capsule wardrobe + ethical fashion

So I know most of you who read this blog come here for the family updates and cute pictures of Pier and Eulalie...after all, that was the impetus that compelled me to start writing here.  However, this blog also serves as a creative outlet.  It's a place where I can do something separate from being "mom" and write about a topic I'm passionate about just for the fun of it.

That's what this post is about.  It's something that I've been wanting to write about for a while now and I'm finally getting around to doing it.  Nothing like the perfect timing of having a two week old to get some pep in your step am I right...  So what exactly is this newfound passion you ask?!  Well if you skimmed the title you'd know already, but... I'm  implementing a blog series on ethical fashion. Get excited!!! I'm hoping this series will not only inspire you to make the shift to shop more intentionally, but I also plan on giving you practical tips and resources to help you along the way.  Oh and I'll even be posting a few of my favorite ethically sourced outfits (in an effort to get myself to wear real clothes every now and then :)).  

But first, a little background information:

"hi i'm emily, and i have a shopping problem"

Overwhelm.  That panic stricken word came to my mind the minute I opened up my closet doors.  The closet that was home to that expensive cocktail dress that I only wore once, the button down shirt that didn't fit me anymore, and yet, I still hoped I could wear again, and that sweater that I hated but somehow still managed to keep in my closet.  Why did I feel overwhelmed when I looked at my clothes?  I bought these things, right?  I must have liked them at some point, but looking at the excess made me sick to my stomach.  Then it hit me. Shopping (in the form of those dang Madewell 30% sales) was my kryptonite.  

This realization came to me almost three years ago.   It was a day (after a lot of prayer) that I realized I made shopping and the things I shopped for a god.  Instead of going to Jesus for comfort, I would go to that online sale or store whenever I wanted to escape.  If I was having a bad day, I wanted to be comforted by a new dress, or feel the exciting thrill of getting a good deal on a pair of shoes in order to make myself feel better.   I also realized that I wanted to change.  A compulsive shopper was not the person I wanted to be.  So from that day I became determined to be more intentional about my clothing purchases in hopes to turn around my bad shopping habits.

enter | the capsule wardrobe


DEFINED | a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don't go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.


My secret is out. I have a shopping problem.  The question now was how was I going to fix it?  I'd heard of a few people doing "capsule wardrobes" in order to minimize their closet footprint, and this looked like a promising place to start, so I decided to delve into my very own Operation Capsule Wardrobe research project. 

The more I learned about capsule wardrobes the more excited I became.  This is exactly what I was looking for!  I thought by having a "capsule wardrobe" approach to buying clothes that my aforementioned shopping problem would be fixed overnight ( wasn't, but that's another topic for another day).  Filled with this newfound enthusiasm, I donated a huge portion of my beautiful clothes and completely cleared out my closet.   Great! But then I didn't have anything to, with very little thought, I bought more clothes that I believed I needed for my capsule wardrobe.  That was mistake #1. 

When becoming fixated on establishing my perfect capsule wardrobe, I neglected one (big) thing: being intentional.  I didn't put in the brain power behind what worked for me -- my life as a busy mom and my personal style preferences -- and that led to buying things that I liked but didn't love.  Basically I was repeating the same shopping pattern as before; buying and buying and buying until I was satisfied with the perfect capsule closet.  Yikes.  Buying more was not the purpose of doing this experiment.  I decided to start from scratch, again, and reevaluate my shopping trends to see how I was going to fix this once and for all. 

I tell you this because I think it's important to realize right away that you won't get your perfect capsule wardrobe overnight.  You're going to make mistakes.  You're going to buy the chambray button down because it was on someone else's capsule wardrobe "must have" list and then you will realize that you hate wearing button downs and into the donation pile it goes.  Capsule wardrobes take time.  They take thought.  And above all, they won't fix the root of your shopping problems.

enter | the ethical wardrobe


DEFINED | ethical fashion (also called slow fashion) that describes ethical fashion design, production, and purchasing.  It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.



So here I was about to attempt Capsule Wardrobe #2, when I watched a Netflix documentary about fast fashion called The True Cost.  I watched the film with tears in my eyes and I walked away deeply moved by what I saw on the screen.  That documentary was the catalyst I needed to finish what I started.  I then began a journey into the ethical fashion movement...I can say now that after almost a year of (trying to) only shopping ethically, my impulsive shopping has completely stopped.  I don't remember the last time I entered a Target.  I don't need something new for an upcoming event.  I began to buy things secondhand and it turns out I have a newfound love of thrift stores.  When I do buy something new, I think before I buy.  I love that I'm supporting an artist who is passionate about the garments they make.  I get to know exactly who is making my clothes and where they come from.  

This has given me such freedom.  I know not everyone is called to make the switch to an ethically sourced wardrobe, but for someone like me who has struggled for years with impulsive shopping, I can tell you that this path has changed me for the better.  I'll go into more details later, but for now, I'll leave you with a few facts I've learned about fast fashion and our consumerisim culture as a whole:

fast fashion facts

My Indy bestie Val blogs a lot about minimalism and what that looks like in her life.  Recently, she shared an entire series of blog posts about what ethical fashion is and why she decided to make the switch to only buying ethically made clothing.  Her research is AMAZING and I invite you to read all of her posts about minimalism and slow fashion (you can do that HERE).  With her permission, I copied the facts she outlined in one of these posts about the truths behind the fast fashion industry:


There are now 52 "buying seasons" per year. Whereas there used to be two buying seasons back in the day: spring/summer and fall/winter, then four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter), now each week of the year represents a new "buying season" for brands and retailers. This is why you feel off trend just three weeks after popping into the mall - this is exactly how these brands and retailers WANT you to feel. Studies show that women now wear an item just SEVEN TIMES before tossing it, and consider an item "old" after just a few wears. This is crazy!!

Clothing is made to fall apart. Did you ever read Little House on the Prairie books? I was always amazed at the way the Ingalls girls would carefully craft a garment out of fabric by hand, then when they needed a new dress, they would "turn out" their old dress by ripping out the stitches and making it into something new. The reality is that that kind of quality in our garments is hard to come by these days. We accept that our clothes are going to fall apart, fray, get those annoying teeeeeny little holes where they snag on the edge of our jeans right below the belly button. And we shrug it of because, oh well, tshirts are only $4 at H&M. They're cheap enough that we don't expect or need them to last longer than one season. In fact, clothes are DESIGNED to fall apart after a certain number of washes, because it requires you to buy more. The term for this is "planned obsolescence", which is when garments wear out or otherwise lose their shape, forcing us to buy replacements. Part of the blame for this is on the creators of such clothing, but a large part of the blame falls to us, the consumers, because since clothes are inexpensive, we keep our expectations low.

Americans spend thousands of dollars per year on clothing. Those $5 Target tees and $3 H&M leggings add up. Add up to $1,700 dollars, which is what the average American spent on clothing in 2010. One of the biggest arguments to buying ethically made is that it's expensive. And it's true! I would guess that the average price of an ethically produced garment is around $60. I am completely speculating here. So with $1,700 to spend over the course of a year, you could only buy 28 new items. I would guess that most people buy FAR more than 28 items in the course of a year. You might be thinking "just 28 pieces all YEAR? I buy 28 pieces per MONTH!" The thing with buying ethical, though, is that those pieces are going to last. You might only buy 20 pieces all year. But they're going to retain their quality, so you can buy ANOTHER 20 next year, if you want. And again the next year. It's ending this buy-and-toss mentality that we have grown so accustomed to.

Beading and intricate detail often indicate child labor. I was shocked to read in this article about this fact, but it makes sense. Machines that sew beads and intricate details like sequins onto clothing are expensive, so instead much of that work is done in people's homes, where they enlist the help of their children and are not paid well for their effort. It makes the $10 sequin shrug a lot less appealing when you take ten steps backward up the supply chain and know the dark side that's likely behind all those glitzy beads.

American women today own four times as much clothing as they did in 1980. I can't even imagine how much bigger our wardrobes are than the women who lived in the 40s and 50s. And yet, we look to those women as style icons, as women who were always dressed to the nines and very well-groomed. 


Thank you for sharing your wisdom and writing with us, Val pal!  

I know this is probably really overwhelming for those of you who aren't familiar with capsule wardrobes or ethical fashion.  I also know this probably could have been broken down into like 5 different posts, but I needed to knock it out all in one because my writing time is limited (my mom is still in town, leaving me ample time to write while Eulalie sleeps in her wrap).  There is so much that I want to say on this topic, and I hope that you'll stick around for more because I'm just scratching the surface!