This is an informational post on my latest zine, My Ethical Clothing Guidebook!
Get the zine
Being my first zine and about a topic I’m super passionate about (more on that below), I wanted to make it accessible to everyone — keeping the price point low. So you can find this on my Etsy below for $2, which covers the basic costs of materials and shipping :-)
About the zine itself
If this is your first time reading, hello!, I'm a graphic designer and illustrator based in Hayward, CA. Environmental justice is a huge passion of mine, starting from my early work at UC Davis running a thrift shop of my own! From there, I became fascinated by the fast fashion economy, the textile waste crisis, and our culture's response to all of that. My emphasis for my design and illustration work is with these topics and more social justice issues.
This was my first zine, and at first I wasn't sure what to make it about. My friend Michelle forwarded me an opportunity for a zine swap, and my friend Bryan has been encouraging me to make one since I haven't before. So I thought with all these different factors converging, a zine would be a great way to share a topic I'm passionate about, educate others, and share something with my community. I've been recently doing some design personal projects around clothing lately (see my other blog post on the subject) so I thought it would be a great subject for my zine as well!
Fashion is such a tricky topic, but it's one we need to confront as consumers. So in the hopes of demystifying the industry and how we can make ethical choices, I made this zine! From here, I'll be walking through the main points in case any are confusing or pique your interest from what little text I could include in the zine itself. (aka, this is all that I actually wanted to write but had to restrain myself for the zine!)
#1: Opt for used/secondhand clothing first.
The main way we can do better by the environment, our community, and communities around the world is by reducing the amount of stuff we consume -- that holds true for personal care products, disposable items, food (eating smarter/locally) and clothing. How we can do this with our clothes is by choosing clothes that are already in the consumer stream -- garments that others have already bought but no longer want. So this means going to your local thrift shop instead of Urban Outfitters (or insert any popular clothing store), or swapping clothes with your friends or colleagues. In general, it means making decisions to choose clothes that will last a long time, to shop less often, and to own less stuff.
I wanted to note that buying used doesn't mean buying someone's dingy old underpants. What I particularly enjoy are vintage clothing shops, which I included in the zine (Afterlife in San Francisco, ReLove in San Francisco, Racks Boutique in Sacramento, Raggedy Threads in Brooklyn/Los Angeles, and Boro Resale in Detroit). Vintage means the clothes at these places are often decades old (I've seen early as 1940's clothing at Racks!) -- the owners of these shops often scour estate sales, antique fairs, or the internet to find unique items that they can then resell to the public. Vintage clothes tend to be much higher quality than present-day clothes; plus, they're often in a retro style that we don't see anymore. You can think of them as unique collectibles, where few other people in the world are likely to have the same item. As a result, the clothes at vintage shops tend to be more expensive since you're paying for a life-long piece.
If you have a tighter budget or you enjoy combing through racks of clothes, you can buy from consignment stores like Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads Trading Co. Stores like these will buy (nearly any type of) used clothes from community members and resell to the public. Another option is regular used clothing stores like Goodwill. A word of advice is to look for the local version of these shops before going to Crossroads or Goodwill, because by shopping local your money goes back to your community instead of a larger corporate chain.
#2. Buy new items mindfully.
It's an unfortunate reality that our economy and infrastructure isn't set up in a way to allow consumers to get everything secondhand. With clothing, there's specific things like underwear, socks, or even fashion pieces that I can't buy used. So when I do decide I need to buy something new, these are some of the key points I have in mind:
Is this product manufactured by an ethical company?
It's hard to tell from what a company has on their About Us page how truthful they're being; documentaries like The True Cost will show you that companies make claims all the time about their workers' conditions but don't always necessarily mean it. So aside from looking up a company's About page from my phone at the store, I'll look at the garment for more telling details, like the following:
Is this product manufactured in our country?
Workers who make clothes (because nearly all of our clothes are made by a person, somewhere in the world) who are based in the US are usually under laws that require proper working conditions -- minimum wage, for example. But it's rare to come across clothes that are made in the US for these exact reasons; it's more expensive for companies to manufacture. (I don't even know of many brands who do this; Reformation for women's and Bare Knuckles for men's are some. Most will be small, independent designers or companies that have built their infrastructure with workers in mind.)
When the tag on your shirt says "Made in Bangladesh," chances are that we can't guarantee that the workers were being treated well or paid a fair wage. An example of this is the Rana Plaza collapse a couple years ago -- these types of conditions for garment workers are widespread. (Any research on the details of sweatshops will point you to this reality)
Aside from working conditions, the carbon footprint of our clothing is dramatically reduced when it's manufactured in our country. Meaning, it doesn't have to fly overseas just to get to us.
What material is this item made from?
There are many hot debates out there about what materials are better, why you should go with one fabric over another, etc. etc. -- which I won't be getting too much into. As a consumer, I've discerned the below fabrics as those most relevant to the clothes I encounter in my life:
Tencel and lyocell: this is a man-made material that was invented a few decades ago; it's engineered from wood pulp. Because it's derived from a natural material (wood), it's also biodegradable. Tencel can also emulate a variety of other fabrics, including those that aren't so good for the environment (cotton, polyester). For these reason and more, it's one of the more sustainable options for new clothes to be manufactured. (Ethical brands like Patagonia and Reformation love to manufacture with this!)
Hemp and linen: I included these as better options than cotton because hemp and linen are less resource intensive. They don't require nearly as much water as cotton and can last a lot longer. They're derived from natural sources, so they're also biodegradable. They take dye easily, which means less chemical run-off into water streams.
Deadstock/recycled fabric: the jury is out on how beneficial this is for the textile waste crisis, but it's arguably better than buying the below:
Polyester and nylon: you'll find this in the majority of cheap clothes nowadays, which is why the clothes can be so cheap in the first place -- because these materials are so inexpensive to manufacture. But this is the real dark side of cheap fashion, because materials like polyester and nylon are made from the same source: oil. Which means polyester and nylon are essentially types of plastic, which also means when they end up in a landfill (as 3 out of 4 garments do) they don't decompose but instead do all the bad things that plastic does -- namely, leak toxins and pollute the environment. This is one of the main reasons why fast fashion is so bad, because as consumers we get lured into cheap clothing that just ends up in the garbage after a few wears and then pollutes the environment for decades (or longer??)
Can this item be repaired if it breaks or tears?
This has to do with the idea of reducing waste by using something for as long as we possibly can before getting rid of it -- how things used to be. This point also has a lot to do with the above one, because most clothes made from good materials can be easily stitched up if there's a tear or rip. It's with cheaply made items, especially those of polyester, where rips cause trouble and you'd be better off throwing the entire thing away (which, again, is a bad habit to have!)
#3: Remember that ethical shopping is a journey.
You might feel shocked, scared, overwhelmed, discouraged, or even invigorated as you get into this process. My own journey with ethical clothing has been a long one, supplemented by deep learning on the subject and years of practice. But I'm passionate about this subject and enjoy it so much because it's an exciting place to be as a consumer: deciding who you'll give your money to, how you want to dress and stand out, and what you want to do with your own agency. So I hope with this, you can feel some of that same vigor to learn, practice, and reach greater understanding. Good luck!!
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