Joanne is a sustainability advocate with a degree in Fashion Design and Environmental Science. Growing up around the fast fashion industry in Los Angeles, she wanted her environment-loving values to align with her actions. Joanne is on a journey of changing her consumption and consumerism habits; acknowledging what they are, while minimizing her shopping, meat intake, and plastic usage.
What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability is doing my best so we can all continue to live on this Earth. I think of the recycling symbol and how everything comes back in full circle. The Earth has a special place in my heart and I don’t want to see her die –– it’s the only home we have.
What initially sparked your interest in sustainability?
When I was a student pursuing my B.S. in Environmental Science at UC Davis, the dining hall would put sustainability facts on the napkin holders that said, “this napkin was made from recycled tissues,” or “the dining hall composts 96% food waste.” The classes and my college environment [UC Davis] definitely nurtured my awareness.
Why did you decide to pursue studies in Sustainable Fashion?
My senior year of college, I asked myself the question most graduates ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” It was my dad who introduced me to the idea of going to fashion school. My family works in the fast fashion industry and I always wished the process was more sustainable. I want to bring back sustainable values and ideas to help make the [fashion] industry more eco-conscious.
Has studying fashion affected your view on what it means to be sustainable?
At Parsons, there is a zero waste class where students make full garments without cutting any fabric. Garment cutting creates at least 3% of textile waste. However, when you use the whole fabric or knit, you lose nothing and there is no waste. It made me think of other things too, like the materials we use for clothes. Most of our clothes are made with plastic materials [polyester/rayons], and when a piece of clothing gets thrown away, the plastic will live forever in landfills. There are better alternatives with organic cotton or organic wool.
There’s also the fact that people will buy something and then never wear it. It never gets to be loved and that’s so wasteful. When I buy clothes now, I think 3 years from now, would I still love it and wear it? If the answer is “no,” I don’t buy it.
I am also more aware of ethically-made clothes where workers are paid better wages and work in better, safer environments. It gives me better peace of mind when I know what I’m putting on my body.
“I want to bring back sustainable values and ideas to help make the [fashion] industry more eco-conscious.”
What’s one interesting thing you learned from working in the fashion industry?
I worked at a men’s clothing company where clothes are customized based on your personal body measurements, similar to bespoke. A thing about clothes is that when brands make them, oftentimes they have a specific body type in mind and yours may not match their target customer. But there are so many different body types in the world, some clothes are bought and are never worn because they don’t fit right. It’s such a waste. With custom-made clothes, they are guaranteed to fit better and are commonly made with better quality materials.
Why don’t you think there is a higher demand for consciously made clothing?
When my cousin’s sweater brand [@dreamersbydebut] launched an eco-friendly line, she put out a survey asking people about their demand to buy it. The results came back and most responses were along the lines of, “We would buy it if it was more affordable and easily accessible.” For people to care, you have to make it convenient for them in terms of cost and how fast they can get it. It’s unfortunate that sustainable brands are more expensive. How can someone afford a basic $50 organic t-shirt? It’s a constant struggle because most are not able to spend so much when there are other living expenses to think about.
Are there alternatives to fast fashion?
I follow three rules when it comes to shopping: (1) wear what I have (2) thrift shop (3) purchase from sustainable or B Corps certified brands. One thing this experience has taught me is to be more conscious about what I buy –– it took me a year before I bought my first pair of shoes from Allbird Shoes, but I love them and get so many compliments.
We’ve heard of Allbird Shoes! Do you follow other eco-conscious fashion companies?
I love Reformation, who gears towards accenting femininity by using recycled fabrics, but their clothes are so expensive. There’s also Everlane, who are completely transparent about where their clothes are made and the real cost of a t-shirt including fair labor. But the best solution is to go thrifting and maybe with some luck, secondhand Reformation or Everlane.
What’s your take on being a conscious consumer when it comes to fashion?
Greenwashing is very real and there are companies who are not completely truthful about their practices or the materials they use. Yet, they market themselves as eco-friendly. As a result, people are misinformed, which makes it harder to make better choices. Before you buy something, keep a curious mind: do your research, find the facts, keep asking questions, and get to know the process behind the brand’s practices. “Good on You” App or web extension is a helpful tool to use.
“I try to be conscious of my purchases…but sometimes you just have to live life, so if I really want cheese, I’ll indulge and eat cheese! Life’s too short to restrict happiness.”
How do you personally incorporate sustainability in your everyday life?
I try to bring lunch to work everyday or bring my metal container to eat the catered lunch. I try to find a shop at farmers’ markets to get local produce with less carbon footprint or use my “Life without Plastic” cloth bags and stick to the outskirts of the supermarkets, where there’s fresh produce. Once I bought bread at Whole Foods and used my reusable cloth bag. It saves money and it can be healthier! When I eat out, I’ll opt for vegetarian dishes. I love food so it’s a constant struggle [haha], but I try to do it for the Earth.
If all else fails, I’ll look for recyclable/cardboard containers –– so you know, the product’s life cycle doesn’t have to end there, in one use. I carry around my own reusable utensils and straws so I never have an excuse to use plastic ones.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of living sustainably?
Overall, I try to be conscious of my purchases. It’s not always easy though and sometimes I feel restricted. When I need work clothes, I’m not sure where to go. But you know, sometimes you just have to live life, so if I really want cheese, I’ll indulge and eat cheese! Life’s too short to restrict happiness.
“Trying to be more sustainable is something everybody can work on. It’s not a competition and one person can’t do it all. With all the destruction that is happening in the world, if I can do something to offset it, then that is worth it to me.”
What’s a misconception people have about sustainability?
The journey doesn’t have to be perfect. At the end of the day, doing something is better than doing nothing. I really believe little things add up and will make a difference.
What keeps you motivated to stay in the fight for a more sustainable world?
I think of the gorgeous places and national parks in the world. They are so beautiful and one of a kind –– I can’t bear to take that away. There is only one Earth and we need to protect this special place. I constantly have this image of landfills in my head. We produce and consume so much, one day we will suck up all the Earth’s resources. Trying to be more sustainable is something everybody can work on. It’s not a competition and one person can’t do it all. With all the destruction that is happening in the world, if I can do something to offset it, then that is worth it to me.
Any last words?
Composting is a lot easier than most people want to believe. The perk is that you’ll create less waste so there will be fewer trips to take out the trash. If you’re worried about the smell, leave your compost in the freezer. It’s also very important to meet and be surrounded by like-minded people. Sometimes you may feel alone, but you’re not. Also, don’t push your beliefs onto others.
Follow Joanne and her fashion adventures @joann.eco or joannedkim.com.
Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about.
*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.