A couple of years ago, I knew a woman who always wore the most remarkable business dresses, pencil skirts, and blazers every day to the office. Crisp lines and gold zipper accents adorned nearly all of her garments that I admired. Every time I noticed a garment that stood out to me and mentioned to her how much I loved it, she always told me it was a Calvin Klein piece. What’s more, she would tell me she got them on a great sale at Macy’s, so I planned to go in and see what I could find for myself.

My pastime then was to spend my Saturdays perusing the mall, window-shopping for plenty of items I felt I couldn’t live without but didn’t actually need at all. Shoes, inexpensive jewelry, and purses, and clothes on the sales rack were my personal favorites. Many times I wandered into Macy’s to their business-wear and dresses departments to see what I could find on their sale racks. Nearly every time I discovered a Calvin Klein blazer, skirt, or dress that I couldn’t live without, but then again, my wallet definitely could, despite the slashed price. So every time I left discouraged at my lack of any remote financial freedom to afford the items I desperately, yet irrationally, wanted to come home with.

During all of these mall trips, I would always pop into my favorite on-a-budget shoe store where I could always count on finding more items I definitely didn’t actually need. I had shopped at Payless since I was a kid, since it was always really cheaply priced for my family. Lucky for me, it carries brands that have shoes in wide sizes, so not only could I find cheap shoes, but ones that actually fit, as those were hard to find.

One of my favorite designers is Christian Siriano. After his success as the youngest winner on Project Runway at the time, apprenticing in Paris and launching his fashion line, he made the decision to partner with Payless to produce a cheap accessories line. He was also one of the first designers I discovered when I was beginning my exploration of my love for fashion design, and he’s cemented his status as my favorite with his inclusivity of ranging body types on the runway in the fashion industry.

When he started selling at Payless, I fell in love with his designs, particularly his purses. I was completely obsessed with them. Every time he released a new collection, I would buy one until I worked up to owning four (and eventually a fifth one was gifted to me by a friend), and I still couldn’t get enough. Purses are apparently a very easy accessory for me to justify buying. When it comes to shoes and jewelry, I’m much more particular with my tastes, but I would buy purses all day long if I could.

One trip to Payless yielded heartbreak as I came across a Siriano purse that at that point I couldn't justify spending the $50 on. It was a simple, yet beautiful white, cream, and black shoulder bag with a gold embossed plate with Siriano’s emblem. The design hearkened me back to when I worked at Nordstrom and fell in love with a Kate Spade purse of the same exact color scheme that I couldn’t afford at the time either. Even at $50, I still couldn’t justify this Siriano purse. I made trips to come back and admire the purse I so desperately wanted, waiting for it to go on sale. But eventually I waited too long, missed any sales, and missed my chance at getting it for myself.

Now, just a few years later, my days of wandering the mall shopping for shoes, purses, and clothes are behind me. I have become increasingly aware of the detrimental impact of the fashion industry on our planet. Did you know it takes 720 gallons of water to produce enough pesticide-ridden cotton for just one t-shirt? Did you also know that same t-shirt bought at Target, Forever 21, or H&M is only meant to last a few washes before it starts to fall apart and end up in the ever-piling-up landfills in poorer countries? The more I learned, the more I realized that I can live just fine without having to buy into the newest fad of “fast fashion”.

When I made the decision to stop buying new clothes altogether to make a difference for my part, I started attending large clothing swaps in the area.

When I started my journey of sustainability, I never would have thought it would be as rewarding as it has been.

Some of my personal favorites were the ones put together by none other than Modify Style. At one particular clothing swap, as I was searching through a pile of clothes on the table labeled “Dresses,” and pulled at a cream colored dress only to discover it was half black as well. Intrigued, I looked it over but was skeptical if it would fit me properly. I walked over to a mirror to slip the dress over my t-shirt and leggings (Pro-tip: wear tight clothing at swaps, as dressing rooms aren’t readily available!). As I looked at the tag, I was delighted to discover it was a Calvin Klein dress! As I slipped it on, I couldn’t believe that it even fit me well, too. I was in love with black and cream combination, as I’d been obsessed with that color combination ever since I really wanted that Kate Spade purse years prior. I was so incredibly excited to wash it and wear it to work as soon as I could.

When I walked over to the shoes section, a pair of plum-colored suede shoes caught my eye. Again I was skeptical, since it’s rare that I find shoes that fit my wide feet, but my skepticism was unwarranted since they fit me moderately well. They were definitely worn down inside, but I figured that was an easy fix. When I got them home, I fixed them up inside with moleskin and heel inserts from the local, woman-owned company Heel the Sole, and they finally fit perfectly.

Eventually, I made one of my fairly routine trips to Goodwill to see what unique finds I might come across. During this trip, I decided on a whim to check out the purse section, since I don’t frequent that area all that often, and I was utterly shocked to find the exact Christian Siriano purse that I desperately wanted years ago at Payless. It had a couple scuffs, but otherwise it was in nearly perfect condition. What’s more, the price was a whopping $8.99! I was planning on spending $50 brand-new on it, and my patience paid off.

Little did I realize, the purse matched my Calvin Klein dress perfectly, so it’s my go-to accessory whenever I wear it. I also love pairing the suede plum shoes with the dress since it’s monochromatic, and the shoes add a pop of color. To accentuate my waist, I pair the dress with a gold metal belt that I bought years ago during my time working at Nordstrom. It is such a statement piece that complements the dress and my figure really well.

Elizabeth is wearing a Calvin Klein dress, paired with shoes found at Modify Style swap. Shoes inserts courtesy of Heel the Sole (www.heelthesole.com). Purse found at Goodwill, and belt bought at Nordstrom.

When I started my journey of sustainability, I never would have thought it would be as rewarding as it has been. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would give up buying new clothes and accessories yet still be able to wear name brands and look as posh and professional as that woman I so admired in Calvin Klein, all while making a difference on the environment, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Nevertheless, I’m so thankful that I’ve experienced these delightful rewards on this journey, and I’m excited to see what else I might discover in my thrifting adventures. Even more, I’m so happy to be able to share these experiences and delights with you.

Elizabeth Doran is a fashion student, freelancer, and entrepreneur obsessed with sharing her passion for fashion and sustainability in every area of her life.

Website: http://www.elizabethjanecouture.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elizabethjanecouture/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYn-dFXXYd908CYsRWpLWKg

As I rummaged through piles of clothes on tables with fellow swappers, wine in hand and my New Seasons reusable shopping bag over my arm full to the brim of amazing finds, I saw a glimpse of red on the one table labeled “Coats”. I pulled at the vibrant color to discover it was a heavy, almost woolen material, revealing black buttons and accents. I attempted to contain my excitement as I realized it was a beautiful winter coat. Too many times I’ve caught glimpses of clothing that have disappointed my expectations, whether it’s been the result of not being my size, a horrendous stain, or some other non-repairable or ill-fitting, heart-breaking reality. My first instinct was to check the inner tag to see if it was my size. Thank heavens, it was. Before trying it on, I carefully examined it to ensure that this beautiful garment had not befallen to any of my previous concerns. Satisfied with the results, I slung the heavy, crimson coat over my arm, trying desperately to contain my continually rising excitement. I walked at a wrenchingly too slow pace to one of the few mirrors set up around the venue to see if the coat fit me properly. As I slipped the heavy coat over my arms and onto my shoulders and carefully fastened the buttons and sash, I knew it was the one. This was the find of all finds. This cemented my already clear understanding of the joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction of thrifting. This was the way thrifting and swapping were telling me,

“Here. Here’s a delightful reward for all of your diligence. Thank you for believing in us.”
Elizabeth Doran, Modify Style Thrift Stylist in her Modify Style clothing swap find: A $180 Bebe jacket. Jessica Simpson dress found at Goodwill.

I grew up thrifting. However, it was not by choice. Food stamps and second-hand clothing were staples of my family for years. Clothes that had been donated by local non-profits, or by family and friends were the only reality I had, and simple things like shopping at Goodwill was fairly rare, while shopping at Ross was a sparse luxury. It wasn’t until I had my first job that I was able to save up my own money to buy my own clothes. I started small by shopping often at Ross, craving to build up my wardrobe with new items I had picked out myself, happy to be rid of second-hand and hand-me-down clothes. When I wanted shoes or purses, I was obsessed with Payless. I did this for years, with graduating to Marshalls and different stores at the mall for low-priced shoes, purses, dresses, jewelry, skirts, and anything I could justify purchasing. Over the years, as my love for fashion deepened, I put my mind to getting a job in that beautifully enticing industry and was delighted to be hired at Nordstrom. Feeling the need of having to look the part, I did another rehaul in my wardrobe. Sophistication and higher-end brands than what I was used to purchasing became habits that I was all too proud of. I would never wear second-hand clothes again.

Fast-forward to just two short years ago. Now as an aspiring fashion designer eager to learn and find my passion and calling, I heard about a fashion show open to designers of all skill levels. Despite never having taken a sewing class in my life, I had created a handful of pieces, one of which walked the runway during my internship with Portland Fashion Week four years prior. So, I was eager to have another chance to explore the creativity brimming within me and to discover this new world of which I was becoming increasingly passionate about.

This particular fashion show was hosted by none other than Modify Style (then known as Modified Style Portland), and it was unlike any that I had heard of. The most intriguing aspect to me was learning that all of the designers had to work with donated fabric, regardless of skill level. In my process of signing up for the event, I discovered the day all the designers were to arrive together to pick through all of the donated fabric, there was to be another event co-hosted alongside it called The Sustainable Fashion Forum. I didn’t think much of it, but was fascinated enough to stay to listen to the panel of speakers at the event after I gathered my desired fabric for my creation. I had never heard of sustainable fashion before and wasn’t sure what to expect.

After all of the designers settled on our inspiring finds of donated fabric, buzzing with excitement of the creative ways we were to interpret them, we all sat down to listen to the panel of speakers discussing what it means to be a sustainable fashion designer.

The concepts and facts presented were so unlike any that I had heard of. When Kelly Raynor of Modify Style stood up to speak about the detrimental environmental and sociological impacts of the fashion industry, my world was changed. My eyes were completely opened and I couldn’t unlearn what I had just learned. She gave examples of how many gallons of water it takes to produce just one cotton t-shirt or one pair of jeans, and the gallons of pesticides used to grow cotton. She spoke of how textiles like polyester, which is petroleum-based, will take years and years, if ever, to break down when thrown away and dumped in a landfill. How piles of clothes beyond comprehension litter places of the world like Haiti, where the Western side of the planet discard our unwanted, last season’s clothes.

As I wrapped my mind around how not only my shopping habits, but my everyday living habits have an impact that is so incredibly larger than myself, and prompted by Kelly’s presentation, which you can watch for yourself below, I decided to make little changes to my habits in every area of my life. It started with fashion, obviously. I began making much more conscious decisions on what I was buying. In the other areas of my life, I began reducing my use of plastic, single-use items such as grocery bags and straws. I was aware of the plastic that was and is littering our planet, and I felt better knowing that I was doing something to help, how little or not my impact might be.

As a couple months passed, I decided that my biggest impact would be to give up buying new clothes, shoes, and other fashion items completely. The question had been haunting me: Why would I need to buy anything new when there are already so many clothes on the planet already? Rips can be mended, pants can be hemmed, shoes can be repaired. Also, as a designer, anything that I couldn’t find second-hand, I could make myself, which prompted my intense passion to become a designer who specializes in reinventing and repurposing textiles, and it’s a decision I don’t regret for a second.

Excited for my new-found passion and change of lifestyle, I started to go to every event that Modify Style put together, including all of their clothing swaps. I attended other clothing swaps as well, each time excited for my finds and ecstatic for the low-cost of a door fee and a bag of my own old clothes to donate for the cause. Typically, I’d follow up a successful venture at a clothing swap with a trip to a second-hand store like Goodwill, Crossroads, Buffalo Exchange, or Red Light. I couldn’t get enough. Not only was I making choices that I felt made even a small difference on something bigger than myself, I was getting great deals on amazing finds and connecting with like-minded people.

After swearing that I would never again wear second-hand or hand-me-down clothes, I’m more excited than ever to enjoy a roundup at a clothing swap or a trip to a thrift store to find other people’s discarded items and make them my treasures. Knowing with every single item I have decided to reclaim, that I am making a difference, no matter how small.

I hope my story has inspired you to either start or continue your thrifting journey, or prompted questions about how you can make a difference from your daily habits on the environment. One person might not be enough to spark a change, but with enough like-minded people implementing small changes, we can change the world.

Happy thrifting!

Elizabeth Doran is a fashion student, freelancer, and entrepreneur obsessed with sharing her passion for fashion and sustainability in every area of her life.

Website: http://www.elizabethjanecouture.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elizabethjanecouture/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYn-dFXXYd908CYsRWpLWKg

Updated: Dec 28, 2018

CW: Sexual harassment and profanity

We shot all afternoon, sweating under the August sun. Now we are waiting for the blue hour – when the sun has slipped below the horizon but its light remains in the sky, turning it a deep royal blue. We have placed fountain-like fireworks in front of a corrugated steel wall and the headlights of my old white Accord illuminate the central space. The light is nearly perfect now as I test the exposure with my camera. Then I see a movement to my left.

“Uh, Kelly? There is a guy over there with his pants down.” “Oh no...” “We should probably get out of here, right?” “I guess. We almost had the shot though!”

The man is across the parking lot, about a block away. Kelly pauses at the passenger door and says to me:

“I have pepper spray, let me get it in my hand and you get in the driver's seat. Put the key in the ignition and if he comes toward us get ready to lock the doors and start the car.”

She teeters around the front of the car, an overgrown, unsteady princess in her thrifted outfit of hot-pink heels and fluffy, baby-pink dress. Then she leans forward. Her chest lifts and her knees bend as her arms flex, turning her hands into claws. She has transformed into an Amazon Warrior, ready to face her foe.

HEY! F**K YOU! GET OUT OF HERE YOU MOTHER-F**KER!

She bellows across the lot, with a volume that only comes with four years of classical voice training.

The man, no, he is worthy of that title, he is The Flasher, does not do what we had feared by approaching us. He quickly pulls up his pants from around his ankles and sprints off into the night.

And that friends, is how you deal with a flasher sustainably!