DIY Ethical February

diy-ethical-february

This month in my commitment to only buying ethically made stuff, was all about doing it myself. Whilst I don’t need to buy any clothing for myself for some time, my 5 year old is growing out of his clothes and will need a new set for the next season. Op shop kids clothes are non existent or don’t work with his sensory needs and I don’t have access to hand me downs. He’s autistic and for him, that means that he needs super soft clothes with flat seams, elastic waists and no buttons or zips.

After buying a few GOTS certified clothes from Sweden that are perfect for him but pretty costly, I decided to try and make some clothes instead. To begin with, I tried to buy organic cotton. Go ahead, try it. You’ll find there’s not a whole lot available and it’s expensive so if you’re a new/dodgy sewer like I am, it’s a high risk endeavour.

My solution? Post consumer fabric. AKA sheets from op shops. For $15 I got two massive pieces of fabric in solid colours. I’m pretty pleased that I managed to sew a skirt for myself and some pants for my little guy, as this could be an ongoing solution to the very tricky problem of finding kids clothes made fairly that don’t cost a mountain.

I’m still feeling a strong sense of ‘the fuck?’ when I walk through my city centre. So many shops. So much fabric and plastic. So many women in other parts of the world being shafted as a result. So many of us closing our minds to the reality of suffering that lies beneath.

Just like in January, I’m finding that my travels in conscious consumerism are expanding well beyond clothing. I’m also starting to realise that my need to be online a lot means that I’m consuming a steady stream of information. I get my news online and my friends are all online, so that’s righteous. But my brain gets very full, very fast, so my husband and I decided that having Sundays off the internet would be an interesting experiment.

It’s turned out to be some kind of wonderful. Our brains are quieter and more chill by the end of Sunday so I think we’ll keep this one up. I wonder where this ethical consumer path will take me next? Onwards to March!

 

 

Bad, sad

pop

I’m unsettled. None of this feels right. Walking down the main shopping mall in my city has me spooked. Shop after shop of badly, sadly made clothing – most of it made from synthetics and non-organic cottons that are messing with the environment and with people’s lives.

I want to burn it all down and celebrate the flames.

I want to yell at the people shopping to STOP RIGHT NOW.

Instead I disassociate with the world around me a little and feel alien amongst it all.

There’s got to be close to 60 clothing shops surrounding me but if I wanted to buy just one thing that I was sure was made ethically – I don’t think I could find it. Why are we buying this stuff? Why don’t we care enough about the people who made this stuff to change the way we shop?

I can’t blame people because I used to buy this stuff too. But a switch has flipped in my head and it’s like opening the curtains behind a glitzy scene to reveal the horrors that lie beyond it. It’s JUST like the switch that flipped when I went vegan. Now I walk past people eating meat and it’s such a horror to me that I don’t understand how people can do it.

Why do we draw the lines where we do?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same religion as you?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same race as you?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same sexual identity as you?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same species as you?

Why don’t we extend our compassion beyond our comfort zones? I don’t know. I know that it isn’t easy to go against the mainstream and that doing so takes time and effort and uncertainty.

I know some people just don’t seem to care.

I know more who do care though but still draw boundaries around their compassion, extending it to some, but not others. I know I’ve done this in the past too.

Once I know though, I can’t un-know. Trying to do so makes parts of me contract and the result is that I move through the world like I’m moving through thick, sticky humidity. It’s not comfortable and there’s no way to relax until my actions match what I know. It’s not living, walking through my life like that. It’s just existing and denying and covering up what’s really going on.

Deciding to unplug from the shopping matrix might be challenging but the result is a life less small and tight. There’s freedom in stepping outside of a system that causes suffering.

Where do you draw the lines of compassion?

Can you stretch them?

Ethical products – they’re lying

What does an ‘ethical product’ mean to you?

Because I’m seeing a whole lot of claims by brands selling ‘ethical products’ that are way short of the mark. They have beautiful websites with children frolicking in the woods playing with toys made from sustainable wood wearing whimsical frocks – but behind the scenes are women in sweatshops and farmers getting cancers from pesticides in their cotton fields. It’s not an ethical product if:

  • It was made by people who aren’t being paid a fair wage
  • It was made by people whose health is negatively impacted on by the manufacturing process (toxic dyes, inadequate ventilation in factories, pesticides in cotton farming)
  • It was made using materials or processes that release toxins into the environment (toxic run off from factories into waterways)
  • It was made using materials that come from animals (there’s no such thing as ‘ethical leather’)

There are a whole lot of businesses out there that tick all the right boxes for being good to the environment – but don’t seem to care much about the conditions of the people making their product. Some of these businesses have ‘ethical product’ claims all over their website, but when you ask them for more information on where they make them and how they ensure that the people making them are treated well – they have nothing to say. Or they say some version of ‘they’re made in China but it’s all ok because they tell us it is’.

I’ve sent off a lot of enquiries over the last month asking businesses that brand themselves as selling ‘ethical products’ to tell me more about their supply chains. Some respond that they have certifications that ensure that they treat workers fairly – but when I look into those certifications, they guarantee only the environmental aspect of their materials….and say nothing about the people making the products.

Many don’t reply at all. Which says a lot.

What I’ve come to learn is that businesses that DO ensure that their supply chains are ethical are proud that they have done so and will let you know clearly about this on their websites. They’ll either tell you in the ‘About Us’ section of the site or they’ll have certifications clearly displayed. These are the images you’re looking for:

fair_trade_certified_logo-cmyk               gots-logo_rgb               wrap

If something you want to buy doesn’t have these assurances all over their website, go ahead and email them. Companies that ensure ethical practices will respond with gusto to your enquiry and excitedly tell you about all they do to make sure people are treated fairly in the factories they manufacture in. They might tell you the names and addresses of their factories, the companies that oversee third-party inspections on them and let you know they have mapped their supply chain. They’ll thank you for caring about how the things you buy are made.

Businesses that have no idea about the conditions in the factories that they manufacture in will stay very silent on the issue or offer you vague reassurances to placate you enough to buy their stuff. Don’t fall for it. They’re hoping that your definition of an ‘ethical product’ will be flexible enough to let them pass.

An ethical product is one that causes no suffering to people, animals and the environment.

Everything else is latching onto the ‘ethically made’ bandwagon and telling lies.

January Report – Glow stick fail

The first month of my ‘buy nothing that isn’t ethically made in 2017’ project is over and it’s been 99% successful. The 1% is the crappy plastic glow stick that I auto bought on entry to a theme park place that my kid chose to go to on his first official day of unschooling. Being autistic, I always stumble when a sales person says something I don’t expect them to say. I was prepared for buying the tickets, receiving some information….but not for ‘here you need to buy this for $2 to use inside’. Um, ok. Thanks.

Wait. What just happened?

Clearly I will need to be more prepared for these types of moments in future.

Apart from this auto purchase, I didn’t bring anything else into the house that is made off the backs of people being treated unfairly. I didn’t bring anything much into the house at all really, apart from food.

That’s a spill over of this project I think. You start thinking more broadly about consumption and the idea of being responsible for the creation of more new products isn’t tasty at all anymore.

I’ve been mainlining podcasts as usual. Episode 33 of Conscious Chatter featured Christina Dean, founder and CEO of Hong Kong based NGO Redress. She mentioned that around 11 000 garments are dumped into landfill every hour in Hong Kong. That’s one country. And one hour.

So the idea of adding to that is just not appealing at all.

I also stopped using take away coffee cups and dragged out the reusable coffee cup I already had but rarely bothered to take with me. Given that each take away coffee cup can take up to 50 years to break down in landfill, I’m glad I’m finally making the effort. And I can’t buy cotton that isn’t organic because just no to all those pesticides and the impact they have on cotton farmers. So that’s a few other products out.

I did buy a set of reusable bamboo cutlery to throw in my bag for those rare times I eat out for lunch. It was pretty easy to look up its eco credentials online as I stood in the shop with it in my hands. You have to watch bamboo as it’s not always good for the environment. It depends on how its grown and processed. This stuff passed the test though, so it now comes with me and my reusable coffee cup.

I thought toys might be a challenge as my 5 year old has a bit of an addiction to small trinket toys. His dad did have a conversation with him in front of the Hot Wheels cars display at the supermarket about the people who make them and how they aren’t paid the right amount of money and it’s not fair. I wondered how this would go down but the kid has an inbuilt sense of fairness, so he accepted it. Nerf guns will be a whole other conversation though.

On reflection, the process of switching over to only buying ethically made products reminds me of when I went vegan. It’s a bit research intensive at the start – you need to look stuff up and think in advance before buying. I found I relied on two apps to help me make the right choices and I’m so grateful that these exist.

I think it will get easier over time as I build my knowledge of what stores I can shop in and what brands are ok. In the meantime, I’m sticking with the work of learning to do better.

Onwards to February.