St. Martin's act of giving half of his woolen cloak to the beggar can make us reflect on our own way of dealing with clothes. Sometimes I wonder whether it is ok to buy a dress for the price of sandwich. It is a known fact that while some workers are treated fairly, others are treated badly working in inhumane conditions.
Beyond passing on my extra clothes to charity
Many are those who try to donate their used/ never worn clothes to those who need them or charity shops, which is good of course. In an e-lenten reflection Fr. Paul Pace SJ challenged the reader that there is more that we can do beyond donating our extra clothes: "I might decide to skip a purchase of clothes and donate the money to a children's home or to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. In this way it will not be just about giving unwanted things away but about owning less and offering support to those who don’t have enough. I can also decide to supplement my donations with brand new articles of clothes which people will always need but probably never find among the 'surplus' stuff. Like underwear. I might choose to go out of my way and involve myself more by making the purchase myself."
Choosing slow or fast fashion
Another dimension of clothes is how and from where to buy them. Do I opt for slow or fast fashion? Slow fashion means buying fewer better quality clothes that we wear more often and for longer. This slows production schedules, encourages fair pay and reduces the negative impact on the environment . So, slow fashion cares for those involved in the clothes production and for the environment. In contrast, fast fashion means wanting to buy cheaply and fastly what we see on the catwalk.
Towards a more humane world in the area of clothing
UK born Safia Minney is one the people who is trying to create more humanity in fashion. She is the founder of the clothing company People Tree; the first international clothing company to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation Fair Trade product label guaranteeing dedication and compliance to the Principles of Fair Trade, covering fair wages, working conditions, transparency, capacity building, environmental best practice, gender equality and setting standards for conventional fashion companies to improve their supply chains. Safia says the beginning was very hard. Also H&M, though not yet ethically up to standard, have also taken a number of initiatives in favour of people and the environment by signing the Fair Wage network, having a conscious line of clothes in their shops and collecting used clothes in their shops whatever the brand, whatever the condition to decrease waste and invest in recycling innovation.
All around the world there are governments, people, organisations and conscious consumers who are trying to make a difference or find a solution to the human and environmental problems in the clothing industry. We also have a choice whether to be part of this community who is trying to make a difference or not.
And, what about St. Martin?
Indeed, besides sharing his clothes, St. Martin continued to explore what the Catholic faith is really about. He started preparing himself for baptism. He left his job as a soldier as he felt it was in conflict with his faith. Throughout the years he directed many people, preached and trained priests. He enjoyed prayer and solitude and lived a simple life. His appointment of bishop was mostly the work of the local clergy and the people as his superiors thought that his poor and unkempt appearance proved him unfit for the office. Martin was reluctant to accept but eventually he did become Bishop of Tours. He then retired from Tours to a place that was later to become the famous abbey of Marmoutier.
Read more on St. Martin of Tours' story
Article written by: Universe of Faith
The True Cost of Fashion, Louise Spilsbury, 2013.
Lives of Saints, John J. Crawley, 1954.