I’ve been writing at Style Wise for a little over 3 years now. I started just three months before the Rana Plaza collapse, the tragedy that set off a global movement to create safer, fairer work environments for people in the fashion industry.
On a micro level, a lot has happened in 3 years.
Hundreds of new fair trade shops have popped up. Companies like Everlane are using “radical transparency” as a marketing strategy. H&M has expanded its Conscious Collection. A whole lotta people have embraced simplified, minimalist lifestyles. Workers are protesting in Cambodia, Bangladesh, China, and all over the world. The True Cost documentary shed a light on the underbelly of the manufacturing industry.
We even have a democratic socialist holding his own against establishment politics, and I can’t help but see that as part of a broader movement set in motion, at least in part, by our concern with corruption and exploitation in a globalizing world.
On a macro level, though, things aren’t so clear cut.
Fast fashion is still king, with global companies like ZARA and H&M dominating the industry. People have been trained to seek out bargains above all else and, in the United States at least, falling or stagnant income levels deem low prices almost essential to survival. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will funnel billions of dollars into the United States, but income inequality will increase. And the pervasive ideologies of Capitalism keep people from understanding the world outside of their purchasing power.
The longer I’m at this the more socialist I become. You see, I’d like to be convinced that Capitalism can be harnessed for the greater good – no doubt some companies are finding ways to make incremental change – but the more crowded the ethical market becomes and the more ethical writers and bloggers and sojourners I run into, the more I realize that we have been fundamentally corrupted by the interplay of American exceptionalism and Capitalism’s tendency toward fierce individualism. We can cover our Instagram feeds in quotes about unity and harmony all we want, but it’s not changing our behavior.
I want conscious consumers to become conscious people.
I want this for myself, but I especially want this for the good of our growing conscious community. Instead, I fear that we’re still operating, however unintentionally, under an “every woman for herself” ideology that favors the collective only as a means to get ahead personally and professionally.
In the past few months, I’ve heard stories of ethical companies suing other ethical companies over branding similarities and I’ve seen fights break out in ethical communities. I’ve seen people silenced. I’ve seen paranoia that won’t be moved by the truth. I’ve seen people refuse to work within the community for fear of losing their individual voices. And, while I realize that tension is normal and disagreement is inevitable, I find it sad (I mean, really sad) that this overbearing fear culture imposed on us by those who see America’s slow decline in dominance and White America’s slow decline in cultural capital as apocalyptic has embedded itself in communities that call themselves ethical.
What is ethics if it doesn’t all-out invade our character, our sense of self?
It’s not enough to talk conscious consumerism, adopt a zero waste lifestyle, or pledge to go vegan if we’re not also asking ourselves where else we could improve. An ethical life for me means living in the tension of my privilege, abandoning a culture of fear, joining hands with the collective even when I’ve had a long day and people are driving me crazy. It means loosing my grip on my personal goals when they don’t align with my sense of morality or my understanding of the greater good. It means trusting that people are worth trusting. It means letting myself get angry, and finding ways to use that passion in productive ways instead of lashing out – or silencing myself.
We don’t have to be sweet and cheery all the time, but we have to try a heck of a lot harder to be good. We are people empowered only because of the collective. We are people who have committed ourselves to ethical, thoughtful, intentional, fair, and conscious living. This is our calling and our vocation and it’s about time we live into it.
Imagine a world where sweatshops didn’t exist, and people were kind in the airport security line. Where leather tanneries stopped polluting whole towns’ water supplies, and online communities had lively and gratifying conversations. Where plastic bags were banned, and black and brown lives really mattered. We can’t work tirelessly to correct one injustice and simply ignore our complicity in all of the others. We can’t love sweatshop workers and hate that ethical blogger we see as our greatest competition. We can’t fight against corruption while willingly participating in it for personal gain. It won’t work.
So, we’re 3 years into the Revolution.