US Catholic Faith in Real Life

High fashion, high values

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Ralph Lauren caused a stir last week with his collection of depression-inspired clothes at New York’s Fashion Week, but here’s a priest who really knows how to say something about poverty with his clothes.

Father Andrew O’Connor uses his clothing line, Goods of Conscience, to raise awareness about social justice issues. His clothes are made with organic cotton produced in Guatemala by Mayan craftsmen and women. The work allows the group of Mayan weavers to preserve their art while earning a living wage. The clothes are sown in a church basement by underemployed immigrant women in New York, providing supplemental income for them as well.

But like Ralph Lauren, O’Connor clothing line isn’t really for the poor. Although the “man of cloth,” as this article calls him, has sent some items back to Guatemala, his clothes are rather pricey. The article reports that only 80 garments are sown a month, all made to order, and that prices range up to $800 for a jacket. Carmen Diaz wore a pair of his shorts for a photo shoot in Vogue.

It may be expensive but as a proponent of “slow fashion,” O’Connor also says his clothing last a long time.

I am easily frustrated with shopping for clothes. Beyond the issues of fit and fashion, I am aware of the social justice side to it too. I want to simplify my closet but I also want to look descent. I think of Jesus telling his disciples to take no extra tunic and the kids wearing T-shirts with holes in the developing country day after day and ask myself, why do I need something new?

The good news is that you can recycle clothes, but according to NRDC’s Green Life column, Americans throw out 68 pounds of clothing on average each year.

Is it possible to balance fashion with a concern for the poor?