thoughts

Failing at Ethical Fashion

mustard sweater feature

I was almost hesitant to share these photos, and for a reason that isn’t readily apparent. It’s not because my hair wasn’t quite cooperating this day, my camera wasn’t focusing properly or because it was really warm in the house and I was eager to get this sweater off.

It’s because this outfit fails at ethical fashion.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, it won’t come as a surprise that I care about responsible fashion- I talk about it a lot. I take part in Fashion Revolution each year. The majority of my clothing is secondhand. I sew slowly and thoughtfully- I try to make sure that each of the items I make are ones that will add value to my closet. I don’t technically have a “capsule” wardrobe, but each and every item is chosen carefully and definitely worn more than 30 times.  I very seldom purchase anything new, and when I do, I try to buy natural fibres, and search out ethical brands if possible.

I love fashion (no surprise there), but seeking to be purposeful and ethical in a world where fast fashion is the norm, can be hard.

And sometimes when you find a mustard yellow sweater, you buy it.

mustard sweater 3

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a local clothing store with my mom and sister, trying to help my mom find a sweater, and as we were looking, I came across this mustard yellow sweater. I’ve been looking for a long time (a couple of years) for some mustard yellow pieces, since it is my favourite colour, but is extremely hard to find!

Since it was on sale, I bought it.

And then I immediately started thinking about the fact that it is made out of rayon and polyester, and dyed with a toxic mix of chemicals, and was made in China, and other than that, I definitely don’t know “who made my sweater”, and then I started regretting it, because this is not ethical fashion, and how can I call myself an ethical fashion proponent, when I just made a very unethical shopping choice?

mustard sweater 1

But I’ve been doing some thinking lately, and I would like to share a few of thoughts on whether it’s possible to be completely “ethical” in your shopping choices.

I participated in a course that Fashion Revolution was offering a while ago. It was an interesting activity, but the one thing that stuck out to me, was this response by the founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola De Castro to the question, “Is it possible to have a 100% sustainable or ethical wardrobe?”

I don’t think it’s possible to have 100% clothes that were designed or made sustainably or ethically. I think that is going to be very difficult, but it is possible to make sustainable and ethical choices about all of the clothes you have in your wardrobe. So, somehow, you can refresh with love and turn them into something they weren’t originally. . . You can do things like shop at Primark and H&M, but with the same respect if you were shopping somewhere like Gucci. You’ve got to treat your fiver like it was $500, and choose that piece not because you are “stress shopping at Zara”. We are not stress shopping at Zara: we are “deep love shopping at Primark” or Zara or wherever. . . Because, if we were to commit to 100% not putting one foot wrong, we would be damaging ourselves and our wardrobes immensely, and also the people who actually make our clothes, because there are an awful lot of people making clothes who are waiting for the industry to ameliorate, and what are we going to do in the meantime?  Boycott them all? As consumers, we still buy that product. We just buy it in a different way, so we can give a really strong message to the brands. This message might be “Slow down”. This message might be “No, we don’t want five for the price of one; we want one well made piece for the price of five”.

This past year I have started going zero waste in my lifestyle. At first, I thought the concept of “zero waste” was to try and produce no garbage at all. We’ve all seen the pictures of people’s “trash jars” where they are able to fit all of their garbage from the past year (or more) into one glass jar. It’s inspiring to think about living a life that doesn’t result in garbage, but it’s not completely realistic for most people.

I live in a small town, and there is no bulk store. Cauliflower comes wrapped in plastic. I recycle or compost everything I can, but still end up with garbage at the end of the day.

As I’ve been reading more, and started following several zero wasters on Instagram, one thing that keeps coming up is the fact that we are currently living in a culture that is designed to result in garbage. “Zero waste” doesn’t mean that you are producing zero garbage, but is rather a name for a movement that is trying to restructure our global economy to one designed to be circular, where garbage isn’t part of the cycle. Today our products (whether it’s clothing, or food or other things) are designed with waste. It’s impossible to create “zero waste” as a consumer. And even if you think that you are doing a fairly good job, there is garbage that has been created before the product even reaches you. (I work in a shop, and the amount of packaging garbage that is thrown out before a product even reaches the shelf is astounding.)

mustard sweater 4

But again, this quote by Instagrammer Andrea Sanders (@bezerowastegirl) has been bopping around in my head for a while:

“Zero Waste isn’t easy because it’s an infrastructure that doesn’t exist right now. Access to bulk stores, fresh markets and the like are not accessible to most. Everyone makes trash. Period. Do what you can. Never feel guilty because you can’t do something. There is no absolutism.”

And so, it makes me ask: Was this sweater an unwise shopping decision after all? Am I “failing” at ethical fashion?

Our current fashion culture is one that is driven by the need to buy more and more, regardless of how much we already own, but when I purchased this sweater, I wasn’t buying it from a fast fashion perspective.

I have been searching for a mustard yellow sweater for a few years, so it was not a spur of the moment purchase. It was “deep love” shopping, not buying for the sake of buying.

It is estimated that wearing a garment at least 30 times, reduces the carbon, waste and water footprint of a garment by 20%-30%. I wear all my clothes at least 30 times, and despite the fact that this sweater is not made of completely natural fibres, it is well sewn and will last me many years. I also take care of my clothes, and will be hand washing this one to help increase it’s lifespan.

mustard sweater 2

It’s a tricky issue. I can’t say that I’m completely convinced that I should have bought it. Maybe if I had waited a while longer I would have come across something in mustard yellow that would have ticked all the boxes, but then again, maybe not.

I want my wardrobe to be 100% ethical, but that’s not really feasible right now. If 95% of my wardrobe is ethical fashion, then is the 5% that isn’t ethical, OK? Where do you draw the line? Is there a line? How do you balance want vs. need, especially with something as “frivolous” as fashion?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. How do you decide for your own wardrobe?

mustard sweater 7

mustard sweater 7

mustard sweater sleeve

mustard sweater 6

Life Lately and an Everlasting Bouquet of Flowers

Life Lately and An Everlasting Bouquet of Flowers, on a chair

Well it’s been a busy month. October, I mean, not November. We’re only 5 days into November. Well, it’s been busy too, actually now that I think about it. . .  Anyways, I am finding myself sitting in front of this computer screen, again, trying to write this blog post that has taken me far too long to write. And I have been reflecting on how the changing circumstances in my life have changed my presence here on the internet, and how I have been neglecting this little blog. (Being a responsible adult is cutting into my creative time. Seriously, why so many dishes?!?) So, just some point form thoughts, bits of updates on things, and some links to blog posts, or articles that I found interesting.

  • These flowers were given to me as a housewarming gift from my sister at the end of September. I just threw the last of them out last week- I couldn’t believe that the cut flowers lasted 4 weeks!
  • Part of my busyness in October was because I was preparing for an exhibit that I have up for the month of November, at a local library. It’s not really an “exhibit” as it doesn’t have a single theme or inspiration, as it is comprised of anything I had ready to show, which was a mixture of photography and watercolour. I have a few pictures of that display, here on my studio instagram. It was a bit difficult to take the photos, because of the poor lighting, but at least I got a few!
  • I haven’t been very good at keeping up with my studio and shop lately, but I was able to set aside some time this weekend to plan and prep some things for that, and I’m going to (hopefully) be better at keeping up! I have some new pieces in the works, and if you’d like to stay updated on what I am doing art-wise, I would love it if you follow me over at my instagram @theartyologist_studio!

Life Lately and An Everlasting Bouquet of Flowers, bouquet on chair and details

  • This little quiz that Mariam of the Petite Bijou shared in her instagram story the other day is fun. It’s only three questions, but I took the quiz and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I have been trying to create a more defined and cohesive wardrobe, as I’ve talked about before, so finding out which colours look best on me, was rather helpful. I got: “Rich, earthy shades of red, orange, yellow, green, and brown, peach, coral, and red violet, warm grays (mushroom, taupe) and off-whites, periwinkle and teal”. Well, most of those just happen to be colours that I am drawn to anyways! Did you take the quiz? What colours did you get?
  • This post by Bianca of The Closet Historian is a great one, about blogging and how she grew and then shrank her blog. This is something I have struggled with along the way too, with my own blog. Trying to stay true to what I want to share, but also trying to juggle what people want to read. And not getting too obsessed with the numbers. If you have a blog, do you struggle with “the numbers” too?
  • I have been feeling a bit discombobulated lately, and I haven’t been doing many outfit photos lately or even any blogging. Since moving, I have had a hard time coordinating with my sister to do photos. That and it’s basically winter now, and so it gets dark so early. But, I am trying to get back in the swing of things, and post regularly again! I have some ideas for posts, so now I just have to do them.

Life Lately and An Everlasting Bouquet of Flowers, sculptural bouquet

  • This article about smartphones was completely eye opening. If you have 10 minutes, read this article. Seriously, do it. While I would not consider myself to be as addicted to my smartphone, as they talk about in the article, I do notice myself sometimes getting a little too attached to it, and am taking steps to reduce my screen time. (Hard to do when your job and your hobbies all involve computers!) Anyways, it is a great article, so I would definitely recommend it! Do you struggle with smartphone addiction- what do you do to reduce your time spent on your phone?
  • Fashion Revolution recently released a podcast about “Who Made My Clothes”. I actually have not found the time to listen to it yet, and I am planning to this week. If you’d also like to listen to it, you can find it here. UPDATE: I just listened to the podcast today, and it was a really great investigation into the garment industry. It kind of does a whole overview, then focusing on specific issues, and also gives some great examples of how we can enact change in the industry. I would definitely recommend listening to it! There are 3 episodes of about 25 minutes each.
  • Is it seriously only 50 days left until Christmas?!?! Not that I’m trying to jump things, but I am getting ready to do a couple of Christmas craft shows this month and next, and the Christmas season is just rushing at me! It’s a lot of work involved, doing Christmas sales, but it’s a lot of fun too, as I do them with my sister.

So, that’s a bit of what I have been up to, and I think that’s all I have to share for now. I hope you have had a lovely and relaxing weekend, and that this next week is a good one for you too!

Life Lately and An Everlasting Bouquet of Flowers, flower details

Shopping Ethically for Vintage Repro

shopping ethically for vintage repro

Fashion Revolution Week finished up almost exactly a month ago now, and though I had originally planned to share some of the 2017 stats etc. as well as some of the highlights of the global event, that information hasn’t been released yet by Fashion Revolution. So instead, today I would like to share some of what I learned and researched during Fashion Revolution about several vintage repro (reproduction) brands, and how to successfully shop vintage and repro with an ethical mindset.

I know I’ve mentioned it so many times before, but shopping true vintage and second hand is an inherently ethical way to shop. The clothing already exists, so by shopping second hand, you are giving it a second life. Where it gets tricky is in new clothing. Clothing made up into the 1980’s was for the most part produced in an ethical way. So much of the mass produced clothing of earlier eras was made domestically, not outsourced to factories in other countries. You see many of the vintage clothing ads selling garments based on quality, proclaiming things like dresses “made of good quality fabric”, shoes that feature “unusual durability”, and one of Sears children’s brand was even called “Ucanttear”, which was made to withstand the rigours of children at play.

There were abuses within the textile and fashion industry of course, dating back to the 1800’s, which is why we see union labels in many vintage garments. For the most part, though, clothing was not suspect. You didn’t automatically assume back then, like today’s clothing landscape, that clothing was unethically made. Today, every $5 t-shirt and $30 dress that sports the tag “Made in Bangladesh” is questionable. It might not actually be the case, because there are plenty of factories that are safe and paying a living wage (one factory in India even took part in Fashion Revolution Week) but, because of the abuses we have seen over and over again in the industry, with cheaply produced clothing made at the expense of the garment workers, we now tend to presume guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.

One of the problems I find with so many sustainable fashion brands today, is that they are so modern, and hardly any of their clothing fits into my personal style. I love vintage silhouettes and styles, not unstructured, loose, trendy clothes. So, I decided this Fashion Revolution Week to ask the question “Who Made My Clothes” to a few vintage repro companies, to hear what they had to say. I also researched a few other companies to come up with this small list (I am sure there are plenty more) of companies who are making their clothing in an ethical manner.

As a disclaimer, while I would not consider these companies to be “sustainable” since that they don’t share their supply chain, where the cloth and materials come from, or what the environmental impact of their dyeing processes and farming processes are. However I would still consider them to be ethical from a human rights point of view.

heart of haute

The brand Heart of Haute is made in the USA. They have several locations in LA and many of their employees are actually fashion graduates. The garments are “cut to order in San Dimas and assembled by three contract sewing shops in the Los Angeles area”. This way, not only are they supplying local jobs, but they can proudly say ‘Made in the USA”. They do not share their supply chain, but they claim to make high quality garments, designed to last. I would agree with that statement, since last year I purchased a blouse from Heart of Haute. Sadly, I ended up returning it, as I realized that it was too tight and the buttons pulled on the front. The blouse was made of a smooth and sturdy cotton, and all of the seams were finished nicely. The blouse included details like a tie front, and covered buttons, as well as dart shaping so it wouldn’t ride up. I truly do think that it would have been a long lasting purchase. All in all, if I were to come across another item I liked from Heart of Haute, I would not hesitate to buy it.

retrospec'd

Another brand which I have tried on in person at a store, is the brand Retrospec’d, which is made in Australia. On their website, they say “All Retrospec’d garments are made in Australia to the very highest standard. The majority of the fabrics themselves are the product of many months spent finding colours and design elements that are “just right”. The result is fresh, vintage-inspired fashion that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world.” The dresses I saw were made of a lighter cotton sateen, which had a very nice finish and drape, and many of them had border prints, which are always fun. I can’t recall how the insides were finished, but I think that the dresses were lined- I know that the bodice on the 1950’s full skirted dress I tried on was lined in the same fabric as the outside of the dress was (minus the border print). I didn’t end up purchasing the dress, as it didn’t fit well, (sadly!) but had it fit, I believe I would have purchased it. These dresses are definitely more of an investment, but I think that for a well made garment, ethically made in Australia, and with so many yards of fabric in the skirt, and fun touches like border prints, it is well worth it.

emilyandfin

A company I have not purchased from (or tried on any of their garments) is Emily and Fin. I know that Nora from Nora Finds owns a few dresses from Emily and Fin, and that she likes them. I was pleasantly surprised to discover on Emily and Fin’s website, a page which states that to ensure their products “are made to the best standard possible and in a safe working environment, we aim to work alongside like-minded businesses; visiting them regularly in order to build strong working relationships and guarantee best practice of manufacture and care” and that all of their pieces are “designed and developed in-house in our London studio” taking the time and care to “ensure a high level of attention is paid to the fit and quality of each garment.” It sounds like they are committed to producing well made, quality items. This seems to be confirmed with a browse through their website, (in which I wanted to add so many items to my cart). They have garments made of fabrics like Tencel (which is a natural and usually eco friendly fabric), viscose (another natural fibre) and 100% cotton (though no mention of organic cotton). Again, the prices are an investment, but this is for a high quality, natural fibre garment, made in ethical conditions. The styles are elegant and timeless, so a dress or blouse from Emily and Fin would definitely withstand the trends.

pretty retro

A company I just found out about from Porcelina’s recent post, is Pretty Retro. This is a UK brand, which offers “affordable, wearable clothing without compromising on style or quality.” And that it is “one of a family of brands run by 20th Century Clothiers Ltd. based in the North of England. All garments are ethically manufactured in Europe and to a high standard.” There are a lot of companies in the UK, which sport the tag “Made in England” etc. I don’t live in the UK, so that doesn’t help me much, but for my UK based readers, this might help you! I can’t testify to the quality of their items, but Porcelina mentioned that she already considers her purchase of their tie top to be a “great staple”, and after a few washes, it seems to be holding up well. They have some fun and pretty styles, and don’t seem to be too badly priced either.

collectif

The last vintage repro company I got an answer back from, is Collectif. This is a very popular UK brand, and though I have never purchased anything from them yet, I was interested in one of their garments. I sent them an email about it, and received a reply back right away from their helpful customer service staff. In regards to a specific item I was looking at, they said “it is made in our own facility in China (as with most of our garments.) We work closely with all of our factories to ensure that the garments are ethically made. We have our own facility in China with a team who manage our production. Some of our production and design team have visited our factories there and seen first hand that the working conditions are ethical and the company owner and Chinese Facility Manager visit the factories every week.” They also have a page here in their FAQ’s that outlines their policy. I wouldn’t say that Collectif is a sustainable fashion brand quite yet, as they don’t make any mention of environmental credentials etc, but it is great to see them taking a step in the right direction, by using ethical fashion processes, and also making that information available on their website for the customer to see, without even having to ask. I decided against purchasing the garment I had been looking at, for now, but if I came across something I liked, I might decide to purchase from them. I know plenty of other bloggers have been very happy with their Collectif purchases.

Edited to add: Since originally writing this, I would say that Collectif isn’t doing anything that sets them apart as sustainable or fair trade. Brands that say they pay the garment workers minimum wage etc. isn’t something to be congratulated about- that’s just following the law. So, while they are saying that they have visited the factories etc.- they are still outsourcing their production. That may not necessarily be bad- but it’s not really great either. 

Those are the companies I heard back from. Two companies whom I never received a reply from are Trashy Diva and Retrolicious. Trashy Diva’s garments are designed in the US, but they make no mention of where they are made- and since I never got a reply back from them, I unfortunately can’t tell you! Do any of you know?

I also asked Joe Fresh, a Canadian brand, where their clothes were made, but did not receive any reply back from them either. I wasn’t really expecting to, but it is too bad, as they have so many cute styles- but have a terrible track record of human rights abuses. I used to purchase a lot of clothes from them years ago, before I knew about “cheap, fast fashion”, but I don’t buy from them anymore.

shopping ethically for vintage repro, who made my clothes, the artyologist

So what was the one thing I learned during Fashion Revolution Week? You can ask “Who made my clothes” all year round, and if you don’t see the information on a company’s website, you can ask them directly. It’s so obvious, but somehow I had just never really thought about it before. We can do our homework, and research brands, but if we don’t find a satisfactory answer we can also ask companies directly. And sometimes, if you ask the question, you might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Fashion Revolution Week may be over for this year, but Fashion Revolution is not! I know that this is not an exhaustive list of ethical vintage repro companies, so if you know of other companies that are producing ethically made clothing, let us all know in the comments! I’d love to find new repro brands to buy from.

And, if you want to ask a brand yourself, about their clothing production methods, here is an outline of the letter that I emailed to the brands:

“I have been wearing vintage styles for a few years now, and I love that there are vintage reproduction companies making beautiful vintage inspired garments today.

I have in the past purchased _____ from you,” orI have never purchased from you before, even though I Iove so many of your styles, and I have seen a fair number of vintage bloggers feature outfits by you.” However the one thing I couldn’t find any information about, is where the clothing is made.

The most important concern I have when deciding to purchase new clothing, is in making sure that is produced in an ethical and sustainable way. I want to make sure that when I wear something I feel great about it, not just because it is a lovely style, but because I know that the people who made it are being treated in a fair manner. Where are your garments being made? Are they being made in an ethical manner? I would love to know that those who make the clothes are being treated fairly, have the freedom to speak out, work in safe conditions and are being paid a living wage in order to live with dignity, opportunity and hope.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

Sincerely, ____ (your name)”

What are your top ethically made vintage repro brands? Have you ever purchased from any of these vintage repro brands? Have you ever asked a brand where their clothes are made?

Fashion Revolution Love Story: An Ode to a Humble T-Shirt

Fashion Revolution Love Story: An Ode to a Humble T-Shirt, clothing love stories

Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are – Joan Crawford

Fashion Revolution Love Story: An Ode to a Humble T-Shirt, clothing love stories, horizontal

This year, Fashion Revolution has suggested several ways to get involved, one of which is sharing a fashion revolution love story. “We love fashion. We love how clothes can make us feel, and how they can represent how we feel about ourselves. They’re our message to the world about who we are. Rather than buying new, fall back in love with the clothes you already own. Share your story about an item of clothing that means a lot to you. The more we love our clothes, the more we care for them, and the longer they last. We are asking fashion lovers from all over the world to join the fashion revolution and create a love story.” Want to see more clothing love stories, or get involved and share your own fashion revolution love story? People are sharing on Instagram or Facebook this week with the hashtags #lovedclotheslast and #fashionrevolution.

 – –

Dear cream coloured peasant style t-shirt,

You are such a sweet, yet innocuous garment. I bought you about six years ago now in the first big clothing “shopping spree” I ever had. There I was, just out of college and in desperate need of some clothing. I had a job and money to spend, and after so many years of hand-me-downs which were on the verge of wearing out completely, combined with years of a negative body image, in which I didn’t wear nice things, I was ready for some new and pretty clothes.

Fashion Revolution Love Story: An Ode to a Humble T-Shirt, clothing love stories, detail and outfitmy most recent outfit featuring this peasant style top

On that day, while browsing the sale racks, I found you. In fact I found two of you. I bought two of the same shirt, because I thought that I would tie dye one. I am very glad that I never got around to doing that- because, well, tie dye isn’t really my thing and I am sure that wouldn’t have lasted long in my closet, and also because I can now wear “you” twice as often. I was drawn to you that day because, quite simply put: you were perfect. Basic, but different. Classic, with a twist. Vintage in style, yet made of comfortable knit. Long enough to tuck in and loose enough to be blowsy, but soft enough to drape. And on top of all that- you are a wonderful shade of cream that magically seems to coordinate with everything I put you with.

Fashion Revolution: An Ode to a Humble T-Shirt, 1anne of green gables worthy puffed sleeves

You work surprisingly well underneath my pinafore dresses, and make me look as though I belong in The Sound of Music (this is always a good thing). When I pair you with a full skirt, I look like I’ve stepped out of a 1950’s picnic. You work with all of my casual outfits, and function surprisingly well as a “shell” too, underneath blazers and cardigans. You are so neutral that you go with everything, and your “puffed sleeves” have just the right amount of puff without being overdone. When in doubt, I always know I can fall back on you.

Because you are cream, of course, I have spilled all manner of things on you- curry, spaghetti sauce, beet juice and many other staining kinds of things. And yet, every time, the stains have come right out- I don’t know how you do it- but I’m glad you do!

Fashion Revolution: An Ode to a Humble T-Shirt, 1with a pleated skirt

I bought you cheap from a fast fashion brand. You were probably less than $15.00 brand new, less than $5.00 on sale. All of the clothes I bought that day were on sale. That day, I bought cheap clothes, because I didn’t know differently, and I don’t think I could afford anything else either. Because you are so cheap, I am actually surprised that you have lasted this long. Yes, I do have two of you, and yet I thought you would have worn out years ago. I wear you at least once a week. . . probably twice a week, which means that I have worn each individual shirt at least 150 times in the last six years (but probably more). Look at how many times I have featured you here on the blog in just over one year!

harem pants with a vintage style blouse the artyologistperfect with harem pants

You were made in Bangladesh. I don’t know who made you. I wonder who cut out your fabric, sewed your seams, gathered your puffed sleeves and trimmed your errant threads. At the site of the Rana Plaza factory collapse four years ago, in the rubble, tags were found bearing the logo stamped on the inside of your collar. Were you made in that factory? I wonder about the garment worker who made you. Was she or he there that day? Where are they now?

the artyologist- vintage style dutch wax print skirtworn as a “shell”

I didn’t know about fast fashion in those days when I bought you. If I saw you today, I would have to pass on by. And yet, despite your questionable history and supply chain, you have without a doubt been one of the best garments I’ve ever purchased. If I was told to choose a favourite garment from my wardrobe, and pick something to write this “Love Story” about, my first thought would be something showy and exciting. Perhaps my grey fur coat, or a true vintage dress or a pair of pretty shoes. . .  but in reality, while those are the fun things in my wardrobe, I don’t wear them all that often. At least not when compared to you!

A Limited Knowledge of Alice's Understanding, The Artyologistwith a suspender skirt

I wash you in a cold gentle wash, and hang you to dry, to try and keep you in good shape. But, the other day I found a hole. It is near a seam, so I think I can mend it. But, I started to wonder- what ever will I do when you are gone? I know that I can never replace you, and you will surely be missed as one of my most loved garments of all time. As much as one can “love” a piece of clothing, I do love you, my humble and ordinary cream coloured peasant t-shirt!

Love, Nicole

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What is your favourite garment in your wardrobe? How long have you had it, and what is the story behind it? I’d love to hear your fashion revolution love story too!

leave a little sparkle, holiday outfit, the artyologistunder a cardigan