It's the dead of winter here in Ottawa, the dead time between New Year's and the return of normal life. Back in the day, I would fill this weirdly unreal time (between the craziness of Christmas, and the start of the school term) with marking. After Christmas, when boxing week sales made me not want to venture downtown, and Hubby was mesmerized by hockey on television (World Junior Hockey tournament, Spengler Cup, plus the regular NHL games) I'd allot a few hours a day to marking the major essays that my senior students had submitted on the last day before the break. And when school started again, I'd have that Herculean task all done and dusted instead of hanging over my head.
So what do I do now, when the chaos of post Christmas traffic, crowded restaurants and stores, not to mention all that hockey on TV, keeps me in limbo? I do my closet inventory. Naturally. Nothing like a good stock-taking to start the year off right. This year, I'm asking myself if I'm any closer to being an ethical shopper. And, if I'm honest, if it's even possible to be an ethical shopper.
|Consulting my little book of lists|
So as I said, I've been surveying my closet this week. And perusing my wardrobe inventory, taking note of my progress this past year in the quest to be a more ethical shopper. According to the website Racked, the ethical shopper is an "educated shopper" who "has an interest in conscious consumerism." And, I'd add, one who understands the impact their shopping habits may have on the planet, and attempts to minimize that impact by controlling what they buy and how much.
Last year I did some research and evaluated how I stacked up against the "average shopper," as identified in articles I'd read. I did quite well in overall numbers, giving myself an A+ for quantity since I'd purchased only 26 new items in 2016, as compared with the 70 items purchased by the average American woman in 2013. There appears to be no similar data on how much Canadian women buy. Then I considered other elements of the ethical shopper, such as planning and organization, thrifting and recycling, creativity in re-purposing old pieces into new outfits, and shopping "ethical brands." I gave myself an overall grade of B-.
So, let's see how I did this year. In 2017, I purchased 25 new items of apparel. Here's the breakdown.
I bought seven new pieces for our South America trip, and for travel in general. Two base layer turtlenecks, ski underwear bottoms, two long-sleeved tees (one not shown), a zippered track jacket, and a striped cotton sweater. Travel fashion is as close as I get to fast fashion. I try not to spend a lot because usually by the time we come home the clothes have been through the wringer. Then they become camping clothes.
|What I wore in South America|
Spring and Summer:
This past spring I tried to expand my horizons and change up my look. At least a little. I bought seven pieces. A new longer skirt, cropped pants, a pink cashmere sweater, two linen tee shirts, and a pair of flats.
|New spring 2016 stuff|
Oh, yes... and the infamous, confidence sapping Eileen Fisher tunic. Ha. Who can forget the overreaction by moi to a few simple pictures of me wearing that top? I also added a new pair of cropped jeans to my wardrobe by not spending a cent, but by taking my cue from Alyson Walsh over at That's Not My Age and hacking off a pair I already owned.
|Love my DIY cropped jeans. The tunic, not so much|
Fall and Winter:
This past fall I bought six new pieces. Two pairs of jeans, a white shirt, a white short-sleeved tee, my burgundy turtleneck, and a wool zippered jacket with a quilted front. I'm happy to say that, of the six, most were bought at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and saved me big bucks.
|My fall purchases. All of these items hit my sweet spot, and passed the sigh test.|
Not shown here are three "ath-leisure" pieces I bought at Aritzia late last summer: Adidas sweat pants, a light hoodie, and a sweatshirt. And two new tops I bought just before Christmas, and which I'll tell you about next week.
So how did I do in 2017?
If, as the article in The Rack counsels, we're to be more "conscious shoppers" (as opposed to unconscious shoppers, presumably) we have to shop wisely, and make fewer impulse purchases. Of course that entails knowing what we already have in our closets. I chuckled when I read this article which said that one in seven women admits to buying a new, duplicate piece, because they couldn't find the original, or had forgotten that they already owned it. We have to know our style, what will look good on our bodies (as opposed to on the mannequin or on that nineteen year old celebrity on IG.) And we have to be able to find pieces to buy that we'll love and will wear for a long time. This can be difficult. And takes patience, and time many of us don't have. This part of the ethical shopping equation is my forte: organization, knowing what I have, and what I want, and don't want, and having the patience to pursue the perfect piece. I'm there already and have been for years.
One area in which I think I've improved from last year is the recycling/re-purposing old pieces into new outfits bit. I love my new DIY white jeans, made from a five year old pair of Hudson jeans which were on their way to be donated. They worked out so well that I tried the trick again with a rarely worn pair of brown boot-cut jeans, making them perfect to wear with my old Prada ankle boots. And since I was on a roll with reviving old stuff I own, I inquired at a tailor shop a couple of weeks ago about taking the shoulder pads out of my houndstooth blazer from the eighties. The oldest thing in my closet may just see the light of day sometime soon. So that's pretty good, I think. Three old pieces getting a new life.
But one area in which I've made no progress whatsoever is in buying "sustainable" brands. Or even finding sustainable brands. Other than Eileen Fisher, that is. And we know how that turned out. I've found a couple of sites which list brands which are supposedly "ethical" and "sustainable." Sites like Sustainably Chic and Racked. Racked sourced its recommended brands from a list produced by an organization called Project Just which says it is "committed to documenting the production practices- and specifically their environmental and social impact- of some of the biggest names in fashion." I tried to access the Project Just website and their "Seal of Approval" list but it appears to be off-line for the foreseeable future. I did, however, find this little article on Medium.com which tells the story of six hard-working researchers from Project Just who tried to investigate the Ivanka Trump clothing brand. It's pretty interesting.
And then I read the article So You Say You're an Ethical Shopper by Michael Hobbes, written in response to his earlier article The Myth of the Ethical Shopper which I linked to in a post last year. Hobbes pretty much says that trying to buy "fair trade" whatever, or even to ascertain if something is "ethically sourced," or "sustainably produced" is an exercise in futility. And doesn't achieve what we want to achieve anyway, which is to pressure companies and governments to get rid of sweatshops. Hobbes says that the days of consumer boycotts are gone; they don't work anymore; that "we are not going to shop ourselves into a better world." For as much as we may feel ethically superior because we buy fair-trade coffee and locally made tee shirts, what do we know about everything else we consume: from cars to dental floss?
Quite frankly, my friends, this whole research thing is beginning to give me a headache. It's soooo hard to know who to believe. And what to believe. And therein lies the source of my headache. Sigh. It's just all so complicated. And a little discouraging. Does any of this ethical shopping do any good, I wonder? Is it even possible to be an ethical shopper?
But back to my evaluation. Here's my report card for myself for 2017... such as I might have given to a student back in the day when I'd have spent this whole week marking, instead of fun things like evaluating my closet and reading about shopping.
|Teacher's overall grade for teacher.|
One article I read today suggests fledgling ethical shoppers like me need a simple mantra to follow, similar to Michael Pollan's formula for healthy eating: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." A shopping mantra? Wouldn't that be good? I love to follow simple rules.
So how about this?
Plan carefully. Purchase wisely, not too much. Mostly quality.
And ethically... if possible.
How about you folks? Anything to add? About "ethical shopping?" Or about anything, really. Or are you still lolling on the couch, waiting for normal life to resume next week when the kids go back to school and everyone else except us retirees goes back to work?
Linking up this week with: Visible Monday, #IwillwearwhatIlike, Style Me Wednesday, Thursday Favourite Things, Passion 4 Fashion, Fun Fashion Friday, Fancy Friday, Saturday Share Link-Up