In last week's post on smart shopping, I shared my recent decision to stop buying clothes "new." As mentioned, this decision doesn't rule out "new to me" clothing -- i.e. secondhand purchases, hand-me-downs, and gifts from well-meaning friends and family. Thrift shopping is an essential joi de vivre of mine and is also happens to be one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to outfit yourself (and your home!) On the same vein, disposing of perfectly useful gifted items kind of counteracts the whole use-what-you-own goal behind this whole endeavor.
Despite my best efforts to minimize my possessions, I still own a lot of clothing -- probably around 100 items here in NYC (counting shoes, pjs, bras, etc.) and maybe 50-70 additional pieces stowed away at my parent's place. So I really have no excuse to buy new things. I realize eventually I'm going to have to purchase something new (at the very least I'd like to keep my undergarments coming to me firsthand...), but for now I'm focusing on actually wearing out the clothes I have. When a good enough excuse comes along, I intend to seek out eco-conscious, fair-trade, and/or USA-based brands to fulfill this need. In other words, I'm redirecting my focus to maximize garment sustainability.
You may wonder how someone who has spent 25 years indulging in a consumer-capitalist lifestyle -- the owner of many fast-fashion, department store, and sale-bought items, and someone who loves shopping -- suddenly decides to prioritize sustainability. As this blog evidences, I've been interested in honing and perfecting my personal style (a process which typically involves a more careful shopping approach anyway) for several years now. Still, it wasn't until this past summer that my motives evolved beyond a mere selfish thirst for perfectionism.
My youngest brother -- hero, science genius, touter of all things worthy of touting -- made the choice to go vegan last spring. I was traveling abroad at the time, and I when I first heard news of it through the family grapevine, I was astounded. In fact, I was almost annoyed. My brother? Champion eater of all things animal? The kid who for years made fun of my healthy baking replacements, my refusal to eat lamb, and my preference for veggie burgers over beef? How dare he!!
Upon my homecoming, I learned that my brother had not only stopped consuming animal products, but he was also swearing off plastics, drinking Soylent, composting, buying less, donating more, and judiciously explaining his reasoning for it to anyone who so much as raised an eyebrow in his direction. Within a month of living back under the same roof, he'd convinced our entire family to watch Cowspiracy, solidified me (and my parents, at least temporarily) as vegetarian, and converted my Taco Bell-enthusiast second brother into an equally devout vegan ambassador.
Once my head stopped spinning, I realized I was immensely proud of my brother, and simply envious that he'd managed to perfect something I often lacked: commitment to his ideals. Sure I'd fancied myself something of a hippie since I was old enough to know they advocated granola and hugged trees and and kept farm animals in their backyard. But what was I doing personally? Despite living with a vegan roommate-and-best friend for two years of college, I was still a meat eater. I recycled, but I continued to drool over plastic organizers at The Container Store. I shopped for new clothes when my old ones were perfectly useful. My brother, on the hand, made a choice to remove himself from our consumerist world's earth-destroying habits -- and he didn't just start drinking soy lattes to make it happen.
What began as mere impetus to become vegetarian gradually made me rethink my entire lifestyle, and I owe it to my little brother -- and now both my brothers -- for inspiring such a change in me. When J and I moved into our new apartment, we purchased almost everything secondhand, resisting the simpler glow of a one-stop shopping trip to Target. I started making a better effort to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store, and I (graciously) implore the Trader Joe's assistants to lay off the triple-bagging when I forget them. I have taken up a personal crusade against plastic home products. Perhaps most importantly, I've followed my brothers' lead at being more vocal about the reasoning behind these choices.
Since I knew cutting meat from my diet would not be a huge sacrifice for me (beyond salami and seafood, I hardly miss the stuff), and since I knew I wasn't quite ready to take on veganism myself, I started brainstorming my own version of sustainable abstinence. When I started the KonMari process, it became immediately apparent what my own eco-mission would be: buying less in an effort to seek quality over quantity and, in the meantime, learn to be content with what I had.
Yesterday I entered a Gap store for the first time in 13 months, and I felt the compulsion to shop surge immediately back through my bloodstream. I was never a huge Gap fan per se (if we're talking unethical fashion, H&M is way more my jam), but I had come there for a blogging event, and the open bar, cute appetizers, and pumping music all served to put me in prime consumer mode. My discovery of The Denim Jacket of My Summer Dreams on a rack near the mojitos only amplified this problem, and it was with a pang of regret that I confirmed "Made in China" on the side-seam care label. I wondered: should I treat fast fashion like fast food? Should I avoid window shopping like I avoid walking by Panda Express at certain times of the month (for fear I will lose control, hop the food bar, and begin force-feeding myself orange chicken)? Was it too torturous to even look?
While I'm still examining the answer to that question, I believe I've at least I've discovered the ultimate weapon against falling back into familiar, unwelcome habits: staying curious. With each book I've read on the history of garment production, I've become more committed to seeking out quality clothing. It's the same with baby pig videos; nothing will cure a ham sandwich craving faster than watching the cutest baby animal alive racing around a pen with its squealing siblings. If you're a logical person and you want to break a habit, then your brain needs continual reminders why it's not getting that which it thinks it wants. If you are setting / have set out on a sustainable fashion journey and are hitting your first obstacles, the resources below might help steer and/or solidify that focus.
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Elizabeth Cline) - An excellent introduction to the fast-fashion industry, with some history woven in for good measure.
- The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (Lynda Przybyszewski) - A deeper examination of clothing history, through the lens of the "Dress Doctors" -- America's original personal stylists.
- Women in Clothes (Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, and Sheila Heti) - In tandem with Marie Kondo, these authors serve to remind us that clothes have a personality all their own, and that the process of getting dressed might be something more sacred than fast fashion and designer trendsetters would have us believe.
- 30 Ethical Fashion Brands (Into-Mind) - Really can't say enough about Into-Mind. I have yet to crack the sustainable clothing seal, but next time I have a buy-new need, this is definitely where I'm going to start!
- 35 Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands... (The Good Trade) - Not sure how many crossovers there are here with the post above, but this one's worth a look as well!
- Rebuilding Your Wardrobe on a Budget (Into-Mind) - Another useful how-to post from Into-Mind. If the thought of giving up your favorite Zara tops for one $200 sustainably-sourced silk blouse gives you hives, this will help you chill.
- I Don't Buy Fast Fashion, and Apparently People Don't Like Me Because of It (Alden Wicker, for Refinery 29) - Like to play devil's advocate? This might shed some light on your protests.
- Conscious Shopping Guide (Paris To Go) - If you want the fast version of all this, look not further than Ariana's excellent sustainable shopping guide.
- The Environmental Crisis in Your Closet (Adam Matthews, for Newsweek) - And finally, if you're on the fence about why you should care... here's some "why" for you.
Clearly this post just grazes the surface of the project at hand, and I realize that I've offered more narrative reflection here than actual guidance. If you're interested in this lifestyle or if you have questions you'd like me to explore in future posts, please note them in the comments section or via personal message! And of course I'd love to hear your own tips and tricks for sustainable living as well.