Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sabahar and The Way We Buy Clothes

 I’ve had this post ruminating in my mind for awhile. 

I write it humbly and wishing I could be sitting down over coffee, sharing ideas and opinions together. 

Living between several worlds, cultural standards are more observable as I come in as a bit of an “outsider” to both cultures.

While touring Sabahar (pictures from over a year ago) and talking with the company’s founder, I was uber-aware of my own ideals clashing with the way I actually live life.

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Sabahar is a beautiful fair trade company. 

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With silk worms raised by farmers in countryside coming into Addis

girls are modeling the silk butterfly. After they come out of their cocoon, they only live a few days

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Miss T looking at a butterfly

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women sitting behind spinning wheels,

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The kids can interact and spin silk or cotton

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We saw boiling vats of natural dyes being added to the fibers

A has her tongue out as she has just eaten part of a crushed up beetle that provides a purple color. I  forget why she ate it, maybe because we were told it was safe to eat? 

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Men weaving at looms, creating patterns sold in the shop. 

everyone fairly compensated.

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Then I walked down to the shop.  Gorgeous. linens, table cloths, pillows, clothes, towels. I pulled out the price tag. Gulp. Compared to prices in the USA, it was actually quite reasonable. The quality was impeccable but I was comparing it to prices I can find at many other local shops in Ethiopia, where things are mass produced (ironically, much coming out of China). 

I am the queen of sale racks. I love to shop garage sales while in the US, but it’s hard to find the time or get the kids out the door early so the clearance racks reel me in, season ahead clothes for our kiddos, paying cheaper prices than I can get 2nd hand clothes.

This isn’t wrong and my love of a deal isn’t wrong…but what if my consumerism is? What if choosing to not think where I use my spending influence and about ethics and stewardship is wrong? I recently heard a discussion talking about poverty no longer being described as “living on $1 or $2 a day” but impoverished people not having access to opportunity and rights (education, fair access to courts, laws that work in favor of all people, etc).  

I was discussing clothing with a friend from Switzerland, who has very nice clothes, just a lot less. As she was telling me the high price of clothes in Switzerland I told her I don’t like to pay over $4 for a t-shirt for my kids. Very kindly, her husband said, “How can a t-shirt you pay $3 for, be ethically produced? Would that mean someone, somewhere is being exploited?” 

Hmm. I don’t write with conclusions or even living out all the things posted below here, I am glad to have my understanding stretched and challenged. Each time I dabble in this arena, I’m intrigued at how so often simplifying choices gives space for creativity in other areas.

I was sent this newsletter (read the whole thing here! It’s worth it and has helpful graphics.) I pulled out a portion below from the Sabahar newsletter. I have not followed every link.

What can you do?


#1 Buy less, buy smart

Buy clothes that you love and want to keep for a long time. Take the time to choose your clothing and buy high quality products that last. EcoAge suggests we aim to wear everything we buy at least 30 times.
Remember that mark-ups are at least 5 times the cost of production (often, much, much more)- so that 5 dollar t-shirt was made for 1 dollar (all materials, labor, shipping and landing costs included).  Ask yourself if the product could be made ethically for that price.
Statistically, we only wear 40% of our wardrobe. So the money you save (from not buying that extra 60%) you could put back into quality ethical garments.


#2 Buy Fair Trade, artisan made or local brands

Buying Fair Trade, artisan made and local products is a great way to ensure employees are treated fairly and environmental protection is prioritized. Obviously, it is challenging to be absolutely clear about which brands are working on a solution to the human and environmental impact of cheap clothing, but some companies are really trying. Here are a few lists of companies striving to produce ethically made fashion:
The True Cost list of buying better 


#3 Buy vintage and used clothing

Buying used clothing is the true definition of recycling. You can find the great styles you love for a fraction of the price.

#4 Ask your favorite brands- who made my clothes

Consumer pressure is critical to bring about change. Ask your favorite brands if they know their supply chains and if they can assure you that there is no exploitation of employees, and environmental protection policies are in place. Demand transparency. Your money talks!

#5 Join the Fashion Revolution

Learn more about the Fashion Revolution movement and explore the websites of EcoAgeThe True CostFashion Revolution, and The Good Trade.

#6 Watch the documentary “The True Cost’

This documentary is an eye opener! It outlines the issues within the fashion industry so clearly that you will want to be part of the change. Watching the film and sharing with others is a great way to start engaging in the change. (NOW ON NETFLIX)

Okay, now back to my thoughts. :)
About 6 years ago, Jon and I (along with a few others) interacted with Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7 An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess”. I was challenged, humbled and changed, though not as long-term as I would have liked. I have not read the revised version. 
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Then I tried a 10-piece capsule wardrobe for 4 months (not counting pjs, workout clothes or swimsuit). Loved it. I know not everyone would. 
And lastly, a link to a company living this out is Noonday. My sister sells for them, empowering women worldwide with the ability to provide for their families. Find out more here.
I would love to know your thoughts on all of this.

Do you shop fair trade? Why or why not? If you do, what are your favorite companies? Do you think this is an important issue in our day? As Christians? What is our responsibility on environmental impact? How intentional should we be with our stewarding the earth? Have you done any experiments with your purchasing? 


Kristen Hoerr said...

This post definitely challenges me! I’ve tried buying second hand and buying less but higher quality for myself. As well as fair trade clothes when I can find them. Recently bought dresses from The Mustard Seed Marketplace and Trove and shoes from Sseko. I really love that I can share about who made them while I wear them. But, on the other hand, I still love a good cheap target shirt and definitely go for cheap stuff with my kids! So, I guess I’m working toward a better way to use my money while still getting caught in consumerism traps. Because I’m super convicted to share about the plight of men and women globally while I sell noonday, but then ignore it when I go to buy for myself often. :(

Shari Fiechter said...

Enjoyed your post and the great pictures. My thoughts are still ruminating. :-)

Jenny said...

I so agree and have thought this so many times. What is frustrating in US shopping is how paying more does not in any way ensure it's ethically made. From what I read, Nike, etc, is made in China sweat-shops in spite of them often being over $100; they are just profiting more. The only way to be sure is to know the situation they are made in and that is so hard to do as a mom of 11.

emilykate said...

Thanks for this post! Definitely something that I find easier to do for myself than for kids...hard to spend $$ on kid's clothes that they grow out of and ruin so quickly. But I never feel totally goo about the cheap Old Navy shirts or whatever. This is probably an area where a lot of us Americans are pretty naive about and awareness would do a lot of good.