Clean clothes and garment guilt

You may have read news articles about the recent factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which hundreds of garment workers died. You may know that three major European brands have been implicated in the disaster, and that Oxfam Australia fears that it will only be a matter of time until Australian brands also become implicated. You might even know that there may be a silver lining, in the form of increasing safety regulations being developed in light of the disaster.

Without getting into the nitty gritty details, it is important to ask: if consumers didn’t demand so much cheap clothing, would factory workers be working in such poor conditions? The answer I’ve come to is “No, probably not”. I frequently find myself feeling guilty when buying cheap clothing, knowing that developing country workers are likely bearing the costs. In the absence of transparent supply chains, I find it hard to trust many big brands. But as I don’t yet intend to become a nudist, I do still need clothes – so where should I get them? And as a daughter with a penchant for gift-giving, what should I do about Mother’s Day this weekend?

The answers I’ve been exploring this week are Gumtree, clothes swaps, and crafternoons. These are my “3 things to reduce sweatshop demand” – buy second hand, exchange/swap, and upcycle/DIY. Today, I’m talking Mother’s Day crafty gifts, in time for you to whip something up for this Sunday.

For me, the key questions to ask oneself when giving a gift are:

  • Is this something the receiver needs and will use?
  • Could I find a more ethical or sustainable substitute? Think – fair trade scarf from the online Oxfam Shop instead of one from the mall; recycled paper diary instead of a generic one. You could also check out the cool Fair Trade Pop Up Shop that’s in Oxford Street, Sydney, this week for Fair Trade Fortnight. 
  • Am I giving a gift for the sake of it, could I make something instead?

Fair Trade scarf from

Now, I am no craft superhero, but there are projects floating around online even novices like me could handle. Turns out you don’t need a hot glue gun for every craft project – who knew?! I’m going to have a crack at these colourful napkins from frankie magazine’s craft section, and these cool pom pom bookmarks as well. The ubiquitous pinterest also seems to be a treasure trove of DIY projects, ranging from home made butterfly feeders to knitted baby alligators. I’m going to try my local op-shops to find some second hand napkins and yarn, and the awesome folks over at Reverse Garbage could also be helpful for sourcing supplies. 

If you’re wondering how knitting baby alligators will help empower Bangladeshi factory workers… you’re on the right track. I guess the take home message is that we’re all part of global supply chains, and our consumption choices contribute to global patterns of supply and demand. Think about where the product you’re buying has come from. If each one of us approaches gift buying more mindfully, then maybe we can slow sweatshop production, and encourage more sustainable industries to flourish instead. And if that’s not tangible enough for you, how about asking Australian companies to have their factories sign onto the International Fire and Building Safety Agreement?

Are you feeling inspired to make better choices? Maybe you’re wondering how to clothe yourself without slaying the planet and its workers? Stay tuned for my next post, which will be full of hints and tips for buying second hand online! And please, share your own advice below.

In the meantime, check out Ethical Clothing Australia to find out which brands are doing the right thing, and head to the 3things Ethical Fashion pages to download our DIY clothes swap kit.

Next post: No sweat! Sweatshop-free shopping online

About Alex

Young lady who likes long walks on the beach, kittens, fair trade chocolate and positive change. I divide my time between uni, the Oxfam office, Newtown Thai restaurants, the ultimate frisbee field and 21sts (there are so many!)
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