As 2020 comes to a close, I have a lot of thoughts on my attitude toward ethical, sustainable and conscious fashion that I wanted to reflect on further here. This has obviously been a year where all of us have been required to reflect on our place in the world, our values, how we have been living those values and how we contribute (or don’t) to the collective good.
My first reflection, and it is one that I have danced around many times in conversations or in posts here, is that ethical and sustainable fashion isn’t an answer to the world’s problems. I still love ethical fashion and supporting small brands, but my fervor for shopping “ethically” so stringently (like when I first started blogging) has waned significantly. I’ve definitely reduced my consumption by becoming passionate about conscious fashion, but it is obvious that our world has deep systemic problems that can’t be resolved by individual actions, as much as we may want them to. Ethical fashion cannot solve environmental justice, climate change, racial justice, income inequality, or any of the other challenges that are at the forefront of this year.
Because of this realization, I’ve let go of some of the rules I formerly held about my wardrobe. Roughly two years ago, I gave up wearing leather. I felt that action would make a difference for animals and the planet. But without a lot of vegan choices I actually like (especially shoes), I found myself purchasing things, being disappointed in them and then needing to re-sell or donate them and try to find something else. What good is an “ethical” purchase if it still contributes to throwaway culture? There’s really nothing ethical or sustainable about that – it sort of just feels like virtue-signaling. So, I’ve started wearing leather again. I even got two pairs of leather shoes this year – sneakers, and L.L. Bean boots. Ethics is an entire philosophical discipline in and of itself, and to assume I could just assign rules to my closet and be a more “ethical” consumer was shortsighted. I’m letting go of the rules and focusing solely on asking myself “Is this something I believe I will wear for a long time?” And that’s it. That’s the new criteria.
Because of this new way of thinking, I have also shopped from some fast fashion brands this year, which I’ve shared about on Instagram here and there. The promotion of shopping only from ethical brands is inherently classist, and I no longer felt good about prioritizing sharing those brands above all else. Instead, I’m trying to show a mix of clothing items that suit my style and feel like they have longevity in my closet. Sometimes those items are from ethical and sustainable brands, and sometimes they aren’t. But I want to focus primarily on outfit-repeating, sharing what I really love and celebrating my personal style, rather than telling people what to buy to be “ethical.”
I’ve wondered a bit what this means for my blog – does that just make me a “fashion blogger” when being a “sustainable fashion blogger” has been part of my identity for so long? I don’t think so, because I still want to prioritize looking at clothing and life through a sustainability lens, just in a more realistic way.
When it comes to sustainable living, I’ve also made some changes. Blogging and scrolling took up so much of my time previously, but this year I’ve pursued some new hobbies that have been really rewarding. I’m still learning to knit (it doesn’t come easily to me, but I enjoy it), I took some French lessons and I also spent some time decorating parts of our house with secondhand/marketplace finds given all the time we are spending at home. I’m also cooking more at home and reducing food waste, takeout containers and so on.
*Content warning – food & diet*
Speaking of food, I am also starting to shift away from a plant-based diet. This is probably a major disappointment for people who have followed me for that reason. However, I have to do what I feel like is the best thing for my health, and I have to acknowledge that I have developed some weird and controlling habits around food that I need to address. Plus, I have been hungry basically all the time for about a year now, and found I was obsessing over when I would eat next and what I would eat and how much I would eat.
This is disappointing to me as well, because animal welfare is really important to me, but I can’t be much of an advocate for anything if I’m not feeling my best. I still don’t eat meat, but I do on occasion eat things with eggs or dairy in them. I did also eat seafood once this year.
In having alone time this year to reflect on all sorts of things, I realized that I was setting such strict rules for my “sustainable” behavior that it was taking a toll on me, which is a big price to pay when the problems are bigger than me. I do still prioritize vegetarian and plant-based food, but I think this decision will help me live in a more relaxed way and will also eliminate some of the shame I have been feeling about food, and my body.
I know ultimately I don’t need to justify any decision like this, but seeing as plant-based eating has been so important to me over the last couple of years, I felt I needed to be honest about it. I hope people can be supportive and understand my motivations on this.
Overall, I’ve just realized that I need to use my best judgment to make the decisions I feel will have the most positive impact, taking into account society, the environment, and yes – myself.
I want to take part in joyous sustainable living, not behaviors that are rooted in shame of not doing enough, not being sustainable enough, not being ethical enough. I have been really hard on myself over the last few years, and things need to change. I’ve always spoken about not sustainability shaming other people, but it’s time I also don’t sustainability shame myself, either.
I hope 2020 has given you time to reflect too, and the resolve to move ahead in an optimistic and purposeful way.
Karin Emily says
Kellie we are on the same exact page! Right down to the question you now use as your criteria.
Sarah Ellen says
You put to words exactly what I’ve gone through this year. Restricting myself in certain sustainable habits was actually causing more stress both on myself and my bank account. I’ve arrived at the same place, that I’m still passionate about shopping consciously but an item’s versatility and longevity are most important for me and my lifestyle. We may not be able to change the world but I think writing about balance is just as important if we can help shift one person’s mindset towards consumerism!