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….

Glee Look: Red Flower in the Hair

Red Flower hair clip from Kocajo on Etsy

Red flower from Hot Pink and Sequins on Etsy

Flower headband from Rockstarlette on Etsy

Last week’s “Glee” featured a tango version of “Kiss,” with Matthew Morrison dancing with guest star Gwyneth Paltrow. Good song, good dance (and good show), and all I could think about was how I loved the red flower in Paltrow’s hair. Flower clenched between the teeth? Not practical in everyday life, but a flower in your hair can be either sweet (flower child) or sexy (tango dancer). A halter top or dress with a red flower in your hair and dainty earrings and you’re good to go. The flowers above come from Etsy sellers who use recycled materials for their handiwork; the real hibiscus flower on top was spotted in the neighborhood.

Miss Stefanie Etsy Shirts Modeled

My sweet friend Madelyn modeled some of the upcycled shirts I made for my Miss Stefanie Etsy shop, to show how the shirts look layered over a long sleeve shirt. Shirts in a woman’s size small or extra-small are shown here to fit her frame (various sizes are in the shop); I get the shirts from thrift stores, so what I get is what I remake and they’re all one-of-a-kind. She’s also wearing the denim nautical-style bracelets for sale in the shop, made from denim scraps from rescues pairs of jeans. (The Mickey Mouse shirt is the one she kept.) Note: Holiday sale going on now! Save 15% through December 5 by entering HOHOHO as the coupon code. MissStefanie.etsy.com.

Miss Stefanie Giants Shirts: Baseball, Football

This is a tale of two upcycled Giants shirt: one baseball, one football. Above, my lovely and amazing friend Rebecca is wearing the SF Giants shirt she bought from my Etsy shop. I’m demurely modeling my own NY Giants shirt and hat (go Giants!). Her SF Giants shirt was given a v-neck with a ruffle made using scraps of fabric from the cut sleeves; my NY Giants shirt has the neckline embellished with denim and fabric scraps.

Rebecca has encouraged me to make add more sports shirts to the Miss Stefanie Etsy shop, pointing out that many girls don’t like to wear square and boxy T-shirts when showing their team support. It’s the very reason I started cutting up my own T-shirts and re-making them a pair of scissors and needle and thread. For the shop, I remake shirts found in thrift shops or other secondhand sources, so inventory is limited to what I find. Upcycled sports shirts currently stocked in the shop: “Fight On” USC shirt, Seattle Seahawks football shirt, Oakland A’s baseball shirt, Los Angeles Lakers basketball shirt, and NY Yankees Derek Jeter baseball shirt. More added when I find ’em and fancy ’em up.

Earth Day Shop Launch: MissStefanie on Etsy

Earth Day was the official launch of my Etsy shop: Miss Stefanie’s House of Crafts and Collectibles (easy-to-remember web address: MissStefanie.etsy.com). Everything in the shop is eco-friendly: vintage clothing and accessories I find during my shopping adventures; thrift shop T-shirts I recover and remake into more flattering styles; and other accessories I make using fabric scraps. My lovely and amazing friend Kristine is pictured, modeling her purchase: a Wonder Woman tee I remade with a pair of scissors, needle, and thread (all my work is done by hand). Reuse, recycle, recreate–rock on. . . I’ll post more photos of happy customers as they come in.

7 Ways to Organize Your Closet, the Eco Way

Originally published on Sprig.com

You just spent the weekend cleaning out your closet and have a pile of stuff that either doesn’t fit your body or doesn’t suit your lifestyle. What do you do with the leftovers? These seven ideas will help you save money, save the planet and just feel good about yourself.

1. Repair It.
Paying to have an ill-fitting pair of pants tailored to your size is less expensive than buying a new pair—ditto for stretching a pair of shoes or giving them new soles. Simple fit issues can be fixed by your local tailor or shoemaker. (Don’t know where to go? Ask for a recommendation from your favorite local boutique.) A good tailor can also adjust the style of a piece, updating flare legs to straight or minimizing puffy sleeves on a blouse.

2. Rework It.
If it pains you to part with that XL R.E.M. tee from college, channel your inner crafter. Thread Banger and T-Shirt Surgery are among the resourceful websites that offer do-it-yourself instructions for restyling pieces like jeans and T-shirts that are easy enough for sewing novices (really—some don’t even require a needle and thread).

3. Swap It.
Before you go on a shopping spree to fill in the holes in your newly-clean closet, consider swapping. “Circulating items is definitely a green idea,” says Melanie Charlton Fascitelli of Clos-ette, a New York-based closet organizing company. Host a clothing swap party at home with friends (and friends of friends). Ask each person to bring all of the clothing and accessories she no longer wants. Then either make a big pile in the middle of the room and have a free-for-all or separate clothing into categories for easier “shopping.” You can also swap online from sites such as Clothing SwapSwap Style, and Swap Thing, which allow you to trade clothing with other registrants.

4. Sell It.
Yep, you can make money selling your castoffs! Start by checking with consignment shops in your area. Ask to speak with a manager or buyer about what they’re most interested in acquiring. (Keep in mind that many consignment shops shop sell seasonal clothing, so you won’t have much luck getting rid of a puffy jacket in June.) They do the selling for you and either offer instant store credit or a percentage–usually about half–of the resale price on items that move.

For a more hands-on approach, you can sell on eBay, either with bidding or a simple “buy it now” price. Never done it? It’s really a simple process; just upload a digital photo and description and pay no more than a few bucks per item. Save trips to the post office and lower your carbon footprint by ending each of your auctions on the same day. Items of lesser value are best sold locally on Craig’s List, where you can set up a window of time for potential buyers to shop for and haul away your goods. During fair weather months, you can plan a yard/gate/garage sale or, better yet, arrange a group one with neighbors.

5. Donate it.
The possibilities for donations are endless. Start with your local thrift store, homeless shelter or women’s shelter, which accept tax-deductible donations and serve your community. And check out these sites for donating particular items.

Dress for Success: Accepts business-appropriate clothing for female job-hunters. You can also find a local group that does the same (check their directory for more info) here.

Glass Slipper Project: This Chicago-based group re-circulates dresses for girls in need of prom gowns.

Brides Against Breast Cancer: This non-profit collects contemporary wedding gowns to benefit those suffering from metastatic breast cancer.

I Do Foundation: Resells your donated wedding gown then makes a contribution to the charity of your choice with partial proceeds from the sale.

Pick Up Please: Supports Vietnam Veterans with the sale of donated items, including clothing and accessories.

Soles4Souls: Collects shoes for victims of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina the Thailand Tsunami.

Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe: Recycles materials from worn and donated sneakers for new shoes or for materials used to build playgrounds and sports courts.

6. Give it A New Purpose.
Nothing needs to end up in a landfill. If it’s not worth selling, swapping or donating, you can find new uses for items that would otherwise end up in the trash. Torn cotton shirts become dusting and cleaning rags. Other garments can be used to stuff in handbags or shoes to retain their shape when not in use. The legs of jeans or sweats can be cut and used as covers for packing shoes.

7. Don’t Give Up!
Even old hangers can use a new home! Return excess wire hangers to your local dry cleaner for re-use and donate plastic hangers to your local thrift store. Down to the bottom of the pile? The last of your unwanted items can be distributed free through Freecycle.

Q&A: Linda Loudermilk

The full portion of this interview was originally published on Greenopia.com

My interview with L.A.-based Linda Loudermilk, a trailblazing designer on the eco-friendly fashion scene whose line of clothing—from red-carpet-worthy dresses to jeans—is made with fabrics that are sustainable and organic.

How did you start your business?

I started with a couture line that was not at all green but I knew it was not all I was supposed to do. In one of my shows I had pieces that showed my connection to nature—one showed a human body fused to a tree with a heart in it that was very goth. I realized after that show that it was the story of what I needed to do with my life: share with people ways to connect with nature, how to respect their bodies and respect nature at the same time—to really connect all the pieces and to make this life of consumerism make sense. Then I did research on sustainable fabrics. Back then, it was only organic cotton so it was very limited. I started talking to fabric and fiber manufacturers and asked to start developing new fibers and new weaves.

Best part of your job?

Constantly creating. I recreate everything I see. I can look at something and be inspired by it. I also have the opportunity to create a new business in a new market and that is a blast.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

A Yew tree. The Yew is the oldest known tree and they have planted it historically to celebrate burial grounds, so it’s a place where the spirit resides.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.

I had an experience with nature that healed me from a disease and that literal exchange told me that I needed to respect the earth. That was really a spiritual experience with nature.