conversations with a cardigan

I’m going for the kill this week: addressing the fashion industry’s frankly depressing impacts on the environment and how we all can make individual efforts to limit those effects. Don’t worry, I know; it sucks picking on the little guys. Why point the finger at ourselves and our limp paper straws when we should be pushing for accountability from corporations, government regulations, and modifications made on a grand scale? I counteract this with, why not both? Why can’t we hold businesses and administrations accountable as well as ourselves? 

I’ve been grappling recently with the disparity between my own values and those of the industry I reside in and love. Oh, fashion; so beautiful, yet so ugly. So glamorous and gory. Two sides of the same Schiaparelli coin. On one side, fashion is a miraculous art expression that can resonate and inspire its audience, whether it’s a luxury runway collection injecting the minds of young designers with creative juices or simply one human passing another on the street in the same pair of Crocs, squeaking their way to the deli. And yet, when you flip the coin, fashion is the catalyst of pain and suffering for so many, from the tired women in Bangladeshi garment factories with more than calloused fingertips and only cents to show for it at the end of the day, to the crocodile who was one day, basking in the sun and the next, carrying your cash. Fashion can be such a fucking bitch. An unsightly whirlwind of consumerism that I can’t, in my right heart, support. Yet, we see a lot of sustainability (and, ahem, greenwashing) in fashion today than ever before and that’s due to consumer (that’s us!) demands. We always get the final word, don’t forget that. And so, as consumer demands start demanding more, and more, and more, and faster, and faster, and faster, the fashion industry, well, provides.

I thought for a long time that I was exempt from this criticism since I exclusively buy second-hand. Silly little me, sitting on my high horse, looking down at girls on TikTok with their $400 Shein hauls (that sentence would give a boomer a heart attack.) Me and my bi-weekly eBay purchase could NEVER. Now, I’ll admit – a lot of the clothes I bought during my retail therapy era, I still adore and wear often. While others… are stuffed under my bed, worn once if lucky. I took those items of clothing from a term of being adored by someone they were made for. If that doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one. But seriously, I was buying for the dopamine hit, as opposed to a thoughtful addition to my wardrobe. I don’t blame myself – post-Covid, times are hard and we all picked our poison. And while I’d bet Shein was a lot of people’s poison, and we can all point and laugh at the Sheinheads, thrift hauls aren’t miles better.

I’m not saying to stop shopping for clothes entirely – I understand the joy it brings to find a piece you love. Though, beyond the context of resellers (because that’s a whole nother conversation), thrifting often or in huge quantities, while maybe not directly contributing to unethical sourcing, encourages a new kind of unsustainable system just for you! Don’t you feel special? You begin to ask not enough questions when thrifting for clothes. “Do I like this?” “No holes or stains?” “Is it my size?” Check, check, check. In the cart!

Instead, I began interviewing my subjects. For example, last week, to the stand was a fuzzy deep purple cardigan I found at a market. I played nice at first, complimenting it on its feathered hems and multicolor looped threading throughout. Then things get a little more serious. 

Have I seen you before? I think I own something very similar to you. Do you have a cousin in my wardrobe perhaps?

It admits it does indeed have a cousin cardigan, brilliant coral pink with a parallel crazy aunt vibe, that currently resides in my closet. 

BUT, it claims, it is much softer and therefore can be worn with short sleeves, whereas the cousin cardigan is notably itchy, so their roles wouldn’t clash. 

And it’s a good point. 

ALSO, it claims, I’ve been looking for a cozy cardigan for a while now as I don’t have any to fill that position in the Department of Sweaters. 

Another good point.

Alright, fuzzy deep purple cardigan: if you really think I need you on my team, riddle me this: What do I already own that I could style you with? 

As I looked in the mirror, the fuzzy deep purple cardigan hanging gracefully from my shoulders, I realized just how right it looked. It seemed to almost pose on my body, making me feel like a mere hanger from which to showcase it. 

I’m deep purple, I’ll go with literally anything in your closet. 

You’re hired. Welcome to the wardrobe.

It’s the only item of clothing I’ve bought in months and I can see it retiring with me. I’ll offer it a good severance package when the time comes. To make a totally unnecessarily long story short (have to get my creative writing steps in somewhere), I put a lot more thought towards whether or not the fuzzy deep purple cardigan would be a suitable complement to my closet, and ultimately decided it would be. And it definitely has been. This internal conversation that I fabricate between human and object might make me crazy, but it also helps me make smarter and more sustainable decisions for myself. The most sustainable purchase you can make is to buy only what you need (with the occasional treat, of course. Balance is key.) There’s no point in holding clothing hostage under your bed until you decide to set it free, whether it be selling it on Depop or donating it back to the same thrift store you found it. Either way, it’s reentered the loop of consumption once again. Be a picky shopper. Curate. Connect with the piece, and see if it speaks back. If it doesn’t, leave it for someone who can speak its language.

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