Eco-fashion was my first introduction to eco-living. In this episode, I’m sharing the first change I made to my shopping habits and one easy way to create a more sustainable wardrobe — without breaking the bank.
Some of you may not know this but my first introduction to eco-living was actually through eco-fashion. In college I was a bargain-bin junkie — I loved Forever21 and the other fast fashion chains and I was known for buying a 15 dollar dress once and then throwing it to the back of my closet never to wear it again. But for the last 10 years and counting, I’ve dedicated my career to the sustainable fashion movement. And I will say switching over to a more minimal, ethical and sustainable wardrobe was one of the best things I ever did. So that’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode.
Do you remember, back when malls were a thing, going into a big department store like Macy’s or JC Penney? Once you got past the perfume section, there was always this other distinctive smell as you walked into the clothing section.
I remember first learning about what that familiar smell was. Have you noticed it? It’s a smell for me that brings me straight back to back-to-school shopping with my mom and sister. So you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that odor is actually formaldehyde and other potent chemicals used as finishing treatments on fabrics.
These finishing treatments ensure that the clothing stays wrinkle-free, moth proof and mildew resistant on its journey from the manufacturer to the retail store. The problem is that these finishing treatments contain neurotoxins that can cause nervous system damage, brain toxicity and endocrine disruption which affects your hormonal systems.
The good news is that since 2008, when I was probably last in a mall, the use of formaldehyde has gone down in textile finishing treatments. But my inclination is to avoid any level of formaldehyde, even if it’s 500 parts per million instead of 3,000ppm like it was in the 1960s.
That’s all to say, when I started down my sustainable fashion journey in 2010, one of the first things I gave up was new clothing from non-sustainable brands. The thing was, I couldn’t afford
the high-quality, well made clothing from small indie brands that used sustainable fabrics and worked with ethical manufacturers. So for the longest time I only shopped second-hand from thrift stores. It was not only as cheap as fast fashion but it’s also just about as sustainable as it gets.
I was never one of those people who loved the thrill of a thrift store treasure hunt. I remember being in Australia after college and going into the Salvation Army with two of my new backpacker friends. I watched in awe as they both just dove into the unorganized bins and racks of other people’s old clothing. So, I understand that thrift shopping isn’t for everyone — although, I will say, some of my best finds over the years were vintage Betsey Johsnon and Marc Jacobs that I honestly found in Goodwill.
Thankfully, though, second-hand shopping has gotten a lot more accessible with websites like ThredUp and Poshmark that allow you to shop second-hand from your computer.
So not only is shopping second-hand better for the environment and cheap, but you don’t have to worry about formaldehyde and urea resins transferring from the new clothing onto your skin or into your airways.
So, in this episode’s “This for That” segment — my suggestion is to switch from new clothing to old clothing. Especially if you’ve never done it before (I’m talking to you mom). Most of us are shopping online anyway and I promise you, buying something from Poshmark or ThredUp doesn’t feel that much different from shopping on UrbanOutfitters or Nordstrom.com. Give it a shot, see what happens and if you can’t bring yourself to wear someone else’s old clothing, that I’ll share more about shopping from sustainable and ethical fashion brands in an upcoming episode.
For links to my favorite second-hand websites and shops, as well as a source list, go to cleanlivingpodcast.com/clothing
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. If you want to learn more about sustainable fashion, you can check out the company I’ve been running since 2014 called Factory45 — that’s factory45.co. Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.