Child labour in my home country convinced me to only buy Fairtrade clothing

It takes hours to research every potential purchase


It all started when I decided to add a few autumn statement pieces to my wardrobe and I woke up the next day with a £500 hole in my bank account. Like many shopaholics my age, I’d spend most of my time in seminars endlessly scrolling through pages of the 70 per cent off section on ASOS.

One evening I came across a documentary called The True Cost on Netflix and decided to watch because I exhausted every other TV series available. To say it shocked me would be an understatement. I’ve always been quite conscious of buying fair-trade and organic food, but I never questioned where my clothes come from because I was too busy seeking out my next “in trend” purchase.

Not only is the environmental impact of the fast-fashion industry atrocious, but it also didn’t even cross my mind that people put their lives at risk on a daily basis by working in unsafe warehouses to make low-priced garments. I thought that because I was paying £50 for a jumper in Topshop rather than £15 in Primark I was paying for a more ethical and sustainable way of producing clothes.

Little did I know that this isn’t always the case.

Things really started to sink in when I started researching the truth behind Urban Outfitters. I found out that like many others, such as Forever 21 and Toys R Us, the company profits from forced child labour in Uzbekistan – my home country. This really was the tipping point. So I thought to myself “Why am I giving these companies my hard-earned cash when they aren’t paying their employees their hard-earned cash?”

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Every time I wear this jumper, I can’t help but think someone I know from back home could have been forced to pick the cotton

On my 20th birthday I made a commitment to myself that I would only buy products which are Fairtrade, vintage or second-hand. Of course I still wear the clothes I’ve purchased before, as it would be simply unproductive and stupid to throw all of them away.

It’s been an interesting journey so far, with a lot of obstacles I had to overcome. Firstly, it takes me way longer to buy essential pieces of clothing. A couple of weeks ago, I walked into every shop on the high street in search of a Fairtrade hat and I couldn’t find one. I had to walk around with a freezing head for another week until I saw one in a charity shop I liked.

Secondly, shopping with my friends can also be a pain. It feels like it’s impossible to resist buying clothes I like, especially when they’re on an amazing deal. It feels even worse when my friends get them instead.

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Sometimes I will just sit in the corner of a shop and wait for my friends to finish browsing

However, the positives have completely outweighed any of the “obstacles” listed above. Buying Fairtrade products has been surprisingly student budget-friendly. It may be because now I have to do hours of research before any purchase and I get so lazy to the point where I realise I don’t actually need any more clothes.

It’s also forced me to think about living my life in a more sustainable way and I feel as though I’m not as easily influenced by the consumerist messages we’re fed every day. Of course I realise doing this has been completely my choice, and any of the hurdles I have to overcome were created by me in the first place. But I’ve learned there is literally no need for so much stuff in my life. Plus, as a bonus, it will be easier to move out of my student house now!