Can one person make a difference? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. We recycle, we compost, we try to lead a simpler life, but when it comes to clothes and shoes, a main focus is to look good and be comfortable. I am not super trendy (comes with my current status of stay-at-home-mom and hitting the playground circuit after pre-school), but when I go out, I want to remember that I “clean up well”. I live in New York City after all!
So how do you look good and do good at the same time? Is the answer shoes and clothes made of recycled post-consumer plastic water bottles? Until about 5 minutes ago, I thought it could be the solution…take our waste and turn it into something useful. No longer would we need new petroleum to make our synthetic fabrics, we have an abundance of plastic water bottles on this Earth! Sadly, The Story of Stuff – Microfibers just opened my eyes to the side effects of washing our synthetic clothes and the effects of microfibers on the oceans, so there we go. More natural fibers please.
How about buying second hand? Those of us with kids know the beauty of hand-me-down, second-hand or “new to me” clothing. Some of it is barely worn by the time a child grows out of it and it saves parents a ton of money (not to mention time and the fact that the chemicals in new clothes have already been laundered out). But what about buying secondhand for yourself? Companies such as Thredup and The Real Real have found a niche to bring you a second-hand shopping experience like no other, they are very discerning about the clothes they will take while allowing you to browse by size, color, level of wear (including new with tags), brand, etc. The Real Real is a luxury consignment shop which takes pains to ensure full authentication of items, think brands like Valentino, Versace, Chanel, Gucci, Stella McCartney, etc. Thredup has more “everyday” brands like J.Crew, Anthropologie and Zara. You can find some good quality pieces and it’s a good place to buy dresses for an occasion without breaking the bank or Renting the Runway (speaking of pre-worn clothes…). Buying second hand can have you looking great while having some environmental impact (increasing the life-cycle of clothing, keeping textiles out of the landfill longer, saves water, etc.); but ultimately, if we are just buying more, the vicious cycle of over-consumption continues and we haven’t solved any problems. Buying second hand also doesn’t challenge the fashion industry to “do better”.
How about shopping less but better? “Fast fashion” now has a similar connotation to “fast food” with a movement towards slowing down, consuming less and consuming better quality, but it’s really hard to quit, isn’t it? Getting past the “sales” and “discounts” and ever rotating array of merchandise is headache inducing. So…much…choice. Almost makes you want to abstain from it all. I found a good link with a fun video on questions to ask yourself before buying something new. In terms of quality the principle is this: by choosing items of higher quality that you actually want to wear, your clothing lasts longer, you spend less time shopping and can be out enjoying yourself more. So whether you decide to buy new or new-to-you: think before you buy. Better yet, think about it for 30 days, and if you still want it, then get it.
How about buying clothes and shoes from companies who care about the environment, their workers and/or have a social conscience? The Girlfriend Collective makes workout clothes from cotton waste the cotton industry leaves behind (although some clothes are made out of plastic water bottles…see above), and publishes it’s workplace guarantees right on its website. Safer working conditions, no forced or child labor, reduced environmental impact. Why aren’t all companies as transparent? Toms is still doing it’s One-for-One shoes and has branched out to eyewear (buy glasses and Toms will donate eye exams and treatment), bags (support safe births), coffee (support water conservation) and is making donations to other conservancy efforts through donations to larger funds. Warby Parker has their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program for eyeglasses. Sseko’s mission is to send high potential young women in Uganda to university. At Baby Theresa, each baby outfit you buy gives an outfit to a child in need while accessory purchases give formula to feed an infant in an orphanage. Patagonia aims to do no harm and they are currently looking into their contribution of microfibers in the water. Supporting companies with a conscience can help us look good and feel great. Ideally we need more companies to make the leap of faith and be more sustainable, and we need to only buy what we love, so we’ll want to wear it again and again.
While there is no perfect solution just yet, I hope you have enjoyed this food for thought!