Mission

It began with the movie Amazing Grace and suddenly we were aware that slavery was as much of a problem today as it had been a few centuries ago. Then the documentaries and articles followed and finally Tearfund (NZ) and Baptist World Aid (Australia) released their ethical shopping guides and ignorance was no longer an excuse for buying clothing (or chocolate for that matter) from companies that did not ensure workers received a living wage.

But the guides didn't necessarily make things easier for consumers. If anything, they may have made things harder.

I live in a town that has less than a dozen shops that I know of devoted to women's clothes (I am fairly confident that it's only half that but let's go with a dozen). I can buy basics and essentials that fit within the guide. But, as I recently discovered, buying skirts are another matter altogether.

There was nothing available locally that fit both the criteria for an ethical company and a piece of apparel that was desirable. And I mean nothing. Not one single skirt appeared bigger than a tea towel. How they can charge such prices for using the minimum amount of fabric is a question for another day. And I don't even want to consider the possibility that anyone over twelve might wear said skirts.

Undaunted I decided to go online. After all, I have purchased clothes online for years and even though the site I usually buy from rated poorly, I was confident that there would be other options. I just had to search for them.

How hard could it be?

Harder than I imagined. Small companies appeared to offer either a one-size-fits-all (not flattering for my figure) or designed their clothes with slim eighteen-year olds in mind. Apparently the expectation is that a woman of ahem mature years will either wear a sack or not care that the hard earned dollars she spends on her attire supports slavery.

But I do care. Or I thought I did so I went further afield. I've purchased from the UK before and figured I could do so again. But the most promising site, where I picked out several items, had mediocre reviews. It seemed many customers complained that the skirts were a lot shorter than shown on the models (which makes you wonder how a knee-length skirt shown on a model who is closer to 2 metres than 1.5m can be too short for the majority of consumers).

So after adding a few items to my basket, I decided not to purchase even though returns could be sent to a NZ address. By this time, Google had suggested several possible USA sites that shipped to New Zealand. Now, as I mentioned above, I've bought from the UK before but the USA is a different story.

For a start, shipping is usually exorbitant. I'm not sure why it is often so much more than similar items from England, but it is. And then there's the wee problem of dress sizes. I've had no difficulty ordering items from Great Britain or Australia as their dress sizes are the same as here. But the USA - like Europe - has different sizes. It took me years to figure this out even after reading books or seeing films where a dress size would be mentioned. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. If as a size 10 I ordered from the USA, I would need to purchase a size 8. ( I have a sneaking suspicion that any article of clothing purchased from the USA I would want to wear inside out just to show off the size label!) And being a lover of pencil or A-line skirts, it seemed that finding the ones that would fit my less than perfect proportions would be even more difficult. In the end, it just seemed like too much of a risk: getting the size right, paying for shipping, and not being able to exchange items.

I decided that since I felt I needed at least another skirt or two for work that the best I could do would be to look at pre-loved skirts (There was a sense that I was not adhering to my principles, but what's a girl to do?) I duly did so, found two that I liked and that fitted, and purchased them. But when I got them home I discovered that they were definitely not on the list of ethical clothing companies. In fact, they rated rather poorly.

I'm trying not to feel too guilty about it and to console myself with the fact that at least I tried and, as I said above, I'm able to be more deliberate when it comes to other items. And I'm hoping that since buying pre-loved is supposedly more environmentally responsible, that I can at least feel a tiny bit less guilty about my skirts when I wear them.

Tearfund suggests that the power to vote against exploitation and advocate for safe and fair working conditions is in our hands ... through our buying power ... I'm just not sure how successfully I fulfilled that mission today.

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