How DO we start our sustainable journey?
There is a milestone I want to reach with every single client I work with. It’s a moment in the mirror when the proverbial haze in the room disappears, and suddenly their view in the mirror changes. For a moment, they see themselves as God sees them. The dialogue doesn’t include talk of anything holy, but the moment becomes holy. To see and be seen is freeing. It’s a flower that burrows its roots to grow taller. It’s often quick, but very transformative.
Once our true self connects with our body, our values about what we purchase changes. We no longer tolerate itchy fabric, colors that are blah, prints that have always bothered us, and ill-fitting pieces.
And seeing our clothes as an extension of ourselves kindles a responsibility for future purchases. The moment we realize our clothing has an origin, and maybe one that makes us uncomfortable, it’s time to explore what being a good steward of our money and clothing means.
To dress responsibly, we want to encourage accountability. And in an industry like fashion, which hasn’t changed significantly in over 100 years, it’s difficult to know where our clothes come from.
As an image consultant working in the fashion world, it took me a few years to notice how fast fashion and our lack of concern about our clothing choices were affecting me and my clients. So many overstuffed closets. Garments worn once and discarded. Fabrics construction that could not make it through one or two washes, and a plethora of “trendy” pieces being produced and bought by the minute.
My issues with fast fashion and the process by which they made clothing are twofold. People and the earth. If we care for (as Scripture commands) the least, the lost and the last, then many people making our clothes are among them.
And caring for the earth from a consciously faithful perspective, we read we are required to be good stewards and sustain what we have been given.
It’s time to encourage the world to think faithfully, holistically and sustainably about our wardrobes.
Because beyond the science of sustainability lies the opportunity to care from a biblical perspective. Someone who encourages this is James Gus Speth, attorney and former leader of the President’s Task Force on Global Resources and Environment:
“I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
A transformation from the inside out is what we need. And we have to start somewhere. I choose traceability.
Because the full traceability of a piece is not part of the disclosure on the tag, nor labeled like our food, we need to push for the change we want to see.
Knowing where our clothes are made would allow us to make better purchasing decisions. By giving us more information than just the country they made the piece in, we could decide intelligentlly. We could also look for certifications like Fair Trade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), or Bluesign that ensure adherence to sustainable standards. When awareness is increased, some or all of following could happen:
Reduction of child labor and unfair working conditions for laborers would decrease.
Health problems that sometimes result from a garment made with chemicals is minimized.
We can know for sure whether the garment has been made sustainably or not according to industry standards.
These heavy justice issues demand our attention. Every piece of clothing you bring to the register has a story behind it. What is it? And why should we care?
Because the supply chain for one garment can affect important matters such as:
land violations such as depletion of the soil,
Let’s talk sustainability for a minute. What is it?
Sustainable,| səˈstānəb(ə)l, according to Merriam Webster, is an
| adjective 1 able to be maintained at a certain rate or level: sustainable fusion reactions. • conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
In her article, What is Sustainable Fashion, writer Molly Willows defines it as:
An ethical approach towards designing, sourcing, manufacturing, selling, and delivering clothing in a way that minimizes the industry’s negative impact on people and the planet along the entire value chain.
Molly’s research is very thorough. She gives over 100 links to articles and research pertinent to sustainability in the fashion world.
Expanding on the ethical side of sustainability, I would add that Scripture focuses on two concepts:
man’s dominion over the earth
stewardship and care for creation
We can and should decide what we buy based on our duty as God’s stewards, love for all creatures, and concern for the vulnerable. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of caring for the poor and marginalized. In Isaiah 58:10, the calling is to “spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.”
Redemptive actions in service of the people and the land underscore our values.
Proverbs 31:9 instructs believers to “speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Isaiah 10:1-2 says “woe to those who enact unjust statutes and issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of fair treatment and withhold justice from the oppressed of My people, to make widows their prey and orphans their plunder.”
These verses encourage us to consider those affected by ecological and social injustices caused by undefendable practices in fashion. Of course there is much more to the ideas of dominion and stewardship, but to start our mission to know more, here are some suggestions for applying the commands to love each other, care for each other and care for the earth:
1. Educate Yourself: Start by learning about sustainable fashion and its connection to dressing responsibly. Discover the phrase: “cultivating a more ecologically-conscious faith” with Circlewood’s James Amadon. The fashion industry has a long way to go, but we can help bridge that gap between our ethical purchasing standards and where and how clothing is made by being informed.
2. Find Your Brands: The statistics for brands that care about people and the land is dismal. Still we can look for fashion brands that are reaching for sustainability. Click here for the Fashion Transparency Index. And, I’ve created a catalog here of companies that claim sustainable and ethical practices.
3. Shop Your Closet before you buy. Donate items you don’t want to keep. One company For Days offers a Take Bag Bag. You can fill it with any washed items you want from sheets to clothes to shoes and more. In addition, shop vintage and second hand and consider just buying less. For fun, organize a clothing and accessories swap. When needed, rent your clothing from several companies now offering this service.
4. Find Thee A Tailor (or seamstress) My advice for all my clients is to have a tailor on speed dial. Even minor repairs can encourage longer wear for an item, and change the number of times you wear the piece. For online support, try Alter Knit, Tad More Tailoring, and Rugged Thread, just to name a few.
5. Find Local Artisans who make clothing and accessories in your area. Support them, especially if they are using sustainable practices, traditional methods and need support from the community to stay in business. Plus it’s exciting to find that one-of-a-kind piece that is made just for you.
6. Spread the Word – sustainable fashion is fashionable. It’s scriptural. It’s responsible. Engage on social media, talk to your friends and family. Learn as much as you can. From a spiritual perspective with incredible resources, I highly recommend Sandra Richter’s book: Stewards of Eden. She expands on the verses in Genesis to rule and reign and to care for the land we have been given.
Ultimately dressing with purpose requires careful thought and a soft heart. Identifying our values and what sustainability means to us will guide our purchasing decisions. I hope this helps start that process.