Ethical living

Why I failed at being sustainable in fashion (Personal story)

One late winter day I woke up with these revolutionary thoughts: today is the day when I will do my closet revision. I decided to get rid of the old clothes I don’t enjoy or consider to not represent my style anymore. The revision went successfully, I was fierce to judge whether I still needed those old sweatshirts or not and I had a pile of clothes that I was ready to say goodbye to!

Once my closet emptied, I realized I wanted to refresh my style adding more light colours, trendy tops and edgy business attire.

I wrote down a list of the clothes I wanted to purchase and was hoping to find them in sustainable fashion or in second hand stores. Second hand stores are always my top choice, although I struggled finding everything I need there (for example, a classic white shirt with no defects), so I decided to get the majority of my clothes brand new this time.

Do sustainable brands have anything for me?

As the most sustainable way to buy brand-new clothing was to buy from local fashion brands in Lithuania, I started my research only to realise that there were only a few pieces that I would consider buying from all the suppliers combined. I did not feel that those companies met my style or budget expectations (as much as I love the environment, I also love my time, so I am not going to buy a top for 150 euros).

Then I went to the broader search and was looking for sustainable brands based in Europe. The same story again: very few to non-existent edgy, chic pieces. They did have some interesting dresses or coats to offer, but most of the clothes you would already have in your own closet but in different colours. Most of the clothes (I am talking about black simple t-shirts, jeans, black skirts, etc.) can be easily found in second-hand stores, so buying a new sustainable item is no better than buying a similar style fast fashion clothing in a second-hand store.

Finally, after hours spent reviewing a bunch of catalogues, I realised that either I change my plans and just stay with the same old clothes forever or I have to disregard my values and go to any high street fast fashion retailer and find what I wanted.

I somehow could not get rid of the feeling of guilt, but at the same time I realised this is the only way I can find pieces I love and feel good about. Each purchasing decision went through the following questions:

  • Will it still look fashionable in five years?
  • Can I wear it to work?
  • How likely is it going to get ruined after the machine wash?
  • Does it match my current favourite trousers, my classic skirt and jeans?
  • Can it wear it through all the seasons?

It’s easy to fall for the nice clothing either it’s a fast fashion or sustainable one, but if you doubt answering any questions above or that you will wear this clothing at least 40 times, probably it’s not worth buying.

Where eco-friendly fashion creators could improve?

I still have items on my list I need to find, some of them are white jeans, capri trousers and warm oversized cardigan. These are the basics that I am sure I will find in a second-hand store. While waiting for my orders to arrive I made a promise to myself that I will wear my new clothes for at least eight years (this is a statistical lifetime of my piece of clothing) and message the brands asking to add more eco-friendly clothes in their collections.

The moral of my story is that there are times when under the best intentions you simply can’t get what you want in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. And it’s OK not to feel good paying 150 euros for an organic top (same goes for 15 euros shipping fees from a zero-waste shop or 50 cents more for a white vegan coffee). It’s OK not to accept clothes that have no charm but are sustainable. Sustainability will struggle gaining popularity because it usually seems that this lifestyle is only for the people with higher incomes. I struggle to see that’s fair, as sustainability should be everyone’s concern.

Restricting yourself from doing something is not something you should do. Trust me, I was the person who did not allow myself to get the clothes I wanted for a few years in a row. I got only things I found in the second-hand stores, so my style lacked the trendy pieces I would have loved to have. I ended up feeling very good about myself, as I was doing very little harm to mother earth in terms of clothing purchases, but I did not enjoy my personal style, I could not have myself expressed, not to the extent I could have if I allowed myself to buy something new from time to time.  

Within my lifetime I was switching from one opinion to the other: I either care about how I look and form my outfits very thoughtfully or I say screw this, fashion and style are vanity. Eventually, I settled for wanting TO EXPRESS myself through clothing and style. I was inspired after seeing Bohemian Rhapsody and learning more about Freddy Mercury’s personality. He was eccentric, he was charismatic, and he had his own unique way of dressing and in a way it’s now become his legacy, part of who he was, his signature, his form of expressing creativity. I want the same, I want to be myself starting from the things I do or say to the way I dress. I will never chase fashion or talk about it at the dinner table, but I want to nurture my style.

Sustainable retailers, can any of you prove to me that sustainable fashion can be trendy, edgy and have a special touch rather than be boring, plain and overpriced? I will be the first to visit your store.

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