The decision fatigue of sustainable living

My sustainability votes, according to some…

Welcome to another summer rant, closely linked to the previous one. Decision fatigue is a real thing, especially popular among the capsule wardrobe preachers, but lurking around all of us, especially if many frequent and complex decisions are to be taken. Obviously, the more concerned about the quality of your decisions you are, the more tiring it gets. When a happily oblivious person is hungry after work, she pops in the supermarket, asks herself what of things that she can afford appeals to her (that’s probably a decision interacting taste and convenience), grabs it and goes home to eat it. When a conscious consumer gets hungry, it can be a decision-making disaster…

There are many choices to make and – having assimilated that € = votes and that each meal is an opportunity to change the world – it feels important to get it just right. Following a tradition of long, anxiety induced lists of shoulds, here are the questions I’m frying my brain when making a shopping list:

Is it safe to eat? (Yeah, dumpster diving is not my forte.)

Is it vegan? Or shall I make an exception again?

Is it in season?

Is it km0? But really? Or do I just like to think like that for Canary bananas? That’s ~2500km in a straight-ish line, btw.

What are the conditions of production? Is it basically slavery, although on EU ground? Looking at you, Andalusian greenhouses!

What’s the packaging? Is it wrapped in plastic or other unnecessary waste?

Is it nutritious?

Is it organic? Or has it been laced with pesticides that will kill me in 50 years?

Is it easily attainable or am I supposed to go across the city for those bulk goods?

Is is an establishment worth supporting?

Is it something I want to eat?

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Already suffering from a time squeeze, being an urbanite, and having left the CSA cooperative because it was hassle, nothing I eat ticks all the boxes. Boom! And that’s where the haggling starts… which restrictions shall I relax? I’ll walk you through some of my staples whom I have somehow deemed to be good enough just to share my 1st world struggles:

Soy yogurt. I’ve eaten liters of this particular one this summer since I discovered that it makes for the perfect tzatziki-ranch-mayo style sauce for all my salad and dipping fantasies. Organic non-GMO French soy, no added sugar… also two pieces of plastic, one of cardboard (although these people at least make the cardboard easily separable from plastic) and 2.02 € for 400 grams of yogurt. That’s a lot of garbage and a high price to pay for a bit of fermented soy milk. Considering myself a person who can resist most of the bullshit vegan products, I find it very annoying that I finally have one I’m craving and raving about. Fails at: zero-waste, bulk-buying, DIY ethos.

Huelva strawberries. Ugh. This one is annoying, because I don’t even like the taste once I’ve fallen for them in March – after a season with only citruses – and brought them home, but it happens. These huge strawberry monsters are not really strawberries, it’s a frankenstein derivative that looks good, smells enticing but tastes like a bad cucumber most of the time. It took me 10 years of disappointment with Spanish strawberries until I tried Catalan mountain strawberries. Those do taste like the Northern strawberries I grew up with! But concerns about taste, pesticides and the distances traveled is only half of the reasons to avoid these sweet-smelling abominations of fruit. Most intensive work in the Spanish agricultural industry is done my seasonal migrants from Morocco and the stories that come out of Huelva’s strawberry fields, when they come because there is a lot of opacity in the industry, are heartbreaking. It’s all discrimination, abuse, sexual assault, labor fraud, horrible working conditions, etc. Fails at: eat local, think about the worker, chose organic ethos.

Cooked chickpeas. Yeah, I can buy my bulk Spanish chickpeas and then boil them for several hours on the stove top. And time by time, especially in winter when the whole pot becomes a stew afterwards, we do. But a (vegan) girl has to eat, and soaking and boiling takes planning, time and fuel. I’m terrified of pressure cookers and we don’t have a slow cooker (and I don’t want to invest in another gadget). And I’m not that sure that 4 liters of water and chickpeas cooking on a gas stove top for several hours consumes significantly less energy than the industrial production. I expect those people to be more efficient than I am! Even more, taking into account the summer temperatures and year-round humidity, home cooking legumes messes with our quality of life by increasing already unbearable temperatures and humidity in summer and helping the fucking mold in winter. So I’m left with glass jars, metal lids and a couple of ingredients that my home-cooked chickpeas wouldn’t have, namely, calcium disodium EDTA and sodium metabisulfite. And hummus. And chickpeas for my salads. Fails at: zero-waste, bulk-buying, DIY ethos.

One of the reasons why I prefer swaps and hand-me-downs so much is that the decision fatigue so often becomes unbearable when a bigger purchase has to be made, and I’m so anxious to make the right choice.

A sports bra. My current fast-sport-fashion wonder from Karrimor – a desperate 2015 slip-up when I really needed one – needs replacing. It has been so much wears, both for yoga and casual, that it needed replacement a year ago but I just haven’t got myself to do so. Also, almost nobody sees it, so there is no social pressure… And I’ve already had enough failures in this field to know that the right breast garment isn’t necessarily easy to find. Examples: (a) I had a Nike top with built-in breast support from 2013 till 2017 that I used actively, despite the straps never being perfectly comfortable, even after several alterations; (b) I bought a basic Nike sports bra together with the Karrimor one in 2015 (oh, that was a shopping spree, I also got my athletic swimsuit then), but that one was so uncomfortable and itchy at the neck I just could not wear it; (c) my mom handed me down a top with breast support in January, but it was too big and awkwardly made… (d) and my yoga short fail still eats my heart, you would have thought that shorts were easy! Since I started to publish my swap wish lists, people are really helpful in offering anything sports bra-looking that comes around, but I know that my chances are very slim.

Internets do not make my life easier to get a new one. There was a Patagonia sports bra that, according to their homepage, ‘left Patagonia.com and joined a heavy metal band’. And another one. These people who wouldn’t disclose the no-name material described as ‘moisture wicking and breathable fabric’. Or these that wouldn’t reveal the country their stuff is produced in. And the merino wonders that had me ready to ditch the vegan prerequisite – it is true that all the synthetic athletic wear is stinky alright – but I couldn’t get their wares in Europe and then they discontinued the style I wanted…

Am I really asking that much? Is a basic comfy sports bra made for women with breasts produced in a Western country that much? And I’m not even looking at the prices…

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What are your sources of sustainability decision fatigue? Is it more about the little everyday things or about bigger purchases? What are your routine compromises just to overcome the decision paralysis?

2018 first half money talk, or how expensive an ethical wardrobe is?

Money is the typical contention point of ethical fashion, because price is, of course, fast fashion’s forte. And once we have accepted that 5€ t-shirts are possible, how do you convince people that it has to be 30 at least? The fact that most online pushers of sustainable fashion either make it, distribute it or receive it for free to review it plug it in doesn’t help either.

So to be the change you want to be in the world tell where at least my money goes while following my list of priorities in wardrobe detoxing, here you have the first half of 2017 and the second half, and this post is about last six months, January to June 2018. You have a full list above and more details below, from most euros spent to least.

Learning to sew ≈ the beige skirt: 214.20 €.

This is a bit contentious, yes, as I could say that all money spent on me learning to sew is an investment in valuable skills but the spreadsheet doesn’t lie. Making this one skirt took me a lot of time, money and frustration, and although I didn’t even buy the main material – it was a give-away from Julie’s stash – turning that piece of lyocell a skirt cost me more than 200 €.

Although this might not have been the most rational way to spend my money as I could have found something good enough to serve as an alternative bottom for the WAG top in one of the swaps (0 €) or by exploring all local second hand shops (certainly less than 200 €), I have learnt things on the way.

(1) Sewing is hard. Even when done by professionals and on an industrial assembly line, every stitch is a conscious effort. That brings us back to the ultra-cheap garments and asking how is that possible as the skill involved is not trivial…

(2) I lack precision. It is true that I had picked a tricky fabric to work with but even so, precision is a non-cognitive skill I have to work on.

(3) There are many ways how learning to sew can be a slippery slope towards a more abundant wardrobes and more clutter at home. I’ve already started accumulating projects for unclear future, having fantasies about fixing suboptimal garments instead of letting go of them and desire to buy notions that I might need eventually. Self-control, being in touch with reality, and focusing on upcycling/fixing/working with our own deadstocks instead of purchasing new.

Verdict: Not efficient but I’m learning a new skill.

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Veja Wata Pierre: 74.95 €.

I’ve already complained about my footwear problem: I found the optimal model and then Veja stopped producing it. So Wata is a rather meh replacement. I had to get rid of both pairs of Taua I had because they looked to sad, so a replacement was warranted but didn’t really make me happy: too big, too much rubber, took longer to break in. I will shred through them, of course – they’ve got 51 wears already and they arrived in May –  but the amount of joy is not the same. It is possible, though, that I will get another pair when these ones dies, Veja is the best option I have found.

Verdict: Needed, not 100% happy.

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Taller Mil•límetre silver earrings: 60 €.

My splurging-loving side and my reasonable side made a deal that – after all the investment I made in the beige skirt – I wouldn’t buy a new outfit but could get a pair of dark massive earrings to pull it together. Worked out very well for that night and I’m happy to have found that workshop (a great place for Barcelona-made jewellery, a shop run and stocked by three talentd girls), but I just don’t wear earrings so much anymore, so we’ll see. Maybe return to earring will be my autumn project, because these babies need their #100wears too.

Verdict: A whim I now have to wear again, again and again.

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Lauma Tuxedo bra x 2: 49.90 €.

Lauma is a legend in Latvian social imagination supporting Latvian women’s breasts since 1971, and, after finding one model I’m happy with (and they call it their ‘classic’ line so I hope it will be available forever), I’ve just decided to get a couple of those every year and be done with it. The model is Tuxedo (but of course!) in black and these are the only two dress bras I have + a sports bra. From now on this will be my New Year’s ritual in Rīga: buying two new of these in early January, sending to textile trash the previous two, and not thinking about bras until next January. They have no additional credentials in sustainability, but I’ve decided that it’s OK for me now.

Verdict: Needed. Satisfied. Will go back for more.

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Toni Pons Montgri: 29.95 €.

I finally bought the classic – Julio Iglesias – espadrille in ecru for my KonMari consulting work. I needed something unassuming, clean-looking and practical enough. They are sturdy looking, made in Spain and sworn to be vegan (there’s a little leather-looking tag at the back, but I’ll assume it’s plastic if they say so). I wear them only for KonMari sessions in order to keep them clean, so the #100wears desire has a whole different level of aspiration attached to this pair.

Verdict: I think I found the exactly the right thing for the intended use. Score. And I was espadrille-curious for a long time.

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Repairing the Muroexe boots: 7.50 €.

The little plastic Muroexe boots with the most dangerous sole needed a fix. I’m still ambivalent about these boots, so fixing them was a passive-agressive act of standing by my early 2017 decision of getting them. Yes, they are vegan and made in Spain which is not the case for all of their designs, but they have ended up being smelly (it is a closed plastic boot and my feet smell in those conditions even if I wear them only during my commute) and, what is even more perversely interesting, talk about creators inability to understand winter. These have 0 grip making them inappropriate for wet weather and prone to have you rolling down the stairs (that happened to me in December and I’ll have a grudge forever). And coming apart after 30 or so wears just added insult to injury. Of course, the local cobbler was happy to pour glue at them, and I’m resisting all those design flaws! Until something clearly better comes around, I’m sticking with these. I live in Barcelona, after all, I don’t really need winter boots anyway.

Verdict: Résistance! But of course.

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The spreadsheet says that only 30% of my wardrobe spending in last six months has been strictly necessary, while another 49% had the added benefit of learning a long-desired skill. The only true whim was the earrings, but I’ll work on giving them many more wears and I’m consoled by having supported local girl artists.

What have been your wardrobe investments in last half a year? Do you have a fashion budget or do you move in intuitive ways? Which fashion spending is yours: the truly rational based in need, the capricious stemming from ‘oh so beautiful’ or the one looking for added value (what else apart from the garment do you get, who made it, who benefited)? Have you ever found yourself making the added value excuses of ‘I didn’t really need this but at least it from the little local shop / responsibly made’?

How expensive is an ethical wardrobe? 2017 second half money talk

What can I do? Money is part of the essentials. So let’s talk about it!

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Money is almost always a tricky social issue, especially so when it comes to niches – like ethical fashion blogs – where people tell other people how they should spend their money. Blah-blah-blah, voting with your euros… and then sponsored posts and things-things-things! I already wrote a detailed post in July about my overall money-spending goals, so this one is an itemized update on last six months. The order of preferences has stayed the same: (1) intensively using up what I have, (2) incorporating mainly pre-loved garments, (3) ethically sourcing the ones I have troubles finding second-hand (underwear, hosiery, footwear).

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This is what January-June looked like:

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And these are the last six months in a nutshell:

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Two observations jump at me, and they are connected: (a) despite my July intentions, I’ve spent significantly more money on getting dressed than in the previous six months which already almost twice as in each of the 2016’s six-month chunks, and (b) I allowed myself to buy a set of two new main garments I did not need; without those 160€ my spending list would look much better. Here comes a complete run-down through each item:

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The birks: I was after a pair of vegan birks for a long time, remembering my knock-off footbed sandals ~2007 as the comfiest summer shoe ever. In July my trusty 2014 Crocs broke beyond repair, so now I have a pair of street sandals and the same model in EVA for the swimming pool. I’m very happy with both, despite the fact that the street pair is unfit for both cycling and long walks (Oh, feet blisters!). The swimming pool ones haven’t touched the street, so technically I could even exclude them from this list.

Verdict: Nicely invested 95€. Would repeat.

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SiiL knickers: Liisa made it possible for me to switch from LuvaHuva knickers – extremely comfy and well made but quite pricey – to ones made three street blocks from me. From organic cotton mixes bought in Barcelona and made by a friend = best ethical fashion! Also, these six pieces allowed to retire some worn out knickers, always a good idea. Although this pattern turned out to be better for winter than for Barcelona summer (the rubber band leads to chaffing), they’ve been great from October till now.

Verdict: Great! Mil gracias, Liisa.

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I bought naked “peinetas” – hair combs – to try to repurpose a pair of feather earrings Marina sent me. I re-crafted the feathers but the result was too exuberant even for me! So I passed them back to Marina hoping she could use them for her pre-Burning Men crafting sessions.

Verdict: Oh, well! Not all repair endeavors end up being successes, I tried my best.

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Swedish Stockings hosiery: I finally made the hosiery upgrade from Calzedonia to Swedish Stockings. The cashmere blend tights are ~3 times more expensive than the Calzedonia equivalent… I keep telling myself that that’s the right thing to do, but the price point still feels uncomfortable for me. I opened the tight season in November and so far have basically worn out three pairs of woolen tights: two Calzedonia leftovers I had from the previous winter and the Swedish Stockings one. That would mean a seasonal investment of around 120€ for three pairs of winter tights. The tights themselves are very nice: a generous fit (higher waist than Calzedonia has), very nice feel, but they clearly do not last forever.
I also bought six pairs of their step socks… Well, those are a complete fail! They are too tiny to stay on my feet, (and probably because of that) break very easily. Did not work.

Verdict: Tights yes, socks no! I keep telling myself that there is no way back to high-street hosiery… My new plan is to take full advantage of Swedish Stockings’ recycling initiative. As they promise 30% discount for those who return stockings for recycling, my three pairs of cashmere blend tights would end up costing around 80€. Much better! The only challenge now is to stretch the hosiery I have until the end of the season, and to save them up to send to Sweden. Taking into account that it’s around 16ºC now in Barcelona and I’m getting rid of my short dresses anyway, seems doable.

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The WAG set: Oh, my! I hadn’t bought a *new* main garment since 2015. But ideas about African prints and find something made locally when visiting Cape Town fogged my mind. The attention to the customer was impeccable, we had a great time, I tried on a million things, and ended up paying a small fortune for an unlined set made of conventional cotton.

Verdict: There is no way back, so now my mission is to wear it again, again and again. I’ll do my best!

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Trench repairs: details of my hand-me-down trench needed repairs, and neighborhood repair shops – seamstresses and the cobbler – were able to take care of it.

Verdict: My trench is back in shape, and I feel immensely grateful for living in a place where there is still access to fixers.

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Bra strap fixers for Laura’s dress: I picked up this polyester dress in September swap and wore it 11 times to understand that it’s not for me. Knowing that the main reason that the previous owner had passed it on was a problem with bra straps, I first used safety pins and then gathered all my bravery and precision to make my first bra strap fixers.

Verdict: I’m so proud of myself! And you are very welcome, next wearer of this dress.

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A new pack of hair pins: I came to Riga knowing that my current go-to hairstyle is a pinned-up french braid but didn’t take hair pins with me. D-oh!

Verdict: Even I could use some better planning at times.

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How do you deal with additional time and money investment that ethical fashion implies? Do you fall for some decision-fatigue buys of “I need this and I don’t care” or “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, it’s too beautiful”? What was your most dubious buy of 2017?

How expensive is an ethical wardrobe? 2017 first half money talk

My priciest fashion investments of last 6 months: Veja Arcade sneakers, Muroexe Materia boots and 3 pairs of Bonne Maison knee-socks.

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Ethical fashion is expensive. Boom! OK, let’s calibrate that a little bit: newly bought ethical fashion tends to be more expensive than the ridiculously underpriced fast fashion + there are distortions at both ends of the spectrum. On the low side, depending on geography, local artisans might be able to make things for you even cheaper, as you won’t pay the overheads of running a big international conglomerate. On the high end, while couture fashion is mostly Europe-centered and artisan-made stuff (you know that if you follow Emma Watson’s phenomenal success at bringing awareness to ethical fashion via red carpet) that occupies a very slight fraction of the market, the following steps down the fashion ladder (high- and very-high-end prêt-à-porter) tend to care more about brand names and “trends” (whatever that is) than supply chains and labor conditions.

Ethical fashion at the moment is a marginal market where brand-names matter less, yet certainly has its own stars and starlets. And prices. In a world where a beautiful LBD easily costs over 200$ and a discounted winter coat goes over 300$, a suggestion that everybody should pledge to ethical fashion seems very elitist. Ethical fashion activists can run their moth dry about the distorted garment market, investment pieces, buying better and cost-per-wear (me on that, Hannah Theisen from Life + Style + Justice on that), but that doesn’t change the value of a euro.

Apart from just enumerating my wardrobe strategies, I’ve decided to disclose numbers. I have spreadsheets, you know. We are 6 full months into 2017, so I have these data and all the 2016 spending on clothing myself to compare and analyze. Ta-dah! All prices are in euros, the inflation hasn’t been serious, so the values are comparable:

First of all: A lot of money thrown at garments! 2017 is being expensive. I console myself with the clear usefulness of the items and the 2015 data. I don’t have a precise list of what exactly I bought in 2015, but I have the totals: 337.03€ in January-June and 268.13€ in July-December. Apparently, I’ve been in a similar spending situation before…

I won’t do an exhaustive run through all the purchases but here are my thoughts on the overall pattern and several caveats on how my wardrobe is very privileged:

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Observation 1: I comply with my ideal consumption pattern. Going with my ladder of preference, I’m actively using up and obtaining pre-loved items for free. This implies that the purchases – when made – are well researched, ethical (there are still some material and supply chain issues there, I know!) and rather pricey.

Observation 2: Things wear out. I did a great job in spacing my purchases and spending money on apparel every second month in 2016, but that just hasn’t been possible in 2017 (nor in 2015). My explanation is the life cycles of garments: I shred my sneakers mercilessly, tights break and underwear wears out. I’ll be able to confirm this hypothesis by the end of 2018.

Observation 3: I don’t buy second-hand, it usually comes for free. I have two major sources: my mom and swaps. That’s why I’ve made only two second-hand purchases in last 18 months!

Observation 4: I need better underwear (bras! have you ever seen an ethical sturdy underwire bra instead of all those whimsical bralettes?) and, especially, hosiery sources. I’m fine with their “made in” tags, but materials and supply chains are rather dubious. Will look into it!

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Caveat 1: My repair costs are externalized. There should be around 100€ per year in repair costs that so far my mom has been covering. Our seamstress is in Riga, we usually go together, the whole money relationship is a bit weird when I’m in Riga. I’m thinking about this… + there is the occasional gift from her!

Caveat 2: My hand-me-downs are exceptional! They come from my mom and swaps, and they come in heaps! I have been very picky lately, overcoming the scarcity mindset and planning what to look for… I buy all the auxiliaries – underwear, hosiery, footwear, weather gear – but the last serious one seems to have been the ¡No pasarán! tshirt from Red Federica Montseny crowdfunding… in 2015.

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What will July-December bring? Hopefully, less expenses in this segment of my spending. But also SiiL knickers and – finally! – a pair of vegan Birkenstocks if the gods of stocks/sizes will stand by me (after 3 years of intensive wear, the Crocs sandals broke down beyond repair). I’ll tell you in December.