Thursday, 10 May 2018

A sustainable life, step by step

I’ve always felt vaguely embarrassed at the thought of referring to a period of change or self-discovery in my life as a “personal journey”. I don’t know exactly why, possibly because I associated it with scripted reality shows, or possibly because I’ve never done that much reflecting before; I’ve just gone on to the next thing. This has all changed recently though; after 18 months of writing an ethical fashion blog and reflecting on the impact that has had on my lifestyle and me as a person, I’ve changed my mind. A journey is the best metaphor for living a more ethical lifestyle, because the only way you can sustain it is by taking it one step at a time. 

I went on holiday to Cornwall and spent most of it walking; after a period of sluggishness and exhaustion it felt amazing to be out in the fresh air, seeing the beauty of the natural world all around me. I didn’t set myself any goals for how far I planned to walk, so I was pretty surprised when each day the step counter on my phone showed I had walked around 12km. Assisted by nothing more than a rucksack of tasty treats and my trusty new Eco Vegan Shoes walking boots, I kept putting one foot in front of the other because I liked the look of where I was heading, as well as taking time to enjoy everything around me.

When I started writing this blog I thought I was fairly well-informed about the fashion industry, but it’s ended up being a steep learning curve, with many more complications and nuances than I had expected. I am by no means leading a perfect sustainable lifestyle, or even the owner of a perfectly ethical wardrobe, but each new fact I have learned has prompted me to take another step towards a more sustainable future.

Following a new path can be daunting, so it’s best to start with familiar terrain and a good view. Looking through my existing wardrobe and reorganising it on a regular basis reminds me that I own plenty of clothes that are waiting patiently to be worn, so I don’t “need” to buy something new. It’s also a good way of working out what I’m avoiding wearing and why; whether some of my unworn clothes need refashioning or rehoming because certain styles just aren’t working for me.

We can follow well-trodden routes without thinking, but stepping off the beaten track means you can discover something really exciting. Shopping sustainably means I have been able to buy amazing limited edition designs from brands that are just starting out, using exciting new materials and innovative production techniques. There is also an extra feel-good factor to this; knowing that I am supporting small business owners who are treating their staff fairly and giving back to the community rather than lining the pockets of billionaires. 

Once you are really enjoying following this path, something that once looked like an obstacle becomes far less significant.  When I first made new shopping “rules” for myself I was worried that I would struggle to find certain items, but this hasn’t really been the case. As someone who enjoys seeking out unusual and interesting fashion, shopping ethically has led me to discover so many unique and beautiful brands, and means I never need to worry about turning up in the same outfit as someone else! As I am spending more time planning and researching purchases, I’m not wasting money on impulse buys that don’t work with the rest of my wardrobe.

Don’t be afraid to ask for directions. There is a wonderful online community of people who are ready to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle. Social media often gets a bad reputation; members of a “community” are judgemental, aggressive or falsely advertise a “perfect” lifestyle. This couldn’t be further from my experience of the sustainable living community; everyone I’ve met either online or in person has been kind, supportive and truthful. The community values collaboration over competition and doesn’t criticise anyone for not being perfect - because none of us are! 

It’s fine to stop and take a break. I’m writing this blog to help make people aware of the possibilities of a sustainable lifestyle, not to make them feel bad if they can’t make the same decisions I can. I have found that living a more sustainable lifestyle has been good for my mental and physical health (I've written about it in these blog posts ) but everyone is different, and I’d be the first to admit that when life gets really demanding I’m not thinking so much about the plastic packaging or palm oil in whatever tasty treat I’m buying for myself. Every small thing you do counts, and no-one should make you feel bad for doing what you need to do to take care of yourself, physically and mentally.

Taking it one step at a time means you can cover large differences without realising. Phrases like “zero waste” and “plastic free” can seem completely unattainable, but once I was committed to making sustainable clothing purchases it seemed like a logical next step to get a reusable coffee cup and water bottle, to take a spare tote bag with me when I go out,  and to get a veg box delivery which means minimal food packaging. There is always more you could be doing, but trying to do it all at once is impossible. Introduce small changes gradually, and you’ll reach a point where this all seems second nature.

Reflecting on where you’ve been and where you’re going isn’t self-indulgent or a waste of time (as past me had sometimes thought) it’s so useful and important to be able to appreciate the progress you’ve made and plan where you want to go next. There is a sense of urgency about this for me, because our disposable culture is already having severe, even deadly consequences, but I also know that this is a path I need to keep following without burning out. I might not know exactly where it leads, but I’ve picked a direction and I’m sticking with it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elly, I really enjoyed reading about how your views and lifestyle have changed, and think it's really inspiring and relateable. And I totally agree about taking things one step at a time and not judging yourself (or others) harshly for not being perfect.

    (I blog about climate change at and found your blog through the #ethicalhour Twitter chats!)