James Perse dress (several years old)
Rag & Bone sweater (a couple years old)
Comme des Garcons Play X Converse sneakers (more than 10 years old)
TL;DR: buy too much stuff 😉 And I mean this as an answer to all the fluff pieces published this week about the little things we can “all do” to be more eco-friendly. Maybe we should focus more on the things we still do that are NOT very eco-friendly and try to make a dent in those?
(I’ve been working on writing this all week – I just don’t know what to say anymore. I am disheartened and frustrated with “influencer” marketing as it has become, and tired of so much virtue signaling, especially around earth day. I also have extreme emotional fluctuations lately and simply don’t have the attention span to write my thoughts coherently. I am so happy, but also confused about what I want to do now, and going forward. I want to write, and share my thoughts, but they’re increasingly difficult to put down on “paper” as it were. Anyway, I’m okay, thanks to all who are concerned, and Leo and I are leaving for our mini-vacation to Santa Fe today so I won’t write anything again until next week. I hope all of you are well, let me know what’s happening in the comments!!)
On Monday I was going to post links to some articles I found interesting for Earth Day, including a look at both Everlane’s and Adidas’ new “sustainable” sneakers, but as I scrolled through instagram, blogs, and the news, I became…I don’t know how to describe it…too disgusted, overwhelmed, and frustrated to write anything at all. I didn’t want to add to the noise, or feel like I was participating in Earth Day hype/greenwashing. I know it’s not all lip service, that some of the “influencers” (I really hate that term) are actually doing the work required to make an impact, but it also felt like virtue-signalling (as usual…) to the extreme, and all about “me:” look what I’m doing for the earth! yay me!!
We are all part of the “problem” because we live in a modern society, there’s no way around that. We are at the point-of-almost-no-return because of consumer culture – we have the privileges we have (some of us) because of capitalism; the ability to buy what we need. We also have antibiotics and medical devices made of out plastic because we live in a modern society, and I’m glad for that, those things save lives.
Affordable clothing made out of synthetics allowed people to clothe themselves for interviews, work, and/or play and led to a higher quality of life for many.
But of course, we consumers take everything to the extreme, and if we can have something faster and cheaper, why not? More of that please. More more more.
And THAT is the problem. We don’t need one quarter of the things we think we do to be comfortable, let alone survive; we can “survive” on much less. Yet we thrive on the idea that more is better, and we can afford it, so why not? Or we want it, and we can sort of afford it, and buying it will make us happy, either short term, or longer term, so go for it. No regrets, right? We can always donate or resell it later.
I am that person. I am part of the problem – I feel like I am adding too many new things to my wardrobe.
- I buy new things because I have credits I earn from writing this blog.
- I buy new things because I’m traveling and use shopping to alleviate some of my anxiety related to that.
- I buy new things because I’m having a baby at 46 and my body is foreign to me, as is this whole experience, and as I mentioned above, I deal with anxiety/uncertainty by propping up the facade, so that at least outside, it appears that I’m doing fine, thank you.
- I buy new things because I have made talking about clothes and getting dressed my job for the last fifteen years.
- I buy new things because I just really enjoy trying new things and talking about them.
- I buy new things because I can easily resell them.
- I buy secondhand things I probably don’t need because it’s easy, they’re already in my house 🙂
I keep thinking I’ve had enough; my never-ending cycle of consumption/purging has to end/slow down soon; I am getting overwhelmed. Even though I am also getting rid of things I don’t want anymore, endless buying/purging won’t lead to happiness, contentment, safety or longevity. Neither can I do so for my son; buying all of the new-mom/baby must-haves won’t give him any of that either.
That is the element I think is missing from any sustainability or earth-friendly discussion by most “ethical” influencers of late: that we must start buying less – both new and used, “ethical” designer and otherwise – and using/taking better care of what we already have. A closet full of Elizabeth Suzann, Tradlands, Everlane and Babaa will NOT save the planet, I’m sorry to say.
I think this is what upsets me most about Everlane’s new “Tread” line: they are launching a brand new product line that is supposed to be the “lowest impact” sneaker. Let that sink in for a second. Instead of making their existing factories or product lines zero waste, instead of focusing on using more environmentally friendly fabrics in their tees and top-selling items, instead of making LESS STUFF, they are making MORE stuff no one needs under the guise of having LESS impact. It doesn’t work that way.
Yeah, Everlane is my new favorite company to love to hate, and other companies start new, innovative product lines (Adidas), but they are not the darlings of social media and “ethical” fashion bloggers/influencers that Everlane is. There is a false assumption that Everlane is “ethical” (they are, generally, better than some companies, but even big corporations are being more transparent, AND using more earth-friendly fabrics, so Everlane’s “transparency” angle is losing water) so STILL they are given a pass. Even for chrome-tanned leather. And carbon offsets, which are cop-outs, in my humble opinion.
Enough already with the “buy this, be more sustainable” message. Buy as little as possible.
Ultimately as I’ve said before, I am just a person moving through this modern world, buying things, trying to be better, and have a smaller footprint, but failing a lot of the time.
I fail when I
- Buy new leather shoes, and I don’t know enough about the sourcing of the leather
- Take long-ass showers
- Buy new clothes
- Buy food with excess packaging – buy food in packaging PERIOD
- Drive everywhere
- Bleach/Dye my hair
- Run the dishwasher every day
I also do little things every day to try and offset those failures, but probably not enough.
I still believe the answer is to do the best we can, no matter what that is; I do think that everything counts. But ultimately, as far as personal efforts go, buying less of everything – creating less waste overall – having less stuff, will have the greatest impact long term, especially as it sinks into the next generation.
Let that start with me.
Kristina Zack says
Know better, do better. We are all works in progress, which is a really excellent reason to go easy on yourself and just do your best. We should all do as well as you are doing already. Happy news – the dishwasher uses less water than handwashing! Yay!
Thank you for this! Every time this past week I saw an Earth Day discount code I wanted to yell, “it doesn’t work like that!”. But I, like you, love buying and using shopping as an emotional crutch. I’m actually thinking of going to therapy about it actually, because I cannot think of the deep reason I do it besides that I like pretty things and I like new things. Is that really it?
Anyway, thanks again for this post!
My Earth Day pet peeve: free gift with purchase for Earth Day. You’re already buying something you probably don’t need so we’ll send you more things you didn’t choose.
Food packaging. I would love to reduce this. My current pet peeve: all the loose apples are huge. The only way to get moderately sized-apple are to buy the bag. Of course I shouldn’t be buying apples when they aren’t in season. But I succumb to the preferences of my family.
Enjoy your vacation! I have a day-date with my husband on Friday to see a matinee of Avengers: Endgame.
I found earth day to be so depressing; it wasn’t a celebration of this wonderful planet that gives us life, no, it was another day of marketing, another day of sales, another day of people posing before a camera and saying “look at me”…
I thought about the shit show of an environment my 4 year old granddaughter will inherit and how my stainless steel straw, reusable tote bag, “green” cleaning products do little more than make me feel like I haven’t turned my back on the problem. But really, as has been said before, these actions are but a grain of sand and only worldwide changes on national and corporate levels will even begin to make a dent in the problem we have all created.
As for Everlane….argh. Eileen Fisher and Patagonia have been working on green initiatives for far longer without the constant pat on the back.
And to all the “influencers”, ethical fashion bloggers…if you want to do something good for the earth…stop pushing Everlane cashmere sweaters…there is NOTHING sustainable or ethical about them.
Have a great vacation
I agree with the sentiment, Don’t be too hard on yourself. I am not having a baby and I came very late to some of these questions related to shopping. I am another who uses shopping to sooth anxiety and I am certainly “guilty” of everything you described. At least you are aware and do many things to help. I agree with those who feel that most of our individual actions are a very tiny part of much greater problems which will not be solved by us. In the meantime, many people seem totally unaware. I live in an urban/suburban area and I find McDonalds wrappers and plastic cups on my lawn all the time because some people seem to think nothing of throwing leftover trash out the window, to say nothing of the meals they’re consuming and how all these things impact the environment. They other day I saw a woman who was driving in front of me casually throw some sort of plastic wrapper out of her car. I wanted to scream at her, Are you crazy?!! I feel a great deal of guilt over the amount of paper towels we seem to go through due in part to cleaning up after pets but also just general convenience. I will try to address this. We can only start where we are now and try to do the best we can.
That ship has sailed. ANYTIME you buy stuff from a place like Everlane, etc you are part of their game. You will drive yourself mad trying to read through the hype.
It is good you can now sift the truth out of all the babble. I have tried to simplify my life, moving to a “tiny”house, giving away most of my furniture, living out in the boondocks, gardening, and shopping less. I wear my “uniform” and refuse to get dressed up anymore unless I feel like it. But………..how to feel celebratory and festive in the same old duds? Didnt even primitive societies like to wear bling and dress up? Feathers and shells and silver?? Yes!!! Just because we have decided to be careful and aware of the lying clothes industry- we dont really have to shun feeling pretty and special because we cant buy their poison clothes! Believe me, there is stuff out there. Leave your comfort zone and look outside the box for sources.
I have often wondered G about the amount of items that you purchase but not in a judgey way but more in a way of wondering “does she struggle with the same internal conflict about shopping that I do”? You have echoed my thoughts 100% on the feeling of overwhelm and the ongoing buy sell/purge cycle. I feel the same about myself. What I have recently realized is that the following notion – “if I buy well made pieces that I love I will automatically buy less” has been proven false again and again (for me anyway). I need to come to terms with the why – Why do I buy new wardrobe items often? What does my soul need to fill that never-ending gap that I attempt to fill with the shopping high? I do think many of us try to find the solution for shopping by solving wardrobe dilemmas when really the solution likely lies deeper that. It is about much more than clothes but rather the feeling we get from acquiring.
By the way I’m loving the fitted outfits. This one and the earlier leggings/T/sweater outfits are great.
You said it all so well, right here: “buying less of everything – creating less waste overall – having less stuff, will have the greatest impact long term, especially as it sinks into the next generation.”
And let that start with me, as well.
Agreed, Debi! Thinking about my grandkids and how far away from the goal of Sen. Nelson’s first Earth Day in 1970 we’ve strayed.
Grechen: I, too, am annoyed and tired with all this stuff. If I were cool and knew how to use GIFs and stuff I would insert the ur-Slayer telling Buffy “It’s not enough” here, but I’m not, so I can’t!
And we can’t buy our way out of this mess. And, you are– and none of us is– NOT a failure for any of the reasons you listed! Climate change is bigger than individual consumer choices. Yes, one can make small changes– but even then, it’s complex! Dishwashers are actually better. Plastic bags are maybe in quite a few circumstances better than reusable (especially cotton!). Product from another continent is often more environmentally friendly than that grown locally. Etc. Etc. Endless f*#ing et cetera.
These are massive structural problems, and the fate of things shouldn’t hang on individual consumer choices. And it’s not just shouldn’t, if we’re going to get out of they cannot. Unless the broad structural changes happen– and that means voting in people who will make that happen, across the board, in all branches, at every single level from local to national– all the rest is window dressing, virtue signalling, whatever.
Jenny Chung says
I know you felt like you weren’t able to put your thoughts to paper, but this post sums up how I feel about sustainability so well. I forwarded it to a friend as soon as I finished reading it. Thank you for your honesty and sharing. I really appreciate it.
P.S. Big congrats on the new life growing inside – that’s amazing!
Welcome Objects says
I feel the similarly when I’m going through my Instagram feed. Buying less crap is what we should be doing, so it feels like a contradiction to write or post about stuff — myself included. It’s true we’re not going to shop (or recycle, for that matter) our way out of this. When I get frustrated, I try to think about the bigger picture, like how to get involved politically and affect change on a larger scale.
Welcome Objects´s last blog post ..Minimalist Travel Backpack Review: Lo & Sons Hanover and Hanover Deluxe
Andrea H says
This post really resonates with me, I’m glad you put your thoughts on paper so to speak. The big struggle for me: how do I buy less when I’ve made this my job? (As you say.) I think about all this a lot, and constantly wrestle. I hope you enjoy your trip!
Karin Rambo says
Grechen I really appreciate this post! First because as someone who is currently pregnant I resonate with the struggle of wanting to deal with change by buying all the things. Second because this is such a struggle for me as a fellow blogger. It’s my job, so I feel the urge to stay current, but I also see how much waste is happening in the ethical fashion community as evidenced by the sheer amount of items available in the buy/sell groups, and the push for buying new. I’m definitely guilty of encouraging new purchases (and have an a everlane post scheduled for tomorrow ?????). I don’t really know what I’m trying to say except that I get the struggle, and I hope to be able to find a way to balance it all. One thing I am thinking of doing is returning to a more formal capsule wardrobe so a.) I’m buying less, but b.) I’m sharing less volume with my audience. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there!
Karin Rambo´s last blog post ..Wearing Lately: Maternity Outfits
Sigh…I feel everything you say here and I love all the brilliant comments. Some really thought provoking answers to your question of what more you can do.
I also feel incredibly frustrated when I see fast fashion pushers on Instagram occasionally promoting sustainable fashion, just to jump on the bandwagon or worse, getting paid!. In the case of the paid collabs I feel especially cheated. Why would a sustainable brand want to be associated with an influencer who is actually part of the problem? All that aside I am one of those people who believe small things add up to a big change. “One plastic straw doesn’t hurt, said 8 billion people ” is a great quote that speaks volumes about changing small habits. And let’s be honest there are a million small and easy things we can all change in every day life. I recently switched buying cotton buds with plastic stems. Doh! Even though I’ve been a conscious consumer for decades I’m still learning small things.
I have also done a couple of big things over the years. Such as getting solar panels for my house and setting up monthly direct debits to Wateraid, Greenpeace and the fight for Ecocide Law.
That all said, I definitely have my sad days when I feel overwhelmed and despondent that it’s all too late. But lately these are less because there’s definitely a quickening on sustainability. France has banned brands from burning unwanted stock. The UK has banned straws, stirrers and cotton buds, Kenya has banned single use plastic in protected areas and NZ has banned plastic bags among other things. Soon plastic water bottles will also be banned across the globe along with plastic bags and there are many groups committed to mass clean up of single use plastic. The race is on and if the momentum holds we may just be ok. Don’t lose hope after all, you’re having a baby so you have no choice.
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