Balancing Sustainability with Shopping

While looking for things to do in Chicago, inevitably one suggestion comes up. Even though “The Bean” and Chicago Deep Dish Pizza are popular ideas, what actually comes to mind is the endless amounts of suggestions for shopping. It seems every website has a category for shopping and where you can get a designer label. Since my recent shopping and fashion habits are now influenced by ethical and sustainable principles, does this mean I should reject all tourist shopping and luxury fashion? Is there a way to balance my efforts to live sustainably with a few small pleasures or should I look past shopping destinations like Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier? Making my way through the crowds of people below the skyscrapers and towering buildings of glossy windows on Michigan Avenue with multiple shopping bags and families looking through tourist gear at Navy Pier, I wonder how terrible would it be to pick up a small souvenir?  After all, I’m making a career change on an unpaid internship, which makes affording more expensive purchases from sustainable fashion shops I’ve visited a little more difficult.  Would it hurt to pick up a little trinket if it interests me?

When it comes to my involvement in sustainable and ethical fashion, I’ve often wondered if there is a way to find some balance. In a recent post from Wild Tussah, “Q & A-5 Tips for a Sustainable Lifestyle,” a statement from Carlotta Cataldi, the founder of Slow Fashion Forward gave me an important reminder about supporting sustainable fashion: “Live with balance: do not sacrifice absolutely everything in the name of sustainability to avoid burn-out. Find the perfect equilibrium in your life between responsibility and non-systematic guilty pleasures.” It sounds simple, but in my mind I wondered, “Is this possible?” Here’s a few thing to keep in mind when it comes to sustainable living and fashion.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier in Chicago.

  • Sustainable fashion should not be about guilt. You should not feel obligated to purchase because you feel bad about past or current decisions. Shop with sustainability in mind because less stuff means less clutter and feeling overwhelmed. Shop for eco-friendly products because they benefit you and the environment.
  • Buying tons of organic or recycled clothing isn’t the only answer. Remembering to shop second-hand or exchanging clothes with friends and family to give clothes another life is just as important as buying new. Buying a whole new wardrobe of ethical and sustainable fashion isn’t the answer either since over-consumption of any kind means creating more waste and clothing shoved in the back of a closet. Wearing what you have and helping it last is key to living sustainably, so don’t think you have to throw out your entire wardrobe.
  • Using current collections from fashion companies to trigger inspiration isn’t a bad thing. From here you can shop for the sustainable and ethical option or make it yourself. Knowing I’ve taken the time to find an option that is better for the environment and/or empowers artisans around the world makes me have a stronger relationship with the clothes I’m wearing.
  • If you purchase from a company that mass-produces, make it a purchase that has longevity. Cost Per Wear and purchasing items that have meaning will make you realize just how important is to find an option that will last. I keep this in mind when I’m traveling and finding a “You Are Here” Starbucks mug for my sister. I take a careful look at the design and determine if it’s one that’s appealing and worth keeping. Knowing my sister’s taste goes a long way since I know she won’t give the mug away a few months later.

    Buildings (L)

    Stores in Magnificent Mile.

Although I did not purchase a souvenir that day, it wasn’t out of guilt. It was just that I didn’t need or want one. Looking at the countless stores packed with Chicago t-shirts and stores lined along the Michigan Avenue sidewalks, a Cartier store caught my eye. I was taken back to my visit at the Denver Art Museum that showcased the artistry and craftsmanship behind Cartier’s pieces and I began to think more on companies that value workers and the environment.  Eileen Fisher currently states they’ll be a 100% sustainable brand in the next several years. Maybe I’m naïve to think that these businesses will change current practices in fashion, but one day I believe I’ll see Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier with stores that support sustainable and ethical practices. One day I believe we won’t have to sacrifice or balance anything, sustainability and ethics will be a part of our everyday fashion choices.

What do you think about balancing a sustainable lifestyle with occasional guilty pleasures?  What helps you balance guilty pleasures with sustainability?

This post is a part of Friday Favorites hosted by Lizzie in Lace.

Lizzie in Lace


  1. Agy

    This reminds me of the green building certification (I think it’s called LEED in the US) in Singapore. You get energy efficient buildings but then the problem is will the occupants still set their a/c to freezing and forget to switch off the lights. Same with clothes – you might buy organic but then are you still buying and throwing a lot of clothes? Great post!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Thanks Agy! You make a great point about buying organic or eco-friendly clothing. It’s great you have it, but if you have to toss out your entire wardrobe or you don’t wear the item, it misses the point of sustainability. I’m intrigued to learn about LEED and may feature in a future post! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. The Style Contour

    Such a great post! I’ve never been to Chicago before 🙂

    I hope you have a wonderful day and weekend!



  3. Kathy

    Great post! I agree we need to really think before we purchase. It can be difficult at times. Thanks for reminding us.


    • brooklyntvlasich

      Thanks Kathy! Thinking a little more on what I purchase gives me a little more connection and meaning to my clothing.

  4. Emily Chavous

    Great tips! I’d say a good 70% of my wardrobe used to be second-hand, but I’ve gotten away from that in recent years. Nice inspiration to hit up the thrift/vintage shops around SF – I’m sure there are treasures just waiting to be snatched up (can’t believe I haven’t been thrifting since I moved here).

    Happy to find your blog!
    Emily |

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Thanks Emily! I’m glad you enjoyed my post and blog! I’m sure SF has lots of vintage and ethical shopping available. Let me know what you find!

  5. travelalphas

    These are some great tips to shop sustainably! Overall, how did you like Chicago? I haven’t been yet but will hopefully visit there soon!
    – Maddy @

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Thanks Maddy! This is my first time in Chicago since I was a little kid, so it’s great to come back and experience it as an adult. I’m finding there’s lots to do and see around the city. I can’t wait to go on a food tour!

  6. Danielle

    I really love these tips! I wish people would be doing more of these for sure! Great read! Thanks!


    • brooklyntvlasich

      Danielle, I’m glad you enjoyed my post and I could inspire you!

  7. agnesstramp

    To be honest, I hate shopping! All I buy during my travels is food and a couple of postcards and small gifts for my friends and family :).

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I feel the same way when traveling. I hate haggling with salespeople for souvenirs and just prefer postcards. They’re the best to share memories!

  8. Doreen's Style Diary

    This is a fantastic article. These are great tips that I’ll consider when I’m shopping. Sustainability is near and dear to my heart. But I love shopping and must admit I haven’t been shopping sustainably. Although I’ve been pretty good at buying things I know I’ll wear for awhile and donating or recycling clothes I no longer wear.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Every action you take towards sustainability helps. No one is perfect and you shouldn’t feel guilty when you practice sustainability. Shopping with sustainability takes some extra planning, but I hope I’ve inspired you to take steps in that direction! Donating and recycling are great steps you’ve already started with!

  9. styletomes

    Excellent post! I’ve also been struggling with how to balance luxury and eco-friendly/ethical fashion. High-end brands have really made huge strides in getting eco-friendly and ethical products out there lately. The more I read about the brands, the more I realize that this is a real movement that’s extremely important to the younger generation.

    It used to be so hard finding faux leather or great faux fur items, and then Stella McCartney appeared and started urging other young (and old) designers to revamp their practices. Lo and behold, Hugo Boss is the latest to join the ranks of faux furs, amongst Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, EDUN, etc. All these things help with the sustainability of our planet.

    A lot of people also aren’t too thrilled about the high price tags of higher end designer goods- but that’s a reality I now happily accept. It forces me to really scrutinize what I’m purchasing and how much I shop. (Fast-fashion brands are off limits for me.) Anything else, I’m happy to find in a consignment store or a thrift shop. My closet honestly looks better than ever!

    Style Tomes
    Style Tomes on Instagram

    • brooklyntvlasich

      That’s fantastic that you feel better about your clothing and style since you’ve brought sustainability into the mix! I definitely feel more in touch with my wardrobe and style and enjoy knowing the environment and people were thought about it my purchases. I’m also glad to see more designers taking these issues into account and I hope it continues.

  10. Sue

    I love shopping in second hand stores. Definitely I believe in the recycle and reuse part of shopping. There is an added bonus of the treasure hunt of theft store or second hand shopping. I love that.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I love second-hand stores too! I think it is great to give something a new life and not throw it out.

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