When Ethical Businesses Close
One of my longest-standing partners, MATTER Prints, emailed a few weeks ago to announce that they’re closing this chapter of their business. Covid-19 has ravaged small businesses, sustainable and ethical businesses perhaps even more-so than larger companies with the capital – not to mention the lack of moral qualms about cutting corners – to survive a slowdown.
The announcement spurred a lot of reflection for me, as MATTER is one of the first companies I profiled on StyleWise, way back in 2014. MATTER is a stand-out in the ethical fashion space for their commitment to working with heritage prints without appropriation, paying a living wage to artisans who specialize in artisan handcrafts, and popularizing slow fashion. They have also always paid a fair wage to the bloggers and influencers they work with.
One obvious question, one which I’ve asked in some form already, is What does it mean that so many ethical companies are closing? Because the ones that skate the line between ethics and conventional production hold on, for the most part anyway.
It’s depressing to think that companies with a strong sense of consistency and vision are the first ones to fold. I guess it makes sense when you consider that these companies operate on thin margins, trying to satisfy price-conscious consumers while paying employees a fair wage. It turns out that even the most dedicated brand owner can’t single-handedly fix systemic inequalities.
The Pandemic Vacuum
But, that’s not really what made me want to write something down today. I think I’m suffering from a lack of inspiration.
I had taken it for granted how interesting, how stimulating, it is to simply live in the world. The people watching, the sidewalk fashion, the snippets of conversation. These things all fade away when you’re living (responsibly, anyway) through a pandemic.
While I’m still working at the hospital for the next month, I am already anxious about another semester of Zoom seminary. Covid cases in Connecticut were going down, but now it looks like they’re flattening or even inching up again.
I continue to feel overwhelmed by this country’s abysmal response to the pandemic, especially now that my homeland of Florida is the new epicenter of viral outbreak. I don’t feel hopeless about the world – indeed, I think acute struggle often ignites my defiant streak – but I do feel uncreative, uninspired, and somewhat unable to dream.
There are bigger questions to ask, of course, but right now I want to know:
How do you find inspiration?
Where do you go for the funny, aesthetically pleasing, scintillating, light-hearted, and strange?
I know how to find the deep conversations. I know how to be direct, to check in with friends, to hang out on Pinterest. But how do I build out the knick-knacks in the living room of my life when people can’t just be together safely?
I think these questions have wide-reaching impacts, especially going back to my first question about ethical businesses. What happens when all the good ones close up shop?
How do we keep creativity, inspiration, and the idiosyncrasies that make humanity abuzz with potential alive in the face of longterm crisis? How do we celebrate the ingenuity and personhood of all people?
How do we find joy and passion and giddiness?
For now, all I’ve found is that a bit of dress-up does the soul some good. It reminds me of myself, and the power to dream and play and interact with others through clothing. It’s not all I need – of course it’s not – but it is a silly small something I can do.