Our second interviewee in honor of Fashion Revolution Week 2017 is Loren North, a personal stylist at Through the Closet Door.
UR: Tell our readers about what you do.
LN: As a personal stylist, I work with everyday women and men, and by ‘everyday’ I mean not celebrities, not editorial photoshoots or that type of thing. I bring out what is inside to the outside so I help them look and feel their best for whatever professional or personal situation they find themselves in and I do that sustainably. I work with them to ‘shop their closets’ as I call it, where I restyle and repurpose clothes they already have. I also help them determine if some of the items are worth repair alteration, this includes clothes, shoes, bags, jewelry, and that type of thing. It’s really extracting the value from what they own and that’s a part of sustainability as well. So, rather than just discarding and purchasing, using what we have. And then I shop for my clients. I shop in consignment stores in Phoenix and there’s a few that I go to. Then if they want new items that have not been preworn, I help them curate a list from online sustainable brands.
UR: Why is it important that consumers think about purchasing clothing that isn’t bought brand new right off the rack?
LN: I believe the estimate is there are 80 billion garments made globally each year. I would argue that more than half of them will end up in the landfill within a year or two, so the demand for fast fashion and treating our fashion like that has just got to be reduced. We have to shift our shopping habits so that the larger fashion retailers that do not produce in an ethically and socially responsible way get the message that we A.) don’t need that much and B.) we want higher quality. So, shopping second hand in my opinion, serves many purposes. One, if you are lucky enough, you have locally owned consignment stores or thrift stores or vintage stores in your community. And by locally owned, I mean not a chain, not a franchise, not that those are terrible, but even a local business owner is providing even more of an economic benefit when you support them. So you’re doing that. Your dollar goes further and then in addition, you’re reducing demands for new garments and you’re also keeping items out of the landfill. … Decomposing clothes are another greenhouse gas contributor, but in addition to that, there are things that aren’t decomposing. I always liken it to the story of a plastic bottle and those people recycle and feel good about their choices, they recycle plastic, they recycle more than that, they do curbside recycling, they’re doing their part. But what they might not realize, is that the synthetic fiber in their skirt is the exact same material as what was used to make that plastic bottle and it will never go away, it will never decompose. PET in plastic bottles is a soft compound and they’re petrolum based, so that cycle just has to end. I look at shopping consignment as a really great way to end that cycle because at 80 billion garment a year, it’s going to be a long time before we make a dent in the supply of new clothes coming to consignment thrift stores. … It’s the only way that people can recognize the connection that clothes and plastic bottles are essentially the same evil. We just don’t think of them that same way because we don’t have a recycling bin for our clothes. So, we think well, the clothes just go you know, there’s this place called ‘somewhere else’ and I don’t know where it is, but that’s where a lot of things go. … But we just don’t extend that to our clothes and it’s the concept of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ so that’s also a part of my mission which is hoping to educate people.
UR: What would you say to someone who is looking to build a more sustainable wardrobe, but doesn’t know where to start?
LN: I like to start with just the concept of sustainability. Sustainablity has three pillars, it’s not just enviromental sustainability, the pillars are sometimes referred to as the three P’s: people, planet, and profit or enviromental, social, and economic. So if people are looking to make an impact, sometimes I like to ask them what is it that they care about the most? Is it supporting local communities and local economies? Is it the environmental and reducing waste and reducing the impact from the manufacturing, or is it the social aspect? … So pick the part of sustainability that’s important to you or that resonates with you. … In addition, I also encourage people to buy less. We are totally programmed by the marketing around us in that we need to have more: more clothes, more things, more stuff. So sometimes it’s good to make a list for a certain period of time. I’ve read that people advise for 30 days to make a list of all the things you want to buy and then go back and see how much you actually want to buy after you’ve made the list. Like, how much of those things are really calling to you? … Because that’s sustainability too, it’s reducing that consumption.
UR: What are some of the most common misconceptions or fears that people have surrounding building a wardrobe from consignment stores? What would you say to alleviate or negate those fears or misconceptions?
LN: I have found that most people are pretty good with consignment stores because of the price point and the money savings, however, I recently had a conversation with two folks that had never shopped consignment, and I would say that one of the fears is that they’re not going to find high quality items or that the items are going to be damaged somehow or maybe they won’t be things that they want to wear. So in other words, the items at consignment are not going to be comparable to retail. Another fear is that it’s going to be this haphazard mess. That it’s going to be thinking about old vintage thrift stores where everything’s just piled together and you have to sift through piles to get things. So in other words, the merchandising is not in accoradinance with their expectations of a traditional retail store. And then, I’ve also met some misgivings about footwear. … So that’s another issue, is potentially you getting some sort of foot disease, I guess. I don’t know where that comes from, but that’s one of the reservations I’ve heard.
To address the quality concern issue, I try to walk the walk. So if someone ever says anything to me about that or that they’re concerned, I mean, 99 percent of the time everything I have is all from consignment. Like I said, I was recently having this conversation, and I said, “Well, you know, the funny thing is, I’m wearing a pair of silk pants that are Phillip Lim, and I found them at Buffalo Exchange and I got them for $20.” And they couldn’t believe it and they’re like, “You only paid $20 for those pants?” I’m like, “Yeah. It’s consignment.” So it’s like seeing is believing, you have to see it to believe it, and they didn’t believe it. I was like, “Yes, I’m telling you.” … The fear about the merchandising of the stores, because I shop for my clients, if I can get them on board with the concept of getting their clothes from consignment, they’re totally fine with shopping because I’m doing the work for them. I’ve had a number of converts, if you will. So one of my clients, for example, I took her to a store and she’d never been there before. I’d taken some of her clothes that we’d taken out of her closet and I’d taken them to consign for her because they were high quality but they just weren’t going to work for her moving forward. So I created an account a few weeks ahead of time and so we get to the store and she’d brought in some more items she wanted to consign and I have everything pulled on the garment rack for her and she loved it. When we were done, she actually picked out a handbag for herself because she was so enthralled with the store. So then I called her a few weeks later and she said, “I went back to the store. I had a wonderful time. I got two or four belts, two pairs of pants, a jacket. I only had $26 in credit and I only paid $40. It was amazing.” So it goes back to seeing is believing. … As far as the footwear, like I said, I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know what diseases you could or could not potentially get from shoes. All of my shoes are second hand and I just advise people to clean them out with an antibacterial wipe if they’re concerned about it. But yeah, it’s hard for me to overcome that one other than it’s a cleanliness thing. If they don’t want to buy shoes secondhand then I don’t make them, I don’t push it.
UR: Tell us the story of how you first become interested in building a wardrobe from consignment stores for your personal style.
LN: I was working in the Scottsdale Airpark area for my consulting job and there’s a larger shopping center there with a Nordstrom Rack, an Old Navy, Steinmart moved in. So it’s easy to go shopping on your lunch hour or after work, it’s on the way home. … I was there [at Old Navy] and I got some shirts and I just got home and I was like, “I hate these shirts.” I hate these shirts, I wasn’t happy with my own wardrobe, and there was this really small consignment store in that same shopping center, which I love. So I started going there and I’m thinking, “Okay this is actually pretty cool, these brands are great, prices are great.” Before I’d even started shopping there, like I recognized it was there, I was going to a Goodwill on my way home. … The aha moment really came with the ‘Why am I finding things with their original tags on?’ So that’s another kind of misconception about consignment or even thrift stores, that they’ve always been worn. Well, I would say 20 percent of the time I will buy things that always have their original tags on, so if they’ve been worn, they’ve been worn with the tags hanging out, which means they probably haven’t been worn. That recognition and the pricepoint of the clothes, plus the higher quality of the clothes, immediately shifted my buying habits to almost exclusively thrift stores at that point. … So then I started going to this consignment store that I described and then I realized my whole style started to shift in response to this because the clothes were higher quality, the price point was better, I was being more creative, I wasn’t being beholden to whatever trends the retail stores want us to find or to follow. I could find what worked for me. … We’re talking at this point, this is 2010-2011 time frame. So fast forward to my corporate job at the end. This is in 2014-2015, I was traveling a ton for that job and I had this dress. It was an Ann Taylor dress that I found at Goodwill and I wore it all the time because it was lightweight, it was sleeveless, I could travel in it and it didn’t get wrinkled. I got more complements on that dress, a simple dress, and I’m thinking, “I got this at Goodwill. Not that I got it at consignment, I literally got it at a thrift store.” And I started to realize, I can teach others to do this. One, I can style them, but two, I can do it in a way that’s responsible. So that is kind of the journey of my own style evolution: dressing myself better, recognizing certain things about how I needed to dress and then recognizing that I can now bring this to others.
UR: How did your background of degrees in environmental science and geology show you fashion’s impact on the environment? Can you give some specific examples?
LN: …I worked on a site that was classified as a superfund site, even though the parties did have the money to deal with it, but the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] was heavily involved in the oversight. The EPA can actually sue companies to make them pay for the cleanup and so I think that’s why these companies were a part of that, like I said, it’s been a few years. So that was the whole set for these projects that I worked on. I worked on a project that legitimately was part of the pollution that had come from the manufacturing of nylon and so the oil tankers would come in and unload the material however it came in, from crude oil or some other distillate of the oil product of the petroleum, because that’s what nylon is. Nylon’s a petrochemical, polyester is a petrochemical. While the petrochemical contamination at that particular site is almost negilible, that’s really not the issue. So think about it, if you’re making something that’s derived of the petrochemical, the last thing you want to do is actually waste your product. You don’t want to waste the material that’s going into the product that you’re selling, the problem is the cleaning. They would clean and degrease all of the manufacturing equipment and so that is what went into the ground and that’s what the contaminant is. … When you see firsthand, the litigation and the pileup and how these sites go on forever, sites are never cleaned up they just go on into perpetuity, there’s lawyers on both sides arguing about what should be done, and you realize this is one of thousands. This is a part of environmental legacy and what bothers me, like I was talking about at the beginning, you’ve got to find what resonates with you. I’ve always been an environmentalist at heart, the environmental part of sustainability is always what gets me. … Often times, the technology does not exist. If you’ve seen that movie Erin Brokovich with Julia Roberts, that chemical Hexavalent Chromium, is what’s used when you’re doing traditional tanning of leather. Hexavalent Chromium is a horrible, horrible chemical. … It’s very hard to clean up and if you saw that movie, you know what potentially could happen in overexposure to that. … And that’s just one of many many ills. That really drove me to want to stop our traditional consumption of clothing, and when I say stuff for consumption, I mean just mindless shopping and just buying stuff because it’s cheap and just buy, buy buy. There’s actually a tremendous legacy behind fashion and fashion has a tremendous supply chain. It’s crop based, it’s cotton, it’s linen, it’s animal based, it’s transportation, it’s people. It’s got such a huge impact and I think it’s usually taken quite frivolously because people think, well, it’s just fashion. Well, if it’s just fashion, our perspective really needs to change.
This article has been edited for content and clarity.
To read our first article in this Q & A series for Fashion Revolution Week 2017, click here.