Everything we do has an impact on the world. Everything we eat, everything we watch and yes, everything we wear. For example, we've gotten really good at looking at the food industry and assessing its problems - now we've just got to do something about it. Many of us make individual choices to cut out meat or dairy or all animal products. Some of us are strongly aware of the effects of sugar and pesticides. So we cut way back in buying those products that can harm us, and ultimately harm the world. We also know that doing something is better than doing nothing, so when we slip up and eat something we told ourselves we wouldn't, we forgive ourselves. We strive for perfection and treat ourselves kindly when we aren't perfect, because no one is perfect.
It should be the same way with fashion. We have to start making more conscious choices about what and how much we buy. We have a huge consumerist mentality that tells us we should buy more and what we have isn't good enough. But everything we buy is a choice that has weight. So, what exactly is the problem in the first place? I didn't know either until fairly recently. I guess I always had a sneaking suspicion that something wasn't right, but until I was explicitly told what was happening, I just didn't listen to my gut. Once my eyes were opened, I started looking at the industry in a whole new way.
There are two main problems: Environmental sustainability and human rights. The amount that we consume isn't sustainable for environments and workers around the world. Fast fashion has dominated our consumer mentality so much that our hunger for the new and trendy masks the reality behind the fashion industry. In fact, it's that way on purpose! It is the intention of places like Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Topshop, and discount warehouses to make us feel like we are constantly out of style, while mass producing clothing that is designed to easily fall apart. They make a massive profit while we spend so very little (except not really, because we just end up spending more thinking we're getting a deal). On top of that, we consume like crazy, which means we discard even more, which turns into waste that's polluting our planet. I know, it's a lot. But sorry, there's more.
Sweat shops still very much exist. The cheaper the clothing, the more likely it was made in a warehouse overseas by some of the lowest paid workers in the world, who happen to be mostly women. Many of these warehouses where the clothes are made are hazardously unsafe. Every few years, we hear on the news that one of these buildings has collapsed and seriously injured the workers inside. In some of these factories, children work there. Apparently, beading or sequining on low-end garments are signs of child labor.
I realize that having a blog dedicated to my love of fashion in all its forms is a little contradictory to what I'm talking about here. But it's all in the difference between what inspires you and what you actually buy. I truly consider fashion to be an art form, so I choose to buy for quality. It's about buying less, but loving your clothing more. I know it's hard to shop well, because we tend to buy things we love in the store, and then we get home and can't figure out how to wear it. It happens.
So here are some tips to help you shop smarter and behave consciously:
1) Shop for style, not for fashion. As Yves Saint Laurent famously said, "Fashions fade, style is eternal." Try to picture exactly how you would wear each garment. Give it a title. I recently bought a faded denim frayed vest, and I loved it the minute I tried it on, and it was set at a great price. But before I gave myself the ok, I imagined 4 outfits I could wear it with. I could do a jean-on-jean look. I could wear it over my asymmetrical black cotton dress. I could wear it over a tight sweater and leggings. I could wear it over a tank and shorts. I named it as a little punk, a little 80's. Now, before even buying it, I had figured out a way to integrate it into my closet.
2) Shop for quality. This doesn't necessarily mean for the most expensive item you can find. Before you buy something ask yourself, "is this as close to the best version of this piece that I can find within my budget?" If not, are you willing to wait and save up a bit for a nicer version? If you don't love it, you probably won't wear it. Shopping for quality means that your garments will have value to you. They will last longer and they will reflect your style.
3) Shop with intention. I find myself wanting to wear specific things when I get dressed. When I think of something I want to wear but I don't own anything like it, I make a little note in my head. If I find myself obsessing about that one thing time and again, I know it's time to go shopping. Right now I'm looking for a semi-warm long sleeve deep-v sweater. I'm trying to show more cleavage in my life. That's real. So when I go shopping and I come across all these amazing sweaters but none of them have the right v-neck, I'm not allowed to buy them. Go in knowing what you want and don't settle for less.
4) Shop second-hand. Consignment, vintage, whatever you want to call it. Thrift shops are everywhere and you can find so many amazing, unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. I could go on, but you already know. I'm sure many future posts will be just pictures of me shopping in thrift stores and seeing all the amazing things you can get.
5) Shop Local. Besides the fact that local designers make really cool stuff, you're supporting an artist, a community and the environment all in one. Local designers tend to use better and more environmentally friendly materials. I feel so much closer to my clothing when I know who made it. Sometimes they're in boutiques if they're big enough, but many times they don't have a physical store. Go to flea markets and street fairs and pop-up shops. Get their cards and try to remember how much you like their stuff when you feel like shopping.
6) Don't toss your discarded clothing in the trash. This is an obvious one. Take clothing you don't want to the nearest Goodwill Donation center or neighborhood consignment store. And there are lots of sites now where you can sell your clothes online. Tradesy looks great, thought I haven't tried it. You can do a clothing swap with friends. Get some bourbon and make a party out of it. As a last resort for the clothing you're sure no one else wants, cut it up into household washcloths or something. Just don't let it be a total waste.
7) It's OK to let yourself off the hook. All of the above is just information. It doesn't mean that you should Never Ever Ever shop at a fast-fashion retailer again. It just means you have to stay conscious. If you see something you love and can't find anywhere else, go for it. The real problem comes when people start treating all that clothing like its disposable. But this is important: If you do choose to buy something from a fast-fashion retailer, ask an employee where the clothes were made; they are required to tell a manager that someone asked, and it puts pressure on the retailers.
For so much more information, check out the documentary The True Cost, which was my introduction into this particular subject. I'm truly NOT an expert yet, but as I learn more, I will share more. If you know more than me, I want to know what you know! Eventually I'm going to make a page about links I love, and I'll include a lot more info on all of this. I'm also going to be sharing eco-friendly brands all along the way, so you'll get the gist.
Feel good and be good to the world,