The Ethics of Buying My Clothes

I like clothes. This is a sad and materialistic reality, but I do. I also like compliments, good deals, Robin Hood, Chinese people, and not destroying the Earth too fast. All of these things come together to create Haidan’s ethics of buying clothing.

I’m going to give you the list first, because that’s what it all boils down to, and then I’ll go through each point on the list to explain how it got there.

My order of preference for buying clothes

  1. Can I make this?
  2. Second hand first
  3. Support small businesses
  4. China
  5. Big retailers

The articles of clothing used as examples for this article were accumulated over the last decade, but I’ve made sure to only use examples that I currently still own.

Ok. Let’s go.

1. Can I make this?

When I see something I like, my first question is always whether I can make this myself. While this is partially ethical, it is also to make myself feel accomplished.

Ethical implications

Obviously making your own clothing is better for the environment than buying it from retailers. But I don’t deceive myself into thinking I’m somehow saving the environment by doing this. I am still actively destroying the environment by contributing to the production of textiles, greenhouse gases for building sewing machines, eventual landfill waste, etc. So what I prefer here is that I destroy the Earth more slowly.

Same goes with the exploitation of garment workers. I’m still causing exploitation by purchasing materials made by underpaid workers in poor conditions, just ones in smaller industries than fashion.

What I get

If I succeed in making it, I get:

  • A skills upgrade
  • Experience
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Unique fashion that nobody else can wear
  • Clothing that can’t be price tagged
  • Showered with compliments

What can I make?

Contrary to popular belief, not much. Can you believe I have never made a shirt in my life? Of course you can’t believe it, because you think I’m a sewing wizard. I have only made skirts, a pair of pants, some accessories, and a hooded cloak. Everything else failed. I’m hoping to gradually expand my repertoire.

Things I made:

A circle scarf
A circle skirt
A rectangle skirt
A pair of pants
A pair of baggy tights
A cloak

2. Second hand first

If I can tell that it’s too difficult to make, or the cost of making it is going to overshadow the cost of just buying it, I go thrift for it. Where do I do this?

ThredUp

I like to promote ThredUp because I’ve been having good experiences with them. They’re a giant online consignment store that sells second hand clothing. Because they’re so big, they have so much stuff. The best part is the filters, so you can narrow down your search to exactly what you’re looking for. Browsing their website is quite addictive.

I have a referral link if you want to sign up. You get savings, I get savings, everyone gets savings: Get $10 to spend

Thrift stores

When the lockdown ends, I’m going to hit up my favourite local thrift stores, inluding Black Market Clothing and various other places downtown. If I’m outside of Toronto, I might look for a Talize too. I’m always down to explore new ones though, so let me know if you recommend a place.

Ethical implications

Mostly I just delay some pieces from going to landfills, so again, I’m not saving the world, just slowing down its imminent destruction. I guess I also reduce the demand for new clothing by a little bit, which I suppose contributes to that too.

Exploited workers are still getting exploited, but the same amount of exploitation now clothes more than one person, so I suppose you could say you’re taking a bad situation and making the best out of it, but that’s all.

 What I get

I get a good deal. And besides the obvious saving of money, I also get people to think I’m resourceful, like when I tell them I got a $70 UNIQLO blazer for $20 with the tag still on it. That feels pretty good.

Examples of second hand clothing I bought:

Uniqlo blazer from ThredUp (Online)
Wrap skirt from Black Market Clothing (Toronto)
Forever 21 Pants from ThredUp (Online)
Vintage blouse from Frøken Dianas Salonger (Oslo)
Coat from Kind Exchange (Toronto – Closed)
Flats from Talize (Kingston)

3. Support small businesses

Shopping at small businesses is not really a backup for the first two options. It’s more just for fun when I’m exploring. If I find a local boutique that is reasonably priced and has nice styles, I will buy from it. I keep in mind that “reasonably priced” for a small business will naturally be more expensive, but as long as they are still lower than high-end retailers, I’m good with it.

Covid sucks because it closed down a lot of them. I’m ok with everyone being closed down, big and small alike, but I definitely think if big retailers can open, then small businesses should be allowed to as well.

Favourites

Aria: My favourite Toronto clothing store recently opened an online shop (although I like their in-store selection better). I used to go all the way to Christie Station to visit them. The nice Korean lady who runs the store is very kind and helpful.

Pacific Mall: This place is full of independent stores selling nice stuff you won’t find in other malls. If you don’t want to haggle for the price, find stores that have the price labelled.

Examples of clothes I bought from small Canadian business:

Shirt from Aria (Toronto)
Prom dress from Borderline Plus (Toronto)
Tunic from Pacific Mall (Markham)
Tuque from Strawberry Fields (Dundas)
Sweater from from Aria (Toronto)
Hoodie from from Pacific Mall (Markham)

4. China

Here’s where we need to keep in mind that “local” for me doesn’t necessarily mean Canada.

Do I like clothing that is affordable, unique, and made by people who I feel a special affinity to? Of course I do.

I almost always go for style over brand, but I know that a lot of styles originated from brand name designs. So here’s where we come to the Chinese Garment Worker’s Robin Hood Effect.

The Chinese Garment Worker’s Robin Hood Effect

One of the main ethical issues of fast fashion is that it exploits garment workers by giving them sub-living wages and poor working conditions. I am pretty sure this happens in China too. Some big western company opens a factory and start to exploit some Chinese garment workers.

But Big West failed to foresee something very important.

You need to understand that people in China are smarter than you and I. They grew up in a society where they need to think 10 steps ahead. So naturally, they’re not going to let themselves just get exploited. That’s not how Chinese people work.

They’re going to make sure they get something out of it. They’re going to make sure they get a good deal.

Do you know where fake brand name goods come from? I don’t mean the super tacky, obviously-fake stuff. I mean 1) the stuff that looks and feels so real that 99% of people can’t tell it’s fake, and 2) unbranded goods that copy brand name designs.

They come from real brand name factories. Sometimes they are items that didn’t make it through quality control. Sometimes they never get to quality control. Sometimes they are made from the same raw materials or the same designs used to make the real deal. Often, they are sold without a brand name, in independently run booths in crowded city marketplaces.

If you exploit us, we will take your stuff. We will take your designs. We will take your secrets. And pretty soon, Big West is going to realize exploiting Chinese people was a bad idea.

In light of this, who do I buy from? Big West? Nope. When given the choice, I buy from my own people.

Do I condone theft? No. But when given a choice between two thieves, I side with the poorer one.

Who wins? The Chinese workers. The Chinese sellers. And my wallet.

Favourites

Here are my favourite websites for getting clothes from China:

Aliexpress: This is a gamble, but you can increase your odds by looking at the reviews and certifications of a company. I got my wedding dress for $67.95 from here. It was made entirely of cheap polyester, and it looked amazing. Your package will take a long time to arrive though, so don’t get things you’re rushing to wear

If you use my referral link, you get a $30 coupon when you sign up: Get it here.

YesStyle: There are a lot of mini brands selling here, and the gamble is still there, but it’s a little safer and there is more English going on. It can still take a long time, and because of covid the minimum for free shipping went up, but overall I’ve had good experiences with them. They also have skincare products that I like. Right now I’m waiting for their free shipping minimum to go back down.

I also have a referral link for them: Get 5% off.

Examples of clothes I got from sellers in China:

Coat from Beijing Wholesale Market
Dress from YesStyle
Dress from Hualian Commercial Building (Beijing)
Shoes from YesStyle
Shoes from a mall in Datong (Shanxi)
Sweatshirt from Beijing Wholesale Market

5. Big retailers

Big retailers are last. I’m not disciplined enough to completely eliminate them from my fashion life, but I try to minimize my spending on new items with them (I can just buy their stuff second hand). One exception is when I travel abroad. In this case I will specifically buy from retailers that are not available back home.

Overseas Favourites

Here are some big retailers that I have purchased from while abroad:

  • Cache-Cache
  • Gina Tricot
  • Monki
  • Ochirly
  • Sud Express
  • Rue21

Examples of clothes I bought from overseas big retailers:

Dress from Monki
Sweater dress from Sud Express
Shirt from Gina Tricot
Hoodies from Mic Mac
Jeans from Cache Cache
Shorts from Ochirly

Choosing the hate you get

So what is the moral of all this? It’s that you should decide on the ethics of your spending habits instead of just listening to everyone else.

Some people will tell you to buy from certain brands and not others.

Some brands will tell you to buy from certain brands and not others.

You can’t just listen to everyone. Choose who you listen to and how you go about doing things based on your values. You will always upset people with your choices anyways—you cannot win—so do it in the way that you’d rather be known for. I’d rather be hated as the snake who helps Chinese garment thieves make a quick buck than the sheltered North American consumer who helps big brands exploit workers.

Haters will hate, but let them hate you on your own terms.

So decide on your own ethics of buying clothes and don’t just listen to Haidan and her blog articles.

7 thoughts on “The Ethics of Buying My Clothes

  1. Haidan! Wow, I admire how resourceful you are as usual. You know so much! The only thing I know how to do, is to buy clothes and accessories from The Mountain (a website for realistic animal T shirts) and Amazon.ca. Lately, I bought a pair of lovely warm winter gloves, where your fingers can stick out, which is important for a Pokemon Go player. These are warmer than most of my other gloves because it has realistic-feeling rabbit fur. I do not condone animal cruelty, so I made sure to check that it was synthetic fur. I even went on an animal rights website to look up methods on how to tell if the fur is indeed faux and not real. So my gloves passed the test and I’m their happy owner, haha. They are probably the cutest gloves I’ve ever owned.

    But when it comes to shirts, pants, and jackets, and shoes, I’m still anxious about buying them. In-person stores are so intimidating to me, partly because they look too complicated, too packed, too dizzying, even in the big retailers. So I’d rather order online and check the size charts. Well, I would go in-person for shoes, but for everything else, I’d rather go on Amazon. I know, some friends have criticized me for still buying from Amazon, despite the practices of their CEO. But Amazon is just too convenient, their customer service is too good, and their shipping speed is amazing. Not that I even have to pay their shipping fees anyway. And since the lockdown, I’ve been ordering so often from Amazon, that Amazon Prime is totally worth it. I don’t have the pressure to buy $29+ to get free shipping anymore!

    Still, I have some major procrastination problems. For the pants and underpants I bought from Amazon, um, they’ve been sitting here for 3 months and I still haven’t opened the packaging, LOL. I tend to have major procrastination issues when it’s something I’m unfamiliar with, not confident about, or is not urgent, especially if it’s a task in the physical world, as opposed to the digital world. I put off digital tasks much less than physical tasks, because I am just a very non-physical person.

    But I really like your point that we all have our own ethical priorities when it comes to buying clothes and accessories. I’m not that strict with myself, tbh, though I only buy clothes once in a blue moon. Probably the only thing I put effort in, is to verify that the faux fur on my items are indeed synthetic, not real fur. In fact, I took the latter for granted, because when I told a friend about my checking to make sure the fur was fake, my friend asked me if I was a vegetarian. :O While I support animal rights, I’m just a regular omnivore! I try to do some little things, such as buying free-run eggs whenever possible, and not automatically killing bugs when I see them (only when they’re too much in my personal space). Though for the latter, it’s mostly because I don’t even want to touch them in the first place…But yeah, I think there’s no need for us to kill anything, including spiders, unless they are actually harming you, so I still have no sympathy for mosquitoes. Back on the clothes topic, I’m not disciplined enough to check how ethical the clothes my mom bought for me are, and the vast majority of my clothes were bought by my mom. 😦 So yeah, I must seem like a barbarian to you when it comes to buying clothes. XD Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about your personal approach to buying clothes ethically! 😀 Yes, haters gonna hate no matter what you do. XD

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Haidan!!!
    Omg!! I feel like we pretty much think the same way about fashion haha. It was exciting to read your post because I have the same dilemma when it comes for buying clothes. I don’t buy from major retailers anymore and I prefer to either buy clothes second hand or make them myself. It’s so satisfying when I get a good deal buying something from a second hand store. Once I found a Longchamp bag from value village for $3 (it was really dirty and squashed on the floor, so probably no one saw it or knew what it was) then I cleaned it up and it looked almost new. I brought it to work and got lots of compliments. I also enjoy sewing, but the thing I’ve realized is that fabric, notions, etc aren’t that cheap, and it takes a long time to make something. However what I love is being able to make something I’ve designed myself. (I really love your cloak by the way! It looks amazing!)
    I don’t often buy from Chinese online stores but the way you explain it really makes sense!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah yes, Value Village is a magical place. And yes the struggle with fabric prices is so real. By the way, where do you usually get your fabrics from? I’m always on the lookout for good places.

    Like

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