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Same Thread, an ethical clothing brand for women, and is also on staff at Mustard Seed Associates and The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. She is also a native Pacific Northwesterner with a passion for social justice and bringing fair trade business practices into the mainstream. In 2014 she completed her MA in International Development at Northwest University, where she focused on social enterprise and it’s capacity to economically empower women. She has a background in event planning, marketing, design and retail production. On a typical Saturday she can be found cooking, sewing, drawing, listening to records, vintage shopping, sipping whiskey and playing with her puppies.

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Why Should We Raise the Minimum Wage

Today is Labour Day here in the U.S. and I find myself reflecting on the plight of those who suffer because of low wages and inadequate benefits. My thoughts have been stimulated by several things.

First this info graphic that was posted on Facebook.

Minimum wageSecond by this article talking about the budget that McDonald’s suggested for its minimum wage workers. It includes a second job and with only $20/ month budgeted for health care and $27/week for food and gas, obviously expects that workers will take advantage of food stamps and medicaid. One response I read to this article even mentioned these as justifiable additions to their income. Which sounds like corporate sponsorship to me.

My third stimulus this morning was this reading from James:

Listen to me dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonour the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: Love your neighbour as yourself. (James 2:5-8)

Loving our neighbours means being concerned for their welfare – that they have a place to live, nutritious food to eat and health care, education and retirement plans to sustain them just as we do.

In many countries of the world minimum wage is calculated on what it takes to live with 2 dependents – on one job. Here in the U.S. even two minimum wage jobs make that difficult. Most of these people are in the service industry – waiters in restaurants, maids in hotels. People live in their cars, sometimes whole families. Or they live in overcrowded apartments in the most dangerous parts of town. And they are dependent on food stamps and medicaid.

These people work very hard for a living (or should I say a non-living). I think they should receive a living wage. Yes it would mean we have to pay more when we eat out but surely that is part of the true cost of living. What do you think?

 

What Do We Give Thanks For?

Today I give thanks

Today I give thanks @Christine Sine

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, a tradition that I have embraced with great enthusiasm since I have lived in the U.S. I have already posted a Thanksgiving – Harvest prayer for 2012 and decided there is really no need for another. Yesterday when I posted the above prayer on Light for the Journey’s Facebook page, one of my friends responded:

I want to be able to feel warmed by those words.I want to find faith and hope – right now I can’t! They don’t fit some of us in the UK- for today is really tough and full of pain for those of us who are female priests in the Church of England, and are facing yesterday’s grim decision that our gender still cannot be Bishops. I was in the first wave of women to be ordained as a priests over here.

It made me realize that even in our thanks and gratitude we live in the tension of God’s kingdom now and not yet. The glimpses of God’s kingdom that fill us with awe and wonder, that bring us to our knees with shouts of praise and gratitude are unfortunately just that, glimpses of a world that we desperately long for but do not yet see fully realized. The pain of my sisters in the U.K. who are so devastated by the General Synod no vote to women bishops is my pain. Oppression in Syria, Israel, Columbia, and North Korea oppresses my soul. The environmental degradation that devastates rainforests in Brazil, contributes to the destruction of hurricane Sandy, and wipes out species in Africa, these degrade my spirit.

Our celebrations at thanksgiving. Our gratitude and praise to God for the many blessings we see in our lives should not blind us to the suffering of others. In fact it should inspire us with the desire to see others rejoice and celebrate in the same ways that we can.

So my question for all of us at this season is What are we doing to bring thanksgiving and gratitude into the lives of those who are suffering, oppressed or marginalized? 

For more Thanksgiving prayers check out these from the last few years:

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2010

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2009

A Franciscan Blessing

Worship station at Soularize 2005

Worship station at Soularize 2005

Tom and I head off to Wild Goose West tomorrow morning so it seems fitting to share this beautiful prayer that I was given at the last festival we attended – The Creative World Festival in Mission B.C.

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy
And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

Amen

The Creative World Festival Was Great Fun

Aaron Strumpel on the mainstage

Aaron Strumpel on the mainstage

Tom and I and our MSA intern Chris Holcomb have just returned from the Creative World Festival in Mission British Columbia. It was a great opportunity to renew friendships with some of our Canadian friends and collaborators and to begin some new friendships as well.

I love getting together with friends

I love getting together with friends

Such a great group of people – grassroots advocates for God’s concerns for justice and reconciliation. Great music by Aaron Strumpel, great poetry by Joel  McKerrow and lots to think about from Pete Rollins and all the speakers.

Aaron Strumpel and Joel McKerrow at Creative World Festival

Aaron Strumpel and Joel McKerrow at Creative World Festival

There was a particular focus on concerns for aboriginal people in Canada. My heart ached to hear about the thousands of missing and/or murdered women who have disappeared with little or no public outcry. And I wept to hear stories of the atrocities that have been carried out against aboriginal children in many countries who were stolen from their families and moved into residential schools. Many of them never saw their families again.

Praying for the missing, murdered and stolen ones

Praying for the missing, murdered and stolen ones

In justice comes in so many forms and I so appreciate those who keep us aware of these important issues and challenge us to respond.

Have We Settled For Cheap Faith?

Death to the World

This morning in my post The Ugly Tomato, I included a link to a post that I did on Cheap Faith a few years ago. I have been thinking about that ever since and decided that I would update and republish it. Part of the reason for this is that I am struggling because more and more speaking invites expect us to work for free. The real cost of a conference or event is not really taken into account. And Christians don’t want to have to pay the full cost. Yet I know that in the secular world people expect to pay much more because they know and accept what it costs to put on a conference.

MSA has not held a large conference in the last few years mainly because of some of these concerns. We have always liked to start planning a conference by asking “What are God’s kingdom values we want to represent at this gathering?” It is often an uncomfortable conversation, hopefully not just for us but for everyone who is involved.

In all that we do, I grapple with how to provide resources, technology and events within the constraints of a limited budget. I struggle with how to live and operate our ministry sustainably without jeopardizing our concern for the environment and for the poor.  Fair-traded tea and coffee is more expensive than regular coffee.  Lunches from Fairstart that provides jobs for the homeless are more expensive than the local supermarket that only pays workers minimum wages. Environmental concerns create even more constraints as we struggle to reduce waste & provide environmentally friendly alternatives.  How do we bring in speakers and participants from around the world in fuel guzzling aeroplanes and still show respect for the environment?

I love the way Shane Claiborne approaches some of these concerns.  Whenever he travels he gets people to commit to reduce their fuel consumption in compensation for the additional fuel he is using by flying.  Not easy but I think it is a great way to show how seriously we take these issues.  Or maybe we should all cut back our fuel consumption for a month beforehand to compensate. Maybe we should hold more local events that don’t require a lot of travel or expensive accommodation and encourage us to cooperate with each other in what do.

Not easy but why should I expect it to be easy?  It is never easy to choose deliberately to live by God’s kingdom values in all our actions.  Unfortunately we live in a world that wants everything especially food, clothing, household goods and technology at bargain prices but, at what cost to the poor and the environment?  For us to have access to bargain priced food, technology and resources often means that those who produce and sell our goods are not paid a living wage.  Our bargain goods often are produced in conditions that devastate the environment and add to our polluted air.

What concerns me most is that our obsession with bargains extends to our faith as well.  We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change.

It is not surprising that in a culture like ours, few people practice fasting and self-sacrifice during Lent anymore.  Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross never comes at bargain prices, it is very costly.  In fact it demands our whole lives but it is absolutely necessary if we want to become the disciples God intends us to be.  It means recognizing that the true self is made in the image of God and reflects the characteristics that are true to Gods image love and compassion, concern for justice for the poor and freedom from oppression…considering the needs of others as more important than my own.

I think many will get a shock when they enter the kingdom of God.  It will be a real cross-cultural experience for them because the bargain price values they have lived by will be totally worthless.  Fortunately, Gods spirit continues to work within all of us enabling us to confront the false self and its cheap values.  It constantly breaks down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and Gods ways.

The question I find myself asking this morning is “Where do I still go after a bargain and sacrifice God’s values as a consequence?”  Maybe you would like to ask the same question.  Where is the spirit of God nudging you to change so that your false self will be transformed into the true self that reflects the glory of God?

The Ugly Tomato

Yesterday I received notice from our friends at Soulsby Farm of their upcoming Ugly Tomato contest. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing the entries though unfortunately I am not sure that my own tomatoes will be ripe enough by the end of August for any photos at all. This is definitely shaping up to be an ugly tomato season here in Seattle, though I must confess I usually think that about this time of the year and am usually pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately there are other ugly aspects to tomatoes I have been learning about this week that are not quite so much fun. Like this story that International Justice Mission shared in their Recipe for Change newsletter this week.

Mariano’s Story

Thanksgiving week of 2007, Mariano punched his way through the ventilation hatch in the ceiling of a box truck in the farming town of Immokalee, Florida. He and his co-workers were held against their will for more than two years, violently forced to labor in Florida and South Carolina tomato fields, and padlocked into the windowless box truck at night. One worker was chained to a post by his employers, the Navarretes. That day during Thanksgiving week, after escaping, Mariano found a ladder and went back to help his friends get out. Read more here

It is hard for many of us to accept that slavery occurs in our own backyard. Yet it does and all of us can make a difference just by deciding where to shop and what to buy.

Today the nation’s largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida’s largest tomato growers to confront slavery and other abuses on Florida’s tomato farms. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers’ basic rights. We’re calling on Publix, Kroger and Ahold to join too!

Unfortunately it is not just the tomato industry that takes advantage of workers. As we shop at farmers’ markets and fair trade stores we realize the true cost of our food and consumer goods – if all those who produced what we eat were paid a fair wage. Christians should be at the forefront of movements like this that raise concerns about how we treat the disant neighbours who produce our food.

My biggest concern is that we look for the same cheapness regardless of the costs to others when we view our faith. Several years ago I wrote about this in Cheap Faith? 

We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change. Read more 

So what do you think? How does our quest for the easy life with cheap food, cheap clothes and cheap living extend to our faith and impact our values?