Guest post: Me, My Clothes and My Club

Welcome to the second installment of guest posts on Un Armario Verde. You read about Marina’s experience with wardrobe tracking in March, now you have Liliana’s post on how she got to the point of organizing clothes’ swaps in Mexicali. This post is part of our post exchange. I wrote a post – in Spanish! – on how to organize a community swap for Liliana’s blog. You can read it here: He organizado seis intercambios de ropa y ésto es lo que he aprendido.

Liliana was a swap regular since the very first edition back in October 2016 and is now doing an amazing job in creating the change she wants back in Mexicali, both organizing community events and teaching aspiring renewables engineers how there is more to sustainability than they thought, and on the internets by blogging and filling her Facebook page with cool memes and info. Go, follow her! And now you have her story about the switch towards more sustainable fashion practices.

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I was born and raised in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, on the border with California, United States. The textile culture that surrounds me is basically materialist: the proliferation of Outlet Plazas, Malls and Internet commerce are part of normality. Second-hand sales are aimed at an underprivileged sectors of the population and since just five years ago swaps and vintage boutiques are becoming popular in this city. Circular economy initiatives are just emerging. These initiatives are accompanied and driven in part by the environmental movement, the economic crisis and the new youth styles (and others not so young).

Mexicali is a difficult city: in the dog days we have reached 52 degrees Celsius. At the moment of writing this, it’s 47℃ on the street. There is sun all year, it rains a little and the winter is hard. It is necessary to have clothes of light, clear fabrics, and to avoid that which accumulates sweat. The irony? I love black and autumnal clothes, so I had to create a balance, for my survival!

I always say that minimalism and textile sustainability came to me, but I also looked for them. When I moved from my parents home to live alone, when I went to study in Barcelona, when I had other moves, travels, change the North American lifestyle to the Mediterranean… all that motivated to simplify my life, to keep my belongings organized and to be more selective. I stopped spending so much on clothes if it was not something that I really loved or needed, so I can say that the first step is to open up to oneself and connect with the intuition (or develop it in any case).

I got tired of having clothes that were not useful, that ended in gigantic boxes to donate or sell second-hand. Here is a picture of my closet:

I can’t believe that before I had it full and at the same time so empty. All the clothes that you can see are for spring and summer. I know I still have a lot to learn, but that’s what this is all about.

In 2010 I earned only a few bucks, so I made a reduction of everything that was not important in my life. I did not suffer in this process, on the contrary, it freed me a lot even though sometimes I did not make ends meet. The times of scarcity teach us many things.

We already know that it is not necessary to buy so many clothes, we know it, but marketing and advertising strategies bombard us so much, and it has stayed so programmed in our minds that we can not see beyond the non-purchase. In my city there are certain fashionista aspirations and even popular sayings, as when you repeat a garment it is said that “you look like a portrait”. I know people who spend more than 40% of their income on clothes and shoes.

In my case, the relationship with clothes has always been changing, but it maintains a constant: I give priority to comfort, this since I was a baby. I refused to use disposable diapers and against technological super modernity I used cloth diapers.

I do not like to wear heels or clothes that sacrifice practicality for style. With the use of the bicycle this conviction was accentuated: I love the real pockets —not the decorative ones—, and I love the fabrics that let you perspire. This is one of the things I learned the most with my cycling friends, to live sustainability and to go lighter… and happier.

To go to work I have stopped “disguising myself” and I try to be casual or semi-formal. I am a teacher-researcher, and fortunately in the institution where I work there is no dress code. I love dresses, and I like to play with them, that is, having a versatile dress that can be used formally, informally or in a more classy way is a jewel for me. The dresses make you look like you’ve worked hard to look good, but they are actually the easiest thing to do (and my gynecologist has recommended me to wear dresses instead of jeans), so there will always be one or two dresses in my closet that have been washed more than 50 times. I try to use the same clothes in different seasons, as you can see at the beginning of the post. This is one of my favorite dresses, it’s a Lauren Conrad’s, I bought it secondhand, although unworn, and you can see how it is possible to carry it through the all four seasons.

Approximately in 2010 I also started to exchange clothes with my friends and family: fortunately my friends, aunts, my mother and I used similar sizes, so we started having fun when we used a dress for eight different weddings, instead of having bought one. With my friends we started to exchange a little more: casual clothes, books, and some accessories. It took away many of the attachments I had with my clothes, and I chose to be pragmatic.

In this time I had some health problems that made me gain 12 kilos (26 pounds) in a few months. Here I went through several conflicts with clothes, for accepting in my mind that I was no longer size 3, or 5 … and that to stop using the style of clothes that I like would not make me feel better. Now I am very well, although I did not lose all the weight I wanted, I am healthy and more in peace with my body.

In 2013, when I arrived in Barcelona, I was delighted with the Flea Market: I found more valuable and original items than the new clothes from H&M and the disposable clothes from C&A. The sterile environment of a Fast Fashion store can never be like the atmosphere of a Mediterranean market. Well, now I have my opinion with respect to those who now organize the Flea in Barna, but that’s another story… Anyway, it was very nice to also appreciate the stories of each garment, give them a new life and, above all, keep my scholarship in my pocket. In Mexicali I swapped with my beautiful friends Laura and Berenice (now they help organizing swaps with me), in Barcelona I made clothes exchanges with my new and sweet friends: Camille, Paola and Tessie, a French girl and two Mexicans from whom I had a lot of support throughout that period.

In 2016 I attended the first swap of Un Armario Verde: The Vermutet & Warderobe Restart Autumn 2016. I found it on Facebook. Here Zuckerberg’s algorithms did work, because I usually did not get something so specific for my taste in the newsfeed. I read the description and at that moment I put my hands to work in my closet. I was very excited, and I tried to go with an open mind to allow for a surprise.

I arrived at the site alone, with a small suitcase. I was a little shy and there I met Luīze. I remember her with a tea in her hand, and with a relaxed face, she said to me: “Bienvenida, tú misma acomoda y coge lo que te guste” (Welcome, you arrange yourself and take what you like). We talked a little about the event and since then I have approached the subject with great joy. From then on I went to all the “wardrobe restarts” that Un Armario Verde made each season and I took some friends to experience the dynamics.

In the event of September 30, 2017, she and I talked about my return to Mexico. I told her it was going to be hard not to have Un Armario Verde, and that I would miss her. She proposed that I adapt the idea to my city and, of course, I said yes! In December of 2017 I returned to Mexicali, and left to Luīze the clothes that did not fit in the suitcase for the next event. With a little advice and motivation from a distance, on February 17 I organized my first swap: “Cafecito & Un Armario Verde”. So it was as if I had been in both events, in some way. My event, considering that it was experimental version with little promotion, was a success!

This encouraged me to open a fanpage and a blog of my own, chose an original name and organize the second event, with more strength and asking for the support of my friends. I was thinking about the name for several hours, as I wanted something inspired by Fight Club and The Breakfast Club. I thought of Fight Fast Fashion Club, but that’s very long…

That’s how the Green Swap Club was born, like a little baby from Un Armario Verde. In the end I put it in English, for practical issues, but the event continues with the Cafecito (Swap & Cafecito!). Especially because it reminds me of the Vermutet of Luīze (vermouth in Catalan) and because I love coffee, especially in diminutive, since that is how we say things with love and because they always mean something more: a space to share. Sometimes, instead of coffee, it may be cervecita, tecito, vinito, etc. ☺

I am using everything I learned about sustainability in my postgraduate studies and communication tools to “preach” Slow Fashion with love and joy, trying not to be heavy or aggressive. Because there is already a lot of that on the Internet.

For the same reason, I think we need to make more community… I like to make funny memes about Fast Fashion, and also share reflections and articles. And I would like to learn how to fix my clothes, as well as organize a workshop for other people to learn how to do it.

I have been invited to talk about Slow Fashion on the Radio and in the press: it fills me with joy! It has been unexpected to capture the attention and get a lot of people to be punctual to an event and leave so happy, without spending a single peso or dollar and without polluting the planet. What’s next? I am starting a new job as a professor and I would like to explore the topic of Fashion and Circular Economy in social and cultural research. Although it is an idea that I am still resting on, it continues to brew. I’ll tell you, if you wish, more about it. Meanwhile, I invite you to a coffee… and in the process we do something for the environment.

Text: Liliana López León. Images by Carlos Cruz. Printscreens from Green Swap Club.

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Thank you so much, Liliana! Looking forward to your next sustainability adventures… What has been your sustainable fashion journey so far, dear reader? Do you share any sustainability triggers with Liliana: emancipation from the parental home, moves (especially transcontinental), travel? What did that thought you?

Guest Post: Marina’s Wardrobe Reset 2018

Welcome to the first guest post in the history of Un Armario Verde. This post is a double win, being an endorsement from one of my dearest friends *and* a feed-back from a happy adopter of wardrobe tracking. Yes! According to my photo-archives, I have known Marina since 2004 and we have lived a big chunk of our adventurous youth together, like the time when hitchhiking to Paris seemed like a good idea in 2005:

We have lived in different countries since 2006 but do our best to meet whenever possible. The last time we met and happily stuffed our faces with Van Leeuwen vegan pistachio ice cream was May 2017 in New York:

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Without further ado, I give you Marina and her wardrobe reset story:

I tried tracking my clothes in a spreadsheet and here’s what happened

First of all I must make a confession – I’ve always admired Luīze’s style and ability to wear whatever she feels like without fear of being judged. It took me years to reach the point of comfort where choice of clothing was based on how I felt rather than what others expected me to look like. Thus, when Luīze started Un Armario Verde blog that explained in such beautiful detail the logic behind her outfits, I instantly became a regular reader and slowly started preparing myself to one day follow her example and learn to really love the clothes I wear.

Let’s backup a little bit – I’m a recovering shopaholic. I grew up in an environment where if something was on sale and it was a good deal it was almost mandatory to own it. I’ve wasted ridiculous amounts of my own and my parents money on clothes that I end up donating or giving away to someone after just one wear (sometimes not even one…) to make more space in my closet and have new excuses to buy more stuff. Until very recently, I was a bargain hunter living in a city where shopping resembles more of gathering practice rather than a hunt as brand discount stores and outlets keep luring one in on daily basis.

I agreed with everything Luīze wrote in Un Armario Verde from day one but it took me a couple months to really be ready to integrate her practices in my own routine. At first the spreadsheet idea seemed nuts – why would one put in so much time and effort into gathering data on worn clothes that is absolutely useless to everyone else except the wearer!? However, as I started tracking my outfits, it became a lot clearer that’s the whole point – becoming aware of the wardrobe choices, mindful of what hangs in the closet and optimize outfits for personal growth and nobody else’s benefit. The process of getting dressed suddenly gained new meaning and sparked unexpected joy. Perhaps, it was the element of gamification what really allowed me to embrace the spreadsheet-ing.

There were a couple of things I wanted to learn from this exercise – which items of clothing I wear the most, what brands are my go-tos so that I know where to allow myself to continue to shop and whether there are any subconscious trends I create.

A few results were obvious – I definitely had a favorite pair of boots and a scarf that was a mandatory staple of my outfit. What surprised me though, was my choice of home clothes – my most comfortable pieces that I hurry into as soon as I nobody’s watching. Those were the items that sparked the most joy and coincidentally were the items that had graduated from outside to inside wear after acquiring un-washable stains and moth holes.

I also developed my own version of office uniform that included jeggings and white shirt with faux fur vest to stay smart casual yet somewhat warm in the freezing New York winter. Unfortunately the pair of jeggings ended up calling it quits and ripping in the thigh area in a non-repairable way. The spare pair of jeans that would replace this piece of uniform did not feel nearly as joyful and I embraced on a quest to find a conscious replacement. I organised a clothes swap at a yoga studio where I teach in the evenings, spent hours browsing Good On You app but at the end fell for Jean Shop sample sale. I wasn’t able to find out how sustainable they are but I promise the pair I bought will be worn relentlessly.

I also encountered a challenge tracking my outfits when I went on a weekend break to Miami. The shift in seasons was almost like shock to me and I was back to being completely lost about what to wear. I packed way more than I needed and even then I wasn’t prepared appropriately for vacation activities. If only I had tracked my summer outfits in the previous seasons – I would have known exactly what to pack in the suitcase. Luckily prior to 10-day vacation to Costa Rica, I was able to pick out some suitable pieces at the clothes swap and felt more at ease with my choices. While I didn’t physically fill in the spreadsheet on my travels, I made very conscious mental notes of everything I wore and how it made me feel.

The biggest win for me was I stopped shopping when bored. I used to spend my I-have-nothing-else-better-to-do-right-now time looking for bargains but now I use the downtime a lot more productively – researching home improvement ideas, looking for DIY inspirations, catching up with friends, reading and literally doing anything else that isn’t shopping. While I haven’t quit spending money on new clothes completely, I only purchase items that I need. For example, a wool hat – a replacement for one that my partner lost, and rainboots – a replacement for a pair with a giant hole.

Most importantly though, I look at clothes now in a more thoughtful way. I take better care of garments I own and put in more effort in fixing items that need attention. I am nowhere near Luīze’s level of sustainable dressing but this is a beginning of a new phase in my wardrobe and I am excited for the journey to come!

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Thank you so much for sharing, Marina! And now, do you do any kind of wardrobe tracking? (Remember, even the easiest – turning the hangers trick – counts.) If yes, what have you discovered in the process? If no, does the idea resonate with you at all? If so, what’s holding you back: the work of preparing the full list, the routine of ticking thing every day, or the dread of what this exercise could reveal about your habits?