By Sica Schmitz
Founder of Bead & Reel, frequent speaker, writer, and sustainable stylist.
Once you awaken to ethical fashion, it can bring up a wide variety of feelings: hope, anger, frustration, inspiration, and excitement. We want to share what we’ve learned with our friends, family, and everyone we meet. We want them to know what we know, and we want them care about the lives and environments that we do. But unfortunately it’s not always that simple.
We can’t force someone to care about something before they are ready. We can’t coarse someone to feel something they don’t yet have the space, energy, or capacity to feel, even if we really really want them to and totally believe it’s in their best interest. Trust me: I wish everyone in my life, every reader of this blog, every visitor to my website would completely, instantly decide to make different choices and start only shopping consciously and ethically and slowly with their food and fashion and everything else – but so far, that hasn’t happened (and not from lack of my desperately trying, either).
In our desire to get others to know what we now know, our well-intended actions can often instead alienate others. We may become obsessive (guilty), share graphic videos or photos in hopes of shocking sense into those we care about (guilty), or distance ourselves from anyone who doesn’t view the world the way we do (also guilty). However, these actions are counter productive – instead of inspiring others to join us, they are pushing others away.
If we want the people in our lives to get on board with our sacred ethics, then we need to approach them from a space of respect, patience, and most of all love. We need to live in a way that inspires growth, instead of preach in a way that inspires guilt. And I know this is hard: we want to end injustice and suffering immediately if not sooner, and it hurts us to see those we know and love participating in something that is contributing to these injustices and sufferings. However, guilt never worked on me as a true catalyst for change, and so I’ve eventually realized it’s silly for me to think it would work on others.
The first time I went vegan was after I read a brilliant but horrifying book about factory farming called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Afterwards I felt immense guilt about my food choices and decided to give up all animal products right away, however, since my decision was based on guilt and not love, I was never able to form a healthy or enjoyable relationship with veganism. Feeling judged and uninspired, I didn’t find any role models or recipes that really spoke to me, and so I eventually gave up, going back to just being a guilt-riddled vegetarian. I figured if I was going to feel unhappy either way, I might as well stick with the path that required for me to change less (because change is hard and scary and I’m like, really busy).
After my father passed away a few years later, I had this very clear realization about the preciousness of life, and I felt the undeniable desire to go vegan again, but this time it wasn’t because I felt guilty, but instead because through this excruciating loss my heart had shattered open and I had found a new, deep love for life. I valued life so much that I didn’t want to be responsible for ending it, I didn’t want ended lives on or in my body, and I wanted all of my meals and my fashion choices to celebrate life, not harm it. It was a totally different perspective for me than I had ever had before, and I went vegan overnight, and never looked back. From this new positive place of love, I was suddenly more open to guidance, cooking classes, and support, all of which did and continue to make veganism a piece of (egg-free dairy-free, preferably chocolate) cake.
Ethical fashion is the same way. We absolutely can shock people into feeling guilt about sweatshops and toxic chemicals and loss and lessening of the many lives it touches, but I don’t think we can guilt anyone into significant change. Instead, we need to love others into significant change. We need to lead by example with our lives, and share the positive, peaceful, and powerful ways in which it has affected us. We need to continue to learn and grow and work on being our own best versions of ourselves, and trust that when we live a life most aligned with our own ethics, others will be inspired to do so too, in their own time.
I’ve seen this work time and time again in my own life both in those who have inspired me and those who tell me I have inspired them, and like so many plant-munching tree-hugging hippies before me (possibly in less fabulous shoes), I’ve had to admit that love – not hate, not anger, not guilt – is really is the answer.
An important thing I’ve been realizing lately is that our goal in ethical fashion or veganism or any other form of activism shouldn’t be to end slavery or factory farms or any other injustices, because honestly, that’s impossible for one person to do and will just lead to feeling frustrated, disappointed, and burned out (note to self). Instead, our goal should be to end slavery or factory farms or any other injustices in our own lives and in our own actions – and this we absolutely can accomplish, daily.
The best thing we can do if we want to influence others is to love ourselves enough to do the hard inner work necessary to identify and transform the way that you can still continue to more positively impact the world, and to love others enough to just love them, where they are. Not judge them, or shock them, or beg them (note to self). Just love them, and maybe, one day, when they are ready to experience the radical love of activism and find the peace of a life aligned with ethics, you will be there and ready to show them the way.