Fast Fashion to Less is More: How I changed my shopping mentality
LA-based writer, artist and TKG Contributor, Evelyn Wilroy, shares how a trip to Asia inspired her to minimise her wardrobe and shop more mindfully
Today, at 30 years old, all of my clothes fit hanging in a small closet. My shoes all fit comfortably on one shoe rack. My former self would be completely shocked. No more multiple dressers with overflowing drawers. No more “shop ‘til you drop” mentality. Laundry is no longer a colossal chore.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my passion for fashion has faded. For as long as I can remember, I have always loved getting dressed and choosing what to wear. When I was young my favourite thing to do was play “dress up” with clothes my mom sewed for fun when she was in college. I started collecting fashion magazines as a teen and started a fashion blog in my early twenties. I lived and studied in Europe for a year and was deeply inspired by my visits to the major fashion cities of the world.
Come 24, I was another young person living and working in Los Angeles, overworked and underpaid. I was on a budget and lived in a shoebox of an apartment. I felt the pressure to keep up with the latest trends. Fast fashion was my obsession. The sale rack was my best friend. Retail therapy was my coping mechanism.
It was only a matter of time before that lifestyle took a toll on me, and before I knew it, I had quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to Asia. It was the best decision I ever made. The six months that followed changed my life. The experiences I had and the individuals I met helped to change the way I think about clothes. They helped to change the way I think about consumption.
It was in those months that I was reacquainted with my love and concern for the environment, another passion that had started young. At six years old I argued with my teacher at Bible study when he preached that trees did not have souls. Born and raised in California, I fell in love with everything from the giant redwoods in the north to the yucca trees of the desert to the world famous beaches along the southern coast.
At our household growing up, recycling was ingrained. Even the idea of littering was unfathomable—we had witnessed my father threaten citizen’s arrests multiple times when strangers would toss their trash out their car windows. In my teenage years I was volunteering to plant trees in my community, and in college, I joined nature conservation organisations.
But appreciating nature and throwing things in the recycle bin every once in awhile isn’t enough. Facing the very grim truths of the state of our environment and altering our habits as a result, despite the inconvenience, is a completely different matter. And this realisation hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had arrived at a permaculture hostel in Bali, where I learned about what permaculture really meant—about composting, seed saving and disaster management. But the real source of inspiration, the real rude awakening, came from the young people I met.
Here I was at almost 30 years old, surrounded by these incredibly bright and passionate individuals in their teens and early twenties. They were empowering local farmers. They were educating their communities on sustainability. They were teaching tourists how to be mindful travellers. They were going around, planting organic gardens and installing permaculture systems.
When I was their age, all I cared about was graduating from university with good grades so I could get a good job and make good money. And no one was paying them to do this. They were doing it because the future of their collective community, their island home—the earth—mattered to them. A cause far greater than themselves.
As I continued my travels, this reality check intersected with my love of fashion. I spent time at fair trade workshops in Kathmandu and worked with an artisanal jeweller and metal worker in Pokhara, Nepal. I met small business owners who put quality over quantity; whose projects were driven by a mindfulness of the environment and with consideration of its workers.
By the time I came home, I had a new set of commitments.
1. No more fast fashion.
If I was going to buy, I was going to buy from brands that cared about the things I care about: sustainability and ethics.
2. Buy (and hold on to) classic pieces.
I found that shopping from slow fashion brands often times means high-quality pieces that would last me a long time, which is better for the environment (and for my wallet). If the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months it could reduce not just water, but carbon and waste footprints by 20-30%.
3. Shop less. Simplify.
My shopping is mindful and purposeful. And in turn, much more fulfilling. I have spent a lot of time cleaning out my closet over the years, donating the clothes I don’t wear. Now that I am down to a much smaller closet with only pieces that I actually love, I don’t mind wearing them all the time.
It has forced me to get more creative, as I am constantly mixing and matching what I have.
In this shift of mindset that has now influenced my shopping habits, I have come to realise that it really isn’t as difficult as I initially imagined it would be. One doesn’t need to be a hardcore environmental activist to make a change. With each choice we make, no matter how small, we make a difference.