More on Fast Fashion

To follow up on my previous post, let’s discuss a few more things about Fast Fashion.

Who says women love to shop? It’s obviously not true that every woman everywhere loooooves to shop. Personally, I hate shopping. I think it’s boring; it’s time consuming, tedious and expensive. If I have absolutely have to, I prefer to do it online so I don’t have to interact with annoying store clerks and I can try things on in the comfort of my own home. Even women who don’t like to or, more importantly, cannot afford to shop still face societal pressure to do so.

Who defines “cheap”? If you have ever been to Forever 21 or looked at the website I shared, you’d know most of the dresses go for about $20-$30 dollars. Now whether you think a $20 dress is cheap or expensive is a matter of perspective, priority, and relative privilege, but in our current retail structure, a $20 dress is considered cheap both in terms of quality and pricing. I am reminded of German fashion designer Jil Sander, who told the New York Times earlier this summer “My mother always said that we were too poor to buy too cheap.” I also did not have a wealthy upbringing in West Africa (surprise! I’m a WOC!) and this is a philosophy my mother drilled into all her children. We rarely bought new clothes and when we did they were meant to last for years because my younger siblings and cousins would have to get mileage out of them as well. There were no Wal-Mart or Target equivalents in Africa when I was growing up, and the first “mall” in Lagos was built in the late ’90s. So unless you were wearing traditional clothes, western clothes were almost always imported. A lot of our clothing consisted of discarded items from the closets of Americans and Europeans just like you. I hated wearing someone else’s second-hand clothes because they reminded me every day I couldn’t have new clothes like the wealthier kids at my French private school. It’s ironic that, for both admittedly aesthetic and financial reasons, I now do the bulk of my shopping at thrift stores.

What about fat women? I did not address the size issue because I was planning to do so in another post. Just because I shop at vintage/thrift/consignment stores doesn’t mean I’m not aware their politics can be fucked as well. Just last week I had to scratch Mustard Seed, a well-recommended store in the DC metro area off my list because according to the woman on the phone they rarely buy clothes over a size 12. Yes, size 12 because that’s considered plus-size. I don’t have to remind you the average American woman is a size 14. I am bigger than the average American woman. (Surprise! I’m fat!)

What’s style got to do with it? Consumers at Fast Fashion stores are style-conscious. Yes, I know it sounds vain! But shopping at Wal-Mart and shopping at Forever 21 are not one and the same. Fast Fashion thrives on our desire for the latest clothes from magazines and the runway. Styling tips always tell larger women to “dress for their body type”, whatever the hell that means. Yes, I recognize that I am an able-bodied, childless woman and this allows me to take to time experiment with different lengths, patterns, and structures. And it’s still a frustrating process. Many things I try on don’t fit. I’m lucky to have a good friend who will hem my muumuus and turn tube dresses into skirts for me. Even when I go into straight size stores, I try on things that are not marked my size. (Yes, this is style advice, not feminist life advice.) More on fat fashion later…

Why don’t you just stop buying clothes? Take it from an African woman: Western women (and men DUH), in a global context, have unsurpassed buying power. Their choices affect people all over the world. This is not meant to shame anyone but rather to force us to confront our consumer choices. The reason I started this discussion is precisely because I don’t have a good solution to this problem. Actually, no one has a good answer. To those of you that say “stop shopping altogether” I’m glad that’s working out for you because you never have to buy anything ever.

This conversation about women and consumption is not a new one, and probably be culturally relevant for as long as we have to wear clothes. It is especially relevant this week as Inditex, Zara’s parent company, announced its aggressive expansion plans. The company opened more than 90 stores in 29 countries in the first quarter alone. This is American Apparel on crack. Also this week Uniqlo’s parent company, the appropriately named Fast Retailing, outlined plans to launch a non-profit initiative in Bangladesh, alongside Grameen Bank, that would create jobs for garment workers. This venture would produce high quality items that cost around $1. While they currently only have plans to sell to Bangladeshis, this and similar nonprofit approaches would go a long way in improving Western women’s cheap clothing options- allowing them to buy stylish clothes that aren’t quite as harmful to women in other parts of the world.

In the meantime, I am trying to make small, practical changes in my life. You can decide what changes work for you.


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135 comments for “More on Fast Fashion

  1. July 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I have a really practical question for you. I have old clothes that I don’t like / fit in anymore, but in perfectly good state. I know homeless people in France don”t need that kind of clothes and if I give them, it will go to Africa. Will it be useful, or hurt local cotoon / clothes production ? The only information I had on the topic was a clear “Yes”, but since you’ve been there, I’m sure you have a more complete and accurate vision of this.

  2. Samantha b.
    July 16, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for this valuable enumeration. This is stuff that women should be addressing because there is *such* societal pressure upon them not only to shop, but to shop meticulously. I tend to think that the animosity generated in the last thread speaks to the dissatisfaction we all have with our relationships to mega-capitalist consumerism, something that it’s actually pretty fucking hard to have a semi-semi-healthy relationship to.

  3. July 16, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I can see how shopping for longevity is essential, especially if you expect to hand down clothes to younger siblings etc. But this too applies to a non-growing adult. I like to buy classic pieces that will last and I am also not a trend monger. I don’t go out and buy the skinny jeans and the hottest looks because I am not 24 years old and can’t afford disposable low quality clothes. I too have an average size body but it’s funny how often people are shocked that I am not a size 7 because I carry my weight well. I also dress to flatter my curves. I really believe in wearing styles that don’t accentuate your cellulite or squeeze your gut up to your boobs. That’s one thing I hate about vintage shops. They only offer up Twiggy sized clothes. I am not anorexic. Thank you very much. LOL – I don’t think not shopping is the answer, but less compulsive shopping is in order.

  4. Bonn
    July 16, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Cheap is relative to a lot of things. Here in Tokyo, if I get something for 3000 yen, I consider it “cheap.” 5000 yen (about $50) is still relatively “cheap.” I make about a third of what my parents make combined, but I’ll still spend 5000 yen on a garment or 8000 on a pair of leather boots, and think I’m getting a good deal. Whereas when I was back home, it was always, “OH MY GOD, $30 FOR A SHIRT? TOO EXPENSIVE!!” from my mom. I’ve always been middle class, my mom grew up pretty well-off, and the cost of living in my hometown is relatively low. So why on earth would she think $30 is expensive?

    Because in my mom’s world, the cost of goods has never changed. Paying a dollar for bread is “expensive” because it used to cost ten cents or whatever. A lot of things shape our perception of prices, and not all of them make a whole lot of sense. :/

    Whereas, I label anything 10,000 and up as expensive, and my students roll their eyes at me and say that this isn’t expensive at all. Then again, these are people with an extra $3000 laying around for English lessons. A lot of young people in this country grew up in the bubble economy and were spoiled rotten. And are still spoiled rotten. Parents here are WAY too generous with their kids.

    I digress.

    I do like shopping, but as I said, I prefer cheaper shopping. I also expect things to last, so I take care of them and try to make sure they last at least, you know, 3-5 years. I lost a lot of weight due to illness a while back, so I can’t really wear a lot of the clothes I used to, but they are still in good condition. I’m careful to check construction and fabric and all that before I buy something.

    But I do tend to buy stuff that I almost never wear. And what really frustrates me here is that donating is just not done. Most of the charities I’ve looked into want NEW clothes. Most of the stuff I have is “like new” but not “new.” I don’t want to throw it out either. It’s such a shame that I can’t figure out what to do with all of it. I guess I’ll just make this face a few more times. :/ :/ :/

  5. Samantha b.
    July 16, 2010 at 9:23 am

    C, the cracks about thin women and women who don’t dress appropriately to your mind aren’t really helpful. That’s kind of what I was talking about- we all have these discomforts that come up around this subject, and it’s problematic when we turn on other women because of those discomforts. I understand why it happens, but it’s also hurtful and damaging.

  6. Maia
    July 16, 2010 at 9:24 am

    The problem I had with your original post was that you were proposing individualist solutions to structural problems. La Lubu and Sheezlebub and others were doing a really good job of articulating the various problems. You continue to do that in this post.

    In the meantime, I am trying to make small, practical changes in my life. You can decide what changes work for you.

    I have worked as union organiser – including clothing factories – I know some about the supply chains and working conditions in different. Let me tell you categorically that you will not make one bit of difference to any of that by how you shop, where you shop, where you don’t shop, what you buy and don’t buy. Small practical changes in your own life are fine if you’re doing if for yourself, but they do not make any difference to the structure of clothes production.

    There was nothing in the original post or this one about garment workers’ organisations. There is nothing about standing in solidarity with those workers and how it can be done. You say no-one has a good answer – I actually think collective action and supporting collective action are good answers.

  7. Mandolin
    July 16, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Thanks. I found this expansion very helpful.

  8. Samantha b.
    July 16, 2010 at 9:42 am

    @Maia, maybe you could say something about how we can stand in solidarity with garment workers’ organizations? I don’t think it’s entirely fair to expect posters to be omniscient, and if you have useful information to add, that’s great. Please do! From my understanding of what’s happened at SEIU, international labor organizing has more than a few complexities in its own right, but I’d love to hear some good ideas.

  9. July 16, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Personally, I am really glad you brought up this topic, as consumerism does so much harm to people in Non-Western countries and to the environment. I would also argue that it hurts Westerners, too. How many of us grew up with the desire to let our material things shape our own sense of self-worth, as well as our perception of others?

    I grew up with the privilege of being allowed to shop for new clothes 2-3 times a year, and I don’t know if this kind of lifestyle was all that healthy for me as an insecure teenager. I wanted to define myself through the things I bought and wore, which added yet another factor in my growing list of insecurities about my appearance.

    This is a discussion that we all need to take home and give some serious thought. To quote Annie Leonard from “The Story of Stuff,” it is the quality of our social relationships that make us the happiest, not the quality (or quantity!) of our closet. For the sake of the non-Western people who feel the negative ripple effects of fast fashion every time we engage the hamster wheel of consumerism, for the sake of the environmental destruction it’s causing, and for the sake of our own emotional and mental health, we all really need to stand back and ask ourselves why we engage in such an unfair and unhealthy economy.

    (And actually, I’ve been actively thinking about this for the past few weeks as I’ve been packing up my shit and getting ready to move, which you can read about on my blog if you’re interested.)

  10. July 16, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Maia – I was thinking the same thing. There used to be a commercial that touted “Look for the union label,” for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. It raised my consciousness enough so that I always look at the labels before I buy ANYTHING!

  11. July 16, 2010 at 9:43 am

    It’s interesting how class factors in to opinions about clothing. When I became a teenager, I would have been perfectly happy buying most of my clothes from the thrift store. My father, however, insisted on purchasing me a brand new wardrobe from a department store. To him, buying from the thrift store denoted poverty or next-to-poverty, since he had been born very poor. A strongly desired sense of social mobility to him was the ability to be able to purchase clothing that he considered more in line with being middle class.

    Years later, he admitted to me that he worked hard at a job while in high school so that he could buy expensive clothing and dress like the wealthy kids. He lived way out in the country and they lived in town. Hard work and sacrifice is what drove him to become middle class and raise us middle class, but certain things I desired were beyond confusing for him. I’m still not sure he understands.

  12. July 16, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Regarding Western cast-offs in other countries:

    In the nowheresville part of Thailand where I live, the secondhand market is everybody’s favorite place to shop. (I exaggerate with ‘everybody’, of course.) At least in my office, you’re far more likely to gain approval if your fashionable purchase (be it a bag, shoes, skirt, whatever) was secondhand. I’d wager that more than half of the professionalwear in my town is secondhand, with the rest being locally made. That doesn’t even include all the normal folks working in their ‘Podunk Bible Camp 1995’ t-shirts or Korean aprons.

    So here, used clothing from other countries is seen as a windfall of dirt-cheap fashion and utility. I don’t think it cuts into local garment making as having things custom-made is seen as a totally different genre with totally different price tags.

    No idea about the dynamics in other parts of the world, though.

  13. R. Dave
    July 16, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Maia wrote: Let me tell you categorically that you will not make one bit of difference to any of that by how you shop, where you shop, where you don’t shop, what you buy and don’t buy. Small practical changes in your own life are fine if you’re doing if for yourself, but they do not make any difference to the structure of clothes production.

    The same can be said of every individual action. What difference does it make who I vote for, how much I pollute, whether I’m a racist or a sexist, etc. when all of the world’s major problems are “systemic”? Virtually none. So why shouldn’t I just be as selfish, racist, and sexist as humanly possible in my daily activities? Because those things morally wrong, in and of themselves. How my individual behavior affects the system as a whole is not the only (or even the primary) factor in determining what my individual behavior should be.

    And as for the impact on the system, every action I might take, including “standing in solidarity” with garment workers or “supporting collective action” will be an individual action. What difference does it make if I sign a petition, show up at a rally, contribute to a workers’ rights NGO, or whatever? Again, virtually none. My presence, my signature, my $50 contribution are all just teeny, tiny drops in the bucket. So if systemic change is the goal, why bother, according to the logic of Maia’s post? Because, in my view, the logic of her post is faulty.

    Again, every action is an individual action – whether it’s buying used clothes or signing a union petition – and those individual actions add up. Aminatou thinks about her own consumer choices and writes a blog post about it, inspiring others to think about their personal choices and to discuss the subject with others. Gradually, a meme is born, NYT op-eds and Oprah’s book club take note, and perhaps a movement starts to spread. Eventually, there are enough individual consumers familiar with the concept and the issues, and enough opinion-makers trumpeting the idea, that their individual actions start to impact aggregate sales, and the producers notice. That’s how change happens. One individual choice at a time.

  14. Kyra
    July 16, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Another factor to consider/discuss could be mending clothes, which seems to have fallen out of use in recent times (people tend to buy new when clothing doesn’t wear out or tear, let alone when it does)—questions of who does it (for self or others), what clothing it works on re: social/fashion considerations, when it is mended and when iit is replaced, etc.

    I have, over the past four years or so, bought three pairs of to-me-quite-expensive ($70) jeans, which were fairly skinny but not skintight, which I have called my “Perfect Jeans” because I adore color, fit, style, and how I look in them. Each pair has lasted around a year, and then split open across the right butt cheek, prompting parents and society to say it’s unacceptably immodest for me to wear them.

    They are sitting in my laundry room, all three pairs, waiting for me to figure out how to mend them. I desperately want to be able to wear them again, but given the place that needs patching, the worn fabric around it, the shape, my vanity regarding how it will look, I’ve had trouble figuring out how to go about it.

    Nowadays I’m filling most of my pant-related needs with men’s jeans bought from Mills Fleet Farm—work pants, heavy material, sturdy construction, and I’m hoping they last me awhile longer.

  15. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Free-market activism hasn’t worked as an effective tool for changing the system in the years it’s been used. It would require everyone to make the same choices, and it’s been pointed out repeatedly that many people do not have the resources or access to these choices to do so. What we are left with is inconsistent and not very effective. It’s opened the door to some niche marketing (and allowed the worst practitioners to continue about their business). It’s allowed people to think they’re doing something when nothing really changes. And when it’s the only strategy, it’s a big failure.

    Circulating and signing petitions, pushing for laws and measures that would hold corporations accountable for their contractors’ treatment of workers., pushing for a truly independent body that would inspect these EPZ’s, and effectively opposing free-trade (which is free when it comes to labor, and has no fairness to it) are collective actions that could much more than relying on a group of individuals to make what small personal consumer choices they can and hope for the best.

    I had posted a long screed on the other thread about things we can do. As did La Lubu. To focus solely on personal consumer choices does a few things, none of them good. First, it assumes that we all have the same access and can make the same kinds of choices, with the result that those who have the means to make “better” choices wash their hands of further responsibility–and the system stays the same. Second, it results in the shaming of people who cannot make those pure choices. Witness some of the vile rhetoric on the other thread–the poor, the disabled, and the fat were told that they were making excuses, defending their right to use slave-made clothing, and that they only wanted to consume and buy crap. This, in the face of commenters who were clear that they purchased very little because they could not afford to, that they didn’t go to thrift stores because the ones near them were not wheelchair accessible, that sewing was out of the question because they were visually impaired, that they could not afford to buy something online only to find out that it didn’t fit, and that they could not travel an hour or more to thrift because of cost and accessibility. Third, these niche boycott lite campaigns–such as with clothing–overlook the fact that every single thing we use is produced in EPZ’s by exploited workers. So we get a few clothing lines to step up and do the right thing (and people may or may not be able to access them or afford them)–we still have cell phones, computers, TV’s, furniture, office supplies, MP3 players and iPods, cameras, kitchenware, and a whole bunch of other things that are still produced in the very same conditions. And the pressure isn’t on them.

    So–we can do what we’ve been doing and rely on personal choices that are scattershot and inconsistent, and in many cases, non-existent since there are no other options but the big box store in some areas. Or we can work to make real change–which would require organizing and political involvement.

    I think it’s great if you have the access and time and can thrift and sew/mend and patronize fair trade clothing companies. I do it myself. But I don’t mistake it for activism or change, and I was frankly sickened by the erasure I saw of people who did not have the privilege or access to do these things.

  16. exholt
    July 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

    It’s interesting how class factors in to opinions about clothing. When I became a teenager, I would have been perfectly happy buying most of my clothes from the thrift store. My father, however, insisted on purchasing me a brand new wardrobe from a department store. To him, buying from the thrift store denoted poverty or next-to-poverty, since he had been born very poor. A strongly desired sense of social mobility to him was the ability to be able to purchase clothing that he considered more in line with being middle class.

    Years later, he admitted to me that he worked hard at a job while in high school so that he could buy expensive clothing and dress like the wealthy kids. He lived way out in the country and they lived in town. Hard work and sacrifice is what drove him to become middle class and raise us middle class, but certain things I desired were beyond confusing for him. I’m still not sure he understands.

    I had very similar experiences with your grandfather in terms of not being able to afford clothing. Heck, I lived solely on hand-me-down clothing from better off relatives and friends until I started working my first job right a few months after college graduation when I saved up enough to buy new professional clothes for the very first time because the old ones were literally on their last legs.

    It did affect me differently than him, however, as it has made me loathe clothes shopping and am turned off from the concept of fashion altogether.

    That and the fact I remembered learning from my high school Western European history class that Louis XIV started encouraging what became Paris/French high fashions as a way for the once independent and even rebellious aristocracy to be so preoccupied with keeping up with the latest fashions while living in Versailles that they had little/no financial resources to build up independent power bases to threaten his increasingly centralized authority over the French state. In short…a form of “Bread and Circuses” to distract and enfeeble others from civic and political participation.

    Gradually, a meme is born, NYT op-eds and Oprah’s book club take note, and perhaps a movement starts to spread. Eventually, there are enough individual consumers familiar with the concept and the issues, and enough opinion-makers trumpeting the idea, that their individual actions start to impact aggregate sales, and the producers notice. That’s how change happens. One individual choice at a time.

    If this scrutiny was mainly focused on the upper/middle classes who do have the socio-economic privilege to set trends and to make a meaningful impact…..that’s one thing. Unfortunately, what too often happens as can be seen by some of the comments which betray a disturbing obliviousness of their high socio-economic privilege is that they often use the “lectures” and “tut-tuting” as a way to further bludgeon and lambaste those who have the fewest options and little/no socio-economic privilege to live up to their high standards.

    What’s more ironic is how they seem to be oblivious to the fact that nearly everything they have….including the very computers they use to type these comments are built using underpaid exploited labor unless their machines were build in the late 1990s at the very latest. :roll:

  17. July 16, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    What about fat women? I did not address the size issue because I was planning to do so in another post. Just because I shop at vintage/thrift/consignment stores doesn’t mean I’m not aware their politics can be fucked as well.

    i suggest Pinup Girl Clothing. My girl and i are rockabilly fans and ended up finding great clothing for her there (she’s a large). they also have XL, XXL, etc. beautiful clothing for all sizes (a bit pricey sometimes).

  18. Samantha b.
    July 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Sheelzebub, I don’t disagree with much of your post, but can you reasonably argue that petitions and “pushing” (I’m not trying to be smart ass by putting that in quotes, but it is fairly nebulous as far as identifying solutions go) for legislation are *more* likely to be effective in changing our enormously corporate-friendly political structure? I push for legislation and sign petitions all the time, and I’m not so convinced they’re tremendously effective either. Frankly, I think we need to engage in personal and collective action to the degree that we fucking can and not create cynical either/or’s. Because, as I said in the last thread, we’re pretty lonely in adopting these outlooks, at least in the hyper-consumerist late capitalist US. It’d be awfully nice if we were encouraging each other to avail ourselves of our best options, rather than tearing each other down for putative inadequacies. Also, are there specific pieces of legislation and petitions and the like that you would like to point to? Because without those, we’re still stuck in a vague, well-in-a-perfect-world- we-would-do-this place. I’m not generally a perfect is the enemy of the good sort of thinker, but there have to be starting points, no? Otherwise, yeah, of course nothing changes.

  19. July 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    From one fat chick to another, seriously, how do you thrift? I have tried many, many times to go into thrift stores. I never find anything. Short of driving to New York (I live in DC), what’s a fat chick to do? I hate buying the cheap exploitative crap.

    • July 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm

      From one fat chick to another, seriously, how do you thrift? I have tried many, many times to go into thrift stores. I never find anything. Short of driving to New York (I live in DC), what’s a fat chick to do? I hate buying the cheap exploitative crap.

      I actually have a HORRIBLE time thrifting in NY. I’ve found that hitting up thriftstores (and especially antique shops for housewares) in not-trendy cites is far more fruitful — both for a wider variety of sizes and for better stuff, since most of the stuff that fits my aesthetic gets grabbed up in NY and DC.

      Thrifting does require a lot of time and patience, and either an ability to tailor the clothes yourself or pay a decent seamstress to make alterations. It’s not a perfect solution by any stretch, but it is something I try to take advantage of, especially when visiting relatives in non-urban areas.

  20. another African WOC shaking her head at this post
    July 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    You know, when you have to defend each post by identifying as part of the marginalised group, you should realise that that whatever your intention, you expressed yourself poorly.

    I think you could have at least acknowledged that.

    I also grew up in Lagos and your argument is disingenuous. You are not comparing like for like, culturally or economically. Also, respectfully, you say you weren’t privileged. Really? To study at a US university? Not privileged? This is like that whole $100 dress thing isn’t it?

    Also, why did you say that all women liked to shop, to contradict yourself now? You don’t think that words, even jokes, have cultural force?

    Also, is there any evidence that shopping at Wal Mart and Forever 21 aren’t the same. Or that shopping at Forever 21 is any worse? It seems like you basically attacked a Straw Man – wannabe SATC ites – and that was it. I shopped at Target because it was nearby and it was the only place I could find things in my size. What am I – a fat middle America loser or a trendy suburbanite? I don’t think people are that simple.

    Lastly, from another African perspective – liberal do gooders making small individual changes will never be the solution to any of the issues affecting countries in parts of the Global South. 1 – Western buying power will very soon < that of Asia. 2 – how can an African with any grasp of their own history not understand that structural forces must be faced structurally? Please.

  21. R. Dave
    July 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    One question I have for those who object to the classism of consumer-driven advocacy: is it not also classist to advocate for laws and policies that will drive up prices and thus harm the very same people who you argue lack the means to change their consumption habits? If they can’t afford the higher costs of “slow fashion”, how can they afford the higher costs of “living wage” production?

  22. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    First of all, R. Dave, it’s not true that paying a living wage means automatically that the price of goods will go up past the point of affordability. We managed this quite nicely for years–the reason why we are now using EPZ’s and underpaid workers is not to keep prices low, it’s to keep profit margins high. Companies prefer to use the excess for “branding” (manufacturing is so boring and passe, apparently). Not to mention the fact that CEO’s and executives make far more than the lowest paid person in that company (not counting the contract workers in EPZ’s). In fact, the disparity is far greater than it was back in the 1950’s.

  23. July 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    This is a really interesting point. It illustrates two main narratives that I have heard in environmental/activist circles:

    The first is the examination of the individual choices of privileged consumers (see: No Impact Man or Affluent Persons Living Sustainably) in which privileged individuals encourage other privileged individuals to make more sustainable choices.

    The other narrative is the examination of the systemic problem that 1) cannot necessarily be changed by individual actions 2) adversely affect less privileged individuals who do not have the means to make sustainable/healthier choices.

    The first argues that individual change must precede collective change. The second argues that taking the the position of narrative #1 is at best short-sighted and at worst creating a negative effect due to the less privileged getting blamed for not making the same choices, and the more privileged feeling satisfied enough with their own personal sacrifices to not engage in a collective effort to change the system (as you pointed out).

    I would argue that both narratives are valuable and will create a positive effect. Obviously, collective effort is the most direct way to effect change that will benefit more than just the privileged. Obviously, that would be best conclusion of any environmental or activist conversation. At the same time, however, the privileged has the power to “set trends,” as you explained above. These trends help that collective effort along by getting recognized by Oprah and the NYT, as R. Dave pointed out. So, while individual change isn’t going to suddenly persuade the industry to stop engaging in slave labor overseas, it will raise awareness and help the issue into the wider political and social spotlight. Then, the possibility of actual change becomes much more likely.

    As long as the privileged don’t “tut-tut” when others cannot make the same choices they do or feel that personal change takes the place of activism, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the conversation about “fast fashion” to start out at the individual level.

  24. July 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    (whoops, my comment was in response to exholt, btw)

  25. July 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Re: structural vs. individual — I don’t think Aminatou is saying that we don’t need to make structural changes, or even that structural changes aren’t more important and influential than individual changes. But we can do both. And individual changes do matter in setting the groundwork for larger structural ones, and for building a culture in which those structural changes are encouraged and accepted. Promoting individual change does not mean that we aren’t also promoting structural change.

  26. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    So, while individual change isn’t going to suddenly persuade the industry to stop engaging in slave labor overseas, it will raise awareness and help the issue into the wider political and social spotlight. Then, the possibility of actual change becomes much more likely.

    We’ve been approaching this on an individualistic level for years, though. I think it’s time to gear up for collective action. Besides which, if relatively privileged people have the time and the resources to shop ethically, why not use that time and those resources to effect collective change?

    As long as the privileged don’t “tut-tut” when others cannot make the same choices they do or feel that personal change takes the place of activism, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the conversation about “fast fashion” to start out at the individual level.

    That’s not what happened in the comments section of the last thread, however.

  27. Elisabeth
    July 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    One thing that shocked me about comments in the last post is how resistant people were to relatively straightforward statements like “women in industrialized countries are relatively more privileged than women in developing countries” or “buying second hand can cut down on clothing waste and save money.” I am not sure how anyone can seriously argue that they (with the ability to comment on feministe, no less) are less privileged than, say, underprivileged people in Haiti, Mali, or Bangladesh (to name a few countries), or that clearly anyone who says so must be a trust fund baby.
    I’m not sure how anyone can seriously argue it takes class privilege to shop at Goodwill. I grew up shopping there (yes, somehow my working single mom found time to go to Goodwill), and let me tell you, latte liberals and yuppies were the last people to be found there. In fact, I think it is safe to say that people who cannot afford to shop at Goodwill *definitely* cannot afford to shop at Target.

    I think people are confusing vintage stores, which can be quite upscale, with thrift stores or second hand stores in general, which are generally much cheaper than new clothes, especially for quality (e.g., you can maybe get a flimsy new shirt for $2 at Target if it’s in clearance, or you can get a well constructed shirt at Goodwill for $2, and the range of styles and sizes will be much greater at Goodwill than in the clearance bin). Also, I’m not sure what disability would allow you to shop at Target or Walmart but not Goodwill, especially because Goodwills are often located with easy public transport access, unlike a large box store, which can be downright dangerous to access without a car. In my experience sometimes a majority of people shopping in Goodwill have a visible disability (not to mention people who might have other disabilities).
    Also, the comment that it is classist to mend clothes makes my jaw drop. Somehow it is easier, cheaper, and less time consuming to go to the store and buy a new shirt rather than sew on a button or close up a small rip? I understand some people do have disabilities that don’t allow them to perform even basic simple tasks. In that case, then I would argue that suggestion isn’t geared towards you, so don’t make it about you.
    I get that the range can be hit or miss at a second hand shop, but any larger place will have a huge stock of basics in many sizes (e.g. jeans, black pants, button up shirts), often a wider range than a brick and mortar store, and shopping at Target or any other store to hit the sales is also time consuming and takes planning, not to mention it seems like brick and mortar shops are carrying a more and more limited range of sizes, so

    Finally, the “individual actions mean nothing so why bother” is a frustrating attitude and a surprising one on feministe. Yes, structural change is hard to bring about and probably won’t come from individual consumer choices. BUT, to say that people making daily ethical choices is pointless is totally counter productive. I mean, in reality, your vote doesn’t count, your carbon footprint doesn’t matter, the litter you toss on the street is a drop in the bucket, your one call to congress won’t change minds, your one signature on a petition is a waste of ink. But if everyone thinks personal choices are pointless, or that critical thinking is only for the upper-middle class, then the world would be worse off, I guarantee it. to roughly paraphrase Zizek, cynicism is the tool of fascism, and I think that there is a lot of truth to that. To give up is to give in, and while structural change is super important, so is realizing that individual choices writ large *can* make a difference.

  28. July 16, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I think most people are aware that shopping and obtaining clothes is different and more difficult for some people, no doubt. No one is asking for anyone to do more than they can.

    The thing that surprises me is the idea that being obese or not of the average shape and size is a deterrent to shopping away from the main chains. I learned to sew mostly because of the difficulty in finding properly fitting clothes at the regular stores. I am not going to wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting clothing because I chose to leave it in the hands of stores that don’t care about me or the welfare of the workers who made their clothes.

    If you can’t sew, mend, thrift, or shop online, just keep yourself informed and do what you can. You can still tell people to keep an eye out for nice clothes in your size when they go to the Salvation Army store, you can still snap up a nice home-made quilt when you find one. And if you’re commissioning clothes whether online or off, they’re made to your measurements and should fit, probably better than anything off the rack.

    I can’t knit or handsew either, and there’s a lot of aspects of clothesmaking I have to relegate to my sister, but just not throwing away old things, or lodging complaints about your favorite companies practices, are doing something.

    The corporate clothes business isn’t nice business at all. I would rather not give them more power over me than is necessary.

  29. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Elisabeth, did you read any of the posts by people who are actually, you know, poor and disabled? Because they outlined quite clearly why thrifting wasn’t an option for them (one poster actually pointed out that the closest thrift store was not accessible for her wheelchair, but thanks for ignoring that), why mending and sewing was not an option for them, and why things like Esty were not practical for them. Yes, many poor people thrift, if there are thrift stores in their area and if they can make it to those stores during those hours. Again (seriously? It’s like some of you folks just don’t read the posts), for folks who work two jobs, or work double shifts, and have kids, making it to the thrift store during the hours its open is a real challenge. And in many places (again, having to repeat myself) Walmart or Meijer is the only game in town. Yes, perhaps someone can drive an hour or two away to a thrift store–if they can afford the gas and/or time. But not everyone can.

    Frankly, there wasn’t so much resistance as honestly asking “I’d like to do this, but how can I participate when I’ve got these challenges?” When these posts were met with comments about how they were just making excuses, defending the right to wear slave-made clothes, how they were greedy people wanting more crap (um, no, a few described some pretty fucking dire poverty) and not trying hard enough, then the pushback started.

    And great–you like individual actions! But they haven’t done squat. Again, we’ve been buying mindfully for years, and EPZ’s still exist, people still get fucked over, and instead of real change being made, people who cannot make those choices get shamed. And unlike making daily decisions to not shop at Wal-Mart, voting, agitating for change, and you know, organizing, make far more sustainable change. I’ve seen the result of this scattershot and inconsistent consumer choice squee, and it’s been pretty abysmal.

  30. Elisabeth
    July 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Um, Sheelzebub, have you *ever* been to a Goodwill? Did you *actually* read my post? Because frankly, to argue that poor or disabled people can shop only at Target and not at Goodwill is insulting. Yes, there aren’t Goodwills everywhere. Yes, Walmart and Target have done a great job gaining a monopoly in small towns. So if you have a disability that means you cannot shop for clothes, or if the only thrift store isn’t wheel chair friendly (which would not be a Goodwill), or you live somewhere where there is only a Walmart in reasonable distance, then obviously, you have to do what you have to do. But I’m going to repeat: If the post isn’t about you, then don’t make it about you. There are 1,000s of Goodwills in the country (in fact, a quick search on my computer revealed 25 within easy public transport distance of my house. There are no Targets or Walmarts nearby, or even far away that are accessible by public transportation…so, since I don’t have a car, I can’t shop at Target or Walmart. Also, the Goodwill? Open 7am-10pm. If you can’t shop during those hours, then you probably can’t shop at Target either). I *really* don’t get how Target is the only choice for unprivileged people, but thrift stores are only for the elite. In fact, I would say anyone who wrote that comment has *never* been inside a Goodwill.

    Also, you weren’t saying, “I can’t do X, what else can I do?” you were calling people who DO shop at stores like the Goodwill or make minor clothing repairs wealthy trustafarians. Um…WTF?? Also, can we drop the single mom strawwoman? I was raised by a single working mom, and this “single moms can only ever shop at Target, and can’t afford thrift stores or have no time to go there, not even ones that are open 15 hour days, etc.” is not contributing to a conversation.

    Finally, NO ONE is saying that collective action is bad, or wrong, but rather that individual choices, in the aggregate, can have some impact. What’s so inflammatory, or offensive about that? I find it FAR more offensive to argue that only wealthy people can think critically, or even with constrained options, try to live ethically.

    • July 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      I don’t think Sheelzebub is saying that no poor or disabled people are able to shop at Goodwill. I think she’s saying that for some people, because of a variety of issues including time, money and ability, shopping at Goodwill or another thrift store is difficult, unrealistic or impossible. And that “shop at Goodwill” is not an end-all be-all solution.

  31. Miss S
    July 16, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Actually R Dave has a point in that paying a living wage will likely drive up the price of the goods because of profit margins. Workers are costs, and any for-profit firm will decrease costs to increase profits. So paying a living wage means the price goes up. This is why companies outsource. They can pay someone in a developing nation 25 cents an hour, and pocket the profit, or as Sheelzebub pointed out, use it for branding. If they had to pay $6 an hour, they certainly wouldn’t absorb that. They would pass it on.

    This is why capitalism has its limits. Businesses will start caring about the environment and employees when it becomes profitable. Which really really sucks for employees and the environment.

    I agree with Elisabeth on privilege. Despite how you might feel about the US political system or economic system… people here (espcially those with access to the Internet) have an incredible amount of privilege relative to those who are disadvantaged in a developing nation. (Of course there are wealthy people in all nations but we are discussing garment workers) Privilege is relative. If you are working class in the U.S, you are not privileged relative to the wealthy. But you are privileged relative to the working class in developing nations.

  32. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Um, Sheelzebub, have you *ever* been to a Goodwill?
    In fact, I would say anyone who wrote that comment has *never* been inside a Goodwill.

    Um, Elizabeth, yes, I have, years ago, but there are no Goodwills where I live (imagine that!). There is a St. Vincent de Paul which closes at 5:00 every day (closed on Sundays). I thrift when I can. I just don’t push it as a political solution.

    But I’m going to repeat: If the post isn’t about you, then don’t make it about you.

    And I’m going to repeat: if you want to know why there was pushback (since you commented about that), read the bile that was thrown at the posters who said they had challenges in trying to thrift or sew or buy ethically. Again, they were told that they weren’t trying hard enough, that they were making excuses, that if they really wanted to they could learn to sew or make time to thrift, that they were defending the right to wear slave-made clothing, and that they were greedy people who wanted cheap crap. Read the actual posts of poor and disabled people who stated quite clearly what their challenges were, and the response to them.

    I *really* don’t get how Target is the only choice for unprivileged people, but thrift stores are only for the elite.

    I never said that. I said that not everyone can thrift, due to working double shifts/second jobs coupled with family responsibilities. I said that in many regions (no, not in your region with great public transport but hello–many places don’t have that) the big box store is the only game in town. And I said it was a real mark of privilege to overlook and ignore the very real challenges to doing these things that poor and disabled people wrote about in that thread. I said it was classist to ignore that and berate people for not making the better choices when they already talked about the challenges they were facing (and yes, that happened a lot on that thread). You can’t ignore the bile that was thrown their way and then blithely say, “Hey! If it’s not about you don’t make it about you!” That’s just disingenuous.

    I find it FAR more offensive to argue that only wealthy people can think critically, or even with constrained options, try to live ethically.

    I find it offensive when you twist my words and argue in bad faith. I never said that only wealthy people can think critically–I said (again, reading comprehension fail on your part) that wealthy people often have the time, access, and resources to make the “better” choices when we reduce change to consumerism. In fact, if the best a wealthy person has to say is that they don’t shop at Wal-Mart and they thrift so now their hands are clean, I’d say they aren’t thinking critically at all.

  33. Miss S
    July 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Also, I’m really glad for this post. My individual solutions:
    Shopping at thrifts. It can be time consuming, but it’s not that much more time consuming for me (I’m used to it) I’m short, so finding pants and jeans is a time consuming torturous adventure no matter where I go :)

    Shopping at consignment shops: Oftentimes more expensive than the thrift, but sometimes not. Also, if you’re into fashion, this might be a better idea because they often have the latest trends.

    Shopping at yardsales: In the beginning of summer and at the end is the best time around here to do this. (Maryland) Saturday mornings my mom, sisters and I will get up early and head out.

    My mom was a single mom of three girls so I know how to bargain shop my ass off :)

    Not throwing clothes away: Learning to mend is on my to-do list. My attempt at embroidery was just sad, so we’ll see. For now, I ask a family member. If it can’t be fixed, I’ll use it as a rag. If nothing is wrong with it, I’ll take it to goodwill or a consigment shop. The shop I consign with donates what doesn’t sell (if you don’t pick it up) to a woman’s shelter. Win/win

    Hope this helps!

  34. PrettyAmiable
    July 16, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    I’m sorry, why is this about individual versus collective action? Why can’t we have both?

    For people with comparative privilege (that is, TAB, wealthy enough to have the credit to take out loans for grad school, thin people like me who have extra time on their hands), why can’t I put in the effort to choose not to support institutions that use sweat shops, while simultaneously looking at which politicians aren’t in the hands of apparel companies to petition them to require clothing manufacturers to label their clothes as “slave labor” if that’s what they are? (PS, that is the alternative to waiting for fair wage to be economical – make it uneconomical for them to use slave labor. High margins are irrelevant if you’re not getting a sizeable volume). Or, write to those politicians to slap tariffs on clothing that companies are importing if they’re sourced from sweatshops. Doing that even addresses the massive budget deficit we’ve racked up in the US.

    It doesn’t have to be this or that. R Dave was dead-on when zie said “So why shouldn’t I just be as selfish, racist, and sexist as humanly possible in my daily activities? Because those things morally wrong, in and of themselves.” The only caveat I’m adding is that I don’t necessarily think that “selfish” is a bad thing – your priority should be meeting your base needs. So if you can shop at clothing shops that are fair wage, do it. If you can’t, it’s cool. If you don’t have the time to write to a politician or a company or to get people to do it with you, don’t. You can’t be everything to everyone, and fuck anyone who tries to guilt trip you otherwise.

    Other notes:

    To anyone who is still looking for fair wage clothing lines for doing the individual push, I was able to use google. The information is out there and is accessible. Here’s one resource I found: http://www.greenamericatoday.org/programs/sweatshops/sweatfreeproducts.cfm And keep in mind that it’s done by line of clothing/what have you, so places like Target can easily carry these lines. (Special shout-out to Union Built PCs, which require work from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, of which my brother is a member).

    And this:
    “I really believe in wearing styles that don’t accentuate your cellulite or squeeze your gut up to your boobs. That’s one thing I hate about vintage shops. They only offer up Twiggy sized clothes. I am not anorexic.” There is absolutely no room for body policing here. A number of people have commented on how they are restricted in clothing purchases because of economic reasons. Their clothing fit isn’t always their choice. “Accentuate your cellulite”? Really? And what if they like that about their bodies? Your body hang ups don’t belong to everyone. Further, I was anorexic for a time. Interestingly, during that time, my need to remain clothed did not diminish. Seriously, fuck you. If you want to hate your own body and mind as it flaws from some bullshit society-driven image, that’s fine. But you don’t need to impose it on anyone else.

  35. July 16, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks for this post! I really appreciated your first post, as well. It gave me a lot to think about, and, because I do have the ability to work these small changes into my life, I will.

    @Sheelzebub:

    And great–you like individual actions! But they haven’t done squat. Again, we’ve been buying mindfully for years, and EPZ’s still exist, people still get fucked over, and instead of real change being made, people who cannot make those choices get shamed. And unlike making daily decisions to not shop at Wal-Mart, voting, agitating for change, and you know, organizing, make far more sustainable change. I’ve seen the result of this scattershot and inconsistent consumer choice squee, and it’s been pretty abysmal.

    Try as I might, I cannot think of a single reason why individuals who have the ability to alter their spending habits to align with nearly universal ethical standards of human treatment would be doing a bad thing by altering their habits. You actually seem to be suggesting that no one talk about this. As if the mere existence of a blog post highlighting bad working conditions and developing countries’ oppression at the hands of first world countries’ is somehow offensive to you. Some commenters may have had a problematic tone, but you actually seem to be really, really angry that anyone has the nerve to say, out loud, that those who have the ability to change their consumption habits should maybe, you know, consider doing that. The information provided in the last post was useful, and important, and more and more people need to hear about it. And your idea that we should abandon even talking about individual choices and how they may impact the systemic problems we all deal with every freaking day and replace it with what many earlier commenters have accurately described as just as “useless” as you perceive individual changes to be is ignorant, hateful, and, frankly, whiny. Screw people who shame others for what they cannot control, but also, screw the idea that people who make those decisions and encourages other who are able to do the same are somehow acting in a problematic way.

    Also, ignoring the fact that you seem to be altogether negligent of the concerns of the horrific working and living conditions of women elsewhere, you seem to understand US privilege well enough; try going back and remembering that before you continue to say that no one should bother thinking about those women’s conditions that directly produce the clothing most of us wear. God. Pointing that out is not classist, ableist, or anything else. Not pointing that out or acknowledging that is intellectually dishonest, at best.

  36. Rose
    July 16, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    What Sheezlebub said. Eleventy.

    I’ll only add that sewing is a serious art form. My grandmother was a brilliant seamstress. I can’t sew my way out of a paper bag and yes, I have tried, I’m just not very good at it. It’s certainly not the kind of thing that everyone can just take up and create wearable clothing overnight like it’s nothing.

    Those with knowledge about fashion history should know that Ready to Wear clothing has been around since the early 20th century. Before that, all but the very rich had to sew their own clothing and their family’s clothing as well. Of course, the burden was on women and men weren’t expected to learn to sew. Indeed, the earliest “slop shops” for men’s work clothing came out of necessity because men would take jobs in the field far away from their wives and mothers and needed clothing because they couldn’t sew for themselves.

    I find it bizarre that any feminist would suggest that we should return to our 19th century roles as seamstresses! And before someone comes in to tell me that men should sew their own clothing too and no one is arguing otherwise, I would point out that in the real world, we all know that’s not how it’s gonna look.

    If we want to do something about EPZs we’re going to have to challenge the entire capitalist system that we’re all drowning in one way or another. But that’s not nearly so easy as lecturing people to sew their own clothing or go to Goodwill, is it?

  37. July 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    One more thing:

    I find it offensive when you twist my words and argue in bad faith. I never said that only wealthy people can think critically–I said (again, reading comprehension fail on your part) that wealthy people often have the time, access, and resources to make the “better” choices when we reduce change to consumerism. In fact, if the best a wealthy person has to say is that they don’t shop at Wal-Mart and they thrift so now their hands are clean, I’d say they aren’t thinking critically at all.

    At what point did anyone on the offending post, this post, or either comment thread even insinuate the idea that, by altering their shopping habits, their “hands are clean”? That’s bullshit extrapolation from something never uttered on either post or thread. So why don’t you stop twisting words and arguing in bad faith, too, instead of fabricating reasons to accuse others of the same thing.

  38. July 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    @ PrettyAmiable:
    “and what if they like that about their bodies? Your body hang ups don’t belong to everyone”

    I’m pretty sure most people don’t like having their gut shoved up to their breasts. It sounds quite uncomfortable to me.

  39. Kaz
    July 16, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    @Elizabeth – just so you know, you are making a lot of assumptions about disability and the way it presents. I’m not in the US, but for me thrift stores are very difficult because they tend to be small and quite personal and therefore send my anxiety into the stratosphere. They also tend to be cramped – not good for my sensory sensitivities at all – and have unique layouts, which is stressful for me because I deal badly with unfamiliar environments and need constants. Since shopping for me is usually a race as to whether I can find what I need before my spoons run out, I usually end up at chains for most shopping I do.

    Furthermore, mending and sewing is just ludicrously unrealistic for me, not because of anything like not being able to perform “basic simple tasks” in terms of things like visual impairment or dyspraxia making it impossible but because I have executive dysfunction that makes getting *anything* done at home a serious hassle. It’s not about time or ability, it’s about spoons, and I have my hands more than full trying to have regular meals, sleep enough and make it to uni, with a recent foray into actually trying to keep my flat tidy. Mend clothing? I wish I could manage to wash my dishes, the idea of one day being able to mend my own clothing is up there with “and I’ll be a famous author and win the Fields Medal” for unrealistic pipe dreams for me. At the same time, my disability is one that usually gets dismissed as me being lazy and in fact I have to work a lot not to fall back on internalised ableism and tell myself I’m just being lazy and I could totally do all of that and more if I just tried hard enough, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t exactly have an easy time going “oh, but I’m sure she didn’t mean ME” because all too often people DO. If you don’t mean me, make clear that you don’t mean me.

    Please do not make assumptions about what disabled people find difficult or easy or what their disabilities must entail. We’re a diverse bunch, we’ll probably surprise you.

  40. Maia
    July 16, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Samantha b – I could provide some info for New Zealanders, but unforunately one thing I don’t really understand is Labour organising in the United States. Here the best way to support union struggles in other places, and learn about them, is through your own union. I’m pretty sure there were some good links in the other threads – and there’s always Labourstart

    Miss S

    Businesses will start caring about the environment and employees when it becomes profitable.

    Businesses will never start caring about their employees. However, they will start raising wages and conditions, not when their customers demand it, but when the employees organise and demand it.

    To the people who are saying ‘but it’s a start’ or ‘it’s a culture change’ – I’m just not sure how. Particularly as most people’s ideas of less exploitative clothing choices are still exploitative.

    You may think the ‘made in the US label’ will help you – but my experiences with clothing factories in a develoepd countries is that they are truly horrific places to work.

    So you can make cltohes – but the material you buy are made under the same conditions as clothes.

    So we turn to second hand stores. The actual cheap second hand stores – the ones that have massives of clothing – are on my list of worst places to work in New Zealand (along with clothing stores and any franchise). They get large quantaties of clothing from clothing bins and have people sort through it – there’s human waste in the clothing sometimes, but they aren’t given gloves. And I’ve heard heaps more of that sort of stuff from people who work in the massive second hand shops (I think they’re what are called consignment stores in the US). I would guess (although dont’ have the personal knowledge of this that I do with everywhere else) that the small for profit thrift/vintage stores are a mixed bunch – some would be on the better end of retail – but then in other places the absolute power and responsibility in one person would make them very difficult to work for (but these are the highly priced ones, and therefore are only an option if you have the money).

    Then there’s the not for-profit fundraising stores. The issue there is where is the money going? Large numbers of those sorts of thrift stores are run by Presbytarian support services – who also run rest homes and treat their workers truly appallingly.

    You can’t clothe yourself outside of capitalism – and you can’t clothe yourself without exploitation.

    At the same time clothing ourselves is can be really complex and really high-stakes for a lot of women. I didn’t really like the reaction to the person who said she only needed 10 pairs of shoes not 20 – because we don’t know anything about her life – and what lots of shoes gets her that she needs. Lots of jobs demand a certain look – and shoes aren’t built to be multi-purpose.

    Clothing ourselves is already a really hard balance – because there are so many demands put on our clothes. Women are going to have a wide variety of survivial strategies to deal with that. For women to change their survival strategies to those which are constructed as more ethical (although for reasons I’ve explained I don’t believe they are) is going to to take time or money. And it’s not going to do anyone else any good.

  41. July 16, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I find it bizarre that any feminist would suggest that we should return to our 19th century roles as seamstresses! And before someone comes in to tell me that men should sew their own clothing too and no one is arguing otherwise, I would point out that in the real world, we all know that’s not how it’s gonna look.

    I guess I better rethink my love of cooking, too, and let my feminist friends know that their appreciation of skirts, dresses, and flowers are also unfeminist and unrealistic. I guess if we’re not the stereotypical butch, hairy-legged lesbians who shun anything stereotypically feminine or historically oppressive toward women that our anti-feminist haters want to paint us as, we aren’t real feminists.

  42. PrettyAmiable
    July 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    @Maia, clothing made in Saipan is labeled “Made in USA,” so that’s definitely true.

    @Lasciel, I don’t believe I’ve actually seen someone have “their gut shoved up to their breasts” by clothes. Can something be “strawclothing,” so to speak?

  43. July 16, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    @Rose- “I find it bizarre that any feminist would suggest that we should return to our 19th century roles as seamstresses! And before someone comes in to tell me that men should sew their own clothing too and no one is arguing otherwise, I would point out that in the real world, we all know that’s not how it’s gonna look.”

    As you said, it’s an enjoyable and valuable skill, and one that used to be common. I don’t think it’s all that hard-certainly if you want to be very good, it takes a lot of time and work to get that far, but with a little guidance it’s not difficult to make simple clothing for everyday use. Even if one never gets to the point of making attractive clothes for out of the house wear, you can make underclothing, pajamas, yoga pants, etc that no one but you and your dearest will ever have to look at.

    I really don’t understand why you’d think it would fall on the woman to do the sewing now. I can barely keep the males in my family off the sewing machine-or anyone else, for that matter. If you go around insisting everyone in the house wears naught but home-made clothing, then yes, it will surely fall on yourself. No one likes being forced into something, which can easily become a chore.

    @PrettyAmiable- I doubt it. I’ve seen it often enough, usually because someone is wearing too-tight clothing or a stiff belt. It’s really about where you gain weight-some people just get very big stomachs, that stick out quite a lot, and shoving them up… I will admit I don’t see all that many women that gain their weight primarily on their belly, but I don’t see any reason to make people feel any worse by denying that it happens.

  44. July 16, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Lasciel, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the work of sewing and mending will fall on women because in most households, domestic work is still primarily women’s responsibility. Women still do the majority of the cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping, so why would sewing be any different?

  45. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Wow, April. You were one of the nastier people on the last thread and now you’re resorting to lying about what I said. Serious reading comprehension fail on your part as well.

    Try as I might, I cannot think of a single reason why individuals who have the ability to alter their spending habits to align with nearly universal ethical standards of human treatment would be doing a bad thing by altering their habits. You actually seem to be suggesting that no one talk about this.

    No. What I am suggesting is that as a strategy, it hasn’t worked.

    try going back and remembering that before you continue to say that no one should bother thinking about those women’s conditions that directly produce the clothing most of us wear.

    Yes, April, that’s right, I said that no one should bother thinking about “those” women’s conditions. Jesus. I said–if you’d bother to actually read what I wrote and answer in good faith–that I thought the more effective way to go about solving a structural problem was to develop structural solutions. I said that focusing just on consumer choice means we’ll get more of the same–more EPZ’s, more exploitation, and more fucked over women. Not that no one should think about women in the Global South–if you organize to fight corporate exploitation of people in the Global South, guess what? You’re thinking about them.

    Screw people who shame others for what they cannot control, but also, screw the idea that people who make those decisions and encourages other who are able to do the same are somehow acting in a problematic way.

    Yeah, because those posts about the benefits of personal choice were so encouraging. Like when you dismissed the idea that there were more than a few people who couldn’t make the most ethical shopping choices (and did a bit of drive-by parenting as well). Privilege, indeed, April.

    At what point did anyone on the offending post, this post, or either comment thread even insinuate the idea that, by altering their shopping habits, their “hands are clean”?

    Um, I was answering Elisabeth’s assertion that I thought only the wealthy could think critically. I said that I 1) never said any such thing and 2) didn’t think that a hypothetical wealthy person who only focused on consumer choice and decided their hands were clean was not thinking critically.

    Perhaps YOU could stop twisting my words and start debating in good faith, but I won’t hold my breath.

  46. July 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Women still do the majority of the cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping, so why would sewing be any different?

    Is that really a good reason to avoid sewing, or learning how to do so, if you’re able to and have an interest in it?

  47. July 16, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I was certainly not nasty, and if you thought I was, let’s say it together: “reading comprehension fail! YAYFTWLOLMENZ!”

    Perhaps YOU could stop twisting my words and start debating in good faith, but I won’t hold my breath.

    It’s really fun to keep saying this back and forth, could we keep it up? I’m getting bored of this one, though, could we switch to another thing to repeatedly accuse each other of? How about “I’m more of a feminist than you!” or “You lack critical thinking skills!” or even “you have a privilege”? Those aren’t thrown around nearly often enough.

  48. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Right, April. There’s nothing wrong with my reading comprehension. This is what you said: 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!” (The Burger King crack and the moral deathfat bad mommy panic? Classic, BTW.)

    When the people who first posted mild skepticism said things like this:

    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?

    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?

    So, tell me, how was your post in response to questions like these encouraging? You came off as saying that only a few people had good reason not to thrift or mend or what have you–the little line about “do what you can” afterward didn’t ring true considering the way you launched into people who posted that they actually had challenges with this. And then decided to deride the idea that class and ability might actually impact, in many ways, someone’s ability to do these things.

  49. July 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    All right, to actually respond to you in a serious manner:

    Yeah, because those posts about the benefits of personal choice were so encouraging. Like when you dismissed the idea that there were more than a few people who couldn’t make the most ethical shopping choices (and did a bit of drive-by parenting as well). Privilege, indeed, April.

    Allow me to offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology for not communicating my position in the way you would have preferred. My point is that, for most people, small changes in shopping habits and other things are not as difficult as many people, like yourself, want to paint them to be. And articles such as this one and the original were helpful in pointing many of us toward other options. You relentlessly attacked the very idea that an article such as this or the original even exist.

    I said–if you’d bother to actually read what I wrote and answer in good faith–that I thought the more effective way to go about solving a structural problem was to develop structural solutions. I said that focusing just on consumer choice means we’ll get more of the same–more EPZ’s, more exploitation, and more fucked over women. Not that no one should think about women in the Global South–if you organize to fight corporate exploitation of people in the Global South, guess what? You’re thinking about them.

    Emphasis mine. This is the entire point of mine that you missed. Someone else brought it up earlier in this thread as well. Not only is my personal individual choice to try and shop ethically no more than an insignificant drop in the bucket, so is signing a petition or making the individual, also privileged choice to engage the systemic issues by way of writing to congresspeople or marching on the streets and holding signs with witty one-liners about any particular issue that only already like-minded individuals would bother to appreciate. Doing either of those things can’t possibly be considered problematic, and there is no “either/or” to consider. There is no reason why a person who is able to can’t do both.

    Your argument against the people who were actually attempting to shame disabled, poor people was valid, but you still have yet to address the ludicrous and persistent claim that not only is there is no value to individuals making economical decisions based on ethical standards, but that it’s actually harmful to stop financially supporting slave labor, and that people who are able to choose not to do it are privileged assholes who just don’t get it.

  50. July 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    April,

    Is that really a good reason to avoid sewing, or learning how to do so, if you’re able to and have an interest in it?

    Uh, what? Where did I say people should avoid sewing? Observing the way sewing and other domestic work is gendered is not the same thing as saying that people who have the ability and the desire to sew should avoid doing so. If you like sewing, knock yourself out.

  51. exholt
    July 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    I didn’t really like the reaction to the person who said she only needed 10 pairs of shoes not 20 – because we don’t know anything about her life – and what lots of shoes gets her that she needs. Lots of jobs demand a certain look – and shoes aren’t built to be multi-purpose.

    The reaction happened because there are plenty of people who can barely afford to get and use 2-4 pairs of shoes at a time….much less afford 10-20 pairs. That was the case of nearly everyone in my working-class urban neighborhood…..including the working adults.

    In fact, I never knew anyone who had more than 4-6 pairs of shoes until I entered my urban public magnet high school and I encountered a small contingent of well-off kids whose parents were doctors, lawyers, i-bankers, and politicians. Met many more such kids at my college and on various expensive private school campuses (i.e. Columbia, NYU, Harvard) who made comments betraying their obliviousness to their own high socio-economic privilege such as how they were “living in poverty” and were “in touch with the poor” because they were living in urban neighborhoods like the East Village, Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Chelsea, Upper West Side, etc.

    A sort of obliviousness Sheelzebub, others, and myself have noticed in various comments on the previous thread and this one. There was even a proud comment about slumming…

  52. July 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    There are two strands to this, I think, the first is whether individual choices are effective – and obviously I come down on the side that there’s no such thing as ethical shopping.

    But the other strand is the problematic way that these things get discussed. From April

    Try as I might, I cannot think of a single reason why individuals who have the ability to alter their spending habits to align with nearly universal ethical standards of human treatment would be doing a bad thing by altering their habits.

    From PrettyAmiable:

    For people with comparative privilege (that is, TAB, wealthy enough to have the credit to take out loans for grad school, thin people like me who have extra time on their hands), why can’t I put in the effort to choose not to support institutions that use sweat shops, [I’ve cut a bit out here where the writer developed her ideas of other sorts of change – I don’t want to misrepresent her, but want to ]

    So ethical shopping gets defined or constructed as a particular sort of way. People come in and explain why what is being put forward as ‘ethical’ clothes shopping isn’t possible for them – because they don’t hvae the resources, because society turns their bodies into a disability.

    Then the responses like the ones above acknowledge that to various degrees, but then they respond by saying but there’s no reason why those who can shouldn’t shop in a particular way.

    But to construct ethical clothes shopping around what people with resources and bodies and minds that are already priviledged can do – is to centre them and to drive everyone else to the margins.

    PS – I think I was wrong about what a consignment shop is in the US in my last comment. I don’t know what you call massive second hand clothes shops that have

  53. July 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Then the responses like the ones above acknowledge that to various degrees, but then they respond by saying but there’s no reason why those who can shouldn’t shop in a particular way.

    It’s been repeatedly stated by myself and others people who share my viewpoint that people whose bodies have been labeled “disabled” by society should not be expected to, or shamed into, following the suggestions made by the OP. The point that I, and many others, have been trying to make, is that there is not a good reason to discourage those of us who are able to partake in in any level of activism to do so. Making different choices about what you buy, who to write letters to, whether to attend a march for something, or start a blog are individual choices that can be considered “activism.” All are great things, no one who is participating in activism should think they’re doing something bad, and encouraging those who are able to do something is not problematic. There are many ways to engage, no one should be required to engage, and people who can and do engage should certainly not be lambasted for doing so and encouraging others to do the same.

  54. July 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    And to get back to the other strand:

    Your argument against the people who were actually attempting to shame disabled, poor people was valid, but you still have yet to address the ludicrous and persistent claim that not only is there is no value to individuals making economical decisions based on ethical standards, but that it’s actually harmful to stop financially supporting slave labor, and that people who are able to choose not to do it are privileged assholes who just don’t get it.

    I don’t think people who present their economic decisions as ethical basis are assholes (and don’t think anyone has actually made that claim). As I’ve said I don’t think it’s possible to buy ethically.

    But more important I think presenting your clothing choices as a political act is extremely problematic. Garment workers around the world are organised or organising – they are making wages and conditions in their workplaces better – and they know what it’d be most useful for other people to do to support them. To suggest that you are making decisions for their welfare, rather than listening to them, and doing what they’re asking for and then present that as an ethical or political action – that’s not an analysis I agree with.

  55. July 16, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    April – you didn’t respond to my point. Which was that a passing acknowledgment that people shouldn’t be shamed into behaving in the way that has been constructed as ethical doesn’t change the fact that the entire discussion is being centred around the capabilities of people with resources whose bodies are already priviledged.

  56. July 16, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    And, in order to avoid shaming people at the margins, you have to respect their judgment about what they are capable of doing. Otherwise you get people saying that x person’s limitations are legitimate, but y person is just making excuses.

  57. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Allow me to offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology for not communicating my position in the way you would have preferred. My point is that, for most people, small changes in shopping habits and other things are not as difficult as many people, like yourself, want to paint them to be.

    And the people who were poor and/or disabled who posted and said that they actually found it to be difficult in their lived experience are. . .what? Just painting it as more difficult than it really is?

    My point, April, is that you and many others who agreed with you alienated a lot of people who simply.don’t.have. the privilege that others have. And for you to go on about how I don’t care about women in the Global South (or to imply that the commenters here who spoke about their experiences and why it was problematic for them to do the piecemeal individualistic solution didn’t care about women in the Global South) was disingenuous.

    but you still have yet to address the ludicrous and persistent claim that not only is there is no value to individuals making economical decisions based on ethical standards, but that it’s actually harmful to stop financially supporting slave labor, and that people who are able to choose not to do it are privileged assholes who just don’t get it.

    Again, you’re putting words in my mouth and lying about what I said. I can play that rhetorical game too–shall I ask you why you think it’s okay for companies to get away with this shit, since you don’t want to organize and hold them legally accountable?

    What I actually said was that as a strategy, shopping less and buying used are piecemeal solutions that are ultimately ineffective–it hasn’t done squat so far. “Doing what you can do” often means that you end up giving these companies your business at some point anyway. And when Wal-Mart or another big box is the only place in your area, it doesn’t matter if you shop less, because the few times you shop, you are supporting companies that exploit labor. I had also pointed out that it’s not just clothing that is produced in EPZ’s by exploited labor. It is almost all of the goods we use. Given that, no, I don’t think we can thrift and sew/mend our way out of this.

    For all of your insistence that political action is part of the strategy, I saw nothing acknowledging that at all in the previous thread. I did see a lot of posts from people lambasting others for “making excuses,” and hand-waving away the very real issues with poverty and ability they face. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m under the impression that it’s more about the poltics of personal purity than anything else.

    Not only is my personal individual choice to try and shop ethically no more than an insignificant drop in the bucket, so is signing a petition or making the individual, also privileged choice to engage the systemic issues by way of writing to congresspeople or marching on the streets and holding signs with witty one-liners about any particular issue that only already like-minded individuals would bother to appreciate.

    Indeed, April. I totes meant making witty one-liners at camp protest. Not pushing for laws that would hold companies accountable for their actions, or anything like that. And not for nothing, but not shopping and thrifting as political action? Is pretty much something done by like-minded individuals. Middle-class people who do it purely for frugality will go to Target if the price is right. One thing you can say about the protest is that it will get noticed by people who are not like-minded. One thing you can say for organizing and agitating is that it will reach people who would not have normally thought about this stuff. Taking five minutes to sign a petition or sending a letter to your representative will have a longer collective impact that deciding not to shop at Wal-Mart–these corporations are behomeths. Wal-Mart runs smaller businesses out of town and guess what? You’ve gotta shop at Wal-Mart, unless you’ve got the time (and gas money) to drive further out or unless you live in an area with different options. Or you shop a little less but still have to buy stuff sometime, and Wal-Mart (or Target or other exploiters) get your money anyway.

    La Lubu–posting about labor issues–actually has made the point in that thread and in other threads that it is exactly that kind of action and organizing that leads to change. Those of us who are skeptical of the consumer choices as activism model are saying that structural problems require a structural response.

    Don’t agree with organizing? Have some other suggestions? Fine. But don’t be surprised if nothing changes if you only stick to individualist solutions.

  58. Miss S
    July 16, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    If you don’t mean me, make clear that you don’t mean me If it doesn’t apply to you than it probably isn’t about you. Of course everything won’t apply to everyone all the time; I’m sure there is a very diverse group here. If I recommend getting groceries from the local Amish market, I’m giving this advice to people who can take it. So I wouldn’t expect people to get all “ZOMG I am being excluded because there are NO Amish people around” or something. I mean, seriously? Sometimes this goes too far. It’s important to be mindful of the lack of access for some, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make suggestions for people. It will likely help someone.

    Likewise, sometimes people give advice that I can’t take. Public transportation? There isn’t any. Bikes? Well for fun, but I couldn’t have biked the 40 mile commute to my school. It’s awfully far, involves a major highway, and there aren’t bike trails. Of course it’s important to note the lack of public transportation. But someone suggesting it doesn’t provoke rage. Annoyance at my area’s lack of PT, yes but not at the person who suggested it. Let’s direct the anger where it should be.

    Maia; yes you have a point. Businesses won’t care about their employees but they will respond to an uprising.

  59. Sheelzebub
    July 16, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Miss S, I suggest you read the other thread. People who brought up the very real issues (poverty, disability, access, etc.) with shopping “ethically” were told that they were making excuses, only wanted to buy a lot of crap and kept Wal-Mart in business, defended the right to wear slave produced clothing, and a whole host of other crap. There’s a reason why there’s pushback–it’s not because someone said, “Hey, if you live near a thrift store and can make it there when it’s open, it’s an option you might want to try.”

  60. Miss S
    July 16, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Maia- I think you may have confused thrift with consignment. I’m pretty sure this varies from place to place but in my area, consigment shops are basically boutiques with second hand clothing. Many of them have trendy, designer fashions. There are also consignment shops for baby and kid’s clothing, furniture, etc. To give an example, I resold a few designer items online that I would pick up at consignment shops. (This is when people were spending money like crazy and I could make a decent profit). I bought authentic designer items such as Louis Vuitton, Manolo’s etc. The consigment owner has to resell what you consign for a profit, so many of them are picky about what they take.

    Thrift stores rely on donations. Some are at churches, but the one I used to go to was run by church volunteers, not actual employees. Goodwill is a non profit that helps people with disabilities, criminal records, etc with job training and placement. I saw a comment here or the other thread where someone said it wasn’t right to shop at a thrift because someone else needs those clothes more. Goodwill’s mission isn’t actually to provide affordable clothes; it’s to help people in the community with employment. So don’t feel bad shopping there- it benefits people who need the help.

  61. July 16, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Miss S – yes I had – we have consignment stores as well, but they’re not called that. In New Zealand there are also for profit stores that sell second hand clothes. They usually get them from charities who put out collection bins and sell them sell them to the for profit stores by the bag who on sell them (that was the sorting I was describing without gloves and with human waste).

    My point was that second-hand stores have a wide range of employment practices, including life endangering ones. So to assume that second hand clothes involve less exploitation is wrong.

  62. Miss S
    July 17, 2010 at 12:06 am

    I understand why it’s important to make structural changes and I see why it’s important to make individual ones.

    The problem is- this is the system we have to work with. I haven’t agreed with the practice of all of the companies I have worked for. One in particular exploited immigrant labor. But I couldn’t strike, or quit in indignance. I had to buy food, pay for medicine, and eat. I couldn’t afford to be that indignant. I would expect people to understand- as someone pointed out, people need to get their basic needs met. I understand why it’s not always possible to work against something. I just wish we could make suggestions, give advice, and point out the problems with the system – including what may be our own behavior- without the insults. In fact, I think one of my comments came out snarkier than I’m okay with.

    So far, we have insulted anorexics, skinny women, women who like cellulite (mine actually doesn’t bother me :) women who want to sew…. I think this is just a really difficult issue.

  63. July 17, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Miss S – while I think most of those comments arose out of C…’s post #3 – and a lot of those were completely unacceptable in a feminist place. I think it is interesting to think why these discussions have gone down the way they did.

    I think there’s a difference between talking about a certain action as a political action and talking about the same action as a survival strategy. I think both these posts weren’t paritcularly clear whether they were talking about political action or survival strategy.

    So I think an interesting discussion about how women clothe themselves, how they’d like to clothe themselves, how their bodies changes how they clothe themselves, how their access to resources change how they clothe themselves, could be had. That would be a space for sharing advice, but recognising differences. But that’s not going to be possible when part of hte set up is that some ways of clothing yourself are a positive political action and others are not.

    In particular, I think it’s important to remember that women are given the role of policing other women’s clothing. So I think individual owmen’s clothing should not be up for discussion in feminists spaces – because the power that the policing has is not something I think we should be using on each other. But when you start positing individual women’s clothing as political action then it’s really difficult to have a discussion about that where individual women don’t feel policed by the discussion.

  64. July 17, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Wow, fascinating couple of threads. So: I’m firmly on the side that individual consumer choices are not meaningless, and that active political engagement is necessary. Morally, I believe once one knows that bad shit is happening, one should work to the best of one’s abilities to make the bad shit stop happening; however, there’s a lot of bad shit, and no one person can fix all of it, or even take small steps towards fixing ALL of it. I thiiink these are pretty neutral statements so far.

    I know a lot of commenters have pointed out that insisting “everyone must make individual consumer choice XYZ” (though I don’t know if anyone’s said precisely that) is ableist, classist, and not very reasonable. I’m not sure I’ve seen it mentioned so far, but the same applies to insisting “everyone must engage in political tactic XYZ.” Not everyone lives in a country where political protest is safe. (Not sure how many of those people are reading this thread, but I’d rather not make assumptions about this or any group of people.) Someone who doesn’t have the downtime to mend clothing may not have the downtime to write a letter to a representative. Even voting, seemingly the most basic of democratic action, isn’t always accessible for people with disabilities, as frustrating (and illegal?!) as that may be. I mean, what if you’re living in (for example) the U.S., but you’re not a documented citizen? Voting is certainly out of the question, but you might not want to engage in political action at all, since drawing attention to yourself and your citizenship status could create a world of problems. The list goes on–I’m sure plenty of people reading this article could elucidate the reasons why engaging in certain forms of activism, including the “basic” political steps, just isn’t feasible in their lives.

    I think as feminists and as, you know, reasonable people, we all should (do?) recognize that 1) everyone has different capabilities, meaning both limits and strengths, and 2) everyone should work *to the best of their capabilities, as they themselves define them*, to end bad shit.

    So, no suggestion (personal or political) can apply to everyone; it is unreasonable for anyone to insist that it does, but it is ALSO unreasonable to insist that because one tactic won’t work for Person A and Person B, it should not even be discussed although it might work for Person C and Person D. Does that make sense? In other words: nothing will be a 100% solution and nothing will work for 100% of the people here. But that’s why we need these discussions! We need lots of ways for lots of people to get involved.

    So, instead: can we get some strengths-based analysis up in here? For example: I think people who can make their own clothes are really damn impressive! I took six weeks of sewing in seventh grade, but it certainly didn’t take, and all I got was a gym bag. I am also impressed by people who have educated themselves about the international labor situation. I mean, heck, a round of applause for reading Feministe and educating ourselves, which has to be the first step. Short round of applause, though; there’s work to be done. Obviously, anyone reading this cares about the issue of bad working conditions (defined broadly) for workers around the world. So what else can each one of us do?

    Maybe you have a disability that makes shopping horrible for you. Or maybe you just hate shopping and don’t want to make it harder than it already is. (Of course, I do not mean to trivialize the experiences of PWD, but to recognize that suggestions don’t work for everyone for a lot of different reasons; it’s not my job to judge the validity of those reasons.) So maybe you can’t change how you shop–what else can you do? Maybe you live somewhere where you can only shop at big-box stores–can you look for labels that do have better labor practices? Maybe the nearest labor protest isn’t in an accessible location, and maybe you don’t have the spoons to organize your own. Maybe you only have so much time and/or energy (emotional or physical) to devote to All Feminist/Progressive Causes, and you’re already volunteering at the rape crisis center and giving money to NARAL, and you really don’t have time to do much besides sign an online petition about this specific issue. But maybe you CAN sign a petition, or you can post about it on Facebook, or you can write a kickass letter to your senator that you can offer other people to tweak/copy, or you can work with protesters to ensure accessibility, or you can write a sweet blog post (yeah Aminatou Sow!) or a looong comment about it, etc. etc. Everyone has abilities; I want to hear more ideas about how we can use them. ‘Cause, you know, lots of bad shit out there.

    Basically, this very long-winded comment is just to second everyone who’s asked for some specific political suggestions. Clearly, we have some experts in this thread (at least from my ignorant perspective; I had never even heard of the term “EPZ”), and we’ve seen some great specific ideas for individual consumers (that don’t work for everyone, because that’s not possible). Keeping in mind that no single idea will work for everyone, what are some specific political ideas for political individuals?

  65. Bagelsan
    July 17, 2010 at 1:45 am

    I really don’t understand why you’d think it would fall on the woman to do the sewing now. I can barely keep the males in my family off the sewing machine-or anyone else, for that matter.

    Man, your not-my-Nigels must be very, very numerous if they are going to save all the rest of us women from the nearly-inevitable burden of the second (or third or fourth) shift. I’m glad you have enough to share, because otherwise it would be really smug and assholish to bring up how helpful your Nigels are when other women talk about the huge piles of women’s work that additional sewing, mending, thrifting, etc. would dump on them.

    And come on, y’all, I know this blog is “in defense of the sanctimonious women’s studies set” or whatever but you don’t have to actually cram this much sanctimony into each damn comment. (And cheerfully mixing the smugness with long posts about how totally styling you are doesn’t help.) This should either be a thread for discussing how to realistically effect important changes in labor exploitation, without talking about how very very virtuous/oppressed we all are (I’m sure everyone here is a hefty mix of both) or it’s a thread to to be like LOLS there are 20 thrift stores on my block and my husband tirelessly grows the hemp we weave our clothes out of! but I think it’s not working to try and combine the two.

  66. Bagelsan
    July 17, 2010 at 1:47 am

    TL;DR = what Maia said in #65, but snarkier. :p

  67. July 17, 2010 at 3:16 am

    This is going to sound really trite, at first glance, but thinking globally is so important. SO important.

    I’m in Moscow (many people are stuck on the idea that consumer choices are all-important to the West alone – they’re NOT, not anymore, and as someone else upthread said, Asia is set to have more buying power soon anyway) I just got a new dress. The label says it was made in India. It didn’t come cheap, but do I still have reasons to believe that the peoople who made this dress are currently exploited and abused? Yes, I do – it is entirely possible.

    So here is what’s crucial – I do not center personal guilt here. My issues, my shopping choices – they are secondary. What’s of primary concern are the people who made the dress – do they have a union? Are they thinking about unionizing? How can I realistically pitch in to the cause without, say, endangering their jobs?

    Is there an investigative reporter I know in the area – someone who can be trusted to tell me as to what the situation is like in a particular factory? What are the risks of investigating this? (Remember, people who get in the way of big business DO actually get murdered all the time – especially in countries where corruption rates are high, and law enforcement can be paid off to look the other way.)

    And what’s the strategy I can adopt once I tentatively understand what is happening? Who do I join? How do I not make this about ME (obviously, it’s about me as well – I like pretty things, but not to the point of deciding that they’re worth destroying socities and environments over), but about all of us – the greater picture?

    I’m not going to claim I have all of the answers, but maybe this is a start?

  68. ampersandT
    July 17, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Aaaaah that will teach me to walk away from the computer and wander back long after people have made the same points better and more concisely.

    WAIT NO BAGELSAN DID IT WITH *THIS VERY POST*

  69. July 17, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Miss S, I suggest you read the other thread. People who brought up the very real issues (poverty, disability, access, etc.) with shopping “ethically” were told that they were making excuses, only wanted to buy a lot of crap and kept Wal-Mart in business, defended the right to wear slave produced clothing, and a whole host of other crap. There’s a reason why there’s pushback–it’s not because someone said, “Hey, if you live near a thrift store and can make it there when it’s open, it’s an option you might want to try.”

    Yep, this is one of the main issues that is happening in both comment threads. The fact that one poster thought telling people to just drive an hour to get clothing was reasonable advice? The lack of understanding that accessibility means more than just access for wheelchair users? Not that that even happens in most stores.

  70. Miriam Heddy
    July 17, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I’m really interested in evidence-based arguments.

    So for those who’re arguing along the lines that, “Yes, maybe Sheelzebub and LaLubu and Maia are right and collective action like supporting unions is a good thing and labor organizing is the way to go, etc. but individual, consumer-choice action is also good (if you can do it, with a small nod toward the idea of privilege)…”

    Do those of you making that argument have any evidence that any consumer-choice action has any effect at all such that one could call it ethical?

    That is, if ethical was defined not as “that which makes me feel good” but instead as “that which makes other people’s lives better,” is there any evidence that buying here versus there (big box versus high-end boutique; thrifting versus big box; company advertising as sweatshop-free versus company that may use sweatshops) or sewing and mending versus not sewing/mending or buying less versus more (10 pairs of jeans versus 2) has any impact at all?

    Because Sheelzebub has suggested these strategies really don’t have impact (and she’s done a fine job of explaining why, so I won’t repeat it).

    And thus far, I haven’t seen anyone rebut her actual argument.

    Instead, people just continue to reassert that consumer-choice-based-individual action is a good thing (and yes, I hear echoes of Martha Stewart in some of these comments) and you can shop well *and* sign petitions.

    So… evidence? Anyone? Does consumer-choice at the individual “me and my wallet” action have any impact beyond making you (if you can do it) feel better?

  71. July 17, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I don’t recall anyone on the other thread saying: don’t sew, or shop secondhand. I only recall the reminder that single individuals who sew or shop secondhand, outside of an consistent, long-term, organized effort, are not going to impact the industry, and thus do nothing long-term or short-term to help the women who are being exploited in this industry. That’s why it’s only a feel-good measure. And it does offer plenty of opportunity to be smug and santimonious (to these ears, “at least my clothing was bought secondhand” sounds a whole lot like “at least I’ve got mine”….whether the “mine” is birth control, health insurance, organic food via CSA, public transportation, whatever).

    And this attitude is alienating a hell of a lot of left-leaning folks who already agree that exploitation is a problem. Now, why would you want to do that? Why would you want to communicate in such a way, and propose non-solutions, that piss off the folks that are already on your side? That’s the first rule of organizing—this ain’t no country club.

    I left a lot of links on the last thread; if they were followed, you could have learned about the Kentucky-Sonora Worker Exchange that had Mexican and USian workers talking to one another about the issues surrounding the closure of one plant in Kentucky and the opening of that same plant in Sonora. Or read the People’s Guide to the WTO and the FTAA. The Maquila Solidarity Network participates in international solidarity campaigns like this one at Johnson Controls Interiors in Mexico. So does the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center.

    Outsourcing, human trafficking, environmental destruction (along with environmental racism) and the global race to the bottom (with its concurrent shift of wealth to elites at the top) are all interrelated. You’ll notice on those sites I linked that it isn’t just clothing and textiles—as Sheelzebub mentioned on the other thread, it’s everything. Do you have a television? A computer? A cell phone? Oppression is in there, too. Do you go to theatres? Who manufactured the components for the projectors and sound system? Drive a car? Who made those components? Ride a bus? Same thing. Our lives are permeated with the global race to the bottom.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. Labor unions are an effective way to improve wages and working conditions. Organizing across borders can add muscle to worker movements. Capital crosses borders while workers officially can’t. Think about that. Also, think about how the purpose of a corporation is to legally abdicate responsibility—the whole purpose is to create a legal structure of “not my fault”. And somehow, individual consumers are supposed to catch the blame for not being able to find the time in their workday/second shift day for alternatives that really aren’t alternatives? (sewing your own clothes from sweatshop-made textiles is an alternative….how?)

    Did these consumers clamor for outsourcing to sweatshops? No, I clearly recall—and still see—a distinct anger when decent paying jobs leave communities. And I’ve never seen prices fall. Never. I don’t recall the average Joe and Josephina begging for their paycheck to be lowered while executive pay is raised.

    I live in Illinois, a state that was particularly hard hit by this shit, and still is. If you ever hear about how my state is bankrupt in your newspapers, keep this in mind. I’ve seen this throughout my life. Go watch “Capitalism: A Love Story” for imagery that shows what happens when plants close (if you haven’t seen this fo yourself, in your own life).

    I’ll say it again, you can’t shop your way to justice. But you can organize your way to it, and that means getting involved in worker actions and organizing campaigns. And if you can access this website, you can access those websites, too. Start there. Or start with worker justice campaigns in your own community. Go to some labor oriented events in your city. Get to know labor union members and officers as something more than the “union bosses” referred to in the papers.

    The Coalition if Immokalee Workers is one of the more effective worker justice groups out there, and it’s because they use coalition building with allied groups and effectively communicate using the internet. This is how justice is fought for. Slowly, but effectively. One foot in front of the other.

  72. PrettyAmiable
    July 17, 2010 at 10:40 am

    @ Miriam, “Do those of you making that argument have any evidence that any consumer-choice action has any effect at all such that one could call it ethical?”

    The following is completely fabricated. I don’t think Monsanto sells organic items. They do sell GMOs to farmers in other countries. I don’t think Thailand has the right climate for tomatoes.

    Let’s say there’s a shop in your small town. We’ll make it a grocery store. They carry two kinds of tomatoes: organic tomatoes and tomatoes that were grown with some kind of GMO seed. You find out that these latter tomatoes were imported from Thailand, where farmers are obscenely poor, were taken to bed by Monsanto or some similar company that sells these genetically modified seeds, and were told that these are the best tomatoes in the history of the world and everyone will buy them. They’ve since cut out ties to Monsanto because Monsanto failed to mention that there’s a massive organic craze sweeping the US, the primary importer of Thai tomatoes. Monsanto happens to supply the organic tomatoes to your grocery store themselves.

    Your best friend just returned from abroad where she was working with Thai farmers and tells you about the sourcing of tomatoes at your grocery store. As a result, you, an avid tomato fan, decide to stop purchasing organic and get strictly the GMO tomatoes that come from Thailand. You start telling everyone you know about these tomatoes, about how there’s no real reason to think that there are repercussions from consuming these GMO products, and slowly, everyone in your small town stops purchasing the organic tomatoes. The store purchases these tomatoes and incurs a loss for every spoiled tomato that it does not sell. [Note: this happens in durables too – stores don’t stockpile clothing – they’ll either send it to an outlet where they’ll get a smaller margin or sell it back to the manufacturer, typically at a loss]. The person in purchasing for the grocery store sees these figures and says, dude, fuck organic tomatoes, and stops purchasing them. Actually, since they anticipate pent-up demand for Thai tomatoes since those have been selling out, they can purchase more from Thai tomato farmers.

    This relies on a catalyst (your BFF coming back from Thailand), better information than exists in the primary marketplace at Time 0, and that information to spread. No one is suggesting that me personally changing my spending habits today is going to make the difference for everyone ever. It’s about what happens in the aggregate. It’s the same idea behind political movements. What can I do alone? But it’s not just about you – it’s about what happens in the collective.

    Everyone is ragging on big box stores, but the fact of the matter is that it depends on what lines are within those stores. You can still shop at Target and patron only certain lines (the Thai tomatoes) and if demand shifts in the aggregate, then they’d be stupid to continue to carry their sweat lines. The problem is information and getting over the hump where you don’t want to tell your rich, snobby friends that they’re assholes for saying, and I quote from dinner the other night, “I care too much about fashion to really worry about where it’s sourced.” And why does she care about fashion? Because this information about sweat shops isn’t common. Not everyone knows that Ralph Lauren has shops in Saipan. If they did, and they saw her in that stupid little pony, people would look at her differently and know, on sight, that she cares more about demonstrating wealth than women living in labor camps where they’re having forced abortions.

    The corollary to the tomato story is this: if you only have one grocery store in town and you need tomatoes to meet a vitamin need, and they only carry organic, then no one should shit on you for getting those tomatoes. Staying clothed is a necessity. Anyone who doesn’t get that, and that in some places and in some circumstances it’s harder than in others, is an asshole.

  73. AdrienneVeg
    July 17, 2010 at 11:25 am

    First of all, I appreciate everyone who’s shared their personal challenges with this topic. I feel that I’ve learned a lot about a variety of life experiences different from my own, so thanks for taking the time to explain your individual perspectives and struggles.

    People have offered specific suggestions for a whole host of actions and choices that could make a difference, and there’s certainly growth and learning happening, but the overall tone of this thread is pretty disheartening to me. As a person with privilege in this area, I have this to say to those who share my privilege: when a person who does not share your privilege tells you that something is hard for them or that your words were insulting or erasing or not helpful, just listen, apologize, and move on. Saying “if it’s not about you don’t make it about you” really doesn’t help anything. Obviously the person felt it was about them, or they think that it should be about them, and ignoring their concerns or purposefully brushing them aside only exacerbates the problem. Aren’t we working against marginalization? When people who are marginalized take the time and energy to explain their situation to you, take the opportunity to learn.

    I think some of the defensiveness and accusatory nature of some of the comments (especially in the last thread) comes from a legitimate place of seeing people with privilege (not here so much, but in the real world or elsewhere online) who could make more ethical choices but are too lazy or willfully ignorant to do so. I’ve done this myself, I’ve witnessed it in my friends.

    People with privilege like to get credit for every little thing we do that disrupts our privilege in some little way. We want credit for buying one fewer pair of shoes, or sewing a button back on, or boycotting American Apparel. This is part of why I agree that individual choices only go so far: those with the buying power and the political power are only going to want to do things half-assed, to the point where we feel good about ourselves, and then stop. Middle-to-upper class US-ians in particular (speaking from experience) typically have no concept of how much energy and resources we use and how our standard of life compares to others’. This means that we can feel like we’re doing our best to be ethical consumers, sacrificing a lot, but we’re still consuming far beyond sustainable levels. We have to realize that even though mending and thrifting and boycotting might be positive first steps, we are able to take these steps in the first place because of the privileges we have. Other people do not even have the ability to take these steps; their actions are going to look very different from ours. Those of us with privilege are starting out on a whole different footing, and need to recognize that.

    That said, individual choices can do a lot to help keep one motivated and ward off the hopelessness of the bigger picture, as long as we don’t take that too far and become complacent. How about holding community clothing drives and swaps? Sizes will still be a problem for some, but a lot can be done to make the event as accessible to as many people as possible. I’ve attended fundraising events for different community groups in which they spent a few weeks gathering donations and then held basically a giant yard sale where everything is a dollar or two a bag. Sometimes they have musicians play and games for kids (ie free childcare) to make it more of a fun time for the family and not just shopping. It takes a fair amount of volunteer labor, but there are a lot of different ways people can help, whether it’s planning the event itself or picking up donations or sorting items or running the cash box or being part of the entertainment. If you have the time and the support from your community this could be a positive action, particularly on Black Friday/Buy Nothing Day (if you have that where you live).

  74. Samantha b.
    July 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    La Luba, I will point out that if you look at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ website, one of the first things they tout is their boycott of Taco Bell. I fully appreciate your emphasis on collective action, but I think it’s also wrong to suggest that in the end individual choices don’t matter. Sure, lifestyle activism is problematic, but a sweeping condemnation of individual action is counterproductive to any goals for change.

  75. July 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    @Miriam
    “Does consumer-choice at the individual ‘me and my wallet’ action have any impact beyond making you (if you can do it) feel better?”

    I think a good example of how personal choices can make a difference is Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish. She started the blog to chronicle her efforts to reduce her own personal plastic consumption (an effort on a completely individual level, to be clear). I started to reduce my own plastic consumption because of her blog, and hundreds of her readers have done the same. She writes about the ways she gets around using single-use plastic items, which are made from petroleum and cause an immense amount of harm to the environment and to people. And she doesn’t “tut-tut” those who can’t do everything that she does, by the way.

    The bottom line is that she has encouraged other privileged consumers (like me) to think critically about how we consume goods via her blog. Her readers now talk about their plastic consumption on *their* blogs and with friends and family. It has created a positive ripple effect that has led a growing group of individuals to conclude that it’s just good common sense to not consume more than you need and to not waste what you have within your own personal limits. This ethos is becoming more mainstream, and it has helped the passage of legislation, a *collective* effort that impacts everybody, like the recent ban that just passed in California on BPA (an endocrine-disruption plastic product) in plastic baby food/formula and bottles.

    So yes, I *do* agree that collective action and activism is the best way to effect change. I do agree that individual choices do not take the place of real activism. But I also agree that individual action isn’t entirely pointless, either, and neither is talking about them. Because of her blog, I have become more aware of environmental issues and will be much more willing to engage in collective action because of it. (Which I have, by the way.)

  76. Paraxeni
    July 17, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    @elisabeth

    Oh that particular disability is the most tragic of all the ones I have, I suffer from non-USianism. It’s an appalling affliction that means I live somewhere without Target, Goodwill, WalMart and the almighty dollar. So, the problem that prevents me shopping in American Store X is that my disability benefit doesn’t cover plane flights.

    Now in seriousness – a big NO to your “But whyyyyyyy” refrains. Not that I should have to explain myself, but here goes. I’ve reread my comments on the other post and they seem clear to me (ie. I live in a rural English village, I have visual impairments and am a chair user). Apparently there’s some confusion as a mod felt it necessary to tell my gimped-up self about the worthiness of sewing, and you feel the need to ponder endlessly about why I don’t shop at Goodwill (cos like, you’ve seen like… actual disabled people there and stuff) maybe we are indeed two nations separated by a common language.

    Anyhoo – our equivalent to your Goodwill shops would probably be charity shops. These are almost never custom built, and are usually shoehorned into the cheapest retail space available and as they’re usually very small and often independent, they’re not usually subject to accessibility codes. Some buildings can never, ever be modified simply because of practical reasons like space, location, or physical inability to do so without destroying the building. Also, in my rural area (nearest of these shops is 5 miles as the crow flies btw) opening hours for small shops are usually 9-5 mon-fri. That’s it. They rely on unpaid volunteers who tend to like to spend weekends at home. Also, as someone who relies entirely on other people for transport (no public transport, taxis are prohibitively expensive) working hours are usually out of the question.

    So, supermarkets then – The nearest city has a 24 hour supermarket (technically a hypermarket, but I don’t wish to cause even more confusion) with ample parking space (not all retail outlets do in England. You park somewhere, then walk to your shopping destinations). There are two main benefits to this 24/7 hypermarket thing – first, after about 1am the shop is usually completely empty except for staff. This means freedom of movement (gorgeously wide aisles, smooth floors, and lifts), quicker shopping times, ample stock. Second – as a powersaving measure the lights are dimmed after 11pm. This is brilliant because it means I get to leave my sunglasses at home, and can avoid looking like I’m trying to avoid papparazzi. We can pick up everything from OTC meds, to clothes, to food in one trip. There are also customer toilets (not something you find in small retail outlets) which means I can throw up in relative peace should the need arise. Although the checkouts are usually self-service only at night as soon as I wheel toward the front of the store a cashier appears, as if by magic, giving me my own personal service. This wouldn’t be possible during the day.

  77. Paraxeni
    July 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Damn, bollocksed up my formatting. I was addressing Elisabeth’s comment “Also, I’m not sure what disability would allow you to shop at Target or Walmart but not Goodwill, especially because Goodwills are often located with easy public transport access, unlike a large box store, which can be downright dangerous to access without a car. In my experience sometimes a majority of people shopping in Goodwill have a visible disability (not to mention people who might have other disabilities).”

  78. July 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    @myself
    “This ethos is becoming more mainstream, and it has helped the passage of legislation, a *collective* effort that impacts everybody, like the recent ban that just passed in California on BPA (an endocrine-disruption plastic product) in plastic baby food/formula and bottles.”

    A couple of other examples include bans/fees on single-use plastic bags in a handful of cities (San Fran, DC), or the recent ban on non-recyclable take-out containers in Seattle. These pieces of legislation got passed b/c a large group of people were already aware of the dangers of plastic pollution and also shared the ethos of “don’t waste.”

  79. July 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I have to say that while it’s great that some people don’t like to shop, it’s also not cool sneering at shopping-as-entertainment because it’s frivolous. That’s kind of standard-issue bagging on something because it’s feminine. Fashion is no more or less frivolous than enjoying sports or video games.

  80. AdrienneVeg
    July 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    underbelly,

    You make an important point about how one can extend the positive effect of one’s individual choices. Blogging about the issue is a great example. Those of us who are all about sewing/mending can teach others to do it (I used to hold a craft night once a week for people to teach each other how to do various crafts), or can offer our services to people who cannot do it themselves, either for free or to barter. People who can drive or have a handle on public transportation can help others get to a second-hand store if there is one nearby. We can pay attention to the concerns expressed here about accessibility, and next time we visit the store we like because it offers better/more ethical choices, we can speak with the management about changes that need to be made (if possible, noting Paraxeni’s point about old buildings). Those who can dumpster-dive can share their findings. If we find a company with better practices that sells online we can get an order together from our local friends to save on shipping. We can have critical conversations with economically privileged people about how much they actually need to buy and own. We can sign up for newsletters from labor groups and other activists and, when possible, show up at their events to support them. Artists and musicians can use their expressive media to share concerns about the industry and encourage others to think critically about their consumptive habits. People who work with children can communicate with them about these issues. We can offer to babysit for a neighbor or friend so xe can mend clothes or go shop. We can write letters to companies and politicians (when/where possible) and then post those letters online so that others can follow the example. Maybe some of us can hold a screening of one of the many documentaries made on this issue and facilitate a discussion afterwards.

    These ideas are not all feasible for all people, and certainly reflect my privilege and my location, but hopefully there are ways we can all move past individual choices and more towards community actions, if we haven’t done that already.

  81. July 17, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    And the people who were poor and/or disabled who posted and said that they actually found it to be difficult in their lived experience are. . .what? Just painting it as more difficult than it really is?

    No. And I’ve already said that, repeatedly.

    Again, you’re putting words in my mouth and lying about what I said. I can play that rhetorical game too–shall I ask you why you think it’s okay for companies to get away with this shit, since you don’t want to organize and hold them legally accountable?

    I didn’t say I didn’t like or want to organize. I said that it can be just as “pointless” as you believe other individual actions to be, and just as privileged. I agreed with an earlier poster about how it should not be an either/or dilemma, because it’s not necessary. I explained that at great length, too.

    This little “debate” has turned irreparably ridiculous.

  82. July 17, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    That’s kind of standard-issue bagging on something because it’s feminine.

    Sure, in most cases. But here, at least on this thread and the other, it’s being done in a different context, critical of rampant consumerism and consumption at the cost of women’s livelihoods elsewhere, not as a way to insult women who like to shop.

  83. July 17, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    La Luba, I will point out that if you look at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ website, one of the first things they tout is their boycott of Taco Bell. I fully appreciate your emphasis on collective action, but I think it’s also wrong to suggest that in the end individual choices don’t matter.

    You are confusing the organized, concerted, concentrated, focused effort of a boycott for what was called for in the other thread, which is individuals thrifting or sewing as an individual consumer choice. One effort makes an impact on the lives of workers in sweatshops (or other oppressive work conditions). The other does not.

    What I and other commenters are trying to point out is that making the individual choice to not buy new, pre-made clothing is not a choice that is going to resonate with most purchasers because they can’t fit that choice into their lives—with all the other struggles and conflicting obligations they face. A targeted boycott can work, and definitely has worked for the CIW. An untargeted, not-really-boycott of “buy at Goodwill, sew or knit the rest by hand” is not going to work. It’s too onerous.

    This reminds me of the endless conversations held on fauxgressive blogsites that center around the “addiction to oil” or “why aren’t people shopping at the grocery store instead of going to fast food places?” (good Maude, don’t get me started). If you had another’s live to live, you’d already know the answer.

    Making a mass movement out of not buying clothes is going to be a non-starter for just about everyone, because the time and skill factor isn’t there—people are already juggling too many conflicting obligations as it is. Same with riding a bike or taking the bus instead of driving a car—in the US, most people drive cars because the option of not driving isn’t there.

    And hey, if it is there for you, great. That’s fine. But you taking the bus to Goodwill in MegaCity, USA isn’t going to magically create a bus service or realistic adult clothing options in not-so-megacity anywhere-else. It’s an issue of critical mass.

    Critical mass is why boycotts work. It’s why organizing efforts get somewhere (even if they don’t solve all the problems that need addressing). But in order for those concentrated efforts to be effective, you have to have a vulnerable target, a community that is committed to the organizing campaign, and a task for that community to accomplish that is doable. So, while a targeted boycott of a certain product can assist workers trying to organize a union at a particular plant (or plants), the onerous task of “buy nothing” is neither doable by the critical mass of people necessary to make that sort of action effective, nor is it focused enough to assist workers.

    And for the hell of it—-why aren’t we all building our own computers, anyway? Building our own cars with scrap parts from the junkyard? Raise your hand if you live in a house (or apartment building) that you helped build. Are you using electricity that you helped produce? Do you eat food you grew or raised yourself? Why not? Isn’t that easy, too? Why just clothing? Because it’s women’s work, and thus “easy”? And men—they don’t wear clothing, so all this exploitation of women workers is being done solely by women?

    The corporations that outsourced to nations where there aren’t adequate (or any) protection for workers, they bear no responsibility? The US government that provides military protection and training to armed forces of other nations that assassinate and imprison trade unionists bears no responsibility? What about the WTO and the IMF—any responsibility to be had there?

    Why is the burden on the person with the fewest choices? Why is it legal to sell products made by slave labor? Why is it legal for capital to cross borders but not for workers? Why are there no financial consequences for companies that pollute the environment, or kill and maim workers? Why are companies not held responsible for the financial consequences of plant shutdowns on communities? Why is the lie of “but…we need slave labor to compete!!” not questioned? Why do we have an economy that is based on consumer spending, while simultaneously disposable income is evaporating as if it never existed?

  84. July 17, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    @Bagalsan- “I’m glad you have enough to share, because otherwise it would be really smug and assholish to bring up how helpful your Nigels are when other women talk about the huge piles of women’s work that additional sewing, mending, thrifting, etc. would dump on them.”

    How is it smug? What do you even mean, women’s work? I wasn’t under the impression most of the people reading this (trolls aside) thought it was A-OK for men to refuse to do dishes, sewing, etc. The idea is utterly laughable, and it’s hard to believe any feminist would endorse the idea and allow the males in her family to use such an excuse.

  85. Kristen J.
    July 17, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t specifically identify the source of the oppression which is income inequality.

    Worker exploitation isn’t a problem that can be addressed by legislation in any one (or any small group of) countries. It’s a larger, more systematic problem. Even if we somehow managed to legally ban non-fair trade goods in the G8 countries, those goods or other substitute goods would be made with the same labor at the same or lower wages. To end worker exploitation you have to give workers (among others) economic power.

    Shifting demand doesn’t do this except temporarily. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t preferable to buy fair-trade goods given the option is available to you.

    Reducing income inequality is a large scale endeavor that has unfortunately been handed over to a bunch of western-centric, neoclassical asshats. But in spite of their continual bumbling there are things that those with means and/or opportunity can do to help. Others on this thread have already suggested supporting unionization, so I won’t go into that one. But the most effective tool for reducing income inequality that economists have found thus far is micro-finance. There are non-profit micro-finance institutions everywhere. Some need volunteers and they all need money. Amounts as little as $25 are lent with life changing effects. If political action is more your thing you can lend your support to legislation that prevents the over-securitizations of micro-loans by for profit companies.

  86. PrettyAmiable
    July 17, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Kristen, relative income inequality exists everywhere in the world. Sweatshops do not. When workers in a newly industrializing US (and possibly in other nations, but I’m most familiar with our history) organized for better working conditions, this didn’t end income disparities here. Those workers also weren’t the recipients of microloans.

    That’s not to say that people shouldn’t fund Grameen Bank and others like it. It’s a great idea, and Grameen specifically focuses on lending to women so it has an awesome feminist focus. But looking at that and suggesting that this is the answer but it is no more “the” answer than changing your individual shopping habits while educating others who can to do the same.

    I still think lobbying Congress to force companies to label their items as “Products of a Sweatshop” would do wonders to aggregate consumer demand.

  87. July 17, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    But here, at least on this thread and the other, it’s being done in a different context, critical of rampant consumerism and consumption at the cost of women’s livelihoods elsewhere, not as a way to insult women who like to shop.

    I strongly disagree. Traditionally feminine activities are singled out more as frivolous consumerism far and beyond traditional male activities that are just as consumerist. And clothing, unlike video games, doubles as a necessity.

    Anti-materialism treads way too much into the puritanical territory and as such, will always be limited as any kind of real political gambit beyond feeling holier than thou. (Much like abstinence-only.) The pleasures of material goods are very real, getting pleasure from them is morally neutral, and it’s far too easy to single out women’s pleasure as suspect when someone is looking for a way to get all self-righteous.

    I think people who validate the desire for fashion and pleasure but seek sustainable ways to achieve it will have a lot more success and are better equipped to avoid frivolous female shaming.

  88. July 17, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    PrettyAmiable in reply to Miriam’s question This relies on a catalyst (your BFF coming back from Thailand), better information than exists in the primary marketplace at Time 0, and that information to spread. No one is suggesting that me personally changing my spending habits today is going to make the difference for everyone ever. It’s about what happens in the aggregate. It’s the same idea behind political movements. What can I do alone? But it’s not just about you – it’s about what happens in the collective.

    So consumption can make a difference when there’s organising involved? That I’ll agree with.

    The issue about individualist vs. collective action isn’t about what is done, but whether it’s done together or alone. When it stops being ‘what can I do’ and becomes ‘what can we do’ that’s when there’s actually smething there – whatever the tactics are.

    Among other things when the discussion is what can we do collectively, rather than what self-improvement can individuals do – then we can talk about accessibility (I’m not saying people necessarily do, just that it’s possible). If you’re going to say “Ok no more organic tomatoes” you can talk about who might find that difficult and why – and what are alternatives (say there are people who are sensitive to the Thai grown tomatoes, but still want to boycott the organic tomatoes from Monsnto – then the people who are doing this can talk about how to get another source of tomatoes).

    The question in the OP wasn’t “what can be done by readers of Feministe about exploitation in the clothing industry?” It was set up how can we make our clothing choices more virtuous/ethical/not fast fashion. I just don’t think you’re ever going to get a good discussion out of that – for all the reasons that have been demonstrated.

  89. AdrienneVeg
    July 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    @PrettyAmiable: No, labor organizing in the US did not end the income disparity, but it did create a large, mostly financially secure middle class. Thanks to union busting, we’ve lost almost all of that security. Kristen J is right to point to income disparity as a leading cause of the problems we’re discussing. Capitalism generally, income disparity specifically.

    A handful of the largest corporations exercise control over the US government. Those that profit from us consuming clothing in an irresponsible way will never allow tags to say “Product of a Sweatshop.” Even if you got the ball rolling on the legislation, they’d find a way to change “sweatshop” to some neutral term no one understands. Sorry to be such a cynic, but I have serious doubts that legislation is the way to go. In order for anything productive to happen in that regard we’d have to build a wide base of support for it among voters. That would require cultivating respect for workers and a huge cultural shift away from consumerism and materialism. If we’re doing that we might as well try to ban the sale of any clothing produced in a sweatshop anywhere in the world.

  90. Kristen J.
    July 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    “But looking at that and suggesting that this is the answer but it is no more “the” answer than changing your individual shopping habits while educating others who can to do the same.”

    Actually, I didn’t say it was “THE” answer. I said, it was the most effective thing economists have found so far. I perhaps should have said, that its the most effective thing economists have found so far to help those living in extreme poverty. Moreover I specifically mentioned that IF you have the where with all you should by fair trade goods. And I mentioned unions as another key step. So you’re reading more into what I said than was there.

    Obviously income inequality exists everywhere…its the source of economic oppression. Workers in the US unionized AFTER an extended period of economic exploitation and AFTER they were able to gain some economic power. Micro-finance is a relative new innovation, had we had it during the industrial revolution (or earlier) perhaps we could have avoided much of that exploitation.

    Labeling sounds like a good idea, and may be helpful for some people over a limited period of time, but demand driven changes are not sustainable. The bulk of workers will still not have the economic power to chose different employment and so they will be employed at the lowest possible wages at some venture. It is their relative powerlessness that creates profit. If its not a sweatshop, it will be something else that we don’t have a label for. Which is not to say we shouldn’t employ these methods anything that helps is better than doing nothing, but we also MUST look to resolving the source of the oppression.

  91. kate217
    July 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    If it’s not too far out of your way, Unique thrift shop in Merrifield (Gallows Road between Rt. 50 (Arlington Blvd.) and Rt. 29/211 (Lee Highway)) has a huge selection of clothes. Most dresses are about $10.00 (The most expensive “day” dress I’ve seen there was still under $30.00.) I wear a 20/22 and they have a lot of stuff that fits me, a few things that are too large and a ton that’s too small but still plus sized.

    The drawbacks are no dressing rooms (although there are mirrors and most people just try them on over whatever they’re wearing at the time) and items are non-returnable. I bought a lot of interview dresses there.

  92. July 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I strongly disagree. Traditionally feminine activities are singled out more as frivolous consumerism far and beyond traditional male activities that are just as consumerist.

    I don’t disagree. But critiquing a behavior in the context of a broader discussion of consumerism and consumption, and using it as one way to illustrate the point that consumerism and consumption aren’t exactly good things is not problematic. I find it similar to criticisms of The Pill; ignoring or intentionally avoiding discussion of its’ harmful or dangerous side effects on women and the internet isn’t the same as telling women that they are evil and shameful for taking it.

    And clothing, unlike video games, doubles as a necessity.

    A very true criticism of the fact that more “female” activities are singled out as, like you said, frivolous consumerism. But it still doesn’t negate the validity of critiquing excessive shopping in certain contexts. And on a feminist website, it can be reasonably assured that a discussion of “male” consumerism, like video games, etc., would occur in conjunction with one about excessive shopping habits.

    The pleasures of material goods are very real, getting pleasure from them is morally neutral, and it’s far too easy to single out women’s pleasure as suspect when someone is looking for a way to get all self-righteous.

    Well, I’m not sure that pleasure from material goods is universally considered to be neutral on the global scale of morality, but I’m in agreement for the most part.

  93. July 17, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    And on a feminist website, it can be reasonably assured that a discussion of “male” consumerism, like video games, etc., would occur in conjunction with one about excessive shopping habits.

    But it is significant that we’re not having that discussion, isn’t it? Lots of people have pointed out that nearly all of our consumer goods are now produced in exploitative conditions, and yet somehow owning too many pairs of shoes is considered more scandalous than owning a Macbook.

  94. July 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    It’s not more scandalous to own too many shoes than it is to own a MacBook, but this isn’t a discussion about MacBooks or electronics; it’s a discussion about fashion. If you want to talk about exploitative working conditions for the people who make and manufacture MacBooks, then you should consider writing a blog post about it, or starting a discussion about it elsewhere, and not on a discussion thread centered on fashion and the ethics of the consumption of it– something that is done predominantly by women. Just because women are inarguably unequally affected by patriarchal expectations doesn’t mean that women shed the expectation that we be personally responsible for our problematic decisions when we have the ability to.

    Also, there is a recurring implication that someone in either of these threads actually attempted to justify a MacBook or other problematic purchase that is not inextricably linked to femininity as somehow less problematic than buying clothing, shoes, etc. This didn’t happen. No one was talking about that, and no one disagreed with the point that those are also contributing to slave labor and exploitative working conditions. The consistent reminder that no one is perfect is being discussing in such a way that suggests we not discuss ways in which we can be more ethical human beings in the small decisions that we are able to make on a daily basis. Discussion of possible solutions that some people may not be able to contribute to, or discussions of the problematic nature of excessive shopping need not be discarded as irrelevant or oppressive. When someone is suggesting that many people can make small decisions that will, at the very least, show solidarity to people working in these conditions, and at best, help to change the systemic institutions behind it, the appropriate response is not to list all of the ways in which people can’t partake in that particular activism. People who shame others for not being able to make those decisions can be dealt with separately, without blowing off or negating the positive impact that that particular activism can have on anything from a more informed public, to real, tangible change.

  95. July 18, 2010 at 12:47 am

    It’s not more scandalous to own too many shoes than it is to own a MacBook, but this isn’t a discussion about MacBooks or electronics; it’s a discussion about fashion.

    Well, yeah, that was my point. You often see discussions of consumerism focused on clothing and beauty products because it’s easy to drum up outrage about women’s frivolous consumption.

    Also, I’d say that singling women out as the predominant consumers (and thus the main culprits) of fast fashion is highly unfair. Everybody in the U.S. wears cheap, factory made clothing. It’s not as if men and children walk around naked.

  96. July 18, 2010 at 1:26 am

    Everybody in the U.S. wears cheap, factory made clothing. It’s not as if men and children walk around naked.

    True. Women definitely aren’t the only identifiable group of people who buy clothing, but women do make up the majority of the people who are consistently interested in fashion, and socialized to be that way, which gives women who fall into this category as a group more power. As advertisements are geared toward us because we are the ones who purchase the most “fashionable” items of clothing the most often, because we’re expected to socially, we can try to change the ways in which that happens, and we then have the benefit of sheer numbers. A collective group of individual choices can be powerful and change systemic inequalities. I guess it sounds idealistic, but no more idealistic than writing to Congresspeople or marching with signs. And I don’t see anyone making any better suggestions for change.

  97. July 18, 2010 at 4:16 am

    Amanda is right. Conversations about shopping are important and will remain important, but they way in which we usually structure them tends to be abysmal. A London-based journalist I admire used to regularly post rants about silly women who just love exploitative designer clothing… Um, and guess where he does most of his shopping?… I’m probably the only person who has called him out on this BS in years. When I do so, I am, apparently, “not focusing on the greater picture.” I think this is because it’s easier to make women “the face” of the problem. Women and frivolity just sort of “go together” in our minds, whereas when men shop, it’s srs bsns.

    A note on the gaming and software industry – it has outposts in my native Ukraine. I’ve been approached by developers for introductions to possible new industry recruits before. I’m happy to help friends find new jobs, freelance or otherwise, but I’m also realistic about the set-up. These are hard-working people, most of whom fought to get themselves educated in a corrupt government higher education system, and yet they simply will NOT get paid what they realistically deserve – because they happen to have been born Ukrainian. It’s the same with IT. It’s a systemic problem, like all of these problems.

    And what La Lubu said.

  98. Still learning
    July 18, 2010 at 5:47 am

    I am rather confused about how attempting not to shame people who are unable to make specific individual lifestyle choices has now become shaming people who are unable to engage in specific forms of political activism? Both require time, a variety of abilities, and access to resources, and thus both are not possible for everyone!

    Political movements of any sort are only going to work if there are people behind them. Boycotts can only work if a large number of people hear about them and participate in that boycott. Some of us can organize, other people can participate in the things that others have organized, and through these combined efforts hopefully we will make a difference.

  99. Sheelzebub
    July 18, 2010 at 6:41 am

    These conversations always give me a headache, and I say that as someone who actually thrifts, is learning to sew, and practices Voluntary Simplicity.

    Yes, the poorest people in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have more than the poorest in say, Bangladesh. But it’s incredibly arrogant for people who aren’t even as poor as the poorest in their own countries to wag their fingers at them. And when you say, “Hey! Your problems aren’t comparable to what someone in the Global South puts up with” when you’ve got more resources and privilege than the person you’re lecturing, yes, you’re wagging your damn finger at them. Great–you realize that women in the Global South are fucked over. As La Lubu pointed out, the working class and the poor in labor movements in the US (and other industrialized nations) already get that, thanksverymuch. Since you realize that, realize this: You have more privilege than other people in your own country and the Global South. If you give a shit, do what you can to work with them, don’t fucking get all smug and self-righteous. Because when I hear someone go on about how the poor here have it so good compared to someone in Bangledesh, I think: a) the speaker lives like a fucking aristrocrat in comparison, so STFU and b) this may be a sop to allieviate their own unease with their own privilege.

    I’ve seen a lot of people in both threads make snide comments about people who say the consumerist model of “activism” is hard for them. And I’ve seen them use rhetoric that the privileged use in the larger culture against those with less privilege–snide comments about mothers who won’t make meals at home and feed their kids fast food instead; snide comments invoking the PC boogeyman (anytime we bring this up, we’re called sexist/racist/classist/ableist); snide comments about people who just won’t try, looking for excuses, or lazy. Saying that’s if it’s not about you, it’s not about you isn’t on in this context. If you think for one minute that women aren’t already the target of this shit, think again. You think we don’t hear about how bad mommies contribute to the bad health of the Western world by not cooking at home and going to fast-food restaurants? You think we don’t hear about how the poor are lazy and looking for excuses not to do things? The dominant cultural narrative defines the poor, the fat, and the disabled as lazy, as weak, as “whiny,” and as looking for excuses to get out of doing something. The dominant cultural narrative derides the lived experiences of the lived experiences of these groups, ignores it, erases it, and blithely goes on about individual choice. The dominant cultural narrative loves it some consumer choice/individualist solutions. And when you engage in its rhetoric, you are making it about the less privileged, whether you like it or not. All of you got blowback because of this, maybe, just maybe, you could STFU and listen and stop preaching to the less privileged.

    So when you bring up “fast fashion” as an issue, and leave out all of the other things that are made in EPZ’s, you’re doing the same thing. Your engaging in a cultural narrative about women that says women are frivilous and silly and golly! they love to shop! A cultural narrative that avoids men’s consumerism. A cultural narrative that avoids the uncomfortable questions about items that are gendered in society (clothing for women, computers and gadgets for men), and how they are all produced in horrible conditions on the backs of poor women in the Global South.

    And when you say that the conversation now is about clothing (or, in the case of meds in the environment, the Pill), and those other things are of course a concern, and no one said they weren’t, but this is what we’re talking about now, my answer to you is that if the focus is so narrow nothing will change. Nothing at all. There will be some outrage, some marketing spin, maybe a few “fair trade” clothing companies (whose missions will be coopted by the larger producers) and nothing will change overall in the Global South. Women will still be exploited in sweatshops. They will still be putting together components for computers, cellphones, game consoles, and other items, since those aren’t focused on (suddenly, it’s a “complicated issue” when you want to focus on that stuff). They will still be doing piecework clothing production. They will still be exploited. Pointing this out gets you accused of not focusing on the important shit (as Natalia mentioned) or gets a very defensive reaction from people who insist that they aren’t being biased at all.

    You can try and shop your way out of this mess. It hasn’t worked for over 20 years, though. Monsanto still forces its farmers to buy terminator seeds. Clothing is still made in EPZ’s. Computers are still made in EPZ’s and workers are still exploited.

    And as for people not dismissing organizing, why is it that it wasn’t acknowledged or brought up by any of the shopping as salvation folks in the other thread? Why was political action not even mentioned by any of you? When someone posts, “I don’t live near a thrift store and can’t sew, what can someone like me do,” you could have, you know, pointed out some organizations they could have contacted, or issues they could have written to their representatives about, or laws in their country they could have voted for (or pushed their representatives to support). Instead, they were told they weren’t trying hard enough. If that’s how you want to be, well, good luck with that, but you aren’t going to get anything accomplished that way.

  100. Still learning
    July 18, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Sheelzebub, for all your going on about ableism and classism, I hope you realise that you’re basically sending out a loud and clear message to everyone who cannot engage in direct political activism that sounds something like, ‘don’t bother doing what you can do to help! your abilities aren’t needed or wanted! just sit back and let all of us good proper activists do it right and stop trying to make a difference unless you can do it my way!’ I don’t know if this is what you intended or not, but I don’t think it’s helping anything. It’s really useful to discuss the pros and cons of different forms of activism, what is helpful to do and what isn’t, but basically deriding people who try to do something that isn’t what you think works best doesn’t seem useful at all.

    Also, how can you say that ‘shopping your way out of this mess’ hasn’t worked when, as far as I can tell, the movement is only really beginning to catch on? Many people still know little to nothing about the ethical issues around the things we buy, and companies are only recently starting to really focus on advertising themselves as socially responsible. Individual choices are only going to help once the movement really catches on, and it seems to me that it is only now doing so. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have great power in the future, though.

  101. Sheelzebub
    July 18, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Still learning, the difference is, I haven’t berated people who cannot do certain political actions. I haven’t gone off on them for “making excuses,” or whatever. Unlike the folks on the personal choices side of things.

    And not for nothing, but La Lubu and others–people who have lived/are living at the margins, are working class, etc–have posted about the value of organizing. When it’s a focused effort by a large group, one person doesn’t have to do everything. And I didn’t see anyone in that last thread who wrote about the challenges in making “good” shopping choices every day go off on how bad it was to engage in politcal action. I’m not assuming that they agree with me 100%, or even at all, but keep in mind, it wasn’t the pro-organizing folks who caught blowback. When several people asked: “I don’t live near any thrift stores and cannot sew, what can I do?” or “The thrift store near where I live isn’t accessiblee for PWD and being visually impaired, I cannot sew, what can I do?” they weren’t trying to “get out of” doing the right thing. They were trying to move the conversation to a place where we could all have an impact on this. And answering these concerns with some concrete actions we all might be able to take (see La Lubu’s posts for some good suggestions) would have been a start. Brushing them off and saying, “there’s a thrift store an hour away, so that problem’s solved then,” or “I don’t know why it’s harder for you to shop at a thrift store,” or “People always make excuses,” isn’t.

    And keep in mind–the pushback consumerist model folks met with came from the poor, the fat, and the disabled. I’m glad there is so much concern for the challenges some people face now but where was it when they were being told what lazy, awful, greedy people they were?

    Political action isn’t presented in rhetoric that extols the politics of personal purity. If the OP’s focused on political action, there would be links to organizations and options for actions that you could take if you were able to. Shop at Target only sporadically and they still get your money (and, in the case of some very poor people on the last thread, a large corporate chain–or any store–gets their business once or twice a year, and for paltry sums at that). Do a small thing as a part of a collective political action–such as sign a petition, email your representatives, etc.–and it will get more notice.

    You’re discounting the fact that people who have actually, you know, organized workers and worked in these industries have said that the shopping choices tactic hasn’t done anything and won’t do anything.

    As far as this “catching on,” well, I’ve seen the consumer-driven model of change since I was in college (over 20 years ago), and it was around long before then. It didn’t catch on then, except with a small group of relatively afflent, mostly White people–and it hasn’t made change. As a strategy, it hasn’t caught on and has yet to be effective.

  102. July 18, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Many people still know little to nothing about the ethical issues around the things we buy, and companies are only recently starting to really focus on advertising themselves as socially responsible.

    The original post started out badly when it referenced women’s love of shopping and something called “fast fashion”. And I’ll be honest—I’ve never heard the term “fast fashion” before. Mostly, because I don’t see it being practiced in my environs. Don’t get me wrong—people where I live want clothes that fit them and are flattering to them too, but being trendy and buying for the sake of trends and new-ness isn’t on the radar here for just about everyone. Including women. “Thrift” as a concept is very popular here in the midwest—things are expected to last for years (and years!). Part of that is probably strictly cultural, but part of it is practical, too. We’re more spread out than dense, and shopping means dedicating a certain amount of drive time on top of shop time. That’s expensive, too.

    People here are very much aware of the ethical implications of shopping, and have been throughout the course of my life. People are very much aware that what used to be good jobs here have been outsourced to the Global South, specifically because of the greed of the elites and because it’s easier to kill union organizers in the global south without any repercussions. Here in the Rust Belt, people continue to lose jobs, despite those jobs being profitable at global north wages. People are aware, because when good jobs with good benefits leave communities, those factories are boarded up. We drive past those boarded up buildings for decades. The tax base of our communities is depleted, which impacts our schools. Our communities are economically depressed. When those jobs leave, it impacts everything else in the city. It impacts me—there are fewer places for an electrician to work.

    People talk about it here. A lot. They worry about where their kids are going to find work. They worry about their kids not being able to find a job with a pension. They wonder about their own pensions. They wonder what they are going to do when they become unemployable due to age, with no pension to fall back on, while not earning enough to put back any real savings after paying for the essentials like housing, utilities, transportation, food, childcare.

    Frankly, when I see a for-profit company advertising about how ethical they are, my mind immediately suspects greenwashing and other lies. Being socially responsible means paying living wages and first-world benefits like pensions, health insurance, workers’ compensation. It means being environmentally responsible by using the tightest safeguards, protecting the health of workers even if it costs more, and not dumping toxins into the land, air and water. It means being responsible to the workers left behind by outsourcing, too. Call me cynical, but that isn’t going to happen without intense pressure from below. The elites that run these corporations don’t live where we do. They don’t give a damn.

    But if they can greenwash and get free advertising from hip, cool websites or magazines, they’ll do that. They’re ready to exploit a small niche market for a concurrent increase in the price of the items for sale. But doing it for real? Nope. I agree with Sheelzebub: this niche marketing has been going on for decades, with no effect on the living and working conditions of the global south workforce—-only on the wallets of the niche marketers.

    Look, the AFL-CIO publishes a list of companies where the stuff is still made by unionized workers who make a decent living. And that list gets smaller every year, because no matter how many givebacks and paycuts and benefit cuts and screwing over the new hires—it still isn’t enough to feed the greed.

    So to see the problem painted, on a feminist blog, as one of greedy consumers who can’t just stop buying shit—that was adding insult to injury. Yes, the Rust Belt is injured. We’re called flyover country for a reason. Try driving through it sometime. Talk to some people at the bar or diner about their job loss. Talk about what their community used to be like back in the day. Talk about how they raised a family on a decent wage, and how now they’re watching their kids struggle to raise their children on part-time service-industry wages. Dead end jobs with no possibility for a future. Twenty hours here, maybe another fifteen somewhere else, maybe some side hustle going on for cash.

    These two posts read to me like just one more erasure. Trust me, women whose mothers and grandmothers worked in factories that supplied the world with goods, who now find themselves lucky if they can get a full time job for less than half the purchasing power of what their elders had (and none of the benefits)—-they know. They know what they’re dealing with. It’s evil. It’s evil and they know it. And the cogs get the blame while those with their hands on the control buttons don’t.

  103. PrettyAmiable
    July 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

    @ Maia: “So consumption can make a difference when there’s organising involved? That I’ll agree with.” — I suppose for me, I had assumed that no individual performs their actions in a vacuum; that is, I recently realized how much clothing comes from sweatshops and I immediately started talking about it with the people around me. I think that’s where we’re missing each other, and in that sense, I agree with you about the collective action. I also agree with your reading of the post, but like I said, I never shut up to my friends about what I’m doing so I immediately merged it into the idea of a collective action. Thanks for addressing me. :)

    @ AdrienneVeg, I think you’re missing the point. We can’t point to income disparity as the sole reason that sweatshops exist because while income disparity exists everywhere, sweatshops do not. If you’re arguing about a matter of degree within these countries, then you’re going to have to back it up with facts. China has developed a middle class and has grown richer as an economy (per capita and overall), for instance, but forbids organization of employees (except for the few instances where it fits their political agenda). The issue isn’t income disparity so much as governments forbidding their underclasses from organizing. If you focus on income disparity alone, you miss the point, and sweatshops in China will continue. Income disparity significantly lessens as a result of sweatshops being outlawed – not the other way around.

    “That would require cultivating respect for workers and a huge cultural shift away from consumerism and materialism.” This isn’t actionable. I’d agree with you that this is the place to direct our actions if this were actionable, but it’s not. There’s nothing any organized group of people can do to make everyone respect xyz group and shift away from consumerism and materialism.

    @Kristen, I don’t know what to tell you. I have faith in collective buying habits and less faith that microloans will help people on the mass scale that it would require to end sweatshops. Are they a great idea in general? Sure. Of course. Will sweatshops suddenly be erased because new people are now trusted with capital to start their own businesses? Probably not. I haven’t seen the statistics on how many of these loans go to women and men currently employed in sweatshops, but my best guess is that it’s marginal.

  104. AdrienneVeg
    July 18, 2010 at 10:45 am

    @PrettyAmiable: Where, exactly, do sweatshops NOT exist? They’re all over the US. If cultivating respect for workers and moving away from consumerism (where it’s a problem, as among many in the US) aren’t actionable, how exactly would any of the actions proposed here work? If consumers don’t have respect for the people who produce their goods, why on earth would they participate in a movement to improve working conditions? If materialism and consumerism continue at their current levels in the US, and corporations continue to spread their influence and make people even more materialistic, we won’t have enough resources nor safe work environments to produce the things privileged people think they need.

  105. July 18, 2010 at 10:53 am

    @Sheelzebub
    “As far as this “catching on,” well, I’ve seen the consumer-driven model of change since I was in college (over 20 years ago), and it was around long before then.”

    Well, blogs weren’t around 20 years ago. And being able to share ideas with like-minded people without the restraints of location or specific meeting times is revolutionary, wouldn’t you agree? Just as the majority of my feminist knowledge can be directly attributed to a handful of blogs (and not a women’s studies class), so can most of my knowledge about environmental issues & the human issues related to it.

    And since I was only three 20 years ago, I really have no idea about what things were like back then, but I can tell you that even my conservative older sister who thinks “progressive” is a dirty word is starting to buy gallon jugs of juice instead of individually-packaged juice boxes & using cloth napkins. And ten years ago, I had never heard of the concept of bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store. So, my purely anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that thoughtful consumerism really is becoming more mainstream, and I have heard others say the same.

    I also have the impression that most of the people on this thread who are of the “individual choices aren’t a waste of time” attitude are not propping up the individual model as the only way of changing the status quo, or even the *best* way. Just as something that shouldn’t be completely dismissed and labeled as pointless.

  106. AdrienneVeg
    July 18, 2010 at 10:58 am

    @PrettyAmiable
    Just to be clear, I know what you mean by “actionable,” I just disagree with you. There isn’t a tanglible way to work towards the goals I mentioned, but the same could be said for advocating for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks, or combating racial or gender-based stereotypes. If capitalism and corporate culture have made us less respectful of workers and more materialistic, then we can reverse it.

  107. Kristen J.
    July 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    PrettyAmiable,

    What happens to the workers who are not employed by fair trade businesses? Do they just disappear? Do they starve? Or because they have no economic alternatives are they forced to continue to work in a lowest possible wage environment producing some other goods/services?

    Sure, microloans will not immediately stop worker exploitation (I don’t think I said they did) but they create the option to do something else. And if enough workers have the option to do something else, they have the power to bargain for higher wages, better working conditions, etc.

    See the difference? The difference is ending power disparities. A consumerist model just removes the individual from the power dynamic. The opportunity model changes the power dynamic. I’m all for removing yourself from personally oppressing someone. But I don’t think by personally refusing to oppress someone, that I actually empower them.

  108. July 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Just saw this.

    you didn’t respond to my point. Which was that a passing acknowledgment that people shouldn’t be shamed into behaving in the way that has been constructed as ethical doesn’t change the fact that the entire discussion is being centred around the capabilities of people with resources whose bodies are already priviledged.

    Right. Because the discussion was about bad working conditions and trying to be more aware of them and how it’s something that people should be aware of and act against if they’re able to. It wasn’t about the ways in which many people are unable to engage in this process. How would you prefer these conversations take place? Or would you prefer they didn’t occur at all?

  109. July 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I find it similar to criticisms of The Pill; ignoring or intentionally avoiding discussion of its’ harmful or dangerous side effects on women and the internet isn’t the same as telling women that they are evil and shameful for taking it.

    And yet, somehow the majority of criticisms of the pill exploit fears of female sexuality and the “unnatural” choice to render yourself temporarily sterile.

    Also, like the hyper-focus on consumerism that’s identified as feminine and therefore frivolous, the attention paid the pill is way out of proportion to the realities. The dangers of the pill get way, way, way more attention than the dangers of other drugs that are just as common and often statistically way more dangerous. Sorry if I’m compelled to wonder why that is.

    Knee-jerk anti-consumerism has a lack of intellectual rigor that makes appealing to subtle sexism all that much more enticing. The end game is general that pleasure is suspect—just as the end game with the pill “critics” is usually that you should practice periodic abstinence (with sniffy insinuations that if you don’t want to, then you’re kinda slutty).

    It also reinforces classism and racism when we toss out just random shaming for getting pleasure out of material goods, which is why conservatives do so well screeching about how people can’t really be poor if they’re using cell phones or have TVs. And also, the fashion sniffing gets into that, too. When we use “consumerism” as a dirty word and roll fashion into it, we create space to deny that subcultures of non-powerful people who find joy in expressing themselves through fashion have a right, i.e. the conservative discourse of freaking out about street fashions from tattooing to wearing really big pants.

  110. AdrienneVeg
    July 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    @Kristen J:

    But I don’t think by personally refusing to oppress someone, that I actually empower them.

    YES. Removing oneself to the greatest extent possible (however one defines that for oneself) from the exploitation of others is a first step to making positive change. Those who already aren’t consuming much (ie those on here who’ve said they shop once or twice a year, only own a pair or two of shoes, etc) don’t have as much culpability nor as much work to do on the first step as those who consume way the hell too much.

    It’s okay to point out that some people consume way too much, and the goods they consume are not produced ethically nor sustainably. I think that’s what the OP was trying to do. We absolutely should be having conversations about what those people can do to cut down on their consumption. The problem, as has been said here many times in many ways, is that “stop buying fast fashion” as a solution isn’t applicable to most people, nor is it a comprehensive solution to the larger issues. If we want to end worker abuse in the garment industry and beyond, we need solutions from the top-down and the bottom-up, a variety of actions in which a variety of people can participate, and a whole host of indirectly related structural changes, such as better education, different corporate culture, and economies that are structured in entirely different ways.

    I’m really enjoying this conversation and getting a lot out of it, but probably the most frustrating thing to me is that people are jumping to a lot of conclusions about what others are saying. Suggesting one action doesn’t mean you think all other actions are worthless. Attempting to broaden the scope of the conversation doesn’t mean you think the smaller issues aren’t also worth discussion. Being anti-consumerism and anti-materialism doesn’t mean you’re anti-fashion.

    Over and over I see people on here, their words having been twisted by another commentor, taking the time to clarify that they didn’t say ALL or EVERY or NONE. We can try to be more clear from the get-go (as, I think, the Aminatou should have done with the whole “there’s no denying that women love to shop,” not that I want to reopen that can of worms), but we should also all make sure we’re reading each other carefully and in good faith. When in doubt, asking is better than accusing.

  111. jemand
    July 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    so… carrying through from the last post where Bangladeshi workers wanted 75$ a month instead of 25$…

    Well, assume they only work 20 days a week and only 8 hours a day and only make one item in an hour. All assumptions that I’m sure are WAY underestimating the reality. That item is sold in Walmart for 20$.

    Paying the Bangladeshi garment worker a living wage would eat up 2.3% of that garment’s cost. Currently, garment worker’s wages are just .7% of the cost.

    THIS IS NUTS! The problem is us buying cheap clothing? Nonsense! You could add an additional 31 cents to the cost of the garment if CEO salaries were THAT much of god’s requirement on earth, and the worker would be getting a living wage.

    Given how many hours they REALLY work, it’s even more ridiculous.

    But go ahead. Go ahead and make it all about consumer choice, and not labor rights, and the insane profits at the top. Go ahead and make it about women shopping being bad, and not legal protection for stealing as much profit out of everything as possible.

    This issue has NOTHING to do with people in the US looking for a deal. NOBODY buying jeans is going to worry about a 10 cent difference in the sticker price. Trust me.

  112. jemand
    July 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    ok… I want to clarify, I’m not accusing any one person of this… but I’m certain the CEO’s just absolutely are tickled pink when people don’t do out the math, and focus on harried women in the US already making less than men for the same job… as the ones being the problem, or the ones who must be the solution through *individual action* primarily…

    and thus nobody’s looking at the true slavers.

  113. AdrienneVeg
    July 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    @jemand:

    To support what you just said,

    “…paying decent wages to workers at the beginning of the supply chain has little effect on a company’s competiveness. “In Mexico’s apparel industry, economists from the Political Economy Research Institute found that doubling the pay of nonsupervisory workers would add just $1.80 to the cost of a $100 men’s sports jacket,” explained Miller. “And a recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research Found that US consumers would be willing to pay $115 for the same jacket if they knew it had not been made under sweatshop conditions.””

    That site is a pretty good FAQ and addresses a lot of what’s been discussed here.

  114. AdrienneVeg
    July 18, 2010 at 4:21 pm
  115. Bagelsan
    July 18, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    How is it smug? What do you even mean, women’s work? I wasn’t under the impression most of the people reading this (trolls aside) thought it was A-OK for men to refuse to do dishes, sewing, etc. The idea is utterly laughable, and it’s hard to believe any feminist would endorse the idea and allow the males in her family to use such an excuse.

    Oh, so we only care about women who are feminists, and who have a lot of power in their households now? Why didn’t you say so? I was thinking of the vast majority of women who, yes, absolutely still get saddled with doing everything the men around them don’t want to do. I wasn’t, unlike you, thinking only of my feminist, privileged self who is luckily surrounded by non-asshole men. Just because I, personally, would probably not get saddled with a great deal more in the way of chores doesn’t mean no one would.

  116. Samantha b.
    July 18, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    @ Sheezlebub, I agree with many of your excellent points, but, frankly, the idea that if you “do a small thing as a part of a collective political action–such as sign a petition, email your representatives, etc.–and it will get more notice..” Eh, not so much. You’ll get a form letter, if you’re very lucky. I do it *all* the freaking time. Until we cut into someone’s bottom line- and I would agree it has to be done collectively- it ain’t jack. There are multiple ways to engage in collective activity, but, frankly, the idea that any of us should be shaming any of us for engaging in the *wrong* form of activity strikes me as pretty problematic.

  117. Sheelzebub
    July 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    @samantha b–There are multiple ways to engage in collective activity, but, frankly, the idea that any of us should be shaming any of us for engaging in the *wrong* form of activity strikes me as pretty problematic.

    I have not told people who find activism challenging due to their situations that they are not trying hard enough, that they are making excuses, or any of that. If the OP’s were talking about political action and people who were not privileged posted about the challenges in doing that, you wouldn’t see any posts from me telling them that they were defending the right to wear slave made clothing, that they were looking for excuses, or that they were just lazy. I wouldn’t preface a post with suggestions with these kinds of comments, either. That’s not what I saw on the last thread. I saw a lot of people making these comments, saying but of course, do what you can do (after a few lines about how people don’t try hard enough, people are greedy and whine too much about classism or abelism).

    I have pointed out that I don’t think the consuming as activism model is effective, and have stated why. I have also pointed out that the same people who pushed that model have been incredibly nasty and dismissive of those who have posted, repeatedly, about the challenges they face in trying to follow such a model. Now suddenly no one is discounting activism, but there was nary a peep about it from those quarters. Folks were too busy sniffing in disapproval over those who said they couldn’t shop in the “correct” way. Now suddenly these same folks have found an awareness about class, about ability, and about size and access. Well, isn’t that nice. I’d suggest to them that they take that awarness and stop being assholes to people who have posted, repeatedly, about their challenges.

    As for the form letters, yes, you get form letters back (you aren’t going to get a personalized response). But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect laws and the votes of your representatives. Frankly, for a boycott to work, it has to be very targeted (to one specific company) and very intense, and done by a lot of people. Just boycotting everything indefinitely isn’t practical; not enough people can do it and the end result is the corporations don’t feel the need to change. They can whitewash their activities with some nice spin.

    @underbelly–And since I was only three 20 years ago, I really have no idea about what things were like back then, but I can tell you that even my conservative older sister who thinks “progressive” is a dirty word is starting to buy gallon jugs of juice instead of individually-packaged juice boxes & using cloth napkins. And ten years ago, I had never heard of the concept of bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store. So, my purely anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that thoughtful consumerism really is becoming more mainstream, and I have heard others say the same.

    So we’re finally bringing reusable bags to the grocery store (I do too, and while it might be new for you, it’s been done in some quarters for years). And now we’re using far more in electricity and natural resources than we were even 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago, since computers and cell phones have become necessities (try finding a job without one). We’re recycling and companies are still producing a lot of stuff that uses a lot of toxic resources, that use a lot of energy, and that breaks down and poisons the environment. Maybe they ‘recycle’ the electronic goods, which means they send them to the Global South where the chemicals and poisons leach into the water table and into their land, where they aren’t always disposed of properly, where more exploited workers are stripping these things with no safety measures and getting exposed to toxins. But we think we’ve come far because companies can greenwash–they call things organic, or say that they recycle (when, in reality, it doesn’t happen), or say they are using an environmentally sustainable material in their goods. But the larger problems remain. Consumer demand often results in spin, but not wholesale change.

    @La Lubu, jemand, bagelsan, and Amanda–I’m just seconding everything you all wrote. And the irony doesn’t escape me–I thrift, I shop very seldom, and I’m learning to sew. Yet the corporate machine chugs right along, doesn’t it?

    La Lubu, a belated thank you for those links. Some of those organizations I knew about, but one or two were new to me and I will check them out.

    @Paraxeni, a belated thank you to you for posting about your experiences. I think it’s common for TAB to assume that disabled=wheelchair only, and that everyone has access to public transport, etc.

  118. July 18, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    April

    Right. Because the discussion was about bad working conditions and trying to be more aware of them and how it’s something that people should be aware of and act against if they’re able to. It wasn’t about the ways in which many people are unable to engage in this process. How would you prefer these conversations take place? Or would you prefer they didn’t occur at all?

    I’d prefer it if conversations that were supposed to be about poor working conditions (which occur in the US as well as in EPZ’s) were focused on workers. What are people doing to improve their wages and conditions? Where are good sources of information to learn about what people are doing? What sort of supporting and solidarity do they want? What else can we do to show our support and solidarity?

    Conversations that purport to solve to address the problem but are instead focused on personal purity and a very selective view of ethics (thrift shops? Not necessarily exploitation free), are not the same thing as conversations about how people can act against bad working conditions and how we can act against them.

    I also think conversations about how people clothe themselves can be interesting and useful. But they are

    jemand – That’s a really important point. The idea that consumers have choice or power over working conditions, or even that clothes are cheap because workers are badly paid (usually workers making expensive clothes will be as badly paid as workers making cheap clothes, because they’re made at the same factories, even in New Zealand or the US) – is one that doesn’t stack up in the face of knowledge of the supply chain.

    PrettyAmiable – Thanks – I think possibly different assumptions are hiding some common ground here. While I’m not a big fan of boycotts there are times that it has been super effective. The point is that those are times when people have got together and thought “What is the best solution to this problem” and worked together to make change. Rather than starting from the individual and looking at how an individual can not participate in the system (which is both impossible and ineffective).

  119. July 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    opps – unfinished sentence:
    I also think conversations about how people clothe themselves can be interesting and useful. But they have to come from a place that acknowledges that not everyone has the same options when it comes to clothing themselves. It’s much easier for those who have lots of options to ‘problematise’ those options than those with very few options (and I don’t have very few options, but I don’t have the options that even someone my size and income in the US would have).

  120. July 19, 2010 at 4:25 am

    “Oh, so we only care about women who are feminists, and who have a lot of power in their households now? Why didn’t you say so? I was thinking of the vast majority of women who, yes, absolutely still get saddled with doing everything the men around them don’t want to do. I wasn’t, unlike you, thinking only of my feminist, privileged self who is luckily surrounded by non-asshole men. Just because I, personally, would probably not get saddled with a great deal more in the way of chores doesn’t mean no one would.”

    Well Bagel, assuming we’re talking about most of the developed world, there is absolutely no excuse for letting someone squirm out of doing their fair share of the work because of the excuse that it is “women’s work” or some such ridiculousness. If a woman wants to do twice as much work as her husband, that’s perfectly fine, but it’s a choice. Now if you want to talk about the majority of women in the world, that would include the women that make these clothes under horrible conditions, for very, very low pay, and thus probably aren’t thinking:

    “Hmmmm I wonder how I can lessen the plight of garment workers? Buy less overpriced crap or hop on my personal sewing machine? Decisions, decisions!”

    The entire concept of sewing/mending one’s own wardrobe here seems to obviously be asked of those who have the privilege (privilege of time, money, ability) to have it as an option, and it goes without saying that such people would have the privilege of telling their husbands to shut the fuck up and go sleep in the yard if they didn’t want to help mend.

    No, it’s not that I am privileged to live with males that are not assholes. I am privileged in that I am an asshole. I’m in charge of cooking supper, and there wouldn’t be any more supper if I was pissed off :) Everyone loves sewing, but no one here loves doing the dishes, but somehow they don’t get piled on me.

  121. July 19, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Well Bagel, assuming we’re talking about most of the developed world, there is absolutely no excuse for letting someone squirm out of doing their fair share of the work because of the excuse that it is “women’s work” or some such ridiculousness. If a woman wants to do twice as much work as her husband, that’s perfectly fine, but it’s a choice.

    Those crazy women, always oppressing themselves! When will they ever learn?

  122. Kaz
    July 19, 2010 at 10:27 am

    @Sheelzebub – I want to belatedly thank you for explaining why “if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you” simply doesn’t work in this sort of dialogue, because when I saw that reiterated I pretty much gave up. I can’t even explain all the things that are wrong and hurtful about it, but one thing is that, you know, as an upper-middle class young woman whose disabilities that make shopping difficult are not only invisible but also neurological/psychiatric in nature (mental health issues + autistic spectrum)? And that very often get mistaken for laziness? Like *hell* are people not going to make it about me.

    And, you know, I would like to do something about this too. Saying “X proposed solution is unrealistic for me because of Y and Z and W” is not some attempt of a get-out-of-complicity-in-oppression free card. Feeling as if I have to choose between my functionality and fighting or at least not adding to existing oppression sucks. Feeling as if only the privileged folks get to try to do anything about this and the rest of us are going to have to be part of the problem sucks. As a result, I welcome the many suggestions on other types of constructive action, especially the ones aiming for such structural change that I wouldn’t *have* to make that choice.

  123. July 19, 2010 at 11:53 am

    It’s much easier for those who have lots of options to ‘problematise’ those options than those with very few options (and I don’t have very few options, but I don’t have the options that even someone my size and income in the US would have).

    The OP didn’t do that! Any of it!

  124. jemand
    July 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    and another thing… goodwill simply *cannot* just *cannot* be a part of a real, coherent, systematic solution. goodwill resells clothing that was once sold as “regular” clothes. it therefor is and always will be a small fraction of the market. it is mathematically *impossible* for 100% of american women to shop there.

    and… if changes were made to the procurement process so that 100% of american women could shop there? the changes would be to get the clothes directly from distributors and factories. nothing… NOTHING would change for the women in those factories.

    Goodwill CANNOT be part of a systematic solution. The way it is organized, the way our society is organized, is that it will always be only a small part of the market, it cannot expand larger than a few percent of the “normal” clothing distributors.

    Of course we could start saying women should play musical chairs and if they lose they’re unethically supporting slavery… or we could *support legal solutions.* The same as legal solutions are what’s required to keep toxins out of our food and medicines. Consumers can’t individually police which brands are going to poison them– but they *don’t have to.* Laws protect that. Consumers similarly can’t individually police which brands promote slavery. There are quality control organizations with many employees paid quite a bit who are devoted to researching supply chains to ensure no toxins. THAT IS WHAT IS REQUIRED TO POLICE SUPPLY CHAINS.

    Individuals cannot do this. They don’t individually run entire quality control organizations. To focus on the individual is to confuse the whole issue and to miss where the only real solution actually lies.

  125. AdrienneVeg
    July 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    @jemand

    goodwill simply *cannot* just *cannot* be a part of a real, coherent, systematic solution.

    Indeed. Similarly, I’m all about dumpster diving and will advocate it as an option for people who want to remove themselves from oppressing others a bit (assuming they’re already consuming brand new stuff and they’re able to dumpster dive), but if everyone relied on dumpster diving for clothes and food, no one would be throwing anything away, and there’d be no dumpsters in which to dive. There’d also be no garment-manufacturing or farm jobs because no one would be paying workers’ wages.

    It is important to distinguish between the questions “Given the way the system works, what can I do to reduce the harm I cause within it?” and “What can we do to change the way the system works?”

  126. July 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    April – The original post may not have – although I think it laid the foundations. But the discussion that followed certainly did.

    It is important to distinguish between the questions “Given the way the system works, what can I do to reduce the harm I cause within it?” and “What can we do to change the way the system works?”

    I think the distinction is important – but as I, and so many other people have been trying to explain, the idea that you can lessen the harm you do is not a reflection of the realities of capitalism. And I question the idea, and value of individual virtue in consumption – whether it’s cast as ‘ethical’ buying as others have or ‘minimising harm’ as you have.

    1. I don’t believe that consumers have power over methods of production. Therefore I don’t believe that when you buy something you are causing the harm that happened during production. The harm is caused by those who do have power over that production – management, and those who benefit from that production – shareholders. The mythical powerful consumer is just that – a myth put around to individualise blame and weaken resistance.

    2. Many people who think they are buying clothing that isn’t made in exploitative conditions are wrong. I have had frequent conversations with people who thought that they were being virtuous by buying NZ made clothes – but who were entirely ignorant of the wages and conditions of NZ clothing workers. Likewise people who shop in certain thrift shops who don’t know that hte clothes are sorted by people in apalling conditions without basic safety gear.

    There’s nothing wrong with personal boycotts – avoiding buying a certain thing because you find the conditions it was made under horrifiic. I do it a bit myself. But I don’t kid myself that doing so benefits other than myself.

    I think the other question should be “Given that this is the way that the system is, how do different people balance their needs and their resources.”

    Or to use hte other example you gave – dumpster divers are getting stuff for free – which is great. But the products that they get for free were made exploitatively. They are no more or less responsible for that exploitation than those who buy those products (I say not responsible).

  127. exholt
    July 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    China has developed a middle class and has grown richer as an economy (per capita and overall), for instance, but forbids organization of employees (except for the few instances where it fits their political agenda). The issue isn’t income disparity so much as governments forbidding their underclasses from organizing. If you focus on income disparity alone, you miss the point, and sweatshops in China will continue.

    As someone who has studied China academically and has family ties and friends there, I’m not so sure about what you asserted above.

    First, while the overall Chinese economy has grown, the vast majority of the wealth is concentrated in the upper and the upper-middle classes. Consequently, per-capita figures may not be the best way to assess the state of wealth distribution among all Chinese as the per-capita income figures tends to be skewed extremely upward as a result of those upper/upper-middle class while leaving out the fact the vast majority of the Chinese people live extremely insecure economic existences. This is especially the case with those who happen to live in rural areas and the often ignored migrant workers in urban areas. Keep in mind that while China’s economy has grown and there is more prosperity…..it is almost exclusively enjoyed by the upper/upper-middle classes with income and wealth disparities such that it may even give Dickensian Britain a run for its money.

    You’re correct that the government doesn’t let their underclasses organize…..though a large part of that is the legacy of the Maoist era where organized workers can be a direct challenge to the Chinese Communist Party’s because their efforts to embrace a form of capitalism that is arguably more laissez-faire than the US’ since the 1980’s can easily reveal the inherent ideological hypocrisy in the party’s legacy as the “vanguard” of the workers and the peasants. That and the messy chaotic legacy of the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 where strong student and worker uprisings caused nationwide shutdowns of schools, research institutes, government ministries, and more in the name of Mao’s “permanent revolution” which targeted many CCP bureaucrats, scholars, and professionals who were later critical to the Chinese economic growth years and decades later. A reason why the CCP cracked down hard in the wake of the Tienanmen Protests in 1989…once the workers joined the protests…the party felt a grave threat to their hold on power and felt they had to eliminate it….they certainly didn’t want a repeat of the Cultural Revolution and their being sentenced to forced labor, prison, or even death. They also subsequently implemented further restrictions on the already severely restricted labor movements to prevent a repeat of ’89.

    Also, keep in mind that with a few exceptions (Mostly fully-funded academic PhDs), the vast majority of Chinese who come to the states to study tend to be from the very upper/upper-middle classes and thus, may feel the need to maintain the current CCP’s portrayal of China has an increasingly prosperous nation for all when nearly all of it is concentrated near the very top. This is especially the case with those who came of age after Tienanmen as I found those of my age and older tend to be much more aware and critical of the government on average than the average Chinese Gen Y/Millenial.

  128. Bagelsan
    July 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    (mental health issues + autistic spectrum)?

    Kaz, thanks for the “it is about me” comment, it was excellent. And major sympathy, too: isn’t the “?” game great? Is it laziness? Is it shyness? Is it depression? Is it a super mild form of Aspie’s? Is it (as a therapist proclaimed recently) agoraphobia? Who knows! But I still can’t ever seem to leave the house each weekend, get on the bus anxiety-free, or make eye contact with strangers!

    I usually go with “lazy” because if you laugh kinda ruefully to your coworkers and head for the coffee (and have a very –thank god– relaxed work schedule) the two hours it took to get out of the house this morning are so easily explained! I’m not crazy I’m lazy! Lol, yes, I definitely fall within the normal spectrum of non-crazy human behavior, no need to ask me intrusive questions!

    So admonishing privileged and privileged-looking young women about laziness? Totally (probably) about me, ’cause god knows I can’t offer a better explanation at the moment than “laziness!” for not getting anydamnthing done except work and occasional food. I’m not shopping, I’m not thrifting, I’m not sewing, I’m not “working together with unions”… I’m not even doing my dishes on a more than as-desperately-needed basis. I’m lazy. :p

    …and that was hopefully not a derail. (It was definitely a bit of a rant.) But TL;DR = thanks, Kaz, for your good point.

  129. July 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    and another thing… goodwill simply *cannot* just *cannot* be a part of a real, coherent, systematic solution. goodwill resells clothing that was once sold as “regular” clothes. it therefor is and always will be a small fraction of the market. it is mathematically *impossible* for 100% of american women to shop there.

    Excellent point. This reminds me of a book I read a couple years ago. I don’t remember the name of it, but the point of the book was pointers on how to live “off the grid.” Many of the suggestions that the author had was to do things like ask a relative to allow you to have mail delivered there. This, obviously, misses the point that the author was trying to make, which was that we could all live “off the grid.” In order for a reader of his book to succeed, they had to find someone who was okay with being ON the grid to take responsibility for their mail. Obviously, every person cannot accomplish this apparently idea way of living, because it relied 100% on people being ON the grid in question.

    Another thing I read that highlighted this very thing, in an Ayn Rand book of all places, was about labor. Sure, one can choose not to participate in the labor force, but in order to eat, they have to consume others’ labor. Labor has to occur in order to produce food, clothing, etc. We as humans participate or don’t depending on our abilities or willingness to do so. Nothing will take the necessity of labor away. Shopping at Goodwill or other thrift stores only removes the shopper from the direct act of supporting bad labor practices, but relies 100% on those practices to be in business.

  130. July 19, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Shopping at Goodwill or other thrift stores only removes the shopper from the direct act of supporting bad labor practices, but relies 100% on those practices to be in business.

    Can you stop repeating this myth. A lot of second hand clothes shops use bad labor practices somewhere in their supply chain.

  131. July 20, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Well Bagel, assuming we’re talking about most of the developed world, there is absolutely no excuse for letting someone squirm out of doing their fair share of the work because of the excuse that it is “women’s work” or some such ridiculousness. If a woman wants to do twice as much work as her husband, that’s perfectly fine, but it’s a choice.

    BWA hahahahaha!! Yeah, because arguing every night and/or getting a divorce over the housework are better options!! Heh. Funny, even in industrialized and postindustrial nations, women are still paid less money. When it comes down to it, you can’t make someone else do something they don’t want to do. You can only decide if you can live with that or not—or if the consequences of not living with it are better or worse. That many women decide the alternative is worse does not mean it’s a “choice”. Coercion does not equal choice. The existence of helpful Nigels is great, but so far it has not impacted the larger cultural narrative of what is “women’s work” and what is “men’s work”.

    But beyond that, as a single mother, I wondered why the assumption was that everyone had a helpful Nigel at home, ready and willing to pitch in. For single parents, it’s one more burden on top of a day that already doesn’t have enough hours in it.

  132. AdrienneVeg
    July 20, 2010 at 9:06 am

    @Maia

    Many people who think they are buying clothing that isn’t made in exploitative conditions are wrong.

    Yes. I’ve been hearing my whole life (largely from my longtime-labor-organizer mother) that I should look for the “Made in the USA” label and only buy those items. As it turns out, much of the clothing bearing that label was made using prison labor or was produced in US territories that are not subject to the same labor and safety laws as the 50 states. And of course, there are clothing factories and (thanks for pointing this out again) second-hand retailers that are subject to those laws and still break them.

    The mythical powerful consumer is just that – a myth put around to individualise blame and weaken resistance.

    I think that’s an excellent point and I’m glad to see that argument running through this thread. I guess my fear is that people who do have options, who can choose to consume less or differently/better, will take this as “my actions don’t matter- it’s all the manufacturers’ fault. I can do whatever I want.”

    @Bagelsan

    So admonishing privileged and privileged-looking young women about laziness? Totally (probably) about me, ’cause god knows I can’t offer a better explanation at the moment than “laziness!” for not getting anydamnthing done except work and occasional food.

    Thanks for explaining your experience in this regard. I am one of those who referred to some privileged people being too lazy to make better decisions, and I take your point about “privileged-looking” as well as making judgement calls about others’ actions without knowing the whole story. “Lazy” is also problematic (the way I used it) and I should have phrased it differently. I did reference myself and friends specifically, because it has been my personal experience with privilege that we often don’t want to make hard decisions. I myself have made excuses to justify purchases that I did not need. I can sympathize with some of what Aminatou was expressing in the first OP: “It is difficult to deny the ease of Fast Fashion even as I’ve been challenged to think even more deeply and more morally about my shopping habits.” I am ashamed of my past shopping habits. It’s similar to those people (most of the people in my life) who drive to the grocery store, buy lots of fresh produce that was grown and harvested in horrid conditions and shipped here from the other side of the globe, and then take it home and let it rot in our refrigerators. It’s sickening but it’s really common among certain segments of the population. I have discarded clothes I knew I could fix. I have discarded clothes with the tags still on them. I have purchased items I did not need from companies that I knew had terrible labor and environmental practices.

    Now, I’m not trying to extend my personal mistakes and claim anyone in an apparently similar situation is doing the same thing. I appreciate your reminder that we don’t ever know someone else’s circumstances, even if they ostensibly “admit” to being “lazy.” Still, these kinds of consumptive habits are A problem, though not THE problem. (Fixing them won’t fix the system, we shouldn’t be focusing on just the actions and choices of privileged people. I know.)

    Privilege means we have any range of available options to relieve ourselves of the momentary guilt that comes from doing something we know is wrong: “I just don’t feel like ordering this online and waiting for it to arrive. I want it now.” “I can’t get this exact color of tights from anywhere but American Apparel” (even though I haven’t looked to see if this is actually true). “I need a new dress because none of the dozen or so I have are exactly right for this party” (even though that’s not true). “I know this company is probably terrible but I just don’t feel like doing research to find out” (or if I knew how terrible they were I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying their clothes anymore, and that saddens me because I’d have to shop somewhere else).

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