TL;DR An op-ed from one of our contributors on how his life as a gay man has shaped his views on the ethical fashion and conscious consumerism movements.
I wasn’t quite sure what the term “conscious consumerism” meant a few years ago. Actually, it wasn’t until my cousin, Cayley, and her husband, Andy, started Made Trade that I began to really understand it. If you search its definition, you’ll find phrases like “awareness of purchase power” and “buying with intention.” But, for me, its core can be summed up in one simple word: thoughtfulness. And the more I learned about it, the more I realized that, to an extent, I was already applying it in some areas of my life. One reason, I believe, is my experience as a gay man.
For the average gay person, we spend a large portion of our lives in the closet. We don’t really remember entering it, either. Rather, one day we just kind of find ourselves in it, unable and unwilling to come out of it to see what’s outside. Whether we’re aware of it or not, hiding from others forces us to turn inward and think — a lot.
We had no option but to quietly talk with ourselves because speaking with others about what we were consumed by was simply not an option. Cracking the closet door open, even ever so slightly, means your secret is out and can never be stuffed back inside again. But the incredible result of this inwardness, this mindfulness, is oftentimes a heightened level of consciousness that many of our straight peers may seem to lack.
It’s been my experience that this byproduct of thoughtfulness is at the heart of why LGBTQ people are generally more focused on environmental issues, and why we want to be respectful of the resources we use. Many of these concepts share a common thread with human rights and, as any gay person would likely tell you, we are abundantly aware and regularly reminded of the lack of human rights for people like us in many parts of the world. We’re forced to care about these rights for ourselves and our peers because we have felt the effects of their vacancies.
Time and time again, I’ve found the queer people in my life have had a better pulse on the current state of ecological and sustainable initiatives, as compared to my straight peers of similar backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. I think the closeted experience instills in us the importance of caring about people and things that can’t speak for themselves. On the other side of that closet door are opportunities to advocate for people and for things that can’t do the same for themselves, such as our planet.
But however conscious of green environmental initiatives the LGBTQ community appears to be, this consciousness generally does not translate back into our closets — full of clothes, this time. Ethically made clothing from sustainable materials is something you don’t often find in a gay man’s closet.
As we hold the equitable treatment of people as a pillar of our community, we are also aware that this value is often missing in the workplaces where our clothes are made. How can this gap be explained? Before I wrote this article I asked a few friends and colleagues if they go out of their way to buy clothing that is ethically made or sustainably sourced and, if not, why. Everyone I asked said, resoundingly, that they do not. Their reasons: affordability, access, and style. I admit that, before I did my own research, I thought the same — ethical, sustainable, and conscious are not in my price range, it’s not easy to find, and it’s simply not my style. I was happy to be very, very wrong.
When my cousin Cayley told me several years ago that she was creating a company (which would ultimately become Made Trade) that was devoted to fairly traded products that were ethically sourced, of course, I was excited about her new endeavor. But I honestly didn’t know how those values manifested into products, much less how they could be stylish.
For my birthday a few years back, Cayley gave me an Alchemy Goods Brooklyn Backpack and explained that it was made of upcycled bicycle inner tubes by a company based in the United States where its employees enjoyed a safe work environment and were paid fair, living wages. That’s when I began to understand conscious consumerism and the intersection of intention, ethics, and education. Since that birthday, I’ve taken that backpack to work, to the gym, and on vacations. After more than two years, it shows no wear or tear, and I often get asked, “Where did you get that?” and told, “What a cool backpack!” (Thanks, Cayley.) If this bag could fit so seamlessly into my style then there had to be more.
Below are some of my favorite ethically and sustainably made accessories and pieces of clothing on Made Trade that I’ve bought for myself or hope might be gifted to me for an upcoming birthday.
Made from non-toxic organic cotton grown, milled, and sewn in the United States, the tees from Harvest & Mill are as local as they come. And, the tees are either undyed or colored with natural dyes.
Wicked breathable joggers made from organic cotton grown in the United States, spun and knitted in the Carolinas, and sewn in San Francisco.
I wore this shirt on a date once but got stood up. His loss, because I saved the money I was going to spend on dinner and ordered a second one. Designed in New Orleans, made in India, and fair trade. Eat your heart out, Eric.
This piece makes you feel pretty damn chic. Whether you’re lounging around the house watching Friends or blasting Alanis Morissette as you paint, this button-up gives the freshest 90s vibes. All No Nasties products are vegan, fair trade and produced with 100% certified organic cotton. Hop on your rad board and skate away.
Many of us gay people are already employing the philosophy of conscious consumerism when it comes to more obvious things. We don’t buy food from restaurants whose owners donate profits to anti–LGBTQ groups. And we most likely have donated our time and money to campaigns that work to strengthen our rights and combat those seeking to strip our rights away. Many of us have also become advocates for sustainable causes and learned much more about our fight for human rights in the time that we’ve come out.
To the gay reader, I say: don’t stop advocating and please continue to learn. Through our lived gay experiences, we understand the value of visibility and transparency. But why don’t we demand this from the companies who produce our clothes? The next time you feel compelled to purchase that eye-catching shirt or that perfectly-fitting pair of pants, take pause. Ask yourself if you know where the materials were sourced from, how it was made, and, perhaps most importantly, who made it. Odds are that the people who made what you’re about to buy do not enjoy the same human rights that you do. Be thoughtful again, and ask yourself: what is my money supporting?
It’s entirely possible to find ethically made clothing sourced from sustainable materials that you would be proud to own. You’ve purged your closet from shame and fear. Now fill it with ethical and sustainable clothing you’ll be proud to wear.