A few weeks ago you guys probably read Leah’s compelling and provocative post about why you should consider who makes your clothes. (If you haven’t, I strongly urge you to go read it, and then come back to this post.) Like me, you might feel moved, even called to think twice about the hands that made your clothes and what it really takes to get those items priced so cheaply for fast-fashion retailers.
I felt like once I started to learn about what really went on in the apparel industry, I couldn’t “un-know” it. In this case ignorance is bliss, but sadly our ignorance coupled with our demand for dirt-cheap clothing is actually hurting people. But take heart, change starts with you and me even on the smallest of levels. And the process of re-wiring how we do our shopping may not be as daunting as you think.
So what’s next? How do you get from a place of shopping solely with your personal economy in mind to a place of purposefully buying from companies that do not engage in the fast-fashion game? Here are three baby steps I’d like to share with you guys. Keep in mind, I am no expert on this topic, but I can share what has worked for me.
1) Slow down. This has been so key for me. It’s given me time to learn and re-evaluate. I have taken time to learn what I truly like, instead of wasting money on items I think I am going to like and then don’t wear or get rid of quickly. Slowing down has allowed me time to learn about the growing list of independent designers and ethical retailers. It seems the more I look the more I find (mostly on the internet and through blogs and Instagram).
Don’t bemoan what you’ve already bought. It would be very unsustainable to go toss out all your fast fashion items. The best thing now is to wear them for the maximum amount possible before passing them on.
2) Shift your mindset about clothes being a consumable good. Why do we feel like we have to constantly add to our closets? The more we fill them up the more we need to clear them out, thus the cycle of clothing being a consumable good. Are we regularly adding to our coffee mug collection or the number of plates in our cupboard? Or can we get to a place where there is finally “enough” or maybe a slower trickle of changeover?
If we don’t want our clothing to be consumable goods we must shift over to the mindset of buying quality over quantity. If you keep buying paper plates to eat off of, of course you will be replacing them regularly. But if you buy some sturdy china or fiestaware, you can have a gorgeous set of ten that you use and lovingly care for year after year. The same goes for clothes. If you keep buying cheap shirts from Old Navy or H&M you’re probably only going to get a few seasons out of them. Spend $130 on one pair of amazing (and probably made in the USA jeans) instead of five cheap pairs that won’t last and probably total the same cost. But Andrea, you say, I like replacing my clothes every season so I can stay “current” and “trendy.” My response to that is: I encourage you to dig deep to find out if you’re truly being stylish or just trendy. Does your sense of style come from within and what you like, or are you like a cork riding the ocean waves of endless fashion? If you buy what you truly like and love, you’ll learn to be okay with investing some more dollars into it because it serves you, and you aren’t serving a trend – plus you end up wearing it much longer. True style transcends trends. Not that I am one to buck trends by any means, I love them. However they can be done poorly and they can be done well. Pick the top trends you love and do a few of them very well rather than trying to do them all cheaply.
3) Learn to love second-hand shopping. I did not become a successful thrifter until the last few years. I think the biggest single component for me to be successful is that I know what I am after (have a list) and I have a semi-clear picture of my own personal style. The second biggest factor is definitely which stores I shop at. When I lived in Eugene and Salem (Oregon) I never had success at stores like Goodwill or St. Vincent dePaul. In Eugene I did okay at Buffalo Exchange and in Salem Value Village was my jam. But moving to Portland has been a second-hand feast! There are so many options here and even the Goodwill on Burnside has been great to me. Some of my favorite items have come from there. If you live in a smaller city, it might be worth to drive to the nearest big city just for the thrifting.
Buying second-hand saves clothing from the landfill and keeps the item from feeding into the 21 billion pounds of textile waste the U.S. creates per year. The brands you’re buying second-hand might not have been ethically or sustainably made, but giving those items a second life keeps you out of the fast-fashion cycle and is a good choice for the environment. For more on how to thrift well see my tips.
I feel like I’ve learned so much in the last few months and I have a lot more to share. I am already jotting down notes for a part two to this post, stay tuned! Later I also plan to highlight some of my favorite ethical brands that I’ve come across, from accessories to apparel to shoes. It’s an exciting marketplace out there. If you’re making the change in how you shop, I’d love to hear from you!