Or is it don’t judge a book by its cover? Childhood phrases and parental teachings aside, there is general encouragement to not judge others or the unknown based solely on outward appearances. As human beings, favoritism exists for the ism “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But as consumers, do the same rules apply?
All labels aside, it is of course up to us to educate ourselves as buying customers and to get involved as is the case with all issues of civic engagement. However, isn’t it up to “them,” or companies, providing us with a product or service to provide awareness, especially since we are after all, all potentially buying customers?
I don’t like to say “us” versus “them” as though we are in a dueling match, for it is a dual obligation when it comes time to be our own judge. Companies, though, are required to label products and advertise services in accordance to signed laws and corporate activities are monitored by assigned authorities; these rules and regulations have been established so as to protect the consumer while also providing a fair playing field for all parties involved, including competing small businesses, SMEs, and corporations.
Our needs are changing and new rules and regulations must naturally evolve. We see this need to evolve in the Big Food revolution with past legislative failures in states like Oregon and most recently with Proposition 37 in California as well as opposition to the Just Label It movement. ”You are what you eat” is often practiced by medical professionals, mindful mothers, and even our own conscience coach when making personal food choices.
If we are what we eat, then shouldn’t we care about what we wear? Many of us do! As seen in the variety of outlets and in the diversity of support for conscious consumption when it comes to one’s purchases, fashion and apparel is an expression in demand. Whether one is cutting down on the industry’s intake, incorporating more mindfulness when making purchases, or choosing to buy environmentally and socially sustainable fashions from retailers and organizations with a mission and values closely related to one’s own individual beliefs, there is a need for an upgrade in rules and regulations when it comes to labeling our clothes.
Of course, as clothing consumers, we can research a retailer’s practices and uncover more about a brand. We can of course read the item’s label, but is “Made in Bangladesh” or “Manufactured in China” enough? Some prefer to buy local or only shop certified Fair Trade items. Some might not even read the label’s contents. Similar to a content person in a label-less relationship, some might not even need a label at all. What do you look for in a label? Share your shopping criteria @fashainable with the hash-tag #mindfull.
And beyond the mindset of the consumer, what about the other side? Turn the label over and you might find that big box retailers and their suppliers may voice the same argument as those in the business of Big Food: any additional labeling would be too cumbersome resulting in excessive regulation and ultimately, higher end prices for the consumer.
Refreshingly, some brands have taken it upon themselves to make note of the ingredients used, processes infused, or related #brandaid news as seen in the faces of “The People Behind the Product” by One Mango Tree. It’s inspiring initiatives like these and like this image of an imaginative label shared by Dress Up Cycle highlighting a probable product’s positive points that can help point us in the right direction. Don’t like what you see? No sweat. Send your labels back or sign a petition and get dressed.
Informative labeling of existing practices—which claim to be safe and workers conditions which claim to be humane—is less of an issue of red tape and higher costs along the supply chain and more of an issue regarding lifelong lessons taught at an early age in that one shouldn’t judge what one does not know. If we don’t know exactly what it is that we as consumers are buying, than how are we to judge?
Cereal boxes have managed to evolve over time as 3-D crossword puzzles and our shampoo bottles and conditioning counterparts are now accompanied by trivia Q&As. Surely the commerce community with business models built on principles of efficiency and effectiveness can manage to invest the necessary resources into a more exemplary labeling system without placing the burden on the paying customer.
But, who am I to judge?