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Shopping Ethically in the Quarantine Age

While at home we often forget about our global footprint as we rip open plastic packages of single-use masks and place our Shein or Zaful orders. Even though we are now at home more often, we still have to consider how the clothes we buy and wear affect the world around us. As ethical clothing sales hit all-time highs, new yorkers are becoming increasingly aware of their ethical footprint. We must recognize the importance of carefully choosing what brands we support. 

Shopping ethically is not just about whether or not the labor going into your clothing is ethical (dangerous chemicals, long hours, animal testing, etc.), but understanding the effect your clothing has on the environment once you are done with it. 

Fast fashion manipulates consumers by reinforcing the idea that we need to keep up the latest trends. Jeremy Hawkins, Upper School Health Teacher and Middle School Diversity and Equity Coordinator says “fast fashion can sort of provide people with a sense of belonging. You know they are able to access the latest trends without necessarily breaking the bank or at a fraction of the price.” But behind the seemingly perfect mix of style and price is an exploitative industry that capitalizes on their workers and the environment.

To produce new clothing, fast fashion factories are burning fossil fuels that accelerate the process of global warming. After your t-shirt has gone through multiple thrift stores, states, neighborhoods, and all of your second cousins and it is so worn that it cannot be reused, what happens to it? Fabric scraps often go straight to landfills, leaking their dangerous chemicals into nearby communities.

When asked about the disadvantages of fast fashion, Keira Reidy (‘23), an active member of Earth Club at Packer says that the clothes are “made with really cheap labor. They’re produced really, really quickly then they’re worn quickly and they’re bad quality so they break and people throw them out. So then that builds up in landfills. Every part of it is unethical.” By buying from fast fashion brands, we become patrons of their inhumane practices.

For some, shopping consciously can be difficult because of the high prices that come along with the promise of ethicality. Without cheap labor and materials, sustainable brands are forced to spend a lot more on clothing production than a fast-fashion brand like Forever 21.

The moral and wallet-friendly alternative to buying fast fashion is thrifting due to its newfound popularity and environmental soundness. Something to beware of when it comes to thrifting is gentrification. Many Depop or Poshmark sellers thrift and then mark up the prices, by doing so raising the thrift store prices. In turn, thrifting becomes less accessible to those in need because of their financial situations. Thrifting online, especially during COVID-19 is a safe and easy alternative to fast fashion, but sellers need to make sure that they are not taking advantage of thrift stores’ low prices and great finds.

Only buying from thrift stores can be hard to maintain. At Packer, we tend to buy clothing made to last which is a step in the right direction, but some even better ethical options include shopping at small businesses and from brands that release statements or data on their sustainability efforts and plans.

Apps like “Good on You” compile many popular clothing brands’ public statements and certification systems to provide users a transparent ethical labor and sustainability rating. “Good on You” specifically provides reports on over 2,000 clothing brands including fan favorites like Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters (spoiler alert: they are not doing too well ethically).

As Charlotte Agliata (‘21) questions, “the bottom line is how much do you really need to be shopping?” Even the most ethical shopper is not shopping ethically if they are shopping excessively. 

Keira urges us to remember that, “just putting in the extra step of researching where you’re buying from and what you’re supporting goes a long way.”

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