Aesthetically speaking, sustainable fashion has a certain air of minimality and sobriety about it. What does it then hold for the lover of offbeat style with a motivation to be mindful and conscious?
Associations. Our ideas about the world at large revolve around them. What do you associate the colour red with? Love? Danger? How about the word ‘compassion’? Your grandmother? Mother Teresa? Associations help us arrive at quick solutions. Associations help us make safe choices.
What associations also do, however, is make us closed-minded.
Our minds get conditioned to draw connections based on the learnings and experiences we have along our journey. Often, this very conditioning makes us so accustomed to a set way of thinking, that it becomes hard to imagine another way. That is, until someone tells you different, and you go, “Ah! I wonder why I didn’t think of it that way?” Frans Johansson, in his book titled ‘The Medici Effect’ writes about how “associative barriers” can hinder people’s creativity by making them jump to conclusions too quickly.
It is perhaps these associative barriers that made the ill-informed fashion enthusiast that I was a few years ago associate sustainable fashion only with clothes that are expensive and minimalistic: not meant for someone with an eclectic sensibility (and a tight budget) like me. For me, a die-hard lover of vibrance and variety in my clothes, sustainable fashion seemed like an impossible territory to set foot in, because of the preconceived ideas I had about it.
The perception that sustainable fashion speaks a subdued visual language is essentially social-media-driven. Search for the hashtag ‘sustainable fashion’ on Instagram, and you will spot common themes – clean frames, earthy tones, elements of nature and a general lack of colour. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with the basic image that the sustainable fashion space seems to have cultivated, it leaves little room for capturing the interest of someone with an unconventional personal style.
It is not without reason that the tag of minimalism is attached to sustainable fashion. In an interesting piece on Fashionista.com, journalist Whitney Bauck tells why. By virtue, sustainability stands for spending less and spending mindfully. Those being the driving principles for a majority of sustainable fashion brands, creating conscious pieces that are timeless and functional becomes a prevailing standard to abide by. In other words, for a sustainable brand, to craft a collection doused in the season’s trendiest colours, featuring styles and cuts that are in vogue today but will lose relevance in the seasons to come just isn’t sustainable enough.
In the article, 18-year-old, ethical fashion blogger, Tolmeia Gregory of Tolly Dolly Posh is also quoted explaining that much of the “fun” materials, such as sequins or vinyl used to embellish and add texture and variation to garments are not sustainable, and, are therefore, off limits for brands trying to produce new clothing, sustainably.
Today, there are a number of slow fashion labels like Ka Sha (India), IRISHLATINA (USA), Rianna + Nina (Germany) that don’t comply with the domain’s dominant minimal aesthetic and work with post-production, post-consumer, vintage and second-hand fabrics, to create clothing that is refreshingly one-of-a-kind. However, given the fact that for slow fashion labels, there are huge costs and efforts involved at every level of the supply chain, they aren’t always economically accessible to everyone.
What does a frugal maximalist, willing to make conscious fashion decisions, then do? Here are some tips that the maximalist me swears by to access fun fashion that is as budget-friendly as it is sustainable:
Reusing and Repurposing
Once I’d decided I wanted and needed to make sustainable fashion choices for myself, I started from the place I knew best: my own home. Coming from a family of hoarders, I knew we’d have years of accumulated and unused clothes lying around. My biggest aim starting ‘The Baksa Project’ was fuelled by the idea of repurposing and reusing what I already own and through it, experiencing the joy of making. From turning my great-grandma’s sarees into jackets and skirts to transforming my torn denims into hand-embroidered and personal storyboards, not only has reusing and repurposing given what’s old and spoiled, a new life, but has also given me a chance to learn amazing skills and express my personal style and story more beautifully.
Thrifting Second Hand and Vintage Clothing
All my life, I have loved thrift shopping. I was 10 when I had my first thrift shopping experience with my mom, and there’s been no looking back, since.
The joy of mixing and matching, the character that a slightly ragged seam adds to a garment, the entire mystery of how a beautifully hand-embroidered silk skirt finds itself in the neighbourhood thrift store – to me, each one of these elements make the thrift shopping experience joyous. What makes it all the more better is the fact that these clothes are already in circulation, which means that by thrifting, not only are you preventing garments from ending up in landfills, but are also playing your part in reducing pollution resulting due to the production and distribution of new garments.
As a maximalist, I am constantly looking for variety in my wardrobe. A fun and mindful way to achieve that is through clothes swapping: exchanging what you’ve gotten over or grown out of with something interesting that someone else owns and doesn’t need. You could swap clothes with your family, friends, or even organise a clothes swapping event within your circle. There are also a number of platforms that you can use to swap clothes with people living remotely, although I still believe that it is both, more economical as well as sustainable to do the swapping locally.
The closed-mindedness that I had with regards to sustainable fashion was purely because I wasn’t well informed and took it at face-value. As someone who’s recently begun taking more conscious fashion calls, I encourage everyone to constantly ask, read and make oneself more aware.
If you have any questions about how to stay true to your individual style while being sustainable, or just about anything else, I’d be very glad to help.