The Important Lessons Sustainability Has Taught Me

The Important Lessons Sustainability Has Taught Me

Do you remember when Macklemore’s song “Thrift Shop” came out? At the time, I was a freshman in college, working as a “picker” at a local Goodwill boutique. I would go to other Goodwill stores and pick their unique/high quality items to add them to the curated collection in our store. At that point, I had been thrifting for years and second hand clothing made up most of my closet. So I quickly noticed that song’s huge impact on fashion and thrifting. 

All of a sudden shoppers once loyal to brands such as Forever 21, H&M and Abercrombie were scavenging local Goodwills for high waisted jeans and grandpa sweaters. The stigma of wearing thrifted clothes was instantly erased and now it was trendier to rock a used t-shirt from Goodwill than a brand new one from a department store. 

I remember being really excited about this new hype around thrifting. I saw that it would lead to a greater appreciation for the unique qualities of used clothing. In fashion, most designers will imitate or draw inspiration from different eras. When thrifting, you have a chance to find clothing that are actually from the eras currently trending. Thrifted clothes also have their own cool little history, as each piece was often worn and enjoyed for years by someone else before you.

I was a Government major in college, and during my third year, I got the opportunity to be a delegate in my university’s Model United Nations program. In this program, I helped represent a non-governmental organization and spent my time investigating various climate and humanitarian issues. I spent a lot of time combing through research/academic journals and this was where I began to become aware of climate change and the ways in which humans are actively contributing to the problem. For the first time, I seriously thought about my role in the destruction of our planet through my consumerism. I began to reevaluate my lifestyle choices and over the next few years I continued to educate myself on the fashion industry’s ties to the climate crisis. As I learned more, I became even more adamant about eliminating fast fashion out of my shopping habits completely.

MY JOURNEY TOWARDS CREATING SUSTAINABLE LINGERIE 

Many of us are aware of the facts by now. But if you aren’t:

While those numbers are representative of the entire apparel industry, the lingerie sub-industry plays a significant role in these issues. Since lingerie revolves around seasonal trends, most inventory gets trashed once it goes out of style. Victoria’s Secret, for example, was under fire last year for dumping hundreds of undergarments in the trash after one of their outlet stores in Colorado closed.

While sustainably-made undergarments is an essential and growing piece of the pie, it makes up just 7 percent of the lingerie industry as a whole

In an attempt to be more environmentally and ethically conscious, some lingerie brands have begun manufacturing their products using recycled or sustainably-produced material. A popular recycled material is polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) aka polyester, which is made from recycled plastic. In 2017, Textile Exchange created the 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge, which urged apparel companies to increase their use of recycled polyester by 25 percent by 2020, in an effort for brands to reduce their carbon footprint.

But there are a couple problems with recycled polyester.
- It still releases harmful microplastics into the environment when washed, worn, and eventually tossed.
- It is often produced using other materials like cotton, which makes it hard to separate out and recycle again in the future. 

Sustainably-produced material, such as textiles made from bamboo, is another popular option, because it requires zero fertilizers and is self-regenerative. Bamboo also uses much less water to produce than a material like cotton, which requires 2,700 liters of water to make just one t-shirt. However, in order for bamboo to be turned into material, it often must undergo what is called the “viscose rayon method.” This method combines two toxic chemicals, sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, with bamboo chips to produce the fabric. This process ends up being not so eco friendly after all.

While there are a number of sustainable practices that are being used to achieve a more ethical industry, I believe that making lingerie from thrifted fabrics directly instead of recycled material is a more interesting route. My approach to creating clothing eliminates the need for the material to be broken down or reproduced in any way. More importantly, I am able to maintain the original quality, color, pattern, and integrity of the material. Thousands of perfectly good pieces of fabric in the form of unbought thrift clothes from Goodwill end up in textile recycling centers every year to be processed into material for filling furniture and building insulation. I like the idea of being able to create and give life to some of these materials before they get to that point. 

So I set out to do something different with MORF.

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I started this journey of lingerie-making because I was pretty unimpressed with what my options were while shopping for myself online. Don’t get me wrong, over the years I have splurged and bought the really expensive, high quality lingerie and I’ve also gone the cheaper, fast fashion route. But even after buying from many different sources, I was still bothered by the fact that I was purchasing mass produced items. 

A large part of feeling sexy is feeling unique. When wearing mass produced lingerie, who knows how many people had the same set as me? Most of the lingerie out there didn’t seem unique, which ruins the most important part of wearing lingerie: feeling beautiful, sexy and like you

I was unsatisfied with what was produced and how it was produced. 

So, during my thrift shopping trips I began picking out clothing with certain patterns/material that I felt would make cool lingerie. 

I made my first lingerie set for myself out of material I repurposed from a women’s top. I was drawn to the top’s really cool snakeskin pattern and I was able to make a bra, thong, and garter belt out of that material. It was liberating to know that I created something in an eco-friendly way while also knowing that no one else would have this exact lingerie. It was an empowering experience and I wanted to share that same feeling (in the form of lingerie) for others. 

WHAT SUSTAINABILITY LOOKS LIKE FOR ME PERSONALLY

Shot of my workspace | April 2021

Shot of my workspace | April 2021

At the time of launching MORF in March 2021, I went into turbo mode. In the hours I was not working at my full-time job, I was sketching out patterns for ideas to make out of material I had thrifted, sewing, scrapping and starting completely over if it didn’t come out as I had imagined, just to get it right. I dedicated all of my free time to developing MORF into a sustainable and unique brand that reflected my vision for eco-conscious lingerie.

Every month I repeated this same process--sourced material, conceptualized style ideas, sewed and made a whole new set of pieces to drop on the first of every month. I always start by going thrift shopping just as I did in the beginning of my journey, looking at clothing and seeing what ideas come to mind to create from it. A significant part of my time goes to making sewing patterns for each piece, as I have to figure out a way to draft on paper a guide for myself to create the fit and style that exists in my head. My skillset and process is entirely self-taught and I continue to pick-up new ideas while studying  lingerie patternmaking and sewing techniques.

The overall process of running MORF has also required me to come out of my comfort zone and learn things beyond just sewing. Taking pictures, editing, creating content, drafting posts for social media, and listing each piece on my website are essential aspects to my business. I quickly realized the importance of social media/content creation, and although time consuming, I was surprised at how much I enjoy the creative outlet and freedom that graphic design and editing gives me.

After a couple months of this though, I was quickly realizing just how mentally and physically demanding it was. 

I noticed that I was hitting creative blocks more often and for longer periods of time. I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work that constantly needed to be done, and I had very little time in between to breathe and collect my thoughts in order to start again the next month. It was also becoming increasingly hard to balance a full time job and personal life between all of this. My mental health was being negatively impacted. As I felt this mental drain, I also started to realize that there was no way I could keep up with the amount of ideas and pieces I hoped to create. 

The way I was going about this was not sustainable. 

So I started thinking about what was more realistic for me, my creative process and my mental health. A good friend suggested I create drops for each season--every couple of months--rather than every single month. Having more time to create means I will be able to make more pieces, more sizes, more variety. It will also give me more ability to work on other exciting ideas I have for MORF beyond just my lingerie pieces. 

Through this process of creating my brand and business, I learned what is truly important to me. With such limited time, I had to prioritize what really mattered because I only had time for the essentials of my life. I had to get real with myself about what I would like to do with MORF, and the adjustments I would need to make in my personal life to create balance for myself. I realized that I have always had so much passion for sustainability in the sense of environmentalism, yet I completely ignored the reality of what sustainability meant for me

Making that parallel between the two was essential. I gave myself a break recently, slowed down, and let my intuition guide me towards what is best for me. Sometimes we may forget just how important that is. It’s so easy to get caught up in being busy, grinding and foregoing the things we used to have the luxury of doing in the pursuit of achieving our dreams. But often, the very thing you may need to be happier and successful in pursuing what you want in life is slowing down and asking yourself what you actually need.

Take care, I love and appreciate you all, and cannot wait to share what I have been working on (:

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