What I Mean When I Say Ethical Fashion is a Privilege

Merriam-Webster defines “privilege” as being granted a “benefit, advantage, or favor.” I am an extremely privileged individual. My whiteness, my economic status, my education and my able, thin body all grant me a level of advantage in society.

Some people find ethical fashion bloggers annoying—and I don’t blame them. Ethical fashion is annoying for the same reason that vegetarianism is annoying. Both require a certain level of privilege, certain allowances or advantages, in order to easily participate.

When I write something about ethical fashion with the disclaimer that it is a privilege, I am saying that it is important to acknowledge that it is not accessible to everyone.

So, what makes ethical fashion privileged?

Ethical fashion is expensive. That’s if you’re buying new, sustainably sourced items, of course. By nature, it is expensive to create well-made items without cutting corners. It is expensive to source organic materials that don’t cause an unnecessary impact on the earth. And it is especially expensive to make sure all the workers, every step of the way, are getting paid what they’re worth. A basic t-shirt on a well-known sustainable company’s website could easily run for $100. Prices will eventually go down as as demand increases, but as impact investor Christine Lu acknowledged, in an article for Bloomberg, “It’s unaffordable for the average American to be a sustainable consumer right now.” 

Whether shopping new or second-hand, it is time-consuming. It can take a ridiculous amount of time to research a company or find the ethical alternative of whatever item one is searching for. Even with resources like Good On You popping up, not all brands are documented yet, or documented well. Not too long ago, it took me an hour to find any information on a brand as well known as ModCloth. The other, popular option is to rummage the racks at thrift stores and vintage stores. For most middle-class people, thrift shopping is a hobby. It is a leisurely activity in which one spends hours picking through multi-colored, tightly packed racks for the perfect item. It is a day-long, shop-hopping, marathon event. Not everyone has that time. In a sort of twisted way, an activity that was once stigmatized and done out of necessity has become a luxury. If someone with not-too-many dollars to spend on their wardrobe would rather pick out a new garment at Forever 21, where they don’t have to spend all day looking for something “cool,” that’s none of my business.

There are almost no plus size options for ethical fashion. That’s a generous assessment. Like, when hand sanitizer says it kills 99% of germs, just in case. I haven’t been able to find many, and at least not in the lower (ha!) price ranges of popular ethical brands. Everlane’s largest top size is a 16. Same with People Tree. Size 16 is considered the American average. Googling “top ethical brands” will provide no plus size options at all. Even shopping used clothes provides its challenges. Suz Ellis wrote an insightful blog post about fatphobia in vintage and thrift stores, which I recommend reading in its entirety instead of just reading my regurgitated version. She explains that vintage shops put no priority in curating plus sized pieces, thrift stores are often not organized by size at all, and that thinner girls often snatch up larger sizes for trendy oversized looks. All avenues of ethical fashion have made it virtually impossible for plus sized individuals to participate.

There are a lot of people, and I have been guilty of this too, who participate in privileged activism—zero waste living, minimalism, ethical/sustainable fashion, vegetarianism/veganism—by using guilt tactics to try promote their ideals. The general tone of these movements often communicates, “This is an obvious choice. This isn’t even that hard. Why aren’t you doing it yet?” Those of us who say that it is easy and obvious often fail to follow those statement with an important asterisk: “for me.”  

No one should have to feel guilty for what they aren’t able to do. You are not failing if you don’t have the time, money, or body type to join movements that are set up for those who do. Because society is structured for someone like me to navigate through life with less obstacles, I can worry more about my clothes. Sometimes taking care of ourselves needs that time and energy instead.

All of that being written, I still think ethical fashion is good.

There is nothing inherently wrong with utilizing privilege to participate in activism. In many ways, I feel that it is my responsibility to acknowledge my privilege and use it in every space that I can. If I can afford to shop sustainable brands, and have the time and resources to support them, I feel like it’s kind of my duty to do so. (Of course, using one’s privilege is not relegated only to the ethical fashion realm, but that’s what this blog is about.) What is wrong is passing judgement on others and trying to force my privileged forms of activism onto them.

Let’s make good use of what privileges we have, where we can (and stop assuming everyone else has the ability to do so in the same ways).

Let’s Talk about Faux Fur

Fur vs. faux fur. As an ethical consumer, faux is the obvious choice when one wants a little furry flair, right? In a 2017 article for the Los Angles Times, Janet Kinosian wrote that faux fur “offers you a chance to look festive … without the guilt.” However, the choice is a little more complex than Kinosian makes it out to be.

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At a glance, the option that doesn’t require the death of animal is the most ethical choice. Duh. But it turns out faux fur is just the lesser of two evils, so it is still, to some degree, evil. The synthetic material that fake fur is made out of is pretty much just plastic, meaning it’s likely to never biodegrade. (Real fur will eventually biodegrade even though it is heavily treated with chemicals to preserve it.) This is an issue in itself, but it is especially an issue when these faux fur coats are bought more for trend than for warmth. Meaning, when people buy them they aren’t planning on breaking them out every winter but, rather, to wear them once or twice for fun. They end up in a landfill in a jiffy.

This coat is made up of 34% polyester and 66% modacrylic. Both of these materials cause harm to ocean-dwellers as well as being toxic to us, as a 2015 study released in Scientific Reports revealed that these fibers were found in the bellies of fish being sold at markets in California. Growing research compiled by Patagonia shows that these micro-plastic fibers are released when we wash any clothing item made from synthetic material, but a coat like this, which sheds without any prompting, will release any especially large quantity of microplastic fibers.

I’m obviously not here to tell you that you need to avoid all faux fur because, as pictured, that would be a bit hypocritical. Instead, proceed with caution. I know my personal style well enough at this point to know that I am actually going to wear a crazy piece like this a ton, and not just chunk it after newness of it wears off. When purchasing, really think about if it’s just impulse or something you will wear a lot. Whatever you buy, buy second hand. It’s best not to contribute to companies creating cheap synthetic fur, as this just send them to signal to keep on creating more indestructible plastic coats. Just continue the life of an old one. I bought this one at Goodwill, and lots of other thrift stores have tons of wacky coats like it. When it comes to releasing fibers in the wash, Patagonia is one of the first companies to invent the “GUPPYFRIEND” Washing Bag–a bag to put synthetic clothing in that catches the little fibers. (This is useful for other clothing, as well.) I have yet to invest in one of these because, full disclosure, I don’t think coats need to be washed too often and plan on climbing that hill when I get to it.

Make whatever fashion statements you want, just make them informed.

The incredibly talented photographer who took these portraits is Kylie Atkinson, who you absolutely need to follow on Instagram this very minutes.

Creative Color Blocking

The best part of 2018 is that I got to live out the purple eyeshadow look of my  junior-high dreams.

I spent a weekend in Oklahoma with my friends a week or two ago, and forgot most of my accessories at home, per usual. I did remember my tooth brush for once, so it was a partial-win.

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I put on my favorite mustard colored turtleneck and orange scarf, but still felt like I need a bit more color. I have been layering my square scarves over my turtlenecks lately. I’m sure I’m not the first to do this, but I haven’t been seeing it around much, so I just gave it a go and liked the results.

Makeup can play a big role in a finished look, so I decided to go bold and add the finishing element to my color blocking look with eyeshadow.

I have been seeing matte single-color eyeshadow looks quite a bit on my instagram feed, but this was the first time I tried it out for myself. Honkytonkwomann is one of my favorites who has been rocking it for a while and inspired me to try it out. I raided my friend Ryan’s eyeshadow pallets, and found a bright purple that looked good with my skin tone and complemented the yellow and orange in my outfit. I think people often shy away from bright makeup, fearing that it will turn out looking like they’re stuck in the 1980s (which I don’t see as a problem, but whatever). However, I think this look is a lot more reminiscent of the playful 1960s’. Especially with some winged eyeliner.

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I know bright eyeshadow is usually considered a fashion-don’t. But style is personal, and does not have to fit into conventional standards. Do your thing. If something looks like fun, try it out. You may surprise yourself.

Put a Sweater Under It

My fall and winter motto: put a sweater under it. Specifically, a turtleneck. This way, I can wear all of my favorite summer dresses all winter long and no one (or temperature) can stop me.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is the absolute best time in history to have ears because the earring trends are INSANE right now. I bought these earrings at Dig It in OKC and I can’t stop wearing them. They were super reasonably priced, too, at around $12. I’ve been trying to shop minimally for winter and fall, but these earrings were worth adding to my wardrobe.

I handmade this dress in early high school and it’s still going strong. A lot of the dresses I made back then are a little big on me now, but they actually work out perfectly for putting over sweaters. I loving mixing brighter colors with muted tones and pastels. 

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This outfit is full of pieces I’ve owned for years, yet I’m still finding new ways to style them. I totally recommend walking into your closet with a fresh mindset before you decide to go out and buy something new.

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I write a lot about where to and not to shop, but another side of sustainability deals with how much to shop as well. I’m often tempted to buy gobs of new cozy sweaters at Goodwill the seconds the temperature drops in the slightest. This season I’ve made it a goal to purchase as few pieces as possible while still keeping my look fresh for fall.

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Nothing about this look is tired even though every item except one is from AT LEAST a year ago. Getting the full use out of my items is a big part of creating less clothing waste. I kind of enjoy the creative challenge of restyling my old pieces into new outfits.

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Playing with accessories and layering is one of the best ways to make an old outfit new. I bought this vintage coat from Re-Runs in Kansas City and it is going to make my entire wardrobe feel like new. This coat is a 1960’s piece that probably originally came in a set with a matching dress or skirt. It is unexpected to pair it with some ripped jeans, but I love styling a vintage piece in a modern way. If you’re in a bit of a rut, try searching out one or two pieces that really intrigue you instead of getting a whole new wardrobe.

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These pictures were taken by my favorite creative collaborator, Andrea Schultz. If you want to see more of her photography, check out her new website https://andreaschultz.blog/.

Summer’s Last Hurrah

It may not be summer anymore but this is my last warm weather look for the season. It’s not actually getting cold, I am just trying to will the universe into submission by wearing turtlenecks.

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This post is mostly going to be a photo-drop, but if you’ll notice I’m taking a bit of my own advice from Daytime Disco Dress. This rainbow crop-top is 1980’s piece I picked up from the OKC Mod Swap. I balanced it out a bit by wearing jeans, but kept it fun with my Classic Sarah (TM) yellow beret and some bubblegum pink Keds.

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These photos were taken by my multi-faceted friend Andrea Schultz. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve seen her fabulous work many times. She is launching her website soon, and you can (and should) keep an eye out for it by watching her Instagram.

This blog is about to turn one years old! What should I do for my blog-birthday post? Help me decide in the comments.

 

How to Shop Ethically While Traveling

A souvenir does not have to be an “I heart NYC” shirt or a gator head bought at a gas station in Florida. Shopping ethically during my travels this summer was actually helpful to both my wallet and to meeting the luggage weight limit. I ended up only coming home with items that I really loved instead of tons of gaudy chotchkies. Here are some tips I learned throughout my travels this summer.

Thrift stores are unique in every city.

Every city has a unique style. I find that when I am in a new city, I start to notice small details about how the people there dress differently than I’m used to seeing back home. A thrift store will also contain these little nuances, so don’t feel weird about stopping at Goodwill in a new city. Even when traveling abroad, many places have thrift stores that go by a different name, such as a charity shop. A unique item you spend time searching for carries sentimental value and an ability to remind you of your travels (maybe even more than a snow globe). The main difference is that you will actually use it instead of having it sit on your shelf or in the back of your closet.

Keep your eye out for vintage shops.

In New York City I was SURROUNDED by vintage stores. It was heaven. Some of the coolest parts of the city I visited were because I searched for the locations of a few vintage shops online and then just branched out and explore the surrounding area.

Look for local art shops.

No matter where you go, there will probably be a community of local artist trying to make it. Look for places that real people are designing and selling things they make. It is not hard to do a quick google search. You can find much more eclectic t-shirt designs that locals actually wear or just generally interesting items.

Do your research and read the tags.

If you have access to your phone, the world is your fair-trade and sustainably farmed oyster. Google to your hearts content. I am not going to lie to you and say that shopping ethically while you travel is easy, but it is definitely possible and accessible if you are willing to put a little effort into it. I made a practice of reading the tags on items to see if their is any information on its origins, and was surprised to find that if an item is sustainable or ethical, it is usually eager to tell you so. Don’t be afraid to ask store owners or workers about where their clothing is made. If something looks suspicious, it probably is.

Get creative.

Don’t be afraid to bring home more obscure souvenirs. Locally roasted coffee beans (the bag will usually indicate if they’re fair-trade) or books about the new place. If you are traveling abroad, always grab different types of candy and snacks from the country. I have a friend who grabs business cards from all of the different places she visits. You are only as limited as your mind.

 

 

Daytime Disco Dress

One of my friends told me I looked like Hannah Montana in this outfit. No shame in dressing like a pop star every once in a while.

Often times, people will compliment my outfit and say something along the lines of, “I could never pull that off.” My response to this is always a resounding, “NOOOOOO.” Nothing makes me sadder than hearing that people aren’t dressing the way they want to simply because they feel that they aren’t the “right” type of person. You just need a little bit of courage and lot of sense of humor to put on that sparkly dress you want to wear even if you’re just going to brunch. The number one piece of advice I’d share about taking fashion risks is to understand that, unless you’re going to work, there is no reason to take fashion seriously. Play with it. Like I said earlier, people makes jokes about my outfits or say that I dress like a cartoon, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. If I put on something I love and it is a little weird, I just keep in mind that people will probably think so. For every person who doesn’t get your style, there will be tons more who are into your creativity and willingness to break the status quo.

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However, I did make some conscious accessory choices to help keep the outfit from being entirely distasteful. When I wear a really attention grabbing statement piece, I like to choose accessories that won’t compete for the attention. Sneakers and a denim jacket help tone this dress down, taking it from night club to casual. I still kept the beret and sneakers colorful because that’s my thing. It works even though the dress is so loud because the colors are in smaller doses.

Almost all of the items in the outfit were thrifted. Except the coffee.

Go forth and make fashion fools of yourselves. It’s a lot of fun.

Back in Time

Let’s go back in time. I don’t mean to the 1960s’ as my outfit might lead you to believe. (I’d rather stay in 2018, thank you very much.) I am referring to close to two months ago when this photo set was taken by my dear friend, Andrea.


I made this dress YEARS ago. When I was in the 11th grade, I decided to make this dress, inspired by Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart phase. Thankfully, I still had pretty good taste back then, as this hot pink mini dress has stood the test of time.



It is crazy that I’ve waited so long to post these pictures considering how awesome Andrea did taking these. This was from one of the last times I hung out with my friends before leaving on a super long trip.


If you didn’t know, I’ve been in Hong Kong teaching English for the summer and I’m current in Cambodia. I have been insanely busy since the minute I got on the first plane, which is why I sat on this post for so long. It’s been a once in a life time experience for sure. I apologize for any mistakes in this post as I only have access to the internet through my phone right now. I am sorry to be so short but am excited to begin posting more in the weeks to come!

Thanks for your patience.