I have loved clothing for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a poor household meant that being fashionable was something that often felt unobtainable to me. I wore only thrifted clothes. Keep in mind that this was back before Macklemore’s Thrift Shop, when it was generally considered weird and gross to do so. I loved when my aunts, and friends of my mother would purge their closets and I had the opportunity to go through their things and select more stylish items than I generally found in thrift stores. There were only one or two times I ever bought things new growing up. Those times were either when a relative would take me shopping for my birthday, or there was a special event coming up, like when I received my first communion. I always told myself that when I grew up I would never step foot in a thrift store again.
Once I started working and making a paycheck I began to buy my own clothes. I didn’t have much money, so through high school and college I bought my clothes from the cheapest retailers I could find. Some of the places I shopped at most were Primark, Wish, Fashion Nova, and Forever 21. During that time I didn’t really feel like I had a style. I bought whatever was cute and cheap and I found that my clothes always felt like they didn’t quite fit right and that they quickly became faded, ripped, or shrunk. I felt like I was constantly needing to purchase more things but I never felt like I had anything I wanted to wear. I didn’t feel like myself or comfortable in the clothes I was wearing the majority of the time. I figured that I would just have to deal with it until I made enough money to buy higher quality clothes.
After getting married I had more money and started to think about investing in high quality clothes. At this point, it was for no other reason than to look better and have nicer things. Since the clothing was so much more expensive and I didn’t have much experience with nicer brands I started doing some research. I didn’t want to drop the big bucks on clothing that was overpriced and wasn’t the best quality I could get with my budget. I turned to google searches, blogs, and YouTube. While doing this research I began stumbling across discussions about ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry.
I learned that fast fashion is the worlds second largest polluter only surpassed by the oil industry in its environmental impact. I learned about the amount of water it takes to make a single t-shirt (2700 Liters) and that the industry accounts for 20% of the worlds wastewater. Water isn’t the only pollutant when it comes to the fashion industry. 85% (25 billion tons) of clothing produced ends up in landfills and only about 1% of textile waste is recycled. I also read about the human impact of the fast fashion industry. People are underpaid to keep costs low, working conditions are undesirable and unsafe. People die and are exposed to chemicals that make them sick. Children and women experience abuse. There is a huge toll on both our planet and the lives of others that is caused by our desire for cheap and trendy clothing.
This information really changed how I viewed clothing and fashion. I care about others and our planet, but the choices I was making did not align with my ethics and morals. I knew I needed to make a change. I started researching ethical brands and found that while there are some great options out there, I was not going to be able to afford to buy all my clothing from ethical brands. I needed to find a way to fill my wardrobe that aligned with my lifestyle, my budget, my personal tastes, and my morals.
After some research, I decided the best way to meet my needs was to buy certain things new from ethical retailers, but mostly to rely on secondhand sources for my clothing needs. When I did buy clothing new, I would only purchase wardrobe staples that were timeless and that I could wear forever, or things that couldn’t be bought secondhand. Some examples of the things I might buy new would be jeans, a winter coat, underwear, socks, swimsuits, or a pair of boots that I wear all the time. Otherwise I would be getting my clothing second hand.
I have found several ways to get clothing second hand. I have started thrifting again and really have fallen in love with the process. It has become a hobby. I love searching through the racks and finding unique pieces. I love not being limited by what is in season or the latest trends. I now purchase things that I genuinely love. Some of my favorite pieces are a 90’s tapestry jacket and an embroidered purse. Both of these items would never have been found in a regular clothing store but I feel so myself while wearing them. My style now feels uniquely my own and is true to who I am. I love that I can spend even less money than I would at a store like Forever 21, and walk out with items that are high quality, have already lasted many years and are built to last many more. I also love that used clothing has already been washed and isn’t as likely to shrink or fade the first time I wash it. I know that if it fits me in the dressing room it’ll still fit me after a few washes.
Another way that I get my clothing second hand is through events like clothing swaps. I went to one in Denver a couple of weekends ago. The swap was held at Stanley Market and benefited a women’s shelter. We were asked to bring bags full of gently used clothing and accessories and a $5 donation. They took our donation and dumped the bags of clothing into a pile at the door. We were then given the bags back, and were allowed to shop the racks and fill the bags we brought. Volunteers hung items from the donation pile up on the racks so there were constantly new items being added. There was a huge turnout and I was able to swap some pieces that did’t fit my body or that I didn’t wear, for some really cute items that I love! As a bonus, any items that didn’t find a home were donated to the women’s shelter. This is great since many items that are donated to thrift stores end up in landfills. It was nice to see my clothes being taken home by someone who wanted them and knowing that they wouldn’t just become more waste.
The final change that I made was to start shopping my closet more and trying to find new ways to wear items. In some cases this is simple, such as wearing a long sleeved top under a summer dress or layer a sweater over the top. In other cases, this means altering clothing. One example of this was cropping a sweatshirt that was stained on the bottom so I could wear it again. I also plan to purchase a sewing machine so I can alter and flip some items that don’t fit or are not my style. I also changed the way I shop. I used to look at items individually and just buy them based on liking the item. This lead to owning many things that didn’t go well with the other things in my wardrobe. Now I think about the colors, patterns, and styles I already own and try to avoid buying items that don’t pair well with the other things I already have.
I am still learning so much about ethical fashion and how to make it work for my life and for the lives of others. In a future post I will share some of my favorite ethical/sustainable brands and share ways to tell if a brand is ethical or not. I will also talk about “greenwashing” which is a term used to describe tactics companies use to make their products seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are. I also want to address the privilege and barriers that often exist in the ethical fashion industry. I want to spread awareness about fast fashion because it has such a huge environmental and human impact. I want to eliminate the stigma of second hand shopping. It is not dirty or gross. Owning things that were once owned by someone else should weird you out a lot less than knowing someone might have suffered while making your clothing. I hope that someday soon, fast fashion is a thing of the past. Forever 21 going bankrupt has given me a lot of hope that we can make a difference. The way we spend our money has real power. It is so important that we are making educated choices when we purchase clothing.