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The makings of an imperfect activist

Last night, I was thinking about why I started this business. I was trying to pinpoint the moment I got interested in slow fashion, quality materials and ethical manufacturing. I realized that for me the process was gradual. I am probably not your typical eco-warrior momma. I live in an urban center (THE urban center - Manhattan) I own a car and I fly, a lot. When I look at the beautiful instagrams of other slow fashion, slow living advocates, they're typically surrounded by flowers and bare footed children in a field somewhere very beautiful. In contrast, I'm sat in an Upper West Side apartment, the only regular interaction with nature I get is my daily fight with a sea of yellow cabs and delivery trucks as I'm walking my son to the school bus everyday. Oh and the glimpse I get of Central Park on the way to the playground. I jest of course, but it's also kinda sadly true.

The beginnings

So last night, here is what I was thinking. Was I an imposter? Did I even belong in this space? And what could I possibly have to say about slow fashion? Surely, every other choice I've made in life has been fast, not slow and has not corresponded to this new world I'm trying to build. The first place I reached to in my brain was a vault of memories from my own childhood and memories of my family's attitude to "stuff", to fashion and to clothing.

Growing up in the Soviet Union was growing up with scarcity. There was not a whole lot of anything, certainly very little choice and in a time when sufficient food was not a guarantee, fashion was not all that important. Somehow, the women in MY family ignored the last part of that sentence. In fact they upended it totally. Despite all of the above, the women in my family found magazines, scavenged for fabrics and created fashion for themselves, for their friends and for us, their kids. And they looked good doing it. They didn't have 100 dresses, they didn't even have 10 but the 1-2 they had were beautiful, made with quality fabric (often reused from a prior item of clothing or soft furnishings) and well made. What's more, those same dresses would be passed on to others and those others would pass them on again. I remember I wore the dresses originally made from my sister and then passed them on to my neighbor and friend.

That attitude somehow carried through even when we emigrated to the UK. As my parents built a new life for us, they prioritized quality over quantity time and time again. I learnt to tell a synthetic fabric just by merely touching it, I learned that fashion and style meant two very different things and I learned that clothes (and shoes) were to be taken care of. Each time I travelled back to my country for summer holidays, I brought with me a suitcase of items of clothing I had outgrown to pass on to my relatives and friends.

Formative years

The year I started university, 2005, was the year fast fashion BLEW up in the UK. Primark (also known as Primarni in my university circle) was every student's mecca. I dabbled but somehow knew straight away in my gut, that there was something seriously wrong with a piece of clothing that cost the equivalent of my Friday night rum and coke. When I washed it, the color came out, the item shrank and the seams disintegrated over a few wears. It felt wrong, it felt cheap and quite honestly, it didn't look that great. It was just a year or two later, that the UK started talking about sustainability although I don't think that's the term that was used. TV programs were all over it, Mary Queen of Shops exposed the rag industry and the problem of taking clothing to the charity shop, BBC documentaries illuminated sweatshop labor in China and produced detailed exposees of child labor in India. An opinion was forming in my head and the winds were shifting around me. My friends would make fun of me because I refused to buy anything synthetic favoring cotton, silk and wool and was seemingly drawn to documentaries showing doom and gloom on television. At this time I didn't really understand anything about organic cotton, manufacturing certifications or circularity, but I knew I didn't want fast fashion anymore. I understood and lived by the principal of cost per wear and invested in the few items I bought. Were they all organic? No. But certainly some elements of conscious consumerism were forming in my mind. The seed had been planted.

Fast forward to now

I started to really care and I mean really care once I had children. Previous bad habits slowly started to shift, small changes from the quality of the food I bought to my commitment to recycling and reusing started to come in to focus. I'm sure I'm not alone in noting that there's something about bringing a new generation in to the world that shifts things. It helped that climate change was all over the news and seeping into every day decision making slowly but surely.

When it came to dressing my children, I couldn't bring myself to put them in the super cute but 100% polyester Carter's pajamas we got gifted by the bag load from loving relatives. Sure they were cute, but every time I touched them I got a shock of static and as I imagined them touching my baby's silky soft and very sensitive skin, I felt a pang of guilt. I researched the practices of companies like Carter's Inc., Toys R Us and the giants: Gap, Zara, H&M and my stomach sank. I found out about the way they treat the environment, their workers and ultimately all about their societal impact. I thought I'd been doing well focusing on purchasing 100% cotton and 100% wool items, but boy was I wrong. These companies were the epitome of fast fashion, their contribution to fashion's waste and pollution problem were staggering. Their labor violations and accusations of greenwashing shocked me to the core.

It was at this time that I was also working my ass off in a very corporate job, traveling a lot and in general having little time to spare to anything let alone shopping. I noticed that when it came to big purchases e.g. new kids shoes, coats, school outfits, it took me WEEKS to commit to a purchase as I would spend hours on the internet looking into fabric composition, company values and founder stories. In the end, I mostly bought things in Europe and brought them back with me.

It was exhausting and after years of doing this and years of learning more and more of what was passable to me, I developed my own product selection criteria. One I used to help me every time I made a purchase. I noticed that Europe was light years ahead of the US when it came to both the demand and supply side of the equation. Broadly speaking Europeans cared more about where their clothes came from, what they were made of and who made them. And in turn, European regulations and the business world responded. I wondered why this hadn't yet happened on as large a scale in the US and when we would see it happen? It's at this time I spoke to other parents I knew who were doing very similar things to me. I wondered if there was an easier less time consuming way to buy less but buy better. Could there be a resource that did the work for you? A place that curated kids clothing from small brands you could actually trust? That's how the idea for The Green Kid was born, and the rest as they say, is history.

The beauty in imperfection

I guess this is all to say that, it's ok to not be perfect. I am suspicious of anyone who claims to be all knowing in this space because frankly there's a hell of a lot to know and it's ever changing and ever evolving. I'm just as skeptical of anyone who claims to lead a totally sustainable lifestyle. I'm all for (probably because this is my own story) making small steps to doing better. I think there's longevity and commitment that forms as a result. So here's to the imperfect activist, the imperfect eco-warrior and the imperfect sustainability champion. I think all that imperfection, taken together can really make quite a difference.

What about you? I'd be so interested to know your own journey in this space, where you are right now, what's important to you and of course how you found The Green Kid.

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Loved hearing about your journey towards slow fashion! I think it’s so important to find the ”grey” space and not think of all our actions as simply black and white. Incremental, sustainable choices over a lifetime mean so much more than feeling completely overwhelmed or doing nothing at all.

Sep 16, 2022
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Ahhh thank you so much Nikki! Finding the grey space is very interesting indeed. And it's kinda cool learning about everything as you go along. There's so much to figure out and some choices that are much more complex than they originally seem. Take bamboo as an example - seemingly a very eco-friendly strong and antibacterial material - all very worthy qualities. On the other hands, large areas of forest are being cleared to grow this increasingly popular crop, wildlife is being displaced, habitats destroyed and it's mostly grown in China and shipped all over the globe - leaving a vast carbon footprint. Not to mention the lack of regulation around its farming and the treatment of workers growing it.…

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