Growing together through social change
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back to the roots

Set Higher Standards for West Michigan Clothing Stores

By: Becky VandenBout

Photos by: Phrené Studio

Nowadays, so many super-women are required to do it all for their jobs, families, and communities. Understandably, finding well made, stylish, ethically produced clothes that work with their lifestyle and personal style is a real challenge.

At its roots, the fashion world has always stemmed from a balance between function and art. Throughout history, a societal or occupational garment need was turned into a beautiful work of art. Coco Chanel made history with her comfortable, yet elegant alternatives to the laborious dressing of that time. The majorly artistic side of fashion is exciting and luxurious, but most of us aren’t living lives that can incorporate $10,000 crystal slouchy boots or off-the-shoulders, cut-outs-everywhere looks. The highly functional side of the fashion industry can get a bit drab with staples like leggings, hoodies, flannel anything, and (let’s just admit it) long underwear. However, these are the pieces we live our real, unscripted, imperfect, messy lives in.

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While finding a balance between fashion and function is important, I encourage designers and consumers alike to include a third pie slice to the equation: ethics. There are “fast fashion” brands like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M who focus solely on the style with little regard to ethics or functionality. If you’ve ever noticed how a specific brand can fall apart after a few wears or wonder how they can afford to charge so little, it’s probably a “fast fashion” brand. Then there are designers whose ethical certifications can blow the roof off a UNICEF convention, but you would only really wear them to the party store when you have a serious nachos craving at 2 a.m. Finding a good balance of style, substance, and ethics is no easy feat and requires loads of patience and research. Luckily, there are companies handling all of that for you because honestly, ain’t nobody got time for that.

There are West Michigan based online retailers out there, like Joon + Co. (joonandco.com), who have rounded up the most stylish brands from across the globe with the most ethical practices and put them in one, easy-to-find place for you to shop. You’ll find certifications cited and explanations right on the product pages to explain what makes that piece ethical. Think Nordstrom or Shopbop with a permanent ethical filter. Features like free shipping, easy returns, educational posts, and “what to wear with it” are helpful, taking the hassle out of shopping ethically and risk out of trying a new brand. Rather than spending your time googling what GOTS certified organic cotton is or what exactly vegan leather is, you can read and be an advocate for the brands who provide you with information upfront. The brands that take the time to tell you the story behind the products. Not the ones that guilt you into buying, into follow industry trends, or capitalize on people's values. The brands worthy of your support are the ones that inform you simply because it’s the right thing to do.

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If you prefer brick and mortar shopping, head over to Woosah Outfitters (spreadingthewoosah.com) on Wealthy Street, Grand Rapids, MI. They sells casual, adventure-worthy, sustainably made clothing. In addition to outdoors-friendly accessories and gifts. Another option is Clothing Matters (clothingmatters.net) in the East Hills neighborhood. Humanity Boutique (find them on Facebook) donates 10% of their proceeds to end domestic violence, just moved into the downtown Grand Rapids JW Marriott. Also, keep an eye out for Joon + Co. pop-ups in the area. The fact that this list is so short is evidence that the West Michigan fashion community could and should be doing better.

As West Michigan shoppers, we need to demand more from the places we shop from. Think back to those 5 tops you bought from H&M that you only wear a few times a year or have thrown out because a seam ripped or a stain won’t come out. Clothing has become so cheaply made, and priced, that it feels almost disposable. What a terrible way to consume. Most synthetics (rayon, polyester, viscose, etc.) take over 200 years to decompose in a landfill. Between the toxic ingredients used in dyes, textile production, and finish work, the negligent practices for environmental and worker safety, and the sheer amount of clothing that is discarded, the fashion industry has become the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to the oil industry. Let that sink in a minute.

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Fashion is a unique industry in that it is art; art that is worn. Yes, every single person. Whether you realize it or not, the fashion industry touches each and every one of us, unless you are part of a nudist colony. It’s both a form of function and expression. Whether your go-to outfit is head-to-toe black, a thick sweater over leggings, or a killer blazer and pencil skirt, your style says a lot about you. Are you conveying the correct message about yourself? Are you part of the problem or the solution? Are your values conveyed through what you wear or are you representing something you don’t even know about?

When it comes down to it, this planet we live on, its people, and its animals are our responsibility. As humans and sole occupants of this beautiful planet, it’s our job to keep it safe and preserved for future generations. Our planet will soon have more plastic in its waters than fish, and is quickly accumulating piles of garbage as large as mountains that will take longer than 2 human lifetimes to even start decomposing. This is what we’ve made of an otherwise thrilling and creative industry, our beautiful planet, and our amazing brains. These are the devastating consequences to living in a society that values speed over thought and convenience over ethics.

I challenge you, as a consumer or as a business owner to change the way you consume. Ask yourself, “who made my clothes?” “what is this made of?” and “does my clothing align with my values?” Many people focus on eating organically, recycling plastic, and protecting their children from exposure to toxic chemicals, which are great way to care for our home. However, not as many people know what their clothing is made of, or how the lives of the garment workers was affected by their purchase. Yes, it costs a bit more to buy ethical clothing, but it’s no different than deciding to eat organically or buying an electric car. West Michigan retail is growing so fast that it is tough to keep up with all of of the new shops and businesses, so decide what’s important to you. Then, when you find a place you like to shop at, dig deep and ask them the important questions. If their answers don’t align with your values, move on and don’t settle for anything less than you deserve.

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