Are You Willing to Alter Your Fashion for Ethics? (Do Now #81)

  • Posted on May 19, 2013 at 1:26 am


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowFashion

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

Do Now

Would you pay more for clothes if they were manufactured ethically i.e. produced in a factory with fair working conditions and wages? What would ethical shopping look like to you?

Before answering, look at a garment that you recently purchased and find out the brand and where it was made. Take a picture and tweet it with the info (or post it in the comments section below).


Two weeks ago, KQED Do Now examined the human cost of making clothing cheaply, stating that U.S. fashion companies design their merchandise in the United States and then outsource the labor in countries like Bangladesh where workers are paid very little to sew the garments. Has the tragedy in Bangladesh changed our thinking? Have we made the connection between the cost of clothes and the conditions of these factories? Are we ready to acknowledge the human costs of this relentless fashion treadmill and shop ethically? If workers are to be paid a living wage, would we be prepared to pay more for clothes?

Take a look at the label on your latest bargain, those trendy, cheap items from stores such as HM, Esprit, Lee, Wrangler, Nike, J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart. Where were these clothes made?

In her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, journalist Elizabeth L. Cline describes buying “seven pairs of $7 shoes” at Kmart and admits to being a “reformed fast-fashion junkie. She writes “because of low prices, chasing trends is now a mass activity, accessible to anyone with a few bucks to spare.” Fashion trends dangle the constant lure of display and self branding in front of us and the drive to keep up becomes relentless. Quality is not the issue, but the fear of losing face in the social mirror.

There is now an “ethical fashion” movement and clothing companies like HM, for example, has a “Conscious Collection.” American Apparel and Fair Trade Fashion offer natural, organic cotton or hand made clothing and sweatshop free production. Is then organic and locally produced clothing a way of shopping ethically? Does it also become a marketing strategy?

Another option is to follow Cline’s advice to “make, alter and mend” by which she means buying recycled clothes and taking care of the clothes we have, rather than discarding clothing on a whim because they are cheap and easily replaceable when the fashion moves on.

This could be a sustainable solution to the damage to the environment of endless stuff, which is disposable and easily replaced by yet more and cheaper versions of the same. But is it a choice we are ready to make?


Watch Global Garment Industry Scrutiny After Bangladesh Disaster on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

PBS NewsHour video Global Garment Industry Scrutiny After Bangladesh Disaster – Apr. 29, 2013
More than 300 people died last week after an eight-story garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. Rescue crews have pulled more than 80 survivors from the rubble. A local television station released video of police inspecting the site a day before the deadly collapse. Large cracks were visible, but factories continued operating. According to reports, some of the factories at the site made clothing for several major retailers in North America. Teachers: Show students the first 1:56 minutes of this video. There are great discussion questions provided on the PBS NewsHour Extra website.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowFashion

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can…and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

KQED’s The Lowdown post Who Made Your T-Shirt? The Hidden Cost of Cheap Fashion – May 17, 2013
Everyone likes a good deal. And for that reason, most of us have flocked to clothing stores like HM and Old Navy for the unbelievably cheap and expansive selection they offer. T-shirts for five bucks; jeans and dresses for under $20. It’s almost like you can’t afford to not buy it. Clothing is cheaper now than it’s ever been: today average Americans spend less than four percent of their total income on their wardrobes, about half what was spent 50 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

PBS NewsHour Extra post Popular Clothing Brands React to Bangladesh Tragedy – May 8, 2013
Representatives from 40 clothing retailers, including HM, Nike and Gap, met with the Bangladesh garment association last week to address the labor issues highlighted by the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza, a large multi-story complex that housed shops and garment factories. More than 650 people died in the April 24 disaster, and the number is still rising.

The Guardian post How activism forced Nike to change its ethical game – July 6, 2012
Twenty years of campaigning for workers’ rights changed the corporate culture of one of the world’s biggest brands – and the sportswear industry

Filed under: Do Now, Do Now: Government and Civics

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