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Alena Tran talks slow living and shopping

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Have you ever really inspected the manufacturing tags in your clothing? How many of them say "Made in Canada" or "Made in the USA"? If you're like most shoppers, not a lot of them do. We aren't trying to shame you, especially since PARKSHOP carries brands that manufacture their products around the world, from China to Mexico, but not many of us focus on the people or process behind our clothing.

Not all oversea clothing production translates to sweatshop labour. Camp Brand Goods works with WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) to ensure the factories they partner with are humane, ethical, lawful, and safe. Susana Campos' family has been creating remarkable and ethical footwear in Mexico for over 50 years. Inspired by their work, Campos founded a young Canadian shoe company called Ay Amor. However, the majority of mass-produced clothing is done so unethically, inhumanely, and unsafely. People, including children, are forced to work 12+ hour days with little to no time off in order to complete ridiculously large orders from household brands like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara. Overtime and sick days are non-existent. 

With the high trend turnover and the unbeatable sales from fast fashion powerhouses, it is hard to compete in an oversaturated market. Locally owned shops, like PARKSHOP, can order less than 1% of the volume of stock that a big box store can. Because PARKSHOP's inventory is lower and overhead is higher, prices cannot be drastically slashed for a sale every other month. Ethically made and locally sourced fashion is always going to be more expensive, but the PARKSHOP team definitely thinks it is worth it. Another person who does too is Alena Tran.

Alena is an emerging blogger and social media influencer who focuses on slow living and slow fashion. It can be hard to compete in an industry centred around fast fashion and generating content as quickly as possible, but Alena has a strong message and has cultivated a following with similar beliefs. We wanted to learn more about slow living and slow fashion from Alena's perspective. 

Can you tell us a little about who you are & three things you love?

I grew up here in the Canadian prairies, an artistic spirit always dabbling in something creative – be it art, photography, poetry, music. I'm only in my early twenties, so I don't have a remarkable life's saga to pass along just yet: I went to a Christian university for three years, met the love of my life, graduated, got married, and have been working part-time as a librarian ever since. It's a simple story, but it's one I cherish. I adore even the most quotidian aspects of our life.

I recently attended a talk where the speaker asked us to write down all the things we love on a small notecard. My friend turned towards me and said, "your card's gonna be full." She was right, of course; it's difficult for me to narrow down all of the many things that captivate me. But three of the items that were on my card included: coffee shops, ethical fashion, and blogging. Blogging about ethical fashion in a coffee shop would be a pretty ideal afternoon!

A large part of your social media presence focuses on sustainable and ethical fashion, and you have previously said that you were inspired by The True Cost. What were your shopping habits like before watching this documentary and was transitioning away from fast fashion a difficult journey for you?

Before watching the documentary, I had a few favourite fast fashion brands that I shopped at pretty exclusively. I was never particularly great at style, to be honest, so I had a strategy: pick a couple shops that had an aesthetic I liked, and only buy neutral clothes from there so that I didn't have to think very hard about composing outfits. I was starting to get interested in the idea of a capsule wardrobe, though, so the idea of shopping for fewer but better clothes was already on my radar.

Now that those brands are no longer an option for me, I've had to get a little more creative in how and where I buy -- and in the process, I've surprised myself with how much I actually enjoy putting together new, bolder looks that I would never have tried before.

I suppose it would be more interesting to say that it was an arduous transition, but it wasn't. The moment the documentary ended, I knew with absolute certainty that I could never shop the same way again. Of course, I continued to do my own research afterwards to confirm what I was learning in the film but seeing the names and faces of the people sewing my clothes impacted me in a way that facts and statistics can't. I see it this way: I'm trading my shopping freedom for the much more valuable freedom of another human being. How could I not?

Do you ever miss the ease of shopping fast fashion or miss having a larger wardrobe? 

If you take a look at my recent blog post "Capsule Wardrobes: An Antithesis," you'll learn that I'm not one for following 'steps' or 'plans.' Or anything requiring a lot of practical reasoning, really. Just an unfortunate kink in my personality. So although I am a strong supporter of the ideal behind capsule wardrobes, I've never actually counted all of my garments; I'm not a numbers person. However, I do strive to curate a small wardrobe of essentials with well-made pieces that I love. It's about a mindset of contentment and thoughtfulness more than surface-level rules. But once I learned about the benefits of capsule wardrobes and slow fashion, I got rid of a lot of clothing that I wasn't wearing anymore and simply didn't replace them. That helped pare down my wardrobe significantly.

There are days when I do miss the ease of waltzing into the mall and emerging with exactly what I was looking for. But frankly, I struggle to even walk into those stores anymore, because I see the faces and the hands behind the clothes in my mind's eye. The 'hardship' of not being able to shop wherever I want doesn't really compare to theirs in any meaningful way.

Do you have certain criteria for the clothing you purchase?

Simply put, ethically made clothing. Of course, that means different things depending on who you ask, and what is 'ethical' or 'unethical' is a much more complex topic than I ever could have imagined. I still have so much to learn.

For me personally, the conditions of the human employees putting the garments together are the most important factor in whether or not I will support a brand. Environmental impact is also important to me, but the immediate needs of the workers are my priority. I want to know if they're being paid a living wage, if their workplace is safe, if the brand has a strong relationship with the factories and visits the factories in person, etc.

Unfortunately, at this point, it's very difficult to ensure 100% ethical practices through the entire supply chain, even for the brands doing their best to ensure responsible production. Brands that put together their garments responsibly may have -- knowingly or unknowingly -- sourced their fabric from an unethical manufacturer. Sometimes, it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. Buying from a brand like that is still better than buying from a fast fashion retailer; it's a start.

As we begin to shift our buying power towards brands that are making good choices in how they manufacture, the industry will notice and shift with it; ideally, more knowledge and control of the supply chain will follow. The growing awareness of fast fashion issues and the inception of more and more conscious brands are very encouraging trends.

What is your best vintage find and your ideal outfit?

I'm glad you asked! My very favourite vintage find is a wool camel-coloured trench coat from the 70s. I had a camel coat on my fall wardrobe wish list but was waiting to find one-second hand. I happened to stumble upon this vintage one at the Open House shop in Victoria and fell in love. If temperatures aren't below freezing, I'm wearing it.

My ideal outfit definitely includes that coat. I love the combination of camel and black, so I'd be wearing all black underneath – a black cashmere sweater I thrifted, my USA-made Just Black denim jeans, and a pair of ethical Nisolo patent leather smoking loafers. Perfection! (That outfit was all over my Instagram last fall).

 

Which came first for you, slow-living or slow-fashion? How have you/your life changed since practising these concepts?

Slow living was actually a part of my life long before I made the switch to slow fashion. I first discovered the term a couple years ago, through one of my favourite bloggers at the time. I can't say that it caused a dramatic shift in my life, though, because slow living seems to be written into my genetic code. I think I've been practising it in sundry ways since I was a child; I'm a bit of a daydreamer and tend to notice all the magic in the mundane. I've always believed in engaging with my surroundings, being present and taking the time to do things well. One of my favourite things to do for my birthday as a child was to spend the afternoon looking for rare birds at the local bird sanctuary. Even today, it's hard to get me excited about grand adventures -- take me to the local bubble tea shop and a walk around town instead, and I'll be perfectly content. It also helps that every fibre of my being rebelled against having a full schedule. I try to be intentional in taking time to be slow and aimless; read poetry, paint with my watercolours, craft an earl grey latte, even just sit and stare at the way the afternoon sun slants along my wall. It's my own little way of rebelling against modern living's rushed pace.

What are your top three favourite Canadian brands?

I'm always discovering new favourites, but my top picks of the moment would have to be Kotn (ethical basics), Poppy Barley (ethical shoes), and Bare Knitwear (ethical sweaters and cardigans). I don't own anything yet from the latter two, but they're at the top of my wishlist!

What is your favourite piece from PARKSHOP?

It would probably be tied between DUVAL and Berg + Betts! I have a gorgeous cross-body bag from DUVAL and a round watch in camel from Berg + Betts, and I wear both pieces all the time because they go with everything. Such thoughtfully designed and classic accessories!

What made you want to step into the world of blogging and what direction do you want your blog to go in?

I had been considering blogging for a while as a space to write longer posts about ethical fashion, slow living, and responsible brands, and a place where people can go for resources to help them make the shift in their shopping habits. I'd been putting it off because of the workload it often entails, but when friends and followers encouraged me to go for it, I decided to just dive in and see what happened without putting too much pressure on myself. Now that I have a blog, I wonder what I ever did without it! I love writing, and Instagram captions are just too short for all the thoughts in my head. My dream is that one day, I could use my blog as a source of income in order to pursue educating people about ethical fashion full time – but unfortunately blogging is a dream career for a lot of people, and far less ever make it, so I'm trying to keep a balanced perspective. For now, I'm content to enjoy it as a fulfilling hobby in between my work at the library and will see where it all takes me.

Would you ever pursue a Youtube channel to share your ideas around slow living/fashion? 

I've certainly thought about it, but I know so little about how to actually go about it at this point, or what kind of content I would create (ideas welcome!). If I did pursue it, I would want to do it really well. Perhaps once I feel like I have a solid grasp of the blogging world, I'll venture into videos as well!

What advice do you have for people who want to pursue slow fashion but might be a little hesitant or are having difficulty ditching fast fashion?

You may need to ask yourself some difficult questions and search your motivations. Are you hesitant because of finances? Or are you hesitant because you're concerned about losing your shopping freedom?

If finances are the issue, slow fashion is very doable on a budget – and is actually better for your wallet. Slow fashion is about shopping second hand most of the time, and new only some of the time. Thrifting and consigning will save you a lot of money (many of my clothes are second-hand; you don't have to sacrifice style!). When you do desire something brand new, save up to buy something that's well-made, hopefully ethical, and will last years. That will save you money in the long run.

If the issue is a loss of shopping freedom, you may need to let yourself experience a harsh awakening to the realities of fast fashion. Watch documentaries like the True Cost, read books like Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline or Slow Fashion by Safia Minney. There are also wonderful TED Talks about the impact of fast fashion. But you must absorb them with your eyes and your heart wide open. When we buy from fast fashion brands, we are supporting the exploitation of garment workers and the destruction of the environment with our dollars, even though I know we don't intend to. Where we invest our money does have power and either enables brands to sit in their harmful practices or empowers conscious brands to make a positive impact. If we move the money, we can move the industry.

Do you ever encounter people who are totally against the concepts you value? 

I am grateful to be able to say that so far, I haven't experienced any especially negative criticism or individuals wanting to argue against my values. I'm sure that as my following grows, I will have to endure more difficult conversations and comments; it's part and parcel of the social media arena. For now, most people are either curious about what slow fashion and slow living are, or completely indifferent. But I would say that as far as ethics are concerned, it's just as troubling for me to see people's indifference to the corruption in fast fashion as it would be to have someone outright criticize me.

 

Read Alena's latest blog post!  

 

For more PARKSHOP @ourparkshop
For more Alena @allyctran
 

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