Not-So-Fast Fashion: My Three Shopping Rules

I like thinking of a closet like a wine cellar: you carefully choose everything to suit your taste, you think of your selections as investments, you educate yourself on the makers, and you expect what you have to last a very long time.

When I cleaned and reorganized my closet recently, I surveyed the items and found most of my collection is made up of vintage (either discovered from vintage or thrift shops or purchased new 20 or more years ago) or second-hand items (found at thrift stores, yard sales, or on Etsy and eBay). Up-to-the-minute fashions? Not really. I have plenty of timeless styles and some on-trend pieces, but very little of it is brand-new — and that’s how I want it. A few years ago, I made a commitment to buy second-hand whenever possible, as part of an effort to make more environmentally friendly lifestyle choices. Since then, I have become even more discerning about what I buy. Sure, liking it and fitting into it are big factors. It used to be enough to feel good in it — now I want to feel good about it too. That’s why I follow these three personal rules for shopping:

Consider the source.
Reject fast fashion brands and support companies with ethical and sustainable business practices. Who makes the clothing? How? Where? (If that shirt is only $3, you have to know the workers who made it weren’t paid fair wages.) Look at labels and look into company practices. Find out about how your favorite brands operate and choose to support those companies that care about people and the planet, with production standards that are fair trade, sweatshop-free, and environmentally friendly.

Start with seconds.
When you buy second-hand items already in circulation — from vintage shops, thrift shops, consignment shops, yard sales, or sites like eBay and Etsy — you’re saving clothes from crowded landfills and also doing your part to minimize demand for production of newer items. Even better: Many worthy nonprofits are supported by thrift store sales. (Some of my favorites: Housing Works, Council Thrift Shops.)

Stay close to home.
When you shop locally, you support your local economy. Cutting down on travel and shipping means you’re also reducing your carbon footprint. Then there’s the feel-good factor: Buying from local shops and designers helps your neighbors and makes you feel like a valued part of the community.

My Big Green Resolution

closet_photoAt the start of 2010, I made a resolution that felt big for me. It started with my desire to make a stronger commitment to green living—making more choices that were better for the environment. But I am a collector. I have a lot of stuff. And I really like my stuff. I have a closet filled with clothing and accessories I love (yes, love) and my house is full of treasured possessions. Still, I felt the need to simplify. I felt overwhelmed by the drive to acquire. Stuff! More stuff! So I decided to give up shopping for new stuff for the year.

I would refrain from buying new things I wanted. For things I needed, such as food and toilet paper and soap, I would stick to my resolve of buying the eco-friendly choices. New jeans, a new handbag, or new silverware? No. For any non-necessities, I would buy only pre-owned items—after carefully considering whether the purchase was necessary. I would shop at thrift stores, consignment and vintage shops, yard sales, on eBay and Etsy. I would be spending money on items already produced and in circulation (and withdrawing my consumer support for new products), which would help to reduce my carbon footprint.

I expected this to be a challenge and ended up being surprised with how easy it was. (And fun—thrift shopping is like treasure-hunting.) I thought I would write about my temptations and possible slips, but exceptions I made were few and far between (new underwear, practical running shoes…) and felt permissible. Then there was the upside: saving money. When the year ended, I decided to keep going and it’s become my new normal. Just like that. And while I’m shy about suggesting how others should live their lives, I like to share my example and offer it as a challenge to anyone who might like to try. For today or a week or a month or a year….