One of my friends recently watched The True Cost, a documentary available to stream on Netflix about... well, here it is in the doc's own words:
It's about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically.
This was my friend's reaction to the documentary: "I am never shopping again." I don't think people understand the severity of the problem we're facing because of fast fashion-- the human and environmental costs both that are just as much a part of that amazing, unbelievable deal you spotted at Forever 21. I myself recently saw a blue velvet blazer for sale on Amazon for $5. Less than a cup of coffee in NYC. The blazer didn't look half bad, either, but the story behind that pricetag is all bad, I guarantee you.
If you don't want to watch the film because the images might be too much to process, consider reading Lucy Siegle's To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World.
This is an issue we all need to engage with either way, because very few of us are going to be nudists. We all wear clothes, and the worst part is we don't even have to give up on fashion in order to not burn the planet and all of us trying to live on it to the ground.
We just have to care a little bit. In that spirit, I styled a beautiful summer dress I bought a few years back and never wore because I was "saving it for a special occasion" a few different ways. I was shopping for a maxi dress like my fashion icon Florence Welch, when I realized I already had one in my closet! That is slow fashion, too: not just denying yourself a new dress out of some ethical quandary, let alone a financial one, but appreciating the stuff you already have.
Do you have clothes that you could layer and make work for fall? Share your ideas in the comments below! All the items I accessorized my summer dress with are vintage or secondhand. Message me for details.
This past Sunday I got dressed in my favorite secondhand dress-- from sustainable fashion superbrand Reformation, so it's doubly sustainable, hooray!-- and practiced visualizing an upcoming audition. I tried out my monologue in different settings: in my backyard, over a cup of coffee, walking my dog. I repeated it until I knew it backwards and forwards. (I would also advise writing it down several times over. I forgot this tip myself, and I think it would have helped me when the director asked me to perform it at double then triple speed. I definitely skipped words.)
That minor gaffe aside, when the day of the audition came, I couldn't have been more relaxed. I had the chance to perform my monologue several times and earned valuable feedback from the director, who let me know exactly what he liked and didn't like about the audition.
I used to view auditioning with passing dread. A few years back, someone gave me this brilliant advice: view auditioning as an opportunity to act.
It took me a while to absorb the wisdom of that statement and more time for the butterflies that were threatening to take over my belly to finally disperse, but they did disperse. I don't know if it's my limited time or having had two babies and lived to tell about it, but I'm not afraid in the same way anymore. The butterflies are more the pleasant kind you get over a crush.
So have a crush on your goals! Bring that positivity and excitement into an audition room, and I promise you'll learn and grow and be that more ready when the right opportunity presents itself.
Secondhand Reformation dress from eBay. Secondhand Louis Vuitton satchel from Second Time Around in Soho. Rag & Bone hat bought new for my birthday a few years back.
As I mention in my blog's sidebar, my sister, a scientist and professor currently working for the Army Corps of Engineers, inspired me to learn more about sustainability and climate change. However, to be frank, at first I was too frightened to delve into the situation. It felt as if, just by opening the covers of books like The Sixth Extinction, I could hear a sepulchral voice shouting from a street corner, "The end of the world is nigh! Repent, ye sinners!"
For my part, I've been easing myself into the world of sustainability via ethical fashion and, to my surprise, the more I learn about the world of sustainability as a whole, the more optimistic I feel about the future and our power to change the world, our world, for the better. Here are me and my sister's five picks geared towards others who want to strike a similar balance between activism and optimism:
1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Our first pick is pretty obvious*. Published in 2014, it was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and named one of the New York Times Book Reviews best books of the year. I haven't read it yet myself, but I know Stanford is now asking incoming Freshmen to read it. For all those reasons, it's high on my TBR list. For those with less time, my sister mentions that Kolbert has also written a more feel-good(ish) essay about a Danish community's victory over carbon emissions. You can read it here: www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/07/the-island-in-the-wind.
*The Sixth Extinction is available on kindle for $9.99, although for some reason it's listed as an e-textbook.
2. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein
Ugh, I haven't read this one, either. My sister gave me a copy. I started reading it and became terrified when Naomi Klein began scolding people (like me) for looking away. However, we don't have the luxury to look away any longer, not with category 5 hurricanes becoming more commonplace. Not to mention the devastating effects of climate change staring us in the face. (On a related note, please consider giving a few dollars to Puerto Rico. Donors are experiencing fatigue after Texas and Florida and people haven't been as galvanized to help Puerto Rico, which suffered mind-boggling destruction).
Again, on a happier note, as I've been around the people who are dealing, I've become more and more optimistic, not less so. So I feel like I can deal now! I can read this book now. (I'll still be starting with number one on this list first, however.)
*If this pick, still strikes you as too scary, my sister also suggested Climate/ Energy: Hot: Living the Next 50 Years on Planet Earth by Mark Hertsgaard. She describes it as "hopeful" and a "solutions-driven book on climate change."
3. To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World by Lucy Siegle
My third pick is one I have read* and can only describe as life-changing. Lucy Siegle presents an expose of the fashion world's environmental devastation and its all-too-ubiquituous ill treatment of workers along with a vision of how green truly can be the new black. She's the Observer's "Ethical Living" columnist, and her book reads like a well-informed friend describing both a horrifying reality alongside an inspiring alternative.
Siegle believes ethical fashionistas can exist, and I know from personal experience beginning to shop ethically has NOT meant giving up on style. I have not had to don sackcloth and ashes but rather have changed my mindset and my expectations from the fashion world and for myself. I buy far fewer things now, yes, but those things are far more beautiful. The more I learn about what goes into creating a garment, the more I treasure what I have as well. See my post on not shopping for a month for more on the subject.
*Some other books on this subject on my TBR list are Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan and Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.
4. American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food and What We Can Do About It by Jonathan Bloom
Another rec from my sister. I'm eager to read this one myself as this topic is a cultural fight in my own household. I'm French-American and the French half of me dominates when it comes to food as in: "Why throw food out just because it's past its expiration date? Especially if it smells all right?"
My American husband will proceed to look at me like I'm nuts. "You eat rotten cheese if you want."
"Aargh! But it's not rotten!" I'll shout, frustrated that he's being so obtuse. However, nothing I said convinced him one iota, until I pointed out that France had become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying perfectly good food.
Now, he at least doesn't throw my food out, although I still can't quite convince him to ignore expiration dates and smell the food himself. I can't wait to read more about this difference in mentalities and where it comes from.
5. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben
Okay, if you've read this far, you're probably pretty tough and you can take this one. Bill McKibben was one of the first to warn about global warming over twenty years ago. Now he claims, not only is global warming upon us but the Earth has been so fundamentally changed it might as well be referred to by a new name: Eaarth. "Our hope depends, McKibben argues, on scaling back — on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change — fundamental change — is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance."
Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It by Robert Glennon
-An easy-to-read, hopeful book about water crisis.
Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.
-A famous book, written in the '80s about water. Very controversial in tone.
Water: Adapting to a New Normal by S. Postel
-There's also a shorter essay by this author that you can read here: www.scribd.com/document/63678768/WATER-Adapting-to-a-New-Normal-by-Sandra-Postel
The Last Drop by M. Specter
Omnivores Dilemma and Botany of Desire by Micahel Pollan
-Also Pollan wrote a really great essay in the New York Times to then president-elect Obama: michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/farmer-in-chief/
Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart
-He also gave a Ted Talk:
On the Climate/ Energy/ Sustainable Living
Hot: Living the Next 50 Years on Planet Earth by Mark Hertsgaard
Farewell, My Subaru by Doug Fine
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Sleeping Naked is Green: How An Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days by Vanessa Farquharson
The Sustainability Revolution by Andres R. Edwards and David W. Orr
At first, I had ambitious plans for my no-shopping challenge. I’d clean out my entire closet! I would donate every single thing I hadn’t worn in at least three years! I would… do absolutely none of the above, because every day I was too busy juggling real life creatures and their many poo-and-vomit covered bits and pieces to worry about my own relatively liquid-free possessions, but that's okay! That's not what this month was about.
Originally, the idea came to me, because I needed to reset my time management skills. My two toddlers were finally in part-time daycare. Over the past few baby-making years, I cultivated several bad, albeit relaxing behaviors that proved to be time sucks and hard to shake: bingeing Netflix, browsing stores online, scrolling through social media pinning hearts on strangers' achievements instead of focusing on my own, or simply staring into space muttering why, why, why God, why?
Joking about the last one. The others are all too real and very, very wasteful. In the end, despite not putting any but the barest rules in place, the results from my low-key approach were gratifying. From my few attempts to clean and organize, versus adding to the chaos with new purchases, I had more space not only in my closet but in my chest. The energy I hadn’t realized I’d been putting into acquiring new things went elsewhere. It flowed into myself.
Here’s what I learned from the surprising month of (almost*) no shopping.
1. Break the Online Shopping Habit:
Once I knew couldn’t spend money, to my surprise, I lost interest in trawling various sites. Over this past year, I’ve become much more committed to sustainability and ethical fashion, so I do buy most of my things secondhand these days—whether designer items on Tradesy, eBay, or Poshmark, or treasures scavenged from thrift stores & consignment shops in New York and Philly.
What this gradual shift most highlighted was the way in which, unknowingly, I'd been sinking hours and hours of my time into a mindless, even if relaxing, activity. More worrisome, I’d been spending money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need. Yes, it helps to spam mailing lists from ShopBop, BlueFly, and Bloomingdales—there’s also services that will unlist you (and which I'll hyperlink here later). Spamming them helped me a lot with not feeling lured to the sites. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, either; it was a development from my basic idea of not shopping for a month, and it made me realize I could…
2. Shop My Own Closet
Every time I did take a little time to organize my closet, I always “discovered” a simple black slipdress I loved but had forgotten about or front-pocket, bell-bottom jeans that were cool again and only needed a patch to be wearable. We need to tell ourselves: it’s okay to take pleasure in pretty things. It manifests as such a different feeling from greed-- that sick pang in the soul, hungering for acquisition. Delight doesn’t take up space in your head in the same way as envying a girl on Instagram her perfect unmotherly mom jeans or wanting a similar pair yourself because it’s on sale, more than because you think you’d actually look good in them. Our patriarchal culture puts down any quality seen as too feminine, but taking delight in pretty things is very different from greedily wanting more, more, more! Or envying others what they have. In fact, delighting in the real, physical pleasure of what you already have, handily combats those kind of demons better than any guiltifying, inspirational maxim.
3. Repair Old Clothes and Shoes
Somewhat covered this one above, but it bears saying again as it was just as impactful as other epiphanies. I finally took the time this month to find a cobbler and a tailor. Everywhere I’ve lived, and I've moved at least once a year my entire adult life, these types of relationships have been key. Extending the life of your favorite garments is also an easy and satisfying way to live more sustainably.
4. Pick One Category At a Time: Don’t Stress About Organizing Your Entire Closet
I have been thrifting my entire adult life and other than my two pregnancies I’ve been about the same size since high school. My feet didn't even change sizes after pregnancy despite the schadenfreude from my friends, eyeing my secondhand Frye boot collection (all found at Monk's Thrift in the East Village & all for about $20!!!) My point is: I have a LOT of stuff. This bullet point might, therefore, not be useful for everyone. Maybe you have a more select wardrobe. From the number of ads I see online offering to organize closets or take old clothes to make room for new ones or the fact that we donate so many textiles that we’re burying the textile economies of third world countries, I doubt I’m alone in this.
Anyway, I found it was really helpful to organize a little here and there. In this case, in this past month all I organized was the felt box containing my white, black, and gray t-shirts and tank tops. (I lived in NYC for almost a decade, and I have an insane amount of colorless clothing in every variety of cut, shape, and texture you can imagine.)
5. If Giving Stuff Away Still Stresses You Out, Start Easy
Soon after we moved into our current home back in November, I actually managed to donate a lot of boxes to the Goodwill, so that wasn't as much a focus this time around. It really did end up being more about managing my time than my closet. However, I did put a few potential giveaways in a big Tupperware box in my children’s playroom. The box can be sealed and makes for a great indoor playground for them to climb on safely. And it’s filled with things I think I want to give away, but I'm not quite sure about… Currently, I don’t have an earthly clue what’s in there-- an indication that it’s time to let go. Also, sometimes I rediscover things that turn out to be back in style or that I’m excited to wear in a different way or suddenly see with a fresh eye. Either way, if FOMO makes you hold on to stuff, a big box can be kind of like training wheels.
FYI: When I do manage to give stuff away, I love stopping by local thrift stores and checking them out for picture frames and children’s books and shoes—little feet grow so fast, even worn shoes are almost all in brand-new shape! If you're looking for adult clothes, consignment stores like Buffalo Exchange in NYC or Greene Street in Philly, stores with multiple branches, tend to have the best deals & the best treasures. In fact, I found the Elizabeth and James dress pictured above for $15 at Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea.