"How do we relate working conditions to customers and make impact more tangible?" he tweeted. Now, I doubt Mr. Ayala really wanted a page-long answer from me, but I feel like this is an issue that I've often pondered: How can we make people care? How can we make ethical fashion matter?
And so, because 140 characters wasn't enough, I decided to write a blog post in response to this topic. I really don't have a complete answer, but I do have an experience to share, and sometimes that's enough.
But at some point, things changed. There was no exact moment that I started questioning my fashion habits, but over the course of a few months, a gradual shift took place. My anthropology major led me to studies of social justice and human rights, and along the way, I found myself living on the edge of justice, observing it but not taking part in creating it. I cared, but I didn't act.
As anthropology encouraged me to question "the normal," I began to consider my normal. Since fashion was one of the things I loved most, I eventually came around to evaluating my choices as a consumer. Through this process, I first learned about the world of ethical fashion. I thought it all seemed great, but knowing it existed wasn't enough to make me change my entire lifestyle. No, that came later. That came through a process of confronting the cruel realities of the fashion industry.
For some unknown reason, I chose to do my senior capstone on the topic of ethical fashion. The more I read, watched, heard, and learned about the fashion industry, the more disgusted I became. I won't go into all of the details here (you can go read the Facts pages for that), but ultimately, it wasn't the statistical research that changed the way I live. It was reading firsthand accounts of slavery and forced labor, seeing pictures of abused, tortured, dying animals, and listening to lectures about the devastating effects of extreme poverty that influenced me.
It all just broke my heart.
And I think that's where change takes place. We live in a society that provides countless distractions to escape the harsh realities of the world around us. It was only through confronting these realities, and allowing myself to be devastated by them, that I found the courage to make a change in my own life. It sounds horrible, but I really believe that in order to change the fashion industry, we need to break the hearts of consumers. I have enough faith in people to believe that if they really knew the truth, they'd want to make a difference too. Maybe that's naive, but it's a hope that, for my own emotional stability, I have to hold onto.
My capstone research project ultimately turned into this website, but before Ethically Beautiful was created, I had to make a choice. In the words of Katharine Hamnett, I had to ask myself, "Are you going to mindlessly go the easy way, or are you going to go the ethical way?" I'm far far far from perfect, but I feel like through choosing to go the ethical way, I'm at least moving the in the right direction.