Guest Post by Christina Vaichus
If you had met me about five years ago, you’d have seen that like most college-age girls, I was focused on the weekend, the opinion of my friends, and often most importantly: what I wore. All of this stemmed from the bigger issue of how I felt about myself. I became accustomed to buying a new, inexpensive, outfit for every weekend, temporarily allowing myself to feel I was good enough, only to eventually leave me feeling empty again.. Like my shopping habits, I, didn’t put any thought or effort into deeper issues of self-worth, or value and certainly never thought about who was making my clothes or that someone else’s life might be affected or even dependent, by even those small, seemingly arbitrary choices.
I was shocked when I discovered the connection between human trafficking and the fashion industry. My knowledge on trafficking in general was very limited, but what I did know was simply whatever Hollywood had told me: women get abducted in third world countries. Never did I think it happened locally, or even that MY decisions had any affect on trafficking whatsoever.
A friend of mine, Karina (who later helped co-launch Citizen & Darling) enlightened me about ethical fashion and showed me the staggering statistics on how the majority of US products are made with either forced slave labor or child labor of some kind. Surely, I thought, if that were the case these major brands wouldn’t be thriving in business... but the more research I did, the more heartbroken I became. I began to realize why so many brands go the “cheap” route in their production. Consider this, if a shirt is only costing the consumer five dollars, how much is the person who made it actually making? What kind of conditions did that person make it in? “The fashion supply chain funnels more money toward modern day slavery than any other industry besides tech- and that it is approached as a business, not people's lives. “The Global Slavery Index’s 2018 report, published by the Walk free foundation states that $127.7 billion worth of garments at risk of including modern slavery in their supply chain are imported annually by G20 countries, a group of nations which account for 80 percent of world trade” (fashionista.com). More information has recently come to the surface in the past few years with Documentaries like “The True Cost,” which explores this issue in great detail, highlighting what is happening around the world as a result of our fast fashion consumer demand, exposing brands for their lack of care in its production, which often leads to abuse and even the death of its workers. It begs the ultimate question: what is the true cost of our purchases? I began to see what my “casual” choices where contributing to.
Not only was I horrified about what was going on, but I was also unsettled with a deep conviction, and began reconsidering where would I shop. Fashion had become so important to my self-worth and understanding of who I was, that it was like a part of me died. Based on what I had learned, I could no longer purchase something that created someone else’s suffering, or bondage. I looked at the production and transparency of my favorite stores and found little information, only leaving me to assume the worst.
In 2015 Karina and I started Citizen & Darling- an ethical clothing brand that gives back to fight the greater issue of human trafficking. When I say “ethical”, I mean no sweatshop or child sweatshops are used in the making of the clothing. The workers are paid a livable wage, and there is no harassment/ abuse of workers in factories. Such qualifiers which seemed like they should be legal standard were actually very rare. The American lifestyle is so consumer- driven that factories across the world have to keep up at a rapid rate. This is defined as “fast fashion”- because the industry now has 52 seasons to keep up with as opposed to 4. Given the demand and cost, factories receive more and more pressure, and thus, result in the dire way they mistreat their workers to keep up with competing brands.. This in turn leads to millions of child workers, and forced workers, both of which majorly contribute to modern day slavery.
Our clothing at Citizen & Darling is not only meant to be an alternative to fast fashion, but is also designed to send a message of hope, identity restoration, and remind the wearer of her God-given value. Being made aware of my own value has been a foundational lesson for me in this process as well. When we chose our first design “Wonderfully Made” (inspired by Psalm 139) I had to ask myself if I truly felt that God made me fearfully and wonderfully like His word said. Through this journey, fashion went from being a temporary high where I’d make choices without regard to the other lives involved... to being something that contributes to the rescue of others. All while instilling truths about worth and identity to people who, like myself have struggled to find any.
I don’t share this as a tactic to “guilt” you into never buying anything from another store ever again. Or to insist that you toss any clothes you already have. Rather, I encourage you to be intentional about what you’re purchasing, considering how it affects not only your life, but the life of someone else. Someone who does not have the freedoms we do. When we purchase ethically, we are choosing to use our money for good, rather than evil. Though these decisions may feel small, making them will contribute to a far greater world where things like slavery is no longer tolerated, and where people are valued by more than what they look like on the outside, but who they are within.
Christina Vaichus, Owner/ Operator