Swap Goals and Money

This will be contentious, buckle up! On our long-term mission with Mara to explore all other swaps in Barcelona, we went to one last Sunday. This one. And, before long, I had gotten myself into an argument about the political rationale of swaps with the organizers. Yeah, considerate and polite, I know… So due to that unplanned outburst, I’ve been thinking about what triggered it… and I’ve arrived to the goals of different swaps – as that was clearly the difference between theirs and mine – and the role money can play in them.

This one on Sunday, organized by Hot Chili Chicas Go on PutFoot, was an instrumental charity swap. One paid 10€ at the entrance for a drink, swap + two charitable causes: The Put Foot Foundation that provides school shoes and supplies for children in Southern Africa and AADAS, an association in Barcelona which helps victims of sexual violence in Catalunya. Clothing swaps are only part of their fundraising efforts, they are doing also pub quizzes, movie screenings, fitness classes, auctions, etc. My first disclaimer here is that after quite few years hanging around bigger and smaller NGOs and overseas development aid activists, I am also pretty unsure about such micro overseas charity efforts. But that’s another conversation…

Going back to the swap as such, in that swap-for-charity scheme of things a clothing swap is the very attractive lure that gets people donating. As you can imagine, this does not fit neatly in my perception of the current textile abundance. Of course, the more circularity of garments, the better, but I see no reason for such hype around a swap…

In my social media bubble, swaps are popping up so often, I can hardly keep track… but the attendees at this one seemed to have really hungry eyes, following the new arrivals with hawk-like concentration. Adrenaline was in the air, and I took it as a sign of first-timers’ excitement. Maybe I just don’t have enough time to observe humans at my own swaps… I had been told about people having their favorite ‘providers’ and trailing them while they unload their discards but had never really seen that in action.

Finally having some time to just observe… and a glass of cava indeed helps!

A swap-related magic belief that I really struggle with is the one about the inherent value and infinite recyclability of all garments. While the material and labor input is undeniable even for the worst quality garments, thinking that all leftover garments ‘just haven’t found the right girl’ is ludicrous. In a world full of worn out and skewed-seamed 3€ Primark t-shirts, unfortunately, swap leftovers (and stuff that have to go directly to the orange container instead of a swap) is the first sign of sanity. So many of the garments surrounding us has a very low first-hand use potential, not to mention any potential to become a prized second-hand find.

For me swaps are clearing houses, separating the grain from the ashes, because doing it collectively it is much quicker and precise process. Yes, in some cases one woman’s garbage is other’s treasure… but I also hope that my swaps also serve to learn to recognize quality instead of jumping to anything free and sparkly. Indeed, after what I have seen at swaps throughout last three years, there are two big groups of fashion fails that poison the swaps: (a) the worn out, ripped, stained low quality basics, and (b) the extravagant, uncomfortable, and badly engineered garments that have been worn very little if any. And the mission of a top swapper is to recognize that stuff for what it is and steer clear of them.

Yes, it is unfortunate but I console myself thinking about the reasonable garments that get saved out of that primordial soup. A wide-enough ‘offer’ is the key to make sure that there is a good-enough soup to waddle through. A 100% circulation rate has never been part even of my utopian swap fantasies. Yeah, I know, you can’t *always* predict what will break, pile or lose shape, but often you can… I can only hope that people honing such selection skills would also apply them to their purchases and leave the producers and distributors stuck with their deficient wares.

Mara being a faster-than-light swap clearing house in person.

For me a clothing swap is a complete creation that doesn’t need a further charitable cause. The goal is to swap garments and hence put them into new, loving hands instead of eating dust at the deep end of a wardrobe or at the landfill. There is also a secondary educational goal to indirectly teach people – through repeated visions of heaps of free clothing and repeated satisfaction of having quenched their thirst for novelty without having paid for it – that buying (new) garments is so passé. My secret plan is that a repeated, very visual first-hand experience of the incredible garment abundance we live in should make an imprint that there is no need to buy new, that there is no real need for them. Almost all our acquisitions are pure whims, hence – as with all drugs – it is preferable to follow that impulse in a controlled environment and actively reducing the harm caused. And the best way to create that educational experience is a free and deeply ‘communist’ swap.

Yes, some money is needed to organize the swap I’d like to attend. Although we have a very friendly deal with Ateneu Roig – no rent for the premises in return for users getting their drinks from their bar – there are the little stupid expenses: tape, garbage bags, and snacks, snacks, snacks… And my own time, and that of the volunteers, is not included there.

For the number-curious, here are the Ateneu Roig and Un Armario Verde income from the last five Ateneu Roig swaps, pretty volatile and not really impressive, as you can see. After the last swap in September 2019, my net gain after the direct expenses came to a stunning 12.57€. Again, without even trying to include my time, the IT costs of the blog, electricity for cooking and laundry, etc. I’m celebrating the fact that I am breaking even with the direct costs, as the nervous damage is priceless.

And to remind that my purity is not absolute, we actually did a ‘paid’ swap in June, at Imprfcto bar in Parallel. Following the same strategy described above, we included a drink in the price – 5€ – and provided all the usual snacks. And it paid off alright: 77€ for the bar and 102.71€ to share between me and Mara. Again though, after deducting the expenses, I had 9.09€. In this case it also meant the additional 15€ for the taxi I had to take back home. That’s why I prefer my swaps in Gràcia and at the same place because much of the stuff stays at Ateneu Roig…

However, it did feel weird, especially when some of the Ateneu Roig regulars came in, apparently oblivious to the 5€ thing. In some cases neither me nor Mara had the guts to ask for the fee… Well, I had taught people that swaps are free, what did I expect? Now I’ve been training the uncustomers to consider my swaps a ‘taquilla inversa’ events, with varying results.

And money feels nice. I like money. Even better than social media likes, money is a very real form of recognition of a good job: money has changed hands, hence something of value has taken place. So I’m not against receiving payments. I had set up a Ko-fi account for a year or so and tried to promote it – i.e. ‘if you didn’t have cash to tip the swap, send your digital money this way’ – but nobody ever gave me those 3€. People love free shit… and my heart loves providing that utopian experience

Also, until the end of 2018 I was well paid via my PhD scholarship, and treated spending on events and IT maintenance like spending on books and fun courses: and investment I chose to make. Now that my unemployment benefits are over, I do fret about money. Often. But I also know that trying to charge at Ateneu Roig swaps would be off brand and logistically difficult (think of that huge garage door). Harvard Business Review will tell you any day that ‘Whatever funding mechanism is used to cover the costs of excellence, it is best thought out as thoroughly as possible prior to the launch of a new service, rather than amended in light of experience afterward. When a service that’s been perceived as free suddenly has fees associated with it, customers tend to react with disproportionate displeasure.’

So I actually agree with the Sunday swap ladies who tried to convince me that y time had to be remunerated… just that I have users with three years of free swap experience to accommodate. And going back to the beginning, my priority is that glorious free swap experience, planting that seed of dissent, doubt …and rebellion against the fashion system. And costs will have to be covered in alternative ways.


So, while I’ll be trying to control my self-righteous temper at social occasions, Ateneu Roig swaps will be (as always) free in any foreseeable future and other possible future venues might have other rules. No charitable goals beyond fomenting circular garment economies and conscious consumption will be promoted. If you would like to economically support my self-employed life, send donations via PayPal at jauatkales [a] gmail.com, leave generous tips during the December swap, or engage me as your KonMari consultant and wardrobe coach

How do you feel about money in sustainable/upcycling/anticapitalist events? It feels great to say ‘oh, enjoy, it is all for free’ but landladies don’t tend to follow he same logic. Do you feel comfortable paying for a swap? Does it help if it has a further charitable goal instead of giving the organizers some pocket-money?

2019 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. Even more, it is common to tell people to vote with their euros which is so class-biased and so insidious if you stop and think about it…

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,
The second half of 2017,
the first half of 2018, and
the second half of 2018.

This post is about last six months, January to June 2019. You have the full list and the total below, followed by more details ordering the purchases from most euros spent to least.


Overall, I am very pleased with how 2019 is going. The only actual ‘fashion’ buy have been those Vejas that I desperately sought the internets for. And I’ve had three pairs of the same style before, so no risks (and this acquisition should imply no footwear worries well into 2020). Then I just needed some socks, and still want to learn to sew. Hell yeah!

As I have discussed elsewhere, several factors make this possible: (1) the amazing hand-me-downs from my mom (and other family members and friends), (2) the the swaps I organize, and (3) the occasional (new) gift from my mother. But even if your mom is very different or you are not yet organizing swaps (you totally should, take a look here and here), noting your clothing expenses down and seeing where the money goes is so very informative. Yeah, you guessed it, in a spreadsheet!


Learning to sew, 64 hours: 624€.

Yeah, I’ve taken a lot of classes in these six months, and I have been LOVING every minute of them. As I’ve been repeating on money posts since I started taking the sewing classes with Carmen at Opció Taller (web, FB, IG) in March 2018, it is, of course, more than direct spending on clothes. I am learning a skill I really want to have, materializing much of my politics (hello there, mending, fixing, upcycling and self-reliance!), and having a great time.

During these 64 hours I have received a course on pattern-making and made my own base pattern + (a) fixed my mom’s jersey dress, (b) made the second yoga mat bag, (c) made my first dress based on my very own pattern, (d) fixed (again!) my mom’s lace undershirt, (e) fixed the yellow swap pants, (f) thought through and prepared materials to make a patch pocket out of my current embroidery. All that thanks to the generous support of Carmen. I am making significant savings on materials and notions as I mostly use workshop’s notions (that’s Carmen’s politics, and a big thanks for that) and I still haven’t bought any fabric for my projects, they just keep appearing magically.

So, as always, I wholeheartedly recommend Opció Taller for anybody looking for sewing, shoemaking or painting courses in Barcelona in Spanish. Carmen and Cristián are great!


Veja Taua sneakers, two pairs: 130€.

If you have read this blog for a while, Veja Taua model keeps appearing as my all-time favorite sneaker that I was denied of renewing last year (to replace my first three pairs that had been worn to shreds) as Veja discontinued it. This: Swap VI and the problem with the threadbare. Unless a company has an explicit ‘timeless’ policy, you cannot repeat a garment that has turned out to be perfect for you. I bought the next most similar Veja sneaker in 2018 and – despite having worn them happily for more than 200 times – do not want to repeat them. So when kept stalking Amazon for some leftover Tauas, and got myself these two pairs from my teaching paycheck in January.

The blue ones are now at 50 years and finally comfy. They are size 39 instead of 40, so breaking in was a bit of a struggle and I can already see breaking points where they will disintegrate again. Ugh… Well, I have the purple ones waiting their turn once these ones fall apart. I have no clear plan for later on, as so far neither amazon.es nor amazon.co.uk – or anybody else I know – are stocking any in my size (out of those very few pairs still out there).


Embroidery thread, second hand: 25€.

I got a sudden urge to embroider in June, and decided to couple it with a supply rescue operation through second-hand sellers. Throughout this first experience I got what I wanted: (a) a cool stash of pretty color 100% cotton Spanish embroidery thread and (b) a confirmation that, as I suspected, Wallapop is the weirdest place uniting in transactions the weirdest people. I’ve already finished all that stash, so my August mission will be to go out there or either start buying it from orderly mercerías or to carry on interacting with strangers selling their dead mothers’ crafting stash.


A pair of stay-ups and several (5?) pinkie socks from Calzedonia: 19.75€.

I needed socks. And, after my calculations around Swedish Stockings in 2018, I just went to my nearest Calzedonia and repeated items I know very well, the opaque stay-ups with a silicone band and several pairs of the little invisible socks to get me through the summer. No regrets.


Notions (needle, ribbon, zippers): 10.10€.

As I said above, I mainly use Carmen’s notions on my projects and wonder out to shops only for things she does not have. During these 6 months those have been velvet ribbon and a pearl needle (I ended up not being able to use) to fix the bracelet I had given to Jorge and zippers for the second yoga mat bag and the floral dress. The bracelet, as you can see, turned out great and much more solid than it was at the beginning. I love the fact that he gave it back to me with a ‘hey, I love it but it is falling apart, maybe you could fix it’… and I was able to do it! Hell yes.


And that’s it. In comparison with the previous years, I have a feeling that my clothing and craft spending is very much under control and in line with my values. K-ching! While the number – 808.85€ – is big and scary, most of it is skill acquisition and working on maintaining garments alive for as much as possible. That’s a win in my book.

How are you approaching your sustainable wardrobe money-wise: free hand-me-downs, cheap seconhands, rather expensive investment pieces? Have you tried a ‘no-buy’ period to analyze your shopping impulses? Have you internalized so completely that browsing shops for fun – online or IRL – doesn’t even occur to you? Or do you indulge? Also, how are the rebajas going? Wink-wink.

2018 second 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, the second half of 2017, and the first half of 2018. This post is about last six months, July to December 2018. You have the full list and the total above, and more details below, from most euros spent to least.


Learning to sew, Sep-Dec: 4 x 78 = 312€

First of all, it is unclear if these expenses should even be here… the 312€ look very expensive and I could explain them away with ‘I am learning a new skill, these are not fashion expenses’. But they are. I consider myself brave (ha!) for admitting myself that the first garment I made – that beige skirt in the photo above – is the most expensive garment I own. But that money was spent in the first half of 2018. In last few months I’ve been focusing on repairs. Someplace on this blog I have already confessed that all my repair and refashion costs so far have been covered by my mother and the work was done by a trusted seamstress in Rīga.

To be very detailed about these 312€, this is the tangible list of what they’ve got me. In fixes: (a) attaching the embroidery to Liisa bag well enough; (b) fixed swap cardigan; (c) fixed lace undershirt; (d) adjusted WAG skirt; (e) adjusted Street One jacket and No Pasarán t-shirt got turned into an applique; (f) C’s jeans taken in for my waist. And my mom’s and Julie’s deadstocks became a yoga mat bag. So the total balance is an increased lifespan of six garments and one new thing. And I did all this in four months = 32 hours in the studio and then some at home. And, and, and… an I could do it all again because now I know how to. Hell yeah.

Verdict: Yes, please, more! This is a life skill I want to master. And I’ve found the right place to do it, my beloved Opció Diamant.


Ezra W. Smith embroidery: 105.74

You can read all about this one here. The story has it all: friendship, women artists, and me learning a new skill.

Verdict: 100% a good idea.


Swedish Stockings, recycling the old ones and 3 new pairs: 12.90 + 92.36 = 105.26€

Oh, this is a hard one. The idea and marketing of Swedish Stockings is impeccable. And my needs and whims also play a role here by deciding that their most expensive product is just the one for me. The price is not friendly at all, and they don’t last long. Excited by their recycling program and wanting the promised discount, I jumped all the hoops. And made a big, fat ripped tight package. As you can see in my 2017 post mentioning my first purchase, I was expecting a 30% discount for those who have sent in old tights. The voucher to be included in my package clearly said 20%, so I was apparently overexcited. Now comes the stupid part: one actually has to mail those tights. And the bigger your package is the less worthy your discount.

Just do the math! Because of some additional idiocy I did my purchase in Swedish kronas, I really don’t know if I just missed the euro option. But I’ll do the example in euros. In my case 39€ x 3 = 117€. I got a 20% discount which means that my total at checkout should be 93.60 (heh, the kronas worked in my favor!), so the price of each pair comes down to 31.20€. But I had previously paid 12.90€ at the Spanish post office. And that bring my final price per pair up to 35.5€.

The stinger? Simply joining their mailing list gets you 15% off, without sending any packages. That would be 33.15€ per pair. And if you would like to be the very responsible person and send your tights before having bought anything from Swedish Stockings, that cold mailing will get you only 10% off. And, no, joining the mailing list and using the recycling discount are not compatible, I tried.

I know, I know, the Swedish Stocking ladies do not get the euros I paid the Spanish post office, but that doesn’t change the outcome for the customer.

The second stinger (for the careless reader)? While you could get an impression that these people are closing the loop and making new stockings from your old ones. Nope. “We want to close the loop and eventually be able to fully recycle old hosiery. However, to make that possible we need to be able to separate the polyamide in the yarn […] from the elastane […] to make new pantyhose. Unfortunately, this technology isn’t commercially available just yet although it isn’t far away. In the meantime, we have a short term solution. We are grinding old pantyhose down to be used as filler material in fibre glass tanks for oil and grease traps, in the commercial industry. These tanks are extremely hard wearing and last a long time […].”

So after this math exercise the whole ‘send us your tights’ exercise feels a bit like a trick to push me towards an interaction with the brand and get me in one of those ‘I’ll do a thing that doesn’t make economic/time-use sense for me just to be the best possible person’ binds.

As for use, they are fluffy and comfy. They truly are. However, for 39€ a pair I would expect them to last more. I keep reading about happy Wolford customers that have had the same tights for decades, and I’m envious. At least on my feet these Swedish Stocking get transparent patches at the toes after 10 wears or so. Those are not holes, but look like so if I have to take my shoes off. I already had a couple of such moments in the airport and at the sewing studio, and really didn’t like it. After some 20 wears those bald patches become holes. And three pairs for a season is a bit too few even in Barcelona winter.

The current fugliness!

Verdict: It’s a lot of money for nice but not durable tights. These in combination with leggings will carry me till spring but I’ll have to think about my hosiery again in autumn. Oh, the decision fatigue! At least one thing is clear: I’m off stay-ups (because there were some 5 years when I wore mostly those), and really enjoy the comfort and silhouette of black opaque tights.

The practical lesson: If you want in on their game, send them a small, light envelope with three very few denier tights, preferably from Sweden. That will make your discount worthwhile.

Fun fact: The ‘please send us ripped tights’ voucher that came with my November package doesn’t mention any discounts for sending them in, it just refers to their website. I imagine that this means that 10% off is all you get. Meh.


People Tree Yoga Top: 37.15€

The old sports bra was dead, and somebody on FB suggested People Tree. The best random anonymous lead I’ve had so far! The beginning was very promising: tight and comfy, and very cotton-y. It’s stretch jersey of 95% organic Fairtrade certified cotton and 5% elastane and so much nicer to touch than its fully plastic predecessor. But after a lot of wears already and a couple of washes, the underbust elastic is a bit too wide. The plastic performance fabrics have their advantages, they do. Also, I think it’s made for people with less breasts, at least with less difference between the breast and underbust/waist circumference. I haven’t practiced any serious yoga with this one, but it doesn’t seem too reliable for doing headstands with any dignity. And even less so for more demanding sports. This is a pajamas crop top.

Verdict: Okayish. Serves me now but I’m not sure I’d repeat it.


Zara black lace top from Humana: 7.59€

From my September’s ‘I just have to buy something‘ scratch at a Humana in Oporto. It’s nice and versatile, 15 wears already, but the fast fashion quality is showing too. The fabric is thin, the construction is weird, and it already has holes without much mending potential. I’m treating it as a replacement for the black floral shirt, but who am I kidding? Nothing can replace the black floral shirt.

Verdict: It’s nice but won’t last long. No #100wears for this one.


Thread: 6.90€

I have been living on Carmen’s supplies and haven’t had to buy notions for sewing in these months. As an exception, these euros were for the pink thread meant to fix the sequin barrette (still a to-do) that also came handy with the pink ruffle blouse, and some blue embroidery thread to mend my Bonne Maison knee-highs.

Verdict: Reasonable. I’m doing my best not to accumulate notions, but this was a September excitement slip-up.


Zara white ruffle top from Humana: 5.19€

It’s funny how it’s so hard to know which garments will wear well upon acquiring them. I imagine it’s my ignorance (still), not a true mystery, but this top was that case. I bought two at that Humana, thinking that the black one was the great score. But after 13 wears, this has much more potential for longevity and making me feel my best. Also, I am considering this a replacement for the white zipper blouse, so it’s a 1-out-1-in acquisition. Also, I’m still very proud how I managed that ‘gotta buy a garment urge’.

Verdict: Great, five golden stars.


What will 2019 bring? Less money, first of all, as I’m transitioning towards self employment. So curbing my fashion spending would be a good idea… The 2018 total, including sewing classes were 1016.33€. Only garments, repairs and notions: 528.33€. That is not cheap, I think. Especially for somebody that is not making any major purchases. Just for a reference, my unemployment benefits will be around 1000€/month. Hence the responsible thing would be to stop spending money on garments altogether. The good news is that I do not foresee urgent purchases anytime soon. But the sewing classes stay… so that’s at least 78€ per month; assuming two vacation months in summer that would already make 780€. That much for curbing my expenses.

The other news is that torturing people with statistics in November paid better than I expected, so I made myself a 130€ birthday gift in early January by tracing down the last vegan Veja Taua sneakers I could find and getting two pairs. Boom!

Despite the professional organizing knowledge that ‘buying duplicates rarely work’, this one shall. My reasons are the following: (a) I have already shredded (100+ wears!) through three pairs of the same model and loved them (proof 1, proof 2), (b) they are clearly discontinued and not coming back, (c) I bought the next most similar option from Veja, and I don’t like them, (d) even the Amazon seller who sold these was running out of them. Knowing that I’m currently OK in the sneaker department – Veja Arcade, Veja Wata, and December swap Vans copycats are all in great shape – it is possible that these two boxes, my sleeping beauties, will be dormant until well into 2019, if not 2020, who knows. And that’s fine. My heart is all fuzzy knowing that, when the moment of need will come, I won’t depend on the fugly whims of Veja or other desperate google searches. Sweet.

My dormant Brazilian treasure.


Congratulations! You have reached the end of this extra-long confession. What have been your wardrobe investments in 2018? 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 / support an artist’? What’s your experience with duplicates?

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?


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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).


This is what January-June looked like:


And these are the last six months in a nutshell:


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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!


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.


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.