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~Dressing sustainably is the process of clothing oneself without violating the environment or other human beings.
My desire to dress sustainably has definitely been a process. On one hand it seems as though it should be an easy process, yet I found it to take a bit more thought and consideration than I had originally expected.
At first, my goal was to just be a good steward of what I already owned, committing to wear everything until it wore out. There’s nothing wrong with that thinking, and to be honest, I’ve done this for years primarily from a monetary standpoint. I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes, and so I’ve always tried to buy classic styles and keep them forever. Chasing trends seems futile to me, it’s a game you can never win anyway. I truly believe that one can be stylish and look nice without spending a lot of money by coordinating key pieces of clothing in colors that go together easily.
If the need for a new piece of clothing arose, for me or the children, the thrift store was always where I went first. I absolutely LOVE Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores! Purchasing name brands and good quality clothing for a fraction of the retail cost is awesome, and I feel good about not contributing to the retail fashion treadmill.
But frankly, the turning point for me about dressing sustainably came after I watched a documentary called “The True Cost”. It was at that point that I realized that choosing a minimalist wardrobe wasn’t just about me saving money or about not succumbing to the fashion industry. It was about so much more. It was about other people’s very lives.
This movie was life-changing for me, so much so that I insisted my teenaged daughter watch it. She was heartbroken after watching “The True Cost” and you will be as well.
I had no idea how much damage worldwide we do by participating in “fast fashion”. We (the consumers) participate in destroying the local economies of third world countries by dumping tons of used clothing in their communities. How? Because local businesses can’t sell anything if tons of free clothing and shoes are available all day, every day. Not only that, the very poor and desperate workers in these factories are many times subjected to life-threatening work conditions and extremely low wages, that would never be tolerated in our country. All of this drives down the retail prices for us, while keeping these poor workers and economies hostage. In these types of conditions, sex-trafficking and child labor are able to run rampate.
Back in this country, American workers have lost jobs due to outsourcing to these other countries, primarily due to manufacturer costs. And even further, 11 million tons of discarded clothing fills our landfills every year with artificial fiber that will never break down. All of this happens because there are consumers who allow it to happen. We, the consumers, vote with every dollar we spend.
“I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman producing it starves in the process”.
Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the US (1889-1893)
Today, I look at the labels to see where my clothing is made, even in the thrift stores. American-made is my first choice, but you’ll quickly find that there just aren’t enough American manufacturers. However, they’re out there, and they need your support . Look for companies who are fair-trade and ethical. Here’s a few links, here, here and here to get you started and take a peek at my Pinterest “Ethical Closet” board.
In the meantime, here’s a list of things to get you started on an ethical and sustainable wardrobe.
1. Completely stop shopping for clothes – This means going “cold turkey”…no online clothes shopping, no mall shopping, no department store shopping….none. More shopping won’t solve your wardrobe issues. Break any addiction you may have to clothes shopping. This is until you have a firm grip on what you already own and are using it effectively.
2. Deal with what’s in your closet – Pull everything out of your closet, yes everything, and lay it on your bed. You’ll want to do this on a day that you won’t be hurried to put everything back because it’ll take a day or two. Go through each piece of clothing and try it on. Do you feel good in it? Does it fit well? Is it in good condition? Have you worn it in the last 12 months?
If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, then set it aside and out of the way. This includes shoes, undergarments and purses.
Put what’s left back into your closet, categorizing by shirts, pants, sweaters, etc.
Make outfits with what you have left and look for gaps in your wardrobe. You might need a few things to pull your key pieces together, that’s ok. Explore new ways to find clothes by checking out your local thrift stores, garage sales and on-line marketplaces. This little app Stylebook can help you coordinate outfits for a small cost, but it might be useful for you.
3. Consider a clothing swap – If you have some like-minded friends, why not organize a clothing swap? Share and swap clothes without spending a dime.
4. Shop consignment – Online consignment like thredUp and Ebay can offer some great deals on used clothing. Of course, like I said, I love thrifting. There is such an overabundance of used clothing in the world, so much that we can’t dispose of it all properly (remember 11 million tons???). Buying used sends the message that as consumers, we aren’t interested in all the poor quality, unethical clothing being made. When we buy less, they make less.
4. Commit to ethical purchases – Look at the tags on clothing and avoid buying clothing from parts of the world that are known for human rights abuses. Do your best to buy American.
5. Think about making some of your own clothing – One of the reasons that I knit and sew is that I can by-pass “fast fashion” and create my own wearables. Knitting some of my own accessories and clothing allows me to purchase local yarn and support fiber farmers in my area. Fabric can be just as unethical as buying “fast fashion” so do your homework and find out who makes the fabric you purchase. An even better option is “upcycling”, by using cloth from used clothing. I love the idea of “upcycling”! I’ve even heard of knitters going to thrift stores to buy sweater, only to go home and completely unweave them and re-use the yarn.
You’ll feel so much better when you buy with awareness! Make small changes consistently and soon you’ll be dressing sustainably!