I have been – again – mulling over the whole issue of living simply. The quotation from Gandhi which is the title of this post is quite a challenge. I know there are no easy, glib answers, and no doubt many readers of this blog will take issue with my views and those of the blogs I link to. The catalyst for my current musings was the pointless deaths of hundreds of textile workers at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, who died, it would seem, as a direct result of our insatiable desire for cheap stuff. I do wonder whether any of the clothes I have worn over the years which bore the label ‘Made in Bangladesh’ were made by those workers.
Thanks to a re-tweet by @scrapiana (www.scrapiana.com) I found this blog post from Toft’s Nummulite http://toftsnummulite.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-high-price-of-cheap-stuff-what-we.html and it makes for interesting reading. The links within it are worth following up too – the short film on The Story of Stuff http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/ is about a coffee-break long and although it is American, with increased globalisation and related issues, it’s certainly relevant to us in the UK 6 years after the film was originally made. The graphics are very cool too!
From the point of view of fashion, and the buying choices we in the West might make, there is a link to another blog post, http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2012/01/untangling-ethical-fashion.html which is one analysis of the criteria for purchasing clothing. There has been a huge amount written about this in the past few years, but this is quite a good introduction. I appreciate the acknowledgement that there isn’t one ‘right way’ to prioritise factors when making a purchasing decision – but it is helpful to have an overview of the issues, and the possible unintended consequences of our actions. My own priorities include other factors – I try to buy British-made (well-nigh impossible at my price point) to support the local/regional/national economy but also so that I can be sure that the workers who made it had some rights, healthcare, education etc – or at least made on this continent to reduce the distance it’s transported. I try to buy wool, cotton, linen or (at a pinch) viscose to reduce petrochemical use and allow for composting when eventually at the end of their useful life (I also think wearing natural fibres is healthier). I try to buy clothes I know I will be able to maintain (no dry clean only) and repair (I am reasonably skillful with a needle). Badly-made clothes, with skimpy seam allowances and badly-finished stitching, will not last and are not worth the investment of resources in making them, let alone buying them. I know I need to research more about the impact of dyes and the dyeing process. I buy a lot of clothes in charity, second-hand and vintage shops (although, being quite tall, and also a larger size than was common before the last couple of decades, means that most older clothing does not fit me) and eBay, and I have more relaxed views about the country of origin of clothes which I am not buying new – after all, they are getting a second use for their sea-miles. I don’t always succeed in buying the way I would like to, partly because the sourcing of clothing which would meet these and other ethical criteria is enormously time-consuming, and also because I do have limited means (not that buying something expensive necessarily means it has not been made in a sweatshop, but simply because buying a UK made cashmere jumper, say, although it will last for many years if looked after carefully, nevertheless represents an initial outlay not far short of a week’s salary).
The Story of Stuff quotes Victor Lebow’s article for the Spring 1955 issue of The Journal of Retailing, and I find it chilling that the foundations of the consumerist treadmill that has had such a huge impact on the world could have been laid with such calculation:
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”
What price living simply, so that others may simply live?