Belfast Telegraph

Why my love for cheap chain store fashion is wearing thin

by Nuala McKeever

Confession time. I haven't watched a single second of coverage of the Philippines typhoon disaster. Don't I care? Yes I do. But I feel full up with suffering and overwhelmed by all the pain in the world right now. From massive environmental and human destruction to battery chickens to tiny premature babies, the sympathy vault in my heart feels like it's bursting at the seams.

The danger is that when this happens we get what they call compassion fatigue – we simply don't want to know and we stop acting to help.

But we don't have to. The beauty and the problem of modern technology is the global village effect. Everything is presented to us at a frightening rate, every minute, every day. And we can feel overwhelmed and then depressed and then uncomfortable because who likes feeling depressed? And then we go and do something to take our mind and heart off the pain.

One thing I do is shop. I'm not well off, but I have this compulsion at times to exert my sense of control by going out and buying things. To some extent it's replaced eating chocolate and crisps and drinking alcohol. It doesn't have quite the same anaesthetising quality, but it gives me a fleeting sense of calm. "See? It may all be awful out there but in my little corner of the world, there are bright lights and colour and people smiling and nice things to stroke and try on and choose."

It's gotta be something like that. How else to explain the urge to purchase clothes and make-up and books and DVDs I really don't need? Thank God I'm not into knick knacks ... But the problem is that in spending money on cheap chain store fashion, I am colluding in one of the most immoral activities of the modern world. We simply can't keep doing it. We can't keep looking the other way and saying, "Oh, I didn't know there was anything wrong with it." I think of the Poles and the Germans living near the death camps saying, "Don't blame us. We didn't know." Really? Is that partly because you chose not to find out?

I am a hypocrite. But just admitting it no longer feels like it's good enough. I'm seduced by the lure of the low priced garment – "Sure why not, it's only £4.50. Bargain!"

But I know it's not only £4.50. I've seen the documentaries and the YouTube clips on Facebook. I know it's water pollution in Indonesia and poor health and no education and malnutrition and pain and fear and modern day slavery.

How can we say we care about injustice while wearing the end products of that very injustice on our backs? None of us would lift a stick to beat a Chinese child or a Bangladeshi mother, but sure as eggs is eggs, when we hand over our money at the till we are paying to hurt individuals just like ourselves, just like our children.

The world is a village now. We can't fix everything that's not working but we can take a stand to stop handing over our money to make things worse. We can make do with the clothes we have, buy second hand, employ a local dressmaker or find ethical companies online and support them. One decent garment made by well paid adults rather than ten cheapies made by disempowered children.

We care. No matter how overwhelming it gets, we don't stop caring. We just get a little resigned sometimes. Well, here's something we can actually do. Spend well. Spend wisely. Spend with love.

Belfast Telegraph

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