Wear your ethics

Rachel Fruin, math teacher, shares her support for ethically-made clothing


Mary Szymanski

Fruin sports her jewelry and clothing made by artisans in Kenya from Soko, the company that organized the contest she won.

Virginia Aabram, Head News Editor

Alcoholic. Workoholic. Shopoholic. The suffice “holic” is used to describe anyone who finds a little too much comfort in an ultimately harmful activity.

Rachel Fruin, a math teacher, admits that she used to be somewhat of a shopoholic when she was shopping for clothes without regard for her budget. She took it upon herself to change the way she shops for clothes after researching the harmful environmental effects of the mass-produced clothes she was constantly buying. She tells her story in an exclusive Q&A with the Central Times:


Q: How did this project come about?

A: I guess my three main reasons were financial because I was just shopping a lot. And then environmental. I was reading a lot of articles about fast fashion and how it costs a lot of environmental resources like water and stuff to make clothes. When you buy cheap clothes, you usually throw them away because they’re not good enough quality to donate after you’re done wearing them.  The third reason was ethical. I wanted to know who made my clothes and to be conscious that I was not buying products made by somebody making an unfair wage.  

Q: Was this some sort of New Year’s resolution?

A: Yes.  I didn’t call it a resolution because I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit for the whole year.  I was pretty quiet about it, and then I started saying it out loud so that people would hold me accountable.  I finally had to go and delete all of the email I get from clothing companies because I was just too tempted to shop.

Q: How is it going so far?

A: Really good! The first three months were really hard. It felt like I was breaking a habit. Now I just don’t even know if I want to start shopping again because I’ve gotten used to it.  I have all these clothes that I wear.  I don’t have clothes just sitting around.  But actually I won a contest a couple weeks ago.  I won a contest for $3,000 of ethically made clothes, so I have done some shopping, just not with my own money.  One of these companies  makes clothes and fashion and accessories in ethical ways, so they have artisans from all over the world.  I got an email and entered my email address and won! So these 12 different companies each gave me $250 to shop.

Q: Are they well known companies?

A: I hadn’t heard about a lot of them. They cost a little bit more, but now I feel that it’s important.  Actually this tunic I just got was made by Afghan refugee women, handmade.  Things like that where you know that somebody made it and that they’re earning a fair wage. And it’s handmade so it’s not costing a lot of environmental waste.

Q: What lessons do you think you’ve taken away from this so far?

A: Definitely lessons about patience, and just waiting and knowing that I have enough.  I think we get sucked into the advertising and thinking that ‘I need that’ or ‘I really want that.’  I could afford it, so why not?  But it’s made me aware that I don’t need that, and also it’s just shown me how much I have.  

Q: How long do you think you’ll keep doing this?

A: Since I won this contest I think I can keep going for a while, since I got my fix. I got some new products without spending my own money.  I don’t know if I want to commit to a whole ‘nother year, but I don’t see myself shopping on January 1.  I think I want to make a list of things I want, and if I wait a couple months and still want it then it might be worth purchasing.

How have the people around you reacted?

People say ‘That’s new, I haven’t seen that,’ but no, I promise I just haven’t been wearing it.  People comment on my outfits.  My cousin in July said she was going to do it with me for the rest of the year. Other people have said, ‘That’s such a great idea, if you’re doing it I’m doing it too,’ and I’ll just finish off the year.

Q: Would you recommend that people try this?

A: Yeah.  It doesn’t have to be clothes, it can whatever it is you feel you’re almost addicted to.  It’s a good break.  You can realize what you value in terms of whatever that thing is.  I terms of clothes I’ve been able to figure out what I value as opposed to just having a little bit of everything.  I can have some products that are really meaningful to me.  I’ve found out that it means something to me to wear something made by somebody who has a name, not just machine produced.

Q: This reminds me of the WAR Chest in Downtown Naperville.  Were they one of the companies you won a gift card to?

A: No, they weren’t one of the companies that I won, but I volunteer there.

Q: Was that how you learned about the ethical side of this?

A: Yes.  Volunteering there led me to become aware of how things are made and also the real needs of people who are trying to earn a fair wage.  By supporting them they can support their families.