by Sophia Russell
I remember when my love affair with fashion first started.
I was thirteen and it was the mid-nineties. Teenage fashion had hit peak grunge. I saved up my pocket money to buy a pair of converse sneakers, and I still remember the moment I opened the shoebox to marvel at that iconic silhouette. From then on, I was hooked. From vintage dresses in my university days to my first pair of skinny jeans, I discovered that clothes possessed a certain power. An outfit could cement my identity, create a lifestyle, align me with my tribe.
This wasn’t inherently a bad thing, as even God ‘wraps himself in light’ and declares his wonders through the beauty of creation. The problem was that I only thought of fashion in terms of self-expression, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When Christians talk about fashion, the conversation usually revolves around things like inner beauty, modesty, and not making an idol of your appearance. But there’s something even more fundamental we don’t often discuss—that fashion isn’t just about us.
Sixty million people work in the global fashion industry: from farming cotton and spinning thread to stitching the very T-shirts we wear. Whenever we shop, we are part of this ecosystem. Our fashion choices aren’t just about us; they also have an impact on others, and that impact isn’t always good.
In the same way that Deuteronomy 24:14 speaks of employers who take advantage of workers in poverty, today’s fast fashion industry is sustained by workers who barely earn enough to survive. To meet the demand for more, they labour in dangerous conditions without basic rights like earning sustainable living wages and having safe working conditions. Many of them are children. And our God, who hates injustice and hears the cries of the oppressed, says this isn’t right.
There’s another way that fashion isn’t just about us. While we’re part of a global community, we also belong to a heavenly one. We are not our own but belong to Jesus, and are utterly loved by him. This should affect everything we do—even the way we shop.
When we anchor our identity in Christ, seeing fashion purely as a form of self-expression gives way to something far more profound. The way you buy clothes can become an act of worship, a way to live a life marked by the good works he has prepared for us to do. Instead of shopping only for ourselves, we can make decisions that serve others. We can choose to buy from companies that care for workers—among whom are women in Cambodia fighting for fair pay, and mothers in Bangladesh with children to feed. Self-expression is powerful, but it’s nothing compared to what God can do when we honour him with our whole lives.
Four years ago, when I decided to change the way I shopped, I had to confront my relationship with fashion.
Years of impulse purchases and overflowing shopping bags told me that while I thought I was using fashion to express my identity, it was the other way around. Fast fashion was using me. Instead of living out my identity in Christ, I had let the pattern of this world, with its thoughtless consumerism and endless cycle of new trends, seep into my shopping habits. And I wanted to change.
This process wasn’t easy, but I brought my desire to change before God and asked for his grace and strength. Slowly, He has helped me make progress. Two things I’ve found helpful as I grow in wanting to love God and my neighbour more in my love of fashion are these:
• The 24 Hour Test: Instead of buying whatever catches my eye, I try to stick to what I need. I now give myself 24 hours to think about it, rather than making a purchase straight away. More often than not, the desire fades in time.
• Ask Who Made It: I also got into the habit of doing some research before buying an item—something I rarely did in the past. Instead of just asking, ‘do I look good in this?’ I try to find out who made my clothes, and whether they received a living wage. The organisation I work for, Baptist World Aid Australia, publishes a handy Ethical Clothing Guide that gives globally available fashion brands a grade out of 100 based on how they treat workers and care for the environment.
What helps most, though, is knowing that ethical shopping bears real fruit for people around the world, even if I don’t get to see it. And that’s worth far more than anything a pair of black-and-white sneakers could offer.
Sophia Russell is a former journalist who loves Jesus, writing, being a mum, swimming at the beach and op-shopping at second hand stores. She is a communication specialist at Baptist World Aid in Sydney, Australia.