I’ve been thinking a great deal about slow living, lately. I have yet to formulate a concrete idea of what exactly I mean by that phrase. . .in general, I mean consciously clearing away clutter, busyness, and distractions from experiencing this beautiful life that God has given us, and purposefully choosing that which is best in every area of life; but I feel that there is a much richer and deeper understanding and description of the overall concept or mindset that eludes me. And so, the subject is brought out and discussed on occasion with my husband, and then tucked away again to mull in my mind, waiting for me to clothe it with words. That time has not yet come; but as it applies in smaller areas, it feels a less daunting task to tackle. One of these areas I’ve been pondering, lately, is fashion.

Since getting married, I have felt a steady pull towards a smaller, curated collection of simple pieces I like wearing and my husband likes seeing me in, so that I can just pull something from my closet and put it on without giving it much thought. This pull has coincided with a growing realization of the devastating effects of the ‘fast fashion’ industry on the people who manufacture cheap, trendy clothing under poor conditions for insufficient wages, as well as its effects on the environment. Thankfully, these two developments in my thoughts on fashion lend themselves very well to each other, and I determined to make some changes in the way that I managed my closet.

I got rid of most of the clothes in my closet that I didn’t wear regularly and determined to plan for a wardrobe that would suit my new philosophy. It would include just what I would need and use often; it would be made up of quality pieces that would be nice to wear and hold up well long-term; it would be made up of a combination of secondhand items, new ethically-made pieces, and, for those items not available in ethical brands (generally outdoor or workout gear), well-made items that would last as long as possible. I expected that such a wardrobe would take some time to collect, and so it has; while I have made strides toward such a closet, I’m not there yet. I am ok with this. In fact, I’m enjoying the slow and purposeful process. But I have run into a problem that I’m at a loss as to how to solve.

You see, my husband and I are what we like to consider pros at thrift shopping. We have learned to find and recognize good deals and to capitalize on them (for instance, the $200 Fjallraven pants we bought for $20. . .), and it’s a process we both highly enjoy. The search is in itself a fun activity, and if it takes a little time to find a particular item, it just makes the satisfaction that much greater when I do find it. Of course, the prices are pretty wonderful, and I feel no guilt in making a secondhand purchase. Rather than contributing to the consumerism of the fashion industry, I’m helping to keep perfectly wearable clothes from going into landfills or upsetting third world economies. It’s come to the point where I have been shopping almost exclusively secondhand (except for things that are really just better bought new, like underclothes or running shoes), and not making any of the previously-planned purchases from ethical companies.

And I’ve begun wondering, lately, if my enthusiasm for second-hand shopping has caused me to fall into an unexpected trap. You see, I am doing no harm with my thrifted purchases. . .but I am doing no good, either. One unforeseen effect of buying secondhand exclusively is that I have come to see these prices as the norm; now I balk at paying full price for anything. After being used to paying $3 for name-brand shorts, I am turned off by the idea of spending $180 for a leather clutch handmade by a woman who has escaped from sexual slavery. And so, though I’ve largely stopped contributing to fast fashion. . .I haven’t actively contributed to stopping fast fashion, either.

To dip into philosophy for a moment, the Kantian categorical imperative argues that we should ‘act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.’ I am not extremely familiar with the larger philosophy of Kant and therefore do not wish to overemphasize it; but I must recognize that the categorical imperative makes a convincing argument when applied to the subject of fast fashion. If I believe that fast fashion is wrong and that we need a complete solution, I must also recognize that solution obviously cannot be as simple as ‘everyone should just buy secondhand only.’ If everyone only bought secondhand, then not only would we run out of clothing eventually, but all of those people who rely on the wages earned from manufacturing clothing, even if insufficient, would be unable to support themselves at all.

This being the case, can I be satisfied to act in a way that I can’t recommend everyone else act as well? Can I be satisfied to buy secondhand only, without contributing to companies that are striving to change the structure of the fashion industry? I can’t, of course, afford to buy everything new from these companies, but I could, if I really wished, choose to invest my money in a few pieces.

I don’t, because I’m frugal, and secondhand is always going to be the frugal choice, and I rarely need anything that I can’t with some patience find secondhand (either at a thrift store or on consignment through a company like ThredUp). . .and most of all, because I assume that ‘frugal’ is always the better and more responsible choice.

But I don’t know if I can honestly that this is the case, when I consider it. We are called to be stewards of our resources. . .to spend those resources in the best way possible. This can and often does involve being frugal in our purchases; but I am coming to think that it may also mean choosing to spend more money to support a good cause. Perhaps what I’ve been calling frugal is actually nothing better than stinginess. So what is worth spending more money on? I truly don’t know. I suppose I will keep pondering and thinking. . .

Until then, I will wear my $3 shorts happily. . .and thoughtfully.


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