A Guide to Curating a Conscious Closet

conscious closet guide

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.

guide to conscious closet

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.

BASICS

DESIGNER

BLUE JEANS

CURATED SITES

conscious closet companies

SHOES

HANDBAGS

JEWELRY

FAIR TRADE

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

Johanna is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for Made In A Free World. She fights for freedom... with a little dash of fashion. Follow along with her Instagram where she and others catalogue ethical companies using the hashtag #consciousclosets.

18 COMMENTS
  • Jessica October 8, 2015

    So inspiring, thanks so much for featuring her!!

  • Julia August 24, 2015

    Thanks for this simple yet helpful article! Could I add a fun number 10 to this list? Fashion swapping parties! They could be a great way to refresh a wardrobe. In my town, socially responsible stores offer them such as https://www.facebook.com/ethikbgc?ref=hl or you can host your own!

  • Kris August 21, 2015

    I’m so glad to see this article! I’ve been trying to change my own buying habits, but it mostly means that I haven’t been buying. I run a vintage clothing store, and we often have people bring in clothing made in sweatshops (the idea of vintage hasn’t really caught on in Florida yet). We politely explain why we won’t accept them or sell them in our shop.

    My own wardrobe is about half vintage, half things I bought from “before.” I have broken down and bought a couple of pairs of jeans that have dubious origins. Having a resource like the one posted is going to be a huge help in shopping ethically! (Or as I like to think of it, normally.)

  • Nichole Dunst August 17, 2015

    Wonderful guide. I especially love the part about not feeling like you need to get rid of and/or replace everything you own that’s not “consciously made” immediately. The main goal is not only to consume better, but also to consumer LESS. Curating a conscious closet takes time, planning in advance, and research. There is no impulse buying, and there is no benefit to rushing out to replace everything you already own. I wrote a similar post about this recently on my blog, but I definitely learned about a couple new brands on here. Thanks!

    http://www.joiedevivreblog.com

  • Meg August 14, 2015

    Such a great idea! And I LOVE your outfit with the pink top, white pants, and heels! Could you please tell me who makes everything you’re wearing?

  • Jen August 14, 2015

    This post is fantastic!! Thank you for highlighting such amazing brands that are not only creating ethically made products but BEAUTIFUL product at that! I started my online shop to curate a collection of items like you shared – beautiful, high quality pieces that are ethically made and making a difference. Kudos for highlighting such an important topic!

  • Brooke August 13, 2015

    Thanks for all the wonderful links and ideas! These are great tips for building a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe. It requires a little more research, but it’s well worth the effort. If you Google “Sustainable and Ethical Fashion,” you’ll get lots of results. A few I’ve come to like are PeopleTree (in the UK), Braintree Clothing (also in the UK), Mata Traders, Indego Africa, West Elm, Faire Collection, and Noonday Collection are a few options to check out. If you want to be inspired and learn from ethical fashion bloggers, be sure to check out Eco Warrior Princess, Tortoise and Lady Grey, The Notepasser, Ecocult, and Fashion Me Green Blog.

    http://passportcouture.com

  • Anna Berardi August 13, 2015

    Great article and I look forward to supporting these companies. Using my purchasing power for good is so important to me. Please check out my Trades of Hope store as well. We work with 16 individually owned fair trade artisan groups from around the world, including US survivors of human trafficking.

    I have been slowly working on putting kindness into my wardrobe and worked for 10 years in an NGO, so I feel like you were talking directly to me. Thank you for the great tips.

  • Lanita R August 13, 2015

    Thank you for this wonderful resouce! This is a journey I started on a couple years ago, but only really committed to in the last couple months.
    My first exposure to fair trade was through Elegantees, a fashion line designed in NYC, and sewn in Nepal by women rescued from sex trafficking. They hit #5 on your list perfectly!

  • Jessica August 12, 2015

    Love! I’m so glad the ethical fashion movement is growing. A great movement to follow on Instagram is #knowwhomadeit. Also check out the brands Krochet Kids (each piece is signed by the woman who made it), Della Los Angeles (working with women from Ghana) and Hiptipico (working with women + providing education for kids in Guatemala)!

  • Courtney Leigh August 12, 2015

    Fantastic post with lots of great links. I’ve grown very interested in shopping/purchasing more consciously over the last few months. So far I’ve stuck with the thrifting option on the few occasions when I needed something, but I’m hoping to find a couple go-to brands for the future when I need to buy anything to replace what I’ve got right now (especially denim).

    Also, I’ve never heard of a capsule wardrobe and would love to read a post about what it is and how to create one. <3

  • Ashley August 12, 2015

    Great, insightful article Johanna! Thank you for bringing awareness to the fashion industry today. Over the past two years, I have been shocked to learn how the fast fashion industry and our consumer choices affect people all over the world. I work for Nisolo and had the pleasure of getting to travel to Peru to meet our shoemakers. I was amazed to see the positive impact that all of our shoemakers are experiencing because of our devoted customers who care about the people who make their products. The Nisolo shoemakers are now improving their homes, receiving health and savings benefits, and now have the ability to send their children to school. I hope more and more companies and customers push the fashion industry forward for beautiful, timeless products that have a positive impact on the people who make them.

  • Angela August 12, 2015

    This definitely sums up what I’ve been trying to do/how I feel lately. I’m a big thrifter and make sure to thrift whenever I travel because you never know what you’ll find. As for investment pieces, I love Etsy, Accompany US, Shop Ethica, etc. While I love the UO’s style, I’d rather support a company who 100% supports ethical fashion than one who just has a line dedicated to it, especially since UO has been known to copy indie designers in the past. It is a step though. But everything else really love!

    Looking forward to checking out the blogs of other commenters. Would love it if anyone who wanted to connect more on this subject would check out mine–I currently have a post on 4 questions to ask before buying and a home decor shopping resource list.

    Thanks for the reminder that I’m not the only one going conscious! 🙂

    Angela

  • Emily Kirwan August 12, 2015

    LOVE this post Johanna! Would you mind linking to amaniafrica.org under the fair trade section (I believe that’s one of our older necklaces). Also, would love to chat more about doing a giveaway with you sometime!

  • Sarah lin August 12, 2015

    Do not forget us! My company EllieFunDay designed organic baby blanket and accessories made by marginalized women in India. Love this post as I’ve started to do the same with my closet!

  • Brittany August 12, 2015

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article – so timely for me right now! I’ve purchased maybe 5 articles of clothing this year in efforts to save money and become more conscious about the things I do have in my closet. I also work for an NGO, so shopping isn’t very common for me these days! I’m itching for something fresh and am 80% convinced that I’ll start a capsule closet (assuming I can afford the basics to get me going). I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ll shop when I start and the ethics behind it all. It’s tempting to run to the box stores and get a bunch of pieces as a jumping off point, but the time I’ve spent away from shopping has caused me to take a deeper look at my purchases. Thank you for all the suggestions! I can’t wait to browse! Also – anyone have suggestions for workout apparel?

  • Katie August 12, 2015

    This is a great article to get started on the transition to building a conscious closet! I started about two years ago on the journey and the biggest step for me was to make a capsule wardrobe. It really challenges me to make the best choices when it comes to buying clothing or accessories because I have a very limited amount of pieces and I can only buy to replace!
    I am the designer of A Girl Named Katie. We offer clothing + handbags ethically made in our studio near Lancaster, PA. Our materials are recycled from the fashion industry and we produce small quantities for local boutiques and our online shop. We are about to relaunch our website next week with our new collection of boho-chic handbags! You can see previews of the new line on our instagram: @agirlnamedkatie

  • Leslie Musser August 12, 2015

    This is an incredible resource. As a fashion blogger who strives to provide insight into conscious consumerism I am so grateful for these references! I adore your vision for the industry and love the simplicity of sticking with classics, staples, and pieces to make oneself feel good.

    xx, leslie
    http://www.onebrassfox.com

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