I am not a puritan. If I’d been in England in 1620, I would not have thought, “This place is too sinful. Let’s all get on a miserable boat and endure incredible hardship to make a point about living our values.”
No, I would have been back in London, wondering if I had enough rotten fruit for the remount of a Shakespeare tragedy.
It’s just who I am.
While I want very much to be a good, contributing member of our society, nothing saps my inspiration faster than a strict code of conduct. Restrictive diets? Useless. Crazy detailed lesson plans? Not gonna get followed.
But unless I, and the entire fashion industry shape up, there’s not going to be much of a planet left for me to not follow rules on.
Everyone, no matter their politics, depends on this earth. And we can all see how environmental degradation and bad labor practices are harming the poorest of our planet’s people. Fashion is among the worst offenders out there.
But how do we keep easy, interesting wardrobes while not participating in sketchy environmental and labor practices?
What follows are some of the best ways to lessen the impact our closets have on the environment. But we will avoid the frumpy, eco-friendly hairshirt. Building a wardrobe in line with our values should be a joyful challenge, rather than an unstylish experiment in martyrdom.
Buying used clothing is the easiest solution to this problem. Some of my favorite pieces came from our local Buffalo Exchange.
But it is extremely hard to create a highly functioning wardrobe in a second hand environment alone. Thrift shopping depends on being open to out-of-season and unexpected finds. Creating a functional wardrobe depends on planning and shopping for boring pieces like layering t-shirts and perfect black leggings. In the last 25 years I have probably bought a hundred t-shirts at second hand stores and worn five of them regularly.
And what about underwear? Socks??
And some of you readers just don’t feel very comfortable in second hand clothing. This does not make you a bad person. The whole point of effortless dressing is to feel good in your wardrobe, and if you don’t like wearing second hand clothing, don’t beat yourself up about it.
I love the hunt of thrift shopping, and resale items will always make up a good portion of my closet. But if this isn’t you, don’t gather up the rotten fruit just yet, read on.
Do your research, then do some more
There are fantastic ad campaigns out there geared at making us all feel better about ourselves as we buy clothing. But beyond the green-washing there is a complex web of suppliers and owners that funnel the money from your well-intended purchase into the wrong hands.
Your research will depress you. Dove, with its gorgeous, body-positive advertisements, is owned by Unilever. Unilever also owns Axe, which beyond making every boys’ locker room in America smell nasty, has a crazy objectifying ad campaign. All the Dove money and the Axe money goes into the same pockets.
Research clothing companies off their own sites, and see who owns them. Then look at their chain of supply. A company might have good practices, but get their fabric from another company that is destroying farmland and using near-to-slave labor to grow cotton. A small company under private ownership with a short chain of supply is your best bet.
Keep it simple with go-to companies
Obviously, I’m not out googling every clothing brand, every time I shop. To simplify things for myself, I have a few companies where I know I can, in good conscious, shop. And truth be told, most of us buy most of our clothing from 2 or 3 primary shops.
Without reservation, I recommend Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard (my imaginary grandpa) has taken every possible move towards sustainability and not just decent, but down-right awesome labor practices. Plus he’s an incredible climber.
Eileen Fisher is a model company, very progressive and always looking to improve their practices. I’m not at a point where I can afford much from here, but you might be.
BedStu Boots are amazing. Handmade in NYC with ever-strengthening environmental practices.
This article has some interesting looking places. I haven’t investigated yet, but I’ll report back if they are promising.
The problem, of course, is that these companies are expensive. If you know you are going to wear a piece for years, invest. We can also support positive change by seeking out companies who are moving towards better practices all at price points.
The power of one good piece
These pants are from Old Navy. They are a perfect color and fit for my wardrobe. They get a lot of wear.
I like to avoid Old Navy, and other fast fashion stores. But in buying one perfect pair of pants, I haven’t bought five pairs of imperfect pants. Every piece of clothing made impacts the environment, no matter how green the company. Buy one piece that works, rather than seven that kinda work, then wear it for years.
Sustainability is a complex and noble goal. None of us will be perfect as we take the steps needed to save our planet. I have to be careful of taking a few baby steps towards environmentalism and allowing that to justify the rest of my behavior. “Look! I planted a garden while wearing a second-hand pair of shorts! So I’m off to go buy some quirky plastic dishware at Target to serve these veggies on…” But having broad guidelines, rather than nitpicky, puritanical rules, helps me do my best.
Sustainability is at the heart of much of the Mud and Grace philosophy. Don’t buy something unless it is perfect. Shop second hand while experimenting. Love your body the way it is and effortless style will follow. Wear what you own for a long time. Then get out there and have some fun on this beautiful planet.