It’s a realm of life that has always alluded me.
When I was younger, but especially over the past 10 years, I have had very little interest in being cool. In the fleeting moments in my life when I have tried – I mean really tried – I would have to objectively say that it has been an epic fail.
This is all despite the futile efforts of my much more creative, stylish and beautiful sister, who seems to know at any given moment what all the kids are wearing and how exactly they wear it….
But over the past 5 years, Michael and I have become increasingly persuaded by the belief that fashion – particularly in regards to clothing retail – is an exploitative business, all round. Most garments made do not reflect the true nature of the costs involved, either to the environment but also to the tired, poorly compensated hands that have little choice but to make the garments under low-wage, exploitative conditions. I think most people know enough about this by now, so I won’t rant (but if you do want to know more, check out Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Guide.
Of course, that is a reasonably inoffensive and convenient belief for me to have, given my failure in the fashion department. I understand that for others, this presents a conundrum of epic ethical proportions.
I was sharing with a Ugandan friend that I buy most of my clothes in Australia second-hand, as are a growing number of people in the West. It’s even become a ‘fashionable’ thing to do.
In Uganda, almost ALL clothing is second hand. Unwanted/second hand clothes are sent to Africa in big sacks, squashed into shipping containers, arriving from all over the world – Asia, Europe, America, Australia. They are then sold to market vendors in big bundles. These bundles are dumped in piles on big mats, on the ground, at markets all over Uganda. The best clothes are quickly picked out by boutique shop owners, who wash and iron the clothes, then display them beautifully at nearby shops. The mark-up at this point is often 400% or more – you basically pay for the convenience of not having to sort through piles and piles of unwanted over-or-under-sized clothes. I however, prefer the challenge of finding extremely economical items of clothing in the mounds.
I was explaining to my Ugandan friend how in Australia, the majority of people buy their clothes new, from retail shops. They buy clothes seasonally, based around what is the latest ‘fashion’, the popular style/colour of the season. This leads to a situation where most people are wearing similar styles of clothes at any given time. And people are sometimes judged (especially younger people) on how well they follow the current style.
My friend shook her head at me in pity “but that means you just have to wear what everyone else is wearing! You could even end up wearing the same exact thing!” she exclaimed, laughing in amusement. I could see that even the thought of this sounded horrifying to her. Proudly, she went on to explain that she loved the way it was in Uganda because then you can wear whatever you want, and be proud, knowing that no-one else in the country is putting on the same clothes as you. You are free to just be you.
I nodded thoughtfully at her response. It certainly isn’t the number one reason why I recoil against the retail fashion industry in Australia.
The expression of one’s uniqueness is stunted by the pursuit of fashion. This is definitely my new runner-up-reason!