I love fashion. My obsession dates back to my time as a toddler when I would cry if my mom wouldn’t let me wear a dress every day.
I also love my work in anti-trafficking. I work for an organization called Made In A Free World, and we help companies identify and eliminate slavery deep in their supply chains. It’s a pretty cool job – one that I’m convinced is my calling — but I must confess that my passion for fashion and my passion for working for an NGO directly conflict. As many of you understand, good fashion is expensive and working for an NGO, well, let me just say, I’ll never be a millionaire.
So, what’s a do-gooding fashionista to do in order to look good on a budget?
I recently ordered three pair of boots from a big-box mall store for a total of $6o. Problem solved, right? You gotta love that fast fashion. Cheap clothes that are always on trend? Perfect! They shipped them to me, yet, as I anxiously unwrapped the package I started to get a knot in my stomach.
Next thing I know, questions just kept coming to me. Questions like, who made these boots? Where are they from? What are the conditions of the workers? Was child labor involved?
The sad answer? I have no idea. So, here I am working incredibly hard to fight for people’s freedom while at the same time, I’m enslaving them with my own consumerism. I recognized that something had to change.
I decided at that moment to no longer buy any article of shoes, clothing, or jewelry unless I knew who made them or where they came from. Over the past several months, this has been a radical change in my life as I have sought to change my closet from a consumerist one to a conscious one, and to do so without destroying my budget.
For those of you who, like me, care about where and how things are made and are interested in learning more about ethical shopping, here are a few of the tricks I’ve learned in creating my “Conscious Closet”:
1. Less is more! This has been a huge change for me, but I’m getting much more comfortable with loving and wearing one beautiful dress or one amazing pair of heels a season rather than buying five cheap dresses or five cheap shoes and then throwing them away.
2. Shop small, slow and mostly American made. No more fast fashion purchases. There’s a reason that clothes at big, corporate companies are cheap. They use cheap labor that can’t easily be tracked.
3. Check the labels. It’s good to be aware of the places where your clothes are made. Are they made in China, Indonesia or Bangalore, or right here in the US?
4. Bring the classics back! No more funky patterns or wild colors. My current style is all about a beauty and grace that will last a lifetime.
5. Buy pieces that complement each other! And mix them up! I love pieces that can transition from casual to elegant with the simple switch of a necklace or bag or shoe. When you buy better quality and more expensive pieces, then versatility is key. The pieces in my closet can all be worn multiple ways and with multiple things.
6. Thrift, thrift, thrift! This is by far the best way to start your ethical fashion journey on a budget.
7. Only keep or buy things that bring you true joy. I ask myself this question before every potential purchase. If the item doesn’t bring me joy, I don’t buy it, nor do I keep it.
8. Go slow. Don’t feel as though you must get rid of EVERYTHING from before. I don’t have the dollars to replace every shoe and article of clothing with all consciously made things, so I wear the ones from before while acknowledging to myself how they may have been produced. Grace is good.
9. Vintage en vogue! I love finding awesome vintage shoes, jewelry, and sunglasses especially.
There are some awesome ethical companies out there with really good design. Below is a starting list of fashionable companies doing things consciously and with transparency. No company is perfect, but the goal is to be better, and there are so many others if you do the research.
- Shop Ethica
- Shop Anaise
- Master and Muse (HIGH END only)
- Adored Vintage
- Urban Renewal for Urban Outfitters
UNDERTHINGS / SWIMSUIT / WORKOUT
I hope you find this enlightening and helpful as you think about your fashion choices moving forward. But I also want you to give yourself grace! It’s not an easy transition, and it’s not for everyone. However, I continue to find that this crazy life is a beautiful journey, and my hope is to always travel mindfully and consciously.
I pray the same for you.
What are your favorite conscious companies?
Images via Brian Tropiano