Doing Better Moving Forward: How Watching “The True Cost” Changed My Mind About Everything

the_true_cost

I’ve gushed quite a bit about Grechen’s blog and specifically her Minimal Closet series, and I will gush forevermore. Grechen’s honesty and candor about her own process and journey – moving from being a self-professed shopaholic toward being a conscious consumer and minimalist – is inspiring and unique. Months ago, she mentioned the documentary “The True Cost,” and described how viewing it was both appalling and important. The film explores fast fashion and clothing consumption at nearly every level from fiber farming to garment worker lives to supplier stress to environmental impact. And, as you might expect, there was irresponsibility, injustice, and ruthlessness at all of those levels.

Around the time the book Overdressed was released, a tiny little voice inside my head started piping up. It was a voice telling me that I needed to learn more about this stuff, needed to witness and understand and determine how to react. But I just couldn’t force myself to read the book. It was released during a time when I was overwhelmed by other aspects of my work and business, and eventually the idea of reading it got lost in the shuffle. But when Grechen started writing about “The True Cost,” the little voice started getting louder and angrier. When it started hollering that I had absolutely no excuse to avoid watching an hour-and-a-half documentary, I realized the time had come. So I watched. And everything changed.

Before I dive into that, though, a bit more about why I’d been alternately ignoring and bickering with this internal voice for a long time. I didn’t want to know because I didn’t want to look into my closet and see pain and injustice and desolation. I didn’t want to know because I imagined that knowing would limit me to a tiny handful of companies making expensive clothes that didn’t appeal to my own aesthetics. But more than either of those things, I didn’t want to know because I’m a very all-or-nothing person and I just didn’t see the point in trying to shop for clothing sustainably. I knew that horrible things were happening all along the production chain, and that items that appeared to be good choices on the surface could still be detrimental: The handmade tote bag created from leather that was tanned using polluting practices, the shirt that was sewn in the U.S. but from a fiber that wasn’t sustainably farmed, the organic cotton skirt created in near-sweatshop conditions, and so on. I didn’t feel like I could make a difference with my own actions because no matter what I chose, someone would get hurt. Unless I farmed the fibers organically myself using technology that didn’t require fossil fuels, spun my own thread, sewed everything using a solar-powered machine, hand-washed all the garments using organic detergent, and wore them all for 10+ years before repurposing them somehow, I would still be contributing to the problem. The problem was SO BIG and so far-reaching that I felt powerless to create change as an individual. I told myself that changes needed to happen at a systemic level, and believed that they would happen eventually based on the reporting and reacting I’d been seeing. I knew even as I made these excuses to myself that they were feeble and misguided, but I clung to them for a damned long time.

Watching the movie caused something to shift inside me. Seeing a mother who was forced to leave her daughter with family in another village so she could work longer hours at a garment factory, hearing about the brain tumors that cotton farmers consistently get, seeing the filthy runoff pour into rivers, learning that tons of donated clothing ends up in landfills or shipped to developing countries where it becomes a burden for other people to deal with … it had the effect on me that I’m sure the filmmaker intended: It made me realize that I couldn’t pretend this didn’t affect me, and that I had to do something.

And for whatever reason, it made me realize that I didn’t have to be so extreme in my thinking. I could give my money to companies that did one significant thing to make their practices less harmful, and even if my actions were minute they would be meaningful. I might never find any brands creating clothing in ways that were entirely innocuous from fiber to factory to store, but I could support the brands that took important steps.

So here’s what I decided: I would never again purchase any fashion item that was not either:

  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Secondhand/used
  • Handmade
  • Created using sustainable materials
  • Created using fair trade/transparent labor practices

I was delighted and relieved when I realized that many brands that have been long-time partners and supporters of this blog qualify quite easily. Karen Kane is made in the U.S., Gudrun Sjödén works with organic cottons and other fibers, Lissa the Shop stocks only brands that utilize sustainable fibers or practices, Shop Adorn stocks brands like organic fiber-focused Prairie Underground, Rhodesian of Edinburgh creates artisan-made satchels, Alternative Apparel uses sustainable fabrics and low-impact dyes, Etsy faves like Lockhart Wrks, Elizabeth Kelly London, and Adriana Soto create handmade items in their own studios, Eileen Fisher is committed to sustainability on every level.

But I was chagrined to see the volume of items from mall brands with questionable practices that hung in my closet. And I actually reached out to Grechen for her take: Now that I’ve committed to shopping more consciously, what about the fast-fashion leftovers? I’ve got lots of relatively new stuff that still fits and that I still love to wear but that has been made using harmful methods. Do I keep wearing it and visibly support brands I want to move away from? Do I donate it all and feed the quick-turn fast-fashion cycle while simultaneously risking it all getting shoved into a landfill? She ended up writing an eloquent post in response, saying:

You can have a conscious closet by simply continuing to wear what you have, keeping only what you love, and taking care of your clothes.

If you have items in your closet that you love and wear, that might have been produced in Bangladesh or Cambodia, keep wearing them! You may be conflicted about that, I get it, but you already own them; take care of them, and make them last as long as you can. Enjoy and wear those items and you will be honoring the women who made them.

And I agree. I would rather wear my Gap and H&M stuff until it is threadbare than offload it in bulk now, when it’s in perfectly good shape. While it’s true that it would’ve been better to get wise sooner and never have purchased those things in the first place, I lack a time machine and therefore must focus on doing better moving forward. So in future outfit posts, you’ll see that if I’m wearing and linking to a fast fashion/mall item, I’ll do my best to highlight a sustainable alternative, too.

The next conundrum: How to handle things like the sale picks posts and other product recommendations, which you’ve consistently told me you enjoy and find very useful. I don’t have a perfect solution. In those posts I’ve committed to tracking down three items that fulfill a specific reader request, making sure they’re all on sale/relatively affordable, and finding similar items in plus and/or petite and tall sizes as often as I can. That last one has become especially important to me since I know that many of you wear specialty sizes and feel excluded from these types of posts; I want to be inclusive and introduce frustrated shoppers to potentially new and helpful resources. But if I add sustainability factors to that list of requirements, the posts will be impossible to create, especially since most eco-conscious companies are yet to add petite, plus, and tall offerings. And although I want to encourage you readers to consider taking on some personal sustainability responsibility, I have no right to assume that you all will agree with or be able to adhere to my specific criteria. OR that all of you can afford to shop sustainable brands which are, admittedly, often more expensive than mall brands. So I will pledge to do my best to include and highlight responsible brands, and when I can’t find items that fulfill the request perfectly I’ll include relevant sustainable brands and resources that you can explore on your own.

My all-or-nothing mindset still creeps back in, especially when I begin to think about consumption practices unrelated to fashion: I don’t drive a hybrid car, don’t eat all organic, don’t have a home entirely illuminated by curly low-energy bulbs … but I am, quite frankly, not able to commit myself to a life that’s 100% free of environmental sin. Not yet anyway. Still, as someone who makes a living in the fashion industry – albeit somewhat tangentially – I know that I may be able to have an impact by changing how and where I shop. I can do better moving forward in this one area for now, and do my best to make progress in other areas over time.

Having lived with this practice for around two months now, I’ve flipped over enough clothing tags to see firsthand that nearly everything we see in retail environments is made in China or India. Even expensive and high-quality items. In response, I’ve begun to compile a list of companies and sites that meet my own sustainability requirements and would be happy to share that list if anyone is interested. But please also feel free to highlight companies, designers, websites, or manufacturers practicing low-impact production in the comments of this post. I’d love to add to my list, and I’m sure you will know about resources I’ve overlooked.

And if you haven’t seen “The True Cost” yet, it’s currently streaming on Netflix and available for rental. Watching it won’t be fun, but it’s likely to be transformative. I’d wager that a single viewing will inspire you to reevaluate your own choices, and afterward you may find yourself formulating your own criteria for doing better moving forward.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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  • Regan Byrne Palmer

    Thank you. For your blog, your work and your thoughts. You are a wonderful teacher.

    • Thank you for reading, Regan, and for your kind words and support.

  • Sewing Faille

    I would love for you to highlight more responsible/sustainable brands. It’s not something I’d put any effort into researching on my own– between sewing and thrift/consignment stores, I buy so few clothes new that it’s not really worth it– but anything that lowers my barrier to entry would be great.

    • I will – will try for next week or within the month. I need to clean it up a bit I now realize!

  • AldenWicker

    Hi Sally, a conscious blogger friend posted your article to our group. I totally feel you – it seems impossible at first to shop consciously. But there are actually way more brands out there doing it than you think! I have an extensive but curated guide to my favorite sustainable and ethical brands and boutiques that you might find useful: http://ecocult.com/shopping-guide/ Hope it helps!

    • Oh my gosh, thank you for sharing your link Alden! So helpful.

  • Linda B

    Sally, you voiced so many of my own thoughts and emotions in this piece! It is very hard to not see things as so black and white that we give up–but let’s not do that. I like your list of qualifications, and have been trying hard in recent months to live by that myself–mostly. Sometimes–not often–I still find myself in H & M, for instance. At least they have some organic cotton products–not enough.

    Thanks so much for everything you do. You are an inspiration to us all!

    • So glad, Linda! And H&M is a tough one, ya know? They’re one of the biggest fast fashion monstrosities but they push their clothing recycling and eco-consciousness initiatives SO HARD that I feel snowed sometimes. Lots of H&M to be found secondhand, though! There’s no denying they’ve got a great design team …

  • I commend your move toward greater mindfulness over where your clothes come from. It’s going to be difficult at first, I’m sure. It’s likely you’ll find yourself buying less due to both the higher cost and the lack of wide availability, but hopefully those items will be higher quality. The fashion manufacturing industry’s harmfulness to both the environment and to its workers is one of the reasons I shop so little these days and try to sew as much of my wardrobe as possible. But I can’t sew everything, and I can’t sew fast enough to keep up with what I want to see in my closet.
    I have one suggestion to you for amending your must-haves list, though: change “hand-made” to “home-made”. ALL clothing is hand-made, even in RTW factories in India or China. All those workers are using their hands and a sewing machine to sew the garments; it’s not done by robotic sewing machines like a car assembly line. It seems like a small thing, but as a sewer myself, I know just how much effort and time goes into making a single item of clothing. Classifying RTW garment construction as other than “hand-made” is one of the subtle ways that we disconnect factory-made garments from the people who make them, and that makes it easier to ignore the fashion industry’s human impact. Not a criticism, just a gentle suggestion.

    • Ginger

      That’s a very wise distinction, Stephani. I sew as well, and I’ve been puzzled by the use of that term. It is really meaningless when applied to fashion, including footwear and jewelry.

    • Great point, Stephani! Hmm, so when I poke around Etsy and sellers classify their garments as hand-made do I need to further clarify that they’re actually home-made, do you think?

      • In my opinion, that’s just a kind of marketing-speak to try and set their wares apart from factory-made items, and they’re guilty of not really considering what “hand-made” means and the implications of using that particular term. But to many people “home-made” sounds, as M. Kors would say, “Becky home-eccy” and there’s a stigma against it, as if it signifies lower quality and less skill. And sometimes it does, but I know many home sewers who have more skills and a finer attention to detail in their little fingers than many so-called pros will ever have. Maybe a better term for those vendors trying to sell unique items they’ve made themselves, rather than by factory work, since they’re setting themselves up as artisans, is “studio made”. I don’t know what the answer is; it’s a pervasive way of thinking that anything made at home is hand-made and anything made in a factory is made entirely by featureless robots.

        • janejetson

          Home-made makes me think of piece workers sewing in their homes. Piece work can be harder on the worker than being in a factory and can pay even less.

  • Rebekah Jaunty

    This is all great news! I’ve been mulling over these issues for awhile and moving further and further away from fashion blogs and outfit posts. I’m definitely looking forward to your future posts and experiences.

    Years ago, I watched a documentary called “China Blue” about a young sweatshop employee in China— and noticed that she wore the same pair of jeans through the whole doc. That stayed with me; she helped sew hundreds or thousands of garments, but could hardly afford any of her own. Thus, I agree with Gretchen’s message until the last line; I doubt anyone working in horrible conditions feels ‘honored’ by knowing that someone worlds luckier wears those clothes.

    Wishing you the best of luck in your upcoming ethical adventures, and hoping you can tell people like me how the heck to proceed.

    • Thanks so much, Rebekah! And I’m hoping you swing by again – Grechen did clarify a bit in a comment after reading yours.

  • circafashion

    Yes please share the sustainable shopping list.

    • Will do – glad to know so many of you are interested, and hope it sparks a conversation of resource-swapping!

  • Thanks for writing this post Sally! This subject has been on my mind on and off for the past few months and, like you, I felt paralysed by the scale of the problem. I try to remind myself that “every little bit counts” and would love to hear more about your list of sustainable brands!

    • Thanks, Lina! I’ll get the list out there soon.

  • Amy

    This is so thoughtful and well said. Thank you. Many of us struggle with this exact issue and you have inspired me to re-double my so far rather lame attempts at making the incremental changes that build up to big changes.

    • Thanks, Amy, and so glad to hear that you feel ready to explore change yourself.

  • Dust. Wind. Bun.

    I don’t know if there’s anyone else out there reading this who gets easily overwhelmed by these kinds of worries, but just in case, I thought I’d put it out there, in the hope that if they get to the end of Sally’s wonderful article and feel hopeless that my experience can help.

    I struggle a lot with trying to do the right/ethical/whatever thing – as I usually put it, my brain goes from zero to YOU ARE A WASTE OF RESOURCES JUST KILL YOURSELF IT’S THE ONLY WAY – and since I’d prefer, on the whole, to be alive than not, I’ve had to come up with coping strategies. One of the more obvious ones is, I can’t read books or watch documentaries like the ones in the post – if I want to know, I have to rely on people like Sally to tell me about them, so I don’t get stuck in the spiral on my own. But one that made a big difference to me when I realized it is coming up with “rules” to replace the intuitive moderating sense that the average person has about these things. I don’t have an inbuilt sense of how far is too far, so I just pick an arbitrary line in the sand. There’s generally a logic to it, because I can exercise a rational perspective long enough to formulate a rule but trying to fight my brain constantly to stay in that perspective all the time is a recipe for failure.

    Hence, rules. One rule, for example, is that I only consider boycotts on local businesses, because if I think about all the multinationals that are horrible (hint: all of them, for one reason or another), I get to ride on the kill yourself train, but I can handle the narrowed focus of local businesses, and the logic is, they might actually notice if I stopped giving them my money.

    So why did I decide this was at all relevant to the post? Aside from hoping I can help anyone else out there like me, I was pleased to see that Sally was using the rule strategy to guide her purchasing. I have a clothing rule, though it’s not as sustainability-focused (because sustainability issues are a faster trip to bad mental places for me than some other kinds of issues, so I have to be extra careful).

    I mostly shop thrift or consignment shops (outside of specialty items) – say, maybe 75% of the time. To keep myself from getting carried away buying crap I don’t need, especially when I’m shopping retail, my rule is, above and beyond considering fit and personal style etc: I don’t buy man-made fibers pretending to be something they’re not. Like, I’ll buy polyester fleece, because fleece is what it is, but I won’t buy polyester, or rayon, or acrylic done up to imitate silk or cotton or wool. I’ve made exceptions to this rule – generally when something has so many other awesome things going for it that I would kick myself later for passing on it (like the acrylic cardigan I thrifted that was my favorite semi-rare color, the shape I prefer, fit perfectly including sleeve length on my little T-rex arms, was made by the garment workers’ union, and had POCKETS) – but even being allowed to make exceptions makes me stop and think about what I’m purchasing.

    And I think that’s really the key – the important part of this whole thing is to THINK about what you’re doing, whether it’s using Sally’s rules, mine, making up your own, or maybe you can calculate it in your head on the fly each time (hi five to you, well-adjusted person!). Thinking, awareness, is the key, and whatever it takes to get you to a place where you can be aware is a step in the right direction.

    (Thanks, Sally, for writing this, and for putting up with my ramblings. Keep up the good work!)

    • Thanks so much for sharing this, lady – I’m certain it will be helpful to others because it was to me! I think one of the hardest things about extreme black-and-white thinking is that it not only leaves you with choices that can feel restrictive and less-than-ideal, but it can make you feel awful about yourself for not feeling capable of embracing more moderate options. (At least not every time.) It helps to know that there are lots of us out there, wanting to do better, struggling to know how, and hoping that whatever choices we make will actually have an impact.

      • Dust. Wind. Bun.

        UGH HOW ARE YOU SO NICE. But really, thank you! Makes me smile that you not only read my wall of text, it helped you. You’ve helped me a lot, so I feel good that I could give a bit back!

    • Monica H

      I just wanted to say that I really appreciate this post, and in reading it, I thought you and others might enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before.” She talks about the way people form habits, and among other useful insights, she has noticed most people tend to be either “moderators” or “abstainers.” Some people find it easier to have hard-and-fast rules, while others are better off navigating the gray areas. It is not that one is better than the other, just that recognizing your own tendencies can help you come up with strategies that work for YOU. We do often have a lot of judgement about our particular style (no matter which it is!) but it seems to help me at least to realize that each comes with costs and benefits, and each can be used successfully to get what you want, it just means you need a different set of responses. Sounds like you are an abstainer and have done a brilliant job of crafting a great strategy for yourself!

      • StKatesFashion

        Well said. It is about constant improvement and what works best for you in your context. The context will vary from place to place, person to person. Different regions face different challenges from sustainability perspective. A strategy that work in U.S. may not work in UK or in India. It may not even be relevant.

  • Sea

    Thank you so much. Your list is much like the guidelines I try to use, too. I appreciate your describing your process and I appreciate your continuing to blog about these ideas and practices.

  • Kristine

    I would LOVE to have that list so I can go back to it when I am ready to buy things. Can you please post it or would rather email it to people who request it?

  • Naomi

    Thank you so much for your transparency and bravery in posting this and determining to live by those standards!
    I lived on a communal farm type place until I was about 5 and my parents were both thrifty and second hand shoppers as well as my mom being a seamstress. (Sew-er looks odd)
    I also worked in a couple vintage boutiques in college and saw first hand the quality of thread, trimmings and notions, and fabric as well as construction that went into these treasures.
    Vintage and second hand clothing is somewhat overlooked as a resource for eco-stainable clothing, but I’m really glad you included it here.
    It’s hard to switch (and I’m still working on it) but as a life-long thrift/vintage/secondhand/ebay shopper, I say welcome!! 🙂

    • I agree, Naomi – I wonder why people don’t think more about secondhand as a sustainable option … you can get much better quality for far less money!

  • beate @ bahnwaerterhaeuschen

    bravo sally – bravo grechen!!!!!
    xxx

  • Elizabeth Hunter

    Why specifically made in the USA? Is it a case of “a country with labor laws you agree with” or just “home country”?

    • Great question! It’s a little of both, plus the knowledge that companies who DON’T choose to have their goods made abroad for cheaper often have a harder time keeping their businesses running. Prices are higher, people shy away. Supporting those companies with my dollars will hopefully keep them viable so they don’t succumb to the overseas labor market where conditions are more frequently oppressive and dangerous.

      There are, undoubtedly, sweatshop or near-sweatshop conditions at certain plants here in the U.S., and if any are ever exposed I’ll obviously never support those companies again. When I do my research before buying I do go beyond the canned company statements on websites, which are often full of doublespeak and mostly uninformative to look for news stories and other coverage. There is a much lower chance of a domestically made fashion product being created in a sweatshop environment, so it’s a good starting point.

      None of my criteria are perfect – again, handmade stuff is fabulous but much of it is created using materials made in sweatshops, or using toxic dyes, or other factors. But for me, it’s part of accepting that I’ve gotta start somewhere and have faith that even small positive steps can have an impact.

      Thanks for asking, Elizabeth!

    • StKatesFashion

      Made in USA has several interpretations. 1. Resonates with you and Sally’s response. In general we have more labor laws in place and we understand them better. 2. It means that in general the garment during the manufacture (majority of its transformation from fabric to garment) may have traveled less. 3. You are supporting local manufacturing and helping sustain the local manufacturing industry and jobs. I hope that is helpful.

  • greedygrechen

    i have to remind myself every day: baby steps. of course, i struggle with analysis paralysis, and still sometimes get overwhelmed because i can’t possibly do EVERYTHING i want to do, or have a 100% ethical, sustainable closet & lifestyle, so why bother? but i think when we move towards mindfulness, being conscious of what we’re buying and why, we at least OWN that purchase decision in a way we might not have before. it doesn’t always mean we’ll make the right decision, or the PERFECT decision, but at least we are making a conscious decision…that is truly all we can do at any given moment.

    and i just want to clarify what i meant by the statement you quoted above: “Enjoy and wear those items and you will be honoring the women who made them.” since rebekah brought up a valid objection –

    what i was struck with most when watching the film is the idea that these women were injured, or died, or leave their children every day to work in a factory so that “we” can buy cheap clothes and maybe not even WEAR them at all (as the girl in the haul video said – she’s not sure she’ll even wear what she bought at H&M), or wear them once or twice and then toss them out. i don’t think the women working in the factories are necessarily “jealous” that they can’t afford the jeans they make, but I do think they would be mortified to know that they work and sacrifice (perhaps even loose legs) to make clothing that’s not even WORN. can you imagine? i know I am mortified by that idea. so whether or not those women feel honored, i don’t know, but i know that it is appalling to me to think of throwing something perfectly good and usable out that someone sacrificed to make simply because i’m tired of it, or i only bought because it was cheap…

    • Thanks for clarifying, Grechen, and for being such an honest and open inspiration.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. Whether they know that the people wearing the clothes they’ve made are honoring their work or not, it’s still important to do it. And the more that work is honored, I have to think/hope, the more possible it is that it will have a trickle-down effect.

  • Brenda Marks

    Kudos for tackling a huge and nuanced issue. I sew most of my own clothes, and I suppose the next step is focusing on organic cloth. (I wonder how I can tell about sheep & wool cloth on a bolt. There’s no source info, really.)

    I’d be interested in bras and bra production. Those are the garments I haven’t figured out how to make to my satisfaction.

    Thanks for sharing your evolving journey. I appreciate your sensibilities, style and resourcefulness!

    • I spoke with my friend Trinity about cloth and yarn, and she had the same concerns. She mentioned that there’s some standard for low-impact dyes that’s often visible on packaging – Oeko-Tex Standard 100. It doesn’t pertain to the fiber itself, but another factor in its production.

      And I’d recommend poking around K.Line’s blog: http://line4line.blogspot.com/ She’s made a number of bras herself and written extensively about her processes. And she’s a bra connoisseur!

  • Karen

    I’m excited that you’ll be including more information about sustainable and otherwise responsible brands in your posts, as these topics have been on my mind, too. And yes, please share the list!

  • Sara

    I know you are a fashion blogger, but I would suggest that anyone’s thought process in purchasing an item would also include your true need for the garment. It is still wasteful and harmful to the environment to buy an organic cotton T if you have 30 other t-shirts in your drawer. In my case, I buy one quality, ethical and sustainable clothing item a month, rather than waste money on low quality fast fashion.

    • Indeed. Although I would argue that if you own a large number of garments but keep them, care for them, and wear them until they are worn-out you are not creating waste just by buying and/or owning more. Especially if what you buy has been created with sustainability in mind, or was used to begin with.

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  • Elise Ferer

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. What are you doing about shoes and handbags? I need a new pair of slip on sneakers, but am not sure what to do, where to buy?

    • They’re the toughest, Elise. I’m in the VERY privileged position of having lots of shoes in great shape so I don’t need to buy more. Bags I source from Etsy and eBay much of the time, and if you don’t mind used shoes eBay is a great resource. There are a handful of shoe companies that create in the U.S., Spain, elsewhere in Europe, or using sustainable materials/techniques. Coclico is designed in NY, made in Spain. Some Fryes (though not all) are made in the U.S. Munros are all U.S.-made. As you might imagine, these are all expensive brands. I’ll include shoes in the resource list post. And if anyone else has suggestions, fire away!

      • Scratch that – when I need new underwear and bras, I imagine THAT will be toughest.

        • Naomi

          One possible solution that I found: I put an ad for a seamstress on Craigslist and turned my too-worn-in tee shirts (and some I found at the Goodwill that had wonderful material but were too small/large) into custom- made underpants. I used a pair that fit really well as a pattern. I paid 20$ per pair for custom made to my size, eco friendly, small local biz underpants, and they are among my favorite and most comfy ever!!

          I lived in the Philippines for 3 years and had almost everything custom made because I’m so tall and a size 14-16, so nothing really fit. Having things custom made for you, if you can afford to do it, is such a great experience. You’re supporting local business people (most of whom can’t work outside the home), limiting consumption, and being eco friendly (well, kind of!). And it’s made just for you!!

        • Jennifer

          I used to feel kind of secure in that area by buying Hanes, which were American made until recently (2009, I think). My grandparents actually made their livings working in a Hanes factory in North Carolina, so I felt doubly good about buying that brand. But alas, they, too, have outsourced to other countries for some of their wares. I don’t feel the need for fancy underwear, and imagine that apart from Etsy shops, there’s little ethical stuff out there. I buy about 85 to 90% of my clothes from thrift shops, so I feel a little better. I cannot buy socks, underwear, bras, activewear, shapewear, swimsuits, tights, wide-calf boots, or current-looking dresses at thrift stores, though (being plus size puts further limits on it). I’ve been looking for good consignment stores in my area, but would also love to know some sustainable new sources.

        • Elise Ferer

          Also workout clothes. I do a lot of power yoga and I want to buy new clothes for that. I’m comfortable thrifting most of my clothes – except underwear and workout gear. And I’m so picky about good bras, that I care a little less about how they are made. (Sorry :()

        • I’ve been buying (everyday) undies from Pact. I really love their boyshorts and their socks. (And I really enjoyed this post and will check out the movie too. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years and have been making small steps to improve…liking buying undies and socks from Pact when they go on sale or buying most other things from thrift stores.) Dearkate also has underwear and workout/yoga shorts/pants and those are made in the US, I believe. I haven’t tried them yet, so I can’t comment on quality, etc., but I have heard good things.

  • Naomi

    I was still thinking about this last night (good work! rare is the blog post that stays with me) and I wanted to add something that might be of note. I think one reason that fast fashion is so tenacious despite it’s many flaws is that it allows working and middle class people (or just those on a budget at any level) to feel rich and carefree, even if it’s for a moment.

    Prancing along the sidewalk, arms draped with crisp shopping bags; and inside those bags are reams of brand new, never worn, cute, in style clothing.
    Being able to walk in to a store and scoop up multiples of something you like.
    Being able to buy a nice poofy pile of stuff and not break the bank.
    Being able to shop for leisure or for a mood boost.
    Being able to wear a new outfit or accessory when you want, or every weekend.

    These things used to be the province of the very rich and “ladies who lunch” only. Working class, lower and middle class people and recent immigrants to the USA had to make do with a small wardrobe of “re-made” pieces or hand me downs with one or two special occasion new pieces (many still do, of course!).

    Many of my favorite books set in 1900-1960s ish feature a scene where the poor relation goes to a rich relation’s house to accept hand me downs–cashmere sweaters and Pendleton skirts, hardly worn, but that Carter or Harrison “just didn’t like”.

    I do like that some very cool and stylish people have made DIY, repurposing, and custom-made/single source hand made stuff more “in”, so let’s hope it comes full circle and high fashion women have a small, carefully curated wardrobe of exquisite, eco friendly and ethical pieces. 🙂

    • YES. So much yes. And this is addressed so some extent in the film, too. The feeling of abundance is so enjoyable, almost addictive, and fast fashion makes it utterly attainable even to those with limited disposable income.

    • Maria

      Yeah, the ‘pile of new clothes’ is a sentiment that many people share while shopping, especially at sales; I don’t understand why people have ‘scarcity fear’ in a period where we’re saturated with cheap options, and you can shop basically everywhere (online), but still, the want to buy lots of things in one go is strong. I was like that some years ago and I’ve changed since then, and now I don’t understand the popularity of Chinese retailers, where everything is cheap and of scarce quality…

      p.s. I know this isn’t related to the topic, but I would like to know some of the titles of the books you mentioned; I love stories of the early ‘900, that describe routines and ways of living so different from now, and was curious; for example I’ve liked stories like ‘An old fashioned girl’!

      • Naomi

        Let me mentally rifle through my list and get back to you 🙂 Offhand, I think Ann Rivers Siddons is one author who occasionally uses this trope: the wealthy family handing down hardly worn items to the poor relations. 🙂

  • Monica H

    Sally, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your journey. I am in the category of those not yet feeling able to take this journey and feeling overwhelmed by it. It is so hard for me to find clothes that I like and that fit, that is really all that I’m able to do right now. I am a tall size, and many more “conscious” brands don’t fit me, as you mentioned.

    So, I have taken the tactic of really trying to just buy things that I know I will love and wear for a long time.

    Also, the truth here, as in many issues, is complicated. I thought this was brilliantly illuminated in “The Travels of a T Shirt in the Global Economy” which I read a number of years ago. In regards to workers specifically, the garment industry has always been among the first industries in underdeveloped places, and while the working conditions may be abysmal, people work there because it is in many cases much BETTER than their other available options. That woman in China may need to leave her baby all day, but her baby is not starving in the countryside on a farm. Perhaps I am merely finding ways to justify my own actions, but I also feel too many times information is biased in one direction and we need to look at the whole picture.

  • janejetson

    I guess one of my rules is being thoughtful about what I bring in to my home. It isn’t only clothes that are made under such conditions but lots of consumer goods including food.

    I also wonder about the workers. Where else would they work if the factories shut down tomorrow? I am not condoning abuse, just wondering. We have that history in the states as well. Conditions like this existed in our country less than 100 years ago. Read up on the Triangle Factory Fire. It’s fascinating. It was a phase our country went through, and is still going through on the way to progress. I am just so conflicted. I will do my best to be thoughtful about what I buy and take good care of what do have. Rather than donating to a charity that may or may not actually sell my clothes I like to donate them on Freecycle. For some reason I feel better giving them to a person in need. Several teachers have taken my daughter’s out grown clothes to have on had for students.

  • Anne Ford

    I loved your blog already, and now I love it even more. Thank you so much for all the wonderful resources you provide. I will look forward to your list of sustainable brands! Please keep up the amazing work!

  • StKatesFashion

    Hello Sally, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I am so looking forward to see your comparable sustainable suggestions. I feel the same way about not being 100% sustainability sin free but being conscious and taking one step at a time. I am working on screening the movie at St. Catherine University and will make it s free public event. Once I have more details I will let you know so that you can share with your readers. I also posted some easy things that we all can do on my blog https://tripletopline.wordpress.com/ . Also, I am sure you have heard of Indigenous https://www.indigenous.com/ tto potentially add to your list. We also have http://www.ecopetites.com/ which is local to MN. Anu

  • Grace Holt

    I am so glad to see a blogger I regularly read take on a this topic! I watched “The True Cost” about a month ago, and it just broke me. I’ve already been a supporter of Fair Trade and sustainable fashion, and write about it regularly on my blog, but there is always something so much more affecting when you see the stories and faces of individuals. I’d keep waffling between, “I have no money to buy Fair Trade, but at least I’m writing about it so maybe other people will buy ethically” and “oh, it’s just one little necklace from Wal-Mart,” without any real conviction. That little nagging voice saying I shouldn’t support my own consumerism (that I often ignored) is now right at the forefront of my mind. I think, too, examining my own tendencies to “stress-shop,” or “bored-shop,” or “I have some extra money, so I think I’ll shop-shop,” even when my shopping sprees are almost always at local thrift stores; and being honest with myself about my spending habits (i.e. if I just didn’t shop for a month, I could probably buy something from a sustainable brand that I NEED with the money I saved) was a big wake-up call for me.

    I did end up taking a hiatus from blogging as well, because I had to examine another question for myself: “does fashion blogging drive consumerism…?” I actually don’t have an answer here, because I love the self-expression that comes from getting dressed in the morning, and I do enjoy the hunt of secondhand shopping. I decided to come back to writing, and focus on outfits that include predominately fair trade and/or secondhand items, as well as being faithful to share my Fair Trade Friday posts every week. We’ll see where things go from there!

    If you’re ever looking for shopping ideas, feel free to stop by my blog from time to time!

    http://livingwithaholts.blogspot.com/

    Some other great sites and companies I love for your list:
    (blog) Let’s Be Fair: http://www.letsbefairblog.com/
    (shoes) Sseko Designs: http://ssekodesigns.com/
    (shoes) Nisolo: http://nisolo.com/
    (clothes and jewelry): Mata Traders: http://www.matatraders.com/
    (clothes and accessories): 4 All Humanity: http://www.4allhumanity.com/
    (jewelry): Starfish Project: https://www.starfish-project.com/
    (everything): http://modavanti.com/
    (everything): http://www.fashion-conscience.com/
    (underwear!!) Pact: http://www.wearpact.com/our-story/
    (a list of lingerie co’s): http://thenotepasser.com/blog/2014/2/7/ethical-lingerie

    I’m sure there’s more out there, but that’s all the space I’ll take up. Thanks again for writing and sharing your thoughts, they needed to be heard.

    • Grace, thanks for sharing your honest thoughts and struggles – and again for sharing these resources! I’ve got a few on my list already, but am eager to check out the rest,

  • This is great! I follow a very similar set of rules in general, but have found it near impossible to do for work clothing. In particular, I find there are very few ethical clothing companies that make dress pants that would be appropriate in my semi-conservative office. While I do wear far more dresses and skirts than I used to, I still like wearing pants. I would love it if you could highlight some ethically-focused companies that also do a lot of office wear type of clothing, especially dress pants.

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