These Sustainable Fashion Experts Have Tips On Shopping Ethically


Learn how to be a mindful consumer

By now, it’s pretty clear that the fashion industry is not so good for our planet. The industry as a whole is the second most polluting industry in the world, falling right behind oil, which says a lot. As more truths about industry practices—and our dying planet—become uncovered, it's at least reassuring that the sustainable fashion industry is booming.

New fashion brands emerge each day that strive to be as sustainable as possible, working with strictly organic materials or using ethical production practices. Pre-existing brands are moving forward with sustainability efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, too, such as putting out ethically sourced lines or implementing buy-back programs. Rather than throw away old clothing, consumers are choosing to donate their clothing, or sell them to recycled fashion retailers such as Buffalo Exchange.

While these are obviously good things, it’s still not making much of a change in terms of actual environmental impact.

Organic cotton, which you’ll find used in many of the sustainable brands out there, still only makes up 1 percent of global cotton production. According to Newsweek, only .1 percent of clothing donated to all charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fabric. In fact, 84 percent of disposed clothing ends up being incinerated, which, as you would imagine, is terrible for our planet.

Why? Because there’s more discarded clothing circulating in the world than we know what to do with.

The issue here is that, as consumers, we’re incredibly wasteful. Americans are buying five times as many clothes as we did in the 1980s, and the accessibility of fast fashion certainly isn’t helping the cause. There’s lots more work to do to turn around the fashion industry, and if real change is going to be implemented, we have to start with our shopping habits.

We talked to three women in the fashion industry on how they’re working to spread the message of sustainability and educate the masses, and snagged a few of their shopping (and non-shopping) tips, too.

Clare Press is an Australian fashion journalist of 17 years who, earlier this year, was appointed as Vogue Australia’s sustainability editor-at-large—the first position of its kind. A reformed clothing obsessive, Press has not only written a book on the environmental dangers of the industry, Wardrobe Crisis, How We Went from Sunday Best to Fast Fashion, but turned it into a weekly podcast, on which she interviews designers such as Karen Walker and Christopher Raeburn, as well as other thinkers, creative, and change-makers. “It’s about broadening conversations around what fashion is for, what its impacts are, and how the system works.

It all started after she began learning and writing more about the issues around sustainable and ethical fashion after a Bangladesh garment factory collapsed in 2013 killing over 1,100 people. “Gradually, I joined the dots with everything from fashion’s impacts on the environment to how we might transition toward circularity to the real stories behind who makes our clothes. I now look at all the stories I tell through this lens.”

Her goal is to reach as many people as possible. “If we’re going to build a sustainable fashion movement, we need to invite as many people as possible along for the ride,” she says. She feels it's important to not only educate people on the bad stuff but, also, make a point to celebrate the good—such as all the new sustainable brands out there. “Doom and gloom doesn’t always change minds. We need to harness positivity into the conversation. Negativity only motivates a small minority.”

Colleen Coughlin was a fashion designer with over 14 years of experience in both the NYC and Miami apparel industries. After a pretty horrifying experience working in fast fashion, where the brand she was designing chose to incinerate 15 bins full of trims, buttons, fabrics, and developmental samples rather than donate them to a local design high school, she quit, went back to school (graduating from FIT’s very first Sustainable Design Entrepreneurship class), and started her own upcycling and professional closet editing business called TheFullEdit.

Coughlin’s approach to educating on sustainability is to make it fun. “This way the message sticks. No one likes an angry activist telling them what to do.” On a client level, her company organizes, purges, and styles their closets, being sure to repurpose or recycle anything no longer being used. The goal is to lessen clients’ needs to buy more, having them invest in quality, conscious, and classic pieces instead.

But she does much more for the masses. She holds upcycling workshops where attendees create something new from secondhand clothes, speaks to schools and organizations on the importance of sustainable fashion, and consults businesses on zero-waste living. She even co-organized Miami’s first Fashion Revolution event last year, hosting panels on sustainability, with a hem-repairing workshop being planned for this year to teach people to repair old items rather than discard them. 

Jennifer Rosson of Style Your Life is a wardrobe stylist and personal shopper who wants to change the way the world looks at shopping. Working in the industry for over 20 years, she’s a strong advocate for avoiding over-shopping, donating used clothing, and secondhand shopping—and educates her clients on these habits. Over the years, she’s teamed up with brands such as Rent the Runway and 260 Sample Sale on video projects to help educate consumers on shopping sustainably.

Her goal is to educate consumers on how to be more mindful when shopping—especially when it comes to all of the “disposable” pieces out there today. “It's much better to spend a little more on a quality piece that will last years and years,” she says. "Not only will it help the earth, but also your pocketbook."

Ultimately, she feels that the recent popularity of sustainable fashion is destined to change the industry. “I think all brands will have to add a sustainability component to their lines, and it will be exciting to see how this evolves. Innovation will play a huge role in future brand consideration.”

All of these women are using their expertise to spread the message of mindfulness when it comes to our clothes. Because it’s ultimately up to consumers to impact real change—and to change those pretty sad statistics. Each offered their tips on how we can all become more mindful shoppers and be more environmentally conscious:

Create a shopping list: Shopping lists aren’t just for your groceries. Rosson wants you to make a list of the items you need, like a new winter coat that will keep you warm or a blazer to wear to your new job, to avoid making any impulse purchases. “People don’t usually think of shopping with a list when they shop for clothes, but they should. Shopping with a list is helpful, so you only purchase items that you truly need!”

Shop for more investment pieces: While, yes, many of us can’t afford designer prices all of the time, Rosson wants you to consider saving up for more timeless investment pieces that you’ll wear for years. Not only will the higher quality allow the piece to outlast any trendy fast fashion piece, allowing you to get way more use out of it, but rather than having to simply throw it away, you can consign it once when you’re ready to retire it. “You’ll be able to consign these pieces and get more of your initial investment back,” says Rosson. This is something you won’t be able to do with seasons-old Zara or H&M.

Consider how often you’ll wear an item: Find yourself drooling over that statement-making embellished mini skirt in the window? Coughlin wants you to ask yourself just how often you’re going to wear it. “I believe if you ask yourself, How many times am I going to wear this? and consider the price of the garment divided by the cost, you’ll be more mindful.” For example, if something costs $100 and you know you’re only going to wear it four times, then look at it as $25 per wear. If this is something you can get behind, then go for it, but if the per-wear cost just doesn’t add up, move on.

Throw a clothing swap: The next time you’re looking to clear out some space in your closet, Coughlin suggests throwing a clothing swap with your friends. “This way, you can exchange your ‘no thank you pile’ for theirs.” New, free clothes for our personal wardrobes, while ethically clearing out the things that we no longer want or need? Sounds like the perfect plan for us.

Ask more questions: “As Fashion Revolution says, be curious, find out, do something,” says Press. Research a brand or a store before you go in: What are their sustainability practices? Are they offering pieces from sustainably made brands, or are they totally trashing the environment? And while the answers may not always be so black and white, the answers you do get should ultimately influence your purchasing decisions. And find out what you can do on your own to make real change.

As Earth Day approaches, let these tips influence the way you shop (or don’t shop)—not just on April 22, but year-round. Remember, in the end, the state of our planet—and the effect the fashion industry has on it—is really up to us.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds



Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.