“You can love clothes and also love the planet,” says Aja Barber. “But if you shop when you’re bored, instead of when you need something? Then we’ve gotta talk.”
Barber is the author of Consumed and part of a growing clique of Slow Fashion influencers, a group of editors, stylists, and designers who are taking back the joy of clothing from a cycle of waste and pollution. (Over 15 million tons of fabric end up in landfills each year, which is a real bummer for the planet… and for anyone rooting for skinny jeans to come back.)
Here’s what the London resident wants you to know about your favorite sweater, the power and limit of the red carpet, and why otters should not have their own emoji.
You’re a “slow fashion” expert. What does that mean?I educate people about sustainable and ethical shopping. And we get to the heart of style, because ultimately, I want my readership to really love their wardrobes, and also not feel the weird pressure of participating in the fast fashion machine.
What’s the hardest part about advocating for the planet on social media?
It’s hard to have a nuanced discussion online. People want things to be “just good” or “just bad,” and that’s rarely the case. The whole point of regenerative fashion, and living more sustainably, is that it’s a process. You try to do a little better than you did yesterday. There’s no such thing as perfection.
Can you love fashion and still believe in regenerative living?Of course! But you can’t shop for entertainment, or because you’ve had a bad day. It’s like eating because you’re bored instead of because you love the food, right? There’s a type of shopping that doesn’t bring us any lasting happiness, and it’s often connected with fast fashion, because what we see online is not what it’s going to look or feel like in real life. Then it becomes a waste. And I want your clothes to bring you joy, not trash!
How do you shop now?50% of what I buy is secondhand, but some of it is still “new.” That’s because companies over-produce certain things, like jeans. On any given day, you can go to eBay, type in your favorite brand and size, and you will likely find exactly what you want, with the tags on, and often at a much lower price. That’s how I buy fashion fashion, too, but very sparingly. If there’s something I really love from a thrift store, and it’s a fast fashion brand, that’s ok once in a while.
Do you ever buy new things?Sure! Like 50% of my clothes are from ethical brands that I know and trust.
Want to shout any of them out?I do and I don’t, because again, I don’t want anyone shopping for fun. Shop when you need something, learn where and how it’s made, and only buy it if you love it. That’s it!
What makes a piece of clothing a total dealbreaker for you?
If it doesn’t have a lifecycle. If it’s not built to last, or it’s a trend that’s going to look super-dated in a few months, it stays at the store. I don’t have to keep my clothes forever, but I need to know that they’ll be wearable, and wanted by someone else, when I’m done.
Some people say “slow fashion” is only for privileged people. Can you speak to that?Oh, this is such a good place for the nuance I mentioned! Because even when impoverished people do buy fast fashion pieces, they are not the ones keeping this system afloat. It’s the people spending $200 on 20 pieces of clothing every month, and then bragging about it… Look, I’m a plus-sized woman in a normal income bracket, and I can find things I love that I can afford, and that aren’t made by children and killing the planet. Do I have to do a little more research? Yes, we all do. But that’s the price we pay for being citizens of the world, you know? Everyone buys fast fashion. But not everyone needs to buy fast fashion.
Celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Bella Hadid wearing vintage designer fashion on the red carpet—good or bad for the planet?Oh, I think it’s great! I also love how some celebrities, like Kate Winslet, will rewear gowns multiple times. It’s a very cool thing to do, isn’t it? The issue is when celebrities wear vintage on a red carpet, and still take money from fast fashion brands.
They don’t deserve that vintage YSL jacket!
[Laughing] No, they do not.
Please tell us your favorite animal fact.
I learned this from a group of scientists at a book fair, believe it or not. Everyone thinks otters are so cute, but they are also extremely territorial, and will defend their homes by any means necessary. If you’re using their emoji as shorthand for “adorable,” you might be really surprised if you meet one!