The Privilege of Ethical Fashion: A Minimalist’s Reflection on Black Friday

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I’m going to be honest: I hadn’t given luxury or privilege too much thought in my life until this past year when our circumstances changed from having two incomes to one (and that of a teacher’s no less). To which a lot of you will say that if I haven’t given it much thought, then I am privileged. And I am privileged in many ways.

When Brandon decided to go back to school, I knew that we would have to cut back on some things, but I didn’t realize just how many things we indulged ourselves in until we couldn’t anymore. We’ve had to cut way back on traveling, on having our coffee dates at cafes, on eating out, and on buying things that we wanted but didn’t necessarily need. The start of my minimalism journey could not have come at a better time in our lives, and maybe the timing of everything was the universe’s way of telling me to slow down, to savor the little and big things in life, and to practice gratitude.

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I will always be grateful that I’ve never wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to worry about not having enough food (though I’ve had *eye roll*), or not having a warm and safe place to sleep, or not having any clean clothes to wear (though I’ve also worried about this *double eye roll*). Owning less was never a necessity for me, even though it was always encouraged to me by my parents and by Brandon. However, now owning less and better is a choice–and what an incredibly privileged and luxurious choice it is.

For Brandon, minimalism comes naturally to him. Even when he was working, he never bought more than he needed. He invested in high quality things so that his clothes lasted longer, and he was not a slave to trends so he only bought classic pieces. He teases me nowadays as I’m trying to get to his level, and as I’m learning that less is better and that quality should always come before quantity. So for him, our change in lifestyle wasn’t all that different, but for me, it has taken a while to get used to; mostly because I never wanted us to ever appear “poor” or “less than.” Though being the stereotypical poor teacher is something that I often laugh (and cry) about with my colleagues and with Brandon, it is never something that I ever wanted to appear or for my lifestyle to reflect. Well, like it or not, I’ve had to come to terms that at least for now, our income is half of what it was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are poor by any means, or that our quality of life had to be less. And to be honest, our lifestyle hadn’t changed all that drastically. If anything, we’re eating healthier because we’re cooking more; our coffee that we make at home tastes better; and we’ve been really enjoying our home and haven’t felt a great desire to “escape.”

Since starting my minimalism journey last Summer, I have to say I am quite proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve successfully completed a few shopping bans, which I always have to laugh at myself for because when I really think about it, shopping bans are a way of life for most people rather than a pathetic attempt to rehab a privileged shopaholic’s bad habits. I also am getting better at shopping intentionally and ethically, but I think a huge part of the reason why I am shopping slower these days is because of how expensive ethical fashion pieces tend to be. In my fast fashion days, if it was under $20, I wouldn’t hesitate at all to swipe my card and add it to my overstuffed wardrobe; however, now, most things that I’m eying are $100 and over, and therefore require more thought before I swipe and add. I’m priced out of a lot of ethical fashion brands that I would’ve otherwise loved to support. I understand why ethical fashion is priced higher, but at the same time, I do wish it were more accessible to the masses so that the positive change we want to see can be impacted sooner. So when Black Friday rolled around this year, I was joining the masses and was hopeful that a few brands would have sales so that I could buy some things that I’ve had my eyes on but just couldn’t bring myself to pay full price for.

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This Black Friday/Cyber week has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. My two stances on fashion now–minimalism and ethics–seemed to be conflicting. There was a nagging voice within me telling me to abstain, that I didn’t need any more clothes, that my dollar is my voice so I shouldn’t support overconsumption. There was another voice in me, a familiar one that has been with me all my life, that sales are exciting and that I need to find the best deals and I need to find them NOW. The loudest voice of all, though, was telling me that if my dollar is my voice, then this was my chance to buy pieces that I’ve been wanting to add to my wardrobe, and to support brands that I support and love.

While I was trying to talk myself out of buying another cashmere sweater from Everlane, a pair of mules from Nisolo, jewelry from Mejuri, and other countless sales that ethical (and fast fashion) brands were having, I realized just how expensive ethical fashion really is. Looking at all the things I wanted all at once and the total of it all shook me. If I had indulged all my desires, I would’ve been out $500+! In the end, I only purchased 1 piece of jewelry, 2 undergarments, and three pieces of clothing–all for under $200. I first bought the Fortuna Column Dress from Mien for $74 and a beige cozy cardigan from Lou & Grey for $32 (because ethical knitwear is way out of my price range right now). I then went into Madewell for some no-show socks (because they are the best, and I’ve tried a lot!) and also walked out with a pair of moon crescent earrings. I later then ordered a bralette and a crop tee online from Madewell as well, after trying to find the perfect crop white tee for months from ethical brands in my price point. After then trying to talk myself out of feeling shame and guilt for not being the “perfect minimalist” and for buying things from fast fashion companies, I am finally at peace with my purchases because I was more intentional and mindful with my purchases this Black Friday season than in the past (a definite win in my book).

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vetta capsule oversized sweater, memi collective perfect t in white, muji cotton wide-leg pants (similar), veja x madewell esplar low sneakers (similar), madewell trasnsport tote (mine is about 10 years old now!)

Being able to buy less and better is a privilege, and it is one that I will always be grateful to have. However, I will no longer feel guilty for having this privilege. I work hard for my money, like really really hard. Brandon and I operate on a pretty tight budget and live in a 400-square-feet studio apartment, so we’re clearly not wealthy by any means. I do recognize though that coming from a middle class family and being Asian-American now affords me privileges that others in the world don’t have. Being Asian hasn’t always been seen as reputable, and I have plenty of bullying stories from my childhood to share with you at a different time, but after centuries of hard work, I do believe that it is time for Asians to get the recognition we deserve. Growing up with hand-me-downs and “weird and fobby” (not words of my choosing) clothes from Taiwan has made me really appreciate getting to select and curate my own wardrobe as an adult. I will also no longer feel like I’m sacrificing myself for a cause or doing the world a great service by casting my vote with my dollar. I am choosing to shop ethically because I believe that everyone deserves to earn fair living wages. I am choosing to save up for pieces that I want to wear for a long time because I am now of the mindset that less is more and a true believer in the capsule wardrobe system. And I am so, so, so lucky to be able to make these choices.

Ellie from Selflessly Styled it best: “I hope we know that shopping ethically doesn’t make us the holy ones, it makes us the lucky ones.”  

To read Ellie’s take, read her post: The Complex Privilege of Shopping Ethically
I would also recommend, Kellie’s post: The Luxury of Less.

3 Comments

  1. I relate to this a lot. Also conflicted about Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. I bought some things, but I also spent a good chunk of the weekend de-cluttering and organizing stuff for donation, something I might make a tradition every Thanksgiving. I also feel weird about the privilege inherent in minimalism. (Also grew up middle class and am Asian American.) We are so lucky to be in this position, and it makes me wonder if I’m wasting my time blogging about it.

    Like

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