I mentioned recently that I’ve got a bit of a commute now, and I have developed this whole organized system of how I read all of my favorite blogs. And I can’t get enough. Here are some recent favorites:
When it comes to current media stories about ethics within the apparel industry, the overall message seems to be that everyone outside of the industry just woke up and realized that there is a person at the other end of his or her t-shirt. In fact, there were over a thousand people who were at the other end of our t-shirts that are no longer with us because of a lot of unacceptable decisions.
Any woman will tell you the power of the perfect outfit to inspire feelings of confidence in times of insecurity. Every artisan group will tell you the power of putting a face or a name of a maker to an item when it comes to selling their products in far away countries. And nearly every week, I share stories here of things from my closet that are inseparable from certain feelings and memories.
But not every piece of clothing I own generates feelings, and I bet it’s the same for your closet too. The athletic socks I wear during a workout, the old t-shirt I sleep in, the jeans that aren’t my favorite but I still wear occasionally – these are the items in our wardrobes that we hardly notice. But at the other end of each of these feeling-less pieces was someone sitting at a sewing machine and making them for us.
I struggle regularly to make sure all of my clothing purchases meet my high standards for ethical production. I walk in stores and walk out empty handed all the time now. And it is undeniably frustrating. I want clothes that are ethically and sustainably produced, but I want to feel amazing in them and I would love to avoid credit card debt in the process. And as frustrating as it is for me, after all the research I do on this subject all of the time, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the average consumer.
But among all the sadness of the recent Bangladesh tragedy and the frustration of a fruitless search for ethical clothing, I found myself feeling an unexpected but desperately needed sense of optimism and relief after receiving a package in the mail containing an organic cotton tank top, a responsibly-dyed silk blouse, and a domestically-produced knit skirt. Trying each piece on, one after the other, I was overwhelmed with feeling: “it is possible!” my gut was screaming out! I can have an “ethical wardrobe.” I know ethical fashion is the right choice objectively, but I had no idea that it could feel so good.
And you can feel this too. It’s not easy….yet. But the more that we demand it and the more that we listen to our guts that faceless companies with cheap prices and feeling-less uninspired fashion are taking us further away from creating a world we are proud to live in, the easier and more fun it’s going to be for us to shop, even if the way we shop is going to change.
I love sharing stories on This I Wear but as my own struggles have shown me, some practical help for finding ethically-produced clothing is necessary too. Stay tuned for new series on where and how to shop for stylish, budget-friendly ethical fashion.
And please comment below, tweet @ThisIWear, or email me to tell me what’s keeping you from shopping ethically and sustainably so we can find some solutions together.
The biggest perk of a public transit commute is the opportunity to read more than you ever thought possible. And I have been speed-walking to the train and reading about anything and everything but fashion, because, to be candid, I needed a little fashion break.
But I found that the more I didn’t read about fashion, the more I saw it pop up in the most unexpected places (which reminds me of another book). At the risk of you judging my reading list, I recently finished “The Lady’s Maid: My Life in Service” and couldn’t help but focus on how Lady Astor would wear and re-wear and re-fashion clothes into something fresh all the time, even with endless amounts of money, mostly because that’s just what people did at that time. And as I read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” I became surprisingly interested to learn about her own shopping and closet clearing habits and how she believes they affect her (and everyone’s) happiness.
But to really delve into understanding what our culture’s current relationship is to its clothes and to shopping, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion” by Elizabeth Cline is a must-read. I literally have pages and pages of notes I took from this book, because I was blown away by the knowledge she was laying down.
Here’s a few jaw-dropping statistics directly from the book:
“The United States now makes 2% of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50% in 1990.”
As recently as 1995, “apparel importers were often able to get their labor costs down to less than 1% of the retail price of their clothes.”
“Every year, Americans throw away 12.7 millions tons, or 68 pounds of textiles per person…1.6 million tons of this waste could be recycled or reused.”
“The natural resources that go into fiber production every year now demand approximately 145 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water.”
“By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume.”
China has “more than 40,000 clothing manufacturers and 15 million garment industry jobs. Compare that to the 1.45 million garment and textile industry jobs the United States had at peak employment some 40 years ago.”
Cline isn’t writing for the educated ethical fashion consumer. She writes for people who like her have struggled with overflowing closets, the thrill of a sale, and a limited budget. And I appreciate that she shares her own struggle in the book. In some ways, “Overdressed” is Cline’s own Happiness Project: an attempt to clean up her closet, find clothing that made her feel good, and bring some meaning to her wardrobe.
So who should read this book? The reader who identifies with Cline’s quest:
“I owned more clothing than I did anything else and probably knew the least about it of anything I bought.”
“If I wanted to buy well-made, fashionable, moderately priced clothing, I wasn’t sure where to look.”
“I intentionally avoid buying plastic products such as bottled water because they are oil-dependent and not biodegradable, yet here I was with a closet full of the stuff.” (i.e. polyester)
“When we entirely gave up homemade and custom clothing, we lost a lot of variation, quality, and detail in our wardrobes, and the right fit along with it.”
So please read it, if only because I really want to talk about it more and I need someone to talk with about it.
What are you reading lately? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your current reads.
The year is 2000. I am in London on my first international trip with my whole family during my eighth grade spring break. I got my braces off in time for my passport photo and online shopping wasn’t what it is today, so my sister and I are feeling pretty cool as we shop UK-exclusive stores our friends will envy (well, once they find out they exist).
As this was in my pre-itinerary-making days, I just showed up where I was told to go. And my mom had an ambitious itinerary for us. She hadn’t traveled much internationally, and she seemed to be on a mission to see everything. This turned out to include churches, castles, museums, hot tickets to a performance of “CATS”, and most importantly, the iconic department store, Liberty of London.
I had no idea what Liberty of London was at the time. Since my mom is a quilter, she wanted her trip souvenir to be a few pieces of Liberty’s famous print fabrics for her next quilt project. Naturally, I thought that meant it would be a pretty boring shopping experience since my impression of quilting was that it was not so cool (though I have since changed this opinion!). But as soon as I saw the Tudor-style façade and stepped into the perfect world of unexpected and quirky design inside, I knew my mom was on to something. And sure enough, I became obsessed.
For so long, it was impossible to get Liberty prints stateside, so any sort of Liberty find was met with true teenage girl levels of enthusiasm. Now, the prints are ubiquitous; Collaborations with everyone from Target to J.Crew to Nike means the masses are wearing Liberty of London, and it’s likely they have no idea what kind of history they’re wearing. In fact, Liberty has been around since the 1880s and has been selling its iconic prints since then, typically on the lightest, finest cotton fabric I’ve ever felt, which is their signature Tana Lawn.
But while every hipster might be wearing these florals today, my mom was digging these prints back when most of those kids weren’t even born. So for me, Liberty has become inextricably linked with my mom. And when I scored this silk Liberty scarf in New York City of all places, I couldn’t help but feel the same teenage girl level of enthusiasm I felt when I first walked into Liberty at the age of 14, nerdy and naïve, only to be introduced by my unexpectedly design-forward mom to a whole new world of textiles, pattern and history.
So I’m not worried that Liberty prints are on trend now. Instead, I’m using it to my advantage to find pieces I know I’ll keep longer than the trend-seekers, because they mean something to me. Because when I wear my Liberty scarf, I can’t help but think of my mom, who informed my own taste and passion for design in ways that I’ve never fully given her credit for. And that will keep me wearing these prints for much longer than a season.
Nothing says cool like a scarf. For a little styling help, try Liberty’s own scarf-styling videos for the most creative tying/knotting/wrapping ideas I’ve ever seen. Start with this Youtube playlist, but a quick search will lead you to the other 20 or so tutorials.
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.