Have had this post in my brain for a loooong time, because I knew it would be difficult to write.
One of my fashion weaknesses has been designer handbags. I know- not so in line with the rest of my closet philosophy. But, I’ve got to be honest about this particular closet failing, otherwise I’m a total conscious-fashion-hypocrite who talks a lot about the topic without stopping to be critical of my own consumerism.
I own two designer bags, a Chanel wallet on a chain and a Bottega Veneta shoulder bag/ hobo, as well as a Chanel wallet (though the wallet was not purchased new). I love them so much and use them, well, nearly every day. But learning more about conscious fashion had me wondering about the production of these bags, and if conscious fashion and luxury goods coexist in any way. Does the craftsmanship lend designer goods to being acceptable in a conscious wardrobe? Or are the exorbitant prices and production methods problematic? And how guilty should I feel for carrying these bags?
Chanel prides itself on quality goods and preserving craftsmanship. However, it doesn’t disclose much information about its supply chain or sustainability goals (outside of the suppliers it has purchased in recent years). The brand does not share a public list of suppliers, and scored only a 1% in the 2017 Fashion Revolution Fashion Transparency Index. Brands scoring between 0 & 1% disclose nothing at all or few policies – mostly related to hiring practices or local community engagement.
In this same report, Bottega Veneta scored a 28. A score between 28 and 30 means brands are much more likely to be publishing detailed information about their policies, procedures, social and environmental goals, as well as supplier assessment and remediation qualities. When it comes to policies and commitments, Bottega Veneta scores a 78. However, they scored extremely low in traceability and spotlight issues (meaning their commitment to topics such as a living wage, collective bargaining and circular or innovative processes).
So, I’m not feeling great about my Bottega Veneta, but am feeling a lot better about it than my Chanel bag. I also like how the Bottega Veneta headquarters is LEED certified and that they are committed to the process and craftsmanship behind their intrecciato pattern.
Beyond all the questions about sourcing, I found this article from The Fashion Law to be really eye-opening. We are so out of touch with what our clothes should cost, that we don’t seem to find it odd that a shirt could cost $4 or a bag could cost $2,000. We are so detached from what it actually takes to make our clothes. And I’m learning that neither of those prices are right. I mean, did you know that $100 is the loosely agreed-upon minimum of how much denim should reasonably cost in order to avoid unethical and inhumane manufacturing practices? And let’s be honest with ourselves – how often do we really spend $100 on a pair of jeans?
All in all, I think everything I’ve learned has killed my love for designer bags. A $2,000 bag might be good quality – but it’s also way, way overpriced. I feel good about the fact that I use these bags every day, and intend for them to be heirloom pieces, but that doesn’t mean that the cost and potential mistreatment of workers is justified. They also may not fall apart like a fast-fashion item, but are they really any better quality than an ethically made leather bag? Most likely, no.
And I have to confront that reality in my closet and my shopping habits.
Were any of your favorite brands included in the index? Has it changed how you think about them?0
I am totally with you here. I have spent way too much money on designer bags without giving their production a second thought. I’ve also struggled to identify brands to buy from when a true need arises. (Rather than just my love of what is on trend or desire to have something new.) When my husband asked for a new briefcase for our anniversary this year, I did quite a bit of researched and settled on a bag from Lotuff Leather. I like that they are made in Rhode Island, consist of a small team, and provide a page about how their leather is made. I also like the transparency of Mulberry and am considering purchasing a bag from them after my year without a purchase is over. What are your thoughts on these brands? Does conscious fashion mean eschewing all except the most environmentally and ethically stringent of companies?
I agree that Mulberry is pretty transparent and I like how classic their bags are! Your question is definitely a tough one, and one that I struggle with so much (obviously!) I think I know deep down that conscious fashion is about more than just quality and making my clothes last, so of course it goes beyond just a well-made designer good. It’s also about being thoughtful about every aspect of my clothing – from where it was made, to who made it, to the environmental impact. I don’t think we need to eschew all brands – there are some that aren’t perfect, but are at least striving to improve and making clear commitments. I do see this in Bottega Veneta’s policies. The research for this post showed me what types of questions I should be asking so I can pick better brands, and will also hopefully help me stop obsessing so much over designer bags. But what’s your perspective? To be committed to conscious fashion, do we have to stay away from the imperfect brands?
Honestly, I’m struggling with this answer. Conscious fashion is new to me. My mom sewed many of my clothes growing up and she taught me to look for quality when making a purchase; however, it wasn’t until learning about mercury in gold mining several years ago that I began thinking about the process behind my purchases.
First though, I recognize that not all the systems are in place yet for a company to be where they’d like to be. For example, with fair trade jewelry, companies are often able to say that a particular group of artisans put together the final product, but where did all of the materials originate? Until they can find fair trade metal, thread, beads, etc. the entire process isn’t truly ethical. Yet, unless we support these companies, there will never be a market big enough for fair trade materials to exist. Will’s Vegan Shoes recently switched to sustainable packaging. However, they were only able to do so because people supported their mission of vegan shoes, even though the packing wasn’t yet ideal.
This leads to another reason why I believe it can be okay to support imperfect brands, greenwashing. When companies feel pressure to be perfect, they’re more likely to fake it to make their brand seem better. One of the podcasts I was listening to recently, I believe it was Wardrobe Crisis, had a guest on who sent her bamboo toothbrush to an independent lab and learned the bristles were actually nylon. When she contacted the company, they were just as surprised as they had been told by their manufacturer that they were 100% bamboo. I believe this issue is more widespread than we realize and the more pressure we put on brands to create products beyond their current capabilities, we increase the likelihood of deception. While this is of course no reason for us to accept poor policy, we also need to recognize what is achievable in the present.
Finally, I worry for my own sanity. I read a blog post this week from a woman who is changing her blog from being only about sustainable fashion to being about minimalism. She found that as much as she tried, she just couldn’t always find the products she needed. I think it is okay for all of us to do what we can, but recognize that just like companies, we too have limits of what we can accomplish.