Taking the Plunge
If you’re the type of person that loves Zara, H&M, and Forever 21, I get it, I’ve been there. I started my clean fashion/conscious fashionista journey three years ago and I’m still not perfect. I have my slip ups and moments of weakness, but that’s ok. We’re all human and like any diet, you are bound to have some setbacks.
The important thing is to shift your mindset. As a consumer you vote with your dollar, and you should know what policies and business practices your money goes towards. It’s easy to ignore or be ignorant to how our clothes are made. Most brands are not transparent about their supply chain and oftentimes production happens abroad, negatively affecting communities we’re not a part of.
Many words get thrown around when talking about this alternative fashion movement, sustainable, eco, fair trade, slow, etc. It can be confusing with different labels and definitions depending on which perspective people are taking on the issue. There also tends to be a lot of blame and judgement thrown around, making it an exclusive clique where outsiders don’t feel welcome. I’m attempting to open up this world a little and define the mindset of those taking part in the movement, and the steps you can take to stand with us.
I choose the words conscious and ethical because they are not tainted by overuse or greenwash marketing…as of yet. Furthermore, words like sustainable and fair trade are only facets of the movement. I’m certainly not the first person defining the field but for me it goes beyond the clothes themselves to the consciousness of the consumer. I’ll leave you with my definition below:
Conscious Fashionista – An individual who expresses themselves through clothing that is well made and long lasting, with minimal to no negative impact on the earth and people who created them. They celebrate innovation, impeccable design, cultural traditions and craftsmanship. The Conscious Fashionista is mindful of the damage caused by fast fashion and is fighting back by sharing her ethical fashion story and standing up against fast fashion.
Sounds simple, but it can be hard to go against the grain of our consumer culture. Here are some guiding principles to help get you started and stay on track.
Track and Trace – Know the Source
Depending on the brand, this can be tricky. But if it is too difficult to confirm that the materials are responsibly sourced, or that they are treating their workers well, you probably shouldn’t be shopping there. Many brands these days have their “corporate social responsibility” blurb, which sounds really nice, but there’s usually more to the story. Take H&M for example, they are pushing a lot of sustainability initiatives and even producing with their own sustainable line, but they are still creating massive amounts of waste and producing at potentially unsafe factories with unfair working conditions. This is where you have to make your own judgement call, do the sustainability initiatives make up for everything else? It’s your call, but make sure you’re well informed and can stand behind your choices.
It helps to narrow down the main causes you care about as opposed to ethical fashion as a whole. Whether it be organic materials, locally made, fair working conditions, etc. Choose one or two that you’re truly passionate about and let that drive you.
For me, I love vintage as well as long lasting classic pieces that are produced fairly. Before I shop, I think of anything I’m missing from my wardrobe and research different types of styles and fit to see what I actually want before stepping foot in a store, or purchasing online. I have a handful of go-to brands that I’ve researched and trust, if I don’t see what I want there, I hit the vintage stores. The goal is to buy products that you will cherish.
Quality and Tradition – Know Your Fashion
Did you learn to sew with your mom? Or maybe your grandma taught you to knit? These days maybe not, but traditionally clothing was a very personal and cultural experience. You were given heirloom products from your older family members, and you’d spend hours creating and making textiles together. These traditions have largely been lost due to the globalization and industrialization of our communities. Part of becoming a conscious fashionista is to reconnect to these roots and appreciate the garment as something that should be well made and non-disposable.
This is not to say that you need to make all your clothes, but to celebrate designers and innovators. Find brands you can stand behind and understand what makes their products so special. If you appreciate what goes into making a quality piece of clothing, the better you can spot the subtleties in great, well thought out design.
Again you’ll need to decide what is most important to you, quality design means different things to different people. Some people choose to follow artisan brands preserving cultural crafts, others follow tech companies creating radical new ways of recycling textiles. Whatever you choose, just start following, sharing stories and engaging in the community, this is a great first step.
Share the Love – Tell Your Story
At the end of the day, fashion is about expression and having fun. You should feel confident and empowered when you get dressed in the morning. Being a conscious fashionista is showing pride in your clothes and being excited about their story. When seeing someone who is well dressed and confident in their style, others follow suit.
Share the love on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, or however you connect with those close to you. Even just by talking about it when you’re out with your friends, or if a co-worker compliments you on your clothes, tell them your story.
One thing I’m wary of is how easy it is to get preachy when talking about the ethical fashion movement. Instead I hope to shine a light on how easy it can be, and how this can be an extension of what you may already practice. By training ourselves to look deeper and ask questions about how our clothes were sourced, and who made them, we are starting a slow cultural shift. Together we are becoming more aware of the damage caused by fast fashion, and the strength of being more mindful and conscious of your power as a consumer.