Ethics and Fashion: Where do you draw your lines?

Last week, I started playing with Polyvore, a super fun site that lets you clip clothes and accessories from around the web and combine them in collections to share with others.

I clipped several dresses from our shop and had a ball combining them with different accessories. Turquoise chucks and a yellow belt with a navy pinstripe dress? Shiny Target shoes combined with a $1,500 clutch? Yes please! I could do this all day.

I didn't even think about the implications of what I was clipping until Kelly brought it up: "Maybe we should stick to custom / organic / ethically made stuff?"

Of course we should! But how? These decisions are made in so many shades of gray.

It's similar to the questions many of us ask ourselves when we buy food. Spendy fair trade coffee to brew at home, or a quick cheap cup on the run? Big bag of conventional apples that will give me healthy snacks for a week, or one perfect box of beautiful organic blueberries? There are so many variables!

It's wonderful to be thoughtful, and I'm grateful to know about the supply chains that support my life. But at the same time, I can easily drive myself crazy weighing priorities and debating issues.

Our Criteria

So, to avoid rehashing the same pros and cons list every time we decide to clip (or buy!) something, we decided on some threshold criteria. Anything on this list is fair game:

1) Custom garments, especially those made from vintage or eco-friendly fabrics (of course!)

2) Handmade items created from carefully chosen materials

3) Mass-produced garments made from eco-friendly textiles in an ethical way, and available in a large range of sizes

4) Vintage items

Attitude Adjustment

Applying ethical questions to fashion decisions is brand new for me. For most of my life, I’ve been starving for cute things to wear, so I've been willing to buy anything that looked reasonably good on me, regardless of its provenance.

But that's kind of a crappy attitude to have! There are so many options these days -- custom jeans, handmade organic leggings, our little company -- that there's really no reason to settle. Instead of going through racks of stuff in stores, I want to put my effort into finding exactly what I want online.

Admittedly, many of these choices cost more than their Target counterparts. As in other parts of my life where I've made the switch from price-based shopping to value-based shopping, I find I love the items more and it takes fewer of them to meet my needs.

An Unforeseen Benefit of Buying Ethically

Something we've has noticed is, with these standards in place, shopping actually gets easier! Organic and eco-friendly materials don't have a huge adoption rate (especially in plus sizes), so it becomes simple to exclude a lot of junk and just focus on a smaller set of better quality items.

Of course, this is all a work in progress. We're eager to learn more, and we're curious – what thoughts go through your head when you are contemplating a purchase? Do you consider the ethics of what you wear? What’s most important to you: labor conditions, materials, or something else?