Three Ways to be Intentional with Your Retail Spending

Three Ways to be Intentional with Your Retail Spending
Photo credit: Jason Roque

Photo credit: Jason Roque

In the midst of a rise in “conscious” movements, more and more I find myself wondering where my consumer dollars are going. 

I don’t always know where my apples are grown or where my cotton is made, but as transparency lurches its way towards becoming a consumer value, it’s forced me to think twice about where my hard-earned fashion dollars are being (frequently) spent.  How often do I buy Zara just because it’s convenient?  How long do those purchases last me, and in light of Zara’s (and others’) ambivalence to utilizing exploited labor and deeply polluting industry practices, how can I be a better, more intentional consumer?

I’ve come up with three suggestions.  Full disclosure: I don’t live and die by any of them.  I am neither in the financial disposition to do so nor do I think imposing hard and fast rules is particularly helpful, in most aspects of life anyway.  What I will advocate for is a contemplative approach to retail spending that considers transparency as a virtue as well as garment longevity–but more on that later.


Buy from environmentally/socially conscious labels:

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Ethical is the new black, as cringeworthy of a statement as that may be.  That is to say that socially conscious labels are trending–some at explosive, consistently sold-out rates.

Let’s take Reformation as an example. Ref prides itself on its commitment to buying sustainable fabric (the 3rd most polluting industry in the world, so it warns us) and using deadstock or selvedge fabric from other brands that have ordered too much.  Everything from design to production to marketing operates out of their downtown LA factory so as to have optimal oversight over product quality and working conditions.  The marketing genius behind Reformation is that they make it easy by telling you exactly what kind of an impact you’re making.  

In fact, it makes it sexy.  Wait, you mean I’m saving 218 gallons of water from pollution by buying Ref as opposed to a competitor?  Suddenly that $268 wrap dress seems less like an impulse buy and more of an act of charity.  It works because the product is good.  From stunning wrap dresses to a ready-to-wear bridal collection to this lovely lace crop top shown above–Ref’s got ya covered.

Did I mention they do factory tours?

Other brands with conscious branding (and really cool stories) to consider: EverlaneApolisShinola.

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Buy from indie designers

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Some of the most interesting work on the market right now is happening inside a burgeoning matrix of independent and emerging designers.  Connected through a network of values that include transparency, slow fashion, and shopping local, these designers find their audience through social media and contemporary shopping platforms such as Garmentory and Farfetch.  In shopping brands like these, you’re not only getting better, considered product with more scarcity, you’re also contributing to small businesses.  Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Laurs Kemp is one such designer whose work is delightfully unknown as well as environmentally and socially conscious.  She runs a zero-waste studio in Portland that makes thoughtfully curated, seasonless pieces.  Her inspiration?  Body-positive feminism, fine art, and French cinema.  The top I am wearing is from her #rohmerseries, which features limited runs of vintage or raw silk tops embroidered with carefully selected stills from Eric Rohmer films.  

Essentially, the perks (read: bragging rights) of having a Laurs Kemp piece in 2017 include film snobbery, anti-capitalist, eco-friendly lifestyle branding, and aggro-elegant feminist imagery.  Sounds like the perfect cocktail to me.  If that’s not quite your cup of tea, here’s a few other indie designers to whet your palette: Miranda Bennett StudioBlack CraneJesse KammHorses Atelier.


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Buy vintage.  Or consignment.  Or pillage mom’s closet!

We’ve all heard it before: the fashion pendulum has a 30-year swing.  It is also true that each decade of the twentieth century is its own niche market with its own cult following.  The result is that there is no vintage that is truly out of style, so why not recycle what we already have, in the form it’s already in?  The best part: every piece has a story attached to it.  Someone else has lived in it before you and walked around planet earth in it–and that gets written into each garment in some way.  Even better: once on a consignment rack, a garment becomes one-of-a-kind, even if you know a thousand other people bought it when it was new.

Most of the time we we can only hazard a guess at where something’s been.  However, I do happen to know the story behind this jacket because it’s the one my mom took with her on her honeymoon up the central coast of California.  I actually grew up with pictures of her wearing it around the house.  Today, I wear it to work in a city that is considered one of the bookends of the central coast.  Funny how that works.

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All that said, I truly hope that the sustainable and environmental practices being pioneered right now develop into industry standards.  It would truly be a shame if in 30 years we look back fondly at “those brands that tried” to make fashion ethical.  My own buying power might be limited, but I’ll do what I can when I can to invest in pieces made with integrity so that–just maybe–consciousness as a consumer value develops staying power.