Sunday 20 July 2014

Fashion, Fur, and Fairtrade

Fashion, Fur, and Fairtrade

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I don't really do 'serious' posts over here on Awake + Make. It's normally a case of gushing about a nice dress I've thrifted, or talking about my latest DIY project, having a light-hearted chat, and sharing the photographs. However, something happened this week which caused me to re-evaluate my consumer choices, whether I'm buying something new, second hand, or even purchasing supplies to create my own clothes.

Before I start, let me just say that I'm in no way preaching to others here. I make my own decisions, and always respect the decisions that other people make, even if they differ from mine. Instead, this is a case of me talking about my personal thoughts, and backing up the decisions I make. I needed to get this rant out of my system, before it drove me mad.

So, here goes...

What was the event that caused this rant? Well, a couple of days ago, I bought some fur. Some real fur. Quite accidentally, I assure you. The story goes like this: I was in a rush, on my way to work, when I decided to stop off at one of my favourite charity shops (I needed a bit of a treat before work that day). There, I found a couple of fake fur collars (or so I thought). I inspected the first one, which was obviously fake. In this day and age, you can get some pretty convincing fake fur, however this is not one of them. It is quite clearly synthetic. I bought the both of them, having no time to inspect the other, and assuming it would be fake anyway. Nowadays, fake fur is far more conventional than real fur - in fact, the only pieces of real fur I have seen have been in antique centres.

When I got home later that day, I inspected my finds a little more closely, and there was definitely something off about the second fur collar. It felt too soft, too smooth, and far too much like my cat. It then dawned on me, that it might possibly be a piece of real fur. After asking the opinion of several other people, I confirmed in my mind that it was actually real. It horrified me, for several reasons. Firstly, I'm a bit of an animal lover, and as a pet owner, couldn't dream of animals being killed just for their fur. Secondly, it's just a little bit gross. I lie. It's a LOT gross. I don't want to be wearing essentially, what is a DEAD thing.

My mind then turned to getting rid of my fur collar. I wanted nothing to do with it. Wouldn't the easy thing be to return it to the charity shop I bought it from? Of course, however said charity shop is one of those gloriously old fashioned ones, where they don't even have a till, let alone receipts. So, why not donate it to another charity shop? I really don't mind losing the menial amount I paid for it at all. But here's the thing - in the past, I have volunteered in charity shops, and know how some of them work. In some (I'm not saying this applies to ALL charity shops), anything worth a lot of money is bought up quickly and cheaply by the volunteers, before even hitting the shop floor, in order that they can sell it on to make money for themselves. This never happened in the charity shop I volunteered in, but I know it happens in others. And honestly, I feel a little uncomfortable at the thought of someone making a cheap buck from a dead animal. An alternative perhaps, would be to sell the fur myself, and then give the money to charity (I do not want the profit from it for myself). However, to me at least, this feels a little like robbing Peter to pay Paul - should real fur be used in anyway for profit? I'm not sure. At the moment, the likely end for my fur collar probably lies in being thrown in the bin. It's a shame because this feels very wasteful, but at the same time I have absolutely no idea what else to do with it.

The attitude to real fur has been going on a downwards slope for a while now, although there has definitely been a fur resurgence recently. So is it ever acceptable to wear real fur? Vintage fur seems to be a more popular choice recently, with arguments stating that it's better to get a lot of use out of furs that already exist, rather than kill new animals. And what about inheriting an old item of fur from a relative - it holds special memories and reminds you of that person. I think it all depends on how comfortable you are with the idea of wearing a dead animal. For me, it's a total no-go, but I don't judge those who feel okay with wearing old furs.

Now, perhaps most people would have stopped here, but this event really started me on a downwards spiral. If I feel this way about fur, should I rethink my choice of wearing leather shoes? What about eating meat, or even animal products? Anyone who's ever seen a documentary about egg farming knows that it's not always the 'farm life' that we assume it is. The Body Shop has been an ambassador for anti-animal testing in the cosmetics industry, and it's starting to take off big time. However, there is no way of knowing whether the medication we take has been tested on animals or not (I'm thinking rather pessimistically that a LOT of it is).

Perhaps you'd think that I'm a bit of an animal activist reading this, but the truth is that nothing gets my blood boiling quite like human rights. As I started to think of the implications of my consumer habits on animals, my thoughts soon turned to the implications on people. Sweatshops are always in the news, and it's crazy to think how many of the clothes on the high street could be from sweatshops. Primark is the big one, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if other chains used sweatshops too. The truth is, that it's considerably cheaper to outsource the work to other countries, but the result is that we never know whether the people who made our clothes (or anything for that matter) were treated fairly in the process.

So, what's the answer? Perhaps sewing all my own clothes would be the answer. However, let's face it, that's just not feasibly possible for one person. Also, how do I know whether the people who wove the fabric that I sew with were treated fairly too? Unlike food products, which have the 'fairtrade' label, fabric is very rarely labelled with it's country of origin, or how 'fairtrade' it is. The fabric industry could learn a lot from the wool industry - a lot of the time you can trace wool back to the very farm it came from.

Eventually, I had to tell myself to STOP. Taking all these factors into consideration, it would be pretty much impossible to buy anything at all. Besides, I am a fairly moderate consumer anyway - buying things second hand is good for the environment, and also means that I do not support industries that use sweatshops or animal testing directly (and the money I spend goes to a good cause). I'm also not a big meat eater anyway, and always try to buy free range whenever possible. I buy things in moderation, which has a smaller negative impact than if I bought large amounts of things regularly. I might double think buying certain things from now on, but otherwise, I'm not all bad. And I've finally found what I'm going to do with my fur collar.

This was a pretty heavy article for a Sunday afternoon, so thanks for sticking with me. It'll be back to normal for my next post (I have a DIY which I'm pretty excited to share with you guys soon). I feel like I need to lighten the mood a little, so ...

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