ethically made, minimalism

Less is More

How is it possible to have a closet stuffed full of clothes, and nothing to wear? And yet, we feel a sense of dread when asked to consider limiting our intake and being more intentional about what we buy. My friends, I have to be honest here and tell you, taking the easy way out in the short term is causing us long-term systemic issues. Those feel-good endorphins we get when we buy something, are causing us anxiety when our life is overrun with belongings, without the space to manage them, both physically and in our minds.

When I impulse buy something, that good feeling goes away almost immediately. It’s like as soon as I pass over the credit card I start thinking about my budget and where I’m going to put it and am I really going to wear this. It’s like a true guilty pleasure that I don’t actually enjoy because the pleasure is too fleeting and the guilt too present. On the other hand, if I am knowledgeable about my wardrobe gaps, and I intentionally search for the perfect addition (made responsibly of course) to compliment several outfits, I am joyous! I put effort in. I actually need it. I will wear it. Maybe I even saved up for it. That good feeling lasts because I feel good every time I wear it.

Because we skip investing a small amount of time up front taking inventory of our wardrobe or planning outfits, we waste time and energy deliberating what to wear, trying on clothes we know don’t fit, and doing laundry. Not to mention the resources and time spent on shopping. What about sorting and donating/selling? Cleaning, organizing, dreading it all?

I’ll be honest – I am the first one to rebel against organization and order. Spend a few minutes planning my week on Monday morning so I know when to thaw chicken and who to bring where?! Inventory my closet? You’ve got to be kidding! No thanks; I’ll just spend my time scrolling Instagram and staring at my closet.

Can you see my eye roll from there? I am trying to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way! I have seen the light, and I want you to see it too. I know the time invested in understanding my style and what I own will save me stress in the future. Limiting what I wear will do the same. Furthermore, creating an intentional wardrobe is all about feeling connected within myself and to my personal values, beyond style. Finding alignment between what I own and what I believe has created a sense of peace and wholeness I didn’t know I was missing, and a confidence I didn’t know I was lacking.

Less truly is more. It leaves space in our minds, resources on our planet, and dignity for our people. Whether you’re going minimalist, doing a capsule wardrobe, or shopping ethically and sustainably, you can shop with purpose and wear your values on your sleeve; quite literally. Start in your closet, create a life with intention, and feel good in your clothes and about yourself so you have the space to do more good in the world.

ethically made

Does anyone need your junk?

Overall, the United States exports about a billion pounds of second-hand textiles, making it our eighth largest export. And shockingly, this constitutes only a small portion of America’s yearly donations. So, if you imagine someone happily using the bags and bags of crap you discard at your local donation center on a regular basis, you’re likely wrong. Most people do not want your junk or your trash: your broken electronics, your dirty clothes, your excess.

Only 20% of donated items end up in circulation in the United States, while 45% are recycled. Any wet or mildewy clothes get thrown away immediately. In 2014, Goodwill sent 11% (22 million pounds) straight to the landfill due to their condition. Donated items that do show up on clothing racks at your local thrift shop have a short shelf life. At Goodwill, for example, if your item doesn’t sell in 4 weeks, it gets sent along to a discount sell-by-the-pound outlet, and then sent on to a recycling center or overseas. Thousand-ton bales of donations are packaged and sent to Subsaharan Africa, China, and South America. The bales are then split, sorted, and resold locally, disrupting the local economy.    

The Language of Second Hand Clothes

carry-homeless-india-761144
  • Nigeria: “okirika” (bend down boutique) or even “London clothes”
  • Ghana: “obroni wawu” (clothes of the dead white man)
  • Zambia: “salaula” (‘selecting from a bale by rummaging)
  • Congo: “sola” (to choose)
  • Zimbabwe: “mupedzanhamo” (where all problems end)
  • Kenya & Tanzania: “mitumba” (bundles) or “kafa ulaya” (clothes of the dead whites)

Source: Andrew Brooks, Clothing Poverty

Let’s unpack this a minute, using my own experience as an example. As a person with disposable income, living in a materialistic society, I buy more than I need. I like variety, and a good bargain too, so I tend to spend less per item so I can have more. I feel the pressure to not be seen in the same outfit too often, especially for special events (thank you social media!). These items tend to be of lower quality, and so they need to be disposed of more often. Then I feel guilty about how much I accumulated that I don’t even wear, and so I donate it to someone who “needs” it. I dump a giant trash bag of stuff at Goodwill and feel awesome about myself. “Someone in my community will have new clothes to wear! Wait, what, everything is going abroad you say?! To Africa?! EVEN BETTER!!!”

Meanwhile, there are tailors and seamstresses throughout the world producing quality garments for their local communities. When thousand ton bales of second-hand American goods arrive in port, how are these local businesses supposed to compete? Too often they cannot, and their livelihood is thwarted by t-shirts from a team that lost the Super Bowl. It is egocentric to assume that our discarded waste is better than locally produced goods. When the best solution we can offer is our leftovers, we ignore the fragile balance in which we all exist together. 

All of this is not to say that people can’t benefit from our donations, whether in our own communities or on a broader scale. There is absolutely a place for charity in our world, but a little bit of intention and big picture thinking can go a really long way. If we are conscious about what we give away, by asking what is needed instead of assuming anything we give is better than nothing, we can really be helpful. And if we buy less of what we don’t need in the first place, that leaves less waste and more resources to contribute to real, lasting solutions to poverty.

Our carelessness and superiority directly contribute to and create new issues of unemployment and loss of skilled trades on a global scale. We have the ability and, I personally believe, the obligation to correct our course and create meaningful change. We don’t even have to do that much – just buy a little less, take a little time considering what we buy and where we buy it from, and when it’s time to let go of our things, doing so in a manner that is actually beneficial to people and the planet. 

ethically made

You can recycle clothes?!

Time to get real with each other – who here throws away their clothes? Raise your hand.

I know you’re not raising your hand because you’re reading this on the train or on the couch with your sig other or you’re otherwise embarrassed. At least admit it in your own mind: you’ve dumped perfectly good clothes in the trash because you just didn’t know what to do with them or were simply done with them or maybe if you’re being really honest you’re lazy.

Sometimes the truth hurts a little, but it’s still the truth. I wouldn’t be saying any of this if it weren’t also true for myself. Part of our privilege includes being willfully ignorant about proper disposal of clothing, including recycling. In the age of google everything, there is no excuse for not knowing what to do.

YOU SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLY RECYCLING YOUR CLOTHING.

Isn’t recycling already responsible? Do I really have to worry about this? Yes, yes you do. Most clothes that we currently buy are made from synthetic materials that do not decompose or take an extremely long time to do so. Not to mention the toxic chemicals used for dye, printing, anti-wrinkling, etc. Which means, the giant pile of last season’s clothes that you threw out will be sitting in a landfill somewhere for a really long time, leaking these toxic chemicals into our soil and air and water. Side note: “what?! we are wearing toxic chemicals as clothes?!” Yes. Read all about that here and here. #science

Most local municipalities have centers for recycling specific items such as textiles. A quick google search will provide you with all the information you need. Your items will then be turned into cleaning rags, insulation, or recycled thread for new clothes. How cool is that, right?

If you tend to donate your clothes instead of recycling, I recommend doing some brief research on the organization to which you typically drop off your stuff. You should have seen my face when I pulled up to my local thrift store and saw them dumping bags upon bags of clothes into the dumpster out back. Many donation centers are overrun with all of our trash donations, and due to lack of space and demand, simply throw your stuff away without a second thought. They also will send barges full of our stuff overseas, which creates another set of issues. It is worth checking to see if they need what you’re bringing, instead of just using it as a guilt-free dumpster.

If you’re an extra credit kind of person, I’d like to also extend this challenge to you: 

It’s not enough just to recycle your stuff, and then continue to buy new products made from new things. Why not complete the loop and look for items that are made WITH the stuff you recycled…circle of life Lion King style. Yes, our 90s selves would be so proud!! Brands who use recycled textiles very proudly state so on their websites, and it’s often featured on tags of clothes as well.

ethically made

K.I.S.S.

We know what this stands for, right? KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID. My 6 year old would be offended by this, but you can change the last S to any adjective you’d like to use…silly, slow, scatty, shortsighted, simple, senseless, scatterbrained…you get the idea.

The point is, we tend to hide behind perfectionism and feel overwhelmed by these big problems like “sustainability” and as such, tend not to do anything at all. Since I’m not composting and darning socks, I might as well not bother with anything. World peace is unattainable, so I’m just going to start a war. I’ll never fit into my high school jeans again! Time to eat 5 cookies! When seeing this written plainly, do you see now how silly this sounds? Do you see the failure in logic here?

A lot of little decisions add up to create the big picture we are now looking at. It took a lot of people making a lot of choices over a lot of centuries to end up where we are today, both environmentally or otherwise. And to recover, it’s going to take a lot more choices from all of us. Refuse to allow the big, scary consequences to frighten you into apathy, and trust that your small actions make a difference.

This is where keeping it simple comes in. It might sound counterintuitive, but SMALL actions can solve BIG problems. Here are some examples of small changes you can make in your daily life that truly will make an impact, both inside and outside of your closet. Start with the easiest one, and do one at a time. I REPEAT DO ONE THING AT A TIME. It’ll seem less daunting and you’ll be more likely to stick to it. Remember, it takes at least two weeks to settle into new habits. Stop shaming yourself, and start doing something, anything.

  1. Replace your disposable household items with reusable/washable ones as the need arises: diapers, wipes, sandwich bags, paper towels, toilet paper (yes ma’am you heard me), plates, cups, straws, silverware, saran wrap, you get the idea.
  2. Find new uses for old things before you throw them away.
  3. RECYCLE EVERYTHING. Yes, even your clothes. Check locally for restrictions.
  4. If you can’t recycle it, consider not buying it in the future.
  5. Repurpose clothing for multiple seasons –  be creative!
  6. Shop secondhand wherever possible – for clothes, toys, furniture, home goods, and more!
  7. Look for creative and alternate solutions. For everything. It’s a good brain exercise!
  8. Shop locally for anything you can, and seasonally for food and produce.
  9. Borrow from friends. We don’t all need one of every kitchen gadget, do we?
  10. Wear your clothes multiple times before washing.
  11. If it’s broke, FIX IT.
  12. Think before you buy: do I need it, can I use something else I already have for this purpose, does it match multiple items in my closet and can be worn on multiple occasions?
  13. Get books from the library.
  14. Carpool, ride share, or take the bus.
  15. Sell gently used items before donating, recycling, or throwing away.

There’s so many more things you can do! What have you done to simplify going green or being more sustainable? Share with me below!!

ethically made

Thrifting in the Name of Ethical Fashion

Even when you purchase something ethically made, you are still demanding more resources from the planet. And it takes quite a bit of time and effort to do your research, and often a bigger portion of your budget. While these things are important, admittedly we just don’t have the time to focus on it when we are in a time crunch or need something specific.

Thrifting as an ethical solution is for the most part, a secret. Though it’s sometimes carefully rebranded as “vintage” a la Girlboss, it’s often viewed as a faux pas in fashion circles or worse. I’ve heard people call shopping secondhand “dirty” – which I am never sure if that is in reference to the clothing or the people shopping, both of which are offensive, and neither of which are true. Among some other critiques I’ve heard are that the clothes are ugly, of poor quality, ill-fitting, or that only poor people can shop in thrift stores. <insert eye roll emoji here> There’s lots of psychology to unpack in this collective disdain of shopping at Goodwill, save only for ugly Christmas sweaters. However, we’d be doing ourselves, our wallets, and the environment a disservice to continue to overlook resale as a viable ethical and sustainable solution. It gives clothes in our throwaway culture a longer shelf-life and keeps money in our pockets (and out of the coffers of retailers making poor decisions).

Perhaps one of the biggest prohibitions to shopping second hand is lack of immediacy and availability. Since we are used to getting literally whatever we want, whenever we want it, in all the sizes and colors imaginable (with 2-day free shipping), it’s admittedly hard to switch gears and wait for a specific item in our size or dig in bins awhile until we find something good. Especially when we know what we’re looking for is readily available right now just a Google search away. However, I challenge you to use the opportunity thrifting provides as an exercise in patience, to really determine what you need and what will make you happy long term.

Just because something is fast or readily available, does not mean you should have it. We’ve become so accustomed to buying whatever we want on a whim, we end up with a closet full of clothes that are all whim, and no substance. It doesn’t take much brain power to figure out why thrift stores and Craigslist are full of clothes NWT. We tend to buy things because it feels good in the moment, and then the feeling fades by the time it goes in our closet to be forgotten. If we buy everything we think we want with every passing thought, we’re going to end up with a lot of things we don’t need or use. Just because all these clothes are sitting in your closet and not (yet) in a landfill, doesn’t mean it’s not wasteful or having harmful effects on the environment. In general, it pays to slow down, and think before you do pretty much anything. And digging through resale bins kinda forces you to do that when it comes to clothes shopping.

Beyond the budget and sustainability benefits, thrift shopping can also can add some unique flavor to your wardrobe. As you dive deeper into your personal style and what makes you feel good, you’ll begin to notice the rotating weekly styles in big department stores just aren’t enough anymore. In order to find staples you love that will stand the test of time, you’ll need to look seriously at second hand. Maybe it’s best said by the pros –

Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant bitch.
I call that getting swindled and pimped.
I call that getting tricked by a business.
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t.

Thrift Shop
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz

ethically made

Do your clothes reflect your values?

It may seem like a weird thing to talk about whether your clothes align with your values, but it’s a valid question. Our values, our morals, and our priorities in life inform all the decisions we make. We might spend time and money on religion. Or buy organic. Our education and career reflect our interests and skills. We choose friends and where to live. We vote (well, hopefully!) for candidates who reflect these values as well. Maybe some of us are more intentional about these things than others to varying degrees, but we all have used our life experiences to inform our values and the decisions we make.

So, do you think about your values when shopping for clothes? I know for me, I did not. The disconnect here is strange, because I was a conscious shopper in other ways. I avoided restaurants that were anti-LGBT. I joined a CSA and supported local kids when buying beef at the fair. We cloth diaper our babies, use glass leftover containers, and washable sandwich bags. I chose very specifically what organizations to support when donating to charity. In general, I was intentional about where and how I spent my money. But I never once thought about clothes until I watched The True Cost on Netflix.

Know better, do better, right? I started to make slow changes in my wardrobe just like I had in other areas in my life. I did some research and decided what topics were important to me: women’s education, treatment of garment workers, and sustainability of business and products. I looked into brands that supported these ideals, and I support them when I shop.

But, this is where things get interesting! As you might expect, there is not a one size fits all solution. I think that’s part of what makes shopping ethically so complicated, but also really exciting. We might not share the same interests or values, and that’s okay! There’s a whole world of options in the ethical fashion industry and there’s bound to be many options that suit not only your values, but also your style and comfort. And once we make the initial leap of being more intentional after discovering our values, it becomes second nature. We feel good in the clothes we are wearing because they fully align with who we are, and that is not something worth sacrificing.

ethically made

How much do your clothes cost?

Once the closet door to ethical fashion is opened, it’s really hard to shut it. You start to notice things and ask questions you didn’t before, such as: “How is this shirt $4?!” “Why does everyone buy so many things?” “Where do all these clothes go when no one buys them?” “What does the donation center actually do with the clothes I just donated?” “I wonder who made this and if they were treated well or paid fairly.”

Just as there are some things you can’t unsee, there are some things you just can’t unlearn. You have to bury your head pretty deep in the sand to forget that there are millions of people living in extreme poverty BECAUSE their job is to make your clothes. In my mind, your full time job should be paying you enough to feed, clothe, house, and educate yourself and your kids. That’s the bare minimum in my opinion, but most of the world is not living this reality. And most of us reading this, are sheltered and very far removed from that reality.

To further drive this point home, I’d like to recommend a documentary to you. It’s called The True Cost, and it’ll change your life. It’s on Netflix, and if you need a support group after you watch it, you can join us at The Style Collective and discuss.

See what I mean? Even the trailer gives me goosebumps. The good news is, we do not have to be paralyzed by our despair and guilt. When we do nothing, we make the problem worse. Know better, do better, right? But HOW do we do better? This, my friends, is where I come in! I have paved the way for you to have an easier time grappling with this larger issue and focusing it down on what you can control.

YOUR CLOSET.

Believe it or not, little changes that you make in your closet will make big changes in the lives of people across the world, most of which are women and girls. Download my free ethical wardrobe guide and get started today. Or take the 10×10 style challenge to get a glimpse of what a capsule wardrobe can do for you. If you’re ready to take a deeper dive, or if you need a little more guidance as you work through this, check out my individual and group workshops. It’s time for us to act, but you can start small with the clothes you already own, and I promise this will create a ripple effect of impact that will reach well beyond your closet.

ethically made

What is ethical fashion?

I know you are having flashbacks of a stuffy college classroom, a professor with a mothball eaten sweater, and the only C you got on your transcripts. Oh wait, that must be me.

All joking aside, the term ethical fashion of course is derived from actual ETHICS, in which we discuss our morals, our values, and principles by which we live and act. There are two main concepts within moral relativism* that are in play here: individual and cultural. Personally, I recognize we do not live in a vacuum and are very much informed by the cultural values of the society in which we live. But, without getting too Nietzsche, I believe we are capable of defining our own personal hierarchy of values that matter most to us as individuals.

This is where defining ethical fashion gets interesting. WE HAVE CHOICES!! I am happy to support sustainably produced leather as a carnivore, but if you’re a vegan, that is going to be a struggle for you to wrap your mind around. As a woman and a mother, I find the availability of education and childcare of extreme importance to those out there sewing my clothing. As a single dude with no kids, that might not be on your radar.

I am here to tell you that all of this is okay! Morally speaking, and otherwise. There’s already enough extreme messaging out there. We do not have to fit into or ascribe to one narrow definition of anything, let alone ethical fashion. In my mind, the whole point of fashion in general is an expression of individual identity. I know we often get far from that, but don’t you think the clothes we wear are supposed to be unique? Say what you want about copying trends, but it’s a rare day when I run into someone wearing the exact same outfit as me. Well, our personal values are just as differentiated as our clothing. We do ourselves, and frankly everyone, a disservice when we limit fashion to aesthetics. There is power in our purchase, in our voices, and in our presence. And so, ethical fashion gives us the opportunity to express more than just our personalities; we can wear our beliefs on our sleeves (quite literally), and create and motivate change.

If you need help sorting this out, there’s a Values Worksheet available in my DIY Digital Workbook. I’m also happy to walk you through the steps in a personal consultation. Gotta start somewhere! Why not here? Why not now?

*It’s 2018, and yes, I will reference Wikipedia, damnit!

ethically made, thoughts

How to make good choices and ditch the underwire

Somewhere between being pregnant and not, I decided to quit the underwire. Who knew that fighting against the patriarchy could be so comfortable?

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to wear bras. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, right? We couldn’t wait to shave our legs, make our own decisions, quit naps and veggies, and stay up late. And then all of a sudden we arrive here and realize most of adulthood is a bunch of responsibility wrapped in false choice. Am I right?

When I got pregnant, it was somewhere around the 3rd trimester when wearing underwire bras became too uncomfortable. I switched to shelf bra maternity camis and figured the growing belly was enough support/who cares what I look like anyway I’m pregnant/comfort first. Then I graduated to nursing bras, which I also hated as an extension of hating nursing. After that brief 2 year hiatus, I went back to my old bras when they fit again after a grueling tour of Insanity with Shaun T. Living a life of discomfort, constant readjustment, and skin irritation. Repeat x3.

But no! I am a grown woman, an adult if you will. I make my own choices! I do. not. have to wear an underwire bra! Really, I do not. And I have not for a year and I bet you no one has even noticed. I was living in discomfort all for an image that no one else could see.

Who decides these things? The patriarchy?! Well, maybe, but ultimately the real answer, my friends, is I do. Only I decide which bra I wear. Or if I wear one! Period. No need to burn your bra if you wear one that suits you. You have more choices in this life than you realize. Exercise those choices. Share your newfound freedom and happiness with others. Live life on your terms only. Rinse. Repeat.

What’s going on in your life that is making you uncomfortable? What can you do to get rid of it?

boody bamboo ethical bra
I didn’t even put a filter on it. #yourewelcome #postpartum

And no, I totally did not get paid for doing this. It’s just that good.

Follow me on Instagram @myeducatedstyle for more clothing recommendations and join The Style Collective, a private Facebook community of like-minded women taking control of their choices in clothing.

personal

We are already enough.

I was listening to some girls making plans to hang out that night. They didn’t invite me then, but a few glanced over at me as I took a bite of sandwich. We were at the lunch table. I tried to avoid eye contact. It was awkward. Thoughts raced through my mind about how to be included – do I invite myself? Do I sit here and pretend I didn’t hear? Do I offer some bit of advice or a funny comment that makes them remember I’m even sitting here? I went with the “nothing” option. That night I waited by the phone. The next day, I listened to the replay of the evening, and probably chimed in a time or two – to be funny, to be remembered, I’m sure of it – but at this point I don’t remember the details. What I do remember is the feeling. The racing thoughts, and navigating the steps I should take to receive an invitation next time.

This feeling has plagued me almost my entire life. I have spent a lot of time and energy on figuring out how to be included. A part of me has always been that teenage girl, trying to be a member of the cool girls club. That’s the funny thing about formative experiences in childhood; they never leave. They shape us into the adults we are today, but they never leave. That girl still lives inside me, still longs for the phone to ring, and it never does because that time is now gone. Knowing that I don’t have a time machine, I have put efforts into making bandaids for this: joining a sorority, moving around the country, trying out for every sports team (why, God, why?!), doing every club, reaching for all the goals and exclusive groups, and all the friends I’ve made and tried to keep.

And you know what? All this effort has really gotten me nowhere because I was chasing something that wasn’t meant to be. I was letting the past become my present, and I was missing out on everything that was happening right in front of me. Furthermore, I was bending myself into all these contortions that were actually preventing me from feeling the inclusiveness I already had.

I already belong.

First of all, I belong to myself. And I belong to my family. (They can’t get rid of me, no matter how hard they try!) I belong to our whole human family. I have experienced the unconditional love of a child, and of friends who no matter how long its been we pick up where we left off. There will always be people here to pour into me, and there always has been. Just as there will always be the people who never call, no matter how long I stare at the phone.

Over the last several months, this has been slowly revealed to me. I don’t need to bring anything specific to the table to be invited to eat. I am already enough. I can invite myself and people will say YES. I can do cool things because I want to, and regardless of what others think. It may close some doors or relationships, but you know what, that’s not a tragedy. More doors open, and more people are waiting on the other side who need me. You know what is a tragedy though? Convincing myself that I have nothing to offer and then hiding behind excuses (like my children) so I don’t have to deal with the rejection. Whether people reject me or not, I have a lot to offer and I am good at things and people need me.

All this to say: you belong. You’re invited. You are enough, and we need you. Get involved in your community and share your talents with the world. Be changed; not into someone else, but into the you you already are because that’s all you’ll ever be and what the world needs.

If you need a community that accepts you as you are, without questions, and where you can put your talents to good use: karahoholik@gmail.com. There’s a seat for you at our table. We need you, and the time is now.