In my four years as a fashion design student, I have never been so struck by an idea as I was in my Fashion and Society class on Monday. Our professor had screened the majority of a fashion documentary entitled China Blue. It told the story of a young woman named Jasmine who moved from her tiny village in Sichuan province to the city of Shaxi, Guangdong to pursue a career at a garment manufacturing company. The life she imagined for herself upon leaving home was nothing like the world she found herself in upon arrival. She worked 15 hour days, was never paid for overtime, shared a room with 12 other workers and was seldom handed a paycheck. While Jasmine maintained optimism throughout the workday, her life was incredibly hard and there was little room for improvement.
After finishing the film I had an hour to myself between classes. A thought-provoking documentary always makes me think, but something about this film kept nagging at me. It forced me to think about some of my own choices as a consumer. I own many clothes made in factories just like Jasmine’s. I consume when I feel like it, and appreciate a good deal above all. I keep up with the trends, meaning I often buy new clothing for the sake of self-image alone. And worst of all, as a fashion student I possess the skills required to make my own clothing, yet rarely do.
I sat with my shortcomings as a conscious consumer for the rest of the day, wondering how I could change my habits. The documentary was a hot topic among my classmates that week, so I spent some time sharing my thoughts with a friend in our sewing studio. This friend had implemented a change in her own life already. For over a year she had not purchased new clothing, in hopes of contributing to a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry. Inspired by her difficult choices, I thought about implementing them into my own life and devised myself a challenge.
For the next six months, I will refrain from purchasing any new clothing. Anything that I do need must be thrifted or vintage, and anything brand new must meet a set of criterion for ethics and sustainability that I will determine in the first few weeks of my challenge.
This post marks the first of a bi-weekly instalment that I will be contributing to StyleCircle for the duration of the school year. I’ll be sharing my research, interviews, and trials and tribulations in this space. Above all this challenge will be an opportunity to learn about my own habits and share some of that knowledge with you. Stay tuned!
By Millie Yates