My journey into ethical fashion

We’re excited to welcome Brandy Ostrem to the Swahlee team as our Community Catalyst. Today she shares her journey into ethical fashion with us.

I looked into my closet at the rack of hanging clothes, the baskets of folded clothes, and the overstuffed dresser. I felt ashamed. Up until that day I prided myself for that wardrobe, bursting at the seams. I marveled at how cheap I had purchased much of it. I looked from the ill-fitting shirts that I found on the deeply discounted clearance racks, to the dresses that I rarely wore because they didn’t really suit my personal style. I looked at the pants that I didn’t even like, but only bought because the price was just too good to pass up. I was a fast fashion addict and did not even know it… at least not until that day. 

That day was the day I watched The True Cost documentary on Netflix. I am not even sure what made me turn it on, but I did, and my eyes were opened. How had I never heard of the Rana Plaza collapse? How was human exploitation still a thing? How were we still allowing the fashion industry to pollute the water supply and flood the landfills? How were we okay with women being paid so little that they could not even provide for their families’ basic needs? Why does no one know this is all happening?? My brain was in overdrive with questions, and at that point I knew I had been part of the problem.


Since watching the documentary, I started doing my own research, following ethical companies on social media, and attending fair-trade events. Early on in my journey, I attend a fair-trade show where I met a woman who had been victim to the fashion industry as a child sweatshop laborer.  She said, “if you don’t know where your clothes come from, you are wearing someone else’s suffering.”*

After she was rescued from her horrible life in bondage, she had a chance to visit a department store in a Western country. Seeing racks and racks of clothes, and seeing clothes so carelessly thrown to the floor, she wept. She explained that no one sees the work behind the clothes, the tears of children and women who have lost hope. I knew that going forward I would not only make changes in how I shopped, but that I would be an advocate for the thousands of oppressed garment workers. I would speak up for those who were being silenced. 


Enter where I am today in this journey of ethical fashion. After resisting the urge to throw out everything in my closet and begin anew with only ethically sourced clothing, I took smaller steps. I started by getting rid of clothes that did not suit my body shape or coloring. This eliminated some things, but not everything.

Now, I am committed to wearing what I have from my former fast fashion days. As these garments wear out, or need updating, I make purchases from slow fashion companies. I have learned how to play around with mixing and matching different garments to make new outfits. I have also gained a greater appreciation for the art of outfit repeating, which is key to making slow fashion sustainable for a budget. Signing up for various newsletters and email lists has been a great way to save a few dollars on first time orders. I have also signed up for insider rewards through various companies. This allows me to still be able to buy things, but with a little discount. Since being on this journey I am learning that fashion is not about buying the next new style at rock-bottom prices. Rather it is about buying garments that will last, transition from season to season, not pollute the environment, and provide jobs that uphold the integrity of human worth!

The crippling effects of fast fashion will only stop once we, as consumers, change our shopping habits. Ask yourself the next time you purchase something if it is something you will wear several times. Is it something you would happily rewear over and over again? Also, ask if the purchase was made at the cost of someone else’s misery. You can be a part of a world changing movement and provide hope to so many! 

My journey is on-going. I still have to resist the urge to buy things on a whim. It’s a slow growth, but every step I take is a step closer to seeing change. I know that I am only one person, one shopper, but I wholeheartedly believe that change in the fashion industry is on the horizon. As I continue to change my shopping habits, I will keep sharing what I am learning with others. Good-bye fast fashion, and hello to a world where we care more about the people making our clothes then the actual clothes themselves.

*Nasreen Sheikh


When she’s not advocating for ethical fashion, Brandy Ostrem is homeschool teacher to her four children and the creator behind @blessumandarrows.   

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