Resident fashion icon and Libra Tayi Tibble goes back to her op-shopping roots in a move towards being a more sustainable fashionista
Wisdom is just an amalgamation of your experiences, packaged up with a little poetry. Over the past 24 years of my distinguished career as an undiscovered fashion icon, I have learnt many lessons – mostly that it’s appropriate to dress weather-appropriately, but also that I definitely need to shop less and with more intention, before I single-handedly kill the planet and eradicate the human species with my consumer habits.
As a Libra – whose formative years were dominated by the Bratz dolls chanting “A PASSiON 4 FASHiON” from their dollhouse while I slept – style and aesthetics were always something I was, like, inherently aware of.
Even as a small child, I remember being self-conscious about what I was wearing. Was I looking fly enough for the sandpit? Did my lunchbox match my schoolbag? Were my sparkly hair clips too much with my light-up sneakers? I didn’t want to look too juvenile.
But I also grew up the eldest of seven children with a single mother, so out of necessity – and by necessity I mean poverty – most of the clothes I owned growing up were from SaveMart or hand-me-downs from my aunties.
Style and aesthetics were always something I was, like, inherently aware of
But while my sisters might’ve yearned for the brand-new Canterbury pants of their peers, I, a true creative, prided myself on my ability to scan through racks and liberate items of the finest and most experimental quality.
In Year 8 I remember thrifting a Red Hot Chilli Peppers t-shirt – not that I was listening to anything other than The Jonas Brothers at that stage – and teaming it with my prized possession, pair of black skinny jeans from Jay Jays. I wore it to school photo day, honestly thinking that I was the slickest bitch out. Another outfit I recall was a World Wildlife Fund t-shirt with a panda on it (does that count as conscious fashion?) teamed with a vintage tailored denim vest – both items from SaveMart. I remember pairing it with leggings and hand-me-down Chucks – very Hannah Montana/Selena Gomez/The Disney Channel – and feeling so excited to wear it, like literally not being able to sleep excited, to Kids’ Lit Quiz, an inter-school competition that was the biggest event of my geeky preteen social calendar.
But high school – especially one in Porirua – can be a cruel, shiny, exclusive and dictatorial place. I admit to getting some shit for my avant-garde sartorial choices. Anonymous messages that have been branded with a hot iron into my psychology included: “Most of us dress with the same swag but you and Raife dress like you’re from town” and “Fashion Aliens from Hipster Planet.” However, I consider myself fortunate that by the time I was in Year 13, and able to wear mufti to school, everyone and their mum – whether they were from Cannons Creek or Whitby – was into secondhand shopping, popularised by Tumblr and Macklemore. And Wellington was the capital of hipsters – the twee, the vintage and the bearded, the secondhand and the thrifted – challenged only, perhaps, by Portland, Oregon.
We’d ‘shop’ up and down Cuba Street, trying things on like we were cashed up enough to buy something, while the retail staff brimmed with racism.
So every Thursday, aka ‘late night’, my friends and I would hit the Opportunities for Animals down at the centre, with the few dollars we’d either begged out of our parents or earned from our shitty part-time jobs. On the weekends, we’d put on the outfits we’d carefully been planning all week and catch the train into town. We’d ‘shop’ up and down Cuba Street, trying things on like we were cashed up enough to buy something, while the retail staff brimmed with racism.
Even at school, we’d proposition each other with a wicked, “Wanna go for a shop?” during lunchtimes. ‘Going for a shop’ was our dickhead term for breaking into the school’s drama closet to nobly ‘liberate’ items. This method of copping was how I scored some of my most beloved teenage wardrobe essentials, like a cropped leather jacket and a pair of vintage Doc Martens. But one day Raife wore a patterned button-up shirt to school that he had liberated and the drama teacher was like, wtf, that’s my pyjama top.
I continued to shop this way through most of my pohara time at university – thrifting, that is, not theft – because it was cheap. Basically my entire wardrobe cycled in and out from the Sallies like a revolving dress-up box. Because it was so cheap I would buy a ridiculous amount of ridiculous clothes. Items that I was unsure about I could snap up anyway – what’s seven dollars? At the thrift, I was big-daddy baller and all the clothes were coming home with me. As a result of such extreme shopping, there were many experimental phases, like when I only wanted to wear 60s dresses and baby-pink go-go boots, or when it was very important to me to look like I was a character from the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse universe – and those are the more flattering eras, tbh. God.
However, as I graduated and started working – and had more disposable income and less time – online shopping, and shopping edited racks, became much more convenient than browsing racks and racks of dated Pagani, just to find something wearable and a gem every now and then.
I needed to shop less, and more sustainably.
As the hipster hold started to lose its grip on Wellington, I no longer wanted to wear some random ugly floral nana dress and a bowler hat – especially not when the slick sites of Fashion Nova and PrettyLittleThing could offer me the Kardashian aesthetic with a perpetual 40 percent off site-wide sale. Plus, for the first time in my life, after rent, bills and expenses, I actually had more than $20 in my account, so admittedly, I accidentally went a lil’ crazy.
While there is something genuinely appealing to me about fast fashion, like horror movies or the pathology of the Kardashians, as a generally conscious person, shopping fast fashion weighed on me. Especially with the rising climate crisis, and especially as an Indigenous person whose culture and identity revolves around honouring and protecting the land. Fashion content I so hungrily consumed for the aesthetics, like Fashion Quarterly, was also exposing me to dialogue about fashion’s impact on the environment, and the importance of shopping sensibly and sustainably.
For a while I was anything but sensible, and I was quite violently confronted by this when I came across a photo of myself from only a year or so earlier. In the photo I was posing in front of my wardrobe, and it dawned on me that I no longer owned a single item of clothing that I could make out in that closet. Though most it was still thrifted, I was immediately like, ew, sort it out sis. I needed to shop less, and more sustainably.
The first thing I did was try to cut back. I started making dumb, fun and revoltingly privileged parameters around my shopping like oh, I can only buy something if I’ve made x amount of money or oh, if I sell x amount of clothes from my current wardrobe than I can use that money to buy this or that.
I started enjoying investing my money in quality or designer pieces, even if part of the desire was just to flex, because I watch too many GQ videos with rappers in them
As I started to travel with my book, Poūkahangatus, I began limiting my shopping to when I was away. And while it was definitely a privileged and pretentious pleasure, associating my clothing with happy memories or milestones like these are the shoes I bought in London or this is the suit I wore to my book launch was a pleasure nonetheless. Though perhaps I was simply justifying purchases to myself as souvenirs and mementos – I mean I’m not even particularly sentimental – it did reduce the amount I was shopping and I started taking more pleasure in fewer items.
I started enjoying investing my money in quality or designer pieces, even if part of the desire was just to flex, because I watch too many GQ videos with rappers in them. I began to like – however superficial – the instantaneous value investment pieces like a good-quality coat, bag, jewellery, added to an outfit. I realised buying rings that wouldn’t stain my skin green and t-shirts that didn’t dissolve in the wash was worthwhile, and a chic look. I began thinking about concepts like cost per wear and the value and versatility of classic transeasonal basics and essentials. I realised that not everything I bought had to be flaming iced-out bad-bitch bling-bling glamour of the drag-queen kind – which is still my default and preferred aesthetic.
I started really considering what I actually wear on a regular basis (which is a lot of club wear and occasion, ngl) but I also began imagining what I wanted to be wearing at different ages in the future, so then I could make smart purchases that had longevity and could take me where I wanted to go, both sartorially and careerwise. I’ve noticed that as I get older and more assured of myself – not just in relation to my style, but also my general purpose and direction and wtf I am actually doing on this rock hurtling through space – I’m able to make smarter consumer decisions that I’m not going to regret and humiliate myself with six months down the line. Okay, maybe not all the time, but I’ve been making dumb and impulsive decisions with less frequency.
So this year I set myself a goal, a New Year’s resolution, that for the entire year I wouldn’t purchase a single item of fast fashion. None. Zero. It was a goal I had been mentally preparing for, for a while. Late December, I went to Mirrou with Miriama, which we sometimes do after we get our nails done on account of a long-running joke we have that Mirrou is Indigenous. It’s a really dumb joke. We eye each other and go, where’d you get that top from and we bow back and go, “The Mirrou Tribe.” I bought one more nasty skirt that I never wear, for the road, and as the cashier bagged it up I said goodbye… not only to Mirrou, but to the old me…
This year I set myself a goal, a New Year’s resolution, that for the entire year I wouldn’t purchase a single item of fast fashion
I am currently achieving my goal, but I am also about to break it because I found the cutest puffy blazer on PLT and, momentarily, idgaf. The guilt I might have felt for breaking my goal is completely superseded by how much I love it and how cute I think it is and the toxic momentary consumer thrill I’ll get once I have it – a feeling that is as necessary as air for a Libra. But I think I’ll buy just the one item that I really love and know I’ll wear this time, as opposed to filling up my cart like I used to do under the justification of, well I’m already paying for shipping. I think breaking my resolution is okay. Sure, the fashion gods, Vogue editors, and Virgil and Virginie Viard might come down from the heavens to beat me over the head with a copy of Fashion Quarterly (RIP) on behalf of the environment, but they probably won’t.
What my New Year’s resolution has achieved, though, is sending my wannabe bougie ass back to the thrift stores. So far I’ve picked up four items this year: a white cardigan, a black skirt, the most supple pair of black pants by Calvin Klein and the most perfect cropped black blazer. I had been looking for the perfect cropped black blazer for years, and guess what? It was on the $4 rack at Recycle. 4 fukn dollars! I had forgotten the thrill of scoring so hard that it feels like you’ve scammed a man out of his colonial wealth – a thrill only thrifting can offer, unless you actually Anna-Nicole someone.
These are pretty dumb and basic steps towards sustainability, I must admit. I’m not yet wearing clothing made purely out of organic hemp and pōhutukawa leaves plucked once a year, but I hope I’m heading towards real and significant sustainability. I’m educating myself, and following designers, industry leaders and magazines – especially local ones – is definitely helping me raise my awareness. Even as someone not directly in the fashion industry, I have noticed that conversations about the impact consumerism and fashion have on the environment is becoming an increasing priority here. I even enrolled in a four-week fashion course via The Paris Institute of Fashion this quarantine, though I have stopped turning up to digital classes out of respect to Fashion Quarterly and its closure. Yes, as humans we all tell ourselves stories to live with ourselves.
In truth, I’ll probably still wear something nasty if I love it, because I’m a flashy, popping bitch who lives for drama
I even have a fantasy of one day shopping exclusively locally, but I also just bought a Telfar bag and I consider myself to be a dual citizen of the internet and the pop-culture zeitgeist. I do want to support our local designers and artists – especially now that Covid is kicking everyone’s ass – and ofc I want to support Māori and PI designers with priority. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how investing in taonga, for example, is so cool because taonga keep not only their monetary value, but they increase in spiritual and cultural capital. By buying and collecting these pieces when I’m fiending for a new accessory, I’m not only supporting local, and our amazing carvers and jewellers, but building wealth that is beyond monetary. I’m building wealth that may one day be passed down to my children, and through our descendants. So basically any skuxes out there with a fine wahine in their life should know that diamonds aren’t a girl's best friend, a fat piece of pounamu is.
Lol. But while I’m learning to take my consumerist habits seriously, I’m light about it too. To quote wise philosopher Cassie in her 2005 sermon‘Long Way 2 Go’, “It’s not that deep, take it easy”. Clothes are fun. Getting dressed is always a high point of my day, and knowing I have a cute outfit to wear on the weekend, or to an event in a month’s time, is sometimes the only thing that gets me through the bs. In truth, I’ll probably still wear something nasty if I love it, because I’m a flashy, popping bitch who lives for drama. Plus, we must always remember that making sustainable purchasing choices is a fat privilege not afforded to many. There are many people who just need clothes on their backs and don’t have the luxuries of time, energy and resources to sit around intellectualising about the ethical production of their t-shirt.
But I think if we want a society and a fashion industry and supply chain that is conscious – of accessibility, of diversity, of Te Tiriti and the environment – then we must be conscientious as individuals. Even if it’s starting somewhere as dumb and basic as not buying that white sweater that you already have four of and keeping your credit card in your damn wallet!!!!
Feature image from @slowfashionmemes
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.