Building an Ethical Wardrobe without Shopping Ethical Brands

I said in my first post and I meant it, that I reject the idea that this is a movement for affluent influencers only. If having an ethical wardrobe is accessible to anyone (as it should be, regardless of income, body type, race, etc.) then I think more people would be willing to give it a shot and we’d see a larger wave of change in the fast fashion industry. I’m not affluent nor an influencer (I just broke 1k followers on Instagram a few days ago thanks to a shout out from one of my favs Jess with Less and that’s the closest thing to Insta-fame I’ve experienced), but I am stilling working towards an ethical wardrobe bit by bit. It’s a process and there’s no one way to get there. You gotta figure if the term is “slow fashion” (the deliberate choice to buy better-quality items less often) then the process isn’t going to be an overnight transformation.

Creating ethical wardrobe on a budget by Stephanie

There are dozens of tips to get you started, but here are things that have genuinely helped me start moving towards a ethical wardrobe that I can feel confident in without having to drop big money on ethical brands:

Assess your closet + be honest with yourself

Most of us have tons of clothes in our closets that rarely see the light of day because we consistently reach for our favorite 5 things. I cull my wardrobe probably 3 – 4 times a year so I’m pretty aware of what I have at this point but since I’m still learning about quality and my own personal style, only about 20% of my wardrobe is really composed of quality items that I love. The KonMari method is basically a religion in the U.S. at this point, so check out Marie Kondo on Netflix for a reminder to keep what you love, and release the rest (maybe to a local shelter?). If I haven’t worn it in weeks or months, then there’s a good chance it would be a bigger blessing to someone else.

Learn to use + to care for what you already have

You had to know this was coming, but truly I think this is incredibly important if your ambition it to work towards cultivating an ethical wardrobe. To me, having an ethical wardrobe goes hand and hand with being a good steward of what I already have. No matter what I item of clothing I end up investing in by purchasing, if I don’t continue to invest in it by washing it properly, mending it when needed, etc. then I’m not being a good steward and my cycle of constantly buying new things will continue forever. I have destroyed clothing over the years just by using my washing machine excessively or improperly, and I am also a notorious klutz and spill things on myself frequently. Since my clothing up to this point has always been cheap or disposable I never cared much or invested in it. I’m not going to magically maintain new wardrobe items if I don’t learn how to care for what I already have. (Also, do I really need another pair of jeans if I only wear 3 of my 10 pairs? Probably not.)

Consider a capsule wardrobe / personal uniform

There’s really nothing wrong with wearing the same things over and over again. Fast fashion would have us believe that instead of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall) there are 52 fashion micro-seasons that we have to keep up with to stay “on trend”. If I had a dollar for every unfortunate trend that I tried out and ultimately abandoned (off the shoulder peasant tops? crop tops? shapeless t-shirt dresses? baby doll tops? mini dresses?) I could honestly probably afford to buy my own pair of Jesse Kamm sailor pants at full price. I’m still in the learning process and I do attempt to branch out from time to time, but in general I just skip most fast fashion trends because it isn’t flattering to my body or my lifestyle and the clothing is so cheaply made that it’s see-through after 3 washes and completely stretched out (looking at you, Forever 21). I’m figuring out my personal uniform and sticking to things that are quality, make me feel comfortable and confident, and that I feel confident to wear.

Pro-tip: work to discover what your color palate is. If you’ve got an overall theme or palate you feel the best in, and you can shop within that, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to mix and match. I prefer neutrals and muted colors, and I make sure that when I get new items now that I can wear it with the rest of my wardrobe before getting it. I went through an intense boho phase in college so at one point I had almost exclusively bright and colorful harem pants and flowy kimonos and nothing ever matched with anything. I had nothing but random statement pieces and getting dressed was a nightmare.

Create a list of items you’d like to purchase eventually + resist impulse buying

I realize that this might be easier for me than some people because I really am not a retail therapy type girl. I hated the mall and shopping in high school and didn’t really love to hang out there much. Impulse buying got me a bit more in college, though. Whenever I wasn’t feeling great about myself and I just wanted to add something new and exciting to my wardrobe, I’d grab something random that I’d eventually throw into my closet with all it’s random brothers and sisters. I didn’t ever had a plan of what would look good with things I already owned, and I would always get questionable quality and justify purchases with “Oh, it’s only $7, it’s okay if it doesn’t really fit me well”, and when I needed to throw it out (in a few months) it wasn’t a big deal.

Nowadays, I only work from a list. When I notice when I’m getting ready that I’m constantly wishing I had a cardigan or skirt or type of blouse, I make a note of it in my phone. I’ve got a running list in my notes app in my phone, and unless an item is going to fill a specific need in my wardrobe that I’ve already noted, I just use self control and choose not to fill my closet with excess that I likely won’t end up wearing.

Learn to shop secondhand (online or in store)

Shopping in store can be amazing if you live in the right place. I live in SWFL and I can find pretty decent quality in store (places like Goodwill and Clothes Mentor), but sometimes the styles are a bit mature for me due to our high population of retired folks here. I don’t go too often, honestly, since I’ve had  a lot more luck online.

I will not lie to you, this can be a time commitment but for me (since I’m guilty of spending a good bit of time on my phone), I use the time that I would spend mindlessly scrolling on social media, to scour online thrift shops (Poshmark and ThredUp have been my favorites so far). Because I already have a list of specific items, I can check back frequently and refine my search to what I’m looking for and eliminate all the distractions. I’ve had to learn what my measurements are to shop online, but once I figured that out with a measuring tape and a few trips to the tailor, I’ve been able to navigate things so far! It’s actually been kind of a fun challenge for me to see how I can piece things together. It also creates more value for me in the items I do own, because I remember the work that I put in to find them.

Shop quality over quantity

Lastly, shop quality over quantity. I think I’ll have to share another blog about what I’m learning about fabrics and how to identify garments that are well made because this is a whole side journey. I still have a LOT to learn with this, but I can tell you that taking some time to research with this has opened up my eyes to how cheaply and poorly made much of my closet is. Just because something is from an expensive fast fashion brand does NOT guarantee a quality made garment, so don’t let that fool you! This video from Justine Leconte is a good point if you’re starting with no knowledge at all (like me!) It’s helped me recognize quality pieces while thrifting and I’ve found some really excellent gems as a result.

Like I said, there isn’t one way to get there. You have time to try new things and at a pace that’s comfortable to you! Slow change is often the most lasting change, so don’t feel rushed into doing everything all at once. I’m excited to see where I’ll be on this journey a year from now, and I celebrate how far I’ve come since last year.

Where are you at with your journey with slow fashion?

 

 

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