Sustainable fashion was an interest of mine long before it had a snazzy, hashtag-worthy name. Back in the day, it was called plain old thrifting, and I loved it for purely selfish reasons.
In fact, I can remember my first time.
The thrill of it. I was 14, wandering around NYC on my own because my father is a mad Frenchman and let me loose on peaceable Murray Hill. I remember the dusty smells of the thrift store, the furtive folks rifling through racks, and the first time I felt real velvet, clutched tight in my grimy paw. The catch at my heart. The pure, unadulterated delight, as I made the discovery that I could afford luxury items. Fabulous, heeled shoes. Real leather purses and tailored jackets that should have been far out of my Contempo Casual budget.
I can even remember what I purchased that day: a dark blue velvet jacket with frog closures. An exquisitely draped red Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, one little ink spot marring the bodice.
I don't know where I thought I was going to wear these purchases, mind you. I was a teen, living in the Deep South! My native New Yorker mother had, and has, a thing for hiking the Blue Ridge, but me and my interest in fashion were in exile down there except for vacations when I visited my dad.
All it took to get voted "Most Unique" my Freshman year of high school was wearing that deep blue velvet jacket. That was all it took to qualify me. Actually, I sort of did it on purpose on voting day. At first, I wanted to be noticed. Later I didn't. I learned it was not a compliment for a girl to earn that superlative, although it was for boys.
The boy who won "Most Unique" with me that year, also won "Class Clown". I'm still not that funny. Well, not on purpose, but I'm happy to say that I'm not afraid anymore to put together clothes that make me feel unique and happy.
It was only much later, while living in Soho that my interest in thrifting slowly turned into an issue of deeper concern. I began noticing how quickly trends were coming & going, and how insane the stampedes of shoppers looked up and down Broadway. At the same time, thrifting had a new, more polished monicker: sustainable fashion. As it turned out, it wasn't simply a selfish practice: I was saving the world! Fashion, as I came to learn from following other sustainable fashion bloggers, is the SECOND BIGGEST POLLUTER of the planet after big oil. Americans on average toss 65 lbs. of textiles away. Producing ONE t-shirt, just one, uses up THREE YEARS of human drinking water. Let's not even get into what it takes to make a pair of jeans. (Or let's. TEN YEARS. A decade of fresh water to produce enough cotton to make just one pair in that pile of thrifted jeans stuffed at the back of my closet.)
The good news is there are some extremely easy ways to make changes now!
1. Extend the life of your garments.
Mend your shirts. Find a cobbler or a tailor. Don't toss your clothes! Even making a small effort to wear your clothes longer, hugely cuts down on landfill waste. Super easy, see?
2. Dry Your Clothes on a Line or a Drying Rack or Tumble At Low Heat
I've been doing this anyway, because I think it helps my clothes (and my children's clothes) last longer. I only dry my husband's undershirts and our sheets and towels, but avoiding high heats has even more ready benefits:
"According to Well Dressed?, about 60% of the energy used in the life cycle of a cotton T-shirt is related to postpurchase washing and drying at high temperatures; transportation constitutes only a small portion of the energy profile to produce a cotton product. As for whether it is better to buy locally produced garments, the report argues that this approach would cut severely into the livelihood of peoples in developing countries where the products are now being manufactured."
3. Donate Your Old Clothes, Don't Throw Them Out!
Again, Americans toss out 65 lbs of textiles a year; that's not even taking into account sheets and curtains. Plus, donating can lead to other fun things, too. I brought three bags to Impact Thrift Stores in Montgomeryville, PA last night after taking my daughter to see Beauty & the Beast (the reason for the Belle doll clutched in her little hands above). I ended up finding several beautiful picture frames for about $15 total and a brand-new pair of children's size 12 UGG lace-up boots that both my daughter and son will be able to wear! You never know what you'll find. It's like a treasure hunt.
4. Wash Your Clothes Only When Necessary
See! I told you these are easy! This one will make your life even easier, and if you're a mommy like me, it will also erase those pre-feminist, lingering feelings of guilt. "Hey, I'm not being a lazy mommy by avoiding the piles of laundry in the basement! I'm saving the world!"
b. I also turned one of my baskets into an alterna-laundry basket. Clothes I've worn but that seem okay to wear again go in there. It's harder with my baby, but I've been able to do the same with my potty-trained toddler.
5. Choose the Right Detergent
We use Mrs. Meyers, and it's available everywhere. Even at Target!
"This is a very important step in avoiding environmental pollution. This is a difficult step since companies are not required to list the ingredients on the container. Some of the harmful ingredients are surfactant nonylphenol ethoxylate or NPE, phosphates and bleach. In order to avoid these ingredients start by choosing detergents without dyes, such as those recommended for washing baby clothes. If its gentle enough for a baby, its likely to be gentle enough for the Earth. Some eco-friendly detergents I found during research were Seventh Generation, Biokleen, Planet, Method and Ecos. Remember to take into consideration the water temperature as another step in sustainability. Whenever possible, use cold water. There are detergents especially designed for cold water like Tide Free for Coldwater. You will save energy and money on your bill. For optimum savings try making your own detergent by adding baking powder or vinegar to your water."
That's it for now. See? SUPER easy way to be the Earth's superheroes. (Sorry, my toddler is obsessed with superheroes right now.) Thanks for reading this far. Now for the fun stuff!
As promised here are the winners of my new blog's bag & book giveaway.
Bag #1: Vintage Italian Leather Satchel
To Erica at The Simple Chic Brunette!
Bag #2: Vintage Backpack
Bag #3: Tylie Malibu Crossbody
To Marci Reid!
Congratulations again, guys! DM me your address whenever you have the chance, and I'll send the bags & a copy of my book your way.
Thrifted Outfit Details:
Secondhand Self-Portrait dress from www.Tradesy.com, secondhand Swedish Hasbeens boots from https://greenestreetstores.com/, vintage necklace from a shop on 8th Street & Avenue A in the East Village, Consigned Celine bag from www.ebay.com, secondhand Elizabeth and James ring from Tradesy
*Names generated by a random name generator.
For a while after the election, every morning I'd thumb through the news, absorbing one shocking story after another, until they merged into one huge, overwhelming ball of bad vibes. I knew I had to make a change in my life to combat how helpless I felt, and that's part of what this blog is about. However, in that time, one piece, an obit, stuck with me, even though I hadn't heard of the French designer Emmanuelle Khanh before her death. (It's sad how often that happens!)
Emmanuelle Khanh, whose name caught my eye first, resonating as it does with a postcolonial, global vibe, was famous for reinvigorating fashion in the '60s. Her specialty was quirky, wearable clothes for young women. Not only was she ahead of her time, freeing women from the ongoing rigidity of girdles (boo Spanx!), but she was already aware of a creeping modern malignancy: disposable, cheap trends.
What she said that stuck with me was this:
“In the 1960s and ’70s, it really was all about ready-to-wear, clothes designed with women in mind, because there hadn’t been anything like it before,” Ms. Khanh told the magazine L’Express in 2016, when she sold her private collection at a vintage-clothing auction. “In the ’80s and ’90s, it was ‘ready to show’ — runway fashion. In the 2000s, it’s ‘ready to throw away’ — you buy it to wear it for one season, and that’s it.”
Ready to throw away.
If you think about it, that phrase is almost the foundation of our modern culture. For example, before the blizzard hit last week, I made a semi-reluctant trip to Target to stock up on essentials for me and the toddlers. I actually found some great DIY and art projects that occupied us very nicely through the biblical plague visited upon us-- whoever heard of a snowstorm so loud it kept us awake all night, hailing and icing!! While I was standing in the long line of freaked out Philadelphians, waiting to check out, I paged through StyleWatch Magazine. My eyes lit on this passage:
It sent a chill down my spine.
We must stop normalizing a culture that uses 400 gallons (2700 liters) of fresh water to make ONE t-shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink for 900 days! Almost three years of drinking water that we're planning to throw away BEFORE WE EVEN BUY IT. Jeans are even worse. They require almost 4 times that amount of water to grow enough cotton to produce a pair. ONE pair requires 1,800 gallons of water. That's more than a decade of drinking water, and I don't know about you, but I have so many jeans I couldn't wear them all in a month. (Most of mine are from Housing Works, Life, Vintage, and Thrift, etc., but still.)
We have to stop normalizing the concept that we can just keep making more of the stuff we already have, while throwing out 65 lbs of textiles every year! (What the average American throws away without including other textiles like sheets and bedding.)
Rant over. Sorry. Here's the good news.
The good news is that an awareness is growing, and since we have a lot of stuff already, changing shouldn't be that hard.
Reusing, recycling, thrifting, upcycling, sharing, giving away, trading, donating.
Those are all easy, quick ways to make a huge difference in terms of your personal footprint. But... we need to do our part to help the concept catch on, because we have been conditioned for a while to think new is better than old. For example, the same day I made that Target run, I stopped into Millay Vintage, where I found the beautiful, sustainably-designed and produced dress I'm wearing in the first picture along with the vintage cashmere shawl. I got to chatting with the owner and mentioned I was starting a sustainable fashion blog. Inserting my foot in my mouth, I then mentioned an observation, that I haven't noticed a lot of interest in thrifting or vintage in Philly compared with New York-- the city where I'm originally (kind of) from.
Millay Vintage is a beautiful shop, like an exquisite little boudoir of some sci-fi geek's idea of a time travelling femme fatale from the 1930s, stopping in the '90s, and remaining in 2016. I apologized profusely for my faux pas.
"No, it's okay," the owner said. "It's true. A lot of my clientele seem to be from New York."
I think that's a good sign, actually. New York City has tended to be America's trendsetter, and if it's cool in New York, I guarantee you it will be cool soon enough elsewhere. For my part, putting all these pieces together, I realized the reason Emmanuelle Khanh's words stuck with me is because they align so closely with my own feelings on the subject. I want to continue her legacy. I both love fashion and loathe fashion's footprint. I want to help redefine what a cool girl is just as Emmanuelle herself did, and I think a cool girl should be a sustainable one, not a trendy one. As Coco Chanel said anyway, "Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman." Dressing well, shouldn't be dressing in the latest disposable trends.
Doesn't that make us disposable in a sense as well?
In that spirit, I'm giving away a bunch of my own things, donating them and sponsoring this gently used bag (and my book!!) giveaway here and on Instagram. To enter simply follow @IsabellaMDavid on Instagram and comment either here (mentioning which bag you're interested in 1,2, or 3) or under one of the pictures on my IG!
Outfit & Giveaway Details
Giveaway 1: vintage Italian leather satchel with crossbody strap. Kelly Love dress and vintage shawl from Millay Vintage in Philadelphia.
Giveaway 2: vintage black leather backpack with extra side pockets and a drawstring closure. Marc Jacobs blazer from Shop Greene Street in Manayunk, Swedish Hasbeens Boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Celine micro bag from eBay (not for giveaway yet, sorry!)
Giveaway 3: Tylie Malibu fringe, crossbody bag from Buffalo Exchange in the East Village, Hasbeen Swedish boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Paige jeans from Twice As Nice in Ridgefield, CT
French-American dual citizen on a green journey, making a Paris out of Philly or a Philly out of Paris, depending on the day.