Amanda Boersma sat down on her sofa, cozied up, and turned on Netflix. It’s a familiar scene for many who seek relaxation after a long workday, but what Amanda watched on one particular night changed her life. All of us wear fashion, but few of us know how our fashion is made. There are issues in the fashion industry that negatively affect lives across the world, and Amanda finds it important to become conscious of our role in those issues. Find out in this interview why Amanda became a conscious consumer and why she is motivated to educate others about sustainable fashion!
You grew up in the Chicago area and studied at Hope College in Michigan. Introduce us to your career and what you do now for work.
I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and moved to Michigan when I attended Hope College. I was enrolled with the Education Department, on track to become a high school teacher, but… one day I was scrolling through my newsfeed and saw someone share the SoYouThinkYouWillDance campaign by Stop The Traffik. It made me realize that advertising could make the world a better place. I soon dropped my education degree and went for marketing and communications. Rather than teaching classrooms of students, I wanted to teach the public. I’m currently a full-time eCommerce Digital Marketing Specialist, and my free time is spent teaching people about fast fashion. My first educational tool is my blog; I’m hoping there will be more to come!
At some point in your life, you noticed a problem in fashion?
I’ll admit that I never did much “noticing” of the problem in fashion. It came and woke me up itself when I was least expecting it: a night I chose to watch The True Cost completely at random (people at work were always talking about Netflix documentaries so I figured I’d give the genre a shot). As the footage rolled through the Rana Plaza factory collapse, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself why has no one told me about this? How the hell did I not hear about this?! It showed me how disconnected we are from how our clothing is made – so much so that a factory collapse killing 1,000+ people didn’t make headlines long enough to grab my attention. That made me feel so, so sad. I decided to start boycotting fast fashion the next day.
What advice can you give to someone who is just noticing that some fashion is harmful to the planet and people?
Great question! It wasn’t easy. I started my journey back in November 2016 when sustainability wasn’t as mainstream, so I did a lot of research. Fortunately, you no longer need to be a sustainable fashion hobbyist to lead a conscious lifestyle. There are lots of resources nowadays! Here are a few places to start:
- Learn more about your favorite brands. Download the Good On You app to see how the brands you buy rank on sustainability, labor standards, and animal welfare. If your favorite brand has a low rating, use the app recommendations or category filters to find a substitute. This will come in handy later when you inevitably wander back into your favorite fast-fashion shop, dying to buy those $10 polyester tees, and feel overwhelmed with the need to research ethical alternatives. Having some options “on deck” makes being a conscious consumer much easier when you’re in purchase-mode.
- Take care of what you have. This means NOT overhauling your wardrobe and donating the leftovers (places like Goodwill are only able to use about 10% of the donations they receive). Wash your clothes less, wash them properly so they last longer and, if possible, use a wash bag that catches microfibers to prevent plastic pollution. Attempt mending rips and tears rather than discarding the garment. Visible mending is really trendy right now so it’s actually okay if you aren’t a tidy seamstress!
- Rely on experts. Follow 5-10 accounts that focus on the topic. It’s the easiest way to learn the issues and get tips for sustainable living! A few trailblazers I follow are Fashion Revolution, Good On You, Remake, Conscious Chatter Podcast, Eco Age, Elizabeth Cline, Aja Barber, Aditi Mayer.
- Have grace with yourself. The world was changed by the small, imperfect actions of many people – not the perfection of a few. Embrace progress. Remember that every dollar has an impact!
You decided to start a side project called Unzipping Fashion, where you post about the social impact of fashion. Why?
I believe that reimagining fashion can alleviate poverty, heal discrimination, and halt climate change – among other huge issues that face our society today. Once I realized this, I felt a responsibility to get the word out. I also know that being the only person protesting doesn’t get much attention. The real power comes when all of us work together; I hope my blog can empower and equip people to join in the conscious consumerism movement.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since looking more deeply into the subject of sustainable fashion?
Buzzwords like sustainable, eco-friendly, conscious and ethical are not regulated. They aren’t even agreed upon from person to person, let alone industry-wide! What is ethical to me may not be ethical to you. That said, never take these words at face value. For example:
Sustainability – This buzzword can refer to how a garment is made, the material it’s made with, the way it’s packaged, it’s biodegradability, and more. Many brands take advantage of this ambiguity. They tweak one part of a garment’s production to use less water or generate less waste and call it sustainable. While it’s a step in the right direction, baby steps don’t give brands a right to claim they’re fully sustainable. That’s greenwashing in my book.
Ethical or Conscious – It’s so difficult to agree on what ethics are that there’s an entire profession devoted to it! Is a brand “conscious” if it treats garment workers exceptionally well but uses leather products that are hard on the environment and animals? What about the other way around? It’s important to dig into the specifics of these terms. I’ve found a brand that claims it has “ethical factories,” but has no code of conduct on the website, no disclosure of factory locations, no audit trail, nothing. Information that substantiates a brand’s claims should be easy to find and understand. If it’s not, proceed with caution.
How do you remain sustainable today? Is it difficult?
I’ll say that I’m sustainable-ish. I definitely slip into complacency sometimes, so I watch documentaries to keep my eyes open; To zap myself out of living life through the lens of my own wants and needs. I also try to reframe the way I think about shopping. When I catch myself saying I need new pants for work, I correct myself and replace “need” with “want”. I want new pants. It’s been pretty freeing!
Overall, making conscious clothing decisions has become second nature to me. I enjoy thrifting (both in-person and online), shopping from ethical brands, and taking good care of the clothes I already have. To me, all of that stuff has become fun. If it wasn’t fun, I probably would’ve fallen off the wagon awhile ago. The next “fun” thing I’m diving into is replacing my regular disposables – like paper towels, plastic bags, and more – with cute, reusable options. Finding the new, cute things out there is fun! Plus, seeing how much money I’ll save in the long run gives me motivation when I need it.
What is your vision for Unzipping Fashion going forward?
Unzipping Fashion is a place to learn about how we can solve society’s largest problems through what we wear. I hope that everyone who interacts with Unzipping Fashion feels educated, equipped, and empowered to become a changemaker in their everyday life. As the community grows, I look forward to hosting social events, webinars, happy hours, and more. I definitely want to keep things fun. I’d love to build a community atmosphere where like-minded people can grow together.
Check out Amanda’s blog, Unzipping Fashion, or follow her on Instagram for sustainable fashion tips.
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