Sustainability is in style

Trends come and go, but ethically-sourced clothing is more than a fad

The term “fast fashion” has been used in recent years to describe the rapid production of clothing following new trends sold at cheap prices. 

Think about it: you’re scrolling Instagram, you see some influencer or celebrity on Instagram wearing a wildly-expensive article of clothing from some “A-list” brand and then a week later, trendy fashion outlets touting “cheap prices” pop up in your ad stream with what looks like an exact replica for 80 percent of the price. 

Have you ever thought about where your clothing comes from, and what it really costs to get it into your closet?

In an era where sustainable consumption is sought in all realms of products, from food to technology, it is no wonder that consumers and activists alike are asking questions about where these clothing articles come from, and what resources, both human and natural, are needed to make such production possible. 

The alarming answer many have found is that these industries thrive on the exploitation of people and natural resources in developing countries. 

Despite all odds, activists have persisted in taking on the “fast fashion” industry, and there are significant conversations happening on campus about this complex issue from environmental and social perspectives. Christopher Newport’s branch of the International Justice Mission (IJM) will be hosting their annual “Fair Trade Fashion Show” at 7:30 p.m. in the DSU Ballroom on Nov. 8. This incredible event gives clothing and business practices that are ethically-sourced and “Fair Trade Certified” center-stage, answering questions and empowering action on issues of human rights and global industries. 

I was honored to interview IJM President Emma Miller, a junior here at CNU who is leading this charge to bring the global work of IJM home to our campus. 

Defining the mission of this organization at large, Emma Miller explained that the International Justice Mission (IJM) is a multinational organization working to holistically end human trafficking by rescuing victims, prosecuting traffickers and reforming criminal justice systems that have allowed to practice to exist around the globe. 

According to IJM, over 40 million people worldwide live in forms of modern-day slavery, such as labor and sex trafficking, and we are connected to such global injustices in our choices as consumers. 

Emma explained to me that “fast fashion” is just one of many industries that we partake in that creates spaces for poorer families and communities to be targeted by labor traffickers in less developed nations. 

Since the Industrial Revolution, Emma told me, the market for goods like clothing have globalized, making it harder and harder to trace the origin of the resources, factories and individuals who make our clothes. 

With more and more abstraction between our closets and international factories, it has been harder for us to make informed choices that prioritize ethical business practices and easier for global corporations to exploit poor communities.

Emma explained to me that what makes “Fair Trade Certification” significant is transparency: in order to receive this standard from the Fair Trade Commission, companies must be entirely transparent in their business practices, including how they employ and treat workers, how they use natural resources and how they allocate wages. 

In short, Emma explained, Fair Trade eliminates spaces for unseen environmental or social exploitation by companies seeking to maximize profit. Such significant practices are what Emma and others hope to shine a spotlight on this Friday night.

With all of this explained, Emma Miller and the rest of IJM @ CNU are working incredibly hard to finalize this event for our campus community. Emma explained that the goal of this event is to cultivate compassionate, empathetic connections between our campus and those around the world affected by trafficking. 

While it can seem condemning to criticize our everyday consumption of global goods, Emma emphasized in this interview that she wants more than anything for students to open their minds to how they can be more conscious; very plainly, she said, “We want people to leave this event feeling empowered that they can do something.” 

Following a clothing-inspired metaphor, IJM is emphasizing “threads” as a theme of this event: threads make up our clothing, and they connect us across the globe. Activists like Emma Miller hopes students will leave this event with a compassionate and empathetic connection, or thread, to those around the world who are victims of trafficking, and subsequently, feel empowered to continue this conversation. 

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

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