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Hard and Boring. (Ouch.)

If you’ve ever noticed that thinking about sustainability, particularly when it comes to clothes, is kind of hard and boring, you're in good company.


Can I admit something? 

Sustainability ‘messaging’* makes me want to graffiti a solar panel.

The boringness, in particular, surfaced for me as a series of ads for small sustainability-oriented clothing businesses wafted into my ears last week. 

For context, I am a deeply sympathetic audience for small sustainability-oriented clothing businesses.

Here’s what happened:

Each brand had crafted their own specific and creative verbiage to differentiate their sustainability credentials. (All legit, likely!)

Each seemed genuine, passionate, and resourceful. (All qualities I admire!)


You know why? Because even if you care deeply about taking pains to live more sustainably, (and even if you’re also a big dork like me who enjoys specific and creative verbiage,) sustainability is rarely the starting point for buying clothes.

The starting point is that you need a thing

Or that you saw a thing and thought it was cute. 

Or you saw a thing on a person who you thought was cute. 

And now you’re trying to figure out if the thing you need and the thing you saw are a match, and if so, can you get it?

Sustainability is—and arguably should be—an afterthought in this already complex process.

The only reason sustainability is so front and center (for those of us who value it, which is weirdly not everyone) is that we have, frankly, no choice. Over the bast 30-ish years, manufacturers, brand executives, shareholders (and to some extent, the bargain-loving public) have blown SO FAR past the volume of extractive and exploitative behavior that could be considered sustainable.

If you imagined a scale balanced with a “taking resources” bucket on one side and a “regenerating resources” bucket on the other, it’s like the scale tipped so hard in one direction, the post bent. 

Now, as thoughtful earth dwellers, we’re trying to wrench that bent post back into some kind of position where the “taking resources” and “regenerating resources” buckets of the scale can hang in any kind of semblance of balance.

If you’ve ever tried to straighten a bent post, you know this: It takes way more concentrated effort than it took to bend the dang thing in the first place. 

It’s hard. And boring. And, unfortunately, necessary.

As my 5 yr old would say, IT’S NOT FAIR. 

But that’s where we are.

You and I, we’re in this age where we have to do the extra work to make sure what we buy has ethical cred. Brands have to talk about what they do, so that we have some way to evaluate those ethical (or unethical) behaviors. Then we get to decide, “Do I like that silhouette, and aM i SuFfIcIeNtLy SaViNg ThE wOrLd with this purchase?” which is an insane thing to have to ask yourself.

But the ideal is to get to a point where we don’t need to. When producers and suppliers, by default, are doing the right things—or at least enough of the right things, enough of the time— we can give our strained attention a rest.

We can stop trying to wedge all the specific and creative verbiage brands use to differentiate their sustainability credentials into our overloaded brains, and let the gentle procession of decision making take its rightful place in your attention:

You need a thing. You saw a thing. Now you can decide if the thing you saw is the thing you need.

Doesn't that sound nice?

If you need to freshen up your wardrobe with some reliable and stylish pieces, with sustainability efforts like biodegradability, ethical working environments, quality construction, and thoughtful design already built in, consider these:

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