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.
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.
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?