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A Shop Owners Tension with Consumerism

A Shop Owners Tension with Consumerism

I just want to preface this letter by saying I don't want to sell you anything. I'd like to use The Fashion Revolution Week as the opportunity that it is to open up a very important conversation about the true cost of what we buy. 

I am sincerely passionate and proud to sell vintage clothing and NZ made goods because of the social value it provides, but that wasn't always the case. In fact, I sort of stubbed my toe on that Passion while passing it by. 

In 2011, we were just two young girls, having fun, mucking around trying to make a 'real' business. We liked vintage clothing and craft so we sold vintage clothing and craft. I remember our eyes first started to open when some of our shoppers shared that they actually don't buy anything else because of moral reasons. That is, they were buying vintage clothing to relieve tensions put on the environment by avoiding manufacturing, and buying local provides real benefits to our economyUntil then, I didn't know the reality of what we had been inadvertently providing. 

In addition, we also didn't realise the positive impact of purchasing vintage clothing instead of commercial apparel. With fast fashion starting to increase drastically each year, we started to hear all the horror stories about poor labour practices. Specifically, the Bangladesh Rana Plaza tragedy (learn more here) highlighted to the world the harsh reality of the impact that fast fashion was putting on garment workers. That is; exploitation, forced labour, corrupt governments, and horrendously un-safe working conditions for millions of vulnerable people causing them to be trapped in cycles of poverty. It is absolutely shocking that leading brands that we all engage with allow this to happen and, It. Makes. Me. Sick. 

Truthfully, I struggled with the idea of never wanting to participate in consuming 'things' ever again, and ironically owning and operating a store. I couldn't reconcile the two sides of me. Now, I appreciate the tension I experienced as it has informed core company values our team abide by (like not forcing sales, and even dissuading unsure customers to walk away). I also realised that consumerism is not going to go away, and I am proud to know that our little store is creating legitimate fashion and (locally made) gift options that do not pillage earths resources and exploit her people.

Conscious consumerism is a big topic. A big, hard, messy conversation we would rather not have. I sometimes wonder why we are still even talking about it because change seems so obvious! But then I remember the 21 year old me, having meaningful, eye-opening conversations for the first time with those around me who were patient and gracious enough to give their time and encouragement to teach me. It reminds me that I need to be facilitating that conversation further. Grow the bubble, if you will. 

You lovely people support The Bread and Butter Letter so well. In fact, we can never have enough vintage clothing because you support us so well, and for that we are truly thankful. But I am also really proud of us all as a greater community, that what we are buying is not harming anyone. Keep supporting K’ Road, your local thrift stores, the creatives and makers, and all those companies who are doing their absolute best to change the garment industry inside out. People first. 

Go, be intentional, start those conversations,

BEKA: For me, being an ethical and conscious consumer is a choice I have to realign myself with pretty regularly. I’ve done my share of spending in the fast fashion industry, taken away a lot of coffees in little paper cups with plastic lids, and forgotten my reusable bags at Countdown more times than I can count… down. Habits die hard but I feel a million times better as a human when I’m making choices based out of my values, so the easiest way I find to do good in a longterm capacity, is to educate myself as much as I can, and then regularly check in with my values. I’ve been given the enormous privilege of being born in New Zealand. That’s sheer luck and it seems unfair for me to enjoy a relatively luxurious lifestyle at the expense of others. I can live a good life without buying clothes from companies that under pay, and hire under age workers in unsafe factories. I can definitely do that. We all can.
 NINA: Becoming an ethical consumer is a journey that has been both challenging and rewarding for me. I began this process with fashion in particular, around the same time I began working at the Bread and Butter Letter three years ago. I was becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and human cost that comes with fast fashion (watch The True Cost for a great overview) and decided I wanted to try and opt out of the cycle. I began by shopping for vintage and second-hand clothing, and this process was truly eye-opening for me. I came to realise how amazing it is to own an item that has lived a life before it came to you, and to have the opportunity to give it new life. Vintage clothing has helped me hone my own style and even more than that, learn what kind of person I am, what I feel comfortable in and what I want to contribute to the world through my personal self-expression. Along with buying recycled, I started to aim toward purchasing new items from brands that were working hard to be ethical and sustainable, especially those Made in New Zealand. These items are still some of my favourite pieces of clothing that I continue to wear all the time, and come from places like Widdess, Penny Sage, Miss Crabb, the Loyal Workshop and Or Slow Denim. I’ve been so delighted to combine clothing from all these different places over the years to produce a wardrobe that I feel is uniquely ‘Nina’ and that I will be able to hold onto for years to come.
In saying this, I’m aware that the places I’ve referred to sell pieces that are often too pricey for many of us too afford most of the time. What’s more, I still find it very difficult to find ethical versions of certain items of clothing (e.g. underwear, tights… hit me up if you know anywhere). We’re all busy people, and we can only do our best. This is one of the reasons that I’m so appreciative of sources like the Ethical Fashion Guide, which provide information derived through rigorous and comprehensive methodology. They are now showing that expensive does not necessarily equal ethical, and vice versa. The effect of a consumer voice has led companies like Cotton On to achieve an A overall, as well as in every sub-category. This means that it’s becoming possible for everyone to buy ethical at every price range, provided we’re just armed with the right knowledge. Five years on from the Rana Plaza Tragedy, I feel that this is progress that is wonderful, necessary and overdue and must continue on in order to ensure that what we wear does not comprise the health and wellbeing of our planet and the people on it.
Nina x
P.S. Also buy less overall! Although I love clothes, I’m trying to reduce my consumption in general as well. Anyway, see you in store guys!
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