Buying Sustainable is a Process..Just Start (Part Two)

It’s been a week and I’m back with part two of my buying sustainable process guide.

During our week apart I indulged myself a little with my favorite type of sustainable buying, recycled! While visiting home, my sister and I disappeared into the wonderful world of consignment fashion, at our local spot. After multiple arm loads to the dressing room, a few laughs, one moment of almost getting stuck in a pair of corduroy pants, I exited with some amazing finds.

A German made sweater, of 100% wool, the softest black and white sweater made of “baby alpaca” and a brand new, tags still on, hat that is made by a USA based sustainable company. I hit the jackpot in the world of sustainable shopping. What makes it all so exciting, is this can happen 9 times out of 10, if you’re willing to dig for it.

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So without further ado, part two!

Recycle: When I say recycle I do not mean buying shoes that are made of recycled rubber or purses made of recycled plastic, although these are wonderful recycled options. When I say recycle I am talking about, of course, consignment stores or other secondhand clothing options.

Some may cringe at this thought. Wearing something preloved can be a hurdle but I’m here to preach, again, that it is not only good for your wallet and the planet but it can do incredible things for your style.

The pieces I get the most compliments on have come from consignment stores or thrift shops. For every item bought recycled one less item enters the consumption loop, which in turns decreases the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. For every American, 68 pounds of textiles end up in landfills each year according to research found in Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. The number is only increasing, recycled can help.

Consignment shopping can be overwhelming, I will admit that. Racks are not usually sorted by size but more often color and when you find something you like but not in your size you don’t have the privilege of asking the sales associate to locate what you need. This, I believe, is the beauty of consignment shops. When you find a piece that fits just right and is unique to you the excitement is like nothing felt in the dressing-room of a cookie cutter shop where ten others may be trying on the same piece.

My recommendation to tackling consignment shops? Grab a friend, or a sister, make a day of it and go experiment with a style that is uniquely your own!

Repair: How often does the rubber on the bottom of your heal fall off? The zipper on a favorite pair of jeans bust open because of one too many cookies? In our world of disposable fashion when this occurs we throw the garment away because “heck, I only spent $50 on these shoes so I might as well just go get a new pair”. Clothing has never been as disposable as it is today and that needs to change.

I have come to love repairing shoes, clothes and everything in between. There is something special about the way I feel in my favorite pair of jeans. If the zipper blows out during the holiday season, yes this has definitely happened (a couple times), I don’t want to replace them, I want to repair them.

It is easy to question why repairing something that was so cheap to begin with has any sound logic. So why not invest in higher quality items and ask yourself, before making the purchase, can I repair this item if it wears out? If the answer is no, maybe it’s not of high quality or maybe it won’t be true to your individual style for long enough to wear out, therefore maybe it’s not the right purchase.

Throughout my adolescent years, okay and even sometimes still today, Carrie Bradshaw was living my New York dream. Although we would disagree on her constant over consumption there is one thing she got right, shoe repair. In season three episode fifteen Carrie learns that her trusted cobbler has been replaced with a comic book store. She is devastated because for Carrie throwing away a $500 pair of Manolo’s is not only ludicrous but financially irresponsible. By no means am I advocating to spend unnecessary amounts of money on designer goods, I sure never have, but $150 for a quality shoe is not unreasonable and if repaired regularly will last for decades.

Repurpose: This one just barely made the list. It has only come into my life in the last few months. What I love about repurpose is it was forced upon me. As soon as I stopped shopping at cheap fashion stores and started reevaluating my closet I realized I needed to repurpose items I already owned. Without this change in attitude I would have become frustrated with my wardrobe and probably given in to supporting an industry I adamantly write against.

Repurposing is no easy task. I am fortunate enough to have a very stylish boyfriend, if I do say so myself, and I have been able to incorporate some of his pieces into my rotation, such as a classic destroyed denim jacket (it also works in my favor that the 90’s are back so too then are over-sized pieces). I understand sharing a wardrobe is not a luxury for most women but there are many other options.

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Repurposing your wardrobe takes time and creativity which is the best part. I have rediscovered my style without spending a dime. I’ve taken sweaters that are too low cut in the front and worn them backwards, creating a completely unique and new look.

 

The age old saying “out of sight, out of mind” can be applied to wardrobes. There is something really wonderful about the change in season and pulling out all those long lost garments that have been stored away for months. If you don’t yet do this, give it a try. Pack away your summer clothes, “out of sight, out of mind” and when the ground begins to thaw pulling them out will feel like having an entirely new closet.

It was not long ago that I shopped at fast fashion stores. It was not long ago that I didn’t even consider checking labels before making a purchase and it wasn’t long ago that I stood before an overflowing closet whining “I have nothing to wear” (although that last one still happens from time to time). This process continues to evolve for me.

Over the past few months I have learned a lot about our world and about myself. It is exciting to feel grounded in who I am and in my style more than ever before. This has occurred because I forced myself to reevaluate my shopping habits and my wardrobe. I now work every day to refine my style. To challenge myself. It’s been a wonderfully empowering and creative process that I hope encourages you to give it a try.

 

Chat next week. With Love.

j-sig

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Buying Sustainable is a Process…Just Start (Part 1)

Here we are, two weeks in and I have thrown out the term sustainable fashion over and over again. But what truly defines sustainable fashion? How does one begin the process of buying sustainable? How much will I be giving up to only shop sustainable?  I started by asking myself these questions, along with many others.

Sustainable, per Webster, is of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

Fashion, per Webster, is defined as a prevailing custom, usage, or style. 

Put together, sustainable fashion is the method of using a style textile so that the textile is not depleted or permanently damaged. This definition, that I word scrambled together, is not the end all be all, however, I have found myself needing a broad definition.

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Be Brave Enough To Start A Conversation That Matters
Determining this broad definition was a challenge. What has been more of a challenge is determining how and where to buy sustainable. What are the requirements needed to meet the title “sustainable”? Do products have to meet every requirement for me to feel confident in making a purchase?

Sustainable means something different to every individual pursuing this journey. Some take it 100% at face value, buying goods that are only made of organically grown materials, in which resource depletion does not occur. Others believe sustainable is paying a fair, living wage and yet still others believe sustainable is only buying recycled, re-purposed or reused products.

There are so many ways to go about this process and all are great.

I’ve broken sustainable purchasing into a few categories. I strive to base, almost, all my purchases with these categories in mind. It’s impossible to buy completely sustainable 100% of the time, in my life and the life of many others, it’s just not realistic. And that’s okay.

My categories are: ethical, organic, recycle, repair, and repurpose.

But what does this all mean…

Ethical: Ethically made goods are ones in which the individuals in the product chain are paid a living wage, do not work in hazardous environments and are afforded basic human rights.

In China, officially $42.3 million people live in poverty, reported Ellen Ruppel Shell in her book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. This was 2009. The Chinese population has only grown since then thus has the number living under the poverty level. What many don’t know is in China the official poverty line is drawn at $156 a year, versus the World Bank poverty limit of $456 a year writes Shell. This translates to millions more living at or well below the poverty level, many of whom work in the factories that make all the cheap goods Americans have come to rely on.

Before learning these heartbreaking details I knew of the sweatshops of many third world countries, of the deaths that occurred, the hours that were worked, and the lost childhoods, all so that I could wear a $5 shirt from Forever 21. Now, knowing more, it is even more important to me to purchase goods that make a difference in the life of the individual who made it.

Luckily, in today’s educated society finding companies that carry these products does not hold the challenge that ethical shoppers use to face. Where we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars matters, so chose to spend on products that support and empower workers.

Organic: This category has been more of a search for me. Many companies have begun using organic cotton or other natural fibers but it is still an adventure finding these products. Organic and other natural fibers hold such importance as the process of growing, processing and disposing of them does not deplete resources, as well as chemicals are not used throughout the process. Cotton and other cellulose fabrics are durable and if they make the unfortunate trip to the landfill they do not contribute to methane secretion which causes greenhouse gas buildup.

As clothing interacts with our body all day everyday it is important to remember that our skin, our largest organ, is absorbing aspects of these fibers. Dozens of chemicals are used during the process of harvesting, treating and dying cotton, which then enter our integument system. Research is still in process to pin point the numerous negative impacts of our constant interaction with these chemicals but is it really a chance worth taking?

Give organic a try, treat your body and earth with some respect, our generation and the next generation will thank you.

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“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness” Mahatma Gandhi
With the hope of keeping you wanting more, and to not overwhelm with information, I am going to leave recycle (my favorite), repair and repurpose for next week!

No matter how you chose to start the process of buying sustainable remember, it is a process and the best part of any process is all you need to do is start.

Chat next week. With Love.

j-sig

The Earned Savings Mindset

I began this journey, as I talked about last week, with a very brief education. However, I am ashamed to admit, the first few months following my passion I was not practicing what I was learning. I was still lured in by sales at H&M, Aldo, and Nordstrom with the thought that once I found brands that were “sustainable” I would stop shopping at these fast fashion behemoths and start practicing my newfound knowledge. I was living two lives, the life of sustainable education, that aligned so seamlessly with my morals, and the life of the deal hunting fashionista who was tempted by 50% off.

Everything negative I was reading I was still embodying.

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How was it that I had found something I was so passionate abouteverything I was reading and talking about was focused on ityet I was not changing my behavior? I dug deep into the psychological aspect of consumer buying habits with the help of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. Shell eloquently explains that as consumers we are wired to focus on the dollars saved not the dollars spent.

This is due to the phenomenon of ‘earned savings.’

As consumers we believe that when we find a good savings deal we have earned that deal, we worked hard to track it down, maybe driving many miles to the outlet store or sifting endlessly through the sale racks at our favorite store. This mindset allows us to disregard how much we spent on an item and focus solely on how much we saved forgetting that dollars had still left our pockets.

I realized while reading Shell’s words that I was afraid of losing out on the deal, on my earned savings. I believe this is a hurdle for many others as well. As consumers, we have associated deals with earning savings without question to the quality of the purchase because why would we? We found a good deal and can do the same tomorrow if the garment falls apart. It’s this mindset that I believe needs to be changed and can be changed. Getting a good deal should not be focused on price but on quality.

Our preoccupation with low price makes it easy to forget that every penny we save on markdowns must be taken from someone else or, failing that, extracted from the value of the object of our desire. In discount nation, what once was solid, permanent, and dependable has become disposable, ephemeral, and dicey.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell

So how do we change what is fundamentally wired into us as consumers to seek out the best deal? We start by changing our relationship with our clothes. We stop seeing our wardrobes as revolving doors, a constant stream of in and out, and realize that our cheap fashion purchases are not a cost savings but a constant drain on our wallets and our environment.

As an experiment, I went back over the last year and added up all the wardrobe purchases I had made, the ones that I bragged about getting such a great deal on. The cost SHOCKED me. For every dollar I ‘saved’ I had actually spent $15! Rather than having earned any savings I had spent and spent and spent.

Merchants have programmed us to expect sales. Our culture of sales has trained us to think that if merchants can profit on a 50% off sale then us consumers paying full price must be fools. Today an item that doesn’t sell in four or five weeksor even soonermay be relegated to the markdown bin, Shell writes, thus hastening the cycle of fast fashion. Merchants want their products out the door and consumers want to earn their savingsleaving us in a cycle of overproduction and waste.

I write all this because I realize there is a significant hurdle to overcome when shifting our shopping habits to sustainability.

Making the switch can seem scary or even overwhelming. Not knowing where to start or who to support.

I asked Christina, Route’s founder and director about this and this was her response:

“Start with us. Try out Route, even for one item, our goal is for you to not just like what you purchased, but to love it, wear it regularly and feel deeply connected to the process that that item took to get to you. So much love was put into every step. It’s a risk to try a new boutique and trust that you’ll like the item when it is in your hand and not on Instagram, but we want to do everything we can to make it worth the risk for you.”

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Try out their new fall line here to explore their incredible pieces!

Buying sustainable does not mean giving up current fashion trends or putting a big dent into your shopping budget. Buying sustainable does not mean only wearing hemp clothing and other recycled goods.

Buying sustainable means purchasing quality products, made by individuals who are trying to overcome challenges in our oftentimes oppressive world. Buying sustainable means empowering designers and producers in our world to earn a living wage. Buying sustainable means taking an enormous weight off our environment. Buying sustainable means making a difference.

It is difficult to fully trade deal-hunting desires for the desire to improve our world through fashion. But it’s a worthwhile journey that I’m on and inviting you to join.

Chat next week. With love. 


Which is more Important: Style or Fashion?

“She was dressing herself before she could walk,” has been my parents’ favorite way to describe my stubbornness and love of style for as long I can remember. From the beginning, the battle my mama bear would never win was attempting to get me to change my mind about what I was going to wear. Until recently this has rang all too true. I love clothes and I love style but I had no idea where my clothes came from, who made them, or how much the textile worker was paid.

I didn’t know the route.

Hi! I’m Jasmin, a lover of style, interested in all things sustainable, and striving every day to leave the world better than when I found it. Through a most serendipitous introduction I became connected to Route and the lovely Christina. I knew I had to be involved from the moment I learned about Route.

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Luckily for me Christina was willing to take a chance—on a friend of a friend—and allow me the privilege of guest blogging for Route! I’ll be here weekly to share my ideas, research, and opinions regarding my continued journey toward ethical and sustainable fashion. I’ll also highlight the incredible steps Route is taking to bring this important movement mainstream and ways for you, our lovely supporters, to join the movement!

A year ago I started my clothing education journey, completely unaware of the impact it would have on my life and the lives of my loved ones. (Thanks for allowing me to get on a soapbox regularly dear loved ones!)

So where did it all begin? Where else but the spot where countless hours, by countless women, have been spent standing in front of an overflowing closet wondering what to wear and yelling “I have nothing to wear!” I was frustrated, exhausted and downright over it when I began questioning why this happens. Why, on a weekly basis I was running late to work, or appointments, or to meet friends? Not getting up early enough? Probably. But also because of an irrational thought that I have ‘nothing to wear’ even in the midst of an overflowing closet of options. I pondered on this notion for days and finally landed on one overarching question I continue to come back to, which is more important: Style or Fashion?

Fashion has evolved from a predictable four season cycle to a revolving door of 52 yearly changes. Style on the other hand is specific to an individual, one who embraces the idea of pushing ever changing fashion trends behind and embarking on a journey that forces the question, “who am I, what makes ME feel good, and what face do I want to present to the world?” What we oftentimes forget is how impactful clothes are to our mood, first impressions and social success, not to even mention the environmental impact.

Style is an identity that does not change week to week but instead is yours and yours alone. This is not to say stylish people are not fashionable, quite the opposite actually, stylish people are the most fashionable, the only difference is, they do not follow trends because they are the trends, they invest in pieces that are flattering on their figures, in line with their personal design, and above all else make them happy!

This important realization gave life to my current clothing education journey.

Right as I found myself exhausted from trying to keep my closet filled with the most on trend looks, I was introduced to The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black, which was conveniently on my family’s coffee table during a weekend visit. I would later learn that my sister had taken an interest in the book at the library and before I knew it I was devouring page after page. My desire to move away from rotating fashion trends, all for very selfish reasons; physical, mental and financial exhaustion, turned into a passion to create social awareness and change surrounding an issue that impacts each and every one of us. I realized my personal style is minimal chic and smothered in sustainability!

I began checking labels,  I began asking…

What if we reevaluated our closets? What if we asked where things come from and who made them? What if we started investing in lasting items and did away with weekly shopping? What if we learned the Route?

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What if we started investing in lasting items and did away with weekly shopping? What if we learned the Route?

To these what if’s I say: it’s a worthwhile challenge. But it is a challenge nonetheless. I have embarked on this journey to answer these questions, to change my relationship with clothes, and to share my newfound passion with others.

All the while let’s remember we are human and we will falter in our efforts to eliminate cheap fashion. We will be tempted by low prices and new fashion trends and occasionally we will cave to a deal too good to pass up.

What is important is when we care about where our products are made and of what quality and what textile, we are making a difference. We are supporting living wages, safe working conditions, and a respect for our environment. If, as often as we can, we know the Route our products have taken to our closets we are already making a difference. We are creating the change we want to see in the world.

Chat next week. With love.

j-sig

Women en Route: Aliyah

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Our social media intern, Kylie, interviewed Aliyah, our summer merchandising intern for our Women en Route series. Here’s what she had to say:
When were you happiest? 
 
I am happiest when I am around Friends & Family, I don’t get much free time in between work and school so when i get that free time to be around them i am happy and at peace.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is not succeeding in life. I work so hard in school making the dean’s list every semester and achieving a 4.0 gpa while working in management at work just so i can shoot for an even higher position when I graduate. I feel that school is important but to have real work experience that relates to your studies is just as important and helps you way more than some think.
What is your earliest memory? 
 
My earliest memory has to be back in fifth grade when i started planning my own clothing line and drawing out garments. From that moment I knew fashion would be my passion and it has not changed to this day.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? 
 
I always wanted to be a fashion designer and design my own clothes. I took several sewing classses, started my own online store and even tailored clothing on the side. After high school I was over fashion design and fell in love with fashion marketing & management.
What is your five year plan? 10 year plan?
 
Five year plan: Continue to work in store management and build my résumé.
Ten year plan: move into corporate and become a buyer for a major retail company.
Who is the biggest influence on you? Why? 
 
My mother. She is my biggest supporter and cheerleader, she pushes me to go after what I want, be fearless and to never give up.
Who is your fashion icon?
 
Pinterest- I literally have two rooms in my house that are closets full of clothes and handbags. I don’t have a particular style, but I do lean towards the casual/ street style look. But, I’ll have an idea of what I want to wear type it into pinterest to give me some inspiration and I go from there.
What would you wear every day if you could?
 
DISTRESSED JEANS! We can’t wear jeans at work so if we could I would because you can’t go wrong with a cute pair of distressed jeans to go with anything, whether you dress it up or down it can make your outfit pop.
Why Steven’s College?
Stephens College was my one & only choice for the simple fact that they were the only school who offered Fashion Marketing and Management. Stephens College School of Design is a top ranked, accredited program that is one of the best in the country. The way the program is set up it allows you to gain so much real world, hands on experience that can give you the right tools to succeed after graduation. Stephens also puts you in front of several industry professionals who you can network with, build relationships with and help pave a way for you in the industry. I love Stephens because of how broad my major is and how my opportunities are endless I can be in store management, visual merchandising, marketing, communications, buying, allocations, planner, styling and so much more!
What is one problem in the world you would spend your whole life fixing?
Equal Opportunity.
Thanks so much Aliyah, we are inspired by you! 

Women en Route: Liz

We met Liz over coffee and tea in her kitchen on a cozy, rainy day with her dog, Olaf. Liz currently works as an emergency room nurse in the city of St. Louis, and also happens to be on the Route board!
Route: What are you currently struggling with?
Questioning the value of employee loyalty is something I am struggling with at the moment. Loyalty was ingrained into my psyche by my mother. “Do your job to the best of your ability, go above and beyond, always be honest” my mother said. As of late I’ve had experiences that make me question whether my employer holds my value to the place where that hold theirs. What am I worth to my employer, am I a dime a dozen? And if the true answer is that I am of little worth, do I continue my level of loyalty regardless? Should I base my work decisions on my selfish gains or the betterment of the business? At a certain point character comes into question and integrity will guide my actions. Perhaps there is a middle ground.
Route: Where do you find your peace?
I find my peace at night lying in bed with my pit-bull Olaf curled next to me, my tea on my coffee stand, and reading material in hand. My competing place of peace is my neighborhood park early in the mornings. Nature has a way of bringing me out of my thoughts and back to the realization I am but a blade of grass in this large fleeting world. I have much to learn and life isn’t all about me.
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Our time with Liz has taught us how to cherish conversation and enjoy quiet moments.  Her confident and caring personality inspires us to enjoy each relationship more.  Her passion for righting wrong and pursuing change keeps us focused everyday.
Thanks, Liz, we are inspired by you!!
xoRoute
P.S. Liz recently started a blog about thoughts on global issues, specifically tailored to women and ethical fashion. Check it out here.

Women en Route: Kendall

Here at Route we get inspired by the stories of other women,  whether it’s a friend, a maker of our products, or even a “celebrity”. It’s so good to know there are other real women out there working for good and passionate about change.
We met Kendall a while back and were inspired by her passion for public health, travel, and ethical fashion.

Route: What is your current job?

I just moved to New York from St. Louis to do my part to help shape the next generation of global leaders as admissions officer for a bridge year program between high school and college.  I just graduated with a masters in public health.  Finding my path has been a continued balanced of hearing and seeing what others are doing around my, and being true to myself. After serving in the Peace Corps, I went to grad school, and then PhD seemed like the next thing to do and I was all set to go, but on my way to a short term summer  work trip in Ghana last summer I just had this feeling that I knew it wasn’t right and PhD school wasn’t going to happen. It was hard but at the same time empowering to consciously make that decision.

Route: What are you currently struggling with?
I’m really struggling on how to maintain a positive work/life balance. I just started working from home as well, so it can be hard when you enjoy your job to know when to turn off. I also wonder why its so hard to make friends as an adult.
Route: What do you find peace with?
I couldn’t live without wine and chats with good friends 🙂
Kendall has been an incredible encourager to the Route team, sending us ethical fashion blogs she reads, having incredible conversation (over wine, of course) and talking about Route at every opportunity.
Thanks, Kendall!
xoRoute