some wise eco-fashion tips #1

I have to confess that up until recently, My Wardrobe has been one chapter of my eco-friendly adventures I've actively ignored. Despite my deep seeded anti-consumerist streak, and the fact that I despise the actual process of shopping (spending an entire day in a shopping centre searching for the perfect pair of red jeans, fuelled by the delusion that said jeans will give me a new lease on life and allow me to have triple the fun on weekends, is not my idea of a good time), I like having pretty clothes to wear. *Shame face*

mental shut-down via shutupvita

More recently however, in a serendipitous coming-together-of-everything, I’m in a good place to break the habit of buying yet another pair of black harem pantaloons (and I have actually slowed down a lot over the past few months). My awareness of all the issues re: fashion has deepened, I’ve
cut back my working hours so I now have a lower disposable income, and my mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine for my birthday. And next month is Buy Nothing New month. See, a gorgeous coming-together-of-everything.

I’ve also become painfully aware that having too many clothes tricks a woman’s brain in to believing she has nothing to wear. You get overwhelmed by the muddle in your wardrobe, you believe you have nothing to wear, you go out and buy more clothes to add to the muddle. Sound familiar?

To my relief I came across Leeyong Soo, a sustainable fashion blogger at Style Wilderness, and self-described ‘Winnie from the Wonder Years’ doppelg√§nger. She’s also contributing editor of Peppermint magazine. Leeyong first caught my attention because she takes raggly, out of shape dresses (and some times blankets) from op shops and turns them into hot fashion pieces. I love her unfaltering commitment to low-impact fashion. When I asked her, for this guest post, to include a few links to her fave boutiques, she replied: “Ta, but I really do only shop at op shops most of the time. I'm struggling to think of other shops to suggest! You can put links to Savers, the Salvos, The Clothing Exchange etc if you like". Tsk tsk, Maria, tsk tsk.

Leeyong,via stylewilderness

I asked Leeyong if she would so kind as to air some of the fashion industry’s dirty laundry, and give us her top tips on being more mindful and ethical when it comes to affairs of the material kind.

Over to you Leeyong:

Leeyong’s eco-fashion tips

It’s hard to remember exactly what got me interested in sustainability and how it relates to fashion. I come from a family where nothing gets thrown out if there’s the remote possibility it could be used again (which, if seen in a more negative light, would probably be described as hoarding!), so I suppose recycling is in my blood!

When I was living in Tokyo, I started buying old kimonos at flea markets because I loved the material, but I couldn’t wear them as they were so I started unpicking them and turning the fabric into contemporary garments – first for myself and then later for my label, which at the time was called Must Like Cats, but now is called Fourth Daughter.

I think it must have been while in Tokyo that I became more aware of this thing called fair trade and the existence of sweat shops and unethical labour systems – it was certainly there that I discovered the Fairtrade online fashion store People Tree. As I was working at Japanese Vogue at the time, I proposed a collaboration between People Tree, some top designers and the magazine. We worked together to create Fairtrade certified designer fashion, shot it on top models, published the fashion story and corresponding article in Vogue Nippon and sold the garments in People Tree stores both in Japan and the UK.

I’m proud to say that project was the catalyst for many other designers to produce collections with People Tree, which has put fair trade and ethical fashion on the map for the more fashion-forward consumer.

The fashion industry contributes a disproportionate percentage to the world’s pollution, but in my view it’s one of the areas that consumers can easily make a difference through their shopping habits. Most of my wardrobe comes from op shops or flea markets, which is arguably the most eco-friendly option as it’s rescuing clothes from landfill and saving the numerous resources needed to manufacture new ones. I make a lot of my clothes, get them from communal clothes swaps like The Clothing Exchange or alter things that I’ve bought at op shops.

Admittedly, though, op shops have become so popular with the mainstream that it can be quite difficult to find good bargains these days. Also, as hard as it is for me to believe, some people simply don’t like wearing secondhand gear! So of course there will always be a need for new clothing. If you’re buying new things and want to do your bit for the planet, it’s up to you what to prioritise – ethics or the environment. Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s sweatshop free or even particularly good for the environment (cotton, for example, is so thirsty it takes nearly 3,000 litres to produce just one t-shirt), and just because something is fair trade doesn’t mean it’s chemical-free, although as much as possible, fair trade groups do try to use eco-friendly materials. But fair trade products inevitably come from developing countries – if carbon miles matter to you, then you’re better off supporting locally made products.

Confused? It’s precisely this kind of moral minefield (and the fact that secondhand/self-sewn gear is cheaper) that keeps me coming back to op shops and digging into my fabric stash to make my own clothes! I’m a great believer in every little bit counting though – and in the end I think it’s only consumers demanding alternatives to damaging fast fashion that will have any impact on the current state of things. So if you can’t find what you want secondhand, buy the hand-woven organic fair trade version from the little independent boutique instead of the mass-produced option from the chain store, and be proud that your purchase is making a difference, no matter how small.

Some links you might like:

You might also like...

Get a tailor - If you’re not savvy with a sewing machine, get yourself a tailor you can rely on to make alterations, mend and re-invent your old clothes.

Swishing - Marie Claire magazine touted swishing as “the future of fashion.” Swishing is swapping clothes shoes or accessories with friends or acquaintances. It's ethical, social and fun and does away with wasteful behaviour. Try iSwish, a clothes swapping website for men, women and kiddies.

Rent a designer outfit - Try to rent a designer outfit for your next big do.

How big is your eco a directory of ethical fashion labels in Australia and heaps of background info on the impact of the fashion industry, including all the things you need to consider when you shop for new clothes.

Stay tuned for more eco-friendly fashion advice over the next few weeks, including the low-down on what fabrics you should be avoiding right now...


  1. What a fantastic read! I've been toying with altering op shop clothing for my own needs after reading through a few blogs dedicated to such things (ie - Refashioning).

    I hadn't contimplated the thought of fair trade or sweatshops when thinking about it originally, but you have now helped to push along my decision. :)

  2. Begone wardrobe muddle! lol

    I adore charity stores and flea markets - it's the huntress in me (LOL!) the forager, and finding something sweetly unique in another's 'trash' :)

    I do however find myself spending just as much on my seamstress as I would on new garb though...hmmm counter productive much?! (thankfully though, I have recently been on a consumer-sabbatical - oh sweet loveliness!)

    So now reminder-to-self: You have a brand-spanking-new sewing machine still in its box (!) under your bed. Time to retrieve-&-pull-out-your-patience!! [Not exactly born with needle-&-thread-in-hand!]'s the patience thing, but you never know, I may just develop the knack, and then...perhaps never to be seen again for all the producing-rather-than-consuming that I SHALL be doing! hahaha

    Thanks again Maria for a prodigious post, as always :)

  3. What a great idea!Eco-Fashion is an interesting initiative.Love eco-fashion tips.Thank you for sharing such great thoughts and ideas.

  4. It is hard to choose what to wear when you have many clothes to choose from.



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