A Mindset Shift

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A couple years ago, I overheard something in a coffee shop that had a profound impact on me.

An animated conversation between two young men was taking place behind my table. Up until then, the chatter had been white noise, blending in with the ambient sounds of the coffee shop -- I wasn't paying particular attention. Suddenly, one of them said with absolute conviction, "If you're not drowning, you're a lifeguard."

I stopped, listened more intently as he repeated himself. If you're not drowning, you're a lifeguard. I put down my matcha and hastily wrote it down.

I didn't know what context those words had been spoken in, but I believed they meant something for me. I stared at the sentence, reflected on their significance to my new journey as an ethical fashion activist. Those of us living in abundance and privilege have a responsibility, I thought, to advocate for and support those who are unable to do so themselves.

This is why I advocate for changing the way we interact with fashion.

Something you may recall me mentioning on my blog or Instagram is what I call a "mindset shift." What does this mean, and why do I emphasize it?

I believe that a mindset shift -- a complete change in your perspective regarding clothes and consumerism -- is one of the most important, if not the most important, steps you can take in your journey towards a kinder closet.

Self-imposed rules, shopping fasts, or making choices out of guilt can only take you so far. There are countless articles and blogs written about how to avoid fast fashion temptation -- staying away from malls and online stores, for example. But the reality is, temptation will always be around. Especially online, in your inbox, and through social media. As long as our minds still see fast fashion as attractive, and saying "no" to it as a chore — as a lesser option — our decisions will often be mechanical, based on "should-dos.” Guilt only yields limited success.

On the other hand, when our perspective on fashion has done a 180 -- when we no longer see the low pricetags and convenient purchases, but instead have trained our mind's eye to see the humanity behind the garment, every time -- fast fashion becomes the opposite of desirable. It loses its charm, its fleeting beauty and appeal. This season's trends become pieces of cloth destined for the landfill. Retail stores no longer remind us of instant gratification, but human and environmental suffering behind a shiny facade. There is no temptation there, because we've learned how to stack the illusion up against the big picture. Suddenly our fashion whims are rather small and insignificant next to the human rights of the woman who quite literally has put blood, sweat, and tears into her craft.

Let me be clear. Making a fast fashion purchase does not make you a bad person, and you do not need to burden yourself with the goal of always making the perfect human/environmental/sustainable/vegan choice, all of the time (read: perfection doesn't exist). But my hope is that we feel empowered and encouraged to open our hearts to the discomfort of acknowledging that we do take responsibility, as consumers, for the purchases we make and how they affect the fashion industry. That we can acknowledge that even if we do not always make the right choice and even if we allow ourselves grace for that, fast fashion is still a real problem, and people are hurting because of it. We need to open ourselves up to that suffering and see the bigger picture in humanity's story. It is crucial that we remember that our small, individual worlds are not all there is. And it's actually far more freeing to have your perspective about clothes change, than to live in a world where fast fashion is still tempting to you and it's a daily fight to resist. Of course, a shopping addiction is another conversation and will take time to work through. It might be messy and take longer to break free of. But the mindset shift is the catalyst to set you on that journey, and a worthwhile one it is.

So let's allow those walls to crumble. Those walls that we build up to protect our emotions, our self-image, our comfort. Educate yourself about the fashion industry, allow every piece of information to move through you and into you. I find documentaries and videos especially powerful. As you absorb it all, remember that the existence of these issues is not a threat to you or your freedom. But rather, it is a beautiful privilege that you and I can choose to sacrifice some of our comfort for the lives and dignity of those we cannot see but are, nonetheless, intimately connected to.

Photo: Munir Uz Zaman / Getty Images

Photo: Munir Uz Zaman / Getty Images

Alena Tran1 Comment