Selflessly Styled: A Guest Post on Ethical Fashion / by Sarah Schwartz

Y'all, Ellie Hughes (of Selflessly Styled) is a force to be reckoned with in the ever growing ethical fashion movement. I'm proud to call her friend, and thrilled that she agreed to share her story with us here in my little corner of the internet. Make sure check out her bio below to start following her work.

With each year that passes, I find the Gospel refining my worldview in new ways. Sometimes this refining happens subtly and slowly, but other times it crashes in unexpectedly and changes my course in an instant.

This sort of unexpected refining happened in 2015 when the Gospel came crashing into my closet. My closet… the last place I ever would expect to find my faith engaged.

Here’s how it happened:

I learned that there are threads of violence, injustice and abuse woven into the very fabric of the fashion industry. I found out that the pretty outfits that made me feel confidant and empowered were made by women who had been exploited and abused. I saw that the reason I could buy clothes for such low prices was because someone across the world was paying the price of their own safety. I heard the voice of a woman in Bangladesh say, “I don’t want anyone wearing anything which is produced by our blood.”[1]

My eyes were opened to the ugly truth behind an image-driven industry.

Devastation.

I was overwhelmed.

But then hope came crashing in.

I was filled with purpose.

Determination.

My eyes were opened to a pathway of redemption in this industry.

I learned that there is a way to acquire clothing that ensures the people involved are given dignity, treated fairly and respected. I found out that there are brands selling quality clothing that makes me feel confident not only in how I look, but in the impact my purchase made on other human beings. I saw that I could stop buying cheap clothes, start practicing self-control and invest in pieces from companies who are doing things the right way.

In a way that only a Gracious God can, He showed me that instead of wallowing in guilt over the privilege that I have, I can use my position of privilege to further his Kingdom of justice for the oppressed.

Don’t mistake my use of the term “privilege” for wealth. (I’m a millennial working for a non-profit and married to a pastor… that should be enough information to tell you that I’m not operating on a giant budget.)

Privilege comes in a number of different forms.

I have the privilege of a voice.

The fashion industry will listen to me as a consumer. Major companies won’t hear the cries of exploited garment workers across the sea, but they will hear my American dollars loud and clear. If my purchasing habits communicate that I value the ethical treatment of people over a “bargain,” you can bet that companies will begin to rethink their strategy.

I have the privilege of choice.

In a world of online shopping, I have hundreds of options literally at my fingertips when it’s time to make a purchase. I can choose to “shop ethically” and spend money at companies that reflect my belief in treating people fairly.

The term “ethical fashion” can be confusing. We have to start by understanding what "unethical fashion" is. As of 2016, about 98% of the clothes purchased in the USA are manufactured overseas. The vast majority of these items are produced in factories that underpay, use child labor, abuse and threaten workers, participate in varying types of trafficking, and force employees to work in dangerous conditions. These factories produce the cheapest results, which they sell to major companies who mark up the prices and sell them for far more than they're worth. 

So, ethical fashion is the opposite of that. Ethical fashion is created by companies who pay all of their employees a fair wage (whether that be in the US or internationally) and source their materials sustainably.

As you may have guessed, ethical fashion comes with a higher price-tag. In order to pay people fairly, consumers have to be willing to pay a little more for their clothes.

I think this is the biggest obstacle to overcome.

There are plenty of practical steps I’ve taken to help myself and others in this endeavor: learning to shop less, shopping secondhand when necessary, taking care of items to prolong their life, shopping out of season, etc… but beyond the practical steps, I think there’s a mindset shift that has to happen:

We need to view the way we shop as an act of generosity.

In the church, we talk a lot about generosity, but it’s usually in the context of how we give. I think we’re missing out on the fact that where we spend our money speaks just as loudly about our values as where we give our money.

I once heard someone say, “Every dollar we spend is casting a vote for the type of world we want to live in.”

Let’s cast the vote of our money towards a world that says the life of a working mother in Bangladesh is more valuable than our need for cheap fashion.

Let’s buy clothes that don’t just empower ourselves, but empower the hands that made them. 

Let’s let the Gospel crash into our closets.

I never would have dreamed that God would weave my heart for the oppressed into the world of fashion.

I never would have guessed that He would transform shopping into a holy experience.

But isn’t that just like Him?

Transforming the vain and hollow into something truly beautiful.

Ellie Hughes is a blogger, consultant, and advocate for global justice through ethical fashion. She resides happily under the clouds of Portland, Oregon with her very tall husband and very short corgi, but her roots are in sunny Mexico where she spent her childhood as a missionary-kid. Ellie is passionate about empowering people towards conscious consumerism from a place of hope instead of guilt. 

You can follow her life on instagram @seflessly_styled and learn more about ethical fashion on her website SelflesslyStyled.com

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[1] Shima Akhter The True Cost