If the Paris climate talks have you feeling like you want to take personal action towards a sustainable environmental future, but don’t know where to start, consider your closet. Every dollar you spend supports an institution of some kind, and I wore only slow and recycled fashion for one week to show it’s possible to escape the environmentally, socially, and economically unsustainable fast fashion industry and still rock my personal style.
“Today 98 percent of people working in the apparel industry are not receiving a living wage," Maxine Bédat, founder of Zady slow fashion e-commerce site and clothing line, tells me. She adds, "25 percent of chemicals used worldwide are from our clothing, and 1/3 of all air pollution in China also comes from our clothing.” The good news? One informed purchase at a time, we can change that reality.
Before I show you how I pulled this off for a week, I want to break down the terms fast fashion, slow fashion, and recycled fashion. According to journalist Elizabeth L. Cline, fast fashion is "consumer products based on rapid changes in fashion that are engineered by corporations at great cost to the environment and human rights."
Zady founders Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat alternatively explain slow fashion as "a complete approach to retail that respects the environment, human capital, [and] the longevity of a product." Lastly, recycled fashion falls under the slow fashion concept in a different way. It's a step back from the fast fashion cycle not through purchasing new sustainably sourced items, but through thrifting, clothes-swapping with others, and the occasional Lorde-style dumpster dive.
And full disclosure: I don't own slow fashion shoes or lingerie yet, but thought it would defeat the purpose of this article to buy things I don't yet need. When they wear out, though, I certainly intend to make responsible, informed purchases. Transitioning to a sustainable slow and recycled fashion wardrobe doesn't have to happen overnight. It's all about taking it one purchase, swap, and dive at time.
Here's what happened when I dressed in only slow and recycled fashion for one week.
Off to a meeting in Manhattan in my first outfit, which included:
- The Boyfriend Button-Up from Zady's Essential Collection (It features organic cotton, mother of pearl buttons, and zero synthetics, toxic dyes, or pesticides!)
- Black leggings and a knit purse from the Crossroads on Market Street in San Francisco
Organic cotton is worth the price. Maxine Bédat shares with me, "Polyester, a plastic material made of crude oil [that's] now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing, takes more than 200 years to decompose [and] nearly 70 million barrels of oil are needed to make the world’s polyester fiber each year." Yowza.
Trekkin to one of my favorite coffee spots in town, Brooklyn Roasting Co, wearing:
- Women's Short Sleeve Raglan in Distilled Olive from JungMaven (It's made from a mix of sustainably sourced hemp and organic cotton.)
- Hand-me-down tights from my sister
- White lace shorts from a thrift store in Seoul's Gwanjang Market in the Jongo district
As shared on JungMaven, hemp "is a natural fiber that’s cultivated with low impact on the environment. It requires no irrigation, uses no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds." Nifty, no?
Out to catch a train for drinks with my girls and rocking:
- The Sweater in Charcoal from Zady's Essential Collection
- Black jeans from a dumpster in Portland, OR #NoShameInMyDumpsterGame
Want to know something awesome? You can follow the Zady sweater's entire journey from Imperial Stock Ranch in Shaniko, OR all the way to your doorstep.
After a full day of nanny life (the glorious source of additional funds for this freelancer), I was feeling super grateful for the comfy things I had on, including:
- Vintage shirt and black dress from Silverlake Farmers Market in Los Angeles
- Those same hand-me-down tights
- That same San Fran thrift knit bag
I was a little annoyed to already be wearing these tights again, but they're my only recycled fashion pair! I realized a little frustration was well worth it, as Bédat says, "More than 150 billion garments are produced every year [and] Americans alone throw away 65-70 lbs of clothing each year." That's nearly half of what's produced each year hitting the garbage.
Adjusting to wearing the same things more frequently is definitely a shift from the "I always need something new" mindset, but I am building a wardrobe of pieces I love, not pieces I'll wear once and then toss in the trash.
Farmer's market day at Union Square! Girl's gotta hustle to get any scones from Body and Soul vegan bake shop. I wore:
- Denim Racer Front Dress from Pima Doll
- The Sweater in Charcoal from Zady's Essential Collection (again)
- My Park Slope Food Co-Op Bag
What I super love about Pima Doll is that the pieces are made primarily from sustainable Pima cotton in Peru and handmade by local female artisans who are able to support themselves.
The added bonus of Pima Doll sourcing from Peru means I'm not wearing clothing from a country with a coal-based power grid. What does that mean? Bedat explains, "The top two countries for fashion is China and Bangladesh. Both of these countries rely heavily on coal, the fossil fuel for their power supply. These factories are plugged into that coal supplied grid pumping out all that [fast fashion] clothing."
Is Saturday made for anything but top knots and big sweaters? I think not, which is why my Saturday wardrobe included:
- Grey Chunky Knit Sweater from Zady's Essential Collection
- That same black dress from Silverlake
- Those same hand-me-down tights (double again)
My first thought on Saturday was a note to self to get more slow fashion tights at some point. My second thought was just an immense wave of gratitude for how stupid cozy this sweater is and the fact that I know it came from workers receiving fair wages in safe conditions and animals receiving loving care. For details, you can check out the whole sweater process here.
If Saturday is made for cozy sweaters and top knots, Sunday means sweaters that are basically like wearing a blanket and whole (no shower yet) bun. I snuggled up with my pals in Astoria for tea wearing:
- Hand-me-down sweater from my dad
- Pair of jeans I got from a clothing-swap party with friends
- Vintage dress from Seoul's Gwanjang Market
This is one my favorite outfits of all time ever, because I love every single piece and they each come with a special story and memory attached them. A factor in slow fashion, too, is really cultivating a wardrobe that (in the words of Marie Kondo) "sparks joy."
Was dressing in only slow and recycled fashion this week easy? Yes and no. It's definitely still a bit of an adjustment for me to re-wear several things so frequently, but I've also been "slow fashionizing" my wardrobe for awhile now and still had plenty of options.
If you think it's too expensive or impossible to try to gradually overhaul your wardrobe, remember you will be investing in pieces that become treasures, not trash. What could be better than that?