Research shows consumers are increasingly taking the lead on ecological integrity and matters of socio-economic justice by shifting to a sustainable, more ethical lifestyle. Specifically, individuals are more conscious when it comes to fashion choices and are breaking loyalty with brands not engaged in responsible practices. Locally, social impact entrepreneurs are on a mission to bring awareness to the sustainable fashion movement and help others align their values with their personal style. They want to help you build an ethical wardrobe.
“Our personal values are just as differentiated as our clothing. We do ourselves, and frankly everyone, a disservice when we limit fashion to aesthetics,” says Grand Rapids-area impact entrepreneur Kara Hoholik.
Hoholik is the founder of Educated Style
, a platform designed to help others discover alignment between their values, personality, and style. She understands that making big lifestyle changes can be overwhelming and seeks to make the process simple, so more people make socially conscious purchasing decisions. “I help clients narrow down and focus on two or three personal values and starting with the clothes they already have; I help them build their sustainable wardrobe.” Aligning personal values, Hoholik explains, could mean a vegan, for example, will not shop sustainably sourced leather; while someone on a strict budget might only shop secondhand. “I believe the differences in our style and in our values should be celebrated and reflected in the clothes we wear. That is why I created Educated Style.”
So, what is the sustainable fashion movement?
Simply put, the sustainable fashion movement supports a culture of accountability where companies produce clothing, shoes, and accessories in a more environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manner — and where consumers exhibit more sustainable patterns of consumption and use.
A report published earlier this year indicated that efforts throughout the fashion industry to become more sustainable have increased, but at a slower rate compared to prior years. Pulse of the Fashion Industry
is published by Global Fashion Agenda, Boston Consulting Group, and Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Its 2019 update also revealed that consumer awareness is having a greater impact on purchasing decisions. Consumers are breaking loyalty with brands over a lack of responsible practices toward the environment and human rights, and rightfully so.
While there are broader implications for companies (e.g., not able to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goals), one desired outcome from the sustainable movement is to create a shift in individual attitudes and behavior. In this regard, Hoholik reflected on the progress she has witnessed locally over the last decade:
“When I first started, most people had no idea what I was talking about. They never thought about how their clothes were made, or by who; and if all their consumption and disposal of fast, cheap clothing was good for the environment.” Now, she says, “It is definitely becoming easier to talk about. People are beginning to realize that consumer consciousness should go beyond the kitchen.”
Through Educated Style, Hoholik offers workshops, curated shopping experiences, and personalized brand recommendations to those interested in a sustainable lifestyle. She is passionate about making ethical fashion more accessible and educating others on the issue.
In addition, for impact entrepreneurs like Hoholik, challenges that occur while working with a client to build an ethical wardrobe often include budget and accessibility.
“We are used to paying low prices for fast fashion — where garments are made using cheap, often harmful materials, by people paid poorly, if at all, and under dangerous working conditions. It is understandable that ethical brands give people sticker shock, especially when there is a lack of understanding about how the industry works.”
Key findings in the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 update concluded that companies are moving slower to implement sustainable practices. Meanwhile, consumers are increasingly factoring a company’s actions toward sustainability in their purchasing decisions. Industry experts view these findings as a missed value creation opportunity for brands; and critics view the findings as proof that sustainable fashion perhaps is just another buzzword.
However, the good news is that despite the national rhetoric, there is a local community that cares about our environment — and as Hoholik points out, “There are quite a few brands, retail shops, and makers right here in Grand Rapids that focus on sustainability.”
In an era of extreme messaging, starting a lifestyle change can be overwhelming. For individuals wanting to begin the journey toward living a more sustainable lifestyle, Hoholik recommends starting slow and small. “You do not need to throw out your whole closet and start over! In fact, that wouldn't be sustainable at all. Start with the clothes you already have, become aware of your personal style, understand the values that are most important to you, and make conscious choices going forward.”
A fun place to start is by taking the Ethical Style Quiz
offered by Educated Style.
“There is power in our purchase, in our voices, and in our presence. And so, ethical fashion gives us the opportunity to express more than just our personalities; we can wear our beliefs on our sleeves (quite literally) and create and motivate change.” –Kara Hoholik
Photos courtesy Educated Style.
Kendra McNeil is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about social issues around art, culture, and people. She is innovation news editor for Rapid Growth Media, founder and curator of We Are LIT Grand Rapids bookshop, moderator of Women Who Read Grand Rapids, and local ambassador for the New York-based literary platform, Well-Read Black Girl. She is an avid traveler and lover of books. You can contact Kendra at [email protected].