Feminism, Fatness and Minimalism, an unhealthy relationship

“Do you think we’ve just got to that age where we’ve accumulated so much crap that decluttering is having a moment?”

I took a moment, took in a breath and thought well yes, but what a Pandora’s box of a question. Our peers, are decluttering, heading to the local op shop in droves, with piles of stuff accumulated in closets, under beds and in “crap” drawers. We’re talking about how less stuff makes us feel calmer at dinner parties, or that ubiquitous meal, brunch.  Each individual sheds their bags and bags of stuff, trying to varying degrees to lovingly (or not) find somewhere for this unwanted stuff to live, if it isn’t with us. Its closing time, and I’m sorry mis-purchased products, you can’t stay here.

Our peers have been working at this point anywhere between 5-10 years and our stuff is a statement of where we find ourselves in our economy. We work hard, often longer hours with slower progression than our predecessors. We are bogged down by student debts (though less crippling here in Australia, but definitely growing with each generation) and slower, more insecure entry into the workforce  coupled with rising living costs and stagnating wage growth; we buy short term because bigger #adulthood purchases are harder and harder to come by. Like kids who can really only afford lollies with our pocket money, we can afford cheap and cheerful unicorn slippers from Kmart  (#noregrets). There is no barrier to entry and so well hidden are the environmental and human impacts of these purchases from our place in the market, we take a drag on the cigarette of capitalism and breath a contented sigh of relief (apologies for the overwrought language, but like cigarette companies, fast fashion and lifestyle stores count on our addictions to get us to continue to consume).

noregrets.PNG

The Decluttering movement, and its big brother Minimalism to varying extents seek to reframe our relationship with stuff. Decluttering requires us to rid ourselves of belongings that no longer serve the needs of the owner. The remaining belongings are to be carefully organised, perhaps requiring a couple of trips for special organising boxes and “tidying” paraphernalia. Minimalism, gets a bit deeper into it. Yes it does encourage people to jettison and consider what items they need to live their best life, requiring some sort of decluttering process. It then gives a big walloping dose of pop psychology, asking people to believe that by doing that, they’ll make more room for the things that are important, more passion, more life. It recognises that people have been using the stuff as a way to variously entertain and hide from feelings; creating debts that need servicing, shelves that need tidying and a sense of stress and unease.

Minimalism and decluttering both treat the symptom (crap), and to some extent consider the cause (a fast paced production, marketing and consumption machine), but it doesn’t necessarily ask us to think about how different individuals might be able to reframe their relationship with stuff. It doesn’t require newcomers to these ideologies of stuff to really get into why they have all this stuff and what hidden impacts the production and consumption are having on our world.

My holey jumper and chap-style jeans

As I’ve slowly being lovingly rehoming, or wearing out anything that was fine, in the effort to reduce the pure amount of stuff, I realised that big bags of donated clothes were a thing of the past. Sure, there has been a few big “culls” of misfitting, unloved or unsuitable clothes in the past, the stuff that is now being worn out and worn through (vale my only pair of jeans and favourite green jumper, both too holey to fix any further) I am keeping to wear out.

Why not pursue a capsule wardrobe? Why not just say, these last 20 or so items that are not my favourite or preferred choice can go? Well, because doing so, even though I would certainly achieve the end goal of less stuff would come at a huge cost into the future of searching and purchasing replacement items. Women over a certain size, like myself have to make do with a combination of clothing from a few retailers willing to dress us and basics from fast fashion stores. Very few ethically or environmentally made clothing companies produce clothing beyond a size 14. The next best option is op-shopping and clothes swapping which I do do, but that is both time consuming and often frustrating as you only find the cheap and pilly remnants of someone elses cheap fast fashion basics.

So I got to thinking, if I want to reduce the stuff, because it feels so much easier and better than drowning in choice and just ephemera of bad past fast fashion, but I don’t want to further implicate myself in problematic environmental and ethical practices, I can really only do one thing, and that is to wear out what I have for as long as I can, stitching, airing and caring for what I have.  For me, it makes most sense to just accept the sunk environmental, ethical and financial costs in my current wardrobe, and hope that by the time I actually need to replace products that there are options that fit the trifecta of fit, quality and ethics.

Feminism and Minimalism 

There seems to be a degree to which the onslaught of minimalism and decluttering has been gendered that I find problematic. The home has been squarely placed in women’s domain. Consumption and shopping are posed as womanly pursuits. There is a sense that by reordering and challenging these domains, by asserting authority over stuff (and their purchasers), there is a better, more masculine way of ordering our homes that is calmer, more serene, not manic or hysterical. The targets of minimalism (and I don’t think that any of its central proponents would have intended this) are the excesses from the pursuits women have been encouraged to participate in – decorating, home-making, and generally making ourselves (and our extensions of ourselves, home, husband and children) look lovely.  We are told both that we need to ensure that we (and our domains of control) should be decorative and beautiful, but also that we are wasting our lives by accumulating all this stuff, and isn’t life lighter and freer without it.

minimalist fem.PNG

Its similar in many respects to the observable gender disparity in the low or no waste community. Many of the proponents are women, which is amazing, and I thank them for their service and insights, but where are the men? It seems that in that case, women need to sort out the waste thing insofar as it occurs within the home. Many blog posts have comments like “how do I get my husband/male partner on board?”.  It places the onus only on women where we are really talking about systems of production of our food, clothing and lifestyle goods, that we all play a part in in various ways that needs everyone’s input.

 

Representation in Minimalism 

I think, that Minimalism has been presented as a glossy set of neutrals and whites, clean and exclusive, rather than this more pragmatic side of “how do I best serve my values”. It has created a version of the world that was clean cut, and sold exclusivity of a different kind. It does not represent the interests or life experiences of all kinds of people.  I Googled “minimalist” and “minimalism” images with the following results:

 

So who can participate in minimalism, if it is clean and neutral with high quality and often high tech products? The accoutrements are often sleek and lovely art and homewares, speciality design and a love for light pine. Googling minimalists more generally, brings up pages and pages of results for white, middle-class men who have shed their stuff and found new meaning. I live with only a backpack! I relied on the generosity of strangers! I have a small apartment!

Absent from these results are people of colour, women, people with a disability or other minority. Furthermore, poor people are either minimalists because it is all they can afford, or they can’t afford to be minimalists. Their lives, and the necessity of frugality means that keeping something “just in case” makes more sense than losing sleep in the future when some middling to average disaster does strike. The above examples, for underrepresented groups or the poor would be homelessness, accepting charity or overcrowded housing, which is not nearly as sexy.

It is the privileged who have comfort in discarding their unwanted goods.  They can afford to get rid of the stuff, because they can afford to pay to replace it at a later date. The removal for now brings them rest and ease. Without any deep thinking on why they are removing things from their lives, is likely to be a repeated performance. It might mean buying better quality things, scratching the same itch, with the same pipeline of product production and consumption. It doesn’t require adherents to question where products come from, what resources were used or who was doing the work (and in what conditions, for what pay).

Minimalism, if it leads people towards asking themselves these questions has the potential to transform our world, with greater demand on businesses to bring better made, repairable products, that serve the needs of people over the life cycle. The trickle down of these demands made by higher earning, more privileged purchasers, may see an improvement in the quality of products enjoyed by all, whether that be in the first or second hand market.

At the very least, I would love to see more realism and more representative viewpoints on minimalism. How does a person with a disability manage minimalism? How do the poor use it for a tool for empowerment? Can the women be a variety of sizes and shapes? Can we hear from couples of all kinds, about why and how they have adopted a simpler mindset?

Have you decluttered or minimised lately? Why did you do it? How do you feel it will change your behaviour into the future? 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Zero Waste living: six months in

On my return to Australia, I was conscious of all the small ways in which Western capitalist society was encouraging me to consume. I would walk down the street, passing shops on every street. I would see advertising bombard me from trucks, from cars and buses. Going into the supermarket was an overwhelming adventure, with bright colours and ten different types of the same product, just with screaming slogans proclaiming like a cheap street preacher that it was 100% tastier, sure to improve my gut health and probably make my hair curly.

I would go home, open my cupboards and these screaming products were there, reminding me where I got the thing, what brand it was, and how amazing it was for me or how tasty it was. This isn’t even to mention clothing, whose marketing machine was incessantly telling me I could be more fabulous if I only shopped for every micro-season that their problematic supply chain churned out faster than people could buy. I opened my wardrobe after living on about one and a half suitcases and was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things. I thought that I had pared this down before I left I said to myself. There was clothes in there that either aspirational Renee (she’s got problems and choices ain’t one) had purchased, or good enough but not quite right (a.k.a cheap) Renee had purchased.  Hidden amongst these not-loved riff-raff were the treasures that I’d lovingly purchased – a red lace dress purchased in Capetown that made me look like a sleek spy, the bird cardigan that I’d debated over for months (almost losing an eye and my best friend’s love for the length of the debate), my all purpose navy chiffon number that is great for both funerals and job interviews, my green wool knit that made my green eyes look greener and my fun giraffe jumper with sequins that make small people smile brightly when they see it.

zero waste 6 month 2

During my time away, I had ample time to think. Lots of solo walking and a bout of the mumps ensured that. I had observed on my island home, rubbish collecting on the beach, on the street, or being burnt by neighbours who couldn’t afford, or chose not to use the rubbish service. I saw the gleam in everyone’s eye for the new and shiny here too, fuelled by connections to the diaspora and social media in part. I realised I wanted to get off the stuff train, but didn’t really know how. I knew every time I bought a cheap pair of underpants, I was complicit in poor labour standards for mostly women textile workers in the global south. I knew that by buying synthetic materials, I was washing micro-plastics into the ocean. I knew that by buying packaged products from elsewhere I had participated in the compounding problems of both waste, marketing and a problematic supply chain with food miles, possibly unethical practices and preservatives that was making my gut bacteria wince every time I put those delicious chippies in my chip-hole.

I said to husband when I got home, I wanted to try and transition our home into a zero waste (or at least close to zero plastic home).  This decision had impacts beyond just our food or consumables. I experimented with lots of different aspects of changing our shopping and eating habits, some which have been stickier than others. Its made our meals more wholesome, and often simpler, its made our life less crowded, and sometimes it makes things annoying and inconvenient (hello dropping the frozen compost on the carpet!). Its made me almost paralysed by indecision about clothing. I love clothes, and as I’ve continued to pare down clothing that neither suits me or my lifestyle, I’m beginning to feel the knife-edge of wanting novelty, of wanting something new and shiny. Reframing that feeling, and telling myself that at one stage the bag of clothes that I’m re-homing, was once the salivating purchase of something new! interesting! different! is the only way I’ve been able to control that feeling. I’m trying to go as long as possible without engaging in consumption, but the embarr[ass]ing realisation that my pre-loved activewear pants were see-through is going to send me on a tailspin trying to find something ethical, sustainable and in my size!

The positive benefits are beginning to come to light. My cupboards are wholesome places where mostly glass jarred or the occasional (pre transition) tupperware containers store flours, spices, legumes, noodles, rice and pasta live. I still purchase a couple of things from mainstream stores, after the effort and cost overwhelmed me with the change of seasons – at the moment a tin of crushed tomatoes, husbands instant coffee, stock powder and cordial for our soda maker. Its calmer in there without the screaming. Our fridge, is deceptively empty most of the time, its door filled with a range of condiments in glass, and the precise amount of vegetables, protein (eggs and tofu) and milk that we need for the week. I refuse to throw away produce because I’ve bought too much anymore. I’d rather MacGyver a meal out of what we have, than overbuy. The freezer is the storehouse of the place. We buy in bulk what we can’t purchase from eco-friendly bulk stores where you re-fill containers. Our meat and fish consumption is very low, with one of our maybe twice a week meat based meals (usually a four serve meal for dinner and lunches) usually using an average one persons serve of meat, by utilising vegetables and legumes creatively. I make our own baked beans in the slow cooker and freeze them. I make curries and save one two-person meal in the freezer for a lazy day. Its about designing systems to prevent going to take-aways or going for convenience food at the supermarket. I’m happy to make treats out of our pantry, fridge and freezer, but we do sometimes have treats from the store and recycle their packaging.

zero waste 6 month 1

I have experimented over the last six months with making – crumpets, muffins, six types of bread,  barbeque sauce, cordial – most of which were a culinary success. But theres a balance. Spending four hours making bread a weekend, whilst fun, didn’t always work in Australia’s hot summer, and would limit my ability to participate in other (mostly community based) activities. Crumpets and muffins were better than store bought and freezable – so they are a win – but aren’t strictly necessary for the running of the house. They are going on my semester break bulk cook list. Barbeque sauce was put into separate glass jars and one is frozen ready for the next time I need it. Making my own ginger cordial was a success, but it was time consuming, labour intensive, used a lot of electricity and I’m not sure I trust the supply chain of the ginger enough, to repeat that performance. I refuse to make my own soy milk or tofu. Its too much effort and I’m not the ultimate pioneer woman living her life to milk a soy bean, and we simply don’t eat them enough. Like anything being extreme is a way to set yourself up for failure. I’m not aiming for perfection, I’m aiming for a balanced life where I can manage my responsibilities to myself, my relationships and my community and reduce my impact on the environment. I believe my impact needs to be in a venn-diagram between influencing others, personal responsibility and community action.

The products we purchase for our cupboard mostly now come from the Food Coop. I try and volunteer at the Saturday international kitchen once a month to participate in that community. Women from refugee communities cook the meal and we help prepare (peeling things, stirring things) and help serve (my favourite part) customers. The women get work experience in Australia and I have a delicious lunch, trying new cuisines. A few things come from privately run bulk shops like my premium coffee and snack type things. I’ve been trying to scratch the shopping itch by going to op-shops to fill voids. For example, one of my goals for greater connection, was to try and host monthly dinner parties, meant I was in need of some serving spoons and more plates. Twenty minutes at the op-shop meant I had all I needed for $14 and didn’t purchase anything new (and how flash to have intricate gold patterns on my plates). We purchased some produce bags and try and shop at the fruit and veg market (this doesn’t always work depending on scheduling) to reduce food miles.

This process has given me time. I don’t need to go shopping on the weekend. We don’t need to go and buy things when there’s nothing convenient in the cupboard. Its meant I can volunteer with the food coop, the RSPCA and a local theatre. I’m using my consumption time, to get out there in my community and build the world I want to see – less stuff, more animals and excellent theatre! Its made me re-trust my cooking skills and reaffirmed to me that I can try and fail. Its cheaper and less stressful, but its also fun to figure out how to get around consumption. Its opening up new conversations with people. Its also cheaper, through the combination of wanting less, using less and consuming less.

zero waste 6 month 3

I’ve been asked a couple of times by people for suggestions on how to get started. There’s a million and one zero wasters with glass jars of their last few years of rubbish on the internet. Their advice is good, but I think it builds it up to a point of perfection that leads to people feeling overwhelmed, and falling into the trap that they think that the whole process is so hard that they couldn’t possibly do that. Not everyone is a great cook, or has time, energy or start-up money to get started. Not everyone lives in a house with people who will be on their side and help out (the division of unpaid household labour is for another day folks!). I think there are some sensible steps:

Beginner (low cost, low conflict)

  1. Get a drink bottle. Take it everywhere. Fill er up. Try to only drink that, rather than popping in to get a sugary something in plastic when you`re thirsty.
  2. Stop using disposable plastic things: no plastic cutlery, no straws, no carry bags
  3. Get a reusable coffee cup and actually use it (don`t leave it at home) or make a rule that you sit in the cafe and drink it out of a real cup.
  4. Get a couple of reusable shopping bags to carry purchases in and leave one in your bag, your car and by the front door.
  5. Write a list of what you need (and why) before you go shopping. Its ok to need undies, its probably unnecessary to come out of Kmart with them and six new cushions, a cat costume and six new pieces of trash jewellery.
  6. Give up cling wrap. Use it up (or save it if you know you`ll make doughs where its necessary) and find ways to store food with reusables. e.g. Glass jars from pasta sauces = freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
  7. Set up a system to sort your waste. There`s issues with recycling in Australia but we shouldn`t give up! Sort your hard and soft plastics, educating yourself on what can and cant go into recycling.

 

Intermediate (a little cost, a little time, a little bit of conversation)

  1. Purchase or make some produce bags. Extra points if you support a small business or one that recycles materials (try etsy).
  2. Find some old facewashers or scrubby towels and make them into dishclothes that you wash weekly. (or go to etsy)
  3. Use up things in plastic containers that have nasty side effects – looking at you dishwashing and washing powders – and find some alternatives that work for you next time you shop. I love my soap berries and I`m happy with ecostore dishwashing powder. Next up is refilling our dishsoap at the coop.
  4. Toilet roll – who gives a crap
  5. Find alternatives for single use items – menstruation and makeup removal. I have zero waste options for both. Whatever works for you.
  6. Before purchasing something new, try and reframe what you already have. For example, at the moment I desperately want a black pleated skirt. I have many skirts. How can I pair things differently to come up with a new option?
  7. Beyond that, try and find pre-loved options for your needs. If its washable and hygienic is my motto. If not research options that are more ethical, local or environmentally friendly. Micro-businesses are the best way I reckon.
  8. Maybe join a buy nothing or zero waste facebook group in your community

 

Advanced (effort required)

  1. Set up a system of composting. For apartment dwellers like myself, find a friend with a compost or ring your community garden to see if (and what) they`ll accept your compost. We freeze our compost and once a fortnight take it to the local community garden.
  2. Start shopping at a bulk store. Reduce the number of things you think you need from mainstream supermarkets.
  3. Challenge yourself with new recipes that use simpler and fewer ingredients.
  4.  Go on a shopping ban for a certain period of time, and honestly clean out your closet and cupboards, finding new homes for things that no longer serve you. Reframe your relationship with shopping and stuff. Do your research, know your brands and understand that your choices have impacts.
  5.  Talk to others about why you`re trying something new. Encourage them (but not berate them) to try new ways of doing things.
  6. Read about slower living, minimalism, zero waste and challenge your assumptions, but also the writers assumptions. Like me, not all tips will work for your life and needs.
  7. Be willing to try and fail.
  8. Be generous of spirit, when faced with a smiling colleague with a takeaway cup for you.
  9. Think and act about how you can try and improve the community you live in. How can you help others? Is there a food pantry that needs help?
  10. Have polite conversations to challenge suppliers. I had a twenty minute chat with a supermarket manager about how their business could support me to continue to shop there.

 

Further Reading:

Stuffocation by James Wallman http://stuffocation.org/

Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press (or her podcast) https://www.clarepress.com/podcast/

The Rogue Ginger`s Blog http://www.therogueginger.com/

 

 

Soul Soup over Pringles please – Social Media

“Please, please, please upload! Come on! You CAN DO IT! Yes, yes, yaaaaaaas”, I shouted excitedly at my rather nonplussed laptop screen. It, and the five geckos, seventeen thousand mosquitoes (who had been merely laughing at the mosquito coil and my repellent for the last five hours as they continued to snack on me) and the cat all seemed to be underwhelmed with this performance.

I’d been trying to upload my second last assignment of my Masters for about half an hour, by connecting my somewhat dodgy data on my phone to the laptop. After the frustration, the begging, the pleading it finally managed to connect and upload the assignment.

It got me to thinking how far the internet had come in creating opportunities and connections. As a millennial (lets not say much more about that) I grew up through the Internet’s progression from beeping modem to smartphone. My undergraduate degree was during the painful and not well executed introduction of online learning – an exercise in frustration if there ever was one. Now, I study online, apply for jobs online and connect online. Businesses and communities thrive in the internet’s digital environment.

As an adult, my experiences leaving home have each bought new ways to use technology. My first trip (almost 10 years ago!) to live for the summer beside Uluru, Myspace was still a little bit of a thing, no one I knew had a smartphone and Facebook was just starting to take off in Australia. I could text my friends back home for cheap and call my parents on a regular call. When I left for Sweden the following year, email and Skype were my best friends, with costs for international texts too exorbitant to consider doing. I even sent regular postcards to my folks. When I came to Tonga in 2010, Facebook provided me a great and cheap way to keep up with friends on their walls, but chatting hadn’t really taken off, but I usually used my local phone to text home. Now, I have data on my smartphone that can connect me instantly and cheaply through a number of applications like Viber, Whatsapp and Messenger to friends anywhere in the world, I can share images and links to my hearts delight and make video calls with ease (as long as the internet is cooperating).

Despite all this, the degree to which I have felt connected during these times, has been roughly the same. The quality of the connections we have digitally is not necessarily improving with the technology. Humans are driven for connection, but with the advent of technology that provides us instantaneous connection, we can get cheap thrills without much labour. A quick “like” here, a text there, people can feel like they are connecting to their friends without necessarily engaging at the level at which you would face-to-face, or even through correspondence like letters, where someones handwriting and scent could give you a tangible reminder of their connection to you.

This happens both due to our outputs and inputs online. My social media feed, which I have taken the explicit decision to be a place of positivity only and interesting (admittedly sometimes arcane) articles. I don’t exclude the unpleasant or the sad for the purpose of shaping a stylised life, but in order to reduce the negativity I put out into the internet. But the effect may be the same. Seeing pictures at the beach, the theatre, on holiday, with the occasional funny meme presents into the world a life lived with a sunny disposition. It hides the mundane, dreary or displeasing, for who honestly wants to take a picture or post about these things?  Further, who really wants to see them? I’ve had too many conversations where someones confessed, that they’ve stopped following a friend or acquaintance when their social media becomes too much like reality media. That’s why the clever kids over at Facebook invented the “unfollow”.

Image result for unfollow button image

In terms of our inputs, how often are we actively engaging with our friends online? Mindlessly scrolling through feeds gives you a ill-formed idea of what their life is like, but throwing a lol, a heart or a like in, is easy to “keep in touch”. Similarly, a quick text to say hi, without engaging in a conversation, is like knocking on the door, saying hello and walking away. The drive for human connection is a strong one, and our social media consumption gives us the impression that we are connected, when in fact, we may only be seeing a part of someones life, the highlight reel.

Connection is vital for our physical and mental health. To a certain degree, connection is the way that we have always had our needs filled before those needs were commodified. We needed others for shelter, for food, for warmth and for protection. Now we can sell our labour and purchase housing, food and a comfortable life. For the majority of human history, our family and friends, were co-located nearby and those connections were generally not commodified. This has changed in recent times, with the creators of Facebook, Snapchat etc successfully creating businesses and commodifying human connection, with relatively little backlash from their users, who still believe they are organically connecting. Its unclear to me, at what point social media will encroach too far into our lives, and when we begin to consume this with more consideration.

On the positive side, it creates the possibility to continue to extend the life of our friendships that would have otherwise faded into memory. This takes work still, but the ability to instantaneously contact my girlfriends around the world, glimpsing into their lives. This is most effective where we are able to chat frequently, sharing both the mundane and the special. These times are deeply nourishing, like a rich soup filled with vegetables, warming on a cool winters night.

On the negative, we spend a great deal of energy scrolling mindlessly, fooling ourselves into believing we are connecting. Most of us are indeed just bombarded with articles, memes and updates, where we get snippets of information. This is junk food, quick snacks to get us by between meals of proper conversation and connection. Its Pringles, delicious, addictive and ultimately unsatisfying.

Image result for pringle

Recently I have sought to institute a couple of different techniques to more mindfully consume social media, so that its less Pringle, more soul soup. I mean, like any snacking, its often easier to fall into the readily accessible hit rather than slaving over vegetables to create something more nutritious. But I think, like vegetables, spending the time consuming whats good for me creates the possibility of a better life, in which I’m more connected and ultimately happier.

Some techniques have included:

  1. Using a feed blocker – this means if I think of someone, I normally have to go and consciously look on their social media page, which feels a bit stalkery, so it normally turns into sending a message or reaching out in a different way.
  2. Removing the app on my phone from time to time to break the habit of checking mindlessly. This has the added benefit of focusing more on those whose company I’m currently in.
  3. When opening up social media, sending a message to couple of different people every day to let them know I’m thinking of them.
  4. Setting up group chats – its so much fun to get that blow-by-blow everyday experience of how things are going.
  5. Designing my days where I’m near decent internet to try and get on a video chat.

How do you consume social media? Do you feel its a Pringle in your life? 

On fast fashion part two #whomademyclothes

Quite accidentally I posted my most recent post about fast fashion in April, coinciding with a broader campaign  #whomademyclothes run by Fashion Revolution. This campaign inspired in part with the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013, which killed over 1100 people. The campaign seeks to highlight the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, and seeks to engage people on these issues in informing their consumption choices. In 2016 alone, Fashion Revolution reached 195 million people online through its hashtag, and it is currently present in 95 countries.

The Rana Plaza collapse has been called “inevitable”. Bangladesh is the third largest exporter of garments in the world, accounting for about 75% of total exports (Donaghey & Reinecke). Currently the manufacturing industry employs over 4 million Bangladeshis (Reuters) across about four to five thousand garment factories. Eighty percent of 2.5 million garment workers are women who tend to be poor, illiterate and unaware of worker rights in national and international regulation. A great number of these workers are in secondary, less regulated markets in even poorer conditions, that supply larger factories, to whom stricter standards of conduct apply. International enterprises typically contract with larger factories, with little consideration of these smaller markets. This means that fashion is hurting women and the vulnerable most.

The two major responses to the collapse and its backlash, led by a coalition of actors within the global supply chain were the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (“Accord”) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (“Alliance”), also respond to these broader forces. In some ways, these market-led responses were global responses to local solutions, illustrating the positive ways in which market actors seek to address issues within their supply chain.

These were in addition to several other initiatives led, by a range of business, worker and civil society coalitions including the Better Cotton Initiative, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Ethical Trading Initiative, joining other global initiatives such as the Clean Clothes campaign, which seek to raise awareness and standards for those employed by the global garment industry. These civil society initiatives are touted as more democratic, flexible and responsive mechanisms that can supplement government and international regulation and market led initiatives. These seem to have little impact on the behaviour of contracted, and subcontracted factories, despite lip-service paid by international brands to end-consumers.

Thats all well and good, but what can I do?

1. Educate Yourself

Understand the supply chain of your clothing and the environmental and social costs associated with your consumption. Consider reading Slave to Fashion or watching true cost or Fashion Victims.

2. Be realistic about your consumption

As I noted in my previous post, the fashion industry (and capitalism) wants us to consume rather mindlessly to create ongoing consumers and profits. Understanding the difference between needing and wanting, is really important here. Consider doing a shopping fast/ban  like blogger Cait Flanders or the 333 Challenge as a way to kick start your personal shopping revolution. Last year, I focused on only replacing broken essentials (undies, socks, gym/swim gear, shoes, stockings). This year, I’m on a kind of 333 challenge, with a very limited wardrobe whilst on my assignment, where I’ve worked out that I really only need a very limited set of work and casual clothes.

Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age and Green Carpet popularised the #30wears test, wherein she asks at the moment of purchase, think “Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?” If the answer is yes, then buy the item. If it’s no, then don’t.’

Capture.PNG

(source FutureFashionMe on Instagram)

3. Consider alternative and better shopping experiences.

There are two main ways to improve our footprint, beyond just reduction. The first is to consider shopping vintage/thrifting/op-shopping. This extends the life-span of used goods. For those clothes you then wear out, consider if there are uses, like rags or art projects that you can get the absolute last thread out of that clothing.

The second, is finding sustainable or ethically produced clothing. The Good on You app provides useful data about the suppliers of clothing. It also provides an opportunity to send messages to your favourite brands encouraging improvements in their supply chain or impact. For someone like me, who’s clothing options can be quite limited already, as most of the suppliers I had previously purchased from have low ratings, this is somewhat of a challenge. Plus sized ethically and sustainably produced clothing that doesn’t look like a sack of shit, is really hard to find. To get around this, I’m increasingly focusing on purchasing from small Etsy sellers, and really limiting the amount of wardrobe growth.

4. Look after your stuff

Basic care and learning skills like mending can extend the life of your clothing. Consider repairing clothing rather than replacing it, and get shoes and handbags re-soled. If you buy quality at the outset, care for it according to directions and have a reasonable skill with a needle and thread, you can increase the lifetime of your purchase.

5. Participate in campaigns and ask for more from suppliers

Fashion Revolution has some suggestions. You might like to participate in the #whomademyclothes campaign as a first start, and send a couple of emails to your favourite suppliers. Demand transparency through the whole supply chain.

 

 

 

 

On fast fashion

Or Renee and her ever shrinking wardrobe

I’ve always been someone with a lot of clothes and accessories. I am the product in many ways of my beautiful and colourful mother and my equally beautiful carefully coordinated maternal grandmother in this sense, with a love of matching accessories and bright colours and lipsticks. For what I lack of their dark, thick hair and deep brown eyes, I’ve certainly made up for in their love of clothing.

However, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly concerned with the patterns of our clothing purchases, including its implications for workers, the environment and our collective self esteem.

Clothing has through eternity been a signifier of wealth and status. Certain colours and fabrics suggested you were from a particular caste or class. The cut of your clothes could show whether you were likely to be in a field sweltering over crops, or being fed peeled grapes whilst reclining in the shade.

However the degree to which we could produce clothing, prevented accumulation and waste.  The importance of caring and repairing for clothing, is a dying artform. Mass-production is now the norm, with companies offering ’boutique’  handmade clothing as an alternative.  Whereas in history, most normal people “the plebs” would only have what they needed and this would be repaired until it became rags or some other household use, we have gone from having two fashion seasons “spring/summer” and “winter/autumn” to approximately 52 seasons.

52 seasons – once a week – retailers are pumping out supply into stores whilst communicating to us through traditional and social media, that we need to continue to keep up with fashion. The price-points of many of these retailers suggest that this is attainable and desirable for most people to achieve, and that somehow if we don’t participate we are somehow not “most people”. This drive to do retail therapy and be fashion forward is deeply destructive to our sense of self, our debt and our wardrobes.

Too much stuff 

We are increasingly consuming more and more clothing of poor quality, to the detriment of our health and financial well-being.  The garment and textile industry comprises a large part of the global economy, reaching $US3 trillion in 2011 (Marketline). The world now consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, about a 400 percent increase from 20 years ago, according to “The True Cost.”

There is no coincidence that this increasing supply of fast fashion (which can be extended to the cheap production of household goods and decorations – looking at you stores with ridiculous prices) has coincided with a growing industry of professional organisers, stores full of “storage and organisational solutions” and Kon-Maries. As people seek to be “most people” who can afford to keep up with fashion, they loose the sense of how much they need.

Shipping our problems elsewhere

We are pushing our waste onto others. Individuals amasse such significant amounts of “stuff” which they can either no longer store or organise that they then seek to “do good” and donate it. A common sight is charity bins overflowing onto the street with no regard for the weather or the elements (or the significant cost of disposing that which is now clearly ruined).

Image result for charity bins overflowing

Worse still this fast fashion is loaded up and sold to people in the developing world. These clothes, already poor quality on sale, now second-hand are being sold to the worlds most vulnerable people, with the people in the developed world believing that they have donated it. Neither side of this transaction is ethical. This supply is retarding the continued growth or development of local supplies (with the added benefit of reduced costs/impact of shipping) and local industry that contributes to a growing economy.

Image result for second hand clothes to developing world

Source: WSJ

Whilst the local charitable organisation may not collect it with this intent, the continued supply of clothing provides a market for middle men to buy these donated products and then sell it for sale in the local markets.  Whilst this may provide an option for low cost and sometimes higher quality clothing for those within these contexts, the ongoing supply of cheap and fast fashion just ships the problem elsewhere. A sorter in India remarked to the Wall Street Journal ““I don’t understand why people throw away all these clothes. Maybe they don’t have time to wash them.” Such is the extent of this problem, terms have been developed for the phenomena. In Nigeria second hand clothes are known as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites) and in Mozambique roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity).

The toll of the whole value chain is just too much on individuals and the environment. The fashion industry releases significant amounts of chemicals in the treatment and dyeing of clothing, and this is compounded by doing so in countries where environmental protection is weak or lax, or where the importance of the clothing industry to the local economy overcomes any concerns relating to environmental impact. It impacts the local water supply and reduces air quality.

Image result for fashion pollution

The ready-made garment industry, where multinational enterprise typically seek to arbitrage costs by carefully selecting the location of their manufacturing. There is fierce competition for market share in apparel between developing countries, which often means the reduction of conditions or removal of environmental protections (“Waste Couture”).

(Source: ABC)

So what can a girl do? See my next post ….

Taking action on “first world problem” guilt

Yesterday I listened to one of my favourite Australian podcasts (Straight and Curly, ep 61) on my walk home from work. These ladies are a little piece of home and normality in what can sometimes feel like a quite foreign life from the norm. I used to listen to them on the bus commuting from my townhouse to work in Canberra, and now I am listening to them on the not uneventful walks I sometimes take home (shout-out to my life penguin* who often takes a pooped sweaty Renee home). Like a number of my favourite podcasts, its comforting to be included in what seems to be a great conversation between friends.

IMG_7193.JPG

They were talking about dealing with an existential crisis, and that it was a luxury to have choice, to be in such a fortunate position as to both strive and to achieve your goals. I was listening to this, as I walked home pot-holey streets, with dogs of various health and viciousness eye-balling me, with rusty cars and kids playing in yards with toys that would have been long discarded back home. Chickens clucked and pigs snorted in the bushes.

As Carly reflected (and I’m hoping I get this sentiment right), there is always a place to check your immense privilege in thinking about the luxury of feeling like you’ve “ticked all the boxes”. Being in a position to think, wow I’ve got it sorted, means that your basic needs are filled and you’ve been able to achieve something freely without too much interference from poverty, structural** or actual violence. Of course this is right. Things are much harder when there are practical or systemic barriers in your way.  Being reflective in setting and going about the achievement of your goals, in the sense of where you can draw strength from, and being grateful is a part of being a decent, humble and not assholey individual.

As I reflected on the conversation, it made me think of the somewhat overused phrase first world problems. Its an attractive concept, because it both allows the sayer to suggest they know that they are relatively privileged on a global scale but doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to do anything about this inequality.

I guess my main issue with using the term without any action attached is that it both separates people into types, and reduces the possibility of developing deeper connections with others whose journeys are different. Think about this:

“Oh I know complaining about not having the latest iPhone is a first world problem, but I really want it”

“Oh I really want a new iPhone, but I’m really concerned with the treatment of labourers in the factories and effect of marketing on overconsumption”

The first, recognises that there are perhaps other more significant problems in the world, but the individual still comes first, and that no further thought really has to go into it. The second thinks more deeply about what the problem is. If we use the term as a way to reflect on our relative privilege and then as a stepping stone to taking action to countering inequality of experience and opportunity, we have the chance to take action, be involved and be part of change for good (however you want to do that).

What I’ve learnt in living and travelling abroad, is that people are more similar than they are different, and using phrases carelessly like first world problems discounts the commonality of the human condition. It creates division, dehumanising the real people that are experiencing a tougher time than you. It doesn’t recognise the strengths of these individuals and communities in creating opportunities for themselves in the face of having not much. First world problems, aren’t just problems in the first world often. People struggle with having a phone dying (read this on the rise of the mobile phone in the developing world if you don’t believe me), their credit run out, the milk going sour, not getting their favourite food or drink (though it might not be a latte, might be any of these top 50, also check out the grocery hauls ). People have awful bosses, silly pets, are clumsy, put their foot in their mouth or stay up late worrying how they are going to pay the bills. The way this looks might be different where you live to where someone else lives but the desire to have a good life, surrounded by love, connected with others, with a roof over your head and some food to eat is universal. Making connections with others on your similarities rather than on your differences leads to a more fulfilled life.

 

 

*Penguin – they thrive on land and on the sea, used here to denote people who can help people living/working overseas understand the cultural context that they have arrived in by being able to dip in and out of both contexts. e.g. the ability to explain something that is new and foreign to the newcomer in ways that make some sense in the newcomers language and cultural context.

**Structural violence – a term attributed to academic Galtung, which encompasses the systematic structures that harm or disadvantage people by preventing them to thrive and meet basic needs. It normally includes systemic or instititionalised ageism, classism, sexism, ableism,elitism, nationalism etc.

Taking big leaps and thinking large

 

I have put my comfortable life on hold. I have put my well-paying and interesting job on hold, left my cosmopolitan Australian city with its vibrant arts and education culture and left my friends, family and husband. I have swapped soy lattes for beaches, stressful deadlines for community change, my new car for a free rickety old bike. The pace is slower, warmer and friendlier. I hear roosters in the morning, and wave to little kids with gleeful abandon. The shops are emptier, the markets bountiful and the roads have way more potholes.

I am currently writing from a Pacific Island, where a tempting offer to work in gender and development for an international organisation for a year has taken me. At thirty, this was a different proposition than the last time I endeavored out, as a fresh graduate at 24. Receiving the offer, was one of those “oh #*$% what have I done?!” and this was a refrain I often repeated as I was gently encouraged along the path to making the decision to uproot myself.

Last year, I did three things that enabled me to step into the void more easily. The first was an exercise in developing value oriented goals with my Diploma of Leadership. What this exercise illuminated for me, was the underlying drivers for me in everything I did were giving back and empowering women to live happy, secure and empowered lives. The second, was doing three sessions with a career counselor, who pushed me to think outside of the box, to define my dream roles and pathways more clearly, and to seek and take up opportunities as they arose. The third, was streamlining my budget and putting effort in paying down debt and saving for the future. This looked like big and small changes. I now practice values based budgeting. I contribute to causes I believe in, invest in me and my husbands’ future and reduce needless consumption. Despite loving clothes, I’m switching to minimising shopping and reducing the size of my wardrobe over time. Where possible I’ve swapped to re-usable alternatives for consumables that are kinder to the environment and also improve the budget over the long term. For me, all three of these steps, was acting according to what I could see in the big picture and developing a stronger sense of the future.

IMG_6936[1]

I am a lover of Gretchen Rubin and Elisabeth Craft’s (their podcast is a shared one in my mind) Happier Podcast. I listened to episode 27 where they discussed about how to make decisions. The suggestion was to choose whichever alternative would give you the bigger life. In an article in Forbes, Gretchen further discussed this idea noting:

“People make different decisions about what the “bigger life” would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.

This list might help answer questions such as:

  • Should I join Facebook?
  • Should I buy a tent?
  • Should I throw a Labor Day party?
  • Should I buy a new kitchen table?
  • Should I sign up for Spanish lessons?

There’s no right answer or wrong answer — only the right answer for me.”

In so many ways, choosing this path has meant more doors will open, more experiences found and knowledge developed in my chosen field. Though it has come at some sacrifice, such as a significant pay cut and a year without my husband, I am positive about the prospects of this choice for my future, as a way to enrich my personal and professional life. It is also aligned with my values driven goals to give back and women’s empowerment. Having my budget and goals clearly connected and articulated, created an enabling environment to approach this decision.

 

Why I hope Stars Hollow has changed

Women of a certain age, that grew up in the late 1990s and 2000s, are a bit excited on the internet over the last six months or so. Its been a rough year for many, with problematic global trends, continued gender inequality and the inability to get the perfect liquid winged eyeline (just me?).

What has got women excited? The announcement of a mini-season of Gilmore Girls, a return to our favourite fictional town of Stars Hollow. Look up “gilmore girls revival”  and you’ll see over half a million results. Its part nostalgia for a time before smart phones, before the domination of social media, before the global financial crisis, before the refugee crisis. It is part about a return to a family in which people saw parts of themselves, that challenging competition between closeness and frustration that signifies family relationships. Its returning to characters in which we could see ourselves – clever, complicated, bookish, kooky, music-loving, food-loving, DAR attending,  Celine Dion loving, consumers of popular culture, coffee and enormous burgers.

Despite being excited by the revival, I’m nervous. In the original series we saw some deeply problematic issues

Homophobic Jokes

gg4

 

White Privilege and the use of “foreign” characters that use typically racist tropes

gg7

  • the lack of diversity
  • the interchanging of foreign maids, their disposability and othering

gg8

Oy with the slut shaming

gg3

The shift (especially in later series) away from the close relationship between  two females who spent time together, studied and worked hard, to one in which drama around men dominated their conversation. 

gg5

  • I wonder about the Bechdel ratings over the seasons
  • I note that the plotlines do centre around female leads in various spheres: the independence/dragonfly, Chilton, Kims Antiques, the dancehall,the editing room.

The problematic use of pregnancy

gg6

  • Sookie in the last season and her non-consensual impregnation
  • The shaming of Sheri as a nonconforming -mother

Toxic masculinity and its impact on Luke as a partner

gilmore-girls-wedding-bell-blues-23gilmore-girls-season-7-luke-christopher-fight

Class privilege and the presentation of the challenges of single mothers in service industries as a lifestyle issue rather than an economic one

gilmore-girls-rory-jobs

Using Paris Geller as an “unnatural woman”

paris1

Alternatively, I am looking forward to the show continuing to centre upon women and family, in a way that sometimes feels raw. Families and relationships within them, and I include non-genetic family here, are  complex and a site of conflict, but also deep loyalty and love.

I am hoping that Paris Geller is fighting the good fight and smashing the glass ceiling, using her razor sharp wit and single-mindedness in a career. I hope that she continues to challenge people particularly employees to accept authority from women. I do not want to see a soft, motherly Paris. I don’t want her sparkle to be dented by the world of school pick-ups. I want her pure unadulterated passion. I want her with Doyle in a equal partnership of passion, respect and hard work.

I want Lane to represent working mothers; managing the dual roles that the final season gave her. I want her to go back to school. I want for her a partnership and a family environment that represents a village raising children that facilitates her equal participation in both her passion for music and in her family life without any metaphysical angst about her ”motherhood”.

I want Rory to be single and uncomfortable for her immensely privileged life. She should represent the feeling of most millennial women. We have been given enormous opportunity, but we have also been consumers of gendered products and demonstrations of femininity. We were promised if we worked hard at school and at university we would and could do it all. The transition into work is hard for many, with many having to job-seek for a long time, to have to work in many casual jobs, to not work in our chosen field. For those who are lucky enough to enter their field, fighting against unconscious biases, long hours and constant connectivity. Rory, should not be saved by her family’s wealth.

 

 

 

 

 

Is the US election the end of days of or the resurgence of privilege?

As the voting citizens of the United States complete their votes, the rest of the world looks on. Either way at the end of the election campaign, substantial cracks in American society have become visible. It is a set of fractures around race, gender and class.  Either result will result in significant shifts in American political life, the delivery of public goods, and its ability to administer its domestic policy and work with international partners. There seems to be significant risks for the economy, for personal safety and for public goods. Race, gender, class. Questions are likely to be raised in relation to the efficacy and appropriateness of the Electoral College system

 

91116.

The campaign has been for me, an example of cracks in how a society has been constructed. Privilege is being challenged – no longer can you be a white man and expect to maintain your privileged status. Other groups are demanding more, more safety, more representation, more leadership, more opportunity. For them, America hasn’t been great. They don’t want to make America great again. They would just take having it be great for them. Race, gender, class. On the other hand, the heartland, made up of men who benefited from their privileges against these groups, have had a rough time through the global financial crisis and recession that follows. They haven’t had stable employment. The economy is shifting away from manufacturing into service and knowledge industries which they may be poorly equipped to deal with. They blame the rich, the smooth talking politician, the professional and “minorities” for the tough times. Trump, despite being immensely privileged and wealthy, speaks to the disenfranchised.  Clinton, represents a challenge. A woman, who is public, not private. A public officer, experienced in the ways of government and articulating the needs of certain groups.

Clinton has been presented as the natural choice for women.That we would feel camaraderie.  We saw in early parts of the campaign, a reluctance for women to join this rank and file. There are two reasons for this – the first, internalised misogyny and the belief that a man, like Sanders would be a more “natural choice”, that she was somehow in-congruent with what people conceived as a leader and the second, that there was problems with how previous work had been performed, a question of the way in which she has performed her duties in public office, and that perhaps she was not representing the contemporary interests of women – that perhaps she was not radical or inter-sectional enough. These concerns, represent, engagement with the ability to do the job appropriately, rather than the capability to do so as a woman.

91116-2

As other Republicans fell away, we saw more people choose her as a “better choice” than the man that she was competing against. Prepared and measured in direct comparison with a man who was thoroughly thoughtless in his representations and disrespectful of many interests in the country in which he would like to represent. The question is not the unsuitability of Trump, which is clearly on the record, but the degree to which Clinton is suitable and whether the public discourse has done this suitability justice. I am reminded of the discourse surrounding Julia Gillard, who broke the draught of Australian female Prime Ministers. For me, the questions surrounding these women’s tone, her register, her tiredness, her husband’s infidelities all are representations of the ideas around female leadership generally, that the cultural construction of leadership has been male, and by seeking high office she is acting in a way that is in-congruent with her gender.How this plays out alongside the phenomena of structures of society fracturing will be determined soon!

On being Aunty – Child-free, but childful

This week I had a significant challenge. I went and collected my Diploma of Leadership and Management.I had not enjoyed the course as I wanted to – a combination of me having different expectations of the course itself and disliking some of the women that shared the classroom, whos’ internalised misogyny grated on me. Despite this, I was able to complete it over the last twelve months, alongside my Masters studies and full-time work. My only wish for the afternoon was to thank our facilitators, spend the afternoon with my close friend who I completed the course with and exit with grace.

This was not to be as I was publicly berated (across the room, at volume) not once, twice but three times by a fellow student, being called a “baby hater”. This had been said in previous classes. This person had completed a diploma that had been about leading, diversity and respect. She assumed that she had enough knowledge about my life that she could say this with impunity. No one in that room sought to correct this for me. I let it go the first two times. The third I simply said “I don’t hate babies”. She insisted “kids then”. I was like “no I don’t hate them either”. She said “oh I misunderstood”. No apology for rudeness.

I shared this on Facebook, and was overwhelmed, as normal with my friends supportive attitudes, from those who shared my choice to remain childfree (for reasons which are individual as each of us) to those people who have had children, and shared their children’s life’s generously with me.

It got me thinking about two things:

Firstly the ongoing challenge of dealing with people, particularly women who feel it is somehow an affront on their personal situation when you choose something different from them. My decisions do not invalidate yours. As Amy Poehler says, good for her, not for me. Furthermore, the reasons for my decisions are none of your business.

aunty-2

The thing that gets me, is that this sort of judgey behaviour is the sort of thing most of us face – if you are single, “why are you single”, if you are in a relationship “when are you getting engaged”, if you are engaged, “when are you getting married”, when you marry “when are the kids coming”, after the first kid arrives, “when is the next” in a pattern that ends I assume with “when are you going to kark it” as a blue haired senior (I’m always blue haired in my visions of my dotage) .

I would ask that next time you feel like commenting on someone’s life choices: partner, kids, job, clothes, family, education, or whatever ask first, is this respectful, helpful or necessary.

Secondly it is sad for this woman to fail to understand that the desire not to have kids does not mean I hate children. In fact the opposite is true. My favourite days are those that include slobbery wet kisses, snotty cardigans and tipping small people upside down. I am blessed with being the aunt to some truly gorgeous kids. These kids are a part of my life not because of blood, but through the ties to their parents and my desire to be involved in their lives. This is family of my own choosing.

I was truly fortunate to be guided in life by amazing parents, who introduced me to my own ‘aunties and uncles’. These non-blood relatives exposed me to a range of ways of getting through the world, to art, theatre, books, music. They shared their experience, knowledge and skills. This is a gift to me, that I want to be able to share with my friends children into the future.

aunty-1

The issue boils down for me, is the negative portrayal of feminists as unnatural, as taking up too much space in the world, for making choices that are against the (patriarchy’s) grain. When I had talked about being child-free in a course with other women, I had incorrectly assumed that these women could respect my choice as I respected theirs. The problem of course is that doing anything that is counter-cultural is uncomfortable. I think that this is a lesson that I’ll keep repeating, and the challenge will be to do so with grace and understanding.