No one wants to be the seven months pregnant lady, yelling at a Malawian sitting legless in a rusty wheelchair on the crumbling edge of a gas station triangled between a red dirt ditch, smoldering trash pile, and mango grove. But that lady, I was. Eyes fixated on the apple squishing at his lips.
Rain fell; water balloons bouncing off my own baby belly and bursting off my bony shoulder blades. Just me and this man, the boy and the apple, and the rain.
In my defense- if there can be a defense to this scene- I had just given that apple to the boy. The boy walked to the back and gave it to the man. The man held it up to his mouth and I lost mine at the confrontation this man had pimped out this boy for food and I was complicit in the scheme.
That day was a blistering reminder we cannot remain blissfully ignorant of our transactions. What we do is part of a bigger picture.
That was almost ten years ago.
With the ubiquity of smart phones and simultaneous dawn of social media, immediate access to global information sits in our hand. As global consumers it feels either irresponsible or ignorant to pretend like we do not know how the way we spend our money ripples back to affect all those along the supply line.
I started an experiment in wardrobe purchases (because it was bothering me that I didn’t know if that clearance tank I got at the big box store was sewn by a woman fired for having a miscarriage on the job with working conditions that derived the death, or if those leggings sewn in Bangladesh were done by a man recently beaten for trying to unionize against false pay slips).
Sixth months ago, I began only buying clothes for myself second hand or from clothing companies that were forwardly embracing both rights of their workers and healthy environmental practices. (Finding things for the kids has been much harder, but that is a discussion for another time and we basically live off kid hand-me-downs anyway.)
No more snagging the dress in the fun print off the clearance rack, barely slowing my cart before heading to the bread aisle.
Peace out, Urban.
Current fashion also aided my endeavors thanks to the snap-crotch leotard-as-shirt making it’s rounds back from the worst depths of the early 90’s to the women’s department. Befuddlingly, these are “in” again and I spent a good five minutes gawking at the absurdity while having a real Hamlet style existential soliloquy moment via one-sided text conversation to my best friend. How are these a thing (again)! Resist, dear women, resist!
Putting that $6 boho shirt back was easy when holding the hanger I heard the lamenting wail of factory women world-round.
I know that feels dramatic and ridiculous and not every article of cheap clothing we buy here bragging about the sale we scored comes at the cost of someone else’s humanity, but….this is the way my brain works and I’m still banking it does more than not.
Yes, the cost is the cost. Clothes made responsibly cost more money to purchase. It makes more sense to buy staples and signature clothing pieces that will withstand the passage of time.
At thirty-four I know what I’m about and my sense of fashion is a little “quirky”, so I also often use the KonMari method and purchase clothes that lift my spirits. The balance to this expense is the reality that my favorite purchase last year is the gray tank I practically stole from the thrift store for 75cents and wear at least twice a week.
Transparency is beginning to happen because you and I as consumers are saying this matters to us. Companies like Target are listening and are making new initiatives in their responsible sourcing processes all the way from the agriculture where the raw materials are produced, to the humanization of the workers and are trying to change their practices.
This Christmas my stocking was filled with organic cotton, fair-trade socks and big booty underwear. Nothing says “I REALLY love you” from my husband than generously gifting extra soft, extra wide panties because we all know that’s what he’s going to bed with until these lovelies disintegrate off my body from overuse because I also have a slight problem with throwing things away.
I leave you with a quote I have rubbed smooth like a worry stone this past decade lifted from the journal of a wise, wise man, Thomas Merton:
” Therefore, if I don’t pretend, like other people, to understand the war, I do know this much: that the knowledge of what is going on only makes it seem desperately important to be voluntarily poor, to get rid of all possessions this instant. I am scared, sometimes, to own anything, even a name, let alone a coin or shares in oil, the munitions, the airplane factories. I am scared to take a proprietary interest in anything for fear that my love of what I own may be killing somebody somewhere.”
Purchasing responsibly resourced clothes is potentially another one of those annoying group projects from school days where I carry the load of work while apathetic partners do diddly- where I conscientiously change the entire mindset of our family’s consumer purchases for the benefit of people I will never know and a future of our planet I will never see.
I’m okay with that. But, I hope with time, you’ll join me.