In September of 2015, I watched “The True Cost” and it changed my life. I decided that I would never again purchase any fashion item that was not either:
- Made in the U.S.A.
- Created using sustainable materials
- Created using fair trade/transparent labor practices
I wrote about my reasoning and thought process – including how I would handle the items in my existing wardrobe that didn’t fit these criteria – in this post, so if you’re curious about the backstory, I highly recommend taking a peek at that first! But if you’re up to speed on all that, I’ll dig right into how I’m feeling after a year (and a few months) of living with these restrictions.
I broke my own rules.
Let’s get this out of the way, shall we? I bought non-sustainable stuff. In addition to giving myself a pass on replacing my footie socks and wicking gym shirts, I bought a handful of things that just plain didn’t fit my self-imposed criteria. Not many things, but a few! Plus I found myself creating a questionable loophole: Buying from eBay means buying outside the retail system for the most part, but you can get loads of brand new stuff on eBay. Buying something truly used is far better, but I purchased a couple of NWT items, justifying my purchases by reasoning that my money was going to a person instead of a corporation. And that this person getting my money didn’t impact labor policies or statistics about consumer demand. It’s bogus logic and I didn’t use it often … but it snuck in a few times.
If you’re appalled or disappointed to hear this, I understand. I’m disappointed in myself, too. But again, the goal is to make better, less harmful choices whenever I can. Making crappy choices occasionally – even voluntarily – is part of being human. And overall, I did what I set out to do: I bought less, recycled more (and more effectively), and stuck to my personal policies at least 90% of the time. So I feel like got an A- for 2016. Not too bad!
It was challenging/irritating at times.
But not as aggravating as you might imagine! I have it pretty easy: I’m a medium-sized woman with fairly mainstream tastes and a flexible budget. I can find nearly everything I want used or handmade, so I rarely even delved into buying brand new stuff from eco-friendly brands. I found myself getting anxious to buy stuff that didn’t fit my criteria most often when we traveled. I love shopping in boutiques, and adore bringing home little wearable souvenirs from excursions … but most affordable clothing boutiques are devoid of items that have been made domestically or sustainably. And browsing endless racks of made-in-China clothes loses it’s charm pretty quickly. Overall, though, this change in shopping behavior didn’t feel like a giant, onerous imposition. It just felt like a new way to think about shopping.
This was a tumultuous and extremely busy year, so I didn’t have a lot of time to browse my local thrift and consignment stores. And, as I just mentioned, most of what I found myself wanting to buy could be bought secondhand or directly from an artisan. So most of my purchases were made online via Etsy and eBay. I also both bought and sold via The Realreal, and enjoyed being able to access quality designer brands at relatively affordable prices.
I consigned like a madwoman.
A year ago, I wrote this post about how thrift stores can’t handle the sheer volume of stuff they receive as donations. Bearing that in mind, I chose consignment first over donation. If I’d identified an item I knew wasn’t going to work in my wardrobe, and that item could be sold instead of donated, I sold it. Part of living sustainably is reducing waste, and if the things I’m casting off are ending up in landfills, I need to be more careful about what I buy in the first place. I’d say my charitable clothing donations for 2016 were a quarter of what they’ve been in years past.
I relied on my outfit list even more than usual.
Another aspect of sustainable living is using what you’ve already got. To ensure that I didn’t just wear the same things over and over, I leaned heavily on my outfit list. Any new items were set aside until I had time to build outfits around them and incorporate them into my master list. That way, everything I owned was always mixed into my pre-tested outfit choices. This helped me utilize what I own, feel more pulled-together, and road-test new-to-me items to make sure they were keepers.
Yes, I think I can do this forever.
I will “cheat.” I will screw up. As someone who considers style to be an important outlet for personal creative expression, I will probably always be a clothing and accessory hound and someone who enjoys shopping. So I’ll never bat 1,000! But as someone who has amassed a versatile, practical, fun wardrobe and doesn’t really “need” much more, I also know that keeping these parameters in place is both morally important to me, and a minor imposition. As of right now, I can’t see any reason to stop limiting my fashion purchases to sustainable ones. Never say “never,” but … I just can’t see it happening.
No, I don’t think everyone should do this.
I would love to say that what I did is possible for everyone. It’s not. Shopping sustainably as a tall, petite, or plus-sized person is INCREDIBLY limiting. Shopping sustainably as a tall student or plus-sized mother of five or anyone with a minuscule budget is difficult and frustrating. And yes, secondhand is always and option. And yes, you can actually make your own clothes. But doing either of those things as a person with extremely limited free time is virtually impossible. Right now, the fashion world is veeeeeerry sloooooooowly making it easier to buy sustainable clothing, and I encourage everyone to try to consume sustainably whenever possible. But the parameters I set for myself are specific to me, and I’m privileged to be able to follow them as I did.
I will continue to make sure that shopping recommendations on this blog include sustainable options whenever possible – a practice that has shown me how easy it is to find sustainable basics and how impossible it can feel to find sustainable non-basics. And I hope you find this helpful, since seeking out eco-friendly or handmade alternatives might not be top-of-mind when you’re shopping for yourself. And I’m gonna find a more prominent home for this post on vendors and brands with sustainable, conscious, and worker-focused practices.
And I hope you’ll let me know if YOU are attempting to create sustainable style in your own way! I’d also love to hear about brands you love with eco-minded practices or discoveries you’ve made about brands that appear sustainable but aren’t really. (There are gobs.) Keep me posted on your sustainability journeys, won’t you?
**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. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.