One step at a time – Andrea’s personal path to sustainability

I met Andrea at work – she made beautiful clothes and accessories that my colleagues wore and I found that she also makes mesh bags which are a perfect, sustainable replacement for plastic bags used in shops for buying lose vegetables, fruit, or pastry shopping. I bought some for myself and soon later met with Andrea to talk about her personal path towards a sustainable lifestyle. Hope it will inspire you just like it inspired me! Happy reading! A.

How did the sustainability adventure start for you?

It all started in 2016 when I was living in London together with a flatmate who was already living in the way that I still strive to.

She was always avoiding chemicals and plastics, using vegan cosmetics, and so on. Her whole house was organised in a sustainable way and it really inspired me.

I thought – if she can make it, I can make it too!

I lived in London for half a year and once I got back to my home town in Kosice, Slovakia, I decided I need to up my sustainable game. I was already trying to make sustainable choices but this half a year really motivated me to take it to the next level – seeing that someone can actually live in this way and implement it in the whole big house had a huge impact on me.

I learned a lot from my London flatmate who also shared with me different resources on how I can implement these changes into my own life. She shared with me great tips on how to get rid of all the stuff that you don’t need and how not to gather things that you don’t need.

It’s really difficult to give up on all the things we are used to, so it’s okay to keep two things that aren’t fitting this new sustainable path you’re going on. Leave these two things which are difficult for you to drop out of your changes and try your best to change everything else.

Andrea

What is the one tip you learnt from her that you think others should know about?

One of her insights that I really appreciated was when she told me that she knows that it’s really difficult to give up on all the things we are used to, so it’s okay to keep two things that aren’t fitting this new sustainable path you’re going on. Leave these two things which are difficult for you to drop out of your changes and try your best to change everything else. This insight comes from a book Tired of being tired by Jesse Hanley and Nancy Deville.

In her case, she really loves to do her nails and use nail polish and she decided to keep it in her life. My goal is to get to the same thing – where I have one or two things that I don’t change because it’s either too difficult to avoid or I don’t want to give them up.

It’s really fascinating that in many cases people who are on the path to sustainable living were inspired by someone else who gave them this “push” to change their life.

Exactly! When I lived with my flatmate, I took on her lifestyle and thanks to her I was able to continue it when I moved back home.

You are very active in the sustainable fashion area – you make clothes, reuse materials, and you’re active in preventing clothes waste. How did it start?

When I was going back to Slovakia from London, I had to pack all the things I had from my half a year in London. And during this half a year I bought a lot of clothes as London has a lot of nice and affordable clothing. I wasn’t able to pack everything and I had to send some of my things back home by post. Once I got home and had all the stuff delivered I realised that I just have so many things that I don’t need. I asked myself: “why do I even have it?”. Even now when I think and talk about it I have goosebumps. In that moment I realised – this has to stop.

Seeing what is happening on a large scale, I decided to start looking for changes I can introduce locally, also in my own life.

Andrea

Were you influenced by other people too in this realisation?

This was at the beginning of 2017 and the time when I learnt about Fashion Revolution movement – I started researching it, following their social media and learning about their activities.

Fashion Revolution started when one factory in Bangladesh collapsed with over a thousand victims and even more injured. The factory was supplying many big brands and it was a wake-up call for many people in the industry. This group of people who created Fashion Revolution realised the conditions in which people in clothes factories work were unacceptable and started the discussion on the ethics of fashion consumption. Many of us are happy to catch a deal for 1$ t-shirt in a fashion chain store, but often we don’t think what that means for people who actually make our clothes.

One of the fashion designers from the movement, Orsola de Castro, decided then to change her way of working into more sustainable. She started to use materials from trusted sources and focus on making sure that the clothes she makes are actually useful. The more I read, the more interested I was in this movement. I took part in one online course where I got all the basics –  don’t produce ten collections every year, don’t buy if you don’t need, make sure you know your sources and so on.

Another initiative that influenced me was Accord, an NGO which was inspecting factory buildings in Bangladesh and found that most of them are dangerous for the workers. The organisation wanted to change it, but local authorities weren’t interested in this change as better conditions would mean bigger costs of clothes production and potentially loss of business with the fashion industry.

Seeing what is happening on a large scale, I decided to start looking for changes I can introduce locally, also in my own life. Of course, I’m not perfect, sometimes I buy stuff even though I realise I don’t need them, but I do my best to make conscious decisions.

But how to start making these conscious decisions?

A few years back I have heard about this one great campaign #30Wears. It was started by Livia Firth who is the founder of Eco Age a company that certifies brands for their sustainability. People were posting photos of clothes that they wore 30 or more times with this hashtag. The aim of the campaign was to encourage people to only buy things if we really know that we’ll wear it and not throw it after one year.

Personally, I never throw away clothes and in the past three years I bought maybe two or three new things. The friend who inspired me had her guilty pleasure in nail polish – for me it’s shoes. Sometimes I buy them even if I know that I don’t really need them. Still, I make sure to use them until they are really destroyed and impossible to wear anymore. The second thing which I have trouble to quit completely are skirts – and that’s just because I saw them on my own. And once my clothes are destroyed, I try to repurpose them, for example to make dog beds out of them.

Apart from clothes, what are the other things that you are really thinking about in sustainability terms?

Definitely plastic packaging. In most supermarkets when people buy vegetables, fruits, or pastry, there are plastic bags to use to package them. And these bags are one-use – once you unpack your shopping, you throw away the plastic bag. So I thought that I could for example start sewing reusable bags for shopping. First I made them for myself, then my friends noticed them and I made another batch for them. Then other people noticed at work and I made them for them as well. You can also buy these reusable bags in different shops with eco and bioproducts and it’s great to see that more and more people use them!

For some people it will go easier and for others it will take more time.
Be happy for the journey you are on and even if you’re unhappy with where you’re now, remember that you are on your way there. It takes time, so don’t rush. And remember that what is better from having 100 people being perfectly zero-waste are 100 million people who are not perfect, but taking steps to get there.

Andrea

Do you have some tips for people who are just starting to change their lives to more sustainable?

I think that it’s a good idea to start with a list of things that you would like to change in your life. You can see then how many things are there to reach your sustainability goals. This is what I did with cosmetics I use – I listed all the things that I use and want to change. And then I started searching for things that I could use instead. Nowadays there’s really plenty of resources that you can use to help make these changes.

Remember that it’s always easier to change things step by step. When I came back from London I was so hyped that I wanted to change everything in one week. I realised quickly that it’s impossible to change things this fast. That’s when I decided to start making lists and it really helped me. Even today there are a few things on my list that I haven’t done yet as I’m searching for the best way to replace them. Making a list will also help you realise how many things there are that need to be changed and to track your progress and see all your small wins.

Making a lot of big changes at once can be pretty challenging. Creating a list of things that you want to change will help your progress.

Start with small things – refuse a plastic straw in your drink and the plastic lid on your coffee. If you see “sale” sign on the shopping mall’s building, don’t go in. Buy only what you need. Go to shops with purpose and search only for things that you decided to buy before coming in.

For some people it will go easier and for others it will take more time. Be happy for the journey you are on and even if you’re unhappy with where you’re now, remember that you are on your way there. It takes time, so don’t rush. And remember that what is better from having 100 people being perfectly zero-waste are 100 million people who are not perfect, but taking steps to get there.

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