Below is a guest post from a good friend, MK Jorgenson, about her new book, The Wardrobe Fast: How Cheap Clothes Ruin Lives (and How We Can Do Better). I’ve watched her live the truths of this book for a few years now and am excited to share her convicting insights with you. Read, learn, and buy her book!
As Christians, we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s right there in Mark 12:31. We recognize that “neighbor” doesn’t just mean the people in the house or apartment next door; everyone we come in contact with is our neighbor, someone God has called us to love.
We don’t love everyone in our sphere of influence the same way. I wipe my son’s face when it’s dirty, but I don’t do that to the mailman. I’m bold enough to tell a new mom friend that I couldn’t raise my kids without the gospel’s assurance of who I am and whose they are, but I wouldn’t bring it up to the cashier I’ve just met at the grocery store (though if I saw her regularly, we might get there).
The action of love differs with each relationship, but it is there in even the most distant relationships in the simple kernel of respect. However, as people living in a wealthy society and global economy, we interact in secondary ways with people we have never met: the people who make our stuff.
Have you ever thought about where the toys you buy your kids at Christmas come from? About who made the clothes that appear magically on the racks of your favorite store? Because we live in such a state of abundance and are so separated from how things are made, it’s easy to gloss over the origin of possessions.
Case in point, a girl at the county fair was horrified when a family friend put a milker on one of our cows. She didn’t know what he was doing, and she thought that milk came from Walmart. No prior origin. The exchange completely changed her perspective on the food in her kitchen and how it got there (though the poor love wondered out loud if her Fresca came from a pig).
I had a similar moment after seeing the documentary The True Cost, which dives into how the clothes we buy are made. I learned that many—too many—people who are involved in making clothes are treated poorly. They are not neighbor-loved. Their dignity is stomped on through twelve-plus hour shifts 6-7 days a week, little pay (sometimes late), and harsh working conditions. Pregnancy is cause for being fired. Forget about sick leave. Heck, forget about bathroom breaks.
The list of problems is long and depressing but not surprising. In Scripture, we see over and over that the rich prey upon the weak: Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Amos and most of the prophets. We may not be out to oppress the poor when we shop, but our ignorance can still contribute to their plight. When we buy mindlessly—whether it’s buying more than we need, shopping to soothe ourselves after a hard day, or scoring a real “bargain” that we’ll never actually wear—we allow the system to continue. We unknowingly help the oppressors.
It’s hard to love invisible neighbors, particularly while living in a society constantly advertising the new, the novel, and the insta-worthy. But it’s hard to love our visible neighbors, too, and we know that that is a worthwhile effort. It is hard to change diapers day in and day out, but raising a child is a worthy endeavor. It is awkward to talk about the gospel to a new acquaintance, but it is worth doing. And it is hard to find clothes that don’t oppress their makers, but it is worth paying more in time and money to act justly in this life.
I’ve been trying to buy my clothes in a neighbor-loving way for a few years now. It is not glamorous. It mostly means wearing what I have over and over and over, even when the trends have moved on. It’s buying used whenever possible and researching to the ends of the internet when used isn’t an option. Sometimes I’ve had to compromise my principles because my budget didn’t allow something better, and sometimes going without an item has just been easiest.
Loving any neighbor is going to involve dying to self. Going without a particular piece of clothing or having to buy used is not suffering, but it still involves dying to the desires of my flesh. Sure, it’s not changing hearts or preaching the Good News, but it is valuable. The Bible calls us to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9), to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21), and to “count others more significant than” ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Buying clothes that don’t oppress others is not the greatest thing we can do to honor the Lord and love his image bearers. It is the least we can do, and the least is a good place to start.
MK Jorgenson is the author of The Wardrobe Fast: How Cheap Clothes Hurt Others (and How We Can Buy Better). When she isn’t homeschooling her kids, she enjoys thick books, long walks, and anything that gets her out of doing dishes. You can find her at mkjorgenson.com.