Ana Wang Headshot

My 12 Sustainable Fashion Commandments

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As a designer and entrepreneur, it is in my job description to make clothes that sell. I have a business that needs to make money to survive. But as a person, I think about things bigger than just making money.

I had inadvertently branded myself as an eco-designer earlier in the year without even realizing it, just because I practice eco standards in my company. Though I never used that term to describe my business, soon enough, I was being referred to as that. And I let it be that way because people seemed to identify with it easily: it became a selling point. Great, I thought -- after all, I needed to sell clothes.

When asked what kind of clothes I designed, a friend answered her own question as quickly as she asked: "Oh yeah, eco fashion" -- which didn't paint a picture at all, instead squarely putting me in a box that came to define me. And to be honest, it made me uncomfortable because I cared much more about design itself than I did about being "eco."

I've recently made a conscious decision to let go of that term because I believe that everybody and every company should be progressive in the way they design, produce, and market to reduce ecological impact and increase social responsibility. Those things are not separate from good design and business -- they are good design and business, and increasingly this will become more obvious. It's my hope that eventually there will be no such thing as an "eco designer," because society as a whole will have moved forward enough to a point where environmental consciousness is the norm, and ignorance to it is the anomaly.

It is easy to make great-looking clothes now, even with all the objectivities of beauty. My goal is to look first at that, and then also at making great clothes, period. I let go of what many seemed to describe as my biggest selling point, because the way we do business and design at this point in time needs to expand, rather than box in.

But it doesn't stop there, of course -- expanding the reach of sustainability and conscious business means we have to consider how we buy clothes, how we wear them, how we think about them.

Through all my logic and rationale, the heart of fashion truly is emotive, an experience driven by heart more than mind. Rationale is enough for some people, but most people are stuck in habits that are hard to change because that rationale is not enough. People need to be inspired, not told.

And so after a lot of thought, I decided that they key to true sustainability, to progressive values in fashion, is to encourage people to fall in love with their clothes. Love, after all, is a primary emotion -- the primary emotion. It's expansive, it inspires, and it drives change.

If we start with love, we can trump our false needs, our insecurities, our fears -- the things that I believe are truly at the heart of mindless consumption. Buying organic cotton isn't the first step, it isn't even the right step if we don't have love. Love is the first step.

I wrote these 12 rules at the start of 2012 as a list of style resolutions, and looking back, there seems to be a lot of hidden wisdom in here not just on how to love your wardrobe, but on the true path to sustainability. Most of them aren't the expected rules of sustainable fashion -- and that's exactly the point.

1. Start with love.

I know, I know -- as someone trying to potentially sell my stuff to potentially you, this might seem counter-productive, but I have to say it anyway. Try this: buy less stuff, but every single thing you buy, have it be amazing. Have it be useful or beautiful, or both. Have it fit. When everything just works, you'll find you won't even want more. This was my style mantra at the beginning of 2012: Buy more of what I love, and less of what I just like. Today, it's what I hold true for life.

2. Shop less.

Shopping has become an activity much like watching television -- for some of us, we are more than guilty of passing off the acquisition of stuff as a pastime or a hobby. I resolve this year to shop because I actually desire a piece of clothing or need something, rather than because I have nothing better to do. Instead, spend time on things that matter to you. And if you've been in the trenches of mindless consumerism for too long, take a step back and try to evaluate what you want to be doing with these pockets of free time instead. On my list? Creative writing, nature walks, and reading.

3. Appreciate independent design.

Go international (broaden your horizons) or go local (support your neighbours and lessen environmental impact). Whatever floats your sartorial boat. Just be on the lookout for independent designers, because they do some amazing stuff, but you just might have to dig a little more to find them. Think of them as treasures to unearth.

4. Practice awareness.

Clothing is something that all of us wear ('cept for you nudists, you) so I always find it surprising how little most of us know about our clothes. In 2011, I started a quest to learn more about what I was putting in my body (food) and that was the greater motivation for me to eat better than all the times I just simply told myself "I want to eat healthier."

Same with fashion and the social and environmental issues surrounding it. If you ignore the act of celebrating your abilities of awareness, you might never get around to making more conscious decisions for the earth from a place that you actually have 100 per cent power of: what you put on your body.

To start: Social Alternations and Slow Fashioned. Ecouterre always has fun stories, and Fashioning Change is a start-up wherein you can see (and buy) ethically produced alternatives to popular clothing brands.

There's a whole world out there. This is one area that I am constantly learning more about every day. I can only hope that by this time next year, my awareness of the industry and its relation to the world will broaden and deepen. But hope isn't enough. Practice awareness. Seek to learn. And open yourself up to become the person you want to be, live the life you want to live, and wear the clothes that support your values.

5. Try jeggings.

This is not a joke. My sister bought her first pair of "jeggings" not too long ago, and it seems that the industry has caught on. No more elastic waistbands. Actual pockets instead of fake ones. Heavier duty fabric that actually smooths out bumps as oppose to create more. Absolute comfort.

Once you get over the ick factor that jeggings had two years ago when they first came out, you can see them as they really are now: just like jeans, except they really fit do like a glove. If only they didn't have such a laughable name -- like the Brangelina of clothing.

So liberate yourself to try new things. As much as I love timeless design, I can definitely appreciate how technology and engineering and material advances make the clothes we love and wear even better through the years. Sustainable design is more timeless than trendy, but it's also relevant. Society changes, technology improves how we make things, how we buy things. Fashion can be relevant and timeless.

(Note: Again, this was written at the beginning of 2012. Jeggings aren't so new anymore.)

6. Clear out your closet.

I did this a few months ago, and in fact, it became a crucial realization for me personally and creatively as a designer. Why do it? You'll start to notice and become aware of irrational attachment, of a tendency to buy too much of one thing, of just how often you don't wear a piece (or how often you do). It will tell you so much about your sense of style. I dare you to be ruthless.

Bonus: Clearing mental space and waking up only seeing stuff you want to wear in your closet.

7. Look for utility or look for indulgence. Accept nothing in between.

Again, I am a big proponent of actually loving the clothes you wear. So love it because it's super practical and useful and you could really see yourself wearing it all the time, or love it just because it captures you. My new rule is that if a piece of clothing doesn't fulfill either of these, then it's a definite no-go. And my #1 rule of telling if I'm going to love what I buy after the fact? If a piece fulfils both of these criteria. Don't settle for less.

8. Let go or take action.

Get your ill-fitting clothes tailored. Or don't, and learn to let go. Unless it's an heirloom, there is no reason to be attached to something you can't even wear.

9. Wear more dresses.

Because they're fun to wear. And you never have to worry about coordinating. What could be more easy? Try a dress every day for a month, or the same dress for an entire year. If you're not into dresses, wear whatever makes you happiest. Just do it.

10. Buy shoes that don't kill your feet.

Because you will regret it later. Your feet are what you walk with, what defines your mobility and freedom. If there's one item I'd spend on luxury, it would be great shoes. In fact, I'm always on the hunt for comfortable actually-pretty shoes that don't look like my mom's shoes (sorry, mom!).

11. Forget what you should wear. Wear what you want to wear.

Because it feels good. And it expands your possibilities. Because the more you define your material choices from the inside out rather than the outside in, the more authentic your style will be as a true expression of yourself. Because Lady Gaga does it to the extreme, and people love her even more for it. Just don't break any workplace dress-codes, and you're good to go.

12. Indulge in luxury.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget that fashion should feel good and enable us to live better, not feel worse about ourselves. Play with fashion and let it be pleasurable instead of constricting. Indulge. Spend a little more on that one item you really want instead of justifying it on three pieces that you don't really need.

True luxury is clothing that you are unequivocally in love with, that makes you feel good to wear, that lasts longer, is made better. Start building the wardrobe of your dreams this year. Extra credit if your version of luxury is good to yourself and to the world. If that's not possible, don't sweat it.

Love will take you -- and sustainability -- further than you think.