Elizabeth Stilwell Elizabeth Stilwell blogs about sustainability at The Note Passer.

Elizabeth Stilwell: “Adjusting my mindset necessarily led to changes in my shopping patterns”

Being a consumer today comes with a larger-than-ever responsibility. We need to ask ourselves: "How can I adjust my way of shopping—and thinking—to achieve a more sustainable fashion consumption?". Elizabeth Stilwell, creator of The Note Passer, has given this quite a bit of thought.

”I see you on the billboard; I look away.
I see you in the magazine; I flip past.
I see you on the subway train,
between images and tweets,
on the edges of websites,
chipping away at my subconscious and my willpower,
one commodified impression at a time.
Just do it®, you say, and now I think I want you.
Do I really or did your content marketing strategy work on your target audience: Me?
Do I need this?
Could I rent it? Lease it?
Does it already exist second hand,
here, here, here, here, here, or here
waiting patiently for serendipity to strike?
No? Ok, slow down.
Being Misguided® starts at $8.
But what’s the true cost of this garment I want so dearly? Is it worth the price?
What’s it made out of?
Petroleum? Animal products? The fabric of our lives®?
What will touch and absorb into my skin?
Pesticides, dyes, perfluorinated chemicals, solvents, heavy metals and what else?
If the residual is dangerous for me, what about the people who processed the fiber, dyed, cut, sewed, and finished it?
Did solvents sting their eyes, burn their skin or enter their lungs?
Do the chemicals and dyes persist in their environment, in their water?
Whose hands touched this garment as it made its way into being?
Did she work in a safe environment, free from harassment and danger?
Or did she eye the cracks in the floor and up the wall, weighing her life against her income?
Was she paid fairly?
Enough to afford healthcare, a place to live, to eat, to send her children to school?
Was she oppressed for asking for a union, more rights or more pay?
Will I even wear this garment 30 times?
Will it play nicely with other items in my closet?
Considering its material makeup, what will the garment’s end-of-life likely be?
Recycled? Downcycled? Composted?

So, do you want it?

« As I learned more about the unsustainable and unethical fashion industry, I mindfully extracted myself from thoughtless consumerism and interrogated my purchases »

As I learned more about the unsustainable and unethical fashion industry, I mindfully extracted myself from thoughtless consumerism and interrogated my purchases. I learned about the unsafe conditions workers exist in, how capitalism chases profits and exploits people all over the world, and how pollution is outsourced to the lowest bidder, hitting marginalized communities the hardest. I learned wasteful obsolescence is woven into the fashion industry. Consumers, manipulated by advertisers and influencers, follow trend waves that leave piles of unloved (even unworn) clothes in their wake.

Adjusting my mindset necessarily led to changes in my shopping patterns. Taking the time to consider all of these issues had the side effect of slowing down my consumption (and saving me money). We can try to be educated consumers, but the supply chain of most brands is still so opaque, I don’t believe we can always make a truly ethical or sustainable choice. However, there are accessible ways to quickly lower your impact when it comes to fashion. If you can’t afford “ethical” brands (or the time to search for them), buy second hand. If you don’t have time to source second hand, but still can’t afford much, look for quality natural fabrics and keep the item as long as possible. Think of mending as a radical act against unsustainable consumerism — we can all learn to do it.

While we can’t always answer all of these questions, the thought experiment helps center value over yearning, making for more sustainable consumption and a better fashion future.”

 

Elizabeth is a freelance writer, designer, and illustrator based in NYC. She is the web editor at Selva Beat Magazine, as well as a co-founder of the Ethical Writers Coalition and Harlem Undressed. She uses her blog, The Note Passer, to nerd out on sustainability. 

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