Eco Burn Out

Eco Burn Out

A bad case of eco burn out

Just over a week ago I did something that if you had asked me the day or even the hour before I would have said “never would I ever!” But I’ll get to that in just a bit.

Originally I had planned on writing an article about why eco fashion is so confusing. The more I worked on it, the more I lost interest in writing about it. What is eco? What is sustainable? What is green? What is ethical? What is slow? What is capsule? What is fair trade? What is living wage?… I could go on for a few more lines but I’ll spare you. In the end the article never got finished, mostly due to the fact that I was sick of talking about it and I’m pretty sure you are sick of hearing about it. *If you aren’t I know I will be coming back to it in the future, so stayed tuned* It was only after reflecting on an article written by the absolutely on point Leah Wise of Style Wise Blog (Article Here, definitely give it a read!) that I realized I was suffering from, what I will call, Eco Burn Out.

“…I didn’t want to talk to anybody about what I was wearing or explain the nuanced principles of eco fashion…I should have seen eco burn out coming”

Signs of Eco Burn Out

In retrospect I probably should have seen it coming. Blogging has slowed down, I didn’t enjoy looking at some of favorite companies anymore, I didn’t want to talk to anybody about what I was wearing or explain the nuanced principles of eco fashion, lost interest in social media, I wasn’t enjoying getting dressed as I felt uninspired by a lot of my clothing, and to top it off my husband said I was acting like a crazy person (to his credit I absolutely was). One night while scrambling my brain to come up with new blog topics I couldn’t sleep and finally got out of bed at 3am to make blueberry muffins. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me. Unfortunately for my husband, I managed to eat almost all of them. (Life happens). He suggested I take time out and reflect about moving forward with WTT. If it was driving me this crazy was it really worth continuing?

“But, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. What had I done?”

Act of Rebellion

This brings me to my mistake, no I won’t call it that. I’ll let you decide what it was. I decided to go to the mall (shockingly I haven’t step foot in one in over a year and a half). The goal was to see if I could find some eco labels at some of my former favorite stores including Nordstrom. I knew they carried them online but in stores? Had to see for myself. Well, not surprisingly I didn’t find much of a selection (not to say that there isn’t any) but in the midst of my searching I found a sweater and skirt that called out to me. The problem: they weren’t eco, at least not in the traditional sense. But hey, I thought, if I’m going to stop blogging about eco fashion what’s the harm of trying them on? So I did. Which ended up with me purchasing them… (insert your judgements here) The sweater was made 100% of bio degradable fabric and the skirt was something I could mix and match different ways. Meaning it has closet staying potential and won’t be a seasonal discard. But, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. What had I done? Were they made in living wage factories? Were the farmers who produced the fibers paid fairly? Were the synthetic materials made from recyclables? Did they use non-toxic dyes?

“I could stop blogging at any point, give up eco fashion, and move on with my life.”

The Problem

The biggest hurdle I faced after purchasing these two items wasn’t that I didn’t know their true eco identities, although I’ll talk about this in just a couple lines down but, that I felt good. No, not good, great! My husband said when I was trying them on I was smiling like he hasn’t seen in years. It was the style, the fit, the color, the ease in which I felt I could find something that fit my style profile, and maybe possibly the fact that I was never a fan of online shopping (which is where most eco purchases happen). I felt a sense of control again over my closet and myself. So why was I putting myself through all this stress? I could stop blogging at any point, give up eco fashion, and move on with my life. The problem lies in the fact that I was drawn to eco fashion out of principle. I love what the industry stands for and that I, as a consumer, have the power of choice to make a difference. My voice counts and could potentially sway an entire industry. I want people to work in jobs that they are paid justly for and provides them security. I want to end water, air and soil contamination. I don’t want our clothing flooding other countries markets and killing their local economies. I don’t want to harm animals. I want to support women in the workplace. But most importantly, I want to be happy. To do that I had to get to the root of my eco burn out.

“In my quest to be an ethical purist I was ignoring what made me happy about fashion in the first place, the styles.”

Leah Wise: Style Wise Blog

When I saw Leah’s article “Why I quit being an ethical purist” a couple of days after my purchase it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was trying to be everything at once resulting in some serious eco burn out. She succinctly pointed out the reason I was feeling the way I was, trying to promote the entire eco industry at once. When I made the switch from high end fashion to eco fashion I did so because human rights have always been a focus in my life. And it seemed like a natural fit to bridge fashion and fair working conditions. But, this soon turned into fair trade, and then pollution, and then recycling, and then second hand, and then veganism. Now, before you say anything, I fully applaud and support the people out there who are able to conquer all of these topics with their wardrobe. I however, have discovered I am not one of them. In my quest to be an ethical purist I was ignoring what made me happy about fashion in the first place, the styles. Instead of wearing pieces I loved I was buying pieces that fit an agenda which in turn made me miserable. And, if I didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t feel great wearing it, what was the point?

“I am a full supporter of eco fashion in all its facets but I don’t think I can do it all and am doing a great disservice to myself and to the industries tenets by pretending I can.”

Thank you Leah

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop blogging. And, if I hadn’t have seen Leah’s article I would still be suffering from eco burn out. Her post made me realize I didn’t need to stop. I just needed to adjust my priorities. I am a full supporter of eco fashion in all its facets but I don’t think I can do it all and am doing a great disservice to myself and to the industries tenets by pretending I can. I wear dresses I bought years ago from fast fashion retailers. Try explaining eco fashion to someone when they ask you where you clothing came from and you answer (insert any fast fashion retailer here). Seems like it undermines your point, doesn’t it? But, here’s what I have come to realize. I love my clothing. Each one of them is bought with purpose. Not a one-time wear. I’m at ease with my recent purchases from the mall knowing I will wear them for years to come but also now know that my focus lies in factories, not the environment, not ethical fashion, and not the materials. That is not to say these aren’t important but for me they take a backseat to factories and living wages. I have long been a preacher of buy what you love, love what you wear, and treat it as if it was your only garment for the next 10 years. I’m not a capsule blogger because my style doesn’t allow me to be. I am okay with this.

“Even a single step forward is progress: progress towards a cleaner, more ethical, more sustainable landscape.”

Lessons Learned

Shop with a purpose. For me that means looking at who made my clothes and evaluating if a garment brings me joy or not. I want to feel that each time I get dressed it’s something special. That each garment is a celebration unto itself, in essence I will love it for years to come. Does it bring purpose to my life or am I just filling a void? In the end be you and don’t try to be it all. If you can, great! Let me know your secret. Find what speaks the loudest to you. What’s the cause you want to take up? Believe it or not you don’t have to take it all on to make a difference. The fashion industry is already starting to change thanks to you. They are seeing that consumers want more green/eco/ethical/sustainable options. But, just like we all don’t gravitate towards the same top, we all aren’t going to gravitate towards the same cause. And, that’s okay. If animals are you’re thing pursue vegan fashion. If pollution is your concern pursue nontoxic fabrics. If reducing waste is your thing pursue a capsule collection or second hand. Don’t feel bad for you. And, if I’ve learned any lessons from my eco burn out it’s that you don’t have to excuse or explain yourself to anyone. Even a single step forward is progress: progress towards a cleaner, more ethical, more sustainable landscape.

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“They began work at 5:30 and quit at 7 at night. Children six years old going home to lie on a straw pallet until time to resume work the next morning!”

― Mary Harris Jones

Take a look at what you’re wearing. Do you remember when you bought it? How about where? Do you know what it is made from? Or its country of origin? Most of us can’t answer these questions with any precision. So how are we supposed to know who is making our clothing if we can’t even remember when or where we bought it?

December 2 marked International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, yet an estimated 20 million people around the world are considered modern day slaves. A bi-product of poverty, slavery, is often attributed to the lack of education, economic freedoms, and rule of law, all which come together to foster an environment rife with corruption. Of the estimated 20 million roughly 26% (approximately 5.5 million) are children. Read that again. Approximately 5.5 million children around the world are considered slaves!

In addition to slavery a further estimation by the ILO indicates that 215 million children work “under conditions that are considered illegal, hazardous, or extremely exploitative.” Some of largest percentages of this occurs in the agricultural (60%) and manufacturing (7%) fields. So what does this have to do with the clothing you are wearing today?

Child labor in the textile industry is widespread across the globe especially where most of our garments are manufactured today: Asia. From the cotton that is picked, to the buttons that are sewn on, it is likely some aspect of your clothing comes from child labor. In the garment industry, child labor can be broken down into two subcategories: forced and contributory.

Forced

Forced labor is synonymous is slavery. Cotton from Uzbekistan is a prime example where state sponsored child labor is employed. You can read more about that in the Denim Dilemma Article. But that’s not the only country where forced labor happens. A 2014 Department of Labor report indicated that garments from Brazil, Argentina, China, Ethiopia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal, North Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam used forced child labor in their production. The report further mentions the harvesting of cotton attributed to child labor in Benin, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Debt Bondage is another form of slavery used within the textile industry. The Sumangali scheme is one of the better-known cases in India although not straightforward. Known as the “marriage assistance program” girls, often from Tamil Nadu, are brokered into textile factories to earn money for their dowries. “The scheme promises a bulk of money after completion of a three-year contract working in the factory. It – ostensibly – meets the need of poor families and provides stable workforce to factories in Coimbatore.” It doesn’t sound too bad of deal, that is until you learn the conditions in which many of these girls work under. They are often forced to work up to 12 hours a day, live in cramped quarters with limited outside access and monitored, if at all, calls home. Additionally, many of these girls are fired or forced to resign right before their contract is finished to avoid paying out the promised sum. In 2008 the daily wage earned by Sumangali girls was estimated around 50 rupees a day ($0.75) while the legal minimum wage was at 140 rupees. There is no indication that this compensation has increased over the years. Many of the girls are reported to be between fifteen to eighteen when they started working. However, it is known that documents have been falsified to show contractors the factories are complying with the appropriate age restrictions so there is a good chance many of these girls were much younger when they started working.

Contributory

As I already mentioned poverty is a great influencer on slavery but it is also an enormous factor as to why child labor exists at all. In several countries where wages are irregularly monitored, corruption is rife, or the cost of living is largely out of proportion with wages earned a large percentage of the populations live at or below the poverty line. Assuming a family unit has both parents working they often earn less than is necessary to provide for them. A lack of family planning, and/or support structures in place often means that any children born into the family will end up working to support the household. “There is a clear link between child labour and low wages for adult workers, both in agriculture (cotton production) and in the garment factories.”

Relying on the fact that children are not supposed to be working employers often pay them less than what adults make, as if doing them a favor by employing them at all, and employ them in hazardous and/or tedious tasks that require meticulously precise actions such as beading or embroidery. While sometimes this is done out in the open (generally under falsified documents) most of the time it is done behind closed doors to avoid arousing suspicious should a factory audit occur. One of the more direct side affects of using contributory child labor is there is always a constant workforce without which factories would almost certainly be forced to raise wages to meet the demands of the adult labor force. This type of child labor also continues the poverty cycle by ensuring the children do not attend school and do not earn the skills necessary to create a better life for themselves and families.

Company Oversight

If you ask any clothing companies President if they use child labor the answer (I hope) will be a resounding no. I haven’t seen a single report where a company has admitted or even stopped to think about the possibility that one of their contractors or subcontracts could employ children. But, as news reports and documentaries have shown they are omitting a very complicated narrative. While they may not know it initially, the push for cheaper clothing costs to overseas companies has also meant the use of children to meet deadlines, quotas, and also price points, without which a $4 shirt is not possible. Ask yourself next time you see a sale: how can a garment be priced that low and the company still profitable?

Company guidelines, which can generally be found on their corporate pages, outline among other things human rights and working standards to which all their contractors are to adhere. Sounds great but who is monitoring them? There are certainly efforts from the selling companies, NGO’s and local governments to monitor and report on factory conditions but a clear line of responsibility has yet to be established, especially in the rampant subcontracting world. A CBS Fifth Estate production titled “Made in Bangladesh” shows just how complicated it is to trace a single item of clothing and in the end no one took responsibility for the item fearing repercussions. With just 7 percent of fashion labels publishing lists of suppliers and only 9 percent reporting on code of conduct compliance at least part of shirt was made in a factory that employs unfair labor conditions. It is common place for a company to deny having an article of clothing made in a factory that has been reported to have poor working conditions and/or child labor although workers often contest this point by showing exactly what they sewed/made on the particular item. In an effort to not get their hand caught in the cookie jar denial seems to be commonplace. So while some company oversight does exist the real question remains are they aware or blissfully ignorant in order to keep pricing low? Both are unacceptable. And, if this is not the case why not make public the manufacturing records with a traceable line of production?

What Can Be Done?

So how do we help keep children out of the workplace and put them back in school? One suggestion is to stop or drastically reduce buying fast fashion. Those low prices come with a whole lot of baggage that is contributing to the vicious poverty cycle. The second is to demand answers. Companies need to be held responsible for the part they play. Look to see where the item is made. Is it made in China? Bangladesh? India? Send an e-mail to the company asking for more information. As consumer we have the right to know what we are buying and from whom. If you don’t know where to start, shop local. Local business owners generally have a great grasp on where their products are manufactured. They have often spent painstaking hours building relationships with these individuals and can tell you all about it. This is also a great network to have and branch out from. Lastly, you can demand change from the top down. Several organizations are working to combat child labor. These include End Child Slavery, Global March Against Child Labour, Stop Child Labor, and No Child For Sale among others. These organizations work with local governments, individuals, companies and other international organizations to help stop child labor around the globe.

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