Social Icon Interviews: Lauren Engelke
On how to live better with less clothes, her top sustainable fashion tips, and why everyone should try sewing
On the heels of Fashion Revolution Week, I wanted to interview someone who not only had a good grasp on the sustainable fashion landscape, but who was actively creating helpful resources for people… Enter Sustainable Stylist and on set tailor Lauren Engelke! (Icing on the cake that she’s stylish and fun too!)
When I came across her website, I knew had to share. She has one of the most comprehensive and well-organized sustainable brand guides I’ve seen to date. She’s also a master thrifter, finding vintage and secondhand items for herself and clients. I love that her overarching message really is “Do more with less” and it’s something we can apply to all areas of life.
Lauren offers custom personal styling sessions via Skype to help you figure out your ideal wardrobe sustainably.
Q: You mention on your website that your sustainable journey started with “asking too many questions on set” ;) - I love this because I think no matter what our role is, we should always be asking questions about ways we can improve.
Can you tell us a little more about that lightbulb moment, and what else inspired you to start wearing, styling, and sharing more sustainable fashion?
A: There were a lot of little moments along the way - I learned that clothes were sprayed with chemicals to keep them wrinkle free, which is why new jeans always smelled terrible. I figured out that wages had to be almost nothing, because of how long I estimated garments would take to sew. I heard from friends how secretive certain brands were about trips to their factories in Asia. I started putting together the pieces of fast fashion, and my discoveries were sickening.
The lightbulb moment was after a shoot for a clean beauty brand last summer. We did everything the normal way - we pulled clothes from a variety of department stores, shot, and returned them. Even though the client was happy, I felt like we had used clothes that didn't live up to the standard of the brand. Walking through the East Village, which is filled with consignment and vintage shops, I felt convinced that we could have done the shoot using vintage clothing or new sustainable clothing, and I started thinking maybe the world was ready for a sustainable stylist. That's what inspired me to start sharing my outfits on Instagram, and actually led to me offering personal styling, which I enjoy even more.
Q: Often people get overwhelmed and aren’t sure where to start when it comes to any new sustainable practice (should we thrift, swap, buy new, etc).
What are a couple tangible things you like to suggest to your clients that they start with for sustainable fashion?
A: A lot of people want to dive right in & start cleaning out their closet. I like to start with a quick exercise, so that you have a strategy and can make the most out of what you already have.
Step 1: Think about your best self. Envision her morning routine. How does she walk into work? Does she go out with friends after work? What is she wearing? Think about the person you want to grow into.
Step 2: Think about the occasions you dress for in a week - work, hanging out, working out. What would your best self wear to work? Out to dinner? To the gym?
Step 3: Now head to your closet. Go through each item, and think to yourself, "When I wear this, I feel ___". Are you saying positive things, like "I feel confident" and "I feel happy", or are you saying negative things like "I feel shabby" or "I feel whatever"? Is this an item that your best self would wear? (Of course, my suggestion is to donate or consign items that give you negative feelings.)
Step 4: For the pieces you want to keep, hang up as many items as you can fit in your closet. I even hang up my pajamas and workout clothes! Hanging items up keeps them wrinkle free, and prevents them from being forgotten in the back of your dresser. It also makes you appreciate how much stuff you have!
Step 5: As you hang your clothes back up, group them. Put your work clothes together, your casual clothes together, and your gym clothes together. Work & hangout clothes can be one group, if you have a casual work environment. Arrange them so they look nice to you, whether that means putting them in color order or grouping pants, tops, dresses, etc.
After thinking about what your best self wears, and after going through your own closet, you'll likely notice a couple of gaps. Most of my clients don't need a whole new wardrobe, but they'll realize that one blazer and a pair of booties are going to help them nail their look. Then just shop for the one or two things you need. It's a lot more manageable than trying to shop without a plan!!
Q: What topics or causes are you most passionate about sharing right now - something that could really help the world if everyone got on board?
How we care for our clothes - Wear your clothes more than one time before washing! This dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of a piece of clothing. Also, less wash to do! Yay!
(Editor’s note: The average pair of jeans uses around 3,500 liters of water, and that’s after only two years of washing once a week. If you can wear your jeans 10 times before washing, you’ll reduce the carbon footprint by 77 percent!) Sources: ThredUP and Ecocult
Less is more - Almost no one needs more than 3 pairs of jeans. Before you buy your next pair, ask yourself if you already have a pair that does essentially the same thing.
Repair & mend - Everyone is capable of sewing! If your clothing loses a button or has a small rip - try fixing it! If it already needs mending, you have nothing to lose. :)
Q: If you could speak to young girls everywhere today and help them rethink how what they wear impacts the world, what would you say?
A: Dress for yourself. Wear what makes you feel happy and confident!
Q: What’s on the horizon for sustainable fashion? Basically, what can we look forward to and what can we support to bring these changes about as quickly as possible?
A: Some of the biggest changes are the simplest, like making clothing to order! Made-to-order clothing is great for the consumer because frequently it means that brands can offer more sizes and customization options. It also dramatically reduces inventory and therefore waste, saving brands money and giving them the room to invest in smart ethical and environmental choices.
In a similar vein, 3D printing for shoes, knitwear, and jewelry is quickly becoming a reality! In the next 5-10 years, automated production may become more commercially viable, which will reduce production costs and enable brands to offer more custom options to consumers.
As consumers, one of the easiest ways to make your closet more sustainable is to shop secondhand first. When you realize you need something, take 15 minutes to check eBay, Poshmark, and ThredUP before you check your usual shopping sites. This is especially easy when you know exactly the item you want - for example, I love Equipment sweaters, and there are tons of them on Poshmark whenever I need a new-to-me one!
Q: What is the biggest change you’ve made in your life to be happier and healthier?
A: It's not in the sustainable fashion wheelhouse, but I stopped getting on the scale about a year ago, and that has to be one of the best changes I've ever made. I didn't realize until I stopped weighing myself, how much mental space that was taking up every day. I would let the number bother me all day long! Instead, now I look in the mirror and think about the food choices I make and how they make my body feel. I choose to eat whole grains and veggies because they make me feel vibrant and healthy.
Q: What is the one question you wish people would ask you more often?
A: "Lauren, can you come clean out my closet?" To which I’d reply, ”I thought you’d never ask!!"
It doesn't matter how many bookings I get, I will never get tired of cleaning out closets! Tidying and organizing clothing makes me so happy on a very core level.
Q: What does being a Social Icon mean to you?
A: I'm flattered to be included! I guess it means I'm officially cool now. Just kidding! I love connecting with my audience - I'm so fascinated that my followers have all different styles, and what holds us together is a love for fashion and a love for the earth. I hope this is just the beginning for our community.