Back to home

So two years ago I was oppressing people every day.


I was directly contributing to a world where half the population lives on less than three dollars a day and twenty eight million people live in slavery.


I was the epitome of the oblivious, insensitive, rich Westerner getting even richer off the blood, sweat and tears of the poor.


And I had no clue.


All I was doing was getting dressed every morning.


I had no idea that most of my clothes were made by slaves, or at least by people stuck in a cycle of poverty that fed off my Western buying habits.


Honestly, I never paid much attention to where my clothes were made or by whom. Frankly, I didn’t care. I was just interested in style, fit, and price. What else matters?


I knew that most clothes were made in the developing world, particularly in Southeast Asia, but I had been fed the “globalism is awesome” propaganda. I was woefully ignorant of reality, the true cost behind my clothes.


And ignorance was not bliss.


Globalism started out as this great idea: What if we outsourced work to those in the developing world? What if we in the West got stuff for even cheaper, while around the world, people got jobs and were able to break free of the cycle of poverty?


Great idea, we thought, let’s do it.


Only the dream turned into a nightmare.


What actually happened was the poor got even poorer. How this happened is complex, messy, and hard to understand. There’s a laundry list of scapegoats to blame – free market capitalism, multinational corporations, companies that put the bottom line above all else, governments oversees, the U.S. government, bureaucratic corruption, rampant consumerism, old fashioned greed, etc. Above all, it comes down to the human heart. Frankly, a good explanation is above my pay grade.


But here’s the short version: we in the West – especially as followers of Jesus – need to radically alter our relationship with the fashion industry.


So in an attempt to push this change forward, last week we hosted a screening of a groundbreaking new documentary called The True Cost at Bridgetown Church. As a community, we’ve been talking about this issue for over a year now, and it’s been so very healthy for our church.


This week hundreds of people came out to watch a film, have a conversation, and pray over those in our church who work in the fashion industry.


If you missed the screening, find out more about the film here: You can now watch the film on Netflix or iTunes.


Here’s a few of the basic stats from the film:


– 1 in 6 people in the world work in the fashion industry, tens of millions of which make less than three dollars a day. Most of them are women.


– Fashion is the number two polluting industry in the world, second only to the oil industry.


– As recently as the 1960’s, we were making 95% of our clothes in the U.S., now it’s less than 3%. Almost all of our clothes are made in Southeast Asia.


– Over the last twenty years, due to globalization, the price of clothing in America has actually gone down.


– The average American owns 400% more clothes than they did just a year go. They also throw away 82 pounds of textile waste a year (most of which is not biodegradable).


So clearly, the social and environmental aftereffects of the fashion industry are devastating.


And we’re all a part of it.


That extra T-shirt you bought on a whim, the fourth jacket you own, that extra pair of running shoes you don’t really need – all of us, in some way, have been complicit in this debacle.


The question is: how do we get out?


Well, from our conversation last week, here were a few salient ideas:


1) Buy way less clothes. I mean, way less. The average American woman owns thirty one full outfits. Really? I’m all for looking sharp, but do we need a outfit for every day of the month?


2) Keep your clothes as long as you can (This means buying more classic designs that aren’t “uncool” six months after you get them).


3) Fast fashion is like fast food – not good for anybody.


4) Spend more money to buy ethically made, quality clothing. Or buy second hand.


5) When it comes to a clothing company – especially if it’s large and multinational – the mantra is “guilty until proven innocent.” Research, research, research. If they won’t tell you where the clothes were made and the materials were grown, that’s a bad sign. Be wary.


6) When you find a good company – an Everlane, John Elliot, Apolis, Patagonia, Filson, People Tree, etc. – stick with them.


7) Small companies that make stuff in the U.S. tend to be the way to go, but not all large companies or clothes made in the developing world are bad. There are some large, global brands doing amazing stuff around the world.


All in all, this conversation has been so disturbing for me, but also so liberating. Freeing. Like a weight off my chest.


For years, I wanted more. More clothes, mores shoes, more electronics, more stuff for my house, in the end, more crap I don’t need.


The labor ethics conversation was a wake up call for me; but it also recast the teachings of Jesus for me in a new light. I now have a very small (Huge disclaimer: small by American standards) wardrobe. I basically wear three outfits per season. That’s it. I’ve cleared out my closet and house of a ton of stuff that was crowding out my life. I’ve cut back my shopping in huge swaths. Heck, I’m getting rid of my motorcycle.


And I’m happier than I’ve been in years.


What if Jesus was actually right? What if more stuff really just means more anxiety and stress and distraction and discontentment and global oppression and slavery? And what if less stuff actually equals more happiness? What if “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”? (Luke 12v15)


That would really be something.