In Spite Of Myself

New Year’s resolutions. I always say I don’t make any – why should you pick an arbitrary starting point to do something new? Why not just say you’re going to do it from the moment you think of it? Or so I say. Somehow, though, it always seems to happen, however much I try not to and however much it’s basically an accident. Because however much I say it’s an arbitrary point to pick in the calendar which we have designated as the start of the year, it does make sense. After weeks of bad weather and stress (is it a stressful time of year or am I still on academic time?), followed by Christmas, which is by this point a wholly necessary feast of brightness and gluttony and love and laziness, we want new steps and Spring and clean sheets. Culturally it would be wired-in to think like this, I think, even if Resolutions weren’t a Thing.

So quite without meaning to, I have made one resolution. This one, as my resolutions tend to do, has more or less crept up on me. I’ve always talked the talk about fair trade and being a considerate consumer and all the rest of it, and other than tea, coffee and bananas, there’s always been a good reason not to walk the walk very often. Mainly it was being a student, a combination of not being very well-off and also wanting to dress like every early twentysomething girl and therefore having to go to the same high-street cheap shops in order to do it. I’m not a student any more, but I’m not rich, and I’m still young, but somehow I wanted to go sales shopping, looked on the internet, ogled the shops when I went past them, and couldn’t get further than that. I don’t really know how I reached this point, but I have.

From now on, where possible, all my clothes will be as ethical as possible. Primarily fair trade but I’m not afraid of dabbling in clothes made in Britain (revitalising our industries and helping with unemployment), or organic clothing (cotton production with pesticides being basically the worst thing ever) or indeed any other kind of ‘ethics’ that might crop up. I’ve made a fairly good start – with a little of the money I earned before Christmas, I just treated myself to some little goodies from the January sales at Monkee Genes, People Tree, Nancy Dee and Elroy (via Think Boutique).

So, my resolutions, yet again, have crept up on me. If I discover any more, maybe I’ll let you know.

P.S. if anyone knows where I can get tights (ordinary black 40 denier tights I mean) under any kind of ethical consideration, or proper shoes (e.g. brown leather knee-high boots – mine are dying fast), do let me know, and I’ll start saving…!




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6 responses to “In Spite Of Myself

  1. “clothes made in Britain (revitalising our industries and helping with unemployment)”

    Assuming clothes made in Britain are more expensive (which they probably are, or you’d be buying them already), does it really help with unemployment? Because you spend more on clothing, meaning you have less to spend elsewhere. Maybe the extra you’re spending on clothing means you’ll – for example – buy one less coffee somewhere, meaning some coffee shop gets less business, meaning less work for a barista somewhere. Is it reducing unemployment, or just shifting it around?

    Similar concept works on a wider scale. If you buy stuff from the UK, you’re not buying clothes made abroad. That reduces the demand for clothes made abroad, increasing unemployment in those countries. Those countries are often rather poor countries. Is it ethical to increase unemployment in a poor country, to reduce unemployment in a richer one?

    Sorry if it sounds like I’m nitpicking; that’s not my intention at all. I think it’s an important issue, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

    P.S. good luck with it though 🙂

    • Jenny

      They aren’t necessarily more expensive. There’s a huge mark-up in high street shops such as Top Shop or John Lewis so realistically in that sense nothing changes. I am being more careful about planning my shopping – buying what I need rather than on a whim, which given how much I have bought in the past probably means I’m almost saving money. It helps that arguably shopping and style is a hobby of mine so i already spend a decent proportion of my disposable income on it – if I’d only ever bought as needed then yes, it would deprive me of coffees and beer money! And I’ll be honest, I’m definitely sticking to sale shopping rather than full price!

      As for the unemployment in poor countries, it’s an understandable point, but what tends to happen is that factories are paying workers less than they need for the rent which the factory charges them; they end up doing multiple 12-hour shifts in a row and can neither leave not join unions for fear of actual physical violence. In terms of whether they or their families are getting fed/clothed/educated they are not significantly better off than if they *were* on the streets. I’m getting a lot of this from a book called To Die For by Lucy Siegel which though clearly written by someone who has always worked in fashion (so a bit magazine-y in tone) is well-researched and convincing.

      I’d definitely rather support fair trade (by definition, made in developing countries) than British-made though – that said, another good thing about UK-made is the decreased environmental impact thanks to reduced travel by air or sea.

  2. “what tends to happen is that factories are paying workers less than they need for the rent which the factory charges them”

    I’m really not sure that this does tend to happen. Take China; average wages there have increased massively in the last 10 years, and much of it is down to people earning more in factories. There’s huge demand for these sorts of jobs, so I guess the workers there can’t be too aggrieved?

    As for unions, I know that in China the, er, Communist party has banned unionisation. I don’t know about other countries. But then, personally I also wonder whether unions would be all that beneficial; the specific conditions that are required for them to have a positive influence just don’t really exist in these sorts of markets, for a load of reasons. I don’t think they do in the UK any more either, but that’s a different matter.

    I suppose I don’t really understand the point of fair trade. By definition any free trade must also be fair, so what’s the difference? I’m not being snarky or anything, I just genuinely don’t get the distinction.

    Interesting comment about environmental impact. I seem to remember that for stuff shipped by container ship (which is pretty much everything, except for really high value items), the environmental impact arising from freight is pretty much negligible. Not sure how that works; presumably because you stick a lot of stuff on a bloody big boat and move it round the world, the energy use per item is ridiculously small. It wouldn’t surprise me if the most energy-intensive phase of transportation is moving it from the port of entry in the UK, to the consumer. Which is essentially local travel, on this scale.

    • Admittedly not the most unbiased of sources, but

      …researchers conducting an evaluation for the World Economic Forum “found that the entire container voyage from China to Europe is equalled in CO2 emissions by about 200 kilometers of long-haul trucking in Europe…”

      That’s pretty amazing.

    • It would be great if any free trade was essentially fair, but that isn’t what ends up happening. As ever my only source (without wading through the entire Internet) is Lucy Siegel’s book To Die For, although equally you could have a look at the Labour Behind The Label site as well for some stats and so on. Just because having a job in a clothes factory is probably a step up from living on the streets doesn’t mean that it’s really a positive step. From women who do ‘split shifts’ (we do this in the UK in pubs and hospitals and other places that are open long hours but only for about 12 hours max and with a decent break in the middle) but in factories in countries like Bangladesh they’ll regularly be working for 24 hours or more with no breaks; to the immigrants from places like Bangladesh to other developing nations, where workers from abroad are stripped of their papers and thus have to work because if they run away they’ll be arrested and imprisoned for illegal immigration or worse; to, like I say, tales of wages and rent in factory-provided accommodation more or less cancelling each other out.

      Great point about freight though – thanks for that. I think I’ll just blithely accept your source and roll with that :).

      • Dickie

        I suppose the point I’m getting at is what do you mean by “fair”? I’m not arguing that they’re awesome jobs, but people willingly choose to do them; indeed there’s often lots of demand for jobs like this.

        You say “doesn’t mean it’s a positive step”; how can you judge that? People in that situation must consider it to be a positive step, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. It pays for a better standard of living in the present, and often pays for the next generation to go to school so they have more opportunities for better jobs in the future, so I can see why people might consider it to be a positive step.

        Re 24 hour shifts and the other stuff you metioned. Any reliable source? And even if it’s true, if people choose to do that work, that’s upto them. It’s their life.

        If someone chooses to do something then how can it be unfair? Free trade has to be fair, pretty much by definition.

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