Alicia Silverstone’s recent bestseller, “The Kind Diet,” tempts its readers to embrace a healthy, vegan lifestyle that will have them “feeling great, losing weight, and saving the planet.” Silverstone divides the diet into three levels: flirting, going vegan, and superhero. Offering up three non-judgmental pathways appealed to me as a great reference point for how to buy eco-fashion. As we get more conscious about how the production of our clothing impacts the environment, more women are turning to eco-labels for their latest fashion purchases. Most of us are flirting, checking out what is available in the eco fashion world and perhaps buying the occasional eco-friendly piece. Then there are the superheroes – we salute you! – who are buying everything in green – from their lingerie to their workout wear.
I find myself going eco at midlevel. For the last few years, I’ve been shopping in my closet, thrifting, rummaging around vintage stores, buying from local eco designers, skipping by fast-fashion, and generally keeping my clothing wantonness in check. But, the point at which I get a little stuck is wardrobe basics. I’m talking about the basic tees, leggings and simple knitwear like a black turtleneck, V-neck or long cardigan. These pieces are indispensable stalwarts in my wardrobe working hard to anchor my more adventurous attempts at flair.
As someone on a tiny clothing budget, my strategy used to be saving money for the more exciting stuff by skimping on the basics. When I heard Sally Singer, the features editor of Vogue, agree it’s best to save your money for the wild purple chubby and buy your basics at Club Monaco or H&M, I figured I was on the right track.
That was before I committed to a low-impact lifestyle and declared that my look should be elevated by this new focus. So, no more cheap basics for me. Not surprisingly, I found myself frenziedly flicking through a fast-fashion outlet’s sale rack today. Hoping to find long black cardigans and plain white tees to get me thru until summer. Before long, I caught myself and remembered my pledge to sustainable fashion. While it’s true that there are far greater eco-friendly clothing lines than ever before, they just can’t compete with fast-fashion prices. Isn’t this getting down to the nitty-gritty of the green consumer dilemma?
In a recent study, despite economic woes, 35 percent of survey respondents say they would pay more for “˜environmentally-friendly’ products. But is paying $2 more for laundry detergent the same as justifying a plain black tee priced $30-50 more than the one in H&M. Or, the leggings you can buy at express for $26 for two pairs? It’s in this sticky, uncomfortable place that you find your defining moment as an ecologist.
Thanks to people like Annie Leonard, who invites us to trace the true cost of our belongings, we now know the true price of something made unbelievable cheap – hello H&M seven buck tees – is paid for quite literally by the environment, by the low paid worker tolling in bad conditions and the third world countries forever struggling to get on their knees.
The path to committing to the environment is a process that doesn’t have to take superhero strength, but perhaps, small acts over and over again. Luckily the leading edge of the industry is giving the green light too. What’s hot now is dressing with integrity in belief and action. While the eco design community produces pieces that have to be more expensive there are positive trade-offs to turning conventional wardrobe strategies on their head. Eco-basics are artfully designed and generally crafted better, making them cost-efficient because they won’t fall apart as fast. Think “Investment Basics.” Not just investments for your wardrobe, but for the planet too.
Check out my Investment Basics picks
Soft supple tees and leggings from SUST-their Disco tops are cut oh so flattering.
Edun’s plain and patterned leggings are cut in fabric that is long wearing and has great appearance retention (no sagging!)
Loomstate for simple knitwear such as hoodies and long cardigans.
Image: Bernhard Willhelm spring and summer 2006 by Christopher Moore