I have a dirty confession to make: Until the past year or so, sustainability hasn’t really been something that I’ve thought about when shopping. If I needed a new pair of black dress pants or a basic turtleneck, I’d have no problem sauntering over to a fast fashion chain like Zara and quickly fulfilling my need. But lately, my mindless shopping habits have left me feeling increasingly guilty. For one, I’m Indigenous—my people are supposed to be pioneers of eco-minded fashion design! And two, with the daily headlines of forest fires and melting glaciers coming at me like meteoroids, buying a new sweater made cheaply out of synthetic fibers feels wrong. Even though I know individuals don’t have the same impact as companies do in terms of championing sustainable and ethical design, I still feel the need to do what I can. So, here in the year 2020, I finally decided: It’s time to smarten up. But I needed help.
Enter Cassandra Dittmer, a stylist based in Los Angeles whose aim is to help people just like me. Dittmer has 10 years of experience in styling, and has worked for celebrity stylists like Ilaria Urbinati. She’s since branched out from red carpets, where she has styled actors such as Reid Scott and Ty Burrell. Dittmer now focuses on a more personal wardrobe styling experience. Specifically, she specializes in sustainable styling: She works with clients to purge and revamp their existing closets, find eco-friendly pieces to fill the gaps, and ultimately rethink their mindless shopping habits in general. “To me, being a stylist in 2020 is about an integration of values,” Dittmer says. “We have such increased access, and hunger, for transparency—and not just in fashion.”
Prices for Dittmer’s sustainable styling packages range. They start at $75, where Dittmer will create a shoppable e-boutique featuring a list of sustainable brands. As the prices and tiers go up, it gets more customized. Her highest package, at $4,250, includes a complete closet overhaul, tailored mood boards, and eco-friendly brands that are specifically curated to her clients’s personal style. At the end of the day, she wants her clients to be more conscious about where they spend their money, no matter their income. “I help clients rewire their brains to shop,” says Dittmer. “It comes down to the three Es—economics, ethics, and the environment—and how to consider all of these things and make the best decisions possible.”
Dittmer recognizes that purchasing new items is not a sustainable act in itself. While she does recommend new items for her clients, she makes sure all of those suggested brands are producing ethically, and also encourages her clients to recycle or up-cycle the pieces they already have as much as possible. “From an e-styling perspective, it has been most practical to provide resources and expertise on eco-brands, as well as mending or repairing existing items,” she says. “I lead clients to brands that implement strong environmental ethics such as recycling, biodegradable resources, ethical energy sources, and beyond. Mending clothing or up-cycling one’s own wardrobe items is a great way to work towards circularity and working with existing items. Clients often have items in their wardrobe that, with some encouragement, we can incorporate into their desired looks. I start small, fixing the soles of your favorite boots instead of replacing them, and re-wearing items like jeans and jewelry as often as possible.”
Below, my first-hand experience with Dittmer (based on one of her higher tiers), and how exactly her sustainable styling works.
1. First, the closet assessment
Before we even get started, Dittmer has me fill out an electronic questionnaire, so she can get a better sense of my style and what I wish to get out of the service. “We start with what’s important to you and we work from there,” Dittmer says. After that, we zero in on my two essential closet needs: to declutter what I have, and to find more sustainable pieces to add to it. From there, we moved into a closet clean-out session, which is done over Zoom. I walk Dittmer through some of my most-worn pieces, as well as the pieces I’m unsure about or want to get rid of. (I also photograph these pieces and later send them to her—more on that later.) We talk about the best way to donate clothing, and she sends me a list of shelters in New York City who accept donations. We also discuss what can be altered or salvaged to be wearable again. Together, we then instantly recognized the main area where my closet still needs work: I’m in dire need of basics, such as plain tees and button-ups, and neutral knitwear or dress pants.
2. Addressing the wardrobe gaps
Dittmer says I’m actually in luck: finding sustainable basics is easier than ever. The problem, however, is finding menswear options. “I would guess that 70 percent of my go-to brands don’t have menswear,” she says. Even so, she starts compiling a list of brands who do specialize in sustainable men’s basics. “I definitely hold brands to a higher standard when they’re producing basics, just because we know it’s possible [to do sustainably],” she says. But even though we’re on the hunt for simple pieces, she says she doesn’t want to veer into bland territory. “Your existing outfits are so fun, so I really want to focus on basics with interesting details or fabrications,” she says.
3. Finding sustainable alternatives
About a week after our first Zoom consultation, it was time for round two. I hop on Zoom and Dittmer walks me through my “curated digital boutique.” The PDF includes an extensive list of about 12 sustainable brands, all tailored to my personal taste and needs. Dittmer includes a description of each brand, as well as styling advice: she curated mood boards using photos of my own wardrobe pieces, and then mixed them in with pieces from each sustainable brand, to inspire outfit ideas. Dittmer introduces me to basics brands such as Atelier Phi, a Swedish brand. “They’re less than 2 years old, and they make garments out of recycled cashmere and merino wool,” she says. She also envisions me wearing pieces from South Africa’s Maxhosa and Nigeria’s Orange Culture, two menswear brands focused on small supply chains and eco-friendly textiles. “Orange Culture is androgynous and streetwear driven,” she says. She even found me a heeled boot brand—my go-to shoe—called Kiing Daviids. All their boots are custom and made-to-order. Having a rich selection of eco-conscious brands to go off, I then log off Zoom and begin browsing for basics. There turns out to be a surprisingly large amount of options.
4. Providing additional resources
At the end of our session, Dittmer provides a list of other helpful resources, which are meant to make me continue thinking about sustainability—yes, even after our Zooms. She included retailers such as Garmentory or Temple Muse, which highlight small businesses. She provides me with a list of shelters that I can continue donating clothing to. She also included links surrounding how to shop package-free, or where I could attend workshops about sustainable living. She recognizes it’s a commitment to think about all of these things at once, but she ultimately hopes to inspire her clients to put in that extra bit of work. “Sustainability is a privilege, and it does take time and effort,” Dittmer says. “One of my main goals with clients is that they leave feeling like they know how to make better decisions, and are introduced to brands that are more aligned with their values.” And for the first time, I feel like I really do.