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  • Writer's pictureBailey Stefan-Houle

Is personal style the answer to crafting a sustainable wardrobe?

Do you feel like there’s a new trend in fashion every week? You’re not alone. In the age of social media, microtrends come and go at an alarming pace. Let’s see: this summer alone I saw dark academia, cottagecore, and (what I lovingly refer to as) the Clueless-chic trend one day and then be horribly unstylish the next.

Microtrends are a capitalistic dream; and they’re hard to keep up with on purpose.

Microtrends lean heavily on overconsumption and, in 2021, there isn’t really room for that if we want to keep calling Earth our home for the next millennia. Remember that massive heat-wave earlier this year? Yikes. It’s becoming more and more apparent that we need to avoid the capitalistic desire to constantly refresh our wardrobes, but as fashion lovers, how are we supposed to do that?

That’s where personal style comes in. If you love cottagecore, go for it! Goth rock more your jam? Rock and roll, baby. Developing your own style and not following every new trend is the more sustainable choice.

Sustainability. What does that even mean? The dictionary defines being sustainable as being “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” For some people, sustainable fashion means thrift stores. For others, ethically made brands like KOTN or Girlfriend Collective come to mind. Both ends of this spectrum come with their own pros and cons because, let’s face it, some forms of sustainable fashion — like many things — are not accessible for everyone.

Should we be avoiding buying anything new and thrift all of our clothes? What about price gouging in thrift stores, or the astronomical prices from ethical shops like The Reformation? Is fashion still sustainable if it is no longer affordable? What about size-inclusivity? So many questions with no easy answer.

To try and get to the bottom of it, I sat down with two Edmonton-based influencers to chat about what exactly sustainable fashion and personal style mean to them, and the intersection between the two.

Rebecca Hiller Blogger behind R B C A @rebeccahlr_

To Rebecca Hiller, fashion and personal style are more than just clothing.

“It's how you talk, how you walk, how you see yourself. For me, personal style is how I've been able to become more in touch with my physical self and my body,” the 22-year-old Edmonton-based influencer says.

Growing up in a Christian household and attending private Christian school for over a decade restricted Rebecca from expressing herself through fashion - and now, she relishes the freedom that comes with personal style.

“Sometimes I feel like I don't belong in the body that I was given,” says Hiller. “So I really enjoy dressing up and making myself feel more individualistic by what I wear. It’s how I choose to take action over this body that I have.”

BSH: What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

RH: Sustainable fashion has definitely become like a bit of a buzzword of recent, you know, there's a lot of brands that are launching their sustainable, or reclaimed, or eco-conscious lines...but even though they're saying these things, it's like — that isn't even contributing to their carbon footprint. It's just adding another line of clothing that they're producing rather than their original line. So it's kind of frustrating when you see brands like that, that are trying to greenwash themselves in a way and appear that they're doing more than they are. There are people who do upcycling and take old garments and make them into new ones, or they even embroider them with different stuff like that. I think that's a really artful way to look at sustainability. It's the reduce, the reuse, and the recycle of everything.

“Sustainable fashion, it’s like an art in a way. You've got to, you've got to think longer than just, oh, this is a cute shirt. I'd love to wear it with this outfit, and think more like, what will the shirt add to my closet? Will I get my 30 uses of it?

BSH: Do you have any tips for people looking to get more into thrifting?

RH: One of my best tips is that whenever you go thrifting you should try to drop something off because usually, they'll give you a coupon so that you can get a percentage off next time you buy something. And when you're going I usually just take a friend. You always need to have a second opinion because you can way too easily buy everything in the store. Also just because it's thrifted, [still] don't over-consume. You've got to remember it's like ‘am I just going to be returning this here in a few weeks or am I going to get my 30 wears out of it?’ Oh and have a plan, have a list. Know what you want because I used to just go and browse the thrift store — and that's really fun. I love browsing. But, I very rarely go into a regular shop and be like, oh, I'm just gonna look around. I'm usually like, I need pants and I need this shirt.

BSH: Let’s pivot to sustainable and conscious brands. As we mentioned earlier, some brands have been doing a bit of greenwashing. How do you decide who you’re going to give your money to?

RH: Right off the bat, I always look at the price point, because I know if it's a little bit pricier, it's gonna be a little bit better. Which, I mean, it's not always true. But when you're looking at an H&M shirt, next to a higher quality shirt, regardless of what it is, the price point is going to be different. But definitely doing research, like looking into the company. I like to look back on before like, what was this brand doing in 2010? What were they doing before this was a hot-button issue and climate change became a hot topic, you know? But it's hard because every big business and basically every company is going to have downfalls now, and it's hard to find one that's not like a small business that you can fully agree with.

Rachel Stefaniuk Blogger behind Rachel YEG IG @rachstefaniuk

Rachel Stefaniuk is an influencer based in Edmonton. The 24-year-old University of Alberta student’s feed is all about fashion, food, and self-love. For Stefaniuk, finding her personal style has been a journey.

Growing up small-fat (between straight sizes and plus sizes; sometimes referred to as midsize) in rural Alberta influenced Stefaniuk’s stylistic choices. “I lived in a body that was like size 10 to size 14. So, my style was really limited when I was growing up by what fit me in the store that my parents took me to and by what my peers were wearing. It wasn’t until her early 20s when she began branching out and really discovering herself through fashion. “I was able to kind of access brands and thrift stores that had more size inclusivity to really find my style.”

“I think personal style is very fluid. I think it can change depending on the season, how you're feeling. It is a style true to you. There comes a point where you kind of know what you like, what suits your body shape, and what makes you feel wonderful.”

Stefaniuk is passionate about making ethical choices and tries to use her platform to advocate for conscious choices, but admits that it’s not always easy to locate great finds in thrift stores around Edmonton. “I can think of everything I thrifted in the last year on my two hands. I think it was like seven or eight pieces,” says Stefaniuk. “Thrifting isn't super accessible for midsize and small fat people.”

“As long as you're making small efforts in your own right towards sustainability, then you're doing the best you can.”

BSH: What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

RS: When we start sustainable fashion discussions, a lot of people get left out of the conversation. People who aren't able to access more expensive “sustainable” options because sometimes sustainable brands that seem sustainable aren't, but lots of people aren't able to access them for economic reasons, size-inclusivity reasons, or where they live. When I think of sustainability I don't just think about shopping at a sustainable brand like The Reformation. I think about being sustainable in your own wardrobe. Trying to not really buy based off of fads. Having that forethought is sustainable fashion. Another way is thrifting, but again, the size inclusivity of thrifting like, especially in Canada, sometimes new assets are a little bit better. Also that when we thrift, if we're in more of that middle-class position like there's the potential you're really like taking away from the people in your community who are more low income and who may need those clothes. Sustainable fashion is like a huge conversation. There's no perfect answer. As long as you're making small efforts in your own right towards sustainability, then you're doing the best you can.

BSH: Would you say that as a small fat person, it is easy to thrift shop if you're trying to have a more sustainable wardrobe?

RS: I would say no. If we're solely thinking about thrifting as a small fat person, no. I can think of everything I bought in the last year thrifting on like my two hands. I think it was like eight or seven pieces. Part of why is, historically, we didn't make stylish clothing for people who have bigger bodies.

BSH: Ethically made clothing brands typically sell mostly basics at higher costs than regular stores, but there isn't really any regulation on who can and cannot market themselves as sustainable or ethical or conscious. How do you decide who you're going to give your money to?

RS: I think, like, when I’m deciding, size is number one, then budget, then number three is sustainability. Sometimes people don't even have the option to get to that step three, right? Evaluating their websites is a good idea. I've actually phoned companies and been like Hello, because they had nothing [about their ethical policies] on their website. It's tricky because brands that we have known or thought were sustainable in the past have come to light that they're not sustainable. No matter what, like, as long as you're making the most informed decision at the moment, you're doing the best you can. And then later, if you find out, they're not sustainable, just make yourself aware of that, and when you post that clothing, if you do post it, make your followers aware of it.

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