My Journey into Sustainable and Ethical Fashion

I’ve always been interested in fashion. It’s one of those things that I pursue effortlessly; I don’t have to convince myself to go shopping or spend time exploring the world of clothes because it’s always pure joy and pleasure! I’m far from an expert on sustainable/ethical fashion, but I have developed such a passion for it and really wanted to share my journey so far. It started out as something that I was casually interested in, and I’ve gotten more and more engaged over the past few years. I finally started an Instagram account dedicated towards fashion/lifestyle a couple of months ago as a way to encourage me to spend time on hobbies and interests other than my business (I’m a real workaholic), and I’ve become even more passionate about the sustainable fashion movement since then. I’m not a great researcher, so I know I have a lot left to learn, and I look forward to diving deeper into sustainability as time goes on. For now, I’ll just share my experience and how slow fashion works with my lifestyle!

I come from a family that didn’t have much money. My father is a seminary professor and my mom stayed home with us, so their income was very small. My parents were happy to purchase us clothing if we genuinely needed it (preferably from somewhere reasonable like the thrift store or Walmart), but any “fun” items or brand new pieces from expensive brands were my responsibility. I was quiet, shy, and awkward, so - desperate to fit in - I would purchase things I didn’t even like from the clearance section of the ‘cool’ stores like American Eagle and Hollister. As long as I had something name brand, it was good enough for me! 

When I left high school and started going to college, my style changed, unsurprisingly. I started to enjoy thrifting and soon went through what my friends called my “grandma phase.” I bought massively oversized sweaters, frilly blouses, and anything I could find with floral print. When I could afford it, I would buy new things from Pac Sun and Target, filling my arms with more clothes than I could easily carry and spending hours in front of the mirror in the dressing room.

Shopping was something that I did really frequently. If I was bored or didn’t want to be at home, I would shop. If I was upset and needed cheering up, I would shop. If I wanted to celebrate something, I would shop. There was even a time when I went shopping at least once every week because I had fallen for a boy and was desperate to try and look as pretty as I could. I would take any excuse, and my closet and dresser were full to bursting. And yet, I still often felt like I didn’t have anything to wear.

When my husband, Aaron, and I got married, things changed quite a bit. We share a bank account, and so suddenly all the money that I had spent on clothes wasn’t really just “mine” anymore. We were both baristas, so funds were low, and I became much more aware of my unhealthy spending habits. Although Aaron never made me feel bad in the least, I felt self-conscious and guilty when I spent too much, especially because Aaron made more money than I did.

My first ethical + sustainable fashion item was a pair of street shoes from Everlane. I had seen them on a big fashion blogger’s account and was totally obsessed. I asked for them for my birthday from Aaron, and I was so thrilled when he got them for me! I can’t remember how much they cost, but they were by far the most expensive item I had ever owned. I didn’t know anything about Everlane at the time, though, and had never even heard of ethical fashion. I just loved the way the shoes looked and had my heart set on them.

The coveted Street Shoes!

The coveted Street Shoes!

Heavily decked out in H&M

Heavily decked out in H&M

Shortly after we got married, we moved to Michigan and I was even more tested in my shopping habits. We grew up in Sioux Falls, SD, a small city without much variety in clothing stores. But in Grand Rapids, there was a Forever 21 and an H&M, and I was totally hooked. I felt so accomplished when I was able to go get multiple items for $10, and it was so tempting to be so close to those stores! We still had really limited income (Aaron was barista-ing and I was working part-time as a florist while I started my business), but I lived for the instant gratification that came from impluse-buying a cheap shirt or dress. Everything in the below photos is H&M or Urban Outfitters.

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My feelings towards fashion started taking a slow turn when we moved again nearly three years ago, this time to the Twin Cities. My business was small but alive and I was pretty invested in growing my Instagram to bring in clients, and I had started finding ethical and sustainable brands through the app. We were still making very little money (Aaron was now working part-time for his parents’ orchard and I was just scraping by working full-time as a freelancer), so we still had to be very careful about spending. My first small step in the ethical fashion direction was a purchase of Madewell jeans. They were on clearance and I bought them with my birthday money; if I remember correctly, I spent around $60, and it seemed like so much. I remember telling Aaron that I wanted to slowly replace the cheap, low-quality items in my closet with better-made pieces like the jeans I had just bought. I felt like it was impossible at the time because we had so little money to spare, but I knew that if I put my mind to it and saved carefully, I would be able to achieve my goal over time.

Fast forward a few months and I had discovered Elizabeth Suzann. Needless to say, I was completely obsessed. I was totally drawn in by the values of the company and the beauty and quality of the clothing. I should also mention that I had moved at least once a year since graduating from college (a total of seven moves, two of them cross-country) and had become something of a minimalist because I so hated carting boxes from new apartment to new apartment. I had started routinely purging my wardrobe of anything I hadn’t worn in months because I just didn’t want the extra stuff cluttering up my space. This was another reason that Elizabeth Suzann clothes appealed to me so much: every piece in her collection looked good together and there were so many ways to style, mix, and match each versatile item. She encouraged building a wardrobe in a way that I had never considered before by being able to pair pieces together multiple ways, which resulted in owning fewer items.

That Christmas, I received money as a gift from several family members, and I knew at once that I wanted to spend it on an item or two from Elizabeth Suzann. I deliberated for days over which pieces to buy because I was so determined to make the right choice. I had never spent anywhere near that much money on clothes before, and I wanted to be completely certain that I would wear them for years and years. 

When my purchase arrived a few weeks later, I was over the moon! I had chosen a pair of Tilda pants in black midweight linen and a Marlena tank in ivory raw silk. I wore those pieces constantly over the next year. The tank is still thriving as a staple in my closet, but I wore the pants so much that they developed huge holes in the butt, ha! I still can’t quit them, though - they are my lounge pants that I wear at home and when I do chores. They are the most comfortable item of clothing I have ever owned.

I was completely changed by that first purchase from Elizabeth Suzann. It was a totally new feeling for me to have fallen so hard for not only what a company makes but how a company functions, to think for days before committing to my purchase, and then to be willing to wait for weeks to receive the pieces instead of being able to bring them home from the store immediately. I felt so content and so fulfilled! I knew - even though I was still slightly in shock at the amount of money I had spent - that my purchase had been a wise one. 

Before, my cycle had been to choose one item of clothing at a time without thinking of how it really fit in my closet or how it worked with my other pieces. I was proud when I got things for a steal, and since they were so cheap, it really didn’t matter to me if I only wore them once or twice or if they fell apart immediately.

Now, I was much more invested in each purchase. I thought long and hard before committing to an item, making sure it was something that I would like not only for a couple of weeks but until it fell apart. I wanted to buy quality that would last for years instead of weeks or months. I also started thinking about where my dollars were going. Were they supporting huge, fast-fashion chains that paid their workers a pittance and were only concerned with their own profit and keeping their prices low? Or were they supporting other small businesses who were committed to treating their workers fairly and also caring for our planet well?

Not Perfect Linen  dress,  KOTN  turtleneck

Not Perfect Linen dress, KOTN turtleneck

I decided to commit to a completely ethically and sustainably made wardrobe shortly after making that first ES purchase. I knew that I wouldn’t always have the money to buy expensive pieces and I knew it would take lots of time, but I was determined to make it work nonetheless! 

Hackwith Design  kimono and Madewell jeans + boots

Hackwith Design kimono and Madewell jeans + boots

There are a lot of reasons I love buying ethically and sustainably. I first started because I felt so guilty supporting brands that don’t treat their workers well and that cause so much pollution. I know that my own shopping habits don’t even begin to make a dent in the grand scheme of things, but I still want to do what I can.

The longer I’ve owned a business, the more I’ve also become passionate about supporting other small businesses. It means so much to me that I’m able to do what I love for a living, and every single bride, small business, or person who purchases stationery, branding work, or art prints from me literally makes my whole world. It means so much to me that people are willing to support me, and therefore it’s a great joy to be able to support others who are in the same position as me.

I genuinely love the feeling of intentional purchasing. It feels so good to open my closet each day and know that I love and wear everything inside on a regular basis. Nothing beats the feeling of receiving a long-awaited package in the mail and finally being able to wear and style what’s inside. It’s so fulfilling, and it makes me so happy to know that the pieces I bought three years ago at the very beginning of my slow fashion journey are still pieces I love now.

This is getting long, so I’ll call it a day for now! I’ve been working on a list of tips for how to make slow fashion work on a budget, which I will be sharing soon. To be continued! :)