ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: green is the new black

by Grace Bonney

Once upon a time, I was a real fashion fiend. Obsessed with clothes, I hoarded copies of Harper’s Bazaar, continually redressed strangers on the street in my mind, and fretted for hours about what I’d wear to school the next day. I took all of the costume design classes my small, public liberal arts university offered, read fashion designer’s biographies, and even aspired to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology and soak up all of the fashionably turned out eye candy the Big Apple has to offer. [image sources clockwise from top left: dawndh, your green review, greenloop, inhabitat, jane goodall]

My preoccupation with fashion was nurtured by my mother. Her closet and it’s accompanying ever-expanding accessory empire is the stuff of legends. She is the sort of woman who has a purse for every occasion, an earring for every fashion whim, and who never met an animal print she didn’t like. In high school, when my fashion cravings really began to kick in, it was her closet I’d regularly raid. I’d curate outfits like I was putting together an installation for the Met. My budget was limited, so mom’s closet was a saving grace. So were thrift and consignment stores. My local Salvation Army store knew my fashion preferences so well, they’d set aside items for me. I wore vintage gowns (REALLY vintage, as in, 1920’s) to my junior and senior proms, both found for bargain-basement deals tucked away in dusty antique stores.

Although I eventually moved into the natural food and lifestyle career path and away from haute couture, I still remain committed to certain aesthetic ideals. Durability and, whenever possible, sustainability now top my list of fashion musts. Fortunately, a number of “green” designers are moving to the fashion forefront, taking to runways on the local, national, and international level. Recent New York , London , and Paris Fashion Weeks presented a number of eco-chic designers,while Portland, Oregon showcased green fashions on a smaller scale.

CLICK HERE for the rest of Ashley’s post on green fashion after the jump!

In my own small, humble southern Appalachian town of Asheville, NC, a number of green fashion designers and businesses can be found. Melissa “Moe” Donnelly of Sew Moe Designs , Alanna Hubbard , and Myah Hubbell design one-of-a-kind frocks out of upcycled garments. Husband-and-wife design team David and Meegan Cuzick of Circles and Squares craft adorable organic garments for all while R. Brooke Priddy of Ship to Shore incorporates natural dyes into her handcrafted pieces, many of them fashioned out of a mixture of vintage and new fabrics. (Brooke is not only a highly skilled seamstress and visionary designer, she’s also a friend, as well as the creator of my wedding dress, which she adeptly dyed an exquisite shade of burgundy to my specifications using natural dyes!). Downtown clothing store Spiritex showcases nationally distributed ecological fashions, many of them made from organically-grown fabrics. If my tiny city offers up this much eco fashion, larger cities are surely swimming in green design.

While purchasing ecologically-minded garments is certainly one small measure you can take towards greening up your closet, shopping at thrift and consignment stores is another. I have found incredible fashions at both locations (most recently, a gorgeous grey wool cowl-neck Benetton sweater), often at very reasonable prices. For those of you in larger cities, I’d highly encourage hitting up consignment stores for fashion steals. Crossroads Trading and Buffalo Exchange are two national chains that I always frequent when visiting San Francisco. I’ve yet to leave there empty-handed and always save a bundle by buying their gently used items instead of purchasing new.

Finally, there’s always simply taking care of the garments you currently own. My friend Katy over at the The Non-Consumer Advocate follows the mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I incorporate that mindset into my wardrobe on a regular basis. Last winter, I hired a friend skilled at sewing to repair some torn and haggard-button items. She’s a new mom with a desire to make extra cash and I’m a busy writer. The arrangement worked well for us both. I have items in my closet that I’ve owned for over 10 years that look just as good today as they did the day I purchased them. If you take good care of your clothes, and purchase well-crafted garments to begin with, they’ll last for years to come.

I still have ideas for a clothing line. These days, though, my fashion aspirations are of the sturdy, chic, and sustainable ilk. I’ve replaced Harper’s Bazaar with Boho and have assembled a wardrobe that represents my well-defined aesthetic preferences, allowing me to get comfortably dressed in a flash. Certainly not everything I own is organic or vintage. I’m not there yet. But being more mindful of the environmental (and humanitarian) impact involved in the production of clothing is one small measure I can work on every time I get the fashion itch.

*I’d love to hear your eco fashion tips. Designers, boutiques, green-savvy dressing ideas-bring it!

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  • I think thrifting is the best green savvy dressing (and home furnishing) tip! It makes me feel really good that I am giving items a second home. I often find incredible items that I would never be able to afford otherwise but I always wonder what would make someone give away something that is still in really good condition and that probably cost them a lot of money.

  • I feel like you have to be in a fashion-conscious town/city to really find the great items at salvation army and such stores. I enjoy going to consignment shops and looking for fashionable clothes-and it is a treat when I find them…but in my little town that is few and far between!

  • Repurposing clothes you already own is one of the most fun & most creative ways to live green. It really forces you to think about an old piece to find the new life within it. And, if you are truly stumped and can’t find any fashion use for the item, I’m a big fan of household uses — pillows, trims for pillows (every scrap can be used somehow!) or, the trusty old favorite, as a new cleaning rag. There’s no need for paper towels when you have drawer fulls of never worn t-shirts.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I have been recycling and reconstructing t-shirts from my collection (and from second-hand stores) for the last few years, and they are my favorite garments. I am so glad to see this trend taking flight so beautifully.

  • Thanks for the nice link. This is probably the ONLY time I will be mentioned in any article about fashion. I am an overly casual dresser, and as an RN I have no need to maintain a work wardrobe.

    However, it is true that I am a firm believer in mending and maintaining. And hanging my clothing to dry keeps my wardrobe in excellent shape. Not only is it easier on the clothing, but easily missed stains don’t get “set.”

    Thanks again for the link, great article!

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

  • I love to shop vintage (not the HIGH end kind where a dress is $5000) and thrift. Not only are they usually less expensive (compared to similar quality new items), but every item purchased is one less item in the landfill.

    Also – if you shop Salvation Army, Goodwill, Housing Works, Angel or churches, the money you spend benefits others.

    I drop by the Goodwill in Chelsea weekly and have found a pair of Martin Margiela jeans (retail $475 ish) for $7.99. Also Balenciaga denim/pants for $20.

    I also go to the Salvation Army and Goodwill in Astoria – they are down the block from each other. The SA there is HUGE!

    In this day and age, I revel in spending $0.99 – $20 bucks for stuff I normally wouldn’t find anywhere else. I love when I come across tops and dresses from the 70s! Yes, I’ve paid $0.99 for a few tops each at the SA in Astoria. Wearing one right now, actually…

    For vintage, I always like to look on Ebay. My favorite, though is Love Day in Astoria. The owner used to be the buyer for Screaming Mimi’s. I’ve found so much stuff there and the prices are reasonable.

    Another source (my secret vintage weapon) is Shareen Vintage in Chelsea. Absolutely crazy selection in wonderful condition for great prices. The girls working there are extremely friendly and helpful too.

    Check these out from them:

    Ok…my comment is way too long now. But one last thing…don’t forget that a lot of items can be worn in more ways then one. Long skirt = tube dress. Same with long cardigan or sweater. Pants and long denim can become shorts. On and on…

  • Valhalla-the images above are from the following sites:
    -http://api.ning.com/files/VB-sab6BhwcurOfLMtppfiSZJJQokMkawG00gov9aV0UQvpa2WTCdMVGXbDY03CTrCAY1-u60Dqck*urgE8tF91rUD9GqwbZ/450pxFlavia_de_oliveira2.jpg (from http://janegoodall.ning.com/)

  • Love your article Ashley! I had a very similar experience growing up and had the amazing experience of attending FIT.
    I design and create women’s accessories from recycled materials. Please check them out. Thanks!

  • I love visiting flea markets and used clothing stores while traveling. It’s a great way to buy pieces that will remind you of your trip (rather than useless knick knacks) and a little something different than you might find at home. I also like to support designers who are working with fair trade artisans like Mata Traders (http://community.worldofgood.com/matatraders) and Mad Imports (http://worldofgood.ebay.com/listResults?SellerId=madimportsnyc). It’s a wonderfully beneficial way for a designer to create while extending job opportunities and artisitc training to women (and sometimes men) in need.

  • As both a vintage fashion shopper and seller on Etsy.com, I have to add that terrific online site to the mix here–
    It’s especially perfect for vintage shopping if you can’t get to any of the shops mentioned above!

  • one reply to the lady who thought you needed to be near a city to buy @ goodwill to find great things. Not so friends! I find good clothing and feel my wardrobe is great. I must admit I keep the pieces down to a bare minimum in order to live more simply. But I can interchange, dress up or down with accessories and shoes. Fun!
    Also, I sell vintage home decor for a living and find the most awesome things in thrift stores and garage sales everyday I’m out looking. I recently found an awesome black chest for $5.98 on seniors’ day: vintage, showed it’s age beautifully, great old hardware and lots of storage. A great showpiece it is!

  • have you heard of unabashed apparel? I think she’s asheville based – great organic design…

  • what a great article -thank you!
    Sustainable materials are important (I recently switched to organic materials in my clothing line, U N) but buying good quality things and then taking care of them is really key to cutting down on garment industry waste.

  • A great green fashion options are Wendy Tremayne’s Swap-O-Rama-Rama events http://swaporamarama.org/events.htm across the country. I’ve been to the one in my city the past two years and have walked away with tons of new-to-me clothes. The best part is all the artisans that show up to help you alter the clothes to fit you better, help you reconstruct them into something different, sew on embellishments and screen print designs on your finds.

    The other is what my friend calls “a naked lady party” but is traditionally called a swap meet. Get together with your friends and bring all the clothes that you have that you don’t wear for whatever reason. The sweater that you never seem to grab out of your drawer might be just the thing for your friend, and their unneeded nth pair of black pants could be perfect for you at work. Things that no one takes can be dropped off at the closest Salvation Army or Goodwill.