Sunday, December 9, 2012

Eight Budget Friendly Ways to Shop for Fashion, Ethically and Consciously

I read a heartbreaking article in the New York Times about the factory fire in Pakistan, that took over 262 lives in horrific ways (burning, boiling and suffocation). Sounds like something that would have happened in western countries at the time of the industrial revolution, when there were wild, wild west conditions in factories and laborers were the Native Americans. The entire article was basically an indictment of auditing systems that are supposed to be in play by large retailers to prevent these situations, governments that don't give a crap about poor people, poverty, greed and human indifference. I could go on, but in response to a commenter on the article who wanted to know what her options were around putting her money where her values were, I have developed this list of eight ways to shop ethically and consciously with your wallet and still look gooood. Wanna hear it? Hear it goes:

  1. Shop Your Closet - clean/organize your closet and find awesome stuff that you totally forgot about! Take pictures of various clothing combinations and store in your smartphone for ideas on those days when you feel you have nothing to wear. This would be a great project for a teenager to do for you. Donate items that you don't, can't or shouldn't wear to a friend or non-profit organization.
  2. Catwalk with Friends - have a fashion show with friends featuring some of those clothes from your closet that are still in good condition, but you just don't love anymore (or they don't love you...).
  3. Go Thrifting - you will be amazed at what you can find at thrift and consignment shops. Great and unique jewelry, coats, formal wear, amazing shoes and designer fashions for a fraction of the cost of retail. Checkout The Thrifyshopper website for stores near you. Once you experience consignment shopping, your life will not be the same. Even well paid celebrities find vintage and retro clothing add value and zest to their wardrobes. eBay is a great source for thrift, vintage and gently used finds. My son purchased a very nice designer shirt there for $.99! Patagonia, one of the world's most ethical brands, even sells it's gently worn and lifetime guaranteed outdoor wear on eBay. Who knew?
  4. Buy Fair Trade - most of us are blessed to have access to some retailers in our communities that sale fair trade goods. There are dozens of shopping sites dedicated to promoting fair trade fashions and even fair trade cities (Chicago). The problem is fair trade can be prohibitive for many of our budgets. It helps to think and shop for long term usage. How can an item be used over multiple seasons and with multiple outfits? Putting my banker hat on, I make a cost per usage calculation ($90/30 uses per year minus the cost of human suffering vs. $25/10 uses per year plus the cost of human suffering, is a pretty good deal to me). The value of eco-ethical shopping sites is that you can often get some really good deals. I recommend, JP Selects, SweatFree Shopping and Eco Fashion World to start. A caveat is that eco doesn't always mean fair trade, so be sure to look for ethical and fair trade in your filters. Another site for great scarves, hats and gloves is Ten Thousand Villages - I volunteer occasionally at the Cleveland store. I often purchase work appropriate dresses, tops and skirts from Revive. If you are in the UK, support African Fair Trade fashionistas by visiting the new Sapelle's online store.
  5. Hire an Image Consultant - No really. I invested $50 for one hour with a wonderful image consultant on a color consultation and it was one of the best investments of my life! Armed with a booklet of my optimal colors, I now save time and money by investing only in colors that look great on me and work well together. AICI is the best source for locating an image consultant. If you are in Cleveland, Dawn Waldrop of Best Impressions is the best!
  6. Buy Made In The USA - Now I know that there is an argument for supporting imported items as our purchases impact impoverished and disadvantaged people. But at what cost? Enough consumers will continue to purchase cheap imported goods to ensure job security for most overseas factory workers. It is however, essential to be part of a growing chorus of conscientious consumers that send the message with our wallets and our letters, that we can do better. What brands are still made in the USA? Spanx, American Apparel, some New Balance and some Lane Bryant. In addition to one of my favorites, Texture Clothing, Business Week compiled some not so familiar made in the USA brands to consider.
  7. Learn How to Sew - easier said than done, but many craft stores and community centers offer sewing classes.
  8. Think Minimal - Have a little fun with yourself and do this exercise. You are going on a trip in which you would be engaging in a variety of activities - meetings, partying, gallery hopping, people watching, community service - and can only take 15 items of clothing. What would you take? You may find that you really wear a small percentage of your clothes the majority of your time. So why burden yourself with buying so many clothes when you can keep life simple with 15 items that you absolutely love? You keep it fun and fresh with accessories like scarves and jewelry! I have a skirt that I can wear five different ways, including as a dress. Most of my dresses are worn year round via layering up or down, depending on the season. What would be on your list of 15? 
So there you go. No excuses for not redirecting more of our fashion dollars for the love of strangers. Tis the season!

This is one of my favorite dresses. It is from Texture Clothing and can be worn year round, dressed up or down, is very forgiving and extremely comfortable! I wear it with tights, sandals, sweaters, tees, turtlenecks, blazers, ankle boots, knee high boots, barelegged, you name it. Go to and to purchase one for yourself.

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