On minimalism and ethical fashion…

Deep breath, this is a ramble…
It occurred to me the other day that I never really finished up Wardrobe Architect. I mean, I did all the exercises and I started working with the idea of having a capsule wardrobe, etc ect. I did all the work, but I never really posted a conclusion to it. Part of me just wanted to say “oh, I didn’t have time”, but that wasn’t it really. I think more of it was that I’m still doing the work. The project hasn’t ended for me, in fact, in some ways I think it’s really just beginning. Going through Wardrobe Architect introduced me to a lot of new ideas when it came to both my personal style, and to my life and how I want to live it. It gave me focus on concepts that had sort of been floating around in my mind for a while and allowed them to blossom and grow in ways I never thought of.

Specifically, I realized that I wanted to adopt a more minimalist approach when it came to my closet. I can remember so many times in my life when i would clear things out to take to Goodwill and feel sort of overwhelmed at how many bags I had to get rid of, and feel bad that I had taken in so much and wasted all that money for nothing. I was in my 20s, and I worked in retail, and buying clothes all the time was a really tough cycle to break. SO with each exercise I was able to really go back to those years and think about what themes emerged, think about what clothes I always went back to and felt best in, and then concentrate my efforts there.

As a side effect of this, I also became a lot more interested in investing my wardrobe dollars into companies that produce in the USA or are ethically produced elsewhere. I think this is often a side effect of minimalism, wanting less but also wanting better because at our core, we still want things.

I was reading a popular minimalist fashion blog recently and the blogger had, as all bloggers do at some point in their career, posted something that was a little out of character for the blog and caused a huge amount of controversy in the comments, many from readers who were disheartened that the blog didn’t feature more ethically sourced clothing. I do believe that minimalism is all about reducing our consumption footprint on the world, and often the next step in doing that is to buy ethically sourced everything (which, by the way, can be prohibitively expensive, and is not achievable for most people, including me).

You know what? I think most of that is kind of bullshit. You know why? Because I don’t believe minimalism should really focus on consumption at all. I think it should focus on doing the most with what you have, and if what you have isn’t the most ethically produced article of clothing, you shouldn’t go running out to replace it with something that is. For example, I have one pair of jeans that I wear right now. They are from Old Navy, I bought them probably 2 years ago and I will wear them until they fall apart or no longer fit (in fact, I wore them in this blog post). When I replace them, I will try to find a pair made and grown in the US, but I’m not shopping now. I’m working with what I’ve got, even if it was produced under dubious circumstances.

I honestly think that, if you really want to be more mindful about your clothing consumption, you should buy everything second hand. But that has it’s own set of issues doesn’t it? If you buy second hand then you’re not supporting the artisans and union workers who produce clothes now. On the other hands you’re also ensuring that there is less textile waste in the world and that the clothes don’t end up in some third world country where they will undermine local textile economies. In other words, there’s no perfect way to do this. There’s no way to be the perfect minimalist and there’s no way to be the perfect ethical consumer. I think it might be actually impossible to “do no harm”. I think it’s different for everyone.

It’s also a really tough subject to talk about because it can be very polarizing. I think when we try to be ethical consumers, we run into the danger of also becoming self-righteous consumers who want to preach how much better we are because we know the name of the goat our cashmere came from, and I think that’s wrong and it defeats the whole purpose. I do think minimalism and ethical fashion can go hand in hand. I think they can be friends, but I think we should also keep our expectations reasonable. I think we need to avoid throwing stones from our soapboxes when talking to friends and family and complete strangers on the Internet about the benefits of minimalism and ethical consumption. I want to be encouraging and inclusive, not exclusive and snobby.

Listen, I could go on for hours and hours about this topic, and I will revisit it many times over the coming year, in hopes that we can have a discussion about it. When I finished the Wardrobe Architect exercises I did get rid of a lot of my closet, but not all of it. In fact, the majority of my closet now is pre-WA pieces, and as I feature these pieces on the blog alongside my newer American made and ethically made pieces. In other words, I hope the ethical fashion squad doesn’t show up and arrest me for continuing to wear J. Crew, and in turn, I hope this blog inspires you to make the most of what you have, and not the most of what you haven’t yet acquired.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “On minimalism and ethical fashion…

  1. I totally agree with you on the “use what you have” mantra. In a perfect world I would love to throw my whole closet out and start from scratch to build a wardrobe made from small-run, hand-crafted clothing studios. But you know what- I just don’t have the money! And it would be a waste of the perfectly good clothing I still have. On the other hand, I currently have two pairs of Gap jeans that I have patched on the inside in the thigh area with iron-on patches (yeah… My thighs rub together and I get holes there every pair of jeans I own. It’s embarassing and totally annoying.) I’m holding out and trying to save my money to buy a pair of Imogene and Willie jeans. I’m hoping they are made of a higher quality denim and won’t wear out as fast. And if I spend that much on one pair of jeans I will probably have… one pair of jeans lol. I do admire the raw denim movement because it seems like wearing your jeans until they fall apart is a badge of honor. And it’s certainly less wasteful! Anyway- very interesting topic and it seems like we could go on forever talking about it! 🙂

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