Challenges, Consumption, Ethical Choices, Reflection

If You Do, If You Don’t

My earlier post on buying a suit from Banana Republic had me thinking.

Recent social trends have us meditating on our wardrobes and our possessions; what sparks joy, what do we truly need, what can we get rid of or go without? In my current situation, what am I going to do about a closet of unethically produced clothing? How am I going to reconcile that the suit I’m wearing to my internship interview probably contributed to the cycle of pesticide toxicity in the US and India?

As someone who’s experimented with KonMari and Minimalism both in the last 2 years, the answer is a bit out of character: keep everything.

I’m going to keep everything in my closet, and wear it until I have to repair it, and then wear it some more. Knowing what I know about landfills and the impact of donated clothing on foreign textile economies, what else can I do?

To purge all of the unethical clothing from my wardrobe would likely leave me with two, maybe three pieces of clothing. Then, I would have to go out and spend money that I don’t have on ethically sourced clothing, and likely forget about the unethical stuff in the process. Where would all my old stuff go?

When I went through another KonMari round this January, I tried to be more intentional than simply visiting the large grey donation bins tucked away in certain corners of the neighbourhood. I dropped off some broken, small appliances at FNAC to be safely recycled, and I visited one of the local churches to see about donating shoes. They pointed me to a Red Cross office, which happily took literally anything I brought in.

All the while, I never thought to ask what would happen to the books, the sweaters, the faded t-shirts. While I’m feeling guilty about owning what it is that I own, it’s more important to keep a functional, if unethically produced item, than it is to pass it, and my guilt, along to someone else (or, more likely, a landfill).

To get a handle on what remains in my closet, I made a cost-per-wear chart on Google Sheets a few weeks ago. I counted through many of the items that are in my closet, digging through emails and my online bank statements to find the prices I paid for most of my older pieces.

As it turns out, most of my clothing has been worn more than 30 times, with the exception of recently purchased Uniqlo HeatTech shirts. I wear them every day, but I bought them in different styles and have rotated them as a result. 30 days seems like an arbitrary number, and it is, but I found it while reading the website for The True Cost so I’m going with it as a starting point. If I can stretch these unethical garments beyond 30 days of wear, through careful maintenance and gentle washing, I can at least do the right thing in that regard.

By visualising how I use my wardrobe and how much I pay for it, I can think more about any additional items that I bring into the rotation. It’s not enough to be an ethically produced item if I’m not going to actually use it. If I over-purchase ethical clothing as a means of atonement, then I’m simply continuing the cycle of consumption as a solution for problems that can’t actually be solved with stuff.

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