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That’s not my style…

May 10, 2014

If you know me you won’t be surprised when I say (or type) that I am not a fashionista. No, fashion is not my domain. While I am fascinated by the visual arts generally, fashion tends 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 more cold, hard cash. Isn’t fashion all about lording it over other people?  A price must be paid by others.

Even beyond  all the damage done to self-esteem, egos, bodies, wallets, even the environment, by fashion there is a greater cost. The cost to the people who construct our clothes. People, generally in much poorer countries, who slave over the construction of clothes for (relatively) cashed-up Westerners in cramped, unhealthy, often unsafe conditions for barely any money. So we can have cheap clothing.

About 10 months ago I decided I didn’t want to support unfair trade practices in the production of clothing any longer. I won’t buy clothes from the vast majority of Australian retailers anymore.

The strange thing is that now I’m much more interested in clothes and style than I used to be. I expected that under my new regime my “look” might degenerate completely. But I’d like to think that gradually my ethically improved shopping practices are actually improving my style. The bar may have started pretty low, but I’d like to think it is, very gradually, getting higher, and I think the limited options for purchasing that are now available to me are the reason for the improvement.

The main ethical options:

  1. Op shops (ie. second-hand goods shops run by charities, know in Australia as “opportunity shops”)
  2. Boutiques (local and online) stocking ethically made clothes.

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 (the money goes to charity anyway), and if it does suit, you may have just discovered a whole new style that really works for you. Plus, an extra bonus of op-shopping for a shorty like me is that many of the trousers and jeans are already hemmed to the perfect length by previous short-limbed owners.

Ethically made clothes from boutiques, on the other hand, tend to be pricey, but when offset with a bit of op-shopping, I think it evens out. At local boutiques I can support local designers and artisans (which I as an ex-artist myself I always like), or I can take the less environmentally sustainable option and shop online for access to a whole world’s worth of fair trade clothing. Ethical boutique clothing tends to feature quality, sustainable, natural fibres, and tends to be really well made. So while it does cost more initially, it should last a lot longer than the disposal fashion alternative.

I think it is the ethical boutiques that I think are mostly responsible for gradually nudging my sense of style to a better place. Why? They just aren’t as middle-of-the-road as the chain stores I used to buy from. While there are plenty of styles that are still plenty dowdy (or pure hippy) in the fair-trade shops, there is a lot to choose from that is, well, interesting. In a good way. Arty. Edgy. Classic but slightly twisted. Asymmetrical. Retro re-imagined. Sometimes too bizarre to seriously contemplate for a non-fashionista like me, but almost always more original, stylish, soulful and inspiring than the chain store pseudo-fashion I used to buy. And yet there is something generally more timeless about these clothes too. They are edgy, but classic, arty but smart. Pieces that are designed to last, to be mixed and matched to express true individuality not the fleeting reflection of an already passing trend.

So I’ve come to see that being fashionable doesn’t have to mean being mean, competitive or oppressive. And avoiding exploitative trade practices doesn’t have to mean embracing dowdiness. And most unexpectedly, by giving up on fashion I’m beginning to find my own sense of style. There is a stream of fashion that I really love! Fair trade fashion!

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

Julia's ethical fashion Pinterest board

Have a look at my Ethical Fashion Pinterest board for some ideas of where to shop.

 

 

 

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