In my last post I explored on the horrors of the fashion industry and this world of waste we live in. Report after report from NPR to the parent tour we recently did for Kindergarten highlight levels of anxiety and depression as a concern for almost everyone. We are constantly bombarded with terrible news and often feel powerless to make a difference. Fleeing Syrians, lead in kids drinking water, shootings, robberies, children obducted, animals abused, it goes on and on everyday. Its easy to throw your hands up, retreat to a bubble, and refuse to do anything because you CAN’T do everything or worse internalize it and let it fester inside causing depression and anxiety. Stop. Stop right there. Look closer because you can almost always do something. In this blur of fast fashion and never ending consumerism what can one little person do in their own homes? Here’s a good start.
What can YOU do?
First and foremost voting with your dollar is ALWAYS the most effective way we can create change – especially when we band together. Like it or not we live in a capitalist country and there is no way out of it, unless of course you move far far away and even then the environmental effects of it will still get to you. So…….make some lemonade! If you like cheap thrills at the expense of other’s wellbeing by all means head to Old Navy or Gymboree and fill up a bag or two. However if you do not, think long and hard before you make your next purchase. Do you really need this? Can you find this locally? Is there someone making this without harmful chemicals? Was this made responsibly? Is this packaged gently? Can I find this used? The list goes on and on. The important part here is NEVER and I mean NEVER buy anything mindlessly – especially if its a bargain too good to be true. Clothes are a huge one, but don’t forget to also consider other purchases. The measuring cups I used to make cookies last night, the chair I am sitting in, the computer I am typing on. Every single item has a journey. A good one or a bad one. We cannot blindly purchase ANYTHING. ANYTHING.
Shop Used. The amount of clothing already in circulation is ridiculous. We are talking the Great Wall of China size bales of used clothes that no one wants, happening all the time. So if you can, absolutely start there. Sarah did a great post with tips for shopping used. We’ve talked about ThredUp here and on Instagram. I cannot stress how convenient it is to shop used for my ever growing daughter late at night from the comfort of my own bed, without being bombarded constantly with questions of “can we buy this?” “and this?” “and this?”. I’ve also found some great items for myself there too. Shopping used is not a new concept to me. I grew up with a mother who dragged me through the flea market as an infant. I love finding one of a kind treasures that no one else has and adding a little bit of (tasteful) funk to my wardrobe. I even purchased my wedding dress used from my favorite local consignment shop – Magpie. I drove by it in the window on my way home from work and thought it was so beautiful. It disappeared from their display and after thinking about it for weeks I went in to inquire about it and low and behold it had been returned that day! I wasn’t even engaged yet, terrible luck I’m sure, but when I tried it on I thought it was the perfect rehearsal dinner dress. Almost 3 years later I wore it for our sweet civil service wedding in San Francisco. It was completely handmade and set me back only $120, which compared to the thousands some people spend on something that was made in less than admirable conditions was a steal. I strongly encourage you to give your local consignment shops a second glance. Its a great way to lighten your closet and find some eco-friendly treasures. Check out many of the stats from this resale report from ThredUp. As we have said over and over used clothing is a real economical way to be responsible and used no longer carries the negative stigma that it may have in the past. Even the ever stylish Sarah Jessica Parker buys all her kids clothes used because its more “ethical”.
Buying made in the US is not enough, which is what I did for years. I was so annoyed with China taking American jobs I refused to purchase anything made abroad, but the reality is that Made is the USA is not always a stamp for living wages and good working environments. We have illegal sweatshops right here on our soil. Check out the tags at Forever 21, a lot of fast fashion is made here too. Corporations will not do the right thing on their own. It is absolutely up to us. I thought about compiling a list of where you should shop (or even more devastating where you shouldn’t) but that hardly felt effective. There are lines from A to Z that are making responsible clothing with t-shirts that range from $20 to $150+. Plus I haven’t tried them all or even a large chunk for that matter so how can I promote something I have no experience with? There will be times when you absolutely have to purchase something new so when you do, do your research or lean on someone who has done it for you. When I visited my favorite boutique, Pacific Trading Co., in Downtown Santa Cruz for spring break I jumped for joy when I saw the new tags they were sporting on their inventory. They check off what applies to each garment and if there is no green tag it means that that item may not qualify for any of those (do ask because I found a few items that were missing their tags). This makes it so much easier for the consumer to make responsible choices. Follow them on Instagram for more on the ethical brands that they carry. Don’t fret responsible clothing is not all hippie sandals and tie dye anymore!
Another source that I subscribe to is The Good Trade. Everyday I get an email with links to podcasts, interesting articles, artists, and travel as well as a fashion, all with a sustainable theme. I find the prices have a huge range which makes it not feel so exclusive, not everyone can shell out $400 for a pair of shoes, but a $20 sweatshirt seems doable for most. I found another company that claims to certify sustainable fashion, however upon digging farther I noticed that a lot of the lines they claim are making good choices were on the lists of others claiming they were deceitful. It seemed fishy so I have declined to use them as a source. Where we are in this place of time makes it tough for the consumer. If feels like you really can’t trust anyone, so research is absolutely necessary. However the more we vote with our dollars, the more we pave the way for less research on our part and more ethical practices become the norm. Its sad but it’s our reality for now.
Assume that if the price is dirt cheap its made by someone in unfair working conditions, in an environmentally hazardous way. Nothing is free, nothing responsible is cheap. Don’t use this as a way to justify to the budget boss in your family to buy high end. High end is often no better than low end products. If you are buying a couture gown that is completely and totally handmade down to the lace hem, then yes you are buying a product that is made by a real artisan. But as a general rule: price tag is not an indicator for quality or responsibility. Does this mean that only the well off can be responsible? Absolutely NOT. Elizabeth Cline’s argument was that when you take into account the total amount one spends on clothing a year its likely the same percentage of our income we have been spending throughout the decades but now instead of saving for that perfect coat, we buy many of them and toss them aside. Take the time to examine the seams and hems. Don’t know what to look for? Google it. There are tons of videos on how a quality garment is constructed. Have some extra time? Like to try something new? Take a sewing course, there is no better way to appreciate the value of a craft until you have tried it first hand. Remember that in days past we made nearly all our clothes or at least maintained them. When a button falls off wouldn’t it be nice to be able to quickly put it back on rather then paying someone else to do it or even worse discarding the garment for a simple fix? People actually do that! When you buy quality garments fixing them is almost always possible. Clothing used to have french seams so it could shrink and grow with our fluctuating waistlines (oh how nice would that be!). Often our cheap items are not meant to last so fixing is not an option, like my Old Navy long sleeve flowy top. Not only are the seams terribly crooked, but the fabric is literally disintegrating. Every time i wash it it gets more and more see-through and small holes are starting to develop. Had the fabric been a higher quality I would not be running into this issue with a shirt that is roughly four years old.
Care about the fabric content. Look at the tag! Natural fibers are always the best choice, but also take into consideration the amount of chemicals it takes to grow those materials. The amount of pesticides used to grow cotton is gnarly, and the devastation those chemicals cause especially to children is even more disturbing. Choose organic or pesticide free fibers. Recycled is great too. I still have a GAP wool coat purchased vintage in my high school days and the content says “100% recycled natural wool”. I think its from the early 70s but it is in great shape and I always get compliments on it. Its a shame that corporation doesn’t make pieces like that anymore. Wool, linen, bamboo, and cotton are all natural and can be sustainable. Silk is also natural, but highly controversial. I appreciate the material and have a few silk blouses and pajamas that I love to wear, but we have devastated the silk worm so much that they cannot survive and reproduce without human intervention. Hardcore vegans will not touch silk products and I get it. The industry has fabricated a product called Tencel which you will see on many labels, it is a good silk alternative. Its natural but takes more processing like bamboo products. Its made of wood pulp, its breathable, wrinkles less, and sometimes feels softer than silk. Polyester, rayon, nylon etc. are just glorified words for plastic. Avoid these, unless you are buying used, as these materials take more than our lifetimes to break down…..if ever. My great grandma at 99 years young is still rocking her polyester pant suits on a daily basis and they look the same as they did when she made them (yes MADE them), which is great for her. But when she is ready to part with them they will rock this earth for many years to come and I’m not sure they will find a new clientele. I want my clothing to last that long, but only if my great granddaughter is stoked on inheriting them, otherwise it can decompose with me too please.
When you shop, shop small. Pick a local boutique and ask them about the lines they carry. They are likely to be more knowledgable and more willing to find the answers to your questions then anyone at Old Navy would. After I watched the film I took a stack of clothes back to the GAP that I had purchased for my daughter, when asked the reason for my return I simply said “the conditions by which they were made are unsatisfactory” the sales manager didn’t even offer a rebuttal just simply put her head down until she completed my transaction. Independent retailers have so much more control about what comes into their spaces, they often have real connections with the makers, so don’t hesitate to engage them in the product. I mentioned my favorite boutique in Santa Cruz, but you would be surprised they may exist in your hood and you’re not even aware. Ethical Clothing in Petaluma is just that, ethical clothing. They were started by two girls who love fashion and want to feel good about what they wear. I often feel better when I put on something that has meaning. Do you have pieces like that? Something that gives you the warm and fuzzies?
We had a family member lose her house to the Santa Rosa fires this last fall. In her 70s she undoubtedly had collected a lot of things over the years. When we asked what she was most devastated about losing she replied her “wardrobe”. She had spent years collecting items that she loved and customizing them to fit just right. She talked about a seamstress in Berkeley who made beautiful works of art that she had commissioned many times to create one of a kind pieces. They weren’t trendy by any stretch but they made her feel good and happy. That she said she would never be able to replace. It’s interesting to think about that being something on the top of the list of items that one would miss, especially since some days I fantasize about lighting all the items in my closet on fire so I can start over.
I have a bracelet that Robert makes fun of because it resembles what he equates to what a super hero would use for of communication. He points to it and asks if I am calling for back up. I just roll my eyes, what does a man in sweat pants know about jewelry and fashion anyways? Its made of brass and copper with a turquoise stone in the center. Its different and chunky. On our very first vacation together we went to Acapulco and took a day trip to the mining town of Taxco. Off the main square I stumbled into a jewelry shop and started talking to the young woman behind the counter. It turned out that it was her father’s shop and he made the majority of the pieces except for the small display in the corner which she handmade. They were very very different than her father’s creations and I loved that she was interested in her family business but wanted to contribute with her own style. I bought the bracelet almost ten years ago and still I love it. In fact I hope to someday build a closet that feels exactly like that, full of treasures that I love. Imagine if we all did that? How much simpler it would be to get ready? To face the day? And how much bounce would it bring to our steps?
In conclusion remember this:
- Shop Used
- Before You Buy Anything – Research Research Research!
- The Price Tag is not Always an Indicator of Quality
- Consider the Content
- Dissect the Fabrication
- Buy Quality not Quantity and When it Needs it, Mend it!
- Shop Small
- Don’t Even Think About Buying Anything Unless You Love It – No Ifs Ands or Buts!!
And above all – VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR!! Remember that a too good to be true deal is often a horrible situation for someone else!