What do we know about the clothes we buy?

The garment industry is awash with human rights abuses and our throw-away fast fashion culture has a huge impact on the environment. Dr Lindsey Hall shares the story of the Re:Dress campaign that started in the Diocese of Lichfield to raise awareness of ethical and environmental issues in the fashion industry and to prompt people to change their buying habits.   

‘How can they be so cheap?’ my friend said as we looked at some tops reduced to under a fiver. And I had an uncomfortable feeling that there was an answer to that which we didn’t really want to think about.  

I felt that I had to change my habits around clothes buying, and bargain hunting, especially as I looked at my wardrobe and saw plenty of things that I had never worn, didn’t really like but had bought because they were cheap.  

So, at the beginning of 2018 one of my new year’s resolutions was not to buy any new clothes. I could buy second hand clothes, but nothing brand new. I didn’t quite manage it. I did buy a couple of new things, but it changed the way I shopped and thought about the clothes industry. It also led to trying to encourage other people to ask some of the questions I had been asking, and so in the Diocese of Lichfield, we started a project called Re:Dress. 

The main aim of Re:Dress is to raise awareness of some of the ethical and environmental impacts of the fashion and textile industry, and to encourage people to make small changes in their buying habits.  

We have had various events including a fashion show where participants had £20 to spend in a charity shop and then modelled their outfits; clothes swaps, Christmas jumper swaps, and prayer stations specifically asking for prayer for those caught in slavery and oppression as part of this industry.  

We had got to the point of trying to encourage other people to host their own events and had planned a scarf and accessories swap when Covid hit. Not only were the events off, but it seemed to become more difficult to engage people with some of the questions and challenges about fast fashion.  

The fashion industry was badly hit during the early wave of Covid with UK major brands cancelling orders from factories overseas with no compensation for the workers and no help as to what they should do with existing stock. It demonstrated, yet again, just how vulnerable many of the workers in this industry are, and how we need change at each stage of the supply chain if we are ever to have a fair and sustainable clothing industry. 

A recent report has found that UK retailers’ unfair practices, including cancellations of orders during the pandemic, stimulated exploitation and forced labour of women workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. 

Re:Dress launched a new challenge for 2022. Participants started the year with 22 tokens and as you buy clothes, you use up tokens (5 for something brand new, 1 for something second hand) and as you mend, swap or donate clothes you gain tokens.  

The aim is to have as many tokens as you can by the end of the year, but of course much more importantly, to have thought about what you are buying, and not just whether you can afford it or will wear it, but who made it, what impact has it had on the environment, and what more sustainable alternatives are there?  

Even one change in your clothes shopping could help people and planet.   

Take action 

  • Use the ‘Consumer Power’ section of the Money Makes Change workshop or the resources in our Ethical Buying Guide to start a conversation in your church.  
  • Campaign for garment workers’ rights with Labour Behind the Label. 
  • Share your own #MoneyMakesChange story with us. What steps do you take with your spending to shape a fairer, more sustainable world? 

We want to see a world where money is used to shape a fairer, greener future. With your support we can continue to resource and equip Christians across the UK to better connect their faith and finances. 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Rosalind Willatts

    new Year’s Day 2020, pre-covid I spontaneously made two resolutions; not to purchase any new cloths, and not to shop in supermarkets. For two years I did not purchase any clothes or shoes but wore what I had or made from fabric I already had. ( after two years I have purchased clothes and underwear, but think I should start afresh at not buying, I have just ame a summer skirt form some fabric i bought over 30 years ago.

    Not shopping in supermarkets is freedom. I just walk past them when in town. I do not purchase food and items I do not need from large shops enticingly displaying goods.. I use up stores already in my cupboards. I use my village shop, I use the markets, I use independent shops. I have not missed supermarkets . markets are cheaper than supermarkets; independent butchers and fishmongers know their stuff. goods. Some items may be more costly than the village shop, but there is no cost of parking or petrol which off sets it. I feel that the nation believes it MUST shop in supermarkets. If there is anything special I need the village shop gets it for me: 5 litre bottles of Olive oil, 2.5 k bags of chocolate. It actually stocks caustic soda ( used for making soap) which I am sure the supermarkets do not supply

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