Hi, I’m Ashleigh Becker, Founder of Sela Designs, and here’s my journey to ethical fashion. Let’s not sugar coat it – I went from a fast fashion shopaholic to a capsule wardrobe, ethical fashion enthusiast pretty quickly. Here’s the best part: I had little to no money to spend on new clothes.
What is ethical fashion?
Let’s start with what ethical fashion is. My definition of ethical fashion is clothing made with care for the people involved in the process – from the farmers who grow the cotton to those who sew the final garments. Workers are paid fair wages, have safe working conditions, and employee rights. If you’d like to read more details I’ve written an entire post about it here.
Back to the story…
Prior to 2013, I was a stay-at-home-mom living in smalltown, WI. The winters were extremely long. I had two little boys and I was lonely and bored. I went to the mall, a lot. I was a rockstar at finding clearance “deals” and GAP was my favorite.
I shopped, not because we needed more clothes, but because I loved the thrill of the hunt and it gave us something to do. I would maybe spend $100 each time and come home with bags packed full. If jeans were on clearance for $14.99 I bought 2-3 pairs for myself and why not throw in another for my sister?
Being a shopaholic gave me an adrenaline rush
Could we afford this type of shopping? Most would say, yes! We were very close to paying off the last of our college debt and our bills were paid. Truthfully, the debt could have been paid off sooner and our savings account could have been thicker. But again, shopping filled a void and gave me an adrenaline rush I missed from my days in corporate America.
An adoption and a garment factory tragedy:
Then, in 2013, the unexpected happened; someone asked us to adopt a baby. We said yes to an adoption we didn’t plan or go searching for and only had two months to complete the required adoption process and come up with a lot of money to pay for it. I could have a new baby or a new coat. I picked the baby.
Just 6 weeks later, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1100 garment workers and bringing global media coverage to the tragedy and its ties to many popular fast fashion brands.
Basically, it was the perfect storm. I realized that real people had made my cheap clothes and they were paying the price for my binge shopping. The price they paid was far from cheap. I now had two major reasons to stop impulse shopping and change my habits.
So I did. I didn’t slowly stop, I completely stopped. No more trips to the mall. I took my email address off all fast fashion company lists and told them to stop mailing me coupons. When they still came, I hit delete and threw them straight in the garbage. No cute shirt was worth someone else’s life.
Going all in on ethical fashion
When I’m passionate about something I go ALL IN!
I had so much stuff in my closet that I never wore and I needed to make a big change. I cleaned out everything in typical capsule wardrobe fashion. I gave away as much as I could and donated what was left. I kept a small amount of pieces and vowed not to shop for three months. I ended up not shopping for a lot longer than that.
I started reading books about having less and following ethical fashion blogs. Sidenote: Molly Stillman, a blogger & podcaster, taught me the most about ethical fashion and now we have become friends. I dug in deep on Instagram and found women who inspired me with their ethical capsule wardrobes and shopping bans.
I even brought my kids into it. Still to this day I purchase 80%+ of their clothes secondhand. I will say it’s been easier to do for the girls than the boys in some ages. My kids are ages 3-10.
How I implemented change:
I’m not exactly sure how long my first shopping break lasted, but I can tell you it changed me in so many ways. I started learning about brands like Elegantees, Fair Indigo, and ABLE who are working to give garment workers living wages, providing education for worker’s children, and fighting sex trafficking through employment.
I discovered I needed far less clothing and shoes than I thought. I did seasonal capsule wardrobes for a few years to re-train my mind about clothes and shopping. Each season I would keep around forty pieces of clothing + shoes & accessories in my closet. I would evaluate any needs, budget & save for them.
I was purchasing just 1-2 pieces per season. If I needed shoes, I chose to purchase ethically made, the highest quality I could afford, and I saved up for them. I still use Christmas and birthday gifts as a way to purchase the ethical pieces I love.
One thing that helped me majorly and I have done since I started: I bought high-quality basics and used accessories to change them up each season. I’m not going to sugar coat it – paying upwards of $28 – $40 for a T-shirt felt completely insane to me at first.
Guess what? I don’t need 10+ each season. By purchasing quality pieces they last way longer and I’m probably actually saving money. Even more than that, I know the person who made by shirt benefitted from it and it didn’t cause her harm. I’ll pay extra for that every single time.
I went from being a shopaholic to ethical fashion enthusiast seven years ago and have never looked back. I think ethical fashion is far more attainable than some think. It requires thought, planning, and saving, but I think respecting and considering the people who make our clothes is worth it!
Here are my top five tips if you want to stop fast fashion and move towards an ethical wardrobe:
- Stop shopping. Figure out what you already have and wear the heck out of it.
- Learn about alternatives to your current favorite brands. Ask questions. I have a full list of my favorite ethical fashion brands here.
- Buy secondhand it’s the most ethical way. I’m not talking about underwear, but so many other pieces can be found secondhand or at a clothing swap.
- Be patient. If you slip up and buy something on an impulse, don’t beat yourself up! Keep that thing and wear it until it falls apart.
- Buy the best quality you can possibly afford. Shop ethically and save up for your purchases. If it takes 6 months and you still want it you know you’ll wear it a lot!