My Current Thoughts on Buying Clothes - The Surznick Common Room

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,


  1. Girl, you have great style! It’s hard to go against the grain and buy less and better. I looove the rehearsal dress you chose, the picture is very cool too :) I buy t-shirts from United by blue, they’re made in USA. They have a great feel and the cut is usually great for coverage, although they run a bit small! The prints are fun and they keep their shape.

    1. Thank you! I've heard of United by Blue but haven't really looked into them! Thanks for the recommendation :)

  2. Really great job on this one! Do one about straws next! :)

  3. I wish more bloggers would consider these things. Thank you for putting it out there and making an effort! And I love watching your style evolution!

    1. Thanks so much, Meryl! That means a lot coming from you :)

  4. This is such a great post, Surzy! I hope fashion bloggers everywhere read this and consider being more conscious about what they buy and what they influence others to buy! Here's a video I thought you'd find interesting about the same subject:

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I finally got around to watching this video - it was really interesting. I would love to see big fashion become more sustainable in their designs, or hell, just produce less product if they know that a lot of it is going to waste anyway.

  5. Interesting article, thanks for taking the time to share your findings. I've been looking into this too and second the comment above about United By Blue. For every article they sell, they remove 1lb of trash from waterways. I've volunteered with them on several occasions to clean up local parks in PA and NJ. Another company with an environmental mission is Ten Tree: for every article they sell, they plant 10 trees in regions throughout the world to aid in various environmental missions.


    1. Thanks, Stephanie! I will definitely look into United By Blue - they sound awesome and I would love to volunteer for them!