Thursday, February 15, 2018

My Current Thoughts on Buying Clothes

I've been thinking about writing this post for awhile, but haven't been sure what to say. A lot of my thoughts are still evolving, and to be honest, I don't want to come off like a snobby jerk or an idiot that doesn't know what she's talking about. But I really can't stop thinking about it, so I'm just going to let it all out. Please understand, however, that I am by no means an expert and while I am trying my best to base all of these thoughts on thorough research, I know not everything online is 100% accurate so please forgive me if I'm incorrect on anything.

For the past year I've been thinking more and more about where my clothes come from, the conditions they're made under, what they're made with, how they're affecting my health (both physical and mental), how much waste it's causing, etc... so much to think about.

I'm not really sure what started it, but I think it might have been when I was shopping for a warm coat for our trip to London/Iceland. I had just recently listened to the How I Built This episode with Yvon Chouinard, creator of Patagonia. I looked into the company more and learned that they have one of the best reputations in the business for their policies on being environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and fair-trade certified. Nick and I both purchased our coats for the trip from Patagonia.

Then I fell down the rabbit hole of looking into what other brands have similar policies, and more importantly, which do not. Frankly, it's pretty overwhelming - basically all I've ever known about my wardrobe was tarnished. I did ALL of my shopping at fast fashion brands, like H&M, ASOS, Forever 21, Old Navy, etc. or online retailers based in Asia like SheIn, Oasap, etc. and now I felt weird and sad and uncomfortable.

H&M rehearsal dinner dress, purchased via ThredUp
Before this happened, I had finally gotten in a good place of knowing my personal style and what types of clothes I looked for. Now I felt guilt-stricken for even considering making a purchase from one of my go-to stores. The stores with solid reputations for their ethical practices and sustainability are SO expensive compared to what I was used to, and just didn't offer anything that reflected my personal style. I definitely slipped up a few times over the past year - letting my desire to dress cute dictate my purchase over my personal ethics, and I still feel guilty about it. My top Instagram photo of 2017 was a SheIn shirt that I purchased on Amazon - I still feel conflicted every time I wear it.

So here are the main issues that I'm grappling with:

1. Conditions of the factories where the clothes are made. Everyone knows about sweat shops, but because it's so far removed from our day-to-day lives, we don't consciously think about it when we're making purchases. Watching the documentary The True Cost was an eye opening look at some of the factories in Bangladesh and the real people that have to work in them.

2. What the clothes are made with and what chemicals are added to them. I saw a post from a clothing tailor on Instagram several months ago - she said that her doctor told her he found traces of formaldehyde in her blood, likely from the clothing she was handling for work. I thought, "Is this even real?" and YES, IT IS. It's not uncommon to open a bag of cheap clothing you purchased from a website overseas and found that it had a bit of a chemical smell. That's because a lot of the clothing we purchase is given antimicrobial and chemical treatments to make them mold-resistant for storage in warehouses and shipping overseas. The skin is the largest organ in the body. What am I doing to it when I wear these clothes?

3. The insane amount of waste that's created by the clothing industry. If you go to the website of any fast fashion retailer, you will find the "New Arrivals," which will change weekly, if not daily. We just buy and buy and buy and never stop to think about whether or not we need something. This is extremely prevalent in the fashion blogging world, where bloggers constantly need to have the latest and greatest so they can share the new clothes with their followers, cash in on clicks and sales, and earn their paychecks. I'm not necessarily blaming them - that is their job, but how many fashion bloggers do you know that re-wear their clothes (at least in photos)? Very few, because it doesn't keep followers interested or generate sales. (I know we're not entirely innocent - we too have affiliate links on this site.)

Okay, so what am I doing to try and be better? Well, I think the biggest change for me has been that I'm buying a lot less. The clothes I used to buy were so cheap that it was not uncommon for me to order something from a fast fashion retailer every other week. Now before I make a purchase, I think a lot (A LOT) more than I used to. If I don't need it or don't feel good about where I'm buying it from, I just don't get it. Of course, like I said before, I'm not perfect and I'm still adjusting, but I'm getting there.

Madewell shirt & jeans, purchased via ThredUp
I'm also buying a lot of clothing second-hand from ThredUp. As much as I want to purchase clothes that support sustainable practices, have fair-trade wages, etc. I'm not in a place financially where that's possible for every item of clothing. Retailers like Reformation, Eileen Fisher, and PeopleTree all have good reputations but are out of my price range. I can, however, buy clothes second-hand, preventing them from ending up in a landfill somewhere. While it may be only a small impact, at least I'm one less person that's giving my dollars to the H&Ms and Zaras of the world. Another advantage to buying second-hand is that I'm still able to find pieces that reflect my personal style, without breaking the bank or directly supporting companies that I don't want to support any longer. I'm a short, curvy girl and high-waisted Madewell jeans have become my best friend, but I feel better about buying them second-hand.

I also learned of the Google Chrome extension and website DoneGood a few months ago. When you visit a retail website, the DoneGood extension will show you socially responsible websites that sell similar products (i.e. if you're shopping for a book on Amazon, the extension may show you Better World Books.) The website is still in beta, but I have poked around on it a bit and found some new retailers that I've used and loved. You can filter by the various causes these companies support (i.e. toxin-free, women/minority owned, recycled, eco-friendly, etc.) It's a good resource for someone that is diving into all of this for the first time.

So that's where I'm at right now. I have made some clothing purchases from new-to-me retailers that I'll list below, but I'm always looking for new places that people have purchased from and liked. If you have any sources for clothes that are produced ethically, better for the environment, etc. please send them my way. All of these retailers I'm sharing below have information on their websites about their production policies and company responsibilities.

Allbirds shoes, Madewell jeans purchased via ThredUp
Pact: Sustainable, fair-trade certified, organic cotton clothing. I've purchased tank tops/camis to wear under shirts, as well as underwear for both Nick and I. Great for cotton basics, but obviously a little higher priced than an typical t-shirt. They have frequent sales and I will continue to buy basics from them.

Allbirds: Sneakers made from ZQ-certified Merino wool, which means it was obtained through sustainable farming and animal welfare practices (no sheep were harmed.) I wore these sneakers frequently on our honeymoon - they are SO comfortable.

Everlane: Wardrobe basics with "radical transparency" and ethical production processes. They share their factory locations and the true cost of their products on their website. I purchased a few shirts and a dress for our honeymoon during a sale. They've been advertising on podcasts recently, so you may be able to find a discount code.

Patagonia: Outdoor clothing that's made through fair labor practices and safe working conditions. As mentioned above, Nick and I both purchased coats for our trip last year and still wear them regularly. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, they recently opened a retail store in Shadyside.

ThredUp: All throughout this post I've shared photos of me wearing clothes that were purchased second-hand through ThredUp. Just like shopping at a traditional thrift store, it may take some digging to find gold, but it's out there. Most of the clothes I've purchased from ThredUp are from fast fashion brands that I'm already familiar with.

I know this has been a long post and I appreciate it if you've made it this far. This is a topic that I'm still exploring and learning more about every day, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts in hopes that I can learn from some of you too. Again, if you have anything you'd like to share, let's have a conversation in the comments below. If you have any shopping recommendations, I'd love to hear them. If you're on a similar journey, let's chat!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, February 5, 2018

Amsterdam, Netherlands

We're excited to share the first leg of our European honeymoon - Amsterdam! We visited three countries/cities on this trip; first Amsterdam, then Brussels, and finally Paris. Our flight out of Pittsburgh was delayed, so unfortunately we lost a day in Amsterdam, but we made up for it during the rest of our time there. It's a beautiful city, even in dreary winter, but we'd love to go back during the spring or summer when the trees are in bloom and the sun actually shines.

Day 1
After arriving to Amsterdam 8 hours later than anticipated, we took the tram to Lloyd Hotel, where we would be staying for the duration of our visit. The Lloyd Hotel is awesome - it's a cultural embassy that offers 1 to 5 star rooms. When you book your stay, you can select the star level you want and pick a specific room if desired. All of the rooms are different - we requested a 5 star room, but wanted to be surprised of the specific room upon arrival.

Our room was on the top floor of the hotel, with lofted wood ceilings, a huge bathtub, and a hanging hammock right in the middle of the room. It was rustic and cozy and the perfect place to wind down after a hectic day of travel. After checking in, we went across the street to De Cantine for falafel burgers, nachos, and local beers. Day 1 in Amsterdam was short but sweet.

Day 2
Our second day would be our big adventure day. We grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at Anne & Max before walking along the canals to Amsterdam Centraal and the more populous part of town.

We decided to check out the De 9 Straatjes, which are streets of local shops, cafes, and restaurants. I'd been wanting to visit Pluk for coffee every since seeing the gorgeous interior on designlovefest's Instagram. It certainly didn't disappoint, especially since they had a beautiful white cat greeting guests upon entering.

We checked out Vegabond for a vegan lunch and hit up a local bar for Heinekens before our visit to the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House is a must-do in Amsterdam. I read Diary of a Young Girl a few years ago and was so inspired by Anne's writing, even though the story itself is so tragic. Being in the annex where Anne, her family, and others hid for two years was moving and heartbreaking.

Later in the afternoon, we journeyed through the Red Light District, which is famous for its "coffeeshops" and window prostitutes. Cannabis, other drugs, and prostitution are all legal in the Netherlands, and the Red Light District is where this is most prevalent. We visited a couple different bars for local beers until our big reservation for the day - our pizza tour!

Amsterdam is a city built on canals, so I'm sure you can imagine the sheer number of cruises you can book during a visit. It was honestly a little overwhelming to pick one, but when we saw "Pizza Cruise" we were sold. We boarded a boat as the sun was setting and cruised through the canals, admiring the beauty of Amsterdam at night. There were endless drinks, and halfway through the cruise, we were each delivered a pizza all to ourselves. Pretty sure it was the best way possible to end our first full day in the Netherlands.

Day 3
Unfortunately on day 3 I started coming down with a cold, but we were set on making the most of our trip, so we woke up early and walked to G's for a delicious breakfast. We visited the I Amsterdam sign, which was nearby but super crowded with tourists.

For lunch we visited Vegan Junk Food Bar where we shared truffle fries and Amsterdam bitterballen, which are a famous Dutch snack typically made with meat, but were vegan in this case. After lunch we walked to the Jordaan and Westermarkt areas of the city, but went back to the hotel early in hopes of kicking the cold I caught.

The next morning we had an early train to Brussels, but first stopped for breakfast at Pancakes Amsterdam. I had the traditional Dutch apple & cheese pancake and Nick had the goat cheese pancake - they were HUGE and so delicious. Not a bad way to end our time in this awesome city.

There are more photos and videos from our trip on my Instagram (@sawissinger) - I have an Amsterdam highlight saved. It was such an awesome place that we would love to visit again. If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment letting us know! We'll be back soon to share our visit to Brussels!

Sarah & Nick