Fashion

How Being a Mindful Shopper Can Help Save the Planet

We're now living in a world where being zero-waste is becoming less of a choice than a necessity.
IMAGE CAM MORIN / UNSPLASH
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It’s my mission to become a mindful shopper.

I say “mindful” vs. “responsible,” because it speaks more truthfully about where my level of responsible consumption is right now. I am just beginning to become aware of how my shopping habits affect the planet, and of the habits I can change to avoid unnecessary waste. This new awareness has not yet translated into enough “practice” for me to confidently say, “I am a responsible shopper.”

Which is why I like the term, “mindful.” It helps people understand that I care about the earth, but that I am still a padawan in this journey to a zero-waste lifestyle. The Jedi analogy from Star Wars also reminds me that to master this lifestyle is difficult, but that we’re also now living in a world where being zero-waste is becoming less of a choice than a necessity.

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If I learn these skills now, it will also make it easier for me to teach what I know to my children. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up the same way, but there’s hope that the next generation will naturally live in balance with the earth in a way we didn’t… because we didn’t know how.  

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I could talk about many of my new discoveries on zero-waste living: how to change the way I eat and the way I’m doing the groceries, or how I can offset my carbon footprint since taking a car five times a week is still the most convenient way for me and my husband to both get to work. But I want to start with my biggest blind spot, which is fashion.

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RSVP is a rental solution for eveningwear.

Dressing well was a big part of my upbringing, and not because of our clan’s department store business. It was more because my mom has always strongly believed that “dressing well is a form of good manners.”

I was the odd one out, however. My mother used to want to leave me at home when she went out shopping because she couldn’t stand the bored expression when I followed her around stores. As an English major, I was jokingly referred to as “the communist” by my family. It didn’t matter to them that the actual reason I resisted fashion stemmed from feminist beliefs.  

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When my mother gave me a budget and told me to shop for any clothes that I wanted, I asked my sister to shop for clothes for herself under my name. Like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada, I thought I was making a huge statement being “anti-fashion.” I had no clue that ideas that had originated from a designer’s catwalk collection were actually influencing my decision to wear a uniform of “unbranded clothes” and Crocs.

That was so many years ago, and it’s just crazy to me how different I was then. The last person who would’ve predicted that many years later I would not only be working in fashion but also writing about it, was me!

Fulfilling an aspiration to be “sustainable” is now becoming more accessible, as more designers embrace the need to produce more responsibly.

I still wouldn’t call myself a “fashionista,” but because I’m exposed to it every day, I now put a lot of thought into what I wear. When I first started working with our department store, I put a lot of pressure on myself to wear things that the fashion world deemed “directional.” I was constantly forcing my closet to represent every relevant trend. The result of this was buying a few, really ugly things (a pair of tropical, nun shoes comes to mind), but also some beautiful things I would’ve never gotten the idea to buy if not for my mindless quest to acquire what was “in.”

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Looking through my closet and finding responsible fashion items I accidentally acquired because they were also a “thing”, I realize that it’s thoughtfully-designed pieces like these that make me believe there is a future where the need to be “stylish” AND “sustainable” can be met.

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HaloHalo, a local brand that uses recycled products.

Gen X women and newly married millennial women who manage their own money or are just beginning to intuitively experience a change in their shopping habits, where they become tired of following every trend and are more careful about investing in fewer pieces that speak more about who they aspire to be. Fulfilling an aspiration to be “sustainable” is now becoming more accessible, as more designers embrace the need to produce more responsibly.

Technology is going to take a while to catch up with these new ideas that this fashion set is slowly coming to embrace, in the meantime, here are some tips I’ve discovered to help you become a more mindful consumer of fashion. 

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You can be on trend without needing to buy anything new.

What is in “fashion” is constantly being driven not only by newness, but also by nostalgia. Every decade has its classics. There’s a reason the original customers of Ralph Lauren haven’t shopped in years, and it’s because the brand’s genius was being able to create wardrobes that fulfilled every one of their customer’s styling needs.

It was especially powerful for men, though women, who were still changing how they saw themselves, would prove to have different, fashion needs. I could talk (for hours!) about how the impact of the glam and power-dressing '80s that influences how Boomer women dress today, or how the simplicity of Calvin Klein’s collections in the '90s is still evoked in the late 2010s style of Gen X women who refuse to dress like their mothers.

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Jeanne Damas

But more importantly, if you’re a millennial, the process of buying pieces that you intend to wear for years and best represent who you are is no different. The chances are you already have all the pieces you need in your closet, and you can always make them look “current” by collecting styling ideas you like from Instagram.

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French women like Jeanne Damas famously dislike trends and wear outfits that reuse much of what they already have in their closets. Nordic fashion is more focused on good design rather than on changing trends, and the result is items that are relevant season after season. Your attitude shouldn’t be to never shop ever again, but about recognizing ideas that make the most of what you already have, and that eventually results in you buying less and only replacing anything that has gotten too damaged to wear. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept, “buy less but buy better.” It’s about having a more disciplined approach to shopping.

Be extremely careful of how you dispose of clothes you don’t need or don’t want to wear anymore.

Throwing anything away should be your last resort. Damaged or stained items can be reused as “inside-the-house” wear or redesigned into new pieces. You can donate to charity, but make sure that that you are giving away will be used and not end up in a dump. You can sell secondhand clothes online, especially now that the demand for vintage is growing, and the concept of celebrity closet sales has introduced buying second hand to a new demographic of customers.

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Anything that isn’t damaged that you are just tired of, you can store in the basement or attic until you find a use for them again. For those familiar with the concept of “capsule wardrobes,” it’s a process of cycling what’s in your closet so you can refresh your season wardrobe without having to buy anything new. This is a great solution for past fashionistas who have accumulated many “too-good-to-part-with” pieces in their archives.

For the times you need to shop, always opt for the most responsible choice.

Buying secondhand or vintage is the safest because nothing new has to be made. Some categories like evening dresses and occasionwear are clothes we will only wear once, so it’s a great thing that we now have rental solutions such as RSVP.

Anything labeled artisanal or handmade means it was made with fewer pollutants than something made in a factory. The closer in proximity to where something is made and where something is sold is also something to factor in, so it’s always a better bet to buy local, especially responsible brands that use recycled products like HaloHalo or brands that support tribal communities like PIOPIO.

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Our master weaver Cora in our Inabel Kimi bomber jacket ????

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Some of the best ready-to-wear options on the market are local, with brands like Araw the Line, ByFINI, and Wear Anika offering fresh styles you can’t find anywhere else.

I believe local businesses like these can grow and can eventually flip the rather traditional direction of fashion being dictated by only a few, key cities. Imported brands like Reformation and Everlane are responsibly made brands that cater to a youthful yet not overtly sexy style. Stella McCartney is the obvious choice for responsible luxury, but if you do your research, there are many established designer brands that offer responsible lines.

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About The Author
Nicole Tantoco de los Reyes
Nicole has a deep background in both retail and publishing. She had a series of internships in publications, which led her to her first job as an editorial assistant for a lifestyle magazine. Today, she works as an associate research assistant for Rustan's creative office. As a self-confessed bookworm, she draws a lot of inspiration from the things she reads as well as from several creative people in the fashion industry. With her work in retail and writing, she hopes to help others discover and unlock their own creativity and talent.
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