Wardrobe Blues

This I Wear | Wardrobe Blues

I am not a morning person. I can be, but it is not my default setting. But for the past few months, I have become more unpleasant because instead of the total quiet I typically require to adjust to the new day, I’ve filled my morning air with expletives as I attempt to find a decent outfit in my wardrobe.

Granted, getting dressed when it’s yet another cold day becomes repetitive. However, the real struggle is feeling like myself when I put on my clothes. Even more of a challenge is feeling beautiful in those clothes.

This is not the story I intended to tell when I began my blog a year and a half ago. And I’m slightly embarrassed how often I feel compelled to write on this topic, but I thought I’d share where I’m at, because I have a feeling that I’m not the only one.

Right now, I have a list of several key pieces that are missing from my wardrobe and/or pieces that would make a big difference. They include:
– leather work-appropriate handbag
– black fitted blazer
– white blouse
– white jeans
– black ballet flats
– sandals to replace these (RIP after the India trip)

And beyond the specifics, I’m keeping my eye out for:
– feminine skirts
– easy dresses that keep me looking put together
– fun colorful and/or printed shoes since most of my wardrobe is black and gray (and will stay that way because of where I work)

But each of these items feels overwhelming, not just because of the cost or how picky I am with design and fit, but simply finding an option that works within my values. I have yet to find a store or brand that fits me perfectly AND meets my standards for values and quality.

When I first wrote the list of “would-helps” for my wardrobe many months ago, the top priority was a work backpack since my hiking-friendly backpack kept my back comfortable during the commute but also helped me look like a college student at work. It took me approximately six months to make a decision. Six months! I ended up going with the “perfect” Tumi backpack that fits like a glove on my petite frame (and will therefore keep my spine healthy!) and is built to last. But it took a long time for me to get there, because I kept thinking there must be a better option out there. And in the meantime, I did little work to fix other wardrobe gaps and instead just cleaned out more.

The problem? I’ve been searching for perfect, and I’m doing it with incomplete information since the trend in “ethical fashion” is e-commerce rather than your neighborhood boutiques. Taking the tactile and trying-on opportunities out of shopping makes decision-making a lot more difficult.

But what about “good enough”?

A recent book I read (which I can’t remember) talked about the personality types that have to know ALL the available options before making a choice. And because they’ve exhausted themselves with choices, they are less likely to get as much joy as others from their final decision, even if it’s a well-researched one. I am absolutely that type. And however genuinely thrilled I am every time I look at my backpack, I wonder why I torture myself in searching for perfect.

And “perfect” has started to feel a little risky. When you love something SO much, it’s suddenly easy to be unprepared when unexpected things happen. The perfect pair of pants that rip beyond repair? Not only did they prove to be imperfect but since you were so dependent on them, you have nothing else to wear while they wait to be fixed or replaced. I want to love everything in my closet, but I certainly don’t want my stuff to own me.

Truly, I wish making a sustainable/ethical buying decision was easy, but factoring in cost and taste constraints seems to make my own decisions more like a game of pros/cons and ultimately indecision.

Yes, it’s been hard, but I’ve already learned a few things:
– Trying things on is essential. You’ll never know what works until you put something on your body and see if the magic is there. Style takes time to find and it isn’t permanent.
– Shopping locally and from small batch designers is one of the easiest places to start.
– Start small: aim for one aspect of ethical fashion and if you get more, it’s the icing on the cake. This can include everything from local production (smaller footprint and supporting local economy) to respect for workers to organic and sustainable fibers. It’s up to you how you prioritize them.
– As many clothes as I’ve pulled out of my wardrobe and donated/shared/consigned/recycled, I don’t miss any of them, so I know I’m on the right path.

In the meantime, I’ve become totally obsessed with others’ quest to find their style. I’ve been particularly loving this post by Breanna Rose and this whole series by Madelynn Hackwith Furlong on her blog, Wide-Eyed Legless. Knowing that others are in the same boat makes the struggle a lot easier.

What are your searching for? I hope you’ll share with me what’s on your list too.

Portland & Celebrating Change

Five sunny beautiful days of vacation in Portland, Oregon might relax some, but I came back last week overflowing with energy and ideas and also excited to share a big announcement with you (keep reading!).

This was my first time in Portland, but I had been immensely curious for the longest time, wondering if “my tribe” was there and I was totally missing out. Well, as horrible as last week’s surprise mid-April snow was, I’m not leaving NYC at the moment, but my trip made a big impression on me.

One of my top priorities of “things to do” was to shop. I know that might sound shocking, but by now, all of you know my closet is quite minimal and I am very careful to add anything new. I had dreams of Portland as this ethical shopping dreamland where everything would be so intentionally designed and made that I could buy anything I wanted and feel great and angels would sing. So, we went in a bunch of local boutiques, and though there were no over-the-top shopping sprees, we had the BEST conversations with shop owners.

In stores like imogene + willie, Tanner Goodsand Alder + Co, staff had the most incredible product and materials knowledge and the products were beautiful, made-to-last, and often domestically-made. Take a trip over the Willamette, and Beam & Anchor will introduce you to every cool “maker” on the scene right now. And of course, the local Patagonia outpost uniquely features a section of their “Worn Wear” collection of pre-worn pieces.

But it was actually chatting with Jordan of Winn Perry & Co. that made me really think about the state of fashion right now. His shop is exactly what every guy’s closest should look like: simple, perfect fit chinos and denim, a great navy blazer, t-shirts that handle the toughest wearing, and shoes that will last so long, you might never need another pair. And they are all traceable, made to last, and designed to fit perfectly. So you could imagine that as my boyfriend shopped happily, I felt pretty damn jealous. Where was the women’s equivalent of this? Why are women still being pushed trends and cheap fashion and novelty when all we/I want is simplicity, quality, and season-less style? (Well, and responsible manufacturing too.)

Despite the jealousy, this experience was inspiring. It made me realize that the trend towards slower and more responsible fashion is real and happening, even if it is starting in cities that might naturally be more inclined to more conscious lifestyles. This thought reminds me of a recent essay by Bruno Pieters of Honest by, who in speaking about how hard it is to be the pioneer when it comes to changing the fashion industry shares a moving realization:

“No one today is producing, designing, or acting in a destructive way intentionally, these actions are always the result of a deeper disconnection and unawareness…When we are unconscious we are, in a sense, clueless of what we are doing. Knowing that helps me to show compassion and patience for those designers and industry leaders who still seem to be far from waking up. My own moments of unconsciousness have taught me that there is nothing anyone can say or do that can create a shift in consciousness. Change is a personal and unique process. When it’s time for someone to wake up they will. Everyone has their own path.”

We are all at different stages of understanding our impact on the world around us, even if it’s just through the clothes we buy. But I’m so glad to see that people are starting to wake up. And I’m waking up too and taking the next step in my path, which leads me to my second priority in Portland: breaking in my brand-new hiking boots on the most beautiful 9-mile hike through waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area. This hike was my first real hike ever and the first hike of many for me this year as I begin training for Climate Hike, a five-day wilderness trip at the end of August which I will spend hiking, camping and rafting with 30 other environmentalists in Glacier National Park, Montana as we raise money and awareness for environmental organizations, which for me will include Nature Conservancy, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.

I’ve been saving up this announcement for a few months now so I could finally make the big announcement on Earth Day, and it has been such a hard secret to keep! I grew up with a fear rather than an appreciation of nature, and my academic studies in environmental science actually didn’t change that fear much. But a huge shift has happened for me over the last two years as I see the opportunity for me to deepen my work in protecting people and planet by connecting more with nature, in addition to finding my own soul being lit up and challenged by my time spent outdoors in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I know that working towards this trip and having this experience is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now. It’s the next step in my own path, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

If you’d like to learn more about what Climate Hike is and why I’m participating in it, click on over here. If you’d like to help me reach my fundraising goal so I can go on this trip, you’ll have the opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation that will support the three environmental nonprofits I mentioned above. Everyone who donates will get a personalized “thank you” from me after the trip. This is the one and only time I will mention this fundraising campaign on this blog, so I hope you don’t mind. I also hope you’ll tweet me your favorite camping & hiking tips @THISIWEAR.

Happy Earth Day!

Stories While Away

This I Wear | Stories While Away

If the media keeps telling us that our attention spans are getting shorter, it is certainly not paying attention to all the people who are telling stories just as well as your grandpa ever did way before the internet existed. As I’m off this week for a craft beer- and hiking-filled vacation in the Great Northwest (Portland!), I thought I’d turn over storytelling duties to others who are doing it pretty damn well.

Here are some stories I’m really enjoying:

01. The Alabama Chanin Journal is a treasure trove of stories of the artists, makers, and community that inspire Natalie and her team. It would be an understatement to say that Natalie herself is just a thought leader in sustainable fashion as she is truly a role model of how to put sustainability (and people) first in the making of things in the modern world. Read on for their latest journal series on personal heirlooms as they invite family and friends to share the things they hold dear.

02. Online ethical fashion retailer Zady only began in 2013, but it has already become a go-to source for beautifully designed and ethically made clothing and accessories for men and women. But as much as I’ve admired their product offerings, it wasn’t until I recently met co-founder Maxine that I really started to understand the care in which they select the products they carry and the disruption they hope to create in the fashion industry. In addition to giving us a great place to shop, their “Features” section is filled with great articles, including this recent article on the history of fabric dye.

03. New Zealander Emma Vitz writes about her adventures in conscious consumerism on her blog, This Kind Choice. I’m in love with the honesty and thoughtfulness of her writing, and I identify so much with her struggles to build a wardrobe that feels true to herself and her values. A favorite post for me is her own story of connecting with her clothes, so I was really excited to contribute to the series with one of my own stories too. She wants to hear your story too, so please reach out to her if you’d like to share your story.

I hope you all enjoy these stories, and hopefully I will come back from Portland with my own to tell. See you then!

If You Need It: Organic Unmentionables

This I Wear | Organic Unmentionables

Photos via (left) PACT and (right) Hanky Panky. See below for links!

Yes, I said unmentionables. You were not expecting me to set you straight on what you’re wearing underneath your clothes today. But what better way to start building a sustainable wardrobe than stripping down to the basics?

A few weeks ago, I discovered that Hanky Panky, my favorite brand of pricey and in-demand women’s intimates, was now producing a “Cotton with a Conscience” line. And since this organic line is sold at the same price point as their conventional cotton line, this was one easy switch! I already knew that unlike the Gap Body intimates I’ve been buying for years, Hanky Panky’s pairs will last forever, which is both impressive and totally justifies the cost. So not only are these skivvies made to last, but they’re newly organic, incredibly comfortable, and, as always, made in America. It’s a great step forward for the company, and I hope they’ll share more about this conversion with their customers soon!

There are also quite a few options for the gents: PACT’s fair trade organic cotton boxer briefs win the day for style, but Pants to Poverty’s options are a close second. Both brands have women’s lines too.

As long as we’re getting down to the basics, we should also answer the very basic but often misunderstood question of why we should choose organic clothing. The argument for organic food is straightforward enough: when we spray pesticides on the food we grow, those chemicals enter our bodies when we eat conventionally-produced food. Eating organic food means keeping those pesticides out of our bodies.

The argument for organic fiber gets messier, but we can keep it simple. It is often debated, but at this point fairly accepted, that when we wear conventional fibers, pesticides are not seeping into our bodies through our skin. However, our health as well as the health of the farming communities, the environment, and wildlife can be directly impacted by pesticides that enter our air, water, and even our food. When we use pesticides, we introduce them to our ecosystems. From there, according to all laws of nature, they don’t just disappear – they have to go somewhere. Unfortunately, that “somewhere” can still be in our communities, since the US is the third largest cotton producing country in the world, and conventional cotton requires more insecticides than any other crop (read more here). And just when you thought you weren’t eating this conventional cotton, the truth is that cotton by-products do find their way into our diets from the cottonseed fed to cattle to the cottonseed oil used in processed foods. So at the end of the day, choosing organic cotton and other organic fibers means we’re taking a big step to keep ourselves and our communities pesticide-free, so we can all be a whole lot safer.

There are many more reasons to advocate for organic fiber, but we’ll keep it basic like our skivvies today. In the meantime, if you want more, read up on how PACT does a whole lot more than just use organic cotton and then check out TextileExchange’s quick fact sheet on organic cotton. And if you have a great organic cotton resource, I hope you’ll share.

Factory Geeks

This I Wear | Factory Geeks
Photos of Everlane’s Cashmere (top) & Silk Shirt (bottom) Factories via Everlane.com

Gleaming machines. Skilled workers laboring over handmade goods with perfectly placed beads of sweat and interesting tattoos. Or men and women hunched over machines wearing masks over their noses and mouths. What images do you see when you hear the word “factory”? And when did we all become curious about what the inside of factories look like?

Whether it’s a small family-run or artisan operation or the large scale and precise factories we’ve come to associate with China, factories big and small are capturing our attention.

I have two theories to perhaps explain the sudden interest in factories.

The first is that we are genuinely interested and concerned in how our garments came to exist and who touched them along the way. Tragedies like last year’s Rana Plaza Factory collapse in Bangladesh brought factory conditions to our attention, and now we want to know the working conditions of the people who make our clothes. In other cases, perceived transparency turned out to be assumed transparency, and consumers have demanded more information in return, as in the case of Everlane and their #KnowYourFactories campaign that followed consumer confusion over where Everlane’s products were made. We want to see inside of factories, because we as global citizens and consumers are starting to question the impact of the journey of our clothing.

The second theory is that we are just naturally curious beings who want to know how things are made and can’t resist seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together. Evidence includes the popularity of the TV show “How It’s Made” and the incredible numbers of tumblr accounts focused on visual after visual of factories (the most extreme example may be “F**k Yeah Made in USA”). The allure is out of sheer curiosity rather than concern.

Regardless of whether either theory is right, exposure means we have opportunities to question our assumptions about what a factory looks like. If this trend continues, I hope that exposure and curiosity will soon turn into demand for greater transparency in production for the safety and health of workers but also to bring us closer to the skill and resources that go into the things we own.

Is this new to you? Get sucked in with the rest of us with these intriguing videos and photo stories:

L.L.Bean “Bean Boots” – Made in Maine

The Making Of A Watch from Shinola on Vimeo.

And you must also check out The American Edit’s tour of Faribault Woolen Mills!

Please share your favorite factory stories and videos in the comments section!

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