Jenny Wong is a copywriter and a consultant for environmental projects. Follow her at @mrswonggarcia, mainly to see photos of her dog and adventures with her husband.
Quite often I think of how I can do better. How to be a better companion, daughter, how to make go-to dishes taste better, how to know more answers at trivia night, and the list goes on. A few years ago, I helped start a nonprofit, an international initiative working towards making this world, and our future, smarter and better. I was part of a small team, one that helped launch an assembly involving over thirty-five countries. We heard voices of those living in cities and countries deeply which were deeply affected, or will inevitably be, by global warmingaffected, or will inevitably be, by global warming. Taking part in a conversation that involved the rest of the world inspired me to consider both the bigger and smaller picture, in order to figure out what I could do to contribute. I believed I wasn’t doing enough for the environment, and at times my personal efforts seemed thwarted by frustration and lack of resources, but I still knew I had to at least keep trying to do a little bit better.
Sustainability was at the top of my list. Looking at my personal habits, I could see I was a fashion waste. Indulging in trends, I always found a way to justify my over-shopping. I really need this dress. I don’t have anything like it. I gotta have it. And a few months later, I would feel nothing towards that dress, its future slated for the donation pile. I set a challenge for myself: to shop smarter and less, and to live lighter. Originally, I had this idea I could purchase anything I wanted, as long as it wasn’t made in China. I created an easy generalization for myself that all factories in P.R.C. must be unethical. It was an excuse, not well researched, but I made it so I could continue to shop as I did. It was a shortcut, and changing habits isn’t that simple. I slowly started to learn that some factories in China do provide fair wages, and some provide a safe, working environment backed by reasonable hours. Quashing this lazy way to start a new mission, I began to explore brands that focused on fair-trade, ethical labor and sustainable resources; American-made companies; slow fashion, and zero-waste initiatives. And while fashion that is made in China is usually deemed inexpensive and inferior, consider that same country produced a painstakingly embellished cape for Rihanna at the 2015 Met Gala, though of course the piece was created by one of China’s most revered couturiers.
I learned to keep an open mind in my search. I researched companies and designers that seized on being ethical as their main priority. I found myself buying less, having a leaner closet with thoughtful purchases. I started wearing pieces many times over, until they acquired lived-in details such as a subtle little hole or a rip in the stitch at the hem. These small, sweet details became the character of my clothes, a mark of my personal mission. My urge to shop at popular stores softened, and it came to a point where I would see a really great dress and not want it.
Discovering designers and companies who thought the same was the fun part of my exploration. Finding fashion that was created by those who factored in human condition and the environment was incredibly satisfying and comforting. My search led me to those who wanted to change the industry for the better. I came across companies that were nestled in unassuming towns, that had generations of practices passed along to family members, who employed the community and embodied the spirit of American-made. I found designers, local and abroad, who upcycled unused or recycled materials to create something new and contemporary, and companies that created goods through the craft of true artisans only when it was ordered (reminding me of pre- ready-to-wear days, which was well before my time), zero-waste designers who create clothes by producing little or no waste to prevent unwanted textiles from going straight to the landfill. Finding these outlets made my shopping transition worth the search.
Having just moved to Los Angeles, I’m thrilled to be living in a city where sustainable fashion is so accessible. I feel charged with excitement to explore the area flea markets, to pay visits to the neighborhood thrift stores, and scan consignment shops for fun West Coast finds. It can be magical to think of how the things we buy, sell and donate circulate among different hands, dates, occasions, and with people we will never get to meet. Through these objects, we’re exchanging made up memories and imaginary stories by assigning them a past. I find thrifting to be a way of shopping that is charming and sustainable, passing intimate items from stranger to stranger without knowing where it lands.
I continue to still wrestle with how effective my efforts at sustainability are and ask myself often if I am doing as much as I can, but I’m going to continue to keep an open mind, and find those new, innovative ways to support ethical fashion. The next time I shop, I’ll check off each one of my boxes diligently—next to my standards, but reminding myself there’s always room to do a little bit better.