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
I'm the first to understand, and sympathize with, the fatigue that follows trying to care. In fact, when you see the block of text below, you might feel fatigued even trying to wade through why I care. If you read the whole thing and comment, I promise I will buy you a present. I swear to God. (You can tell I'm a mother, ha. Anyway...)
Yes, I have two toddlers, one of who is still semi-in diapers. My life is often magical, but more often exhausting. I don't want to care, either. Not right now. Not about anything besides keeping my children clean and fed, an overwhelming task on the best of days. (There's a reason the book You Have to Fucking Eat is a bestseller.) I kept thinking caring is a lifestyle I could ill afford at the moment. Then, everything changed November 9. Actually, I wrote an essay before the election, imagining what it would feel like if Trump won. It was published here. It feels worse.
I need to care. I have to care. It's the only thing that's making me feel better and keeping despondency at bay.
However, caring, especially in a Trump/ semi-trained toddler presidency, is exhausting and complicated. I get it. It's hard to unravel the lies; they go so deep and so many public figures are implicated. In fact, when I was in the rough-draft-in-my-head imagining phase of writing this post, I was going to write something entirely different from this post you're reading now. I was going to write about how caring didn't have to be hard! You could enjoy pretty things like this Lady Danger lipstick by M.A.C. cosmetics and still care about the world, tra la la!
However, like I said, the second you really do care, you also realize how complicated caring is. When I began to research this post, the one I'd been imagining writing, the one whose title came to me so easily, which is always a thrill... titles are hard... well, I quickly came across one of those complicated, annoying facts. After doing only one quick Google search, I learned that M.A.C. is owned by Estée Lauder. I knew what that meant, because I'd read plenty about Estée Lauder on friends' Facebook posts, but I couldn't begin to remember all the different companies under their umbrella. There are a lot of them, including Origins, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox, Clinique, and Tory Burch. (Insert slightly bitter joke here about those companies being everything that keeps your basic WASP going in life but that I feel bad making. I used to live in Connecticut. It was as horrible and Stepford Wife-y as all those shows make it out to be, so forgive me.)
Anyway, if Estée Lauder owned M.A.C., this is what I knew without having to do any further research. I knew that meant M.A.C. sells its products in China, and that means M.A.C., an acronym that is short for Makeup Against (Animal) Cruelty is in fact very cruel to animals, because all foreign companies that sell their beauty products in China are required to test on animals.
You see? Complicated.
If you go to M.A.C.'s site, this is the equivocal rationalization they offer for a practice that turns their moniker into nothing but a pretty nonsense rhyme:
WORKING TOWARD A CRUELTY-FREE WORLD
M·A·C does not test on animals and we never ask others to test for us. If a regulatory body demands it for its safety assessment, an exception can be made. Today, M∙A∙C continues to be a leader in the movement to end animal testing globally. We are proud to partner with IIVS (INSTITUTE FOR IN VITRO SCIENCES) and together our mission is to expand the use and acceptance of non-animal testing methods worldwide. M·A·C is working toward a cruelty-free world.
What do you mean by “an exception can be made”?
Of all of the countries where M·A·C is sold around the world, China is the only country that we are aware of that tests on animals as part of its safety assessment. This means that before we are able to import any of our cosmetics into China, their government may conduct animal testing on our products or ingredients in their mandated laboratories.
I didn't know any of this when I purchased my lipstick, of course. I took their name at face value, which is not something any of us can do anymore, exhausting though it might be.
"M.A.C. makes being ecologically responsible easy and pretty," is the nonsense rhyme I'm ashamed to admit trilled through my uninformed brain, tra la la!
The truth, if you seek it out, is more difficult. It always is. I can almost see why Trump voters avoid it. The truth is always scary. I don't know why, but that's how it is. To quote The Princess Bride, "Life is pain. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something."
M.A.C. is definitely trying to sell us something. It's trying to sell us the idea that a company who's made its millions off our trust in its ethical practices doesn't need to live up to its name or our trust. They're like those people who call themselves vegetarians but eat meat.
So, what do we do now? It's not as if, considering the mass of other issues, we can expect people to march against China. We'd be burying our heads even more in the sand if we expected 45-- what the Resistance calls Trump in America-- to do anything, you know, president-y like diplomacy.
Do we exert pressure on Estée Lauder to stop selling their products in China? The problem there is I bet the Chinese market is bigger than the market at home.
I'm not sure. I'm sorry.
I can't offer definitive answers. The truth is a shitty, tricky business. But this is what I do know:
Joy is simple.
I can't imagine buying another M.A.C. product, not right now, not knowing what I know. It would feel like the opposite of joy. It would feel like that moment when you decide you're not going to care anymore, and I've been there before. I've lived in Connecticut. I've lived in the suburbs of the soul. Shutting your eyes to reality is no way to live.
But I won't throw out this lipstick, either. It wasn't tested on animals in the States, and that is some progress. Also, mostly, I won't throw it out, because I think that would be wasteful. Maybe that's my own rationalization for life, but it feels right. I'll use it. I'll enjoy it, but I'll be keeping my eye out for a replacement.
If you know of any ethical beauty lines, please comment below! I'm going to be starting a newsletter to share my research into companies that do not equivocate about their promises. If you're interested, please be sure to sign up for my newsletter.
More on sustainable and ecologically responsible beauty lines soon! Meanwhile, don't forget the acronym for Makeup Against Cruelty Except is (...ha....) M.A.C.E.
Wearing a Free People shirt. I like that they don't use animal products like cashmere or fur or leather, but I haven't researched them yet. Please don't tell me it's actually Enslaved Fellow Human Beings.
Two events triggered changes in my life, changes that have expanded concentrically like stones in a pool sending ripples through my present life, triggering even more changes, and both occurred a scant handful of years ago, just before I became pregnant with my first child.
More to the point, both events made me want to live a more ethical existence.
1. The first life-changing-little-did-I-know-it-then-event:
It was 2012, and I was driving cross country with my sis, helping her move from her graduate housing in Colorado to her new professor-ship (that should be a word) at Bowdoin College. My sister is a... wait for it... fluvial geomorphologist. Try saying that 3x quick. Mostly that's a fancy word for saying she studies human impact on water and eco-systems. Anyway, back then I'm ashamed to say my bottled water habit had gotten pretty bad, but that was after living in NYC for almost a decade. My scientist sister, as I like to call her, pointed it out to me plenty on that long, long, long cross-country drive. (Jesus, America is yuge. Yuge.) NYC actually has great water piped down from the Adirondacks, but I'd been living in old buildings with lead-lined pipes...according to one landlady who was potentially insane, but. When you're landlady tells you there's lead in the water, you tend to put principles aside and pick plastic, so I sympathize with anyone who doesn't feel comfortable drinking their tap water. However, as my sister pointed out, tap water is often excellent, even preferable to what you're buying in the bottle.Plus, the waste caused by bottled drinks is horrific. Did you know there's an entire soupy island of our junk now in the Pacific? It's called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Check it out. Bottled drinks make up some of the most frequently found items in the soup.
Around that same time, I encountered the delightful Rosalind Jana's blog, Clothes, Cameras, and Coffee . Her writing and her blog were a revelation to me. She was one of the first truly intelligent women I'd encountered who also reveled in fashion but tempered any charges of vanity by taking both an ethical and highly creative approach to her self-decoration. Since then, I've added Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Michelle Obama, Louise O'Neill, Natalie Kay, and Katie of Sustainability in Style to that roster.
Which brings me to the present!
Recently, I watched The Minimalists on Netflix and immediately longed to carry out their Thoreau-like dictum, "Simplify, simplify, simplify." For one thing, in 2016, we moved three times-- THREE times with TODDLERS--and it was galling carrying junk we didn't use from one location to another. I nearly destroyed my right shoulder in the process. Then, one day, it occurred to me: what's stopping me from living the way I'd like to live?
Two babies, a voice deep inside me snidely replied.
Okay, touche, deep voice. But!... That brings me to my greatest source of inspiration: my children. I want to provide them with a better example than the one I grew up surrounded by.
Instead of the mantra consume, consume, consume, I want to encourage them to live, live, live! Tempered of course by a bit of collect, collect, collect. As the Minimalists point out, if a collection brings a lot of value and joy to your life, that's not the same as hoarding. (Er.. right, Minimalists?) With that said, I'm going to be offering a curated collection of books for sale on here that I loved but don't think I'll read again and clothes that I've been carrying around for years but haven't worn, including some beautiful children's clothes. I'll also be sharing my research on ethical brands and companies and posting outfits of my beautiful, old clothes... Basically, my new mantra will be to live the simple way I imagined I'd always like to live, but always felt I'd have to wait to achieve, or...
Vive la Résistance!
Outfit details: Elizabeth and James dress from Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea, brass necklace from Second Time Around in Center City, Philadelphia. Two poems about my trip with sister & my first exposure to the world of sustainable living were published at Every Day Poetry, which sadly no longer exists but are both available in my collection on Amazon.
French-American dual citizen on a green journey, making a Paris out of Philly or a Philly out of Paris, depending on the day.