This post was written for my church’s series on fasting. Each week of Lent, the church focuses on a different item for fasting (food, clothes, waste, etc.). During the week focused on clothing, church members are encouraged to fast from clothing in some shape or fashion. Examples include wearing only two outfits the entire week, cleaning out unused clothing and donating it, or fasting from buying new clothes for the duration of Lent. I personally encourage fasting from buying fast, exploitative fashion, not just during Lent, but as a lifelong goal. Read on to find out more!
We tend to envision fasting as a practice of recentering our hearts around God rather than some other object (in this case, clothing). We often treat clothing as an idol, coping mechanism, and giver of self-worth, when God should be those things instead. Working on our personal relationship with clothing and God is an important thing to do this week, but in this reflection I want to focus on a different aspect of fasting: A change in our hearts that results in social action.
I’m not going to lie: This reflection discusses difficult things, like the role we personally play in human trafficking. But if there’s any group willing to dig deep and not turn away from hard topics, it’s my church family. So let’s jump in!
Fasting and Social Justice
The Bible tells us that social justice should be a natural result of our fasting:
“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers….Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
– Isaiah 58:3,6. Read Isaiah 58 in its entirety here.
In this passage, the Israelites are upset because they have fasted and want God to notice their good behavior. God points out their hypocrisy. They are going through the motions of being pious, but they continue to mistreat others and ignore those in need. Isaiah 58 tells us that if our hearts are truly changed by fasting, our actions toward others will change as well.
There is great opportunity for us to notice those in need as we fast from clothing. There is also great opportunity for us to act and “loose the chains of injustice.”
Human Injustice in Our Clothing Industry
The reason you are able to purchase a shirt for only $5 at Target is because of unethical, exploitative production practices. In the United States, we overwhelmingly source products from countries that lack minimum wage laws and workplace safety standards. This means the products are cheaper to make. And companies are always looking for ways to make things cheaper, because their consumers (that’s us!) are demanding the lowest price possible.
The problem with this model is that real human beings, including young children, are forced into unsafe or substandard factories (like Rana Plaza), required to work 14 hours each day, and/or paid as little as 25 cents per hour for their services. There is human trafficking at play, just so we can enjoy wearing the latest Instagram-worthy jumpsuit.
Are we loving our neighbors as ourselves when we financially support clothing companies that exploit our siblings in Christ for their labor?
In her book 7, Christian author Jen Hatmaker states, “I’m tired of calling the suffering ‘brothers and sisters’ when I’d never allow my biological siblings to suffer likewise…Until every human receives the dignity I casually enjoy, I pray my heart aches with tension and my belly rumbles for injustice.”
If your heart is aching for exploited garment workers, I have suggestions below for how you can take action. But first, I want to discuss another injustice in our clothing industry.
Environmental Injustice in Our Clothing Industry
Our fashion industry promotes a “fast fashion” model, meaning we rotate through new trends quickly. We are constantly buying new clothes to keep up with the latest fashions, while at the same time throwing away perfectly good clothing because it is no longer in style. This is, without a doubt, very bad for the planet God created.
Clothing production uses a tremendous amount of water (1.3 trillion gallons a year for fabric dyeing alone), emits harmful greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, and gobbles up natural resources. Additionally, Americans throw away 16 million tons of textiles each year. This increases the size of landfills while decreasing the amount of land available for housing, food production, wildlife, and other uses.
To me, it seems disrespectful to God to pollute the beautiful earth that God created as a home for us. Moreover, we are creating more social injustice with our environmental injustice. People living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to pollution and are disproportionately impacted by environmental health hazards. Caring for the environment, then, is another way in which we can love our neighbor as ourselves.
What Can We Do?
1. Dispose of old clothing properly.
Some of us are fasting from clothing by going through our closets and purging excess. Make sure you are discarding your clothing properly to avoid environmental damage. And, make sure you aren’t turning around and filling your closet back up again with more unnecessary clothing that you’ll have to sort through next year during Lent!
2. Buy fewer clothes.
Purchasing less clothing means less strain on the environment. Not to mention, it enables you to put money towards other things, like your favorite nonprofit or charitable organization!
3. Advocate for ethical production practices.
Research your favorite brand’s production practices on their website or via Ethicaloo. Email the brand to ask more about their practices. Email or write to them on social media to ask that they do more to protect people and the planet.
4. Buy ethically made and/or sustainable clothing.
Yes, ethically made clothing means higher price tags. But can you put a price on another person’s freedom and well-being? Can you put a price on this earth, which is our only home? High price tags should not make us turn away and run back to unethical fashion, but rather should make us think, Do I actually NEED this item? Since switching to ethical fashion three years ago, I find that I do not spend more money on clothes. Higher prices encourage me to carefully consider, and I only purchase items that I really love or need.
I suggest starting with the following sources for ethically made, fair trade, and/or sustainable clothing brands:
- Fair Trade Certified
- Certified B Corporation
- Change the World by How You Shop
- Still Being Molly
Not everyone can afford fair trade clothing for every purchase (I can’t!), and that’s okay! For ethical fashion on a budget, I recommend consignment shopping. Purchasing consignment is the most environmentally friendly way to buy clothing, as it puts little demand on the earth for more resources and keeps already existing clothing out of landfills. It also keeps money out of the hands of companies that exploit garment workers. Consignment options include thrift stores, upscale consignment “boutiques,” and online resale options like ThredUp and Poshmark.
Money talks. When we shift our dollars to companies that produce clothing in an ethical way, other companies will change their practices in order to remain relevant and stay in business.
Purposefully seeking out ethical and sustainable clothing options is a way to honor God and God’s creation. Let us not restrict this fast to one week of Lent, but rather adapt a lifelong mindset of caring for other people and our planet.
Prayer: God, we thank you for clothing and the ways in which it enables us to keep warm, protect our bodies, and express our unique personalities. We pray that through our clothing fast, our hearts and attitudes toward clothing will be changed, and that this change will be reflected through our actions. We pray that you would give us courage to not look away from the ways in which our clothing industry falls short of honoring you and your creation. Please show us opportunities to loose the chains of injustice. Amen.
P.S. – This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase a product using a link from this post. Read more here about my disclaimers/disclosures.