When a Love of Fashion Meets Ethical Boundaries

As of late, I’ve entered a brand new world of pretty things. And by pretty things, I mean clothes and make-up.

I’ve always had a minimal routine in the mornings. In the past I’ve thrown on jeans and a t-shirt before class and put on some mineral powder.Fashion wasn’t of interest to me. But I’ve suddenly become very drawn to this world of fashion and beauty trends and such, which is actually really exciting!

sephoraHowever, it’s oftentimes very frustrating as well. Because walking into Sephora isn’t nearly as fun as it could be when I know that more than half of their brands test on animals, and even less happen to be vegan. It’s even worse when you ask for a list and the manager comes out proclaiming that none of their brands participate in animals testing, which is definitely not true. It’s frustrating when I’m on Pinterest and I see an absolutely gorgeous dress – that’s made by Forever 21. My face falls and I realize I’ll only buy it if it happens to show up in my size at a secondhand store.

I’m approaching this subject from a very different view than most of my female friends do. One girl I know is incredibly chic and clean cut. I love her style, but what do I do when her purse is made of leather and her shoes are Loubitins? Not to mention I’m in my last year of college and all my money goes to food. If I had enough money to shop at Stella McCartney, I’d totally be there.

I’m not afraid to say that I have high standards for what I buy. As a result, I normally don’t end up buying anything. I steer clear of Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, and Wet Seal. Their clothes may be cute and trendy, but they aren’t made well and they aren’t sustainable. More importantly, I don’t know what the working conditions are of the people that made them. I feel similarly about higher end stores that charge an insane amount of money. If I’m going to pay $50 for a basic tank top, then I want to know where my money is going and if the person who sewed it makes a living wage. If I can find a fair trade and organic product, I go home satisfied.

fair tradeI admit that I’ve entered the fashion stage at a later time in my life than most. My younger sister has been a hair and beauty maven since she was 13, so she has much more experience in this area than I do, despite the six year age difference. When she spent an hour curling her hair, I had already pulled mine up in a ponytail and headed for school. I thought it was a waste of time and preferred to spend the extra 45 minutes reading.

But what I’ve realized is that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. I don’t have to choose between loving Shakespeare and loving clothes. I shouldn’t have to, and I’d like to give a shout out to feminism for making me understand that it’s totally chill for me to write my thesis while wearing a miniskirt and lipstick. I enjoy buffing my nails while geeking out over BBC Sherlock and no one can stop me.

Finding a balance has been a challenge. Not a balance being brainy and feeling beautiful, because there isn’t a balance there. How I look doesn’t reflect my GPA and I’m not obligated to earn my straight A’s without eyeliner. I’m talking about the balance between loving clothes and loving the planet. Consumerism isn’t so great for Mother Earth so I’ve had to find a way to balance my commitment to sustainability with my love of dolling myself up. Here’s what I’ve learned:buffalo-exchange

  1. Plato’s Closet is my best friend. And so is Buffalo X-Change and Daisy X-Change and every other resale and consignment store on the planet. I shop thrift and resale before I go looking for clothes anywhere else. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
  2. If I can’t find anything at resale, then I look online. It can be risky, but I’ve found some great deals on eco-friendly sites and flash sites. Zulily had a flash sale on vegan Tom’s a few months back and I bought two pairs. Score!
  3. If all else fails, I hit the local stores and boutiques. I like shopping at independently owned stores because it supports local businesses, but I still research the brands I look at.
  4. As a last resort, I head to the mall. I can’t know every single thing about every brand in existence, but I do know what brands and chains will not be earning my business.
  5. I must be able to pronounce and recognize every ingredient in my beauty products.
  6. I only buy brands that aren’t tested on animals. If they test, they don’t get my money, which is actually really unfortunate. Because if more products and companies were dedicated to sustainability and being animal and earth conscious, they’d get much more of my business and I wouldn’t be inclined to pass them by.
  7. I concentrate on what I do have rather than what I don’t have. I may not be able to buy that oversized sweater from Urban Outfitters, but I have plenty of sweaters at home.
  8. I have a lot of fun altering old clothes. I make my own high-waisted shorts and use old t-shirts to make work out tops. Get crafty and you’ll realize what you’ve been missing.

All in all, I think it comes down to being a conscious consumer. Corporations and chains are counting on impulse buying and uninformed customers. I don’t want to be one of them because I want to know where my money goes. I want to know what it supports and who it supports. Throwaway lifestyles aren’t sustainable and I’m not willing to pay for a $5 shirt if the person who made it isn’t paid fairly for their work. I want to look cute and make good decisions. And call me crazy, but I think it’s absolutely possible to do both.


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