If I am to think of my childhood, my earliest memory of buying clothes here in the States was when I was about to enter middle school. My father, living here alone for 11 years, did not have any idea on how to shop for women’s clothes. If you are not familiar, shopping is different in Pakistan. At least it was so when I was growing up. We would go to an open market, look around for prints we liked, then take the fabric pieces to our preferred tailor who would sew the items according to our size. That is how it was: tailored and customized. So my father, having never had to shop anywhere for women, had trouble deciding where to take us to get our first westernized, yet modest, clothes. Can you guess his solution? It is surely something I can not forget! I remember entering the black hole that is Ross, turning towards the Men’s section and buying the buttoned down shirts in the largest size possible. I was a tiny creature of 11, still awaiting the mysterious growth spurt. I could not be more than four feet tall, yet I was wearing a grown man’s XL sized shirt on my first day of middle school. Yes, middle school. That defined the rest of my childhood for sure.
Before getting married, now living here in the US for nearly fourteen years, I remember working on my wardrobe for my “married life.” I spent about a year going from store to store, one sale to the next, taking advantage of the holiday deals. Skirts, pants, tops, hijabs, dresses, you name it, I hunted it down. I was determined to find a new wardrobe. Just a little bit of a tangent here for you, my friend, if you find yourself in these same shoes, remember this one thing: Who you are now is who you will still be when you add a tiny piece of jewelry on your finger. A little band is not going to turn you into a Pinterest fashionista. Find clothes similar to your current style and wait until you are comfortable enough in yourself to make any major changes.
As for me, the first few years of my marriage were spent finding out my style. What do I wear at home, during dinners out and with friends; it was all a process that took lots of experimentation and shopping trips. Hence, a lot of card swipes at the register. About two years ago, I dived into the idea of capsule wardrobe. Just having a few sets of clothes to rotate throughout the year was an idea that was appealing to me. I was getting into “simplicity” and of spending less time on things that essentially, at the end of the of equation, do not matter.
Finally, just a little over a year ago, something happened that caused me to think about how I purchased clothes and to change the way I approached the process. I spent a month living in a hotel room. Before leaving my home, I employed everything I knew about capsule wardrobe to create a system to carry as less as possible while having a functioning wardrobe for 30 days. If I washed everything once a week, the plan would work. There were two things that happened: I became extremely tired of wearing the same outfits and my clothes began to deteriorate. The whites became off-whites, smooth fabrics started to pill. “I paid 34 dollars for this skirt!” I remember thinking, seeing its color fade every time I wore it. It felt like my money was being drained in the washing machine alongside the quality of the items. Or whatever quality I thought they had.
That was IT. I came home with a purpose and set out to change my wardrobe. I wanted items that would last, were of my style, those that I loved, and were versatile. I needed to up my game and it had to happen before another set of my clothes found themselves in same position: in the bottom of the trash pile. There were so many problems with this scenario: Why was the quality so cheap for clothes even though I paid higher than I wanted to? How many times had I contributed to piles and piles of fabrics in the landfill, items too worn to donate? Had I really spent wisely if the items were losing their shape just after a handful of wears?
All of these questions led to me to the horrific reality of fast fashion, of human slavery, of cheaply made clothes for quick profit, of dramatic reduction in prices in contrast to increase in demand, and of the environmental impact of such quick, cheap, fashion. I learned about mothers bringing their babies to the factories so they can earn just enough to survive. I read about women leaving their cities and living in less-than-sanitary conditions to work for more than 12 hours a day in response to the workload, still struggling to provide for their basic needs. And I saw images upon images of burned or crumbled factories that did not follow the codes in order to cut cost, without any regard to their employees, so they can continue to provide for the increasing demands of major companies I routinely shopped from. It shook me. Someone, somewhere was unable to go to sleep, churning away at the sewing machine, with a baby crying at her tow, struggling through an illness, while I take a leisurely stroll through the mall scanning new items to add to my existing, overflowing wardrobe. Something had to change. I had to be the first to change.
No, I am not perfect. I still use plastic, I create plenty of trash, I use more resources than necessary by purchasing items online. I know, I have a long way to go as far as environmental factors are concerned. But what I simply could not and still can not reconcile in my heart is the fact that the beautiful shirt that caught my eye as I walked by the shop in the mall was made by a woman being paid too little, living away from home, and sometimes, even losing her life just so I can buy a shirt I deem a “good deal”. Humans suffering to allow me to feel “on trend” for a season is just not worth it to me. Once my heart shifted towards that direction, I could not look back.
Now, at the age of 30, having done enough damage, I try my best to not contribute to the cycle. I spend more, buy a lot less often, and wear what beautifies me without the cost of human suffering. It is not always the case, however, there are times when I fail. Some items are difficult to come by when there is a need without a hefty cost. It is a learning process, but what I have found in purchasing this way is confidence in myself, security in my choices, and peace with the maker of my clothes. And let me tell you with extreme confidence: I love every single item that I own this way. My purchases are now thoughtful, I spend a long time planning for it, I go over and over in my mind ensuring that this is the item that I truly want. When the time is right, I eagerly wait for them to arrive in my closet. They are ethically made, beautiful pieces. Now I don’t have just a wardrobe, I have a collection. And if it is something I love, then why wouldn’t I wear it multiple time? If I go about it correctly, the item is not going to lose its quality after a few washes, it is going to flatter my body shape, and it is going to work with my existing collection.
It is my sincere desire to completely switch over to an ethical way of shopping. There is still a long ways to go and I still need to prioritize a lot of things in my life. I have begun to take baby steps. Isn’t that how beautiful things began?