Fashion Revolution Week is always an incredible time of generating awareness and a good reminder of why exactly I chose the road less traveled. I loved seeing post after post from people who stepped up to ask brands to answer the question, “Who Made My Clothes?”
But as the week came to an end, I wondered how we could keep this momentum going? How could we expand the revolution into our daily lives. What about the other 360 days of the year?
It’s great to shift the pressure towards the brands that manufacture our garments, but we also can’t just ask brands “who made my clothes?” for one week only to fail on our end of the bargain — we have to empower these companies to change.
(Check out these articles if you're a little rusty on the details of conscious consumerism and current fashion dilemmas: What is conscious fashion anyway? & Waste not, want not.)
I often get responses on how it’s hard to stop buying cheap clothes because the alternatives are too expensive — that becoming a conscious consumer requires lots of extra dough.
This was my first thought too.
When I first learned about the garment industry via the documentary, The True Cost, and began researching clothing companies with trustworthy ethics and sustainability, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was fiercely convicted by what I knew and I couldn’t continue to be part of the cycle.
To go from buying $30 jeans at H&M to $200 denim from a company like Henry and Belle is quite the shift. That’s a $170 dollar difference! And if you’re like me, living on a “no extras allowed” budget, the difference is initially unfathomable and seemingly impossible.
SO I QUIT COLD TURKEY.
I immediately shut my purchasing habits down. And by down, lights off and doors locked with triple deadbolts. I began to do my due diligence and research this trillion dollar industry with it’s beauty and it’s dark secrets.
I thoroughly investigated my closet as if it were a crime scene. I checked every label, looked for where it was made, what brand it was, what it was made of and calculated how much I probably spent on it all. I made separate piles for which items I wore most, sometimes and which ones I didn’t wear but maybe once or twice (if at all).
As if my conscious wasn’t already burdened by the status of the industry, it was now fully under arrest by the state of my own participation.
It was more than a conviction, it was an epiphany.
For years I believed that I didn’t spend a lot on clothes and that I didn’t have that many (probably because I always felt like I had “nothing to wear”). Maybe in comparison to a few friends this was true, but let me tell you — when I fully comprehended how much I had accumulated and how much of it was polyester, made in China, and probably not going to live through another 10 washes, it was like seeing in color for the first time.
Hardly any of my clothes had a story, held significance, was something I waited in anticipation for and truly loved.
I relate to author, Elizabeth Cline, when in her book, ‘Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fashion’ she wrote, “Another humbling fact about my wardrobe: I owned more clothing than I did anything else and probably knew the least about it of anything I bought.”
During this shopping hiatus, I was painfully aware of how often I wanted to buy something; it’s like craving sugar on a diet — I found myself constantly craving the things I didn’t have. I would even go as far as convincing myself that I actually “needed” some of those things.
This is where we fall prey to fast fashion.
The tactic is simple: Make trendy clothes with cheap materials and cheap labor in mass with no regard to quality stitching or care for how long the garments will last. Then sell them for absurdly cheap prices so that consumers will always be able to justify their purchases. Worst of all, because of how cheap these clothes are, we don’t even have to love something, we just have to like it enough.
It’s become too easy to buy whatever we want without much consequence… at least not to us.
Consider these shocking facts:
The average person...
purchases 64 garments a year
owns 152 items of clothing, but only wears 44% of them regularly
tosses approximately 16 items in their closet after only one wear
has approximately 11 items with the tags still attached
throws away more than 68 pounds of textiles per year
takes 17 minutes each morning to decide what to wear (which is a total of four days per year)
Again, I would never have considered myself average when it came to shopping, but I aligned with too many of those statistics.
So then what? I still couldn’t afford the nicer clothes, and I couldn’t convince myself to buy the cheap stuff.
But I began to see that this wasn’t exactly true. When I looked at the long term effects of my closet, I realized that all of my my purchases added up to a pretty hefty sum. If I stopped all of my spontaneous and inconsequential “It’s only $20!” spending, by the end of the year, I could probably afford a few nice pieces.
I also don’t need that many clothes. Why live with an overstuffed closet of unsatisfactory clothes waiting for their turn to hang out at Goodwill when I could live with less and have better?
Meanwhile, I started to get creative and revive the things I had.
So stop thinking about conscious consumerism only in dollar signs because the big change we need to make starts with how we think — We need to become aware of our shopping habits and trade our short term gratification for a long term approach.
Not just the long term effects of the industry’s environmental impact or consideration for the people who make our clothes, but also the longevity of our personal purchases. It’s not just about trading cheap clothes for expensive ones, it’s about buying less so that we can buy better.
We have to start asking ourselves, “How long will this last and how often will I wear it?”
And for those of us on the lower end of the income scale, this often requires the discipline to not shop.
There, I said it. If your budget is your biggest reason for not being a conscious consumer then stop shopping or start thrifting. Evaluate your closet and fall in love with the things you have until you can afford to buy something of better quality and consciously made.
Now, I don’t expect you to go cold turkey like I did. I understand that not everyone is going to be able to take such an extreme approach, but I would like to encourage you to evaluate your spending, the types of clothes you’re accumulating and how joyful you feel when you look at your wardrobe.
Being a conscious consumer, is not an easy decision, but it’s an important one because everything is connected — our purchases tell brands what we want and what we value. So we get to partner in a movement by empowering brands to change.
This is a big reason why I started Tapered — to start a movement, to share amazing brands that want to make a difference, and most importantly, to have a community that encourages each other to change the world by changing what we wear.
Here’s how you can start being conscious now —
Simply be conscious - Conscious means to be painfully aware of; sensitive to. Start to do your own research and be aware of how you're shopping and where you're shopping.
Wear what you have - Livia Firth of Eco-Age started something called the 30 wears challenge. It’s a challenge to wear something at least 30 times. That doesn’t seem like much, but it actually averages out to be around 2-3 times per week in a season!
Buy second hand - Vintage shopping or apparel liquidators are two of my favorite means of buying clothes. But also, remember how many people don’t even wear their clothes but once before they get rid of it? It’s very possible that you will find these “gently used” pieces for little to nothing at Goodwill. :)
Save to invest - once you stop spending $20 here and $15 there, your money will start to add up and you can start to save for something you really want that’s not only made with trusted hands, but with good materials and last a long time. Spend time thinking about what you actually need. Create a dream board, search trusted brands for things that bring you joy, and start to save for them. (I’m currently eying a pair of $260 sandals from Beek. <3 Gotta save those pennies!)
Let’s do this.
PS. We are here for you! Being a conscious consumer is tough, and we want to support you along your journey. Whether that's helping you find ethical brands to buy from, providing research on the industry, or to simply inspire you! So drop us a line — we would love to hear from you. What inspires you? How do you define your personal style? What questions do you still have?
Keep an eye out for our upcoming interviews with people who have also decided to take a conscious approach. Be sure to subscribe so that you can be inspired by their legacy and relate to their struggles.