Learning about Sustainable Fashion forced me to go back to old clothes

For the past 1.5 years, I have been learning to be mindful of my consumption, especially clothing.

My partner and I went on a “no shopping” for almost a year in 2020. We also made sure to clear out our wardrobe and just kept the essentials. I now know exactly what clothes I have in my closet, and I love each piece very dearly.

Just for a change, this year, I decided to donate 2–3 of my old clothes and thought of getting 1–2 new pieces for myself. I was new to learning about Sustainable and Ethical fashion. So I decided to do some research.

My partner wasn’t sure if I would ever find the perfect brand to get my clothes, but I was optimistic. Hey! This is America! Options are infinite!

But… it didn’t happen the way I expected.

After spending hours going through YouTube videos and articles, I was so frustrated that I gave up. I did learn a lot, though!

Here’s what I found:

#1 There are still very, very few companies that genuinely care:

I started using a website called “Good on you,” which rates an apparel company based on its environmental impact, labor treatment, and use of animal/animal products.

In searching for new pieces of clothing, my partner and I decided to visit a nearby mall. All the while, I kept checking the company ratings on my phone. Among the 35+ stores that were in the mall, only one made the “good enough” rating (not even the best rating).

This made me realize that no matter how much companies talk about the environment or sustainability, most of it was “greenwashing” to get their sales up.

I was thoroughly disappointed after the mall visit, but I did come across few excellent companies online (and I am praying that we don’t receive any bad news about them in the future). They were Patagonia (sportswear) and Thousand fell (Shoe brand).

#2 Very few choices

Since there were very few sustainable and ethical brands out there, clothing choices were also limited. I understand that with sustainability, we are looking for companies to have limited pieces of clothing but most of the clothing available on the websites wasn’t wearable for “everyday needs.” They had long cuts, deep necks, and something you would expect a model to wear on the ramp, probably not for a regular person like me.

I do not consider myself a fashionable person, and that might be the reason for not finding the options but even looking for simple shirts, layers or pants became challenging.

The one company that did have these options had a recent backlash regarding its treatment of garment workers (and racism).

#3 Expensive $$$

I know. Sustainable brands are supposed to be expensive because they pay their employees a fair wage and use only the best (non-toxic) products for production. So this point is just a useless rant more than anything.

But I hope that like Patagonia, other companies also start having the “used clothes” options that are much cheaper than the new clothes. That would be a definite win-win.

#4 We are all blind

I was shocked at how much I didn’t know about clothing brands.

In the past few days, I learned about toxic dyes that pollute water bodies and affect human health, fast-fashion industries that were major contributors of landfill, microplastics during cloth wash, and animal products in the industry.

We also live in a society that promotes fast fashion without providing enough awareness and knowledge about this lifestyle’s ramifications on the environment. Just because we have the money doesn’t mean we get to exploit the environment with it.

Even today, when I attend Indian weddings, it leaves me flabbergasted. With so much awareness about consumerism, people still tend to buy new clothes, wear them for a day and leave it in their closets to rot for life. Clothes are given as gifts to guests who already have 2–3 closets full of them. Yes, we need new laws and government intervention (which is hardly expected cause… economy), but lavishly burning the resources should be frowned upon!

#5 “We are doing all this for the Economy” excuse

Every-time I talk about over-consumption (or even Veganism for that matter), this is the №1 excuse I hear, “If we don’t do — -, how will the people in the industry survive.”

Are you seriously telling me that the reason you have 150 pieces of clothes in your wardrobe is because of your empathy towards workers? If so, are you aware of the conditions in which the said workers work?

On 24th April 2013, an 8-story building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1000 garment workers and injuring close to 2500. People had noticed cracks in the structure the previous day of the collapse, but the garment workers were made to work the next day to finish orders. (Source: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/5-years-after-the-worlds-largest-garment-factory-collapse-is-safety-in-bangladesh-any-better)

Yes. Fast fashion does provide a lot of jobs. If everyone quits buying clothes overnight, the economy and industry will suffer. But that is far from reality. Not everyone in the world will stop shopping or maintain their clothes for 5–10 years.

Even if we talk about the economy, aren’t we humans freaking intelligent to innovate and develop sustainable jobs for people? Can’t we appoint people to repurpose, restitch or redesign old clothes? Can’t we strive to make long-lasting products?

We just don’t want to do it, despite knowing that there are better ways.

I always believe that consumers have the power to create change. Unless we force corporations to move in a positive direction, they won’t. Two years back, I hadn’t even heard of Veganism and the harm the meat industry did to the environment. Now that consumers have more knowledge, you can find multiple Vegan brands or even Vegan recipes online (or in the supermarket). People have even reduced meat consumption.

Unless we change, things won’t change.

#6 The most Sustainable Fashion is to use Old clothes

After getting thoroughly frustrated with my new findings, I decided to do what I should have done long ago. I reached out to my friends and asked them for their old clothes. I had done this before as well, but my itch to “try something new” took me down a whole different rabbit hole.

I found the perfect clothes for my 30th birthday!

It still doesn’t mean that I won’t buy any new clothes in the future. My search will continue to support the companies like Patagonia and Thousand fell who give a f*ck.

I can only strive to be better than I was yesterday.

#7 I need to learn how to stitch

This entire episode taught me a valuable lesson. I need to learn how to sew! Most of the time, I used to donate my clothes because they no longer fit correctly or had a small damage. If I knew how to redesign and reuse them, I could have easily increased those clothes’ lives for at least a few more years. I guess that’s one more thing I would have to learn, and I am entirely up for it!

If you feel overwhelmed after going through this article, believe me, I understand. There were times when I I felt like just going to the nearest mall and coming back with a bag full of clothes and bags.
The dopamine rush of shopping is real.

But, things need to change. The best course of action would be to start taking micro-steps. Maybe reduce your shopping to once in 6 months or ask a friend to lend his/her dress. Just small innovative steps! That’s all it takes.

Check out my YouTube channel for inspiring videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBfUxVSxC0koxGSkwzVRYzQ

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I quit my 4-year Oil & Gas related job to Volunteer in gardens & work in the field of Sustainability.

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Seethal Jayasankar

Seethal Jayasankar

I quit my 4-year Oil & Gas related job to Volunteer in gardens & work in the field of Sustainability.

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