How much should a pair of undies cost?

Image taken from marissaorton's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

So in the last few months I’ve been consciously working to be a more ethical consumer, particularly when it comes to food. This has also caused me to question my own beliefs and concepts about buying other stuff, like clothes.

I don’t buy many clothes over a year. I’m really a bit of a spendthrift by nature.  Also, as I’ve got older I’ve been less inclined to buy stuff. I don’t feel a need for more stuff. In fact, generally I want to simplify life and have less stuff. But if I do buy clothes, it is usually on sale at somewhere like Susan, Giordano or Colorado or occasionally second hand stuff from Vinnies.

When I went to buy jeans from Giordano earlier this year you could buy one pair for $20 or two for $30. Previously I probably would have bought the second pair as it was good ‘value’. Now my mindset tells me I only need one pair of jeans so why pay an extra $10? I don’t need more ‘stuff’. It’s experience, and not stuff that is the essence of life.

Yet we will all need to buy stuff. Undies, for example, are a bit of a staple for everyone.

It may seem obvious when you delve into it, but it really only started to hit home to me recently that there is no way on earth a worker who sews a pair of undies that is retailing for $2.99, or a dress for $9.99 could be making a fair wage.

You can look at the $2.99 undies and see a ‘bargain’ or you can look at them and question, what should we really be paying for undies, if we factor in a fair wage for the person producing them?

Pants to poverty is one of many ethical clothing companies, trying to deliver fair pay for workers in factories and cotton farmers, as well as fostering organic practices in cotton farming. Their undies are around $22.

Just paying $22 for undies or $180 for a dress unfortunately is not a guarantee that the worker who sewed the clothing is getting a fair wage. It may just be that the retailer is making an even bigger profit. It’d be really interesting to see some economic analysis that provides us with a better idea of what we should be paying for clothing and what ought to be the approximate price of undies or dresses if everyone involved in the process was paid a decent wage.

Ethical Clothing Australia publishes a list of accredited ethical fashion brands in Australia. Disappointingly, there aren’t many on there to date. For women’s fashion there’s basically Collette Dinigan, Lisa Ho, Cue and Veronika Maine plus a few more ’boutique’ labels. Dinigan and Ho are certainly out of my price range! Hopefully more retailers will be encouraged to become accredited – to spread the word you can download and leave the Ethical Clothing Australia calling card in change rooms or at the cash register of your favourite stores to encourage them to become accredited.

Of course other options for ethical clothing are buying from op shops and vintage clothing stores. A friend and I went to Rethreads in July and that was great. Buying handmade too is a great option, supporting local craftspeople at markets and online at sites like MadeIt or Etsy.

As I’ve gone through this exploration of shopping more ethically I’ve also been going through a bit of an exploration of my own identity. I’ve wanted to develop my own sense of style (never having been in any way a fashionista).

I recently did a Springboard course and one of the elements I identified I wanted to work on in that was image and the way I present myself. To a degree  this is funny as I have always shied away from image as being important, but now I think I’ve reached a stage where I just want to develop a stronger sense of my own identity, and part of that is how I present myself. But part of who I am now, is that I need to do this ethically, and so I’ve decided to take the ethical clothing pledge that I stumbled on online last night.

T H E _ E T H I C A L _ C L O T H I N G _ P L E D G E

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I pledge to only wear clothing that is one or more of the following:
1. Pre-loved
2. Handmade (preferably by me)
3. Reconstructed
4. Made with ethical / environmentally friendly materials
5. Made by a company with strong ethical policy & workers’ rights

* Companies with environmentally friendly practices (such as cutting down on waste/energy/water) get brownie points
* If I get one little inkling of sweatshop labour, I’m outta there!
* Above all though, I think the most important thing is reducing the amount of things we use in the first place. Not purchasing ANOTHER piece of clothing just for the sake of it is the biggest statement we can make.

So that is my intent. I’m sure there will be little challenges, and I may fall down at times, but you can always get back on the horse if you come off. I’ve also recently acquired a sewing machine and am hoping to enrol in some lessons and grow my skill base there. I’ve also been really inspired by the ideas put forward by Hayley in her blog thinker maker. In particular, the idea of ethical consumerism being not about deprivation, but being mindful of our impacts and reducing our need for stuff. This may take a long time, as the culture of consumerism is still a very strong force, but its ok to work at your own pace. And the best bit from Hayley’s blog:

Learning to not be “defined by your stuff means figuring out what does define you. This can be scary. And that’s OK.”

And I’m happy to be defining myself as a more mindful person, who may wear $22 undies from now on.

Image taken from with thanks to marissaorton.

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
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3 Responses to How much should a pair of undies cost?

  1. Pingback: Delayed Gratification | Greenleftyidealist

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