This I Know

I have been thinking about the future a lot. I’m thinking about the future of the fashion industry, as I shared recently. I’m thinking about the future of our planet. And I’m thinking about my own future, and so today’s post is finally giving you a glimpse of what I’ve been thinking about for the past several months.

A few times in my life, I have made decisions where I just know.

One of those times was my decision to move back to my hometown of New Orleans in 2012 and take a year to redirect my life’s course. At the time of the decision, I had been so unhappy, and so it was a welcome change that my year in New Orleans was one of the happiest years of my life. That year also happens to be the year I started this blog, though my interest in sustainability and fashion had been building for 4 years by that point.

After that year, I made a decision to move back to New York to begin working in the fashion industry on social responsibility, while continuing to blog. This was not a decision that I just knew. It was hard in ways I still can’t articulate and very confusing. I’ll attribute it to a bad case of “Saturn Returns” (if you’re 27 or 28, do yourself a favor and Google this). But even in my fog, the content I shared here deepened as my own understanding of the industry evolved and as the awareness of others outside of the industry grew from tragedies, such as Rana Plaza, and trends, such as minimalism.

The way I personally evolved as I stepped into my life back in New York was surprising. I became really passionate about Ayurveda, alternative medicine, and taking ownership of my own health. I started hiking and developed a personal relationship with nature that I had never experienced or even witnessed growing up. I read Mary Oliver’s poetry, often as part of my burgeoning meditation practice. I began exploring systems thinking and the possibilities of the Circular Economy. I started composting at home and bought a farm share in a CSA. I deepened my belief that business can be a catalyst for positive social change. I claimed my identity as a writer and wrote over 125 posts on this blog exploring how we can all become more intentional about the decisions we make, starting with the clothes we wear everyday, as we strive to live our values.

Over the last few years, I experimented with bringing some of these new interests and experiences into my writing here, though I held back, thinking that a reader interested in fashion might not be so interested in the other things I was learning. Slowly, though, as my understanding of sustainability grew, I began to see just how interconnected all of these ideas were. Yet once I understood how big the picture was/is, this blog began to feel too small to hold all that I had discovered.

So last September, I wrote a draft of a final post for this blog. I knew the time had come for me to end This I Wear. But I got scared, and I started asking for a lot of other people’s opinions. Many well-intentioned friends and readers encouraged me to keep going. As life swirled around me and I chose to resist my intuition about other big life changes too, I let this blog sit, waiting patiently for me to act on the decision I knew I needed to make in order to move forward.

Sometimes in life, we just know. I know that as much as I’d like to know what’s next, so I can direct you to a new fancy project with a new fancy Twitter handle, that right now I only know that my first step is to bring this site to a close with so much gratitude to all of you for sharing this with me.

At the same time, I know that the fashion industry still has a long way to go. We need more voices than ever to demand change and bring awareness to the need for new ways of thinking, living, and yes, even buying. So, in parting, I’d like to offer two things to you:

1. Get comfortable living in the gray area, because sustainability is the gray area. It’s complex and our understanding of what is best for people and planet is always evolving. Yes, as humans, we all crave certainty, but unfortunately, the only thing certain about sustainability is uncertainty. If someone claims to have “figured it all out” or to offer “the most sustainable option”, be skeptical, challenge them, and ask questions. Trust those who are willing to be honest that they’re still figuring out how to make their products and processes more sustainable, and trust those who are willing to admit when they’ve been wrong.

2. Explore your own connection with clothing and see what you learn about yourself. Fashion has a bad reputation of being frivolous, but how we dress ourselves is anything but surface level and it often reveals a lot about us and our values. I’ve made you a special worksheet with questions you can use as a guide for digging deeper. You might choose to journal on the questions on your own, or you might ask someone to interview you or use it as a tool to learn more about friends and family. Download the worksheet here.

Before I close, I will share one more thing. Each year, my favorite posts to write became my New Years’ intentions (here and here). I didn’t write a New Years post this year, but I did choose a word. “Wild” has become my invitation to step back into trusting what I know to be true. To me, it means being fearless, letting go of worrying what others think, and questioning the “rules”. It means following the flow, allowing myself to experience joy, and trusting myself fully. It gave me the much-needed courage to finally step into what’s next for me, even when I don’t know where it will lead just yet.

I know we are becoming collectively more aware of the impact our clothes have on people, the environment, and even our own wellbeing. It’s always hard to see how we’re changing as it is happening, but looking back over the last 4 years, it’s so clear just how far we have come.

I’m so grateful to have shared this site with you, and I hope you’ll keep in touch! First, don’t worry – the site will stay active so you can come back and read as you like. If you do want to be notified when I’ve got a new project to share, sign up for the email list here. You’ll find me actively posting on Instagram in the meantime. Thank you so much for sharing these last 4 years with me!

Will Fashion Collapse Too?

This I Wear | Will Fashion Collapse Too?

On a long flight to Seattle earlier this spring, I re-watched The Big Short, the story of the 2008 financial collapse that led to the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. If you haven’t watched the movie, unfortunately I’m going to spoil it for you: the movie ends by sharing that the financial crisis we saw in 2008 could happen again for the exact same reasons with new fancier names.

There are a lot of things that are too good to be true that we somehow trick ourselves into believing…or ignoring.

The housing bubble. The Dot-com boom. Fat-free anything. And yes, the $10 dress.

After I finished watching The Big Short for the first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about how broken the financial system is and how incredible that our government allows this to happen. On second viewing, I realized a similar movie will be made on the fashion industry if we don’t change course now.

I’m not the only person in the fashion industry to take inspiration from The Big Short. New York Times Fashion Editor Vanessa Friedman recently used the movie to argue how to make sustainability “sexy” at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. But I’d argue that the fashion industry can learn something much deeper from the movie – i.e. that all bubbles will burst.

The machines of the Industrial Revolution made the mass production of clothing inevitable. On the surface, it seems like a good idea: create jobs, make production efficient, and give consumers whatever they want when they want it. It helped too that there was a steady supply of rural migrants who were willing to work low wage jobs in hopes of a better future.

Thus begins a familiar pattern: consumer demand and cheap labor leads to rise of sweatshops and polluting factories in absence of government regulation. People die. Those who are still living protest. Local government regulations may be established. Eventually, that community has more money (or options) and demands higher wages. Companies move production elsewhere to lower costs, and the whole process starts again. This vicious cycle traveled around the world as economies developed: England to the US to China to South East Asia. Portugal and Turkey are in there somewhere too. (Sub-Saharan Africa is set to be next, so let’s end this cycle before it starts there.)

The fashion industry has been behaving badly over a few hundred years. The 2008 collapse was the result of bad behavior over 20-30 years. But make no mistake: the fate will be similar. Unfortunately, there will be more casualties (businesses, people, environment) before there is change.

When will we be forced to pay the actual cost of our clothing (or even, an inflated price for our clothing)? When will nature impose its boundaries enough to break this system – through drought, flooding, water scarcity, material scarcity, etc. – to make the $10 dress actually impossible? Have we already reached peak production?

The $10 dress is the equivalent of the subprime mortgages. It was never realistic, and the fact that it has lasted as long as it has should keep us up at night. It’s “dog shit” as The Big Short’s protagonists would say.

Some long-term focused companies see this and are moving as fast as possible to secure alternative textile supply chains with a focus on regenerated post-consumer materials. This means the clothing you’ve been donating to Goodwill could have much greater value eventually, and perhaps sooner rather than later. There is a race happening right now to be the first on the market with industrial scale textile regeneration technology. Reclaimed clothing made from a single fiber (example, 100% cotton) will be first to go up in value as the tech is closer. Recycling technology for clothing made from blends (example, 50% cotton, 50% polyester) will take longer. The business case for recycling textiles is clear, and the necessary technology is almost there.

Fiber prices have long been affected by a volatile commodities market, and they will only become more volatile in this changing world. We’ve already seen this: cotton prices go up significantly whenever there is a drought, and petroleum-based fibers like polyester are impacted by oil prices. As we look to the future, it’s important to remember that textiles start on farms – whether tree pulp or more recognizable fibers like linen, cotton and silk – and farms on arable land may need to prioritize food production to feed growing populations, especially those impacted by water scarcity. (That is, unless we make significant progress on existing problems of food waste and water availability.) Eventually we’ll see the price of virgin fibers so high, brands won’t be able to afford them.

Textiles won’t be the only aspect of the fashion industry that will be forced to evolve.

Take color, for example. There is a strong (and overly romantic) push right now for a switch from chemical to natural dyes. But don’t forget that natural dyes come from farms too. These will continue to exist at the artisanal level, grown in small gardens. But mass production could be considered unethical, because just like fibers, they’re grown on arable land and require water and other precious resources. There is opportunity, however, to use dye materials that are byproducts of the food industry, such as onion and avocado skins.

In the future, we’ll have to change our expectations of color. What is color anyway? Is it just a medium for the industry to keep us buying the “new”? Color will come from those regenerated textiles that have already been dyed. Perhaps we will find ways to use waste from other industries as dyestuff. Perhaps it will come from light, embedded computers, or even bacteria. Perhaps color will become irrelevant in the future. Who knows?

And how will your closet change?

The capsule wardrobes of today will become the norm in the future. We’ll have less stuff because the price of clothing will rise. Or perhaps, we’ll have a second wind with mass market cheap clothing if the regenerated textile technology decreases the cost of materials. But how many times can textiles be recycled and remain useable? Gwen Cunningham of the Circular Economy has said that the goal for textile recycling would be 2 rounds of mechanical recycling followed by 1 round of chemical recycling, and will likely require virgin material to be blended in to maintain textile strength. How long would it take us to run through our seemingly endless stock of clothing that already exists on the planet – both in our closets and in our landfills? If Americans are throwing away 68 pounds of clothing per year as the oft-cited stat from the EPA states, it could take awhile. But remember that the clothing that we’re making today, as compared to the clothing that was made as recently as the 1990s, is of much lower quality, so we may not be able to expect as many rounds of recycling before the fiber is useless.

All of this paints a difficult but opportunity-filled portrait.

If you’re in one of the big “banks” of fast fashion, enjoy it while you can and, for everyone’s sake, change it if you can.

For those of us who are already working to change the fashion industry, think about the big picture. What expectations and behaviors will we have to change globally as we shift to a new era of the industry? How will our concept of “fashion” – by its very nature focused on the new – need to shift? Can these shifts be made before we’re forced to make them?

If you’re trying to break into the fashion industry, especially as a designer, know that you have more power than you may think you do. If you learn to design for disassembly and design into creative materials, you’ll be ahead of the game. (For inspiration, check out The Great Recovery.)

If you’re not in the fashion industry but you’re interested in this, I have no doubt that it will be the individuals without a background in the current fashion “system” who will change it. Start thinking how you can get involved.

And for all of us who buy clothes, know that there’s only so much longer for the “stock” prices to stay this low. Perhaps clothing is the safest investment you can make right now.

I’ll be writing again soon to share a special announcement. Don’t want to miss it? Sign up for the email list here.

[Photo: Ben Rosett via Unsplash]

More Flow Please

This I Wear | Go With the Flow

At the beginning of 2015, I wrote a post on water, going with the flow, and my expanding, ever-changing view of what sustainability is and what it means for my own life and purpose. Here we are at the fresh start of a new year, and looking back at this post gives me goosebumps. It’s only in hindsight that I see how much “going with the flow” became my theme for this past year. It emerged with the unexpected loss of my grandmother this summer. It showed up when it became clear that there would be no “slow season” at work this year. And it said “hello” again when I found myself having a really hard time writing here after coming back from my annual August writing break.

While it wasn’t an intentional decision, I let myself slowly step away from This I Wear to gain perspective and rest.

As I let go of the “shoulds” and the guilt about not writing every week here, I found myself spending a lot of time letting myself be curious and learn new things. What ended up happening was that all my blog time this Fall ended up going to an online course on the Circular Economy led by the European university TUDelft and sponsored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

There is nothing more “go with the flow” than the Circular Economy. The Circular Economy, which is still an emerging idea, is the total opposite of our current economy. Imagine our current economy – a linear economy – as a line: we take resources from the planet, we make the materials into stuff, we use that stuff, and then we toss it in the landfill. At most, that stuff gets a second go-around for recycling. In the Circular Economy, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a circle: we stop taking new resources from the planet that we can’t replenish, use all of the incredible resources and materials that we’ve already put in circulation, start designing things to last as long as possible and to be designed to be disassembled or re-imagined, and then keep them in the flow of making and using stuff as long as possible. In the Circular Economy, just as it is in nature, there is no waste.

Nature knows how to go with the flow. A fallen leaf becomes the nutrients in the soil to grow a new tree. Rainwater nourishes our gardens and then evaporates back into the atmosphere only to come down again. The cycle continues.

Throughout the experience of the course, I felt my understanding of sustainability growing and evolving. There is even a whole week dedicated to fashion and textiles. If you’re curious, the class will be offered again in February 2016.

This month, I’ll start another online course focused on finding your own way to be an activist in the sustainability movement. The 7-week course is hosted by the nonprofit The Pachamama Alliance, which works to protect the culture and environment in the Amazon, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, and it’s a pay-what-you-wish donation at the end of the course. If you’d like to join me, you can sign up here.

If you want to start with the basics, though, try their free online 2-hour course, Awakening the Dreamer, which will guide you through understanding the environmental and human rights issues of our time. Heads up that at the beginning, you might wonder “what is this??” but trust me it’s worth it to stick it out to the end.

And just one more learning opportunity if you’re up for it: The Ethical Fashion Forum will be hosting a free online course for the first time on building a sustainable fashion business. So if you’ve been dreaming of creating your own clothing line or want to know the ins-and-outs of sustainable fashion in practice, sign up before the class starts on January 18.

So what does all of this mean for This I Wear?

Here’s the only thing that I know: My posting is going to be a lot more “go with the flow.” I won’t be posting on a regular schedule moving forward, but instead I’ll only be posting when I know I have something really exciting and thoughtfully written to share with you. If you’d like to be notified when there are new posts, you can get them right to your inbox by signing up to receive posts by email here.

And yes, in case you caught it, I did say the word “activist” earlier in this post. I’m going to be honest that the word bothers me. When I imagine an “activist”, I imagine someone who aggressively pushes their views on others. That’s not me at all. But I’m also increasingly feeling like I can’t stand by while I see bad decisions being made everyday that hurt people, hurt our environment, and endanger our future. Changing our shopping habits might be the way that we dip our toes into more responsible decision making, but I’m also ready to start talking about how we take big steps to make sure our future planet is one we want to live on.

I’m also curious to hear from you. Do the topics above interest you? Would you like me to be sharing more about sustainability innovations and more non-fashion sustainability ideas? Would you be interested in hearing about what I’m learning? Share your thoughts in the Comments or send me an email.

The Business Case for Secondhand

This I Wear | Secondhand

I think we can all agree that there is too much stuff in the world today.

If you don’t agree with that statement, read this again after spending an hour at your local H&M to see how much stuff people are buying. Alternatively, you could choose to google “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” or better yet, stop into any charity shop and see what nervous ticks the staff have developed since the release of Marie Kondo’s “The Magical Art of Tidying Up.

But for those of you who do agree, my guess is that you’re already trying to do your small part in encouraging a world of “less stuff” in your own way.

I also thought I was doing my part until I realized I could be doing a whole lot more because, well, #economics. And by that, I mean I had an enlightened moment of understanding that I was all supply and no demand, and that this was not gonna get any of us any closer to a “less stuff” world. Let me explain.

Here’s my usual routine when it comes to closet cleaning: Clean out closet. Decide if what I cleaned out warrants hosting a swap party. If not, donate clothes to my neighborhood charity shop. Cue that feel good feeling of knowing that I kept my stuff out of the landfill for at least a little while longer.

Oh how I have been naïve.

After my most recent “tidying up” inspired by Marie Kondo, I was all set to do the above usual routine when I heard a podcast talking about all the places to sell your clothes online. Beyond selling my really nice pieces at a local consignment store, I had never explored selling my clothes. I soon found myself browsing sites like The Real Real, Tradesy, and Threadflip that all specialize in online secondhand clothing and accessories for women, and I was floored by the amount of (really really good) merchandise on these sites. If fact, there is enough merchandise on these sites to keep all of womankind clothed and happy for all of eternity.

That’s when I realized that my usual routine was missing a really crucial step: shopping secondhand.

While I am very careful about knowing what I’m buying when I do shop (Was it made ethically? Where was it made? Are the materials sustainable and/or recyclable? Etc.), I’ve still been buying mostly new. And that isn’t really helping us solve our “stuff” problem, because we’re still creating more stuff and using more resources to make all these new things. So while the stuff might be ethically made, what about the unnecessary harm done by further cluttering up the world and using up our resources?

So if I really believe in the importance of valuing our resources and creating less waste, my habit of donating or selling my clothes is only solving half the problem. To make the secondhand market work, I also have to become a consumer of it – taking as much as I’m giving, and looking for what I need on the secondhand market first before I look to buy something new. (Luckily, between local consignment and vintage shops and the online secondhand retailers, this is even easier than trying to find something new that is ethically made.)

The same argument can apply to a million different scenarios when it comes to solving our stuff problem. If we’re recycling but not buying products made with recycled materials, we’re not really creating demand for those materials to tell the market we want more recycled products. Likewise, if we’re powering our house on solar energy but still driving a gas-guzzling car, then we’re really not committing to renewable energy.

Baby steps are important. Yes to making sure our stuff stays out of landfills, that we opt for renewable energy when we can, and that we buy responsibly made goods. But we could be doing so much more if we looked at our behaviors in a more holistic way to see what unintentional signals we may be sending to the market about what we as conscious consumers want. #economics

And anyway, perhaps the only good lesson that fashion has taught us is that vintage is just way cooler and we should know that the old will always becomes new again. So while I will by no means be a perfect secondhand shopper, I’m definitely going to do my best to close this loop.

Photo via ReDone Denim (source here!), a company that is definitely proving there is a business case to be made for secondhand fashion.

Meet me in Brooklyn on October 3rd!

This I Wear | Ethical Writers Coalition

You know when you have really good news but you have to keep it to yourself for a while? Well, that’s how I feel about today’s announcement.

Over the summer, while I was on my writing hiatus, I joined the Ethical Writers Coalition, a group of nearly 40 writers who are as committed as I am to sharing how to live a more sustainable life. While each writer may have her/his own focus – whether beauty, fashion, food, or home – and perspective, we all share the common goal of making it easier for you to make ethical and sustainable lifestyle choices.

I’m just getting to know many members of the group, so I hope you’ll click on over to the EWC site and discover some new voices along with me. You’ll also find the EWC logo in the sidebar going forward, so you can easily find more resources on sustainability issues from these writers whenever you need them. In fact, I highly recommend checking out the Secondhand Challenge happening this month.

As a perfect way to celebrate this growing community, I would like to invite you all to join me at the Ethical Writers Coalition Style Swap in Brooklyn on October 3rd. I’ll be there, supporting the event and swapping a few of my own things, and I would LOVE if you would introduce yourself to me if you attend! I’ve connected with so many of you online, but I would love to say “thanks” to you in-person for supporting this site and get to know you better.

Interested? Here’s how the swap will work:

1. Buy a ticket on the event page here.
2. Show up on October 3rd with 5-10 Fall/Winter pieces (clothing, shoes and/or accessories) to swap. P.S. You’ll want to get there early since the first 50 guests get a Zady tote bag and discounts from other ethical brands.
3. Drop off your pieces and enjoy a drink while everyone arrives.
4. When the swap starts, you can pick out a new fall wardrobe til your heart’s content! You can go home with as many pieces as you like, regardless of how many you bring.

Spaces are limited. This means if your gut is saying, “Let’s do this”, you should grab a ticket soon! I hope to see you there. And for those of you who aren’t in the New York area, you can check out my guide on how to host a swap in your community.

The Ethical Writers Coalition Style Swap is sponsored by Zady. Zady is re-envisioning the future of fashion by creating apparel with the highest of standards and a completely transparent supply chain. Similar to what the slow food movement did to the food industry, we are doing this for the clothing industry. The Essentials Collection is where we put action to our words by providing high quality pieces that are made with the highest environmental and ethical standards.

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