The Big Issue : Edition 474
THE BIG ISSUE 26 DEC 2014 – 8 JAN 2015 29 PHOTOGRAPHYBYiSTOCK HOW SOURCING FAIR-TRADE CLOTHES HELPED JULIA MARSHALL FIND HER FLAIR. Fashionably I have more than enough clothes to choose from. Yes, some items are difficult to source ethically (bras and supportive running shoes are the ones I’ve struggled with), but most items can be found relatively easily. The real challenge is resisting the temptation to spend more than I can afford. Each purchase just feels so good! As for feeling like I’m missing out on clothes in high streets, well, that has proved far easier than I expected. Once you realise there are plenty of fair options out there, abstaining from fast fashion is not hard. If I like something but it isn’t ethically sourced, I simply walk away, knowing I will find something just as good from an ethical source. I may pay more for it, but it will probably be better made. The truth is I’m more interested in clothes and style now than I used to be. In fact, my ethically improved shopping is enhancing my style. The bar might have been set pretty low, but it has gradually been raised, and I think the limited options for purchasing are the reason for the improvement. I am now more discriminating. The main ethical options are op shops and boutiques (local and online). With op shop purchases you can gamble a little. Not sure about the colour or the cut? For $3, just give it a go! If it doesn’t work out, just send it back. And if it does suit, you may have discovered a whole new style. For a shorty like me, an extra bonus of op-shopping is that many items have already been hemmed to a perfect length by previous short-limbed owners. I AM NOT a fashionista. No, fashion is not my natural domain. While I am fascinated by the visual arts generally, fashion has tended to repel me. There is something so competitive about fashion. It seems to be about continually trumping one another, showing off, flaunting superiority in taste, looks, audacity, or simply access to cash. Beyond all the damage done to self- esteem, egos, bodies, wallets and even the environment by fashion, there is a greater cost: the cost to the people who make the clothes. People, generally in poorer countries, who work in cramped, unhealthy, often unsafe conditions for very little money. So we can have cheap clothing. Over a year ago now, I decided I didn’t want to support unfair trade practices in the production of clothing any longer. I would only buy new clothing, and shoes, produced by people paid fairly for their labour. I’d been working up to this move for a long time. Gradually, I’d been buying ever more clothing from ethical sources. But I remained hesitant to make a complete break with mainstream fashion, thinking it would be far too hard and expensive. Then, after learning more about the true costs of ‘fast fashion’, I resolved to stop supporting inhumane trade practices. I expected this to be difficult. I thought it would be tricky to keep my wardrobe well stocked; I thought I would suffer a kind of shopping withdrawal. But the truth is there are sufficient shops stocking ethical fashion to keep me clothed. It took a little time to discover them, both locally and online, but now Ethically made clothes from boutiques tend to be pricey, but it all evens out when offset with a bit of op-shopping. At local boutiques I can support local designers and artisans, or I can shop online to access a world of fair-trade clothing. Ethical boutique clothing tends to feature quality, sustainable, natural fibres and be well made. So it should last longer. Ethical boutiques are nudging my sense of style to a better place. They aren’t as middle-of-the-road as the chain stores I used to patronise. True, some styles are rather dowdy (or pure hippy) in the fair-trade shops, but other options are, well, interesting. In a good way. Arty. Edgy. Classic but slightly twisted. Asymmetrical. Retro re-imagined. Sometimes too bizarre to seriously contemplate, but almost always more original, stylish, soulful and inspiring than the pseudo-fashion I used to buy. And there is something generally more timeless about these clothes, too. They have been designed to last. I’ve come to see that being fashionable doesn’t have to mean being mean, competitive or oppressive. Avoiding exploitative trade practices doesn’t have to mean embracing dowdiness. By giving up on fashion I’m unexpectedly beginning to find my own sense of style. It seems there is a stream of fashion I really love. And it’s fair. » Julia Marshall works as a librarian in Melbourne. She was formerly a freelance illustrator and artist, and blogs at alongwayfromlyddington.wordpress.com.