“I wanted to make a positive impact on my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, and started looking for ways to make a change.“
My grandmother was a seamstress, and I have many fond memories of sewing with her. I would sit on the couch with some fabric scraps she cut out for me, practicing hand stitching, while she sat at her sewing machine and altered, hemmed, or even created custom garments for her customers. Because of this, quality garments and the story behind a piece of clothing have always been in the back of my mind. However, like so many others, after I learned about the Rana Plaza factory collapse, I really started thinking about how my consumption can impact the lives of people who make the products I buy. I wanted to make a positive impact on my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, and started looking for ways to make a change.
One of the first ways I did this was by researching fair trade and sustainable clothing companies to start purchasing from. I also began buying second-hand when possible (which is so much easier now thanks to second-hand websites like ThredUp and apps like Kidizen for kid’s clothes!). One of my favorite fair trade clothing companies to purchase new from is Fair Indigo. In addition to being sustainable and showcasing the stories of people who make their clothes, they have high quality clothing items, and put a lot of thought into their fabrics and designs that make for clothes that last. I really love that they have a great selection of super comfortable organic pima cotton clothing items, which is great for my current stage of life with a little one to chase around.
I also started focusing on wearing the clothes I already own and I began borrowing outfits for special occasions when I felt like I wanted something new, but didn’t need to buy anything to fill a wardrobe gap. Switching to a sustainable wardrobe has its challenges, and I think it’s helpful to think of it as a journey and focus on one decision at a time rather than getting distressed over not being able to find the perfect pair of fair trade, organic cotton jean. Simply owning less and practicing conscious consumerism can still be a powerful tool to making an impact!
In addition to trying to remain conscious about my clothing purchases, I try to take small steps toward environmental sustainability by using cotton or linen towels in the kitchen instead of paper towels, making a commitment to remember my glass water bottle for work, and using cloth diapers on my little one. I also love purchasing fair trade foods and gifts, and I think this is one of the easiest ways to get started with fair trade and a more ethical lifestyle. I especially love looking for fair trade chocolate, as it often has fewer, higher quality ingredients that makes for great-tasting chocolate. (Equal Exchange is one of my favorites.) Giving fair trade gifts is also a win-win, because your purchase supports fair trade, and you may even inspire the gift recipient to look for fair trade products next time they are shopping.
“Everything stems from the dignity of the human person, and we should respect that dignity in every way.”
The social mission of the Church is very close to my heart, and my faith influences my decisions to strive to shop ethically. I’ve worked at Catholic Charities in two different dioceses for several years now, and I have come to truly love and appreciate Catholic Social Teaching. Everything stems from the dignity of the human person, and we should respect that dignity in every way. So many of the issues surrounding Catholic Social Teaching, like man’s effects on the environment, can be politicized, but it truly comes back to respecting each person and their inherent dignity. Pope Francis emphasizes this in Laudato Si, when he reminds us that care for creation goes hand in hand with care for the poor (Laudato Si’, 49).
Copyright 2019 Carly Matthews for Catholic Relief Services
About the author: Carly Matthews is a Catholic mom and an Ave Maria University grad living in Orlando, Florida. She works at Catholic Charities of Central Florida, writes for CRS Ethical Trade (where this story was first published) and enjoys weekends filled with visiting local parks, attempting to catch up on sleep, and sewing. You can find out more about her here.