*Author’s Note: the following is best read whilst listening to Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson.
Me giving up fast fashion is not going to change anything. It would take hundreds of thousands of people giving it up before these companies even noticed. Why should I even bother?
This fallacy is pervasive across social media and our conversations about social justice, labor, and environmental issues. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it’s not exactly the whole Truth. While big corporations are certainly at fault for much of the widespread environmental destruction and unfair labor practices continually plaguing our world, we, the Average Joes (and Joanne’s?), aren’t exactly blameless.
Starting with the Man (or Woman) in the Mirror
It is human nature to blame others for our faults. We absolve our entire species of any condemnation by blaming distant corporations, sweatshops, industries, and governments. But, if no one else is going to say it, we will: It is all of our faults. We, everyday people, are the ones causing many of these problems––and, until we admit what’s at the root of destructive practices, we will never be in a position to start changing them.
So, let us take a more honest look at the problem.
- The International Labor Organization estimates that 170 million children are engaged in child labor, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond.
- According to an overview of textile industry material practices in polyester production compiled by scientists at MIT, about 706 billion kg (roughly 1.5 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gases were released in 2015––that’s the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants' annual emissions.
- If consumption continues at its current rate, we’ll need three times as many natural resources by 2050 compared to what we used in 2000.
Thus, it is evident that humanity as a whole has failed to sustainably consume and use resources, and to adequately care for our fellow sapiens. But, let’s not forget: there are almost 8 billion of us. How could one person, or one organization, be responsible for so much carnage?
It is largely corporations responsibility to regulate their own supply chain practices—be them safe and sustainable or greedy and dangerous––and it is largely the job of our regulators to regulate our corporations. Still, even as a single consumer, every purchase you make is a vote towards the kinds of goods––and labor practices––that sustain our markets every day. Without driving demand for these destructive products upwards over the decades, corporations wouldn’t have been able to sustain the unacceptable practices we’re trying to change.
I’m Asking You to Change Your Ways
Luckily (or not so luckily) most of the issues that we face as a society are caused––or at least made worse––by apathy. The first step in doing something different is knowing that something’s got to give, sure––but the second step is caring enough to do something about it. So, naturally, we are challenging YOU to do something––or a few things:
- Knowledge is Power: In the fight to make the world a better place, an honorable mention must go to the Internet. Though plagued with fake news (and a lot more crap), the World Wide Web provides us with abundant credible resources we can use to empower consumers to do better. Many websites are committed to educating consumers about environmental and labor practices and their shortcomings in places around the world. The World Resource Institute and UNICEF both come to mind.
- Have a Conversation: Now that you have armed yourself with knowledge, it’s time to share it. Join in on conversations about labor practices, the environment, or whatever else you are passionate about. Where you don’t hear the conversation going on, start it. Standing up for what you believe in requires vulnerability––but once you stand up, you will find others who feel the same way.
Once again, we have to thank the Internet for providing an excellent platform for conversations around ethical production standards. Though they are not always happening in front of us, these are almost always happening across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Ethical Hour is an excellent example of an active online ethical fashion community. The organization connects, motivates, and inspires consumers and brands by hosting regular community discussions across their channels.
Now, here is the most difficult conversation of all. The Big Boys: the government and large corporations. Writing a letter or attending a political rally may seem like a futile act, but it is a crucial part in advocating for issues that you care about. Elected officials and companies ultimately have a lot of power to protect industries, workers, and the environment. Before anyone can listen to your opinion, you need to voice it.
- Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is: Your dollar is the most tangible vote that you can cast on a daily basis for the world you want to see. Look at where you are spending your money, and research the companies behind these goods and services. If you are not satisfied with their practices, and have the means to do so, spend your money elsewhere. Opt for sustainable fashion brands and small companies selling handmade items. An ethical alternative exists for almost every product that we buy.
- If you are concerned, do something: When we are indifferent, or fail to be active about the issues we care about, we are as much to blame for the continuation of avoidable problems as anyone else. In the words of my mentor, Michael Jackson, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”