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.

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Partner Spotlight: An Interview with Katie of Elegantees

My ideal top is one I can move around in without showing skin, needs no special bra, and one I don’t regret wearing three hours into work. It needs to make me look great and be versatile enough to fit with different jewelry and bottom sets. In addition to being captivating, versatile, and comfortable, I’d also like my top to save women’s lives.

Almost sounds too good to be true. Enter Elegantees.

Let us reintroduce you to the beautiful cotton clothing designed for the everyday woman who is socially conscious and loves to look good. This October I had the opportunity to speak with the founder of Elegantees, Katie Martinez, to get an idea of how she came up with this genius company and how it works.  We talked style and the holiday rush and what that means to her company.

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Tell us more about the concept behind the beauty in your more conservative fashion pieces. How does your clothing reflect the models and the everyday consumer purchasing Elegantees?

I designed Elegantees because shopping was hard. I needed tops that were pretty and comfortable, and with proper coverage. Having spent my life both on a farm in Iowa, and in the Fashion District of New York City, I’ve seen two extremes in the way women dress. A common approach is to avoid fashion altogether and wear the same tee and jeans or leggings daily. The other extreme is to place so much emphasis on fashion that it becomes an identity. Elegantees is for the woman who seeks to find a balance between fashion and life, with a tee that looks like more than a tee.

Our aim is to break away from the unrealistic standards of beauty. I believe that ideal beauty is an expression of something that comes from the inside. When a woman takes care of herself, and others with kindness, she’s at the height of beauty. True beauty is in being clothed in strength and dignity.

What does it mean to your business when people choose to do their holiday shopping with you? Specifically, what will it mean this 2017 season?

It means a lot! Holiday shopping sustains our operations, and provides for my family and our nonprofit partner. Revenue from the Elegantees sewing center funds rescue operations at one of the border stations at Nepal-India. Each border station rescues two to three thousand victims each year. The sewing center provides full time work for 17 people, most of them are women. I want to hire 3 more seamstresses by end of this year. If we hit a certain number in sales, it will happen. We are normally slower in the summer months, so being able to set aside that cash reserve as savings will ensure nobody gets laid off.

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Katie with her beautiful daughter in Elegantees!

Holiday shopping is not just about gift giving for the new and growing companies that Route partners with.  Your purchase from them can make huge and lasting growth happen in their business – often in the form of more employment for people who need it the most.

We have LOVED getting to know Katie and her staff as we have worked with them and watched their growth.  Consider including an Elegantees purchase in your holiday gift giving to help make their goals and dreams for their company come true!

Happy Ethical Shopping!

Love,

Liz, Christina and the Route Team

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.

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A Collective Creative Process

I do not consider myself a creative person, and certainly not artistic in anyway.  I DESPERATELY need the help of photographers, writers and designers to help create our brand.  Each individual person has their own personal creative process.  Some sit in a quiet room, some play loud music, others prefer to be outside.  It’s usually a space, sometimes a time of day and may or may not include caffeine or certain foods.  The creative process seems to require this lovely combination of physical, mental and emotional details to really flow.

Until recently I’ve learned about this only second hand.  We started doing model photo shoots a few years ago, it is so much fun to find beautiful places in our city and reveal an entire clothing line to the photographer and models in beautiful spaces.  Model shoots are the first time I have experienced diving into the creative process.  What I love most about our shoots, is that it’s the creative process happening in community.  A communal creativity.  When it works, it is easily the most inspiring and energizing experience I have ever had.

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We spent the morning laughing, exploring, talking, creating and making beautiful photography.  Through the process we felt connected, uplifted and in general walked away saying over and over again “that was so much fun”.  IMG_8563

How do you create?  When and where and with whom?

Route is about not just purchasing consciously, but living consciously.  Being aware and watching for those precious moments of connection with other humans, enjoying and valuing and sharing life with them.  I LOVE that the route of connection today for us was a communal creativity.  SO FUN.

Happy creating.

Much love,

Christina

Why Swap Clothing?

I often have clothing I no longer wear and struggle with what to do with it. I never mind donating things to resellers, but have read so many accounts over the years of clothing that gets donated being thrown away. Somehow between consumers and businesses, in the U. S. alone, we dispose of 15 million tons of clothing waste a year. Most of which is synthetic and synthetic fibers take 100s of years to decompose. Only 15% of consumer pre-used clothing is recycled or reused, the rest of what we give away ends up in a landfill.

 

So, let’s buy less, buy recycled (Tonle, one of our partner groups works with only recycled fabrics), buy natural fibers AND on Sunday, SWAP what we don’t want anymore for something someone else has that we do want.

While we are at it, we’ll make it a party and offer some new clothing to purchase to pair with what is used. Hopefully, this will be really fun way to move our wardrobes and our clothing garbage in a more conscious direction. Link for event details and tickets is here.

Here is how it will work:

  1. Choose 5 to 10 pieces from your closet that you want to get rid of, any size, any season, but only women’s clothing, jewelry or accessories.
  2. Bring all of them to the Clothing Swap
  3. When you arrive you will be asked to put a label with your name on any clothing that you would want returned when you are done. If you have items that you’d like us to dispose of, we will do that in the most ethical way that we can find.
  4. We will organize your clothing by size on our racks.
  5. The swapping will begin 45 minutes after our event starts (so at 4:45).   While you wait please feel free to shop our vendors that are joining us.
  6. At 4:45 you are welcome to walk around and choose 5-10 pieces of your own to take home with you.

We will be “shopping” on the honors system. If you see something and want it, take it but please do not take more than the number of items you brought. If someone is holding something, it is off limits. Let’s abide by some basic rules, treat each other the way you would be treated and know that this is just for fun to find a new happy home for our stuff and hopefully get a great piece or two that we will wear in return.

Can’t wait to see you there and talk about swapping, reselling and all things ethical fashion.

Much love,

Christina

 

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! 

Resources We Rely On

I got into a great conversation this weekend with a friend about how to know which companies we buy from are ethical or not AND what harm we are causing with our purchasing. A fitting question as we celebrate Independence Day this week.

Continue reading “Resources We Rely On”

Love What You Own

Post by our content marketing intern, Kylie McCalmont, a sophomore at the University of Missouri.

Sometimes less is best. With shelves of shoes and closets packed to the brim, I sometimes ask myself if I even wear a fifth of what bulges outside of my closet on a daily basis. Maybe if I condensed what I have to what I wear, I could truly focus on loving what I have – and maybe save myself a few trips during my next move. This idea prompted me to explore some of what other people love, and figure out why the articles have so much meaning. So I asked a few girlfriends to help me out.

Whether it’s because of a memory or it was just a fun purchase, these women from the University of Missouri share their favorite purchases and why they’re so special to them.

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Aubri Kaiser, Megan Mckeough, Isabel Charter and Madi Mckeough proudly pose with their favorite articles of clothing. (Left to Right)

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Aubri Kaiser clutches her uncle’s hand-me-down green flannel that she pairs with her favorite t-shirts and stretchy leggings.

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Megan Mckeough flaunts her cozy H-Town tee that lets her proudly represent her hometown all the way in Missouri.

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Isabel Charter flaunts her fuzzy sweatshirt that matches perfectly with some tattered jeans or soft sleeping shorts.

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Madi Mckeough shows off her trendy cactus skirt that she purchased from a cute boutique in Houston to pair with a snuggly sweater or a summer tank.

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Check out our website to find your special piece and read about our wonderful partners that produce ethical items.

Our Website: https://www.shoproute.org