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When I decided to not buy any clothing in 2020, that was under the assumption that I would have enough to wear for the year (work/active/dress/etc.) to get me through the year so I could put my money toward debt payments. Then the pandemic rolled around and suddenly everyone was in loungewear and I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to buy loungewear. That I have enough clothing. This was going fine, but I gained some weight, so my goals changed when it became more apparent that my wardrobe wasn’t sustaining my needs. I moved from a size Large/12 to an XL/14, so much of my experience reckons with this change in my body. The more I read about how terrible fast fashion is for the environment (recommended reading: Fashionopolis* by Dana Thomas), the more I realized that I couldn’t just hop on Old Navy and buy loungewear (no matter how cheap it is).
I started to keep a list of clothing items I wanted or needed to be replaced. I’ve also adopted a one-in-one-out policy. I don’t have much room to keep every item anyway, so this seemed like the best solution for now.
To summarize, I’m dedicating myself to buying sustainably or secondhand. These come with some challenges, for one, buying sustainably made clothing is quite a bit more expensive than fast fashion items. The sticker shock really gets to me because every single time I’ve ever bought clothes in my life it was with the mindset “how can I get this item for the cheapest price possible?” And noticeably, most sustainable clothing brands do not have that many sales, with the exception of “sign up to get 10% off.” Another problem is that if I want to buy second hand, I have to order online and there’s no way to gauge the sizing based on photos (and limited measurements). (Thank goodness for thrift stores!!)
Also, can I just take a moment to say I hate buying pants online? Because I hate buying pants online. It’s always a hit or miss situation.
Also worth noting that buying sustainably is a journey, and it’s not always practical within a person’s budget. I get that 100%. I’m writing about what I did, but that doesn’t mean everyone can or should follow my example.
Impact/Sustainability: eco-friendly fabrics made from recycled water bottles, small batch releases, ethical factories
Known for: size inclusive activewear
Downside: Takes a while to re-stock if you miss the initial launch, shipping takes a while
With the initial hurdle of pricing out of my way, I started my sustainable shopping with an order to Girlfriend Collective, which makes activewear out of recycled water bottles. They have cute, compression leggings that are very comfortable and honestly have no problems with the fit. They don’t roll down when you exercise, and do fit a human body! They also have a rewards program so each time you buy you earn points that can be used towards discounts in the future. After my initial purchase, I saw that there was a discount on some colors that were going out of stock, so that helped lower the price for that purchase, too. The discounts are there if you know where to look. Plus, they have a program where if you want to recycle your old Girlfriend clothes you can return them so the items don’t end up in a landfill. Later, looking for more loungewear items, I purchased the R&R hoodie* and jogger* set! I bought them in XL and they fit great, not tight and have space to move.
What I purchased/recommend: *Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Legging* Wearing the Large in both pants and bra. The fabric is so so soft!!! The bra is definitely for low-impact workouts, but the leggings are for all around movement/working out/ lounge.
See more: https://www.girlfriend.com/pages/about
Impact/Sustainability: eco-friendly cotton, ethical factories
Known for: cotton clothing for men, women, kids, and bed and bath products
Downside: size up, not size inclusive
Bit frustrated with this brand. I bought some cotton briefs and some cotton leggings from them. The underwear band started to detach from the rest of the fabric after a couple washes. The legging sizing ran small so it is uncomfortably tight on me. I wish they had more styles of clothing available, or more colors. Bit iffy about buying from them again, but I do love a good cotton legging.
What I purchased/recommend: Go-to Legging, bought a large, but would buy again in an XL. It has a thick band that stays at your waist and the fabric is soft and thick so it feels high quality. They are see through, so do with that information what you will.
See more: https://wearpact.com/about
Impact/Sustainability: eco-friendly materials, ethical factories
Known for: everyday basics, including shoes
Downside: not size inclusive
For my order with Everlane, I bought three pairs of work/dress pants because I needed some in my professional wardrobe. Pants were on my list of things I wanted and needed, so though I’m not going into the office, it was still worth getting. They are true to size, have a hidden stretchy waistband, and feel really good to wear. I’m always looking at their sale section to see if I can get any other items, but without paying full price. The only downside for me is they do not have inclusive sizing. Though I had success with the work pant, I later placed an order for high rise jeans that were on sale, which I bought in the equivalent sizing to the pants I bought previously (or so I thought). They were extremely small so I had to return them. The issue is that a 32 is not a size 14 like Madewell, it’s closer to the waist measurement, and I’m not a 32 waist–always check the size chart and measure yourself! The return policy is good. You’ll get the money deposited when they receive the items back in the mail with the pre-paid label, but if you want to use a store credit instead so you can shop right away there’s an option for that, too.
What I purchased/recommend: Curvy side-zip pant — bought a size 14 and they fit like a glove, it’s a bit awkward to zip up from the side, but I like the silhouette of the pants so I don’t mind.
See more: https://www.everlane.com/sustainability
Here’s my referral code if you want to order from there! https://www.everlane.com/r/allenhr310
Impact/Sustainability: ethical factories, sustainable materials and manufacturing
Known for: high quality fabrics at mid-range prices
Downside: Not size inclusive, needs more color options (lots of neutrals)
This is a hidden gem. They offer sustainably made, high quality clothing, accessories, and bedding at nearly half the price of other retailers. For instance, I was searching for sustainable sweatpants/loungewear and nearly everywhere I looked had pants in the $70+ range, but at this retailer, they are only $39.50! It’s slow fashion so you do have to wait for items to come back in stock, but it is worth the wait. I was also surprised at the cashmere and silk collections, which also retail for high prices, but these are more accessible prices. Looking at the silk pillowcase to buy next to help with my haircare.
What I purchased/recommend: Boyfriend jogger and hoodie –the softest and most comfortable thing I’ve ever put on my body!!! Bought an XL in the pants and a L in the hoodie, both are roomy!
See more: https://www.onequince.com/sustainability
Impact/Sustainability: giving a second life to clothes, eco-friendly packaging, size inclusive
Known for: the largest online thrift store
Downside: return policy, sizing discrepancies, no men’s section
ThredUp is an online thrift store. There’s a limit to how long you can keep things in your cart, which fuels my impulse spending!! I frequently browse and save items to my wishlist. They list the brands for most items so if you already know your sizing for Old Navy, ModCloth, etc, it makes it that much easier to buy. I’m also a fan of doing a “Saved Search” on the website where you can get email alerts when an item you’re looking for is listed (I think this website works best if you have an item in mind that you want). Pricing is pretty good, though it is more expensive than a traditional thrift store, from what I’ve seen/purchased–to be fair, I filter my search by “new with tags” and “like new,” so the pricing depends on your assessment of how much wear the garment has been through. They also have a partnership with Rent the Runway so you can find some excellent brands on here. Always check the sizing listed!! And know your own measurements!! This will save you so much headache. I’ve tried buying pants and they all have been so wonky (I was sent a women’s Nike legging that was definitely a better fit for a small child). Better to stick to brands you know will fit. If you have to return anything there is a $1.99 restocking fee with each item, plus you have to pay for return shipping, or choose the flat rate $8.99 print out. It’s a hassle and a half. On the other hand, you earn points for each purchase and you can use the points to waive the fees. The points can also be used to get free shipping or $10 off your next order. Overall, you can find cute things! The thrill of the hunt as they say.
What I purchased/recommend: very proud of this cute holiday outfit (shirt and pants). Wearing an L in the top and a 12 in the pants (very tight though so I should have sized up).
See more: https://www.thredup.com/impact
Referral code for $10 off! http://www.thredup.com/r/FJPPQH
Impact/Sustainability: eco-friendly materials, ethical factories
Known for: comfortable undies and basics
Downside: gentle washing of this material, not size inclusive
Sustainable underwear brand made from bamboo!! Honestly the most comfortable bra and panties I’ve ever worn. So soft!! I bough the padded shaper bra ($19.99, what a deal!) and the padding is very minimal, but it will prevent nipples from appearing through your shirt, which is why I got it. The bra has no underwire, and not much of any other support, so it feels great for lounging, but I think if I were to return to the office I’d need something more substantial to keep my boobs in place. But if you’re just running errands it’s great. I also bought some thongs to get to the free shipping threshold and those are comfortable, too.
What I purchased/recommend: padded shaper bra — bought an XL and it fits like a dream (I’m now at 38D), it’s like you’re not wearing anything.
See More: https://boodywear.com/pages/eco-ethics
Impact/Sustainability: eco-friendly materials, ethical factories
Known for: size inclusive colorful undies
Downside: need more fabric options (cotton, please!), gentle washing of material
I succumbed to the Instagram marketing!! Parade is a brand of size inclusive, sustainably made underwear that comes in a bunch of cute styles. Personally, I like the high-waisted ones the best for the comfort level. The pricing is not completely out of reach, too, I bought a bunch for $9 so I could get the free shipping. If you’re interested in getting a free pair, you can use my discount code: HEATHER-D8.
What I purchased/recommend: high rise thong — bought an XL, and the front panel sits high on your hips/lower stomach, which I find so comfortable, especially with the high rise Everlane work pants I mentioned before.
See More: https://yourparade.com/pages/help
EDIT JULY 2021: a previous version of this post included a section on Madewell, but after destroying two pairs of jeans with my thighs, I can no longer endorse the store, as the main product I was buying falls apart!
Brands On My Radar:
^ denotes Black-owned businesses
- Aliya Wanek^ (clothing)
- All Birds (shoes)
- Automic Gold (jewelry)
- Big Bud Press (clothing)
- Cariloha (clothing, homegoods)
- Chan + Krys^ (clothing)
- Christy Dawn (clothing)
- Cobalt Street (clothing)
- Dressed in Joy^ (clothing)
- Eileen Fisher (clothing)
- Earth Toned Collective^ (clothing)
- Galerie.la^ (clothing)
- Goodfair (clothing)
- Gracemade^ (clothing)
- Grant Blvd^ (clothing)
- j.jackman^ (clothing)
- Jane Dottie Vintage^ (accessories)
- Kotn (clothing)
- lemlem^ (clothing)
- Leze The Label (clothing)
- Mate the Label (clothing)
- Mejuri (jewelry)
- Msichana^ (clothing)
- Nia Thomas New York^ (clothing, accessories)
- Nisolo Shoes (shoes)
- Organic Basics (clothing)
- Outdoor Voices (activewear)
- Pangaia (clothing)
- Patagonia (clothing)
- Pure Hope Clothing^ (clothing)
- Reformation (clothing)
- Richer Poorer (clothing)
- Sindiso Khumalo^ (clothing)
- Stella McCartney (clothing)
- Swedish Stockings (clothing)
- Tabii Just^ (clothing)
- Tailored Industry (clothing)
- Teva (shoes)
- The Tiny Closet^ (clothing)
- Thinx Underwear (clothing)
- Tradlands (clothing)
- Two Days Off^ (clothing)
- WRAY NYC (clothing)
- Universal Standard (clothing)
- Zou Xou^ (shoes)
Leave a comment if I missed a brand!
“Fashionista’s Complete Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Fashion Certifications” by Whitney Bauck (Fashionista)
“Ethical Fashion Certifications You Need to Know” (Eco-Stylist)
“Guide To Key Fashion Sustainability Certifications” (Common Objective)
“The Future of Plus Size Sustainable Fashion is Bright” by Marielle Elizabeth (Vogue)
“Could the Covid pandemic make fashion more sustainable?” by Hannah Marriott (The Guardian)
A Sustainable Mind, hosted by Marjorie Alexander
The Sustainable Minimalists Podcast, hosted by Stephanie Seferian
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