About once a year when I purge my closet of the things I no longer wear, I wonder where these items I once loved, now in a trash bags on their way to Goodwill, will end up. The hope is that thrift shoppers will come across each piece and give them all new, loving homes. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Earlier this year, I watched The True Cost, a documentary that investigates how the multi-billion dollar fashion industry is endangering human life and destroying the planet, one low-priced garment at a time. The information it provided blew my mind and naturally got me thinking about what we as consumers can do to repair this tragically broken system.
One of the most shocking images from the documentary was that of landfill mountains containing clothing waste discarded by charities that cannot sell through these goods–a shocking ~90% of the items donated to them. According to The True Cost, the average American throws away 82 lbs of textile waste each year, resulting in over 11 million tons of waste from the U.S. alone. Most of this textile waste is not biodegradable and releases dangerous toxins that pollute our ecosystem.
When I think about the shopping and purging habits of myself and my peers, I imagine those landfills full of once-trendy or ill-fitting purchases from H&M, Forever21, Zara, and other value-driven brands whose items are priced so low that they are perceived to be disposable. And that’s not even the worst part.
The brands that perpetuate this consume-and-dispose cycle are able to price their goods as such because the factories that produce these garments push workers to pump out large quantities for disturbingly low wages and under horrifying working conditions.
So what’s a clothing lover to do?
I believe the answer comes down to personal style.
Think about those pieces in your closet that make you feel like a million bucks time and time again. Maybe it’s a pair of jeans that flatter you in all the right ways. Maybe it’s that little black dress that you’ve had in your closet for nearly 10 years that makes you feel fabulous each time you put it on. Maybe it’s a pair of cobalt cowboy boots that simply bring a smile to your face every time you wear them. Now imagine your closet contains only items like this… (I’ll spare you a Marie Kondo tangent.)
My point is this: by identifying your personal style–the items and outfits that make you feel like the best version of you–you can free yourself from the fast-fashion model that the industry has enticed us with for as long as we millennials can remember. By feeling confident about your own aesthetic point of view, you no longer need to feel like a slave to trends. You no longer need to feel compelled to run to your nearest high street retailers for numerous items under $100 that you may only wear for a season or two before sending them to the clothing graveyard (read: landfill). Rather, you can take that shopping budget and invest in $200 denim, $300 boots and a $400 coat that were produced under ethical conditions and will last you years–all while making you feel like you.
I realize that this is an idealistic proposition and most of us can’t invest in those big tickets items all at once. I also recognize that I haven’t fully implemented this philosophy myself. Heck, two posts ago I styled a heavily embroidered jacket from Zara. But my hope is to inspire whomever is reading this, myself included, to really think about the clothes we feel good in, so that the next time we consider adding something new to our wardrobes, we do it thoughtfully and with the intention of feeling great in it for a long freaking time.
PIECES THAT DEFINE MY PERSONAL STYLE
Try writing your own list of pieces that define your personal style. See if this list can become a North Star towards defining what makes you feel like the best version of you and maybe, just maybe, save the planet a little along the way.
peace, love & neon,
P.S. The next time you purge your closet, consider sending your goods to an environmentally conscious textile recycling program like USAgain or Planet Aid and avoid turning your old outfits into landfill waste.