I’ve been thinking about shopping and not-shopping a lot. And so, a little out of character from my regular posts, I thought I would share a recent experience and give you a little peek into what I’m thinking about since it has inspired a lot of ideas for upcoming posts.
Let me start with a story. I recently moved back to New York City, and in my first few days back, the city welcomed me with unpredictable thunderstorms, cold weather, and the usual insane amount of walking. I’ve talked before about how much I love walking and how hard it is to find a good pair of shoes. Well, my little ballet flats already weren’t cutting it when an unexpected downpour basically ruined them. Finding myself desperate and in a large shoe store, my eyes glazed over as I looked at the sea of shoes: none had the right balance of comfort and style, and they certainly advertised none of the environmental or social considerations that have become so important to me when I’m purchasing something nowadays. (In fact, can you believe that there are actual knock-offs of TOMS Shoes? Think for a second about the concept of knocking off a charitable product and taking away the “charitable” part…) So, as much as I needed a pair of shoes, I left empty-handed.
And this got me thinking: NOT shopping is not an adequate answer to consuming more responsibly.
First, it is not realistic. I firmly believe that we can and should examine how much we consume and try to only buy what we really need and are willing to take care of for the long haul. But at the end of the day, stores exist because, occasionally, we are in true need of certain practical items.
And secondly, when we wait until we are desperately in need of something (like my shoe story), we are more likely to compromise on our shopping standards – whether that means buying from brands that don’t match our values OR just buying something because it is available, in which case, there is less chance we absolutely will LOVE it and use it repeatedly. My shopping mantra has always been if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t buy it, and the only time this gets threatened is during desperate times.
There are several brands on the market that are easy to trust. For example, if I buy from Patagonia, I know that they are making significant investments in understanding and improving their environmental and social impact, so I don’t feel it is necessary to question their products. They are doing the worrying and the research for me and then incorporating those considerations into their products and business.
But particularly in fashion, it is just not that easy yet to find everything you need from a company that openly promotes itself as a socially-responsible company. This means that for now, we all have to do a little legwork if we are trying to find a specific item that meets all of our functional, style, and value-based criteria. And that, my friends, means that we cannot wait until we desperately need something to start “shopping.” We have to get to know the market so that when the time comes to purchase what we need, we know where to go without compromising on what we want.
I’ve actually already started researching a new series to help understand what’s out there now, because I want to prove that we can buy ethically without compromising on function or style. And I sincerely hope that we can reach a point where it’s a no-brainer to buy stylish and ethical goods, because honestly my life would be easier and the world would be a better place.
In the meantime, here is my advice: Plan thoughtfully at the beginning of each season or at life’s transition points to know what you will need to have in your wardrobe AND then start scoping things out at that moment. Allow yourself to start browsing but only buy when you’ve found that item that you know is exactly what you want, that thing that will become a true wardrobe staple and that you will absolutely love and keep for as long as possible.
What do you think? If you totally disagree (or agree!) with me, please let me know by commenting, emailing, or tweeting @ThisIWear. As I gear up to try new things with the site, I’m doing lots of thinking about this and related issues, so feedback is warmly welcomed.