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  1. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe July 14, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

    And cue the libertarians saying this is better for them than unemployment in three…two…one…

  2. Sarah J
    Sarah J July 14, 2010 at 1:04 pm |

    The other problem with Fast Fashion is that it’s priced for people who don’t make a lot of money. The thing that annoyed me in the Naomi Wolf piece–other than her gender-essentializing about women’s gatherer nature, gag–was that she basically said that the solution is to buy more expensive stuff; basically, to suck it up. Except there are many, many people out there who can’t. Who have to clothe families in what little they make (Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about her Wal-Mart coworkers’ inability to afford the clothes they sold at Wal-Mart in Nickel and Dimed).

    Sort of like telling people to buy organic locally-sourced and much more expensive food instead of fast food. The solution is complicated.

  3. Ami
    Ami July 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm |

    Sarah J…I agree totally and that was my first thought too. Cheap clothes are great for those of us who cannot and will not buy more expensive items.

    I actually feel this way about vintage shopping too. What should be cheaper by virtue of being second run is often comparably priced to brand new items on the sale racks of Target, Kohl’s, etc. This is the case at least where I live, (Austin, TX) where there are many “trendy” vintage shops that are super choosy about what items they will sell. In this case Goodwill is the much more reasonable solution, but finding quality times there is a crap shoot.

    This whole issue has been a concern for me, and I know what my personal solution is…I need to just buy LESS clothes all together. I can’t afford to buy more expensive things, but I CAN certainly afford to go shopping less overall and try to make more responsible choice.

    But, lordy, have I ever been conditioned to feel better through buying new things! Sheesh!

  4. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 14, 2010 at 1:31 pm |

    As a dedicated anti-consumerist and hater of all things to do with recreational shopping, I really feel I need to point out that it’s not just cheap clothes or goods. It really isn’t. You’ll find designer clothes made in the same EPZ’s that produce the goods that end up in a Walmart or Dots. Even expensive designer shoes all tend to be produced in an EPZ in China with no union and no liveable wage.

    Klein pointed out in her book No Logo that the bulk of the profits from these companies went to marketing and branding–it became passe to have factories stateside or even be associated with producing goods–it wasn’t to keep things affordable as much as to make room for these new “expenses.” Another “expense” is the remuneration for the executives of these companies. They get far more in salary and bonuses than their lowest-paid workers–the ratio exceeds even that of the 1950’s.

    If we’re going to take steps against this, I think we need more than a boycott (don’t forget, companies love to coopt this crap). And we are going to have to remember that it’s the vast majority of clothing–including expensive designer clothing–that are produced in these conditions, not just cheap clothing.

  5. Julia Bascom
    Julia Bascom July 14, 2010 at 1:35 pm |

    So, how is an obscenely tall, somewhat obese teenager with sensory and anxiety issues which make shopping extremely stressful and very limited time, to say nothing of virtually no nearby stores, supposed to embrace slow fashion?

    I feel very conflicted about this, because while I understand the destructive and otherwise problematic nature of big box stores, etc….I use them for a reason. I have yet to find any sort of reasonable, practical alternative. Convenience is a big draw, whether or not it should be.

    Argh, confusion!

  6. IkaTaii
    IkaTaii July 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm |

    Here here for thrifting. You do have to spend more time at it if you have specific needs, but I’ve found that just occasionally popping into the local thrift shop and nosing around to see if there’s anything neat occasionally handles a lot of those shopping cravings while simultaneously being more environmentally and socially positive.

    And, in the end, that’s the refuge of working class people who can’t afford even the discounted Wal Mart or Target Fast Fashions, so the price argument leads there in the end.

    As part of a Slow Fashion movement, I think it would also be good to encourage repurposing and mending old garments whenever possible. Basically, instead of running out and buying a new dress because you’re feeling blue, settle in with a sewing kit and redo the buttons on that dress you loved but has seen better days, or take the ratty old t-shirt and slice it up into a cute strappy top for clubbing.

    Now I need to find a needle and thread and fix that cute teal top collecting dust in my closet…

  7. Beth
    Beth July 14, 2010 at 1:49 pm |

    I’m pro helping women in the developing world, but people don’t seem to realize that if sweat shops don’t exist, women and children end up in the sex trade instead. I’m not saying sweat shops are good, I’m just saying, there are worse alternatives.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm | *

      …and there’s also the alternative of paying women in the developing world a living wage. That doesn’t have to mean an American living wage, but it should be enough to cover what people need. That is very, very possible. “There are worse alternatives” isn’t a great argument.

  8. Lori
    Lori July 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm |

    It’s a small thing, but I hope we can be clear that all women do not “love” to shop. I and many others truly do not like to shop. I would very much appreciate if feminist bloggers would very scrupulously avoid flat generalizations like “women love to shop.” However, the broader point, about women exploiting other women through cheap clothing, stands. I also try to do as much thrifting as possible. (Socks and underwear remain problems, however, because I just won’t buy ‘em used).

  9. orgostrich
    orgostrich July 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm |

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but isn’t saying “there’s no denying that women love to shop” more than a little sexist? I’m a woman, I hate shopping, and I certainly don’t use it to make myself feel better when I’m sad.

  10. Xeginy
    Xeginy July 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm |

    Trying to shop “responsibly” can be problematic, as posters above me have already pointed out. The issue of expense is obviously the hardest one to get around. Sure, I could buy the cheap t-shirt at Target, or I could buy this shirt, made from a local company and produced in a local factory, which I know is run legally and fairly…oh, wait, it’s $30 more. Crap.

    I believe this is an outcrop of our consumerist culture. I don’t think the answer is to shop responsibly, the answer is to stop shopping altogether. While I’m not guilty of clothes shopping, I am guilty of other kinds of shopping – namely books, movies, comics and comic memorabilia. I can justify some of it by saying, “I’m buying this to support a webcomic” which is great and everything, but at the end of the day I’m still loading up on crap that I really don’t need. I don’t do research into where this stuff is made, because I don’t think I would like the answer. It makes me feel guilty and hypocritical just writing this. And I don’t think it would help to shop “responsibly” in this case, because the price would skyrocket and I wouldn’t be able to afford anything.

    So that’s the answer. Stop shopping. Whether we are guilty of clothes shopping or trinket shopping or furniture shopping or whatever, just stop. Don’t buy less, don’t buy “responsibly,” just stop altogether. Which is easier said than done. Has anyone managed to do it?

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm | *

      I really don’t think that “stop shopping” is the answer — as you said, no one is actually going to do that. So what’s the point in promoting something that is wholly unrealistic?

      I think Aminatou’s broader point is well-made. We do have a cultural ethos that embraces more stuff, and a cultural ethos that wants more stuff for cheap. It’s not just clothing — we also want large amounts of cheap and easy food, huge houses and enormous cars that run on cheap gas, etc etc. Yes, obviously, people need homes and cars and clothing. It’s not just the wealthy or middle-class who should have access to homes and cars and clothing that they can afford. The difficulty comes in shifting our ideas of what we “need,” in changing cultural norms, and in divorcing the idea of “stuff” with prosperity and happiness.

      It also requires serious practical shifts. If American public transportation were better, people wouldn’t need as many cars, and wouldn’t demand such cheap gas. If we had more basic guarantees of leisure time — paid sick days and parental leave, paid vacation time, a living wage that didn’t require people to work two or three jobs instead of being able to live on one, a welfare system that provided an adequate safely net — perhaps we wouldn’t put such a premium on convenience and time saved. Obviously these things are as much an outcome of our culture as they are a factor that shapes it, but some fundamental shifts in policy wouldn’t hurt in the big picture.

  11. Ardiril@gmail.com
    Ardiril@gmail.com July 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm |

    Call this reaction ‘male blinders’ if you will, but $100 for a dress is cheap?!

  12. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers July 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm |

    …and there’s also the alternative of paying women in the developing world a living wage. That doesn’t have to mean an American living wage, but it should be enough to cover what people need. That is very, very possible.

    That isn’t really something you can promote by buying at thrift stores, however.

    I am very much in favor of paying people a living wage, but in order to support it with your consuming habits, you have to find a company that’s already doing it, and support them. I don’t know if there are any such companies, and I suspect the answer is no.

    I also believe that any solution which boils down to “Women: work harder at what you’re already doing to achieve a result that is not different!” will fail. Women are already overworked. Shopping at a thrift store takes much more time than shopping at Target because the thrift store won’t have multiple items in the exact same cut and the exact same size; especially if you’re a mother and you *have* to shop for clothes frequently, I’ve found that thrift stores are a nightmare of mislabeled sizes, different seasons and different types of clothes jumbled together, and you actually have to make your kids try on the stuff to see if it fits. (As for myself, I’d never use a thrift store because on the very rare occasions when I buy clothes, I find something that has a cut and fit I like and then I buy six of it in different colors and blam, I’m done. But I’m not typical of female clothes shoppers in that way.) Mending clothes takes time, and women have jobs now, so “just learn to sew and fix rips in your clothes or reattach buttons” is cutting into already scant free time. Basically, Americans are starved for time and you will never, ever, succeed in any kind of movement that is dependent on Americans taking more time to do something they were already doing in a less socially responsible but more time-effective way.

    I don’t know what the solution is. I want to find someone who’s doing it right and reward them with my money, but there doesn’t appear to be anyone. I’m not going to go for a solution that takes me more time because I already don’t have time, and I’m pretty sure the same is true of most people; besides, the solutions “consume less”, “use thrift stores” and “mend clothes yourself” don’t actually do women in the developing world *any* good whatsoever. I want to give them more money, not less money. But then, solutions that involve large numbers of Americans spending more money won’t work either, because most of us aren’t rich. So what do we do?

  13. KJ
    KJ July 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm |

    I also find the generalization that ‘women love to shop’ really annoying and sexist. I’m a woman. I don’t love to shop. I don’t hate it either, but I’m pretty neutral about the whole thing. I prefer to buy clothes that will last a long time (and I wear things until they have holes in them) and to buy used items. This isn’t always possible, but most Goodwills and other thrift stores have a more-than decent selection of clothes in a wide variety of sizes and styles. As a bonus, many thrift stores support charities, such as domestic violence shelters. It may take time to figure out which thrift stores in your area have a decent selection, but once you find them, you can find outfits for almost any occasion.

  14. CB
    CB July 14, 2010 at 2:36 pm |

    “the average American household throws away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year”

    Holy cow! I can’t even begin to relate to that. I wear stuff until it falls apart. I suggest other people do the same.

  15. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. July 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm |

    People seem to be missing the point of what “Slow Fashion” means. It’s not necessarily code for more expensive, but it’s the counter to Fast Fashion, where the expectation is the garment will not live past its (very short) trend-determined expiration date. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you can’t shop at Target, etc. It just means that you won’t be getting rid of it or letting it hang unworn in your closet because it doesn’t make you feel crazy sexy cool anymore. It’s really an argument against accumulation.

    I would also add, with the caveat that it’s again complicated, that a $30 item that lasts two years because it’s so cheaply made, is not actually more expensive than a $60 item that lasts four. Of course if $30 is all you can get your hands on, you do what you have to do. But the idea of Slow Fashion, as I understand it, is to embrace bigger picture thinking- thinking about the lifespan of the garment, the conditions it was made under, etc- and integrating that into your shopping habits.

  16. Xeginy
    Xeginy July 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm |

    Though I understand the solution “don’t shop” is problematic (and not really practical, I know) what are the other solutions?

    Thrift stores? If you’re childless, and have enough time to devote to it. Also, plus-size shopping in thrift stores isn’t very easy, as I know from experience. It turns into a day-long adventure that leaves me exhausted and furious and with a lot of clothes that I don’t really want but hey, I need clothes, and plus-size retail stores are expensive.

    Mending? Sure, if you know how. And, again, if you have the time. A woman with a job and children doesn’t really have the time to pop out the sewing machine and mend the inevitable rips and tears in her children’s clothes, even if she knows how.

    It seems as though the solutions that are presented here are really only viable for people that have the time and skill to do them. What about everybody else?

  17. Odonata79
    Odonata79 July 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm |

    First-time commenter here, addressing the difficulties of finding clothing that isn’t prohibitively expensive and still ethically responsible. I do my best, but am on an ever-shrinking income. A year or so ago, No Sweat was closing their retail department, and I was able to get a bunch of clothing at a really crazy discount, enough to last me for several years of steady wear. Another option is to gather a group of people together, find someone with a business license, and place a wholesale order through companies like No Sweat or Alternative Apparel. It takes more work to do it this way, but is more affordable, and in the case of No Sweat, is currently the only way to purchase their clothing at all. So that’s one option.

    Thrift store shopping is time consuming and difficult, but I try to stick with it. I purchase one pair of shoes per season and wear them till they wear out, resoling them whenever possible, and buying U.S. or union-made whenever possible – this REALLY limits one’s options for stylish footwear, let me tell you. I have the luxury of a fairly easy-going professional environment, however, and can get away with wearing the same outfits over and over again without anyone caring what I look like. I totally recognize that most people don’t have this option, and when you have kids it’s even harder because of the increased peer pressure. (Grew up in second hand clothes, and boy howdy I remember what that was like.)

    These days, I have 4 pairs of pants, 7 dresses (4 of which I’ve made & three are handmedowns or thrifted) which can serve as jumpers, and several shirts & t-shirts from thrift and/or union-made sources. This, again, is totally a product of my privilege as a childless single lady with more time than money, and some rudimentary sewing skills, and I recognize it’s not feasible for most people. It did require that I let go of the idea of being fashionable, however, and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to maintain this once I transition into a more traditional office environment. (My sewing skills being VERY rudimentary.)

    I guess the main thing I try to remember is that there is no one thing that we as consumers can do that will fix this problem, but carefully and cautiously considering our consumer choices is a good start. Critiquing and fighting for better labor practices both outside our respective nations. and within them, is the next step.

  18. The High Cost of Cheap Fashion « Women Born Transsexual

    […] also: Retail: It’s Complicated by Aminatou Sow over on Feministe: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/07/14/retail-its-complicated/ Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment […]

  19. Anony Mouse
    Anony Mouse July 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm |

    I used to volunteer with an international labor watchdog group. Their policy on boycotting was that they would promote it *only* if that is what the workers themselves requested.

  20. Still learning
    Still learning July 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm |

    I often have trouble with this same issue (and because of that, I found this article and comment thread really interesting, thank you!) Because of time and health issues, there is very little I can do on a daily basis (volunteer work and traditional forms of activism are pretty much out of the question), so I try my hardest to live my life ethically in the little everyday ways I can. Something like being responsible with my clothing purchases matters an awful lot to me.

    But because of those same time and health issues, and money issues, shopping at Primark where I can dash in, pick up things I know will probably fit me without having to try them on, and leave with whatever I need for hardly any money, is basically the only option. I usually just shop as little as possible, but when I’m freezing because I have no winter clothes or suddenly gain a lot of weight and can’t fit into anything I own, well, I’m going to buy stuff.

    So I’m constantly stuck wanting to do my clothes shopping differently, and not knowing any viable options to make that happen. Mending does sound like a good option, but it unfortunately requires that the person has a good collection of clothes to begin with – and that they have held together enough to do anything with, which is unlikely to be the case if you shop at cheap places. There are just so many problems with every possible solution.

  21. Shoshie
    Shoshie July 14, 2010 at 3:19 pm |

    It’s not the fault of the OP, but posts like this make me really, really sad. I’d love to shop responsibly, but I have a hard enough time just clothing myself since I’m size 22-24. Fat women have an even harder time than just finding something that fits, because we have to contend with stereotypes that we are sloppy and don’t take care of ourselves. So we have an even larger expectation to wear clothing that fits and is perceived as “modern” or “stylish.” Furthermore, many of us have weight cycled a number of times, and have clothing of many sizes in our closets. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to just keep this clothing (though altering it might work). In fact, one of the first actions that helped me accept my body was to separate out the clothing I wore and didn’t wear in my closet. The clothing I didn’t wear (mostly clothing that didn’t fit) got donated.

    Basically, I understand and agree with the motivation behind this post, but I think things are even more complicated than you have detailed here.

  22. Burn
    Burn July 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm |

    >>It seems as though the solutions that are presented here are really only viable for people that have the time and skill to do them. What about everybody else?

    Start teaching extremely basic home ec in schools at a young age? Kids can sew. I was lucky that my mother (who was a working mother, for the record) taught me some basic sewing skills when I was 7, which I used to mend clothes with holes in them, and turn unmendable clothes into clothes for stuffed animals and dolls, or used for crafts. The burden of fixing clothes should not be entirely on women–it should be presented as normal to want to fix broken and torn things as much as possible rather than buying a replacement. (I know guys who fix their clothing too.)

  23. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm |

    Beth, in some places women get told they’ll work in sweatshops and get trafficked instead. Think Saipan. Also, at the sweatshops in Saipan at least, women were forced to get abortions when they got pregnant. Bush, towards the end of his term, finally passed laws to bring Saipan’s labor and immigration laws more in line with the US (Saipan is one of our commonwealths or territories – I forget the difference between the two), and they should have gone into effect in 2009. I’m not sure what’s happened there since.

    I have a hard time buying the “there are worse alternatives” argument because I have trouble deciding which is worse for women. Keep in mind, also, that MANY places have or had sweatshops in Saipan: Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, Wal-Mart, and so on.

  24. kerry
    kerry July 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm |

    i’m kind of surprised by the responses to this post that are essentially “i don’t have enough time or money to shop as it is and i am not willing to change my behavior.” if you’re not willing to spend more time/money shopping or learn to sew, then you’re going to be buying some things made in sweatshops. this is kinda like saying “i’m not willing to stop eating meat” and being surprised to learn that animals die to make your meals. i mean, i understand that everyone has constraints, and it’s really difficult/impossible for everyone to forego fast fashion completely, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t _try_: mend one pair of jeans instead of buying new. buy one sweater used instead of buying all new. little contributions are better than nothing! i really would have expected a bit more enthusiasm or at least strategy-sharing rather than this defensive/defeatist attitude.

    and so, since i called for strategy-sharing, here’s one idea: have a clothing swap party. get a bunch of your friends together, everyone brings several items they never wear anymore, and you all try on and trade. everyone gets “new” (to you) stuff without spending any money OR going to a thrift store, and you get to have (a lot of!) fun and spend time with friends as well. stop shopping, start swapping!

  25. AS
    AS July 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm |

    shop on etsy.com! All of the goods are handmade or vintage, and are available in a wiiide range of prices. AND, etsy shops are mostly run by women, so you can support women all over the world who are making their own goods or selling vintage ones, and profiting off of what they sell!

  26. Meg
    Meg July 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm |

    While this article makes some very good points (I’m a huge fan of wearing well-made clothing until it literally falls apart, but I never was “trendy”), I’d like to point out that it’s difficult — and unfair — to tar all suppliers to major box-chains with one brush. My uncle has a dress company that supplies Sam’s Club, and maybe some others. They’re also in Macy’s and some department stores. They make both everyday dresses for little girls, and special occasion-wear for little girls (Easter dresses, first communion, Christmas dresses, fancy stuff only grandparents would buy their Grandkids…).

    One of my other uncles does quality control. His job involves going to factories not only to see if they’re making the dresses up to the quality standards, but to see the factories. They’ve yanked orders from places they found weren’t treating their workers right.

    These big box stores put in orders with lots of companies. Some of those companies don’t have ethical practices. But some do. You need to go by label and brand, not chain-store. And even that is tricky, as I think the company may sometimes make a ‘house label’ for some stores.

  27. KJ
    KJ July 14, 2010 at 4:12 pm |

    Xeginy, mending a hole isn’t hard and doesn’t take a long time. You can do it while you watch a movie with a needle and thread- you don’t need a sewing machine. There is a initial learning curve, but on the whole, most people can learn how to mend, given a little training. I think the problem is that sewing classes have gone the way of the dodo at most schools. And that is a pity- everyone should know how to sew on a button, hem a skirt or pants, mend a rip and patch jeans. None of those things are hard, but if you weren’t taught them, either by a parent or in school, it can be intimidating to pick up the needle. The problem is structural, but I encourage everyone to teach themselves basic sewing rather than dispose of torn clothes.

  28. Shiyiya
    Shiyiya July 14, 2010 at 4:34 pm |

    Call this reaction ‘male blinders’ if you will, but $100 for a dress is cheap?!

    Can’t be anything specifically male because that was my thought. The hell? Mainstream stores are RIDICULOUS. If that’s actually inexpensive for a supposed cheap knock-off store? I’m gonna keep going to the thrift store (and wearing gifts from my grandmother). That is a goddamn lot of money. Am I seriously that out of touch and $100 is really considered cheap (I’m only bloody eighteen), or is this LA/NYC upper/middle class privileged white woman “cheap”?

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm | *

      I interpreted the $100 figure as including multiple items — dresses (plural) and accessories.

  29. Ami
    Ami July 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm |

    It is really unfortunate how critical skills like mending/basic sewing are no longer being taught in school. Those skills would serve this whole issue perfectly.

    It’s that whole sewing=women’s work. Women’s work=lesser. Therefore don’t teach it…instead of “Hey, wait…EVERYONE needs to eat and be clothed. This may be important after all!”

  30. Naamah
    Naamah July 14, 2010 at 5:02 pm |

    You can blame Barbie, Mall Madness, the sexualizing and gendering of kids and their toys, but there’s no denying that women love to shop.

    I do?

    Really?

    Must be one of those woman things I only do while sleepwalking, like wanting to have a baby, painting my toenails, cooking elaborate seven-course meals, and watching the Lifetime channel while perusing Martha Stewart’s magazine. I am told I like that stuff, too. It’s downright weird that I don’t remember it.

    And it’s a pity I don’t remember liking to shop, because it would make hating to shop and often crying when I get home a whole lot more palatable.

    And, forgive me if I misunderstood, you could have been saying you got several dresses and some accessories for $100, but $100 for a single dress? I have never paid that. I have never been able to afford that for a single item of clothing. That is not cheap! $100 is four tee shirts, two to four pairs of the expensive jeans I have to buy to fit my short, fat self depending on if I can catch them on sale.

    I appreciate the overall point of this article, however, and believe that we should pay more attention to where our clothing comes from. I don’t have that much latitude when shopping, though, because I am automatically sized out of most stores by either my orca ass or my corgi legs. I have to treasure hunt to find clothes, and that is emotionally savage when you have body image issues, an anxiety disorder, and are easily overstimulated by sensory input. I buy what I can afford, both monetarily and in terms of spoons — thrifting is very hard for me, going to store after store is worse. Is stuff really made to be worn a few times and then tossed? My clothes are cheap and they don’t do that. I buy cheap-ass clothes and wear them for years. I wear what I have until it falls apart and I can no longer repair it. Then I do something else with it, like use them for rags or painting clothes or kitten bedding or something. So I’m a “good” consumer in that regard, I guess.

    What would be swell is if ethical and independent suppliers would include clothes for a wider variety of body sizes on a more reliable basis. It’s hard to choose an ethical option when there is nothing you can wear available to you.

    Also, if you live in a small midwestern town, your options for places to shop are generally crap. Big box stores are the norm. I think getting ethically-sourced stuff into these stores would be incredibly helpful.

  31. Kristen
    Kristen July 14, 2010 at 5:33 pm |

    having just read “Cheap: The high cost of discount culture” (good read btw), i’m eternally conflicted about honesty regarding my (potential) true desires for abstaining from consumption and the ubiquitous messages i get everyday to shop. i disagree with the statement that “whats liberating for Western women is a system built literally on the backs of women in the developing world.” how can we put the blame on the women buying these clothes when there are many women who have such very little buying power? i;m sure this has been brought up fullforce upthread…

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 5:36 pm | *

      i disagree with the statement that “whats liberating for Western women is a system built literally on the backs of women in the developing world.” how can we put the blame on the women buying these clothes when there are many women who have such very little buying power? i;m sure this has been brought up fullforce upthread…

      Because comparatively and generally, Western women have incredible buying power when contextualized globally?

      No, not every single Western woman has significant buying power. But many Western women do. American women, on average, have much more buying power than women in developing countries. The fact that many Western women also do not have much buying power does not make untrue the statement that buying power is heavily skewed.

      1. Jill
        Jill July 14, 2010 at 5:37 pm | *

        Oh and I say all of this as a person with an enormous closet full of clothes, who loves fashion, and who thinks that creative expression through clothing is a positive and good thing. I’m not trying to jump on people who recognize that ethical shopping is hard, and that most of us don’t do it anywhere near 100%.

  32. Bushfire
    Bushfire July 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm |

    I can’t believe how much clothing Americans throw away. I feel like that statistic must be exaggerated because I rarely throw out any textiles. If clothing I’m getting rid of is still useable I give it to Goodwill and if it’s not useable I make it a rag and continue cleaning with it for years. I probably throw out about two pounds of textiles a year and that study said 68! I try to shop at thrift stores whenever I can but I find with work clothes it’s often not possible. It’s too bad that in our culture you have to be wearing new, stylish, expensive clothing to be taken seriously as a professional. Much fewer people would be exploited if we could all wear old clothing all the time. I think one side of this issue is changing society’s attitude about appearance, which includes a lot of classism.

  33. La Lubu
    La Lubu July 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm |

    What does it mean for feminism when women are primarily responsible for creating appalling environments for other women?

    Hold. The. Phone. The multimillion dollar union-busting industry wasn’t created by women, nor is it primarily staffed by women. I can’t help but notice that the ethical option of buying from clothing suppliers that pay organized workers good wages and benefits wasn’t mentioned. This was an option in our feminist past—the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union produced a lot of clothing back in the day.

    Supporting labor unions throughout the world and supporting affliated or allied worker organizations will do more to raise the floor for textile and clothing workers than shopping at thrift stores. The Maquila Solidarity Network, Human Rights Watch, the Multinational Monitor, Jobs With Justice’s Grassroots Global Justice and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center are all good resources for learning about worker struggles globally.

    Why aren’t the struggles of women workers considered as feminism? Why isn’t the history of women workers considered as part of feminist history?

    Also: good Maude do I loathe shopping. It’s a thankless chore, like doing the dishes or cutting the grass. Unlike those chores, it doesn’t come with a sense of satisfaction for a job well done though—more like a sense of depression at seeing my hard-earned money evaporate so quickly. Even if I really like a piece of clothing, and really need to replace some clothing….it’s depressing to spend money on clothes. Even well-constructed clothes aren’t durable items. I’ve spent more than $100 on single-item pieces of clothing; boots and leather jackets. Other than that…nahh.

    I agree with Naamah on the lack of good thrift stores in the midwest. My city isn’t all that small, but finding wearable clothes in smaller adult sizes in the thrift store is dicey. You basically have to make it your second job as far as time committment. Great place to shop for kids’ clothing; lousy for any woman past puberty.

    The statement about women being responsible for this situation really bothered me. Women end up shopping for the whole family ‘cuz it’s a thankless time suck that gets shunted off to them (complete with the blame for not spending too much). Now we get to be blamed for our lack of ethical choices for clothing? Don’t men wear clothes, too?

  34. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm |

    Just a comment on mending clothing versus buying anything:

    Not buying anything as an alternative isn’t great, because then, instead of sweat shops, these women (and men, to a lesser extent) will just be unemployed. Find the stores and lines that are stocked with fair-wage clothing, and buy that because it drives up demand for those products, creating new jobs for the women who are otherwise subject to slave labor because they too have bills to pay.

    Maybe this is a starting place? http://www.newdream.org/marketplace/shop_sweatfree.html

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm | *

      I don’t think Aminatou is saying that we should never ever buy from big box stores, or that we should all sew all of our own clothes, or that we should all thrift everything we wear. Rather, she’s raising some valid points about American consumption, and how that consumption has created serious problems world-wide. Thrifting some of her clothes, as she says, is “better than nothing.” And even small things — thrifting sometimes, buying sweatshop-free sometimes, mending your own clothes sometimes – is better than nothing. I’m sort of surprised there’s so much push-back on this.

  35. Lisa
    Lisa July 14, 2010 at 7:00 pm |

    Just a link regarding the first paragraph, I was reminded of this which is in relation to attitudes towards women and shopping:
    http://www.john-leech-archive.org.uk/1851/ladies-of-creation-4.htm

  36. April
    April July 14, 2010 at 7:10 pm |

    This isn’t a criticism of the article, but rather several comment discussions.

    It’s become predictable at this point how quickly any suggestion on how to be a more globally ethical human citizen is met with endless excuses for why no one should be expected to to actually follow through with the suggestion. Suggestions to feed kids healthier meals are met with “some women don’t have time/money/skills and can’t be expected to do anything other than order Burger King every night! What a classist, ableist suggestion!” And now with buying clothing that doesn’t support abuse and inhumane treatment of women, we’re actually suggesting that, having full knowledge of these practices and a relatively easy way of finding out who to avoid supporting, some women need not bother considering those things.

    I am not a super-enthusiastic shopper. For one thing, I’m too fucking poor to afford to buy clothes whenever I want something newer or cuter. Two, I tend toward Alara Rogers’ method: I find one cut or style that I like, and buy several in different colors. This costs very little, and I’m by no stretch of the imagination an economically privileged individual. This article has also given me much to think about, as I’m unfamiliar with the labor practices of Target’s suppliers, which is the place I most frequently shop. This article, and this information, is useful and important. I don’t see a way that this article– or the many like it on this topic and others– will ever be able to avoid leaving out a small percentage of people who, due to a lack of privilege in one way or another, are unable to fully participate in changing and being active against systems of oppression. We can, of course, continue to fight for fair wages and changes in the larger structure of said oppression, but it’s neglectful to leave out the importance of educating the public on issues like these, and encouraging those who are able to buy organic, take more time and/or energy to buy sustainable clothing or sew their own, make home-cooked meals, boycott Wal-Mart, etc.

    There are few people who can actually absolutely not consider the greater impact of their choices in clothing. While it’s important to not shame the very few individuals and families who absolutely do not have any time, any money, or any ability to do this, it is also counter-productive to speak, as is being done on this thread, with such contempt at the very notion that we encourage and urge people to attempt adopting more sustainable, ethical, humanitarian, and feminist practices and shopping habits. It’s been established that Slow Fashion absolutely does not equal spending more money. And the vast majority of people can make time. How would you feel if you were the exploited sweatshop worker in Bangladesh? Seriously? Hearing people essentially say that they need your cheap, painful, exploitative labor to get by in the US or other Western country? When they’re living in abject poverty and your “USian” life is practical wealth by material comparison? The broken record “reminder” that not everyone can afford to fit in a little human compassion into their everyday practices is unnecessary.

  37. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 14, 2010 at 7:15 pm |

    @KJ – I can sew, I did home ec at school, but I can’t see. So now what?

    So many people are missing the point by saying “Buy vintage”, or “Make do and mend!” or “Look on etsy!”. Sorry, but they’re all options for small-size wearing TABs with free time, free energy, and spare money.

    I hate clothes shopping, I hate it. It’s bad enough buying clothes when all I have to do is wheel into a shop that I know is accessible, has my size, where the clothes are laid out in a way that even my limited vision can spot something, and where I can get in and out quickly. Even better if the shop has an online outlet, as the nearest branch is 25 miles away from where I live (which is a village with no public transport).

    Secondhand/thrift stores won’t have my size, usually aren’t accessible (they’re either in old buildings or crammed so full of shite that it’s impossible to navigate them), and are often more expensive than chains. Etsy? No thanks, I want to look like a normal 30-odd year old, not a princess or a cupcake, or a woodland elf. I’m also not American, so on the off-chance I could find something reasonably priced and in my size, I’d have to pay out of the nose for shipping as most of the sellers on Etsy are Stateside.

    I want to be an ethical consumer, I try to source food and clothing from transparent, ethical sources, but ultimately I have to eat and I need covering up. Doing that at even a basic level on disability benefits is hard enough. I rarely buy clothes as I can’t afford to do it more than once or twice a year, and I wouldn’t even be able to do that if I restricted my buying choices to non-imported, ethically made garments in my size. Living in a Snuggie and nightdress is not always practical, so unfortunately supermarket clothes are often my only choice.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 7:28 pm | *

      I rarely buy clothes as I can’t afford to do it more than once or twice a year, and I wouldn’t even be able to do that if I restricted my buying choices to non-imported, ethically made garments in my size.

      Again, no one is saying that you should restrict your clothing choices only to non-imported, ethically-made garments. Slow fashion is not the fashion version of veganism. No one is saying “NEVER buy clothes from X, Y or Z place, or made in X, Y or Z way.” What people are saying is that a little something is better than nothing. Mend a shirt, if you can and if you have time, instead of buying a new one. Sometimes we don’t have time. Sometimes we need a new shirt. Ok! But the suggestion that we think through our choices, and try to make responsible choices when and where we can, is not missing the point. I would actually suggest that people who are saying that no one can be ethical 100% of the time so why try are missing the point, since no one on this thread has made the argument that we should all just wear recycled feed bags for the rest of our lives (even in the post, Aminatou mentions shopping at Forever 21, so).

  38. kristen
    kristen July 14, 2010 at 7:19 pm |

    I was tryin to get to where laluba is going. Women being responsible bothers me. Sorry first time commemter.

  39. C...
    C... July 14, 2010 at 7:38 pm |

    I kind of have to agree with the $100 comment about being cheap. Not in my world. I try not spend more than $40 on any single item if I can help it and it’s the rare occasion I can splurge on anything over $60. Cheap for who? Maybe the median income is considerably higher where you live. :)

  40. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 14, 2010 at 7:54 pm |

    Also, as an aside, while Wal-Mart and others I mentioned source some of their clothing from Saipan, it’s definitely not every line. (It’s something that was said upstream by someone with a vested interest, but also something I believe to be true from documentaries I’ve seen about these shops). I doubt the average employee at Wal-Mart or Ralph Lauren or wherever is trained to answer questions about the sourcing of various products, but it’s something that we can come together to demand of the chains, or maybe even lobby government to require for transparency’s sake. And actually, I’m not really sure why it’s not already required.

    That said, second April and Jill. If you can’t focus on it, you can’t. Not every person can do every thing, but I, for one, definitely have enough time to address these issues. Thanks to the OP. I’ve been thinking about sourcing recently and this helped solidify my interest.

  41. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm |

    It is really unfortunate how critical skills like mending/basic sewing are no longer being taught in school. Those skills would serve this whole issue perfectly.

    They are taught. My son just took home ec last year, in 7th grade, and learned to cook & mend. Hooray, he can sew on his own Boy Scout patches.

  42. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm |

    PS I hate shopping, always have. Have never owned a “closet full of clothes,” have never wanted to. So I am denying that “women love to shop!”

    1. Jill
      Jill July 14, 2010 at 10:06 pm | *

      PS I hate shopping, always have. Have never owned a “closet full of clothes,” have never wanted to. So I am denying that “women love to shop!”

      Come on, guys. We know that Aminatou was not saying that every woman everywhere likes to shop.

  43. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm |

    there’s no denying that women love to shop.$100! You’ve got to be kidding me. Over and over, I found myself thinking “WHY IS THIS DRESS SO CHEAP?”

    Wut. Wut? …Wut?

    This whole narrative has only the vaguest passing resemblance to my life, and the life of any woman I know. I would like to know more about how to shop ethically, etc., but having a thesis that’s basically like “girls, we gotta stop being shopaholics!” is really odd.

    What does it mean for feminism when women are primarily responsible for creating appalling environments for other women?

    And yeah, other people have pointed this out… but no. No to this. It would be much more fair (and accurate) to say that the industry and various (mostly male) rich capitalists are responsible for playing women off of each other — the same people are enforcing the pressures that both groups of women are subjected to. (In the case of the sweatshop workers it’s way, way worse but it’s not like most of the women in the equation are free of it.)

  44. Sarah
    Sarah July 14, 2010 at 11:21 pm |

    42– Yes, yes, thank you so much! I’m in a somewhat similar situation, being fat and disabled myself. And it really does need to be emphasized that not all women can do these things. Mending clothes? I actually took home ec in middle school (which was miserable for someone with undiagnosed dyspraxia), but none of it actually clicked. I don’t have the manual dexterity for most sewing, and even if I did, I have enough problems with daily tasks as it is. I struggle to do my laundry more than once a month (and sometimes even that doesn’t happen). I understand what Jill is saying, but I really do feel like conversations like that often do erase the experience of women who aren’t middle-class or better, thin, and temporarily abled, and that does need to be brought up.

  45. piratequeen
    piratequeen July 14, 2010 at 11:52 pm |

    Come on, guys. We know that Aminatou was not saying that every woman everywhere likes to shop.

    C’mon, how hard is it to insert the word “some” into a sentence like that? It was like being poked in the eye with the finger of compulsory femininity to read that. Ow ow ow.

  46. Shoshie
    Shoshie July 14, 2010 at 11:57 pm |

    Jill- I think a lot of us who are nit picking are doing so because clothes, sadly, are extremely polarizing. The introduction of this post essentially reiterated the narrative of a moderately wealthy, thin, able-bodied woman going for “retail therapy” at the mall. And many of us were, understandably, frustrated because we don’t fit that narrative. I don’t buy clothing and discard it frivolously. I don’t have the money and, because it’s so difficult to shop for inexpensive plus size clothing, I cherish every $10 t-shirt I can find that actually fits my body. And it sucks to read a post that says, “Ladies, let’s stop buying clothes so frequently from Forever 21! Those deals are really hard to pass up, aren’t they?” because it just throws me back to middle school when all the girls in my class were trading clothes, but I was stuck with my blah boring wardrobe because I was a) fatter and b) poorer than everyone else.

    So, yes. Retail: it’s complicated. I wish that the original post approached with the topic with a little more awareness of how complicated the act of clothing oneself really is for some of us. Even a line or two would have helped here.

  47. lauredhel
    lauredhel July 15, 2010 at 12:09 am |

    I’d look at an op shop (thrift store) if there was one that was local, accessible, and had fat clothes that were comfortable and didn’t bind on painful spots while seated or curled up. Right now? No chance at all.

    I hate shopping. When I find something I can wear, I buy it in several colours and get the hell out of there. I haven’t bought shoes in over a decade. Figure that’s pretty environmentally friendly.

  48. Alison
    Alison July 15, 2010 at 12:15 am |

    To people talking about the $100 portion – reading comprehension, folks:

    I wandered over to Forever21.com, where I found painfully on-trend dresses and a handful of accessories for around $100. $100! You’ve got to be kidding me. Over and over, I found myself thinking “WHY IS THIS DRESS SO CHEAP?”

    Note: dresses and a handful of accessories for around $100. The bit about the “dress” being cheap was clearly referring to ONE of the multiple items included in the previous sentence. If you can buy multiple dresses as well as multiple accessories (likely meaning jewelry, sunglasses, etc) for $100, then it follows that a single one of those dresses was probably fairly cheap in comparison to most other shops.

  49. lori
    lori July 15, 2010 at 12:42 am |

    I agree with @piratequeen (#52); it’s not that hard to put a “some” in there–maybe even a “many.” This is a feminist blog, and the tone of the whole first paragraph DOES reinforce the kind of compulsory femininity that many of us turned to feminism in order to resist, so it’s a little hard to get past. No one is saying that the rest of the post doesn’t make a valid point.

    A purely defensive response by a moderator, to a reasonable critique (rooted in the basic goals of the blog and made responsibly) while understandable, is really annoying. An “oops, you’re right–we’ll strive to do better,” ideally from Aminatou, would be welcome and we would admire you for it. I promise! And it would let the conversation focus strictly on the bigger issues here, which Aminatou has done a good job of identifying.

  50. The Amazing Kim
    The Amazing Kim July 15, 2010 at 12:56 am |

    Another one raising an eyebrow at the commenters defending the right to wear slave-made clothes. It doesn’t take a lot of time to send a form letter to a retailer asking for more fair-trade items.

    Etsy? No thanks, I want to look like a normal 30-odd year old, not a princess or a cupcake, or a woodland elf.

    *Looks up at ceiling, looks down at floor, bites lip, decides not to take the bait.*

  51. Dana
    Dana July 15, 2010 at 1:53 am |

    Come on, guys. We know that Aminatou was not saying that every woman everywhere likes to shop.

    Oh really? Look, I appreciate this article and think there is plenty to take away from it.

    But you know what does my head in? Every time I listen to the radio for too long or am subjected to the TV whilst visiting? Statements about “men love!” or “women love!” whatever. That single issue alone, advertising targeted at men or women, articles written for a certain audience, has seriously fucked with my head. Badly.

    Sometimes just hearing ads for a car show that completely erases the existence of women who like cars, or trying to be buddy-buddy with women about how much “we” love or hate someone can send me into a serious spiral of depression and body dysmorphia.

    So please don’t talk down to people who dare to bring that up, eh? I appreciate the article. I just usually greatly appreciate feminist sites because I don’t have to be slapped in the face by the overwhelming feeling of alienation statements like that create in me.

  52. Asinknits
    Asinknits July 15, 2010 at 1:57 am |

    I can’t help comment here. I make my own clothes – knitting mainly, but I’m also learning to sew. I consider myself to be a feminist. I work full time, don’t have kids, but do have a house full of lazy flatmates who don’t pull their weight with the housework. I have a desk job, so making things with my hands is an enjoyable contrast to my work.

    I hate shopping for clothes, the clothes that are on sale are often not sized small enough for me (I wear an AU 6-8, equivalent to a US 2-4), or they do not look good on my body shape (tunic tops, tops with wide hips and narrow busts). I feel that being able to make my own clothes is a good skill to have, I get to make what I want, and it fits.

    Making quality clothes is cheaper than buying quality clothes (the 70% wool/30% angora jumper I’m wearing now cost AU$30 in materials), and can be really enjoyable. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! And if it’s not for you or not possible for you to do, if you ask a sewer or a knitter to make something for you, many are happy to oblige.

  53. Still learning
    Still learning July 15, 2010 at 3:33 am |

    To all the people who are disagreeing with the commenters who talked about how difficult it is to buy ethically produced clothes: I agree completely that just saying ‘we have no other choice but to financially support the oppression of women in developing countries!’ is not a good option. The problem is, in my mind, what are other options that are actually viable for people who are lacking in money, time, or who have disabilites? People do need clothes sometimes, and it’s a shame to think that the only possible options out there for more ethical clothing are only available to some.

    So maybe it’s just me, but I interpreted a lot of these comments, and meant mine, to be explaining why the obvious solutions are not viable for everyone, in order to encourage more brainstorming to come up with other solutions that are viable. Not to push against the very suggestion that we should think about the ethics of our clothing choices.

  54. Ouyang Dan
    Ouyang Dan July 15, 2010 at 5:16 am |

    Jill, your comment @44, while you addressed a recurring meme on this thread, which is beginning to sound like a broken record (so who can fault you for that), you completely dismissed the entire comment left by Paraxeni. Which, I might add was the first one to address what was blearing in my mind through this whole ordeal here, that yeah, it is all well and good to try to be an ethical shopper, but it took 42 comments for anyone to address the fact that for disabled persons this is not an easy task. Plenty of people taking others to task for making excuses, but sometimes they are not excuses, and you just reinforced that by being dismissive of hir words. All of them, except what suited you. I hope I don’t have to point out why that was really kind of messed up.

    But to everyone else: it is ridiculously difficult to do navigate being an ethical shopper when your options are severely limited, and most of what everyone has mentioned as a solution requires heaps of privilege (because this post is obviously meant to be US centric, I’ll play along). Sure, sewing a button is easy enough, but ripped out knees and crotches in kid’s pants are harder, holes in shirts from playground accidents (or even bullies) require more specific know-how and hand maneuverability that even my most pain-free days don’t allow.

    Hell, I am a US military dependent, but we can’t always buy ethically b/c half the damn time people won’t ship to our overseas APO boxes, so we are stuck with whatever is chugged into our PX/NEX, if we are lucky to have one nearby, or finding the “Big Box Stores” online that will (and this is doubly infuriating if you have a fast-growing child). And if it doesn’t fit I have to pay to ship it back. Even being privileged enough to have a steady paycheck that eats at the budget pretty fast when you have a family.

    You know what that leaves us with: the stores on the local economy, which are many of what was mentioned (H&M is very trendy and popular here, but I would hardly call it “cheap” unless you hit a huge sale), and if we have the spoons to manage the trips.

    Sure, thrift stores are great, if your base has one, and if it is accessible, and if you have the able body to get around all the time, if people on post actually donate to it. I give our hand-me-downs to people I know need them, and have been given likewise. I have even tried to coordinate a clothing-swap party, but most of the other spouses here (most of whom have higher ranking sponsors than me) turn their noses at it (which I acknowledge is part of the problem, but I agree, this post makes a good point that has gotten lost on me in the delivery). I had one return. After expending my spoons, I gave up.

    So, go ahead, and sit in your privilege and shake your fingers at those of us who are “pushing back”, because this post managed to, from the very first sentence, erase a hell of a lot of us with the ridiculousness and the finger wagging. It makes a strong point, but damn. 42 comments before anyone considered that it might be difficult, or US centric, or full of -isms from top to bottom, and then a disabled person was completely dismissed as if sie was just whinging about not wanting to take time to sew a fucking button.

  55. Ohio Teach
    Ohio Teach July 15, 2010 at 5:54 am |

    You say it takes time to change this? How much time? Tillie Olsen was writing about the problem of women exploiting the labor of other women for cheap finery 80 years ago in The New Masses:
    http://workingwomen.wikispaces.com/poem

    Just stop buying that crap and stay out of the malls.

  56. FYouMudFlaps
    FYouMudFlaps July 15, 2010 at 7:15 am |

    Good points, except for the “We’re women and we all love to shop!” deal. I’m a college guy who loves to shop and know plenty of women who don’t. Anyways I have always done this “Slow Shopping” thing, but perhaps in an upper-middle class fashion. Of course I have your standard humor tee type shirts, and a couple with my favorite sports teams. That stuff is nice but gets old fast. So maybe I can get four shirts for $60 from a typical mall store, cool. I would rather have one really stylish and high-quality shirt for that price. Perhaps no NYC but Tampa is a decent shopping city; there are two boutiques I go to here for this purpose. They carry low-margin top quality clothing that is all designed AND made in L.A. I mostly avoid places that say “Made in Bangladesh,” etc.

    Long story short: Trim the fat, keep a small but high-end and ethically made wardrobe instead of a huge closet full of mediocre, willy-nilly nonsense.

  57. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 7:34 am |

    @La Lubu–cosigned, seconded, and applauded. With an ELEVENTY!!1! thrown in for good measure.

    I hate the idea that we can shop (or not shop) our way out of injustice, that the only way to make change is by making “good” consumer choices. It’s incredibly classist, for starters. In many rural regions, a Wal-Mart or Meijer is the only game in town. There aren’t a lot of thrift stores in some places. And when a single mother is working a couple of jobs (or extra shifts) to keep her head above water, AND has to care for the kids on top of that, it’s incredibly elitist and arrogant to wag your finger and lecture people about how they just have to “sacrifice” by “making” the time to learn to sew and to shop at thrift stores. When you’re working 12-hour days and trying to raise your kids, you don’t have the time (or the money) to take sewing lessons (or buy a machine). You may not get off of work in time to go to thrift stores. And I’m frankly agog that we’re blaming women with few resources or options for the plight of women in EPZ’s.

    As I said before: those expensive designer clothes? Are made in EPZ. By the same contractors who make the stuff for say, Wal-Mart or Dots or Forever21. So seriously, cut the shit.

    Is political organizing such a terrible thing for people to do nowadays? Is agitating for say, laws that would penalize companies that took advantage of developing nations through their tax breaks and labor-law violating EPZ’s so unthinkable?

    And really–do you think your $2200 Mac was produced in good conditions? Do you think your flat screen TV was produced in safe conditions and that the workers were paid well? How aoout your cell phone? Your printer? Your game console? Your small appliances? But do, let’s focus on clothing and shame women, yet again, instead of looking at the bigger fucking picture and actually getting something done.

    Every. Single. Thing. We. Own. is produced on the backs of poor women in EPZ’s. Are you going to shop your way out of this? Or are you going to push for fair labor laws, measures that would hold companies accountable for doing business with contractors that violated those laws? Are you going to agitate for change? Are you going to write to your representatives? Are you going to say, oppose more “free trade” measures that make fair trade and fair labor practices non existent?

    All shopping or not shopping will do will get companies and marketers to develop a new product or ad campaign for the niche you’ve shown them. I’m all for shopping less–better for your wallet–but don’t mistake that for a political movement.

  58. Quick hit « Restless Robot
    Quick hit « Restless Robot July 15, 2010 at 7:55 am |

    […] 15, 2010 There’s a post up at Feministe at the moment about cheap fashion and its unsustainability. There’s also a […]

  59. La Lubu
    La Lubu July 15, 2010 at 8:02 am |

    Come on, guys. We know that Aminatou was not saying that every woman everywhere likes to shop.

    Well Jill, it certainly looked that way with sentences like: Got a date? Buy a new dress. Feeling sad? There’s a sale at the mall. Your boyfriend broke up with you? These new shoes will show him!

    This isn’t reality for most women, including most women in industrialized or postindustrial nations. Sweatshops exist because of the greed of multinational corporations, not because Some Woman goes to K-Mart or Target to get her family’s clothing (in much the same way she’s the one tasked with going to the grocery store, taking the kids to the doctor, running other errands). When I was a kid, a significant portion of the clothes in average retail stores were constructed by organized women for decent wages and benefits. There was a bra factory in my parents’ hometown that provided a large number of women with a good paycheck.

    The solution is larger than “shopping.” Just like the environmental movement, you can’t shop your way to justice.

    This post is yet another Exhibit A for the need for a variety of perspectives as Tasha Fierce pointed out. This post talked about sweatshops as if they were inevitable based on the insatiable shopping habits of women; that is an ahistorical view and a classist view (this isn’t a habit of poor or working class women, nor of fat or disabled women).

    Who created the sweatshops? Sheesh. I half expected to hear about how greedy union workers were responsible for the creation of sweatshops. Now it’s greedy shoppers? Who owns these sweatshops? Who manages these sweatshops? Who contracts from these sweatshops? Do these power players deserve any responsibility for the goddamn abysmal working conditions of these sweatshops? or is this just another example of how the disenfranchised magically oppress one another?

  60. annalouise
    annalouise July 15, 2010 at 8:57 am |

    “Slow Fashion” seems to be gearing up to be a concept as racist, classist and socially alienating as Slow Food is. I would be more passionate in supporting it if I wasn’t 100% sure that the “movement” does want me. Doesn’t want my consumer power. Doesn’t want my money. Doesn’t want me to wear its clothes.

  61. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 8:58 am |

    Another one raising an eyebrow at the commenters defending the right to wear slave-made clothes.

    Why, yes, that’s exactly what they were doing! Pointing out that it isn’t feasible in certain regions or among certain groups to thrift or to forgo, say, shopping at Wal-Mart is exactly defending the right to wear slave-made clothes. And it’s not as if the more expensive threads that we are exhorted to buy (because they supposedly last longer) are made by the very same EPZ’s that the cheaper stuff is made in. Nope. Not at all.

    It doesn’t take a lot of time to send a form letter to a retailer asking for more fair-trade items.

    It also doesn’t make for sustainable change. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a good start if you want to only identify as a consumer. It does make for another marketing opportunity–it’s not as if companies don’t already push the idea that they’re fair or that they are ethical, only to find out that they aren’t.

    It would also help to realize that damn near everything you own is produced by slave labor–focusing on clothing only does nothing besides say, shaming women in this context. Your computer’s, and phone’s, and televsion’s many different components are sold by many different companies and made and assembled in various EPZ’s across the globe. You’d have to write to the microchip company, the company that makes the screen, the plastic, the wires, the plugs, etc.

    Color me skeptical. You want change? You have to agitate for more laws and regulations to keep these companies from screwing people over. That means moving from thinking of yourself as a consumer who votes with money and start thinking of yourself as a citizen who votes with, well, votes.

    And you know, it would help to stop moralizing to people who don’t have access to thrift stores and don’t have the money or time to know how to craft.

  62. tk314
    tk314 July 15, 2010 at 9:00 am |

    This is hard because if we don’t shop those that work in sweatshops will be out of a job but it’s hard to shop knowing the horrible conditions they work in. I’m not sure if anyone watched the British documentary series Blood, Sweat & T-Shirts but it talks about this issue. A group of British young adults went to India for a month to work in sweatshops and cotton fields. I have to say I didn’t buy one article of clothing for a month after watching it because I was disgusted. Obviously not shopping isn’t the answer but I do think we (I’m american so I’m talking about americans) as a whole are way too materialistic. I personally don’t agree with “fast fashion” and buying cheap clothing it you only plan to wear it once or twice. I recently purged a lot of belongings I don’t need anymore and it felt great. And now when I do go shopping I only buy what I need. I don’t need 10 pairs of jeans…I’m fine with 2 or 3. I don’t need 20+ pairs of shoes, I’m fine with not more then 10.

  63. Ohio Teach
    Ohio Teach July 15, 2010 at 9:45 am |

    I hate the argument that people “don’t have time” to make their clothes or shop more carefully, or care for their clothes or make them last, or prepare their own food or whatever. Sweatshops around the world exist primarily to slake Americans’ thirst for ever more crap, whether trendy clothing or a computer or cell marginally hipper than the perfectly functional one bought just last year. If we weren’t buying, they wouldn’t be making. If people did not flock to Walmart for the illusory savings they get there, Walmart would not come. Rather than complain that women are being singled out and shamed in this thread, it would be better to think of how to convince women to lead the way.

  64. Darcy
    Darcy July 15, 2010 at 9:48 am |

    I think that the lack of very good options is what is leading to so much frustration on this thread. I think that this post is mostly not revelatory–many of us already had an idea of the bad conditions that everything we buy, not just clothes, tends to be made in (for a striking example of something else, see: metals for electronics like computers of Dell and Apple causing a huge amount of the vortex of instability in the DRC, where, as many of you may have read, rape as a weapon of war is an enormous problem). And there are alternatives, in a way, but none are very satisfying–encouraging being less consumerist for those of who do shop for pleasure is important for lots of reasons, but not enough, and it misses a lot of the other forces behind shopping.

    As a result, I think both ‘sides’ of this thread are feeling frustrated and lectured to–the objectors to the post see ‘options’ that don’t apply to their situation, and the defenders of the post feel like their attempts at just suggesting some solutions are being ignored in favor of doing nothing. What’s really happening is, like Still Learning pointed out, is that we need to figure out more options that can be used for a variety of experiences, and try not to take objections/suggestions as dictates, just ideas.

    I think Sheelzebub is making a hugely important point. We have such a focus on capitalism and the individual in this society, that shopping your way out of things is seen as the main way you’re supposed to change things. It may be conscientious, and allow you to clean your hands some, but we need to look broader than shopping habits for real change, because corporations will always cut corners without telling us to make a better profit. Look at it now–there are not a lot of real choices, because buying more expensive often does NOT mean being better working conditions or better quality.

    (This is one of the things I would like to know, by the way: What stores are there where I can buy fair clothing anyway? People always single out shopping at H&M as a symbol of buying ‘cheap’ throwaway fashion, but I think that’s because fashion is usually associated with money, therefore people who shop at H&M would be shopping at more expensive designer stores otherwise. No, we’d shop at the unfashionable stores in the same price range otherwise. I don’t stop wearing their clothes, I wear them as long as possible, just like anything else, because the few times I’ve invested in more expensive clothing it has worn out just as fast! I think this is especially true in women’s clothing, where the main difference when you go the first tier up from cheap to more expensive is fashionability/prestige, and not quality/fair trade).

    Looking beyond ‘shopping’ as a solution–and at all areas of the market, not just ‘women and their clothes’–is also hugely important for getting past the whole ‘selfish women’ meme. It’s always the responsibility of women. It’s always the silliness of women. Etc. Let’s look at who really has power here.

  65. AS
    AS July 15, 2010 at 10:29 am |

    Well, I apologize for suggesting that shopping on etsy is a way to support responsibly made clothing *and many other items* by almost exclusively women AROUND THE WORLD. How silly of me.

    Oh, and for all of those saying that it’s sizist or ableist to suggest etsy- how about the fact that almost everyone on there does custom orders, and that I just did a search for plus size and almost 15,000 items popped up. When is the last time anyone of any size had that many options at a big box store?

    I know it’s difficult to change, but that doesn’t mean that people’s suggestions are all privileged nonsense.

  66. elizabeth
    elizabeth July 15, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    I just need to chime in and say WHOAAAA What did you see at Forever 21 that is priced at $100? I’ve never seen anything there for more than $50. Actually, make that $40.

  67. Jadey
    Jadey July 15, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    I think that this article has good points and less-than-convincing points and that the comment threads have been a blessing for opening up the subject further. I think a lot of the push-back is coming because this is not a new conversation for a lot of people – it’s not the first time a lot of people here have said, “Hey, by the way, this thing you say is so easy is actually incredibly hard for me” and then been told “Suck it up! You’re just lazy and entitled!” (or stuff that sounds a hell of a lot like that, especially once you’ve heard it 100 times from friends and family, etc.) and given a guilt trip is something I see (and, to some extent, experience) over and over and over again. It blows. Most people, especially here at this blog I think, do want to do what we can, but most of us already have a good idea of what’s reasonable for us.

    Aside from that, I keep looking at this part:

    Fast Fashion — much like Fast Food — is cheap, addictive, and built on an unsustainable, low-wage system. These throwaway clothes are purposefully designed to be worn a few times and discarded

    and wondering who the hell actually does that. I mean, I’m sure it does happen, and I’m not trying to deny it. But I can’t say I’ve ever personally known someone to do that, who could afford to do that, cheap clothes aside – even going out shopping takes time (and gas), which takes more money. I’ve had a few friends be incredibly upset when the only clothes they could afford to buy fell apart or got torn or destroyed within a year of purchase. And I’m talking young people from working to middle-class backgrounds, nowhere near the poverty line, but hardly in a position to waste clothing or to not care if something got wrecked (unless it was $5 at a secondhand store). I find this mystifying.

  68. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 11:14 am |

    Did you folks completely skip over the point that in many cases, a Wal-Mart or Meijer is the only option available to people? Did you skip over the very real suggestions that were made to actually make real change–those hard ones, like collective action and political involvement. But no, let’s just focus on moralizing about the evil nasty womenfolk who indulge their shopping addictions at Wal-Mart. That will do the trick! Pay no attention to the actual activism or anything like that.

    But yes, it’s all a thirst for crap and entitlement when your kid needs new shoes and the only game in town is the big-box store. When you’re deciding which bills you can pay that month, you’re not in a position to do all of these wonderful, individualistic, feel-good, but ultimately ineffective things. And the change that will happen–oh, a new marketing campaign, and continued use of EPZ’s and abuse of workers. That’s what you get when you buy into capitalism and the idea that you are a consumer only. Odd that the most strident anti-consumerists seem to buy into this as well. I’ll take “citizen” over “consumer” any day of the week.

    When you turn this into a new moral panic and lecture and hector people who have fewer resources and options than you, yes, it is mighty privileged of you. If you think for one minute that your hands are clean because golly! You don’t shop and your are so pure! I’ve got news for you. You aren’t. You aren’t making any real change as long as you buy into the individualistic, consumerist thinking of this culture and focus only on shopping vs. not shopping. And when you offer consumerist, piecemeal solutions and moralizing in place of any strategy for organizing for real change, well, sorry, but I have a hard time taking you seriously.

    I know the terms “collective action,” “organizing” and “political action” are verboten in some quarters, but I am amazed that erstwhile progressives just run from this and take refuge in the individualistic non-solutions of the right-wing. It reeks of privilege, no matter how you try to disguise it in a tie-dye.

  69. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 11:22 am |

    I hate the argument that people “don’t have time” to make their clothes or shop more carefully, or care for their clothes or make them last, or prepare their own food or whatever.

    I haate the fact that supposed progressives are so invested in stoking the fires of a moral panic that they overlook the system. Things like the grocery gap and the lack of time or resources of the working poor (WRT preparing your own meals and sewing your own clothes). Things like the fact that the cloth you’d buy to make your own clothes is–guess what?–produced in EPZ’s. Things like the fact that when you’re working two jobs or double shifts to make rent and you’re raising kids and you’re barely getting by, taking the time to find (let along getting the money together to get to the store that sells) “fair trade clothes” is inconceivable.

    There are a lot of people who are choosing between food and medicine, or the phone bill or heat. Yes, you’re really fucking privileged and elitist to berate them for shopping at Wal-Mart or not making their own clothes. How nice for you if you can do that (BTW, that computer you’re typing on? It, and all of its parts, were assembled in EPZ by barely-paid above slave labor workers. Just sayin.’). If you want real change, you’re going to have to move beyond bashing people who cannot make the same personal choices you make.

  70. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 11:25 am |

    Did you folks completely skip over the point that in many cases, a Wal-Mart or Meijer is the only option available to people? Did you skip over the very real suggestions that were made to actually make real change–those hard ones, like collective action and political involvement. But no, let’s just focus on moralizing about the evil nasty womenfolk who indulge their shopping addictions at Wal-Mart. That will do the trick! Pay no attention to the actual activism or anything like that.

    But yes, it’s all a thirst for crap and entitlement when your kid needs new shoes and the only game in town is the big-box store. When you’re deciding which bills you can pay that month, you’re not in a position to do all of these wonderful, individualistic, feel-good, but ultimately ineffective things. And the change that will happen as a result of this “consumer” action–oh, a new feel-good marketing campaign, and continued use of EPZ’s and abuse of workers. That’s what you get when you buy into capitalism and the idea that you are a consumer only. Odd that the most strident anti-consumerists seem to buy into this as well. I’ll take “citizen” over “consumer” any day of the week.

    When you turn this into a new moral panic and lecture and hector people who have fewer resources and options than you, yes, it is mighty privileged of you. If you think for one minute that your hands are clean because golly! You don’t shop and your are so pure! I’ve got news for you. You aren’t. You aren’t making any real change as long as you buy into the individualistic, consumerist thinking of this culture and focus only on shopping vs. not shopping. And when you offer consumerist, piecemeal solutions and moralizing in place of any strategy for organizing for real change, well, sorry, but I have a hard time taking you seriously.

    I know the terms “collective action,” “organizing” and “political action” are verboten in some quarters, but I am amazed that erstwhile progressives just run from this and take refuge in the individualistic non-solutions of the right-wing. It reeks of privilege, no matter how you try to disguise it in a tie-dye.

  71. exholt
    exholt July 15, 2010 at 11:27 am |

    It would also help to realize that damn near everything you own is produced by slave labor–focusing on clothing only does nothing besides say, shaming women in this context. Your computer’s, and phone’s, and televsion’s many different components are sold by many different companies and made and assembled in various EPZ’s across the globe. You’d have to write to the microchip company, the company that makes the screen, the plastic, the wires, the plugs, etc.

    Sheelzebub,

    Thank you for making the point that I was going to make. The rank sanctimoniousness and highly probably hypocrisy of some commenters lecturing others who may not have the means due to access, disabilities, and/or lack of socioeconomic privilege.

    In fact some of the commenters such as Ohio teach, FYouMudFlaps, et al smack of the exact same types of the sort of the BS lecturing I and several other working-class scholarship student classmates were subjected to by many of those who were quite oblivious to their socio-economic privileges….especially considering they were raised in highly sheltered upper/upper-middle class near-all White suburbs.

    What’s more ironic was that the main reason why many of the ones I’ve encountered in undergrad were able to go into and maintain their careers in various progressive-lefty NGOs and nonprofit organizations and continue their sanctimonious posturing was because they continue to be subsidized by their wealthy parents and/or were given sizable trust-funds…..subsidies not available to the vast majority….even in the US. :roll:

    I recently purged a lot of belongings I don’t need anymore and it felt great. And now when I do go shopping I only buy what I need. I don’t need 10 pairs of jeans…I’m fine with 2 or 3. I don’t need 20+ pairs of shoes, I’m fine with not more then 10.

    IME, I find that people who have had this revelation tend to overwhelmingly be from an upper/upper-middle class background to begin with. As someone who grew up in a working-class NYC neighborhood….never knew anyone…whether male or female who had 10 pairs of jeans or 20 pairs of shoes until I started attended a public magnet high school with a contingent of well-off upper-east sider types with parents who are doctors, lawyers, i-bankers, and even local politicians.

  72. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 11:38 am |

    I tried to post a long comment about actual political action as opposed to relying on consumer choices, but it does not seem to be in moderation and is not showing up on the thread.

    So, the shorter version:

    When you identify only as a consumer, and oversimplify the problem as shopping vs. not shopping, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take you seriously. Start actually engaging in political action, use your votes (and don’t mistake your money for votes), contact your representatives, and push for laws that would hold companies accountable for the crappy working conditions their contractors provide.

    Or, you know, you could ignore the suggestions I made, and that La Lubu made, and just go about your moral panic and focus on individualistic “solutions” that will continue to do nothing besides create a new niche for companies to market to. If you have other solutions besides “You’re all bad for not sewing your own clothes or thrifting and for shopping at all–no matter what the reason” I’d love to hear them. If all you have is the moral panic and the sanctimony, I’ll pass.

  73. Meghan
    Meghan July 15, 2010 at 12:01 pm |

    I’ll just toss in my two cents on the options portion. There are a lot of places you can thrift shop without sacrificing fashion. Before you say “but I’m from a small midwestern town with none of that stuff…”, I’m from a small midwestern town. Fortunately, it’s about an hour from a college town (where I do all of my shopping anyway). There are plenty of places that do clothing exchange (Plato’s Closet, for instance..), or they will pay you cash for clothes you bring in. That solves the “I-don’t-have-money-for-clothes” crisis. We have a local shop that does that and it’s great, most of it being well recognized labels that come from college girls who needed the extra cash.

    My solution for slow-fashion is to buy the easy, timeless pieces. Most of the stuff in my closet is a solid color – no logo tees, very few wild prints, etc. If I want wild and exciting, I can pull out a scarf or find a funky necklace. I have tons of v-necks, scoop tees, and crewnecks, and a few solid mock turtlenecks that are great for work. Then have a couple pairs of khakis and black pants, maybe a couple of dresses (I have maybe one?), a couple skirts, and boom, wardrobe. Just takes some creative mixing and matching. I make my own accessories (or buy them from people who are slightly more creative than myself via facebook).

    Today’s outfit? Black scoop neck tee (I’ve had for 3 years), black lace tank underneath, hot pink skirt (purchased in the kid’s section of Walmart 5 years ago and altered slightly to look more grown-up), and black patent heels with a black glass bead necklace. Tada!! None of this stuff was purchased in the last 2 years, and I just trade tops/bottoms/shoes/accessories and have lots and lots of outfits. It’s casual, but just dressy enough for the office (accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!!).

  74. thewhatfor
    thewhatfor July 15, 2010 at 12:23 pm |

    Sheelzebub, your posts make me want to stand up and cheer. I am so tired of the tendency to push individual solutions for problems that are anything but individual. Systemic problems require systemic solutions, period.

    I do understand the desire to shop ethically–it makes me feel good to think that I’m a responsible consumer. But my ethical shopping habits aren’t going to make a damned bit of difference unless governments and corporations change, too.

  75. Sarah
    Sarah July 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm |

    Sheezlebub, thank you for the great comments on this thread. I’d also add that this post obscures the fact that men buy plenty of clothes, too! (Very obvious, but the original post doesn’t address this.)

    About plus-size fashion: I get the impression that a lot of people who are touting Etsy and whatnot are speaking from a position of thin privilege. “Plus sizes” do not always cover all fat women, there is significant variation in sizing, and there’s also the issue of body shape. As an inbetweenie who is hourglass-y, I’m relatively privileged in comparison to other fat women, but I won’t buy clothes online unless I know my size in that particular retailer. When you add in the fact that most Etsy items run pretty expensive, there is no way I am going to spend $40 for a shirt when I have no idea if it will even fit me. And I won’t buy pants online, period. There’s too much fuckery with the sizing (including height, as a tall woman), and I also have sensory sensitivities. It is not “making excuses” to bring up these accessibility concerns. Saying blithely that “Etsy has plus sizes” frankly reeks of privilege.

    Yes, we absolutely need to be discussing the global caste system and how women in particular are affected, but promoting one-size-fits-all modes of “activism” is incredibly frustrating for those of us who don’t (literally and figuratively) fit this particular mold. And, as Sheezlebub has pointed out, these kinds of solutions do not address the underlying problems of inequities and capitalist exploitation.

  76. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm |

    Jill – (comment 44 @ me)

    Like I said, I would mend shirts quite happily if I could SEE. Blindness is a fucking pain in the arse when it comes to things like that. I believe I mentioned my VI in the first line of my comment, didn’t I?

    When I said “I shop for clothes twice a year” I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean “I blow the contents of my bank account on party frocks and Jimmy Choos”. In my reality the twice yearly clothes shop is a sports bra and six pairs of white pants (£4/£1 respectively from George @ Asda), a new pair of shoes under £20 wherever I can find them, and a pack of 2 t-shirts (£5 @ Tesco). That’s it.

    The majority of the clothes I have in my collection are things I’ve had since about 2003, but undies only last so long and I like to have a nice new t-shirt twice a year. My sleepwear is actually made up of old clothes. If I switched up to the next highest-priced retailer available to me then I’d only be able to buy shoes, or undies, or t-shirts. If I switched to the ‘ethically’ labelled distributor I’d be shit out of luck. That’s what you don’t get. £60 a year to clothe myself coupled with the fact that I cannot leave the village unaided does not give me a vast array of choice.

    To the “OMG Etsy sells plus-size from all over the wooorld!” commenters who still don’t bloody well get it: I am not going to pay out of my arse (remember my YEARLY budget is £60) for something that has no guarantee of workmanship, that I can’t preview, that may not even be suitable for either my shape or my situation. Not all fatty-fats like me are the same shape, not all clothes are suitable for chair-users, and to be frank I’m sick to my stomach of the condescension, ableism and classism in this comments section.

    Being a PWD&VI in a rural locale in England =/= thrifty stitcher in NY.

    Ouyang Dan – Thank you.

    Sheelzebub – at last, someone who gets it!

  77. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm |

    @exholt – I’m with you. 10 pairs of jeans and 20 pairs of shoes, whut? So funny. I love how these people can ‘manage’ on a handful of pairs of jeans and ten pairs of shoes. So brave, so inspirational.

    We share shoes in this house, and clothes. It’s one of the benefits of being a same-sex couple. Between us we have 3 pairs of jeans and four pairs of shoes. We wouldn’t have room for twenty of anything!

  78. Charley
    Charley July 15, 2010 at 1:37 pm |

    I know I’ll probably get yelled at for this message, but I have to say something. I like reading this site. It’s engaging and interesting. But I’m not quite like you. I earn about $10,000 a year. It’s hard to get by. And because I earn very little (I’m epileptic and have to work from home), there are these choices I have to make.

    You people who talk about McDonald’s as cheap amaze me. WHO CAN AFFORD $5 PER MEAL????? McDonalds is not cheap. It’s convenient. I have a budget of $45 per week for food. That’s only 9 meals if I go out to eat at a place like McDo. Alternatively, it’s about 25 meals if I focus on rice and beans, pasta and vegetables. I don’t know where you are shopping, but you can eat a veggie soup for 4 days that costs about $8 with a cabbage or lentil base.

    This thread on clothing (and whoa: women love to shop? Can we buy into multimedia brainwashing ANY MORE?? Like a sex in the city marathon here) also focuses on all of these ideals of “cheap” clothing. But it’s only cheap if you guys are super entitled and privileged. Why do you think you need like 30 different outfits?

    Again, maybe it’s because I don’t have a lot of money, but 4 pairs of jeans seems SUPER extravagant. What, you have a new pair of pants for every day of the week? I have about 10 pieces of clothing and mix and match. I shop once a year. It’s all I can do, really. Which isn’t to say I’m boring — I accessorize to feel good and I work with my local market people (great artists there) who help me collect used things to make necklaces and scarves that are individualized instead of mass-produced.

    I know I’m coming off as angry and I’m sorry. It just blows my mind sometimes. Granted, talking to my sister is so much worse (she earn about five times what I do and is always short on cash because she just can’t stop buying crap that no one needs) but you guys have so much awareness and write so often about privilege and problems of poor women that it surprises me when you talk about paying $5 for only one single meal as being “cheap” or how impossible it is to get your wardrobe up to 50 different pieces.

  79. starla
    starla July 15, 2010 at 1:42 pm |

    I don’t know whether anyone has mentioned this yet (skimmed the comments quickly) but here’s a list of companies that are part of the Fair Labor Association:

    http://www.fairlabor.org/fla_affiliates_a1.html

    A start, anyway.

  80. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. July 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    were able to go into and maintain their careers in various progressive-lefty NGOs and nonprofit organizations and continue their sanctimonious posturing was because they continue to be subsidized by their wealthy parents and/or were given sizable trust-funds…..subsidies not available to the vast majority….even in the US. :roll:
    @exholt, that’s really an unnecessary cheap shot at people who work in NGO’s. My sister worked at one for a long time with a lot of fucking fabulous people, none of whom had trust funds or were subsidized. She just lived on her salary and did work that mattered a lot to her. I think that working with heroic (mostly Chinese) human rights activists was actually reasonably humbling for her and her coworkers, at least the ones that I encountered.

    @Sheezlebub, thanks for going to the heart of things again and again in this thread.

  81. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. July 15, 2010 at 2:15 pm |

    @Charley, I really hope you don’t get yelled at because I think you’ve made a lot of good points. I believe it was Amanda Marcotte (?) at Pandagon that made the point that eating at McDonalds can often be driven by financial concerns not just because of the price but because of the old time=money aspect. To people working 2 part-time jobs, the time saved by convenient eating translates into money earned, i.e. they can feed a family and still get to their jobs on time. So, yeah, that has layers of complexities too.

    To your point about your sister, yeah, unlike Jadey, I do know a fuckload of women like that, having lived in hyper-trendy NYC and LA. So it makes me sorta sad that, although a lot of really valuable points are getting made in this thread, we aren’t just supporting each other more to resist that hyper-consumerism in the best ways we fucking can. Because it’s actually pretty lonely to adopt any kind of anti-consumerist stance in this country, and it’d be nice if we could encourage each other in our attempts to do this.

  82. Marle
    Marle July 15, 2010 at 2:30 pm |

    I’m really surprised at how defensive people are getting over this. No one is telling everyone to buy all clothes from only ethical shops. Not everyone can do everything perfectly. But many of us can take small steps. Some of us can’t, you know, and that’s cool. But I think it’s good to have a space where people can talk about what they could do that would be better, and if you can you can and if you can’t you don’t, without getting defensive at not being able to do everything.

  83. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm |

    If we weren’t buying, they wouldn’t be making. If people did not flock to Walmart for the illusory savings they get there, Walmart would not come.

    Read The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman, or just google “Wal-Mar Rubbermaid,” and see if you still think we drive Wal-Mart rather than vice versa.

  84. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie July 15, 2010 at 2:56 pm |

    I don’t need 20+ pairs of shoes, I’m fine with not more then 10.

    Ha ha ha ahaaaaaa … my sides are aching. Sorry.

  85. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm |

    I’m really surprised at how defensive people are getting over this. No one is telling everyone to buy all clothes from only ethical shops.

    I’m really surprised at how obtuse some consumers-as-activists are when it comes to individual consumer choices vs. organized political action, but hey, call me defensive.

    Also: When posters accuse those of us who point out that poverty, disability, and location can affect what we are able to do as “making excuses”, it’s a bit rich to then wonder why people get defensive. When the very real class, ability, and regional issues are brought up as roadblocks to this piecemeal ‘solution,’ we have been told that we are making excuses and defending the right to use slave labor. For fuck’s sake–in the same breath as “do what you can” is “but there’s no excuse for you to not make the time to do these things.” And these same people ignore the posts of people who actually are poor and disabled, who have listed their challenges in mending clothing or finding a viable thrift store or doing these things. These same people ignore the fact that in many regions, the big box store is the only game in town. These same people ignore the fact that it ain’t just clothing that is made by exploited people in EPZ’s (and it’s not just women who buy clothes).

    But you know what? It’s apparent to ME that the personal choices puritans on this thread would sooner zoom right over that stuff and moralize. Hey, knock yourselves out.

  86. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub July 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm |

    I don’t need 20+ pairs of shoes, I’m fine with not more then 10.

    O_o. That is all.

  87. thetroubleis
    thetroubleis July 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm |

    So much fail in these comments. Other’s have alreadly pointed out the problems in the article.

    To those of you who say to just make something, guess what? Most fabric and yarn? It isn’t produced ethically either. I happen to really enjoy knitting, but knitting my whole wardrobe just might be a bit challenging and not all yarn comes from the nicest places. There are some things I can knit for cheaper than I can buy them, but there are some, that even if I bought red heart, would still be more expensive and take up more spoons than I care to give.

    Secondly, I’m really amused by being told if I live in a small town I should just drive somewhere to get better clothing. I can’t drive and I love the assumption that everyone can and all those little ethical shops are totally accessible. Also, working class and and poor women are all totally able to take a day off work to go shopping, right? You’re also assuming those shops realize that fat people exist, but a whole lot of them don’t seem to do so.

    Oh and on the topic of repairing clothing being so easy, don’t assume becuase something is easy for you it is for everyone else. My dyspraxia makes tasks that may seem grade school level for you very taxing.

    Oh and this woman? She doesn’t love to shop for clothing.

  88. R. Dave
    R. Dave July 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm |

    One suggestion that keeps coming up is buying used clothes from thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army, but personally, I’ve never been comfortable with that. It just seems wrong for people who can afford to buy new to go into charitable stores and scoop up all the good/stylish stuff, leaving nothing but the dregs for the less well-off people who actually need to do their shopping there.

  89. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein July 15, 2010 at 3:30 pm |

    It’s the planned obsolescence that kills me. Cheap clothing isn’t cheap when you only get to wear it a few times before it disintegrates and you have to trudge back to the store for the next disposable item. You don’t really buy H&M or Forever21 clothes, you just get on a subscription plan.

  90. Rebecca
    Rebecca July 15, 2010 at 3:32 pm |

    Charley, part of the problem with that is the same reason you see people (say) renting furniture instead of buying it. It costs more in the long run, but the plan that is more economical in the long run costs more money up front – money that some people just don’t have. Cooking at home can certainly save money over the long run, but it entails having a stove or microwave and a refrigerator.

  91. Faith
    Faith July 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm |

    “I know I’m coming off as angry and I’m sorry.”

    Don’t be sorry. You have every reason to be angry. I typically enjoy this site as well – and typically when I don’t, I find that what I don’t enjoy is not terrible enough that I feel the need to do much more than not read a certain post or comment. However, after being told that I and other sexual abuse victims should not even be allowed to have a chance to bring our abusers to justice just because a certain arbitrary time span has passed and now being told that I just love to shop just because I have a vagina – never mind that whole being anti-capitalist and having a current income that doesn’t even reach into the 5 digit range stuff – I’m considering wiping this site from the small number of blogs that I still read. If people want to claim to be my ally, it helps if they actually act like it.

    And thank you, Sheelzebub.

  92. chicago dyke
    chicago dyke July 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm |

    damn, i always miss the fun threads. jumping in unread:

    Slow Fashion is easy. (and goddess i love “fast fashion” a la fast food. brilliant!) take it from me, ladies. i’m a high end lipstick lesbian clubber of 25 years. i’m gracefully retired mostly these days (a Diva must know when her time has come, after all) but for many seasons, i did it on less, with less, and still had no problem with Win. heh. i’m rarely this silly on the political intertubes, but i’m being totally serious. recycle, reduce and reuse. the trick is just to know the good thrift shops. every area has them. sewing, even “patching” or adding little touches, will also take clothes a long long way.

    as for gift giving: homemade is always better and more appreciated. i can my own home grown organic food and make my own crafts like candles and stepping stones; they never fail to impress at weddings and parties. esp when everyone else is giving a gift in a box from a corporate store that they didn’t make, wrap or design.

    RRR is harder with shoes, which is why i generally shell out the money for them. but i haven’t been a corporate or brand/label clothing shopper for many years. i don’t lie when i say my clothes have helped me make the gay gossip pages in photos, stop traffic, get pulled out of line and escorted to the VIP section, gotten backstage… vintage, and the ideal of “never throw anything away, eventually it all comes back into style and everyone will be jealous of your Original when they’re wearing the update knockoff.” /end Diva/

  93. chicago dyke
    chicago dyke July 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm |

    i can tell i’m going to get into trouble on this thread…

    It just seems wrong for people who can afford to buy new to go into charitable stores and scoop up all the good/stylish stuff, leaving nothing but the dregs for the less well-off people who actually need to do their shopping there.

    respectfully, do have any idea how condescending that sounds? there is nothing, i do mean not anything at all, that prevents a woman of any class from being clothing fabulous, if that is her priority. or a man. anyway, yes, women who work harder have less time to shop, and poor women less money for new clothes. but: price and availability don’t determine who is popular or “well dressed;” attitude does. for every poor woman who covets a $10,000 T shirt her rival’s boyfriend just bought, there is a trustifarian woman who envies her classmate’s unique and inexpensive vintage find.

    fashion is a Game, any person can play it and people of all classes do. it’s like politics, really. even the free stuff can be Fabulous. you don’t have to be on the gravy train to ‘count.’ every designer i know, and i used to model, shops at “ghetto” and second hand stores. for design ideas, no less.

  94. chicago dyke
    chicago dyke July 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm |

    and i even get to say, legitimately, “sorry, Charley.” heh.

    but you guys have so much awareness and write so often about privilege and problems of poor women that it surprises me when you talk about paying $5 for only one single meal as being “cheap” or how impossible it is to get your wardrobe up to 50 different pieces.

    as to your testament of Austerity, Charley: been there, done that. $14K/yr in Chicago, my friend, in an expensive ‘hood with expensive habits. give it a try some time. it will kick your ass. i was still fabulous, and had a lot of clothes that i bought locally or made. small money staying in small markets, yo. i hate moralizers, and i’m one of them. :-) but let’s remember what our 10-14K buys in say, the Sudan. it’s all relative, man. /zen/ my point is that poor women have a right to have fun with clothes too. jeebus krist, what are we? puritans? black, homespun burka style garments on women and “plain” Amish gear for men only, in the name of anti consumerism? no, thanks. the revolution i can’t dance to is the one i don’t join.

  95. g_whiz
    g_whiz July 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm |

    Not sure if I want to parse through the comments section, but I had to comment and say this article is incredibly thought provoking and quite on point. Well done.

  96. chicago dyke
    chicago dyke July 15, 2010 at 4:34 pm |

    kicked off this blog, i’m sure i will be. sorry… i can’t help it.

    When you identify only as a consumer, and oversimplify the problem as shopping vs. not shopping, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take you seriously. Start actually engaging in political action, use your votes (and don’t mistake your money for votes), contact your representatives, and push for laws that would hold companies accountable for the crappy working conditions their contractors provide.

    wow! sanctimonious much? i don’t take anyone seriously who is as naive about politics as you are, either! “contact your representative,” chortle, snort. that sure worked for the wars, bailouts, single payer vs the HCR bill, 2000 and 04 election ‘results,’ etc. please, lecture me about the proper shoes i should wear again, i’m listening. clearly, you know all about “what works” and is progressive, fair, equitable, decent, etc… after all, votes, and not money, are what determine every single election here. /eyeroll/

  97. R. Dave
    R. Dave July 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm |

    Re: Comment 98 from chicago dyke

    Hmm, not sure I understand how your response relates to what I said, or why my comment was condescending. I wasn’t trying to opine on what constitutes good style or suggest that people with limited financial means can’t have it. All I’m saying is that in my experience, most people want to have clothes that conform to whatever is considered “in” at the time, and there’s usually a limited selection of such items in thrift stores, so it seems wrong to me for people who can afford to buy those items elsewhere to get them at thrift stores and thus prevent poorer people from buying them. It’s like eating at a soup kitchen when you can afford to buy your own groceries.

  98. exholt
    exholt July 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm |

    @exholt, that’s really an unnecessary cheap shot at people who work in NGO’s. My sister worked at one for a long time with a lot of fucking fabulous people, none of whom had trust funds or were subsidized. She just lived on her salary and did work that mattered a lot to her. I think that working with heroic (mostly Chinese) human rights activists was actually reasonably humbling for her and her coworkers, at least the ones that I encountered.

    What I said was only applicable to the sanctimonious socio-economically privileged undergrad classmates at the private liberal arts college that I attended on a near-full ride scholarship as seen below:

    What’s more ironic was that the main reason why many of the ones I’ve encountered in undergrad were able to go into and maintain their careers in various progressive-lefty NGOs and nonprofit organizations and continue their sanctimonious posturing was because they continue to be subsidized by their wealthy parents and/or were given sizable trust-funds….

    Unless I am missing something….I did not say all those who worked at NGOs or nonprofits were like this…..

    And unfortunately since the majority of my undergrad skewed upper/upper-middle class…I and other working-class scholarship students encountered plenty of such sanctimonious types who tut-tutted everyone else for not being perfect like some commenters here while being completely oblivious to their hefty socio-economic or other privileges like some commenters on this thread.

    as to your testament of Austerity, Charley: been there, done that. $14K/yr in Chicago, my friend, in an expensive ‘hood with expensive habits. give it a try some time. it will kick your ass.

    I’ve known plenty of working-class families from childhood until college in my old NYC neighborhood who were having to raise families…some with multiple children on far less than $14K/year.

    Much easier to slum it if one has few responsibilities beyond maintaining oneself and/or a SO. Agg. That comment soo reminds me of too many clueless socio-economically undergrads who were classmates and those I frequently encounter at many expensive private colleges…especially at places like NYU, Columbia, and Harvard. :roll:

  99. R. Dave
    R. Dave July 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

    I’ve known plenty of working-class families from childhood until college in my old NYC neighborhood who were having to raise families…some with multiple children on far less than $14K/year.

    And I’ll bet they had to walk uphill both ways to do it! *chuckle* Sorry, I don’t mean to single anyone’s comment out. It’s just this thread sounds a lot like the proverbial grandparent pontificating about how easy “kids these days” have it.

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