Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Image taken by Ayra Matondang
THEBIGGERPICTURE (Jakarta) — In early 2019, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a sustainable clothing haul.
Intrigued, I clicked and watched it... and watched some more videos with related topics. Then, I read articles and went through websites dedicated to conscious shopping. With that, I discovered a forum of people trying to make better choices in terms of their fashion purchases. At that point, fashion and shopping probably meant more to me than the average person. I saw it as an extension of my identity and a representation of my thoughts. Superficial as it seems, it was a tool for me to tread upon the world with my own armour of choice. However, the revelation made me evaluate my values and the bigger picture of my actions. How does my comfort and empowerment weigh against the ethical and environmental externalities of its production? How should I feel knowing the clothes that I purchase and the company I’m supporting in effect, goes against my own values? That they profit from the exploitation of humans and the environment in order to keep a huge profit margin? That I am loud on other human rights issues and pushing others to use less plastic but still buying clothes from the fast fashion industry?
Further solidifying my views on the issue was a 2015 documentary called the “The True Cost” directed by Andrew Morgan. In The True Cost Morgan examines the garment industry, specifically the fast fashion business, and links it to consumerism, globalisation, capitalism, structural poverty, and oppression. For me, the effect of the documentary was heavy and at that point I knew that I had to make personal changes in choices that were previously done mindlessly.
To start off, I planned to decrease my fast fashion consumption by budgeting how many pieces I would buy in a month. No matter how motivated I am to quit from buying these clothes, it was still a big change that I was scared of doing as it is an impactful part of my life. Thankfully, as I actually went through my plan, it was much easier than I expected it to be. By the second month or so, I found that I didn't even glance at shops such as Forever 21 and H&M when going to the mall. In effect, I had to be mindful of where I shop now and there are questions I ask myself when I feel the need to buy clothes; questions like, “Do I actually need this? Am I really going to wear it? Can I substitute this with something I already have?” These questions, while seemingly annoying, helps give a perspective of the kind of clothes you want to own.
While trying to restructure my shopping habits, I found out about the “The Buyerarchy of Needs” which is a fun adaptation of Maslow’s “The Hierarchy of Needs”, a motivational theory in psychology. This progression helped me understand which choices are better in terms of the impacts I’m making through owning these clothes. To give an example, repairing clothes to extend its period of usage would prevent me from always buying new ones which production depletes the environment and sustains unethical working standards in the process. I wanted to share some ways I have worked with each step of the pyramid.
Use What You Have
Image courtesy of South China Morning Post
When you start wanting to be more sustainable in terms of clothing, there is a certain shame in wearing brands you don’t support anymore. However, throwing them away simply because of such a reason is even more harmful. Extend their period of usage and make sure that they do not end up in landfills. If they are still in a considerable condition, donate it to your local orphanage or even give it to relatives whose size matches the clothing. There are so many ways to ensure that they would be used well, even after you cannot personally wear them anymore.
It’s also a great idea to have closet cleanouts. Be aware of items you have, especially ones you have not worn and are sitting in the back of your closet. They might be something that you loathed a few years ago but would definitely wear now. I mean, vintage is coming back!
Image courtesy of Carl Alvoir
If you have siblings (no matter the gender), chances are there are clothing items they have that you would want to wear. While not everything they have is reflective of your personal style, combing through them to check out what they have would make you feel like you have a wider range of clothes that can be worn. You can also do this with your parents. Additionally, if you have friends that you are close enough with to lend clothes too, it’ll feel like you have multiple wardrobes at once without actually buying the items!
I came across this when I saw online thrift shops welcoming trades of items they have. Even if you want to acquire clothing, you don’t necessarily have to find another clothing to swap it with. It can be books, accessories, artworks and more. It all depends on you and the opposite party (personally, I’ve traded my handmade earrings with my friend’s own handmade earrings!).
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Thrifting has now become a mainstream lifestyle choice for a lot of youth and I am so happy for it! While I cannot say the same for all countries, in Indonesia, a lot of physical thrifting spots offer cheaper prices, although they don’t always guarantee the most comfortable thrifting experience. However, ones that most of us prolly engage with more are online thrift shops. While still affordable, they offer higher prices than physical thrift shops because they have been curated and sorted out by the owners before entering the market.
Image courtesy of 34th Street Magazine
Based on my personal experience, you can commission local seamstresses around your neighborhood to create an item that you like but you don’t want to buy. This allows you to pick your own fabric, material and have the size adjusted to your body size, allowing you to (hopefully) wear it more often. I've done this method several times and am always happy with the result. It also takes people by surprise if I tell them that I got a piece commissioned when they ask me where I got something from.
Additionally, if you are skillful with your hands, you can always repurpose old clothes into more wearable styles or create something out of scrap materials. There are thousands of videos that detail how to sew, D.I.Y and make repairs online which will definitely help you if you decide to learn more about the skill.
Image courtesy of Kris Atomic
If you choose to buy as a last resort, try to focus on sustainable brands that minimise their negative environmental impacts in the process of production and maintain a code of ethical conduct with their workers. These brands are, frankly, expensive. Largely due to the reason that they are usually done in an alternative way from the bigger portion of the fashion industry. There are also plenty of resources online that detail which brands can be listed as sustainable. One of which is called “Good on You”, a website and app that rates multiple brands on their transparency, how they treat their workers and environmental impacts. They also publish articles that you usually see in other fashion websites about what to wear on certain occasions or whether, however, all of the clothes that they highlight are sustainable.
Photo by Ayra Matondang
Another option is buying from local brands, that while do not label themselves as sustainable, are better choices than buying from big, international companies. By buying from these brands, you are supporting small and local businesses, supporting the local creative industry and providing for the livelihood for the workers that most likely are working in the country the brand is based from. These brands also usually produce in a smaller scale, to avoid excess product, therefore you can be sure none of their product will go to landfills when they do not sell.
With that, I would like to conclude my take on conscious shopping and what I’ve done to be a better consumer. Please do note that I did not intend for this article to be informative in terms of what sustainable fashion is but more on how you can be a better shopper. Not to mention a lot of articles and videos exist with such purpose and done in a way more extensive than I could do now. I also would like to highlight the issue of classism in engaging in sustainable fashion acknowledging the privilege I have to be able to make these changes. Again, I wanted to share what I have come across to be helpful and I fully understand that others’ situations and resources might not always grant them full mobility of making these changes even if they want to.