Why fair trade fashion has changed my way of shopping?
Author: Lauren Engelke
I began in fashion as an on set e-commerce tailor, which means that I worked for big brands who were shooting clothing for their websites, and I altered the clothes to fit the models.
E-comm is the most action packed, exciting opportunity any tailor may ever get. I would receive a rack of clothing, up to 60 pieces a day, that I had to fit and alter before the items could be shot. I would have a quick fitting with the model when I arrived at 7:45am and start working immediately, finishing enough in the hour that the model had her hair & makeup done that the crew could start shooting. I worked as fast as the clothes could be photographed, and I finished everything by 12-1pm so it could be shot by the end of the day.
It was gloriously fun.
The time pressure also made me extremely aware of how long even one lightning-fast seam would take. (To take in both side seams – a very easy change – 3-5 minutes.) And it was repetitive work, giving my mind time to wander, which lead me to wonder how quickly even the simplest garment could be made. Wondering further, I added in the time to cut out a pattern, steam the finished piece, and package it up – and I couldn’t figure out how the fast fashion garments I was wearing at the time could be made so cheaply. Were the workers really making as little as I thought? And was the exchange rate for these countries so favorable that the workers could get by on pennies an hour?
I’ve always loved to shop secondhand, and after posting several thrifted outfits to Instagram, I double tapped my way down the #sustainablefashion hashtag rabbit hole. I discovered that my estimate about what garment workers were making was right – and that it wasn’t enough to survive on. I had believed that after the exposes of the garment industry in the 90’s, changes had been made, and I was sickened to find that little had been done.
Also, I needed a new going-out outfit, and now I had no idea how to go about finding a look that didn’t perpetuate this system.
In my first couple of months shopping ethically, I relied heavily on secondhand sites like ThredUp and theRealReal, which gave me time to learn more about what to look for in ethical and sustainable brands. Each time I discovered a brand with good values, I saved their info to a list. I now have a database of over 900 brands that treat their employees well and use materials that are kind to the earth.
I think part of the issue is that we as developed nations have largely lost touch with sewing. We’ve forgotten how much time it takes, and we don’t value the cost of labor in our garments.
Shopping secondhand had an unexpected side effect: I saved a lot of money. So when I did stumble upon the perfect going-out ensemble, a $180 silk miniskirt made right in NYC, I didn’t hesitate. I took extra joy in that outfit, knowing the sewers who made it might be as happy working as I was.
Lauren Engelke is a sustainable stylist and tailor based in NYC and Madison, Wisconsin. Lauren loves helping her clients discover their best style using a lean wardrobe. Find her on Instagram, her blog, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest.