Chasing Perfectionism in Ethical Fashion
These are some of the key terms we look for when shopping for "ethical" fashion.
First we are avoiding slave labour, second we're assuring our clothing isn't polluting, and third if we're going to buy something new we hope that the item does something to better the world through social impact, not detract from it. It's a lot of pressure to put on every single purchase you buy.
A lot of difficulty lies in the pressure you feel from the outside looking in. If you hitch yourself to any ethical or sustainable movement and say "Hey, I'm being a conscious consumer now", there are suddenly dozens of onlookers judging from the sidelines, ready to attack the second you buy anything that falls below their expectations for what a perfect representative of that movement would buy.
For example, I really didn’t need people messaging me to inform me I was buying plastic-packaged food after I’d relocated from inner-city Melbourne with four bulk stores in walking distance, to regional QLD with no bulk stores in four hours driving distance. To start claiming you have any ethical values means people will judge you to a 10x higher standard than they did before.
Judgment comes from:
Outsiders that want to criticise a movement so they feel less guilt for not doing more,
Other bloggers or activists that think anything less than perfection damages the image of the movement,
And it certainly comes from ourselves when every single compromise is seen as a personal failure after labelling yourself as someone that doesn’t support a certain practice anymore.
But let's get real.
We don't live in a perfect economic system. We live in a highly flawed and unjust society where money rules. Unless you're involved in production yourself, you're at the whim of companies and your hopes and prayers that somebody, somewhere, is offering the exact product you want to your own exact specifications. Pretty unrealistic.
Chuck on top of that disability, poverty or isolated locations (all three issues I deal with), and buying anything that meets all of your ethical standards is uh… near impossible.
But even when we have a stable income, freedom of time and energy, and the privilege of accessing any brand we want, it’s still difficult to find something that meets every ethical standard you have without sacrificing your personal style or functionality of the item.
So perhaps, just maybe, there’s a point we have to let go for our own wellbeing. We can acknowledge it's impossible to be 100% perfect but that we’re still doing our best. Our very existence on the planet means we consume resources, because we need to consume resources to survive and fit into the modern world.
The system is flawed, but we won’t overhaul it all by ourselves overnight. We can continue to be a voice against climate change, animal cruelty and human rights abuses and not blame ourselves for the existence of these problems.
Although it seems like my entire platform can be built upon perfectionism as an avid hater of single-issue-causes. But it’s not true, and I am choosing to ignore that expectation.
I do believe in researching and making the best purchases possible, but I am being realistic about what possible means. I don’t think everything I do, buy or say has to be holistically perfect and encompass every social or environmental issue all at once. Sometimes we can focus on one good cause at a time and that doesn’t mean we’re ignoring other incredibly important causes, but that we just can’t uphold each cause equally in each moment. We need to seek balance over days, weeks, months and years more than we seek balance in every moment.
I’m an ethical fashion blogger, but I’m also a regular person. So I’ll continue to shop ethically. But I’m dropping the perfectionism myth.
Just buy less, buy better, and forgive yourself for being born at a time that makes ethical living so challenging.
If it was easy, your commitment to ethics and sustainability wouldn’t be the incredible, world-changing work it is. Wanting to support ethical fashion is amazing and it’s already sending an important message to the industry. Keep it up, and give yourself a break.