Sondra Abruzzo ’19
Sustainable and ethical shopping can be difficult, especially when fast fashion brands offer exactly what college students want: trendy options at low prices. But never fear, alum Cat Chiang ’16 helps ease our troubled minds, and makes the shift towards conscious consumerism easier with her sustainable and ethical (life)style blog “Restichstance”. Cat describes her blog as a “starting place for the fast fashion consumer turned eco and ethical fashionista” that “aims to make slow fashion and living exciting, accessible, and inclusive through education and inspiration.”
While I encourage you to check out her blog, you should also read on to gain behind the scenes insight into Cat’s thoughts and approaches to sustainable fashion.
Sondra Abruzzo: How did you decide to start a sustainable lifestyle blog?
Cat Chiang: I began my blog as a creative outlet during the first year after graduating college, when I was struggling to find my passions. I’d always loved writing and fashion blogs, so I decided to put myself out there and just do it. But knowing that the fast fashion industry exploits workers—most of whom are working-class women of color—I wanted to focus as much as possible on ethical fashion. Eventually, this journey led me to care about sustainability as well, because environmental issues affect low income communities of color the most.
SA: How do you balance the blog with your current job and life?
CC: I currently work a full-time job in addition to blogging. It’s been a process to learn how to balance my priorities, but I would rather keep my blog a fun part of my life than turn it into a heavy responsibility. There was definitely a point when my blog became more work than fun, but I’ve since taken off that self-imposed pressure because I want it to be first and foremost something I enjoy. Our generation has a lot of pressure to turn our passions into jobs—I did consider trying to turn blogging into a living, but have discovered that I have more fun with it when I don’t push myself to make money from it or to treat it like a job.
SA: Ethical brands tend to be more expensive reinforcing the idea that environmentalism and sustainability are only available to those who can afford it:generally white, middle to upper class individuals. What are your thoughts on this trend and how do you aim to make it more inclusive?
CC: This is absolutely true and something I struggled with when I started my blog. I was making barely above minimum wage at the time, so I couldn’t afford the beautiful, ethically made slow fashion brands that I admired.
On one hand, I believe we as consumers need to shift our mindset to accept that clothing should be expensive if it’s made ethically and meant to last a long time, rather than continuing to churn through disposable and cheaply made clothes. However, ethically made and high-quality clothing is simply unaffordable for the majority of people. Even if it’s more affordable in the long run to invest in high-quality goods, a lot of working class folks can’t afford that up-front cost and resort to buying cheaper goods that don’t last.
Conscious consumerism is inherently a privileged movement because it relies on purchasing power. That’s why I don’t believe it is a truly revolutionary movement and should not be the extent of someone’s activism—and people shouldn’t be shamed for not being able to make conscious choices. It’s important to also push for systemic change that makes it easier for people to make conscious choices, that holds those in power and corporations accountable for their effects on the environment and their labor standards.
SA: How do you balance fashion and style with reducing your consumption in the first place?
CC: This is still something I am working on, but over time I’ve begun investing more into high-quality pieces that are versatile, rather than trendy pieces. I’m also trying to buy less new clothing in favor of shopping secondhand (good for both my bank account and the earth). I’m learning that style doesn’t have to mean following trends or wearing a new outfit every day; it can mean using your creativity to have fun with what you do have. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing the same clothes over and over again—I definitely do!
SA: How do you vet the brands you list and support?
CC: What I’ve learned is that there are many ways to be ethical and sustainable, since many folks have different interpretations of the words. For some people, ethical means fair wages; for others, animal rights are also important and they want their clothing to be vegan and cruelty-free. I respect that people have different definitions so on my blog I try to be precise about what is considered “ethical” or “sustainable” about each brand.
Personally, for ethics, I prioritize fair wages, safe working conditions, commitment to social justice issues (such as women’s empowerment and inclusivity); for sustainability, I prioritize natural/biodegradable fabrics, zero waste practices, non-toxic or less toxic production, and reduced carbon emissions. These are not comprehensive lists of factors that I think are important for conscious brands, but a starting point that I use to vet brands.
SA: What are your thoughts on the fact that second hand looks are in fashion but instead of thrifting for the look, people go to stores like Urban Outfitters or Free People to buy clothes that look vintage and cool?
CC: Thrifting is pretty time-consuming and it can be hard to find certain sizes or styles that have become popular, so I understand why it’s appealing to just buy what you want off the rack at Urban Outfitters. People who enjoy thrifting go because they like the joy of discovery and finding weird or surprisingly cute things, which is different from the experience of shopping at a fast fashion store for something that you know is trendy and know will look cute. That being said, it’s totally possible to find trendy things in thrift stores and I highly encourage people to go! I used to frequent American Way in Pomona pretty often because they have a pretty fun selection and it’s really cheap. Nowadays I often shop on Depop and Poshmark, which are apps for buying and selling secondhand clothing, when I don’t have time to go thrifting myself.