Like anyone who’s taken a drastic left turn in their life, this leap was born from heartbreak. My mom is a cancer survivor, and once we knew for sure that her cancers were not genetic and therefore caused by her environment, I got knee deep in trying to understand all the ways this disease can be man-made. To do this, I spent a lot of my downtime reading and researching, and through this digging I found out about the perils of fast, cheap, and synthetic fashion, both for our bodies and the planet. So in an effort to get serious about prevention, and be able to knowledgeably guide my mom down this path as well, I set out to detox my life— from cleaning products, to makeup, to a completely ethical and non-toxic wardrobe.
I gave myself two years to tackle a closet filled with true malarkey (polyester galore) but within a year I completed the overhaul, and didn’t tailspin into debt in the process. And let me say off the bat, in case you’re having the same fear I did at the outset; I’m not wearing a hemp burlap sack every day (although maybe with the right shoes? No? OK.) If you saw me on the street you would think I was just another 20-something trying to look cute and have some fashion sense.
So here are the steps I took. Whether you’re looking to overhaul completely, or just make a few changes and better choices in the future, the shift is simpler than you may think.
1. DOWNSIZE ?
I had already inhaled Marie Kondo’s book, so I followed her method for slimming down my possessions. I took everything out of my closet and whittled it down to the pieces I loved. Everything else I donated to Goodwill or sold on Poshmark.♻️ This step was crucial because it gave me the clarity I needed to be successful in Step 2, it’s a little bit like how you have to clean your desk before you can get any work done. It was also during this time that I parted ways with a lifetime collection of free t-shirts that every human seems to accumulate.✌️ I promise I don’t miss them and you won’t either.
2. INVESTIGATE ?
As I took stock of what was left, the reality hit me square in the face; all of my favorite pieces were made of toxic materials — polyester, rayon, nylon, acrylic, etc. Here’s the problem with these fabrics–your skin is your largest organ, and when the toxins in these chemically treated fabrics are absorbed by your skin, they bypass your liver, which is responsible for removing toxins. And it’s just as bad on egress–your body naturally vents toxins its accumulated back out through your skin, but these petrochemical materials disrupt that process, hindering the toxin’s release. So while you won’t go into toxic shock after putting on a polyester dress for night out, overtime wearing these materials will add to your total toxin burden, which can exacerbate the onset of disease. ?
Also, be careful with some seemingly “natural” materials, like cotton. While cotton inherently isn’t considered toxic, it is the second most pesticide-laden product in the world (conventional coffee is #1), so unless you’re wearing organic cotton, you’re wearing a shirt covered in pesticides.? Another alternative to this is only buying conventional cotton if it’s vintage, as the pesticides wear off with time, and multiple washes (usually 50+).
So the task in front of me was to find versions of my favorite pieces made with materials that wouldn’t harm me. Some wonderful ones to focus on are organic cotton, linen, organic silk, tencel, hemp, and wool. Now that all I had left were pieces I loved, I started researching to find their sustainable alternatives. If I tried to do this with my closet before I downsized, I would’ve gone straight bananas. For example, since I knew I really wanted to replace my black skinny jeans, I could focus just on those for a while and find something perfect. ?
I was lucky to stumble upon Project Just around this time. Finding their website was like being found lost in the woods. After having sleuthed around the internet for months, it was through Project Just that I finally found my replacement for those black skinnys.
3. GATHER ?
As I started to find companies who made great alternatives for my most loved things, I made a Pinterest board to keep track of what I wanted to buy.? If I had a zillion dollars, I would’ve made the whole swap in a few months, but since I don’t, I would replace just a few pieces at a time—I’d get some new socks, a pair of jeans, and a sweater one month; a dress and a romper the next. And fun bonus, once I started pinning all these sustainable products, some Pinterest robot would recommend more companies or bloggers that overlapped with my taste. Also, while you won’t find any products in this space at H&M prices (cough sweatshops cough), you’ll be consuming drastically less since there are fewer options.?
4. REPLACE ?
I started with the stuff that touches my body the most frequently and intimately, bras and undies, then moved on to my most loyal companions, sweatpants and t-shirts.? My favorite underwear is from Pact Organic, I wear these sweatpants from Groceries Apparel religiously, and I live in these t-shirts from Zady. Then I tackled denim (here’s my favorite jacket from Kings of Indigo), casual dresses, and rompers (big fan of Kowtow and Beaumont Organic). I left for last things I wear less frequently, like fancier dresses for special occasions (Reformation is my go-to.) ??
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When I set out to do this overhaul, I’ll admit that I was overwhelmed and pretty doubtful of the outcome. If this seems daunting to you too, my best advice is to focus on one aspect of your closet at a time. Even the smallest changes will have a big impact on your body in the long run. And while it feels a little backwards to replace your entire wardrobe in an effort to be more ethical and sustainable, it’s a one step back, one million steps forward kind’ve game—after you’ve done this once you never have to do it again.
For me, making this change was a matter of the heart. Anyone who’s walked through an illness with a loved one knows that this feeling of helplessness is daunting, and tackling this goal helped me focus my energy to something bigger than myself. But no matter where you are in your life—if current events have amped up your interest in helping the environment, if you’re passionate about eradicating child labor and sweatshops, if you’re concerned with long term effects of pesticide exposure, or if you’re just in search of a more whole-wellness, an ethical and sustainable closet is an attainable and fulfilling goal. You’ll be doing your part to make your body and the planet a less toxic place.??