The Shift to Ethical Fashion, One Year Later

The Shift to Ethical Fashion, One Year Later

Slow Fashion

It’s been a year and a few months since I made the conscious decision to give up fast fashion consumption for good. Before I did it, even considering this transition filled me with dread and defeat because like so many of us, I was heavily reliant on the fast fashion cycle. Now, looking back after not that much time has passed, I’m blown away by how this shift has altered my thoughts and habits surrounding fashion as well as consumption more generally. I thought it would be worthwhile to unpack some of these topics here, since many of you have expressed interest in slow fashion over the years, but may feel as intimidated as I was by where to start or the possibility of success (whatever that means – we’ll get to that later.)

Let me make an aside here that if you haven’t yet, please read or listen to Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline. It was instrumental in helping me find a manageable approach to addressing this complex issue, and has truly shifted my perspective. I’ll share a few more resources at the end of the post that I also find helpful.

While I do not feel I had a true addiction to shopping or anything of the sort, I was definitely reliant on the fast fashion industry and well embedded in their rapid cycling. I needed a fresh start. The simplest way to accomplish this was for me to initiate a shopping ban. I allowed myself to purchase one item per month and then, tried my best to find an ethical source for whatever it was that I needed. I must admit that in the early months, this felt really difficult, but after three or four months, I felt an internal change. The drive to buy stuff had mostly left me, and when I purchased things, it was not simply because the thing was cute or because I liked it and could afford it, but because I actually had the thought process, “My wardrobe is missing ____. I will look for one to fill that need.” Considering the actual functionality and necessity of my wardrobe in my daily life led to more intentional purchasing each and every time. While fluctuations in my weight and changes in my physique from weight training eventually necessitated more purchases than one item per month just so I would have enough things that fit, by that time I was being thoughtful and intentional about what garments I invested in (truly considering them investments) and it made all the difference.

Part of what intimidated me initially was how many layers there are to a garment being ethical. Who made it? Where? How are they treated? How are they compensated? What is it made of? How is the material made, how is the fabric dyed, are the factory resources recycled…? Do I actually need this? How much will I really wear it? How long will it last? What will happen to this garment after I no longer have use for it? As someone who is already an over thinker, being presented with this multitude of things to consider just to buy a piece of clothing felt a bit paralyzing at times. While this deluge of questions initially created anxiety within me, I’ve grown accustomed to it over time and now these same questions provide a useful framework in my approach to every purchase. Instead of feeling cumbersome, it helps to streamline my decision making.

One question I have received multiple times is whether or not I did some sort of closet purge or major paring down. (This was pre-Marie Kondo, by the way.) The answer is no and the reason is simple – the goal isn’t to overhaul your existing wardrobe and suddenly wear only things that are pristinely made. I think this is some misplaced understanding of how some people build capsule wardrobes perhaps? In regards to slow fashion, one of the best things you can do is use what you already have and make what you have last. That is why my closet still holds a fair number of J.Crew items, some of which have been mended multiple times and others which no longer fit but I intend to use to harvest fabric and reuse it in a different way.

It is important to consider that two of my favorite hobbies are knitting and sewing, primarily garments for myself and my family. This has undoubtedly played an important role in steering myself away from fast fashion. Have you ever made a sweater stitch by stitch? Sewn a skirt or dress you adore? I promise if you have, it will change the way you view the garments you purchase. The inherent value will become more obvious, your clothing will seem less disposable, and the idea of a $5 t-shirt may become upsetting because you realize that cheap tag price means someone, somewhere is paying the difference. It may also help you to consider the tag price as compared to the actual quality of the item for sale. I can’t tell you how many vastly overpriced polyester pieces are out there, but it is A LOT.

Handmaking certainly has many benefits where the ethics of fashion are concerned. From a consumer standpoint, it feels pretty great to be able to custom make a garment for myself in the pattern I want out of the fabric I want that will fit exactly as I want. It has helped me begin to discover my true sense of personal style and find that it isn’t as J.Crew as I thought it was. While these are important advantages, hand making itself can easily lose any semblance of sustainability if you buy large amounts of fabric or yarn just because it was on sale, buys lots of fabric or yarn with synthetic fiber, and churn out clothing as quickly as your own personal fast fashion factory. This is likely a journey that many sewists and knitters embark upon, first fired up with excitement about their craft and wanting to MAKE ALL THE THINGS, but hopefully eventually coming to a place of slower, more intentional making and considering how each item will fit into your wardrobe at large. (I’ll be talking more about this in a separate post soon.)

One area that I haven’t really pursued is secondhand fashion. I know that in reality, this is one of the best if not the best ethical option, because nothing new is created. For me this is a challenge. I hold a demanding job, have a decent commute, and am very busy mothering my kids. I don’t want to spend my vanishingly rare free time scouring racks of thrift shops for items that fit my style and fit my body. I’m not opposed to second hand shopping and I know some people love it very much, but it just isn’t the right fit for me at this time in my life and I accept that.

It’s easy to let the fear of imperfection in this pursuit stop us before we even get started. Listen: you’re not always going to be perfect at this. Sometimes garments will have synthetic fiber (the best workout clothes do), sometimes the fabric isn’t organic, sometimes you know it was made in the USA but maybe you don’t know as much as you would like to about the factory itself. The important thing is to keep asking those questions – you know, the ones that seem scary and impossible at first? Feel free to reach out to companies if you can’t find an answer easily on your own. I do this often and it has both helped me to buy things or to decide I don’t need it that badly if the company won’t be transparent. I’m no authority but every time I ask these questions and walk the walk, I learn more and do my small part toward a safer, more just fashion industry and healthier planet.