When buying a piece of jewelry, clothing, or handbag, investing in something well-made from quality raw materials means that the item in question should last longer than something constructed poorly from cheap materials. It may feel tempting to buy a piece of jewelry that is gold-plated or gold-filled (meaning a small percentage of gold is bonded to base metal), but it's less likely to become a piece of jewelry that you will pass down to future generations, re-purpose, or resell at a good value. The same goes when it comes to buying a sweater, for example. Sure, the fast-fashion acrylic sweater might seem like a bargain, but will it still be wearable in a year or two, or will it be misshapen and pilling? Investing in one made with natural fibers (cotton or wool) and taking great care of it ensures that it will be a wardrobe staple for many years.
In a world where we’re encouraged to buy more and always have the newest new thing constantly, it’s hard to tune out that noise. But, when we think about sustainable fashion and accessories, we keep returning to the idea of buying less and better.
Here are four ways to lighten your fashion footprint by thinking long-term, getting personal, and shopping smart.
1. Buy Authentic Jewelry That Will Last Forever
It's so tempting to cut corners to feel like you're getting a bargain. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in jewelry sales; things that are gold-filled or gold vermeil look like their solid-gold counterparts at a fraction of the price.
But what's under the surface? Literally, under that thin layer of gold is a base metal, and with regular wear and tear, the gold will likely come off in a few years.
You know the old Girl Scout song, "Make New Friends, but Keep the Old." There's a reason that the following line is "One is silver; the other is gold," and not "One is pewter, and the other is nickel or brass." Not to knock metal alloys and more abundant elements, but silver and gold are, well, the gold standard for a reason. They are durable, precious, and traditional.
The environmental and waste impacts of faux jewelry are important to consider: what happens to all the costume jewelry and no-longer-gold-filled stuff that people are finished with? It can't be melted down and recycled into new jewelry the way solid gold, silver, or platinum pieces can, and it won’t be a family heirloom.
Buying less jewelry that is of higher quality is the best way to protect both your own investment and the health of the planet!
As a bonus, we also look for recycled gold and gems, brands with minimal carbon footprint, and companies that make intentional, impact-informed business decisions. Catbird, one of our favorite jewelry companies, is a great example of how a jewelry brand can be transparent and sustainable, with an extensive section on its website detailing its values.
And, if you like supporting indie, women-led brands, here are a few you should know about and shop from!
Polly Wales Fine Jewelry:
Polly Wales is a design house whose cast-not-set fine jewelry defies the status quo without restraint. “It's quite simple, really. We believe the objects we make should be worn and enjoyed.” pollywales.com
Bario Neal Jewelry:
An ethical custom jewelry designer that creates handmade rings with conflict-free diamonds and other gemstones who “Make[s] jewelry for everyone and any occasion, marriage and beyond. We don’t prescribe to the heteronormative ideals predominant in the jewelry industry — the right to love who you choose is one of our founding beliefs. Our design ethos is gender-neutral and size-inclusive, and we love working with customers to create pieces that celebrate and reflect their identity and experience.” bario-neal.com
Erin Tracy Bridal and Fine Jewelry:
Employing the industry's best craftspeople, lead designer Erin Tracy has created unique and special pieces at the Toronto-based studio since 2003. "We are committed to conducting all operations in the most socially responsible manner possible—from our recycled metals to our ethically sourced diamonds and gemstones. We believe in fair labor, by manufacturing in Toronto, and by supporting ethical suppliers." erintracy.ca
2. Refresh Your Handbag Instead of Buying a New One
Every season, there’s a new “it” bag or a new shape, style, or size of last year’s bag, but do you really need a whole new bag? If your current handbag still fits your stuff and your needs, and you’re just feeling bored with it or itching for something new and special, we recommend thinking outside the bag: enter the Salt Strap!
These sustainable, fair-trade, women-designed straps connect to your old purse or designer bag to make it a whole new piece! This strap encourages refreshing the things you already own instead of buying more leather goods or fast-fashion handbags. A Salt Strap is a way to personalize, dress up, and give new life to an old bag you might not be using or wearing. This is sustainable because it keeps us from buying a whole new bag for the sake of wanting something new. Now, we can enjoy that feeling of new, support traditional Colombian artisans, and buy beautiful hand-woven art, all while saving the world from more landfill waste of discarded bags.
On the other hand, if your bag is scratched or dirty, if the zipper is broken, or if the lining has stains, plenty of places will repair it, giving you that brand-new bag feeling without sending your old one to a landfill. Here are a few tips:
- Ask your local tailor or shoe repair store if they fix bags.
- Buy a classic bag second-hand and have it cleaned and restored.
- Revisit your old favorite bags and swap one with a friend for a few weeks so you each feel like you have something new.
3. Buy Custom-Made Jeans That Fit Your Body Made with Recycled Materials
Ever wished that you could have jeans made to fit your specific body but use vintage Levi’s as a starting point? You need personal style, recycled from Lenny. She created Lenny as “a denim lover and fashion enthusiast who wanted to make the perfect fitting jeans for people,” says founder Lindsey Davidson, aka Lenny. “We are all different, and that is why I believe a pair of jeans should be made to fit your body, not the other way around!”
With that in mind, Davidson has created a business that empowers people to embrace their bodies while utilizing pre-existing stock. By using vintage, the brand isn’t creating new fabric or virgin materials), keeping old jeans out of landfills. It’s a win-win-win situation.
How does this magic work? Using the Lenny website, you can book an in-person appointment if you’re in the Los Angeles area or a virtual fitting if you’re not.
Choose a wash and a style, and get your measurements to the team, and Lenny will create a pair of jeans from their stock of vintage Levi’s. The brand also offers online ready-to-wear options, which can be tailored to you if you add measurements. They also offer custom embroidery to make your jeans truly unique and personal.
Their website describes the environmental impact you can have by purchasing a pair of vintage jeans vs. buying new: “Just ONE pair of jeans ‘could require up to 8 gallons of water … which is equivalent to three days of water usage for an average U.S. household’” (statistic from conserve-energy-future.com) ... At the core of Lenny's values is sustainability. Instead of producing our line using virgin (“new”) fibers and materials, all Lenny items are repurposed and hand-customized from carefully sourced vintage pieces. By using existing stock, we are able to decrease harmful waste at the source and re-route products that may have otherwise ended up in landfills. We call this circular fashion.”
Though the price is steep compared to buying off-the-rack, the jeans are tailored to your body, contain no new fabrics, and help save the planet! What more could you possibly want from a new (old) pair of jeans?
4. Stop Buying Flimsy, Plastic Hair Clips and Elastics
There are many ways we need to think about using less plastic, but none is quite as chic and functional as Day Rate Beauty. This Hollywood-hairstylist-created brand will become your go-to everyday fast, chic, and secure way to throw your hair up.
The brand’s HERO PINS (2IN X 12 BOBBY PINS) ($11) are a modern take on the classic bobby pin: strong enough to support the heaviest updo and chic enough to top off any look. If you’re looking for a little more volume, hairpins don’t pull on the hair like elastics, and the super strong steel makes them hold any style with added lift! Aviva Jansen Perea, founder and celebrity stylist, says, “They can also be used as heatless wave setters for your bouncy, voluminous looks!”
And for the ultimate do-it-all multi-tasker, The Power Pin 7-inch or Petite Power Pin 5.5-inch French Hair Pin is a must. Both work as a great alternative to hair ties for high and low buns, are way more glam than a claw clip for a quick updo and can be used as a statement piece. They’re available in hair color-coordinated shades if you want it to blend in or buy bright pink or gold if you want it to stand out! The pins are nylon coated for anti-snag and anti-breakage, come in biodegradable packaging, and are “tested on red carpets, not on animals.”