Ethical Eco-Fashion & Wardrobe Minimalism 101 | Interview with Erin from My Green Closet

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my all-time favorite YouTubers, Erin from My Green Closet. I think I speak for all of Erin’s fans when I say, she is a wealth of information when it comes to ethical fashion, capsule wardrobes, minimalism, and all things fabric and style. But beyond that, she is simply a lovely person with a big heart. I am honored to know her. I hope you enjoy reading this interview.

  1. Erin, thank you for taking the time to conduct this interview. You have been so helpful to me as well as to thousands of others as we work to navigate through the issues surrounding our clothing and fashion choices. Thank you for that. For those who are not familiar with your work and your YouTube channel My Green Closet, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you? Where are you from and where do you reside now? And anything else important or interesting about you? What is your career? Are you a full-time YouTuber, or do you also work outside of the home?

I am a freelance fashion designer, originally from Canada but currently living in Germany. When studying and working in fashion I became aware of the ethical and environmental issues in the industry; it was disturbing and heartbreaking, and completely changed the way I saw clothing and fashion. I started to learn as much as I could and became really interested in ‘slow fashion’ – focus on quality over quantity, ethical production, and trying to reduce the environmental impact of garments as much as possible. I began creating videos on YouTube just over a year ago and it has been so encouraging and rewarding to share something I’m passionate about and connect with and learn from like-minded people around the world.

ecooutfit

  1. Can you please tell us more about your personal evolution within the realm of ethical fashion, minimalism, and living an intentional life?

It started for me when I learned that a lot of issues in fashion come from mass-consumption. I realized one of the best things anyone can do is simply buy less. So I started buying less but better clothing and less stuff in general and through that I discovered capsule wardrobes and minimalism. It really resonated with me because I’ve always felt that experiences should be valued more than stuff, but it’s so easy to get caught up in shopping and wanting new things. Hearing about other people living a more mindful, minimalist life was inspiring and motivated me to declutter and remove a lot of excess in my life and then I started to feel the more psychological benefits. Around this time my husband and I also decided to move overseas to Germany so that was further incentive to reduce our possessions and focus on the things that are most important and valuable to us. 

  1. You have informed people about “fast fashion” and referenced the film The True Cost. For those who are unfamiliar with the fast fashion phenomenon, what is fast fashion and what is wrong with it?

Fast fashion is a relatively new concept and has completely changed the industry. Fashion used to have 2 or 4 seasons but now fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara and have new product in their stores each week and the clothing is sold very cheaply. The business model is designed to keep customers continuously shopping since there’s always something new and the price point is accessible to a lot of people. There are not only inherent ethical issue with producing clothing very cheaply but it’s also created a mindset that clothing is ‘disposable’. This obviously results in massive amounts of physical textile waste as well as wasting the energy and resources it took to make the item of clothing. A lot of people don’t know how incredibly polluting and labour intensive making clothing is because we are generally completely removed from the process. Unfortunately there is also the problem of a lack of transparency and information regarding fast fashion production because it’s in a lot of companies’ best interest for their customers to know as little as possible about how their clothes were made. 

  1. When it comes to making ethical decisions regarding fashion, food, and consumer/lifestyle choices, there are many layers and variables to consider. It can become all-consuming and extremely overwhelming for individuals. You recently did a video on the obstacles and possible solutions to ethical fashion excuses, which was very informative. What do you recommend to people who are struggling with making informed decisions on what to buy or how much they really need for themselves and/or their partners and families? Often times people give up because they feel as though their small choices won’t add up to make a big difference.

It can definitely be very overwhelming and frustrating trying to make conscious choices and find ethical products. I think the best thing anyone can do is ask yourself if you actually need the item, if it adds value to your life, and how long you can realistically see yourself using it; being a more thoughtful consumer and only buying things you’re actually going to use and have for a long time is a huge first step.

When shopping for ethical products I think it’s important to realize that no one is perfect, no product is going to be 100% ethical/sustainable, and it’s about trying your best. I generally tell people who are starting to think more about their purchases to do some research and figure out what their top priority is and start there, it could be vegan, fair trade, eco-friendly materials, locally made, or more. Having something more specific than ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ really helps when searching for brands and products.

Finally it may not seem like it but the small choices you make really do add up. For example something simple like washing your clothing in cold instead of hot water while it doesn’t make a big difference to one load of laundry, it can make a very significant difference over time- not only saving a lot of energy but also helping extend the life of your clothes.

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  1. My blog promotes plant-based, compassionate living, holistic health, fitness, veganism, and more, but I have a wide variety of readers who are on all different types of paths of lifelong health and happiness. Two of the issues that I am most passionate about right now are the impact of our choices on the environment and on others (both human and non-human animals). With that, I have been naturally attracted to the low-waste or zero waste lifestyle as well as veganism in general. In the film Earthlings, for instance, information is shared on what really goes into leather and fur. And in the film The True Cost, the issues regarding leather, the chemicals used, how it affects the health of communities and eco systems, and poisons waterways is also discussed. So with all of that, plus the animal suffering – because after all, leather is animal skin, let’s call it what it is, people often feel stuck choosing between plastic shoes, which are also not eco-friendly in most cases, or leather shoes. For those readers who do not want to wear an animal but also do not want to contribute to plastic waste, are there options? And any shopping tips for shoes, since this seems to be a big struggle?

This is a big problem and a dilemma for a lot of people. Unfortunately there aren’t yet any really good, eco-friendly, biodegradable vegan leathers widely available, but I do hope those will come in time. There are some natural fibre shoes made from cotton or hemp and rubber or cork which can be a good option for people who want to avoid leather as well as synthetics but they are less common and generally in very limited styles. There seems to be more plant fibre options in bags than shoes. 

There definitely are better synthetic materials than others though (for example avoid products made out of PVC) and it’s important to research anything you’re planning to purchase. Buying secondhand I think is one of the best solutions, since you’re at least not supporting the initial creation of the item. Personally if I’m buying new shoes I try to buy vegan shoes made from recycled synthetic leather but this is definitely not a perfect solution as there is still a harmful chemical process involved. I think it’s good to do as much research as you can and try and find a solution that works best for you, but at the very least choose styles and quality products that will last and that you’ll use for a long time.  

erin-donkey

  1. The next concern I have heard discussed often at conferences is with wool, especially commercial wool, which is where most of our wool for clothing is coming from. There are many videos on the subject and they are extremely upsetting and graphic. Because of this, I usually opt for fabrics like cotton (recently looking for organic cotton only), bamboo, and hemp, as much as possible. What are your thoughts on wool and the unethical and inhumane issues surrounding wool? What options do people have for cruelty-free materials or avoiding wool? Do you recommend if people want sheep or alpaca wool to find a very small, local farm and meet the farmer and learn about how their animals are treated? One argument I have heard with this, is that there simply wouldn’t be enough small farmers for everyone to do this realistically either and that in lots of cases, they animals are still being used for profit, so once they get old or have “served their purpose,” they are usually sent off for slaughter. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This again is another big dilemma and quite complex. Wool can be farmed in a terrible way and the practice of mulesing is particularly horrific. However there definitely also are farmers that wonderfully care for, respect, and love their animals. As a fibre there also isn’t anything like wool; it’s incredibly durable, insulating (even when wet), wicking, breathable, water and fire resistant, flexible, antimicrobial so it doesn’t tend to smell, and very easy to dye which limits the need for harsh chemicals. Cotton can be a substitute for some garments but often wool is replaced with synthetic fibres like acrylic or nylon which not only are unsustainable to produce but were found to shed a lot of small fibres when you wash them which go into the water system, polluting the oceans. 

Like with the dilemma of synthetic vegan leather, I really encourage people to research the issues and options available and figure out what you are more comfortable with. 

I personally think that especially with outerwear and technical active-wear wool is a better option than the current synthetic alternatives. There are some plant fibre garments in these categories which can be good for someone who wants to avoid both wool and synthetics but in general they don’t tend to perform as well or last as long, particularly with active-wear. There are wool brands like Icebreaker which have a pretty transparent supply chain (you can trace your garment to the farm the sheep is from and get more info about it) and standards for the welfare and care of the sheep (and sheep dogs) as well as guaranteeing mulesing-free wool.   

Buying wool products (or yarn) secondhand can be a very good option and is what I try to do, it gives you the benefits of wool without directly supporting the wool farming industry. It always amazes me how well wool holds up over time, often the best quality vintage pieces are made from wool. 

Finally for knitters or anyone looking to source any kind of wool, if you can I really recommend finding and visiting local farms. I have met some wonderful small-scale sheep and alpaca farmers who truly love and take amazing care of their animals. In my experience they are very willing to answer questions, show you around, and give you any information you need, plus it’s lovely to hang out with the animals. 🙂  If you are looking to buy wool I think it’s great to be able to support small local business like that. While this might not be the most practical solution or realistic on a large scale, it can be great option if it’s available to you. 

Alpaca Farm

  1. Just as with the locavore movement with food, there are people who attempt to source more of their clothing and clothing materials locally. Do you have any experience with this, and any insight you can share? Is it better to source clothing locally? Or is that almost impossible to do exclusively? Can you also discuss what fair trade is and why it’s important to consider fair trade options?

When I was getting my fashion design degree I actually tried to create my final collection from materials sourced as locally as possible, it was a really interesting experience and incredibly difficult. If you are looking for clothing that is entirely locally made and sourced (fibres, material weaving/knitting, dyes, sewing, trims, etc.) it’s next to impossible (especially if you live in a place where for example you can’t grow cotton or there is no textile industry) and very impractical for most people. However if this is something you’re really interested in I highly recommend checking if there is a Fibershed program near you, it’s a wonderful project where people source and create clothing entirely in their local region. 

Now buying clothing that is made locally from non-local materials is a lot more accessible and can be a really great way to shop more ethically and support local businesses. In general small designers will sew the garments themselves or have a small team so you don’t have to worry about unethical factory conditions, they tend to be a lot less wasteful with their materials, you can ask them questions – they are often very open about their business and supply chain. Some will even do custom work or alterations for you which means you can get a great fitting piece that you’ll have a long time, plus the garment will be more special and unique than anything from a large retailer. 

Fair trade is important when purchasing products from places or industries that are more known to have ethical issues. Fair trade certified products mean that a certain set of standards for the treatment and pay of workers has been met and is verified by the fair trade organization (there are a few different ones but 2 of the most common are Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organization). 

CapsuleWardrobe

  1. Can you please share your points on minimalism and living simply, and how this can also make a difference? How much clothing do people really need, in your opinion. And at that end of the day, does fashion really matter? In other words, is it best for us to escape the idea of partially building our identities into wardrobes? Would it be more freeing and simple to just wear clothing that is ethical and not worry so much about how it looks or constantly looking to buy more?

Minimalism actually helped me enjoy fashion and style more, being conscious of my purchases allows me to have a wardrobe that I love and enjoy wearing which is such a great feeling. Buying less stuff also saves a lot of money which means I can invest in sustainable and ethical clothing that I previously couldn’t afford.   

I think the amount of clothing people ‘really’ need is individual to each person, it depends on your lifestyle, career, aesthetic, hobbies, where you live etc. It’s different for everyone. 

To me fashion does matter and is actually quite important. I get that some people think fashion is superficial and unnecessary but you can’t ignore that throughout human history clothing has been a part of communication. Whether we like it or not our brains are wired to make snap judgements of people based on their appearance and clothing is a key part of that which we have control over. I think clothing can be an incredibly powerful tool, as Orsola de Castro says in the beginning of The True Cost clothes are “our chosen skin … fundamentally a part of what we wish to communicate about ourselves”. Fashion and style is a way we can express ourselves, it can affect the way we feel, and it can also say something about what we believe in.

It probably would be simpler to just wear clothing and not worry or think about it how it looks and I’m sure for a lot of people that is a huge benefit of minimalism. But for me I enjoy the freedom to look or present myself in a certain way because not only can it be fun and creative to play with fashion but I know it directly affects my confidence and can influence how others perceive me. Being someone very passionate about sustainable fashion, I also use my clothing as a conversation starter. If I have an interesting outfit on people are more likely to comment on it or ask about it which will often result in a conversation about secondhand shopping or eco-friendly fabrics. 

I think clothing is beautiful, we wear it everyday and it’s a part of our lives. Whether intentional or not it’s a piece of personal expression, it can hold memories and become uniquely yours through patterns of wear, mending, and alterations. I honestly believe that a lot of problems around mass clothing consumption would be solved if people simply loved their clothes more- if you love your clothes you want to keep them, care for them, mend them, and pass them on to a good home. I think having an emotional connection to clothing is ultimately much more powerful in moving the fashion industry in a better direction than consumers feeling indifferent about it.

  1. You also have a YouTube channel on living a slower, more peaceful and intentional lifestyle. Can you share some information on this and your message to people on the benefits of slowing down?

I think slowing down is about finding and focusing on the things you truly enjoy and find fulfilling and being present to actually enjoy them instead of thinking about what’s next and what else is happening. Everything seems to be getting faster and it’s difficult to reduce distractions, slow down, and enjoy the process. It’s something I’m trying to explore more and on the channel I want to just share some of my thoughts and general experience with trying to find a balance of slowing down in a pretty fast-paced world. 

erin-beach

  1. Anything else you would like to share about yourself or any relating topics?

Thank you so much for your wonderful questions Mary and for including me in your blog! 

Thank you so much, Erin! You continue to be an inspiration to me, and I thank you for the beautiful content you share on YouTube.

You Can Follow Erin:
My Green Closet YouTube
A Slower Life (Erin’s other YT channel)
On Instagram: @verenaerin

Thank you for reading. Please subscribe and explore my blog for healthy living resources, recipes, and other inspiring interviews.

6 thoughts on “Ethical Eco-Fashion & Wardrobe Minimalism 101 | Interview with Erin from My Green Closet

  1. Thank you for posting this interview, Mary! I also enjoy and subscribe to both of Erin’s YouTube channels. She is so interesting and inspiring! You both gave me so many great things to think about and take into consideration when choosing my clothing. I have been so focused on my food (thank you so much for the Door to Door Organics referral – I love them!) and personal care products that my clothing has become a bit of a blindspot. One of my goals for 2016 is to buy anything I can second hand. Thanks again!

    Wishing you well,
    Angela

  2. Thank you for posting this interview. I like the idea of changing my wardrobe to include cruelty free and sustainable items. I recently bought socks made from bamboo fibers, and then I was disappointed to learn that the process used to make bamboo material is extremely polluting and not very eco friendly at all. My intentions were good but this is a clear case where it is better to educate yourself first so you can develop a best practices list before making your purchases.

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