The first step in building a more sustainable wardrobe is to alter your perspective. It helps to think of every item you purchase as having three separate costs - Dollar Amount, Human Cost & Environmental Impact. People usually only consider the dollar amount, but the ecological impact and the treatment of workers are of equal importance to the conscious consumer.
The second change you can make is to start checking the fiber content before you buy. Natural materials are always the better option, with Hemp, Cork, Organic Cotton, Linen, Tencel, Bamboo and Wool leading the pack. When it comes to swimsuits and activewear, Recycled Polyester is gaining traction as an eco-friendly synthetic.
Organic Cotton Camisole by Wear Pact
MADE IN AMERICA
While buying items that are Made in America is preferable, it is difficult to do on a budget. Domestic manufacturing is exponentially more expensive, and that reality is reflected in the retail price. If you have limited dollars, then start with a specialty item, though still be prepared to spend a little more. There are a plethora of designers & artisans (like myself) who either specialize in handmade, or do small batch production. Etsy is a good place to start if you're looking to discover handmade wares, as well as attending any of your local artisan markets. Two of my favorite American artisans are LLoree of LL Designs and Pauletta Brooks. LL Designs is an online store that sells handmade moccasins inspired by LLoree's Native American heritage and Pauletta Brooks is a longtime NYC resident who creates opulent jewelry out of gilded webbing and freeform minerals.
Jewelry by Pauletta Brooks
Before industrialization, fashion was a reflection of culture and in many parts of the world, those ancient techniques still exist. The process was innately sustainable, as ancient artisans used the materials that were readily available, that were supplied by nature. Native Americans used deerskin and elk teeth, Guatemalans created Huipils from handwoven cotton, and kourelou, which means "patchwork" in Greek, is used to describe their unique textiles. There are a growing number of brands that are keeping these traditions alive by combining contemporary designs with old world techniques.
UPCYCLING / ZERO WASTE
Part of the environmental impact of the fashion industry is textile waste. The waste has two main sources, fast-fashion that is considered "throwaway" by the consumer, and leftover fabric from the production phase. NYC based non-profit Fab Scrap is devoted to minimizing waste within the industry. They offer pick ups of unused textiles, they resell the larger pieces and then shred the rest into insulation. Nothing is wasted, which was the goal of the company's founder Jessica Schreiber. They also have a list of the companies that recycle with them on their website, and their retail store on 26th Street is where I source some of my leather.
This Gilded-Mane necklace is made with leather sourced from Fab Scrap, as well as vintage jewelry that has been repurposed. Sweater is Johnny Was.
A SIGNATURE AESTHETIC
(brands with cult followings means higher resale values)
For a certain type of woman, to learn about the NenaVerse is to become part of the NenaVerse. For the uninitiated, the NenaVerse is an online community located within a tear in the fabric of space/time, and its Queen is Ali Hynek, founder of Nena & Co. Nena & Co. creates sustainable accessories by partnering with Guatemalan & Mexican artisans and then transforming their handwoven textiles into functional bags. Hynek sends out teasers of every new collection to Nena's devout followers, and once they drop, some styles sell out within seconds. But where do they go? I wondered. All of her bags are either OOAK (One-of-a-Kind) or part of a very limited release, and someone else purchased a gorgeous Huipil & Black Leather combo I had been eyeing. I haven't seen the bag since, but if it does resurface, it will be in the NenaVerse. I am not sure how I stumbled upon it, but there are a few ports of entry into this parallel realm, various BTS (Buy, Sell, Trade) Groups where a gathering of friendly locals is always present, eager to assist your maiden voyage down the rabbit hole. They speak their own language, a mix of English and acronyms that you need a dictionary to decipher - MMAO, FS, NFS, MCDB, DISO - and negativity can get you banished from this little pocket oasis. In short, they are a self governing tribe of compassionate women. In these forums, bags can even exceed their original retail value, which means they have the potential for long life spans. My first Nena purchase was a clutch that I've been using as a makeup bag, and then I scored this beauty from a BTS group.
VINTAGE / CONSIGNMENT
"The great thing about flea markets and consignment stores is that there is always hope of finding a holy grail - something that really belongs to you, that had been previously owned in error by someone else."
- Cintra Wilson, from "Fear and Clothing"
Twice a year, you can gather all of the items you're not wearing and bring them to your local consignment shop. It is a good way to make space in your wardrobe while earning some extra cash. And if you're buying, one of the perks is that you can find well made designer clothes at a fraction of the price. These savings can also help offset the cost of one splurge item for your eco-friendly wardrobe.
Livia Firth, Creative Director of Eco-Age as well as a self-proclaimed professional agitator, started the #30Wears campaign. Repeating outfits is easy when it comes to wardrobe staples, but it is much more difficult when it comes to special occasions or camping gear. But thanks to Rent the Runway and Kit Lender, you can now rent these items instead.
Being a sustainable company requires diligence and there is always room for improvement. That's why some companies offset their carbon emissions by planting trees. Regardless of their products, production methods and countries of origin, this is a practice that any company can incorporate into their business model.
watch by Mistura
Magnifeco by Kate Black
Header Image : hand embroidery by Gilded-Mane designer Ashley Rabin