I finished reading Elizabeth L. Cline’s first book on the impact of fast fashion a while ago. It debunks the myth of “doing good” through donating your clothes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army as most of those clothes will go straight to the landfills after a short shelf time. The book also reminds me of how clothes were supposed to last a lifetime or even pass through generations. People used to tailor their clothes and make sure they fit well and look nice on them.
However, in only one generation, the skill of sewing got lost. And I'm that generation. Let alone sewing my own clothes, I barely know how to fix a loose button or hem a tiny hole.
“We are all stewards of our clothing, responsible for seeing it through its different phases of life. Even if we don’t have any use for a piece of clothing, it’s up to us to make sure its next stop in the clothing life cycle isn’t the landfill.”
“Clothing is valuable. It should be valued. Cheap clothes not only undermine those who sew, sell, and design them, they’re the pitiful result of decades of price pressure that has erased the craftsmanship and splendor of what we wear. Incessant deal hunting has also erased our collective knowledge of what clothing and style could be.”
I was never into fashion. My sustainable fashion journey started when I was still an undergrad: I found myself spending too much money on clothing while struggling to put together outfits that I loved. Then I came across a documentary called The True Cost on Netflix. I still vividly recall how I burst into tears and thought — if the clothes that I'm wearing are putting threats to someone else’s life, how could I possibly feel okay putting them on my body? It is a human rights issue. That was the turning point of my fashion/style journey.
I decided to challenge myself not to buy any new clothing for a year. The experience empowered me to explore different secondhand shops in Hong Kong. I also became more conscious of what I own in my wardrobe and started getting creative in curating my outfits. It changed my consumption habits entirely—I would literally think twice, or even thrice before finally buying any lifestyle item. My bank account was happy and my room was filled with fewer unnecessary items. I naturally transitioned to be a minimalist; I bring in items only when they bring value to my life.
After I moved to the United States, I started exploring different sustainable fashion brands and committed to only buying secondhand or from sustainable clothing brands.
In 2020, I started an Instagram account to document my outfits and zero waste journey. I was welcomed by the heart-warming and empowering sustainable fashion community. I am constantly inspired by how creative these people are, and they empower me to keep exploring my style. I rarely post on that account now, but it still serves as a platform for me to connect with like-minded individuals from all around the world.
I promised myself I’d never go back to the way I dressed or shopped before. I have to admit that it’s not easy. The constant discounts and ads on social media are tempting. But I believe everyone is on a lifelong journey of learning and growth. Celebrate small wins and keep pushing. No one is perfect, yet we’re all responsible to keep on trying.
Will you take that first step to find a piece you long for at a thrift store, or maybe take a second thought before purchasing from fast fashion brands again?