Thinking About Sustainable Fashion Lately? Read This.

How one woman grappled with her ideals versus her love of fashion, then realized, “I don’t have to choose.”

03.16.16

Here’s a question: is it possible to be committed to social and environmental ideals and to love fashion? Let’s say that you’re in a doctoral program studying the impacts of poverty on the health of communities in developing countries. Does an extravagant pair of shoes put you at odds with your beliefs? Even worse, does it make you a hypocrite?

Enter multi-year sartorial identity crisis.

I became interested in social justice at a young age. I grew up in a quiet New England suburb, but during the summer, from elementary school through college, I traveled to Cairo to spend time with my grandparents and to connect to an identity my parents felt was important for me to understand. It was there that I developed a curiosity about inequality, the role of social, economic and political structures, and the value of human life. When it came time to choose a path, I never doubted that I would work in development. A couple of years and many eye-opening experiences later, I was exactly where I wanted to be: a first-year PhD student delving into the challenges facing our global community.

Meanwhile, my love for fashion never waned. But the more I learned, the more I felt that fashion directly collided with my values. From an environmental perspective, the cycle of consumption and waste generated by fashion’s churn taxes an already-strained climate. On the human dimension, clothes are often manufactured in developing countries that lack sufficient labor laws to ensure that workers receive fair pay and work under safe conditions.

So I explored different ways to maintain my relationship with fashion. There was a period I stopped buying new clothes and only bought vintage or second-hand. Then, for a few months, I abandoned shopping altogether. I enjoyed fashion, the art, as a spectator but found myself increasingly reluctant to participate in fashion, the industry, as a consumer.

Time passed, and these various experiments came and went. But instead of bringing me a greater sense of purpose, this separation from fashion felt like a sacrifice of an important part of my identity. Feeling perpetually conflicted about loving fashion had forced me into a no-win situation. One in which I could never feel whole exactly as I was.

And that’s when I realized it: maybe I didn’t have to choose at all.

Instead, maybe fashion — the clothes I buy, the things I choose to wear — could be another way for me to put my beliefs into practice. For better or worse, consumption is a powerful act. We vote once every couple of years, but we spend money, in some form, basically every day. So instead of rejecting fashion, I decided to embrace it with a sense of greater respect than I had before.

I’ve learned that approaching fashion from this place of higher consciousness can mean, well, anything you want it to mean. At times, the conversation around sustainability can feel like an exclusive discussion that you can’t weigh in on if you don’t know how leather is tanned or whether fair trade is effective. Of course, it’s useful to understand the issues, but sustainability isn’t — and shouldn’t be — about a one-size-fits-all definition. In order for sustainability to mean something to you, it has to work within the context of your life. In the mean time, here are a few ideas to get started.

Slow down your relationship with fashion—buy less, invest in timeless pieces.

Why this matters:

One of the main reasons our modern relationship with fashion is so unsustainable is that we buy too much. Fast fashion fuels this with prices that are often so low, we don’t have to question whether we really need or truly love that thing we’re about to buy. Low prices may seem like an advantage, but they have negative effects on both the environment (we buy more and waste more) and the workers who make our clothes.

How to start:

Try a fast fashion fast. Set a time period that is reasonable for you. Then skip your usual fast fashion destination of choice. (Don’t even go in so that you’re not tempted.) Meanwhile, set your sights on a target investment buy, and save with said target in mind. At the end of your fast, spend the money you’ve saved on something you’ll cherish for a long time to come.

Support artisans, buy handmade.

Why this matters:

Handcrafts are endangered all over the world as artisans can’t compete from a price standpoint with goods that are mass-produced. This has two adverse impacts: the loss of employment in artisanal trades, and the threat that traditional crafts and techniques will be forgotten. Buying handmade doesn’t just support a process, it often gets you a better end product — one that is more intricate and special, one that will last longer than its machine-made counterpart.

How to start:

The next time you need something — a sweater, a beach bag, a silk scarf — consult the Internet for a handmade version of the item in question. Etsy is one of many great online resources for finding handmade items from around the world. If you want to go a step further, support an artisanal cooperative. In cooperatives, profits are distributed among members, with additional training programs and empowerment initiatives in place to promote social and economic mobility.

Find a tailor.

Why this matters:

Our clothes have a life cycle. Over time, they get worn in certain spots, their buttons fall off and they get ripped and snagged. When we pay very little for a piece of clothing, we tend to throw out or donate our clothes when they’ve had some (even minor) wear and tear. Practically, this generates waste and leads us to buy more clothes. Philosophically, we become at risk of viewing our clothes as disposable. And any true fashion lover knows that clothes are anything but disposable.

How to start:

Yelp a tailor in your neighborhood. Take what you need to get fixed (perhaps that blouse that’s been sitting in your drawer because it’s missing a button). Marvel at how quickly and cheaply something previously unusable can be made perfectly wearable again. After that, take something more complicated. Maybe a pair of pants that don’t fit quite right, or a dress that’s big in the waist. Trust me when I say this: you’ll see clothes in a whole new light.

No matter how you start, the first step to being a more conscious fashion lover is curiosity, which involves cultivating an interest in where our clothing comes from, where it goes after we no longer want it and who is impacted by the decisions we make about what we wear. Once we start asking ourselves these questions, the answers are never too far off.

Nadine writes about sustainability, personal style and our relationship with fashion. Read her musings here and follow her on Instagram @onewhodresses

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.

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  • “Feeling perpetually conflicted about loving fashion had forced me into a no-win situation.”

    Thank you, this is everything I feel!!

    Also, I would add learn to sew to this list because it will help you so much! Both in terms of fixing things and creating new clothing. For example, when I inevitably spill on or tear a piece, it’s an opportunity to sliiiightly change the materials so it’s my very own. Or if I see something I really can’t afford, I can make my own version with whatever custom tweaks to the design.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Definitely! I’d actually love to learn how to sew.

      • Romelia Finch

        When I saw the draft of 5436 dollars,,,yu I accept that my friend’s brother was like really generating cash in his free time with his PC. . His aunt’s neighbor has done this for only 10 months and by now repaid the loan on their home and bought a new Car .

        To Know More Click Here
        er….

      • Caitlin_DD

        Try fabric stores for lessons, y’all have a superb selection! Purl Soho might be a good start.

        • Becky Cogdill

          When I saw the draft of 6245 dollars,,,yuc I accept that my friend’s brother was like really generating cash in his free time with his PC. . His aunt’s neighbor has done this for only 10 months and by now repaid the loan on their home and bought a new Car .

          To Know More Click Here
          io…

        • chouette

          Mood has opened a whole mini-studio where they teach free lessons, I think you just have to buy the materials from the store.

    • Nadine Farag

      It’s nice to meet a kindred spirit, Lisa! I completely agree- sewing is such an important way to reconnect with our clothes. I would love to learn how. Any tips for getting started?

      • Oh god, I didn’t learn from books or anything, so I guess if you know someone who sews ask them to teach you the basics and go from there! Start with like replacing buttons or closing a small tear in an easy fabric like woven cotton and move on up from there as you get comfortable. I’m pro-experimentation and general fucking around with old clothes.

        • Nadine Farag

          This is great! Thank you!

          • You’re welcome!

      • I think the society you live in could be very impeccable in how you live your life including how you see fashion and clothes, I’m a Cairo girl as well and know what you mean, we consume fashionable cheap pieces here as fast as trends goes by and only few can be conscious about what’s valuable in that matter. I tried all the methods that you said and couldn’t be more agreed about the second hand pieces (that’s also so difficult to find here but I love to search) and Learning to sew, I think I’ve learned that the hard way—wanting an embellishment dress to wear and the only way to imitate a couture feeling was by embellish rhinestones and pearls, like that dress that I was talking about here http://www.fashionparadoxes.com/2016/03/16/what-would-you-wear-at-weddings/ and the suffering of how I want the dress to be perfect for me, so I did it myself after the local tailor had enough of me, I even wanted to wear it again so I cut the straps and changed the top look, and I’m an ex-architect but that’s how I take it, how to appreciate a piece by spending time and money on it to make it happen — even if you don’t have much of both. And for the sewing tips: Start by a button and you’ll get the courage afterwards.

        • Nadine Farag

          Love your creativity and desire to feel like a dress is really yours!

      • Kristin Schmidt

        start with something that is harder than it looks, but no trims like buttons or zippers. Make a French seamed pillow case is a good one, since you have to learn to shrink your fabric, clean your seams and top stitch the folded back edge. But it’s all straight lines so you get some good practice. An apron is great, since you have to sandwich the waistband and shirr (gather) the skirt – still no trims. When you’re ready, a pencil skirt is a good start. Buy a good simple patter like Vogue “Easy” and it’ll walk you through it.

    • olamina

      Agreed! I took a half-day sewing course this summer and on the strength of that bought a (very lightly used) sewing machine. I’ve sewn a few blouses and dresses and hemmed a bunch of pants. Knowing how to sew means that I am MUCH more picky about what I buy. A lot of times I can make myself something better (given a little time and focus and someone to watch my kid)! Sewing is not that hard and there are tons of resources online. It’s such a great feeling to get a compliment and be able to say “I made it myself”!

      • That is awesome! I definitely appreciate my clothing more, and love saying ‘I made it myself’ too!

    • BK

      YES hear hear – sewing is an invaluable skill. I think a lot of people, especially women, shy away from learning to sew these days because it’s more convenient to buy fast fashion clothing, and some people perceive it to be distinctly traditional, like part of the old workload of the unempowered 50s housewife, and as a result is considered a sort of un-feminist skill to learn. When in reality, knowing how to sew means that you can do something that most people can’t! In that sense it really is empowering. (I would also like to add that the excitement and satisfaction that you feel after finishing the final hem on a dress you made entirely by yourself is at least equal to, if not greater than, opening the delivery of a long-awaited online purchase. And I buy *a lot* of stuff online so I know that feel well. Also it means you rarely need to go to the tailor. I did actually LOL at the notion of going to a tailor for a loose button. It legit takes less than 1 minute to do, and all you need is a needle & thread)

  • Ali Peat

    Just like fast food in unhealthy for the body, fast fashion is unhealthy for the environment. And both are highly popular and consumed by billions of people. The challenge is educating the vast majority of the population on the negative environmental impact surrounding fast fashion and addictive consumerism, and significantly changing their addictive fast fashion consumer attitude. Most people aren’t curious and won’t ask the questions or care about the answers. I love fashion and the environment and over the years made a conscious effort to buy less and invest in quality, and purchase clothes preferably made of natural fibres (cotton, wool, leather). In the last couple of years I have started to buy vintage as part of my balancing my love of fashion and concern for environmental sustainability!

    • Nadine Farag

      This is so well said!

  • Wow, this article is so insightful! It opened my eyes to a new more enlightened (can you say that about fashion?) approach to sustainability and fashion. Also you made choosing more sustainable route very approachable. I know I will be thinking about this as I purchase clothes – and I will try to change my mindset that clothing is a disposable item. Because really it’s an expression of myself and if I see that as disposable it can’t be good for the way I see myself.

    Amber
    amberbutbetter.blogspot.com

    • Nadine Farag

      Thank you, Amber. Love your thoughts on clothing as an extension of self.

  • Yess loved this! I love people that are able to bring another perspective to the fashion industry. Serve the global community, educate minds on the issues facing the developing countries and give practical tips on how to consciously elevate one’s wardrobe.

    “No matter how you start, the first step to being a more conscious fashion lover is curiosity”

    So true it’s all about probing the questions and seeing the discoveries you find along the way.

    • Nadine Farag

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Thanks for your comment!

  • Don’t know about your part of the world but in Germany you cun buy a small portable sewing machine that will last for years for less money than many of the things shown on this blog.

    So then … you have a tee and it is a lost case (worn out, torn, soiled…): you can always use it to learn sewing and throw the results away – basic sewing not really being any kind of magic, it could be the last tee you had sewn and then thrown away. The same goes for any other clothes: rip them apart to see what they consist of, sew them a bit to get the feel of the material and your new machine, use them to wipe stuff and then throw them away. Your knowledge gain should make it possible to feel no remorse at that stage.

    With sewing machine as your new BFF, the world’s your oyster 🙂 Well, a part of it.

    I also occasionally check my brands as to their compliance with The Fair Wear Foundation (http://www.fairwear.org/brands/) if can I find the time …

    • Amelia Diamond

      Thanks for that website Alcessa. How many of you guys sew?? Seems like more than I would have guessed!

      • I am not sure I should claim “I sew”, since I use my sewing machine only to … make things better – I do not create new clothes, apart from denim bags, so … 🙂

      • Meg

        I’ll usually hem stuff if the cost of tailoring would be more than the cost of the item. That said I have a pair of flares I got for cheap but the inseam on them is insane for my little legs. But I’ll sew buttons back on or stitch up holes. The most recent repair was stitching up a little hole to a merino sweater from Uniqlo that I bought in a panic before going to Reykjavik.

      • Fezzers

        I was one of those kids that needed to be constantly doing something with my hands, so my mother taught me to knit and sew. I make quilts mostly now because the geometry is pretty relaxing (when you make from scratch some piece of clothing that doesn’t quite fit it feels like death). But I do all my tailoring and fixing myself.

  • Rachel Wong

    So I’m conflicted about companies like Reformation. They stick to a sustainable ethos and sell that super hard, but being a fast fashion company is antithetical to what it means to be a sustainable company. Also with the whole G-Star Raw x Bionic Yarn thing… I’ve heard rumors that they incorporated virgin polyester instead of recycled polyester, and even so, polyester in clothing at all (recycled or not recycled) is bad for the environment.

    So while I think that it’s good that we’re having these conversations, I think that the issue is more complex, and we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back just yet.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Thanks for your comment! I think Nadine is going to get on here shortly to add some insight

    • Nadine Farag

      This is a great point. I agree that Reformation moves fast, and that it is fundamentally this speed that is unsustainable. But they are also being really thoughtful about material selection, water use, carbon emissions, as well as the overall environmental impact of their operations. So that leaves us in a place as consumers where we have some choice. We can support a company like Reformation but be mindful about the volume and even the types of clothes we buy to ensure that we don’t buy too much and don’t buy things we’ll only wear a handful of times. I love their striped shirts and bodysuits for that reason. Thanks for engaging so thoughtfully with the article.

  • Helene

    Love this!!! I am constantly trying to reconcile my relationship with fashion. This helps me to reconnect to my power around it instead of feeling stuck – I love the idea of thinking about voting any time I make a purchase. Clothes are so intimate, and materials and where they are sourced matter to me. Thanks for giving me lots to think about with this piece. I’m curious where the writer started in her exploration, and other practical ideas about making the journey to being a more conscious consumer of fashion.

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi! Thanks for your comment. I think I just started by recognizing slowly and over time that consumption choices are powerful. In terms of a few practical ideas. Read the tags in your clothing to see what they are made of and where they are made. Favor natural fibers over synthetics when you can. As with food, buy local. If you can support a designer or brand that manufactures in your city, state, or country, do it!

  • Kelsey O’Donnell

    This article really resonated with me as someone who has a serious creative streak and a born-in-me-can’t-help-it passion for all things outdoors, as well as an interest (and deep love) in (for) fashion. I work primarily in the business world, I hang with the outdoor adventurers, and in both groups fashion is often perceived as narcissistic, silly, or superfluous. I recently had a “fuck it” moment where I decided if I could reconcile the seemingly conflicting interests/passions/lifestyles, the rest of the world could just shove off. It’s always nice to hear you’re not alone in the struggle.

    • Nadine Farag

      I’m so grateful for your comment Kelsey. I think such a big part of this is feeling empowered to be exactly who we are, and resisting the idea of being boxed in. When we are forced to choose between things that are equally important to our identity, we lose, and what we care about gets shortchanged too. For example, respecting nature and loving the outdoors means you can be that much more connected to the materials your clothing is made of, and appreciate what goes in to quality fabric, making you love fashion even more. So rock on and keep being you. In the process, you’ll help people realize that fashion isn’t superficial at all.

  • This is a great post. It seems really easy to take part in the fast fashion game, but at the same time I know that what I am doing it’s not right and that I’m indirectly supporting a system I don’t like. I loved the simile between the actions of voting and consuming, also the three proposals at the end. Thank you soo much for writing this!

    • Nadine Farag

      Thank you for reading it and for your comment, Nana!

  • Ruchika Kumar

    Love this article. Written so clearly about our choices and the consequences of “fast fashion”. This is the same reason I chose to leave my job a few years ago working for a quick turnaround home fashion industry that made products from “somewhere in china”. All i got to see was the ugly polyester comforter as a result of my design. I went to get my masters in London in sustainable Textile Design and started my own company afterwards, http://www.ichcha.com. We’re still working towards our zero waste agenda. But for now we’re working under the Slow cloth banner. All our products are hand produced VERY SLOWLY, through block printing with natural dyes. We’re subject to nature and only what it gives. Looking to spread the conscious shopping message through our brand and thankful to this article for articulating the message so clearly!

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks, Ruchika. It’s wonderful to hear about your journey and to learn about your company. Widening consumer choice by offering sustainable alternatives is such an important piece of this.

  • xtyb

    Thank you Nadine for this awesome article, thank you MR for running it, and I am so excited to see all the positive comments! I think that the most important first step is definitely AWARENESS. I read a depressing article recently which said that researchers discovered that most shoppers don’t even want to know where their purchases came from. I hope to read more and more articles that explain why these choices matter, and offer good alternatives. Now I’ll go pull out my sewing machine!

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks for your comment! I completely agree with you. There are definitely so many actions we can take- big and small- to give us hope and to leave us feeling like we can make a difference.

  • Maria Linnea

    This is AMAZING! I have been thinking more and more about this over the past few years and I love reading your thoughts about it. I would love to read more about this and the road ahead for sustainable fashion. Can´t you come back and do more for manrepeller? Pleeease? It is such an important topic. Can I ask what you think of all the fastfashion brands concious/eco/recycle moves? (hm concious collection etc) Is it wholeheartedly? Is is the way to go? Or is it a pr-trick? I mean, is is more enviromently friendly with ecocotton, but it will not change the unhealthy way we consume, right?

    • Amelia Diamond

      We’re gonna have her do more!

    • Aggie

      I would loooove to know the author’s opinion on this as well. Also can Man Repeller give us a guide on what all these new fabrics are essentially made of as in how do they feel on the skin, how long do they actually last, etc…
      Another question I often ask myself regarding these fastfashion brands is where does the stuff that doesn’t sell all go? Do they burn it? Do they donate it to poorer communities?

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi Marie and Aggie! This is a great question. Maria, you are completely right that what makes fast fashion unsustainable is the way we consume- specifically, the volume and the speed. Even if all fast fashion brands hypothetically switched to 100% organic cotton, or more sustainable fibers like linen or tencel, the underlying model would still be unsustainable for the reason that it’s too taxing on the environment to produce this volume of new clothes at such a fast speed (at both ends of the life cycle- resources are used to produce the clothes, and waste is generated by the clothes we throw out as we buy new). So while I think efforts to bring more sustainable fabrics and recycling options to fast fashion are better than no efforts at all (especially if they encourage a shopper to learn more), they ultimately won’t solve the issue.

  • Olivia B

    This is such an inspiring article! I am studying fashion and sustainability, it is always really refreshing (and reassuring) to learn of people who are out in the world making good stuff like this happen. The next question from here is how do we open up a widely accessible market to help socially/environmentally conscious clothing grow? Excited to see where the future will take us in this field!

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks for your comment, Olivia! It’s wonderful to hear of people studying about and thinking of the future at the intersection of these two fields.

  • Maia

    I was so excited to see this article on Man Repeller today! I have long been grappling with trying to reconcile my love of fashion (and art/design, too!) with my desire to participate in and help create a more sustainable, thoughtful consumer culture. It’s HARD sometimes. The task can feel daunting when you recognize that fashion is capitalism’s darling, and is built on a system that is inherently unsustainable at its core. However, I agree that by starting small and thinking about sustainable consumerism on a more personal level, we can begin to recognize the problem(s) in our fashion habits and create change in a way that’s much more approachable.

    I’m really pleased to see so many positive, thoughtful comments. Looking forward to more pieces n the blog in this vein, and more insights from Nadine!

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi Maia! Great comment, thanks. I’m so glad you found the piece relevant. I totally agree with you that the key is rather than feeling daunted, to start small.

  • Katherine McGuinness

    This is a great read! I’m happy bloggers like Man Repeller are joining the discussion about sustainable clothing. It’s hard to be an ethical consumer in today’s fashion world but these are some great tips. I’m actually currently writing a book on overconsumption in the fashion industry and environmentally, ethically friendly companies and this article voices many of the same issues I’ve been finding throughout my research. It’s wonderful to see so many positive comments below from consumers moving away from fast fashion and into sustainability!

    • Nadine Farag

      When is your book coming out?!

  • Angie

    Eugh thank you for writing this! I have completely felt the same way for a long time (and I’m a PhD student in Envrionmental Studies). I wish there were more fashion libraries around!

    • JUST

      check out projectjust.com for more info on sustainable fashion, new brands and the practices of other companies

  • I remember going through my own fashion existential crisis several years ago when I decided to clean up my life. I thought dressing a certain way would reflect that I wasn’t the wandering, partying teen anymore and was taking my life seriously but all I was doing was reflecting someone else’s image. Realizing that our personal style is a part of our identity was a liberating epiphany! I know this article is about so much more than this but that was just one part in particular (of many points that Nadine brought out) that touched me in particular. We could be in a situation one day where we lose everything, including our clothing, and we’d still be us but having that freedom now is a wonderful privilege to rejoice in.

    • Nadine Farag

      Love your thoughts on the connection between style and identity!

      • Thanks so much, Nadine! I consider it a privilege that you took the time to respond to me!

        Meg Maldonado @ TheFauxParisian.com

  • Nadine,
    I can’t begin to tell you how happy this post made me. I went through a very similar struggle a few years ago when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse opened my eyes to the truth behind the Fashion industry. I had lived fashion for so long and been working in Fashion for years.
    I struggled to find good alternatives that were aesthetically pleasing, which led me to learning how to sew my own clothes. That only gave me even more respect and appreciation for the labor that goes into making a garment.
    This led me to launch Belvele.com a few months ago. It is our goal to make it easy to find ethical fashion that you WANT to wear. I hope more fashion bloggers start bringing attention to these issues. You are the trend setters, and you have the power to change the industry for the better.
    So proud of ManRepeller. 🙂

    • Nadine Farag

      Monica, so happy to learn of Belvele and to hear your story! Thanks!

  • BV Exports

    Love this!!! I am constantly trying to reconcile my relationship with fashion. This helps me to reconnect to my power around it instead of feeling stuck – I love the idea of thinking about voting any time I make a purchase. Clothes are so intimate, and materials and where they are sourced matter to me. Thanks for giving me lots to think about with this piece.

    Also give this a try if u love indian ethnic wears… http://www.lalwanis.in/suits.html

  • Raquel Pais

    Oh I’m so happy we can read so many important concepts in one article. We are finally realising that sustainability in fashion (and for the matter in almost anything really) is not only about “green”, but about consumption before anything else! Yay!
    That’s why we at À Capucha! try so fiercely to protect and support our traditional know-how and craftsmanship.

    • Nadine Farag

      Great to learn of your company! Thanks!

      • Raquel Pais

        Thank you Nadine! Hope you like it and hopefully it will make you want to visit Portugal if you haven’t yet. xx

  • Meg

    I coincidentally (without seeing this!) made my first Zady purchase last night after being quietly obsessed since seeing Soraya in the Heritage Meets Innovation series.
    I’ve been slowly working on improving my shopping habits, but I wish thrift/vintage options around me were better.

  • Fezzers

    Anyone have thoughts on where to buy more sustainable shoes? Manolos are sadly a little out of my reach, haha.
    I love thrifting and reworking my old clothes into new ones, though. Learning to sew and investing in a sewing machine was a really great decision

    • Nadine Farag

      Finding sustainable shoes that are also my style has been harder than any other clothing/accessories category. I always invest in shoes, figuring that if I buy a well-made pair that will last it’s a start. I also buy shoes second-hand.

    • rachel

      I agree with Nadine– this has also been the biggest struggle for me. My rule is that I invest in new, high quality “every day” shoes: ankle boots, flat sandals and winter boots, and buy all my heels and funky flats and whatever else secondhand. Of course at this point in my life even “high quality staples” isn’t as high quality as I would like because of price limitations, but I usually get at least a few years out of each everyday pair before I have to replace them. And because they were secondhand, I don’t have to feel too bad about the red snakeskin 90’s open toe heels I don’t get to wear as much 🙂

  • Sarah Sjd Dinning

    I feel like something that is important that maybe wasn’t mentioned is the focus on myths within the textile marketing industry that leads us to believe fibres and garments are more sustainable then they are .i.e bamboo and eco-cotton. Can you really always believe what you read? What is not immediately obvious is other sustainable factors like harvesting/deforestation, emissions, chemical production output, human/community cost, the carbon footprint of were our fibres import/export from and the marketing tools that lead us to believe that they are more sustainable they they actually are.

  • Jen Cole

    Love this! As someone who works in sustainability/labor abuses in the seafood industry it’s been a challenging journey for me to bring the knowledge and awareness I have of that industry to other sectors. It’s encouraging that these issues are becoming more “mainstream,” and that articles on how to leverage your purchasing power are becoming more accessible.

  • jen_l_c

    I love that manrepeller posted this article! As someone who works in sustainability/labor abuses in another industry, it’s been a challenging journey for me to bring the knowledge/awareness I have of that industry to other sectors and to my own life. It’s encouraging that these issues are becoming more “mainstream,” and that articles on how to leverage your purchasing power are becoming more accessible.

  • M Rae

    ugh today in zara on the middle level i got the spins thinking about how all the piles and piles around me and above me and below me probably werent in the store a month ago and in another month, it would all be 100% replaced with more, different piles and this continues for forever and ever multiplied by all the zara’s in the world, PLUS the ginormous flagship ones, and all the boxes and gasoline and trucks and flights and factory workers and at that point its just beyond anxiety inducing and everything STOPS EVEN BEING CUTE. basically it felt like the drug scene in garden state in a bad way.

    and then i found this…so thanks nadine!!!

    • Nadine Farag

      This is so spot on.

  • Gabrielle

    Thanks for this Nadine!
    I’m also pretty obsessed with sustainability and with fashion, so sustainable fashion is my jam. What I’ve learnt over the years is that there are so many ways to consume fashion sustainably, there’s no real excuse not to!
    I’ve been shopping second-hand for a decade (vintage, consignment, thrift…), the majority of my wardrobe is now recycled! Somehow, shopping in this way feels like an adventure in serendipity – you can never fully anticipate what finds you’ll come across, even if you’re shopping for a particular item or style. But living in NYC is a real luxury for thrift shopping, with so much choice and incredible fashion in different consignment and charity shops.
    Having a great tailor is really indispensable for one’s wardrobe too! I recently found some beautiful designer pieces second hand and had them altered by my tailor (who incidentally also makes his own incredible Senegalese designs, in Bed Stuy :)..).

    Recycled clothes aside, I completely agree on investing in good quality, ethically made pieces for lasting use. Local/small fashion companies like Zady and reformation are great for that (shopping for locally made and natural materials from small designers is another strategy I like to use). That said, I’d love to see more sustainable/small scale lingerie companies! Definitely not down to buy my bras second hand but it’s still a struggle to find ethically produced underwear..!
    Anyway, I also wanted to add my appreciation for the Zady New(s) Standard, I read it every time it pops into my inbox 🙂

    • Nadine Farag

      So many great points here! Thanks for sharing. Have you heard of Base Range?

      • Gabrielle

        No, I hadn’t – I’ll check them out 🙂

  • shauna

    THIS IS SO GREAT. I recently watched the “True Cost” documentary about the fashion industry and the people who really make our clothes, and it made me feel like there was nothing I could do except buy from sustainable brands like Reformation and Everlane, but you’ve laid out some great behavior changes that we all need to make in order to change the industry for the better. Thank you for shedding light on this, Man Repeller!
    http://www.cultivatedrevelations.com

  • Loren Hackett

    Such a great read, thank you. Something I’ve noticed in my slow approach to fashion is the feelings of relief and excitement I often get. Relief at not needing or wanting new things, relief at not spending all the time, excited because I adore everything I own, excited as I research and make more concerted decisions, excited because my sense of style is more personal than it’s ever been, it’s much more representative of my values, of how I see the world and how I want to be seen in it. Having style with substance is so freeing. Thanks again for your words x

    • Nadine Farag

      This is so great on so many levels. Especially feeling more connected to your style as a result of this process! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • It’s excellent to see this subject finally making its way to the mainstream fashion set! Zady’s New Standard is probably the BEST place to start learning about the myriad issues involved in producing clothing. Nadine’s research for Zady is poignant and really well done! Advice for those looking to become more conscious in their shopping habits: pick one or two issues that matter the most to you (animal cruelty? Environmental impact? Human rights? Women’s rights? Toxicity?) and start shopping with those values in mind. Visit http://www.ethicalwriters.co to read even more about conscious fashion and sustainable purchasing ?

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi Faye! I’m so glad you found the New Standard helpful. You’ve laid out some great advice for getting started!

  • sofia allyn

    more of this please!! i’ve passed it along to all of my friends. such an important conversation and in such a digestible form here. thank you for the thoughtful piece, nadine.

    • Nadine Farag

      Thanks so much, Sofia!

  • Kristin Schmidt

    I am super confused about the fox fur Vellies. How are those at all sustainable? No one eats fox, and they aren’t exactly a “renewable” resource, even if someone does eat fox. (Side thought: the nature of being “sentient” means irreplaceable, therefore not renewable or sustainable). And these are hardly an investment piece – they are trendy, not classic? Vellies, as a brand, doesn’t even seem sustainable to me (create jobs for local women, yes, which is awesome, but that’s not sustainability, that’s employment; recycle some waste materials for trim and soles, is, but does that make a whole brand “sustainable”?), so I’m missing the whole point of including them.

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi Kristin! Thanks for your comment and sharing your perspective. Two things. First, I included Brother Vellies because I think the company’s founder, Aurora James, is being thoughtful about sourcing, material selection, production aspects like dyeing, the preservation of craft, and employment in African countries (http://www.brothervellies.com/site/sustainability). I personally support those efforts as a consumer, which is why I included the brand. (Also, the mules are shearling, not fox, which is a byproducts of the meat industry that is sourced from farmers in Kenya with whom the company has built relationships). Second, but perhaps more importantly, it’s really my hope that a takeaway of this piece is that we should each feel empowered to define our relationship with sustainability for ourselves. So while Brother Vellies is a sustainable brand to me, it certainly might not be to you. And that’s not only OK, I think it’s absolutely critical for the growth of the market for sustainable fashion. Because ultimately, in order to really shift the status quo in the fashion industry, it will take all sorts of companies working to address sustainability in different ways. And it will take us as consumers connecting with and supporting those companies whose values and actions resonate with us personally.

      • Kristin Schmidt

        Hmm. The mules you posted link to a buy site that shows them as US fox, not shearling.
        Yes, agreed positive moves are positive, I’m just sensitive to the language (and sensitive to fur, which is from a sentient being, therefore hard to argue sustainability since it’s not like growing a new plant).

        • Nadine Farag

          I see what you mean. My apologies! I was talking about the ones I wore, but you’re right.

          • Kristin Schmidt

            Let’s be friends :). I’ll teach you to sew and we can make it sustainable by using leftover fabrics I already have. ✂️✂️

  • BK

    I think about this a lot. So many areas of fashion are so boldly non-transparent.The Fashion Bunker is a company currently soaring in popularity – everyone wears here Down Under – and they don’t even list what their garments are made of on their website! And that really is the tip of the iceberg. To me, the two largest issues in fashion are the lack of environmental consciousness and sustainable behaviour in the garment production process (including water wastage, CO2 emissions and treatment of animals, esp. in the fur industry) and the uneven distribution of wealth in the garment making cycle (namely the exploitation of people in developing countries who actually make the clothes, whilst company owners and retailers profit handsomely off their underpaid labour), and I can’t really think of any major company which endeavours to address both. Reformation covers the sustainability side of things, but glosses over the manufacturing element; Everlane focuses on transparency and ethical relationships with their manufacturers, but don’t really deal with the environmental factors. American Apparel prides itself on treating its workforce decently but again, the environmental impact is sort of forgotten and they’re pretty fast-paced like Ref. And aside from a very few labels, high-end fashion designers don’t bother dealing with any of it!
    I do wonder what will happen in the future though. Considering the ironclad grip of the current hyperactive seasonal cycle and blog and web-based obsession with constant fashion consumerism and marketing, is it a waste of time to strive towards building a fashion industry built on sustainability and transparency, when achieving such a goal seems so futile/impossible in the present?

    (Also! Another suggestion to be sustainably fashionable/fashionably sustainable – consignment sites like The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective are a neat way to get a designer fix without a) paying full price or b) buying into the waste of the brand-new clothing cycle.
    Also also! If there’s something new you want, check eBay before you buy it – somebody may have purchased it already, worn it once/never and is now seeking to offload it. Welcome to the Thrifty Thrifty World of BK Online).

    • Nadine Farag

      Hi! So many great points- thank you for sharing. In terms of companies tackling sustainability from a certain angle, I just wanted to say that I tend to really give companies that are genuinely trying to work on an issue (whether it’s the environment, labor issues, etc) the benefit of the doubt because of this: companies have to start somewhere. They have to balance business realities with their social or environmental missions or they won’t succeed at implementing change. And the problems are so difficult that starting with one issue is often all a young company can do, so that’s why they tend to focus. And while they’re focusing, our support as consumers can help them to grow to a point where they no longer need to hone in on one aspect of sustainability, but can really endeavor to tackle the entire issue. I think it’s definitely a critical moment to strive towards building a more sustainable fashion industry and that no time invested doing that is wasted. Also, I completely agree about consignment sites and eBay. Thanks for engaging with the article so thoughtfully!

  • Carole Murphy

    Bravo!

  • Francisca, BHAVA Design

    Love this! Great tips for getting started. In my case I didn’t have a choice to get involved, the toxic chemicals used in leather tanning made me very sick, and even though I got better, I couldn’t stop thinking about the women that are exposed to these toxins daily. I had to quit a job that I loved and start over with my own brand using environmentally responsible materials. No matter how you come into the world of sustainability doing the right thing just feels good, but if you’re interested in learning more, reach out and attend the many events happening these days, you will meet some of the most inspiring and beautiful women around! It’s about community and together changes are being made!

    • Nadine Farag

      It’s so hard to have to come to sustainability that way but I totally agree with your conclusions. And I’m glad to learn of your company. Thanks!

  • Really appreciating this post – as a young person who enjoys fashion but also is semi-cynical about the craziness of consumerism, I struggle bridging the gap between my ideals of exploring the artistry of fashion without buying and buying and buying. It is really conflicting to be faced with the prospect of constantly purchasing and updating wardrobes with gay abandon, as opposed to wearing something “environmentally friendly” that makes you look like you live in a commune and wear 100% hemp. Please continue this essential conversation for all of us that are curious about fashion AND sustainability!

  • Lane Hunter

    I don’t know who this woman is…but i want to. Sustainable or not, she has her own fashion sense that looks really cool.

  • Catalina

    my goal this year is to only buy sustainable fashion!

  • Beatrice

    This is exactly the content that I come to Man Repeller for. Compelling, smart discussions of critical issues. Thank you for this post!! I am signing up for Zady’s New Standard now.

  • Mun

    I love this. As I was writing my latest blog post on the subject “why do we have things?” as inspired by The American Edit, I felt this conflict rising within me. I want to invest in great pieces but I can’t just spend my money investing without buying cheaper and potentially good quality fashionable items from high street. I never ever imagined that I would ever feel this conflict but maybe it’s called maturity i.e. ageing. Haha!

    http://www.wllwproject.com

  • Raye Padit

    Amazing article, I love how you breakdown simple steps to follow on how to live a sustainably fashionable life!

    Growing up in a fast fashion and ready to wear era was simply buying clothes wear them and throw them, I never had that connection not until I studied a short course about fashion design. After learning how to sew and make apparels I have so much respect with the people involved in the supply chain because it is not easy! We should get to appreciate more clothes, because it takes so much resource from our environment and from people. Clothes are more than just clothes, they are our second skin and it gives us power to be more ourself instead of using it as a mask ans pretend to be not ourself. We should all dress to be ourselves. 🙂

  • Zoha Mahdi

    Got to give it to the editorial team of MR for curating such good and relevant content on fashion and the industry as a whole. You guys talk about things that matter, thanks.
    There are so many layers and verticals to this space that it is nearly impossible to put brands under one umbrella. And yet Nadine, you have managed making some wonderful points for sustainability. A lot of people get questioned for their integrity to social ideals and beliefs if they happen to have an inclination or a straight up love for runway trends or fashion in general. It is considered an oxymoron more often than not in many instances to straddle both fashion or its awareness and social ideals. All the points that you have suggested could really turnaround the purchase patterns of folks going berserk over fast fashion. Hope people see through fast fashion brands like zara, topshop, h&m, etc and switch to names that are expensive but have cleaner supply chains and safe-fair priced manufacturing processes. Or as Nadine has suggested to buy less and invest in versatile-timeless pieces like a capsule wardrobe, if imbibed by even 5% of the fashion retail consumer base, the ripple effects will be far reaching.

  • Melanie Cheung

    Greaaat Article. Thankfully there are more and more sustainable options these days and by mixing in some fun vintage pieces, we really don’t have to choose between sustainable and stylish anymore.
    We’re launching a new sustainable knitwear company very soon out of Montreal Canada, check it out when you get a chance! http://www.systemedevaleurs.com

  • Great tips on how to start this dialogue with ourselves as consumers. Thoughtful, sustainable fashion and truly loving pieces and their story for a long time is good for everyone.

  • Claudia De Berardinis

    Absolutely loved this article @manrepeller. I myself have struggled with my love for fashion/beauty and the way it conflicts with my underlying hunger to do what is right for the earth. Like Krista encourages in the article, it’s ok to like nice things but it’s also important that we realise sustainability is an umbrella term and it’s about figuring out what is most attainable for our own individual selves when it comes to preventing waste and helping the planet.

    Personally, I believe in slow fashion – I support artisans and buy their handmade products whether it’s jewellery, clothing, furniture or more. For me, I find that slow fashion/design is the best way for me to practice sustainability. I see my purchases as an investment, and spending money on quality, unique pieces means to me these pieces are not disposable but rather valuable and full of craft and workmanship. It’s important to support artisanal trades and it truly upsets me how huge conglomerate fashion and design industries rip off quality designs of true artisans.

    I recently started an environmentally-friendly lifestyle blog – check it out guys!
    Twitter – https://twitter.com/thegreenbabes
    Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/thegreenbabes_/
    Wordpress – https://thegreenbabes.wordpress.com/

  • Yes! Love this article and the tips you provided, think going on a fast fashion fast will impact the way people feel about clothes and the results will surely surprise many. Once you stop over-consuming, it becomes easier to slow down and to reconnect with your personal style!

    Scandinavian Slow Fashion soon at http://www.BYEM.com

  • so true, its so important to be conscious and sustainable as possible but we can buy fashion at the same time!. Its about balance and be true to ourself. What we choose, say who we are