Environmental initiatives in NOLA: Slowing down and shopping consciously

City Park Bridge; Photo by: Susan Q Yin

New Orleans is a natural wonder, defined by rows of sprawling oak trees, deafening thunderstorms, and sunshine that keeps the party going all year. Whether nestling into a rocking chair to listen to the thunderstorms with a book, basking in the sun before a Sunday crawfish boil, or venturing to the Atchafalaya Basin, New Orleans and its residents rely on our ecosystem to prolong traditions and to reside here for centuries to come. But this city, these wonders, and our traditions are at risk. Anthropogenic climate change has altered weather patterns, increased temperatures, and risen sea levels. New Orleans and its community are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, as some areas of the city sink nearly 2 inches per year. These issues feel big, bigger than the New Orleans community and bigger than the individual, but one solution is small. The solution is not moving further inland, raising homes, or permanently displacing residents, one solution lies in our closets and within our community: clothing.

Two of the largest actors in anthropogenic climate change are waste and temperature increase, which is induced by excessive consumption of material goods and carbon emissions. Waste rates have skyrocketed alongside fast fashion, as have carbon emission rates, the fashion industry accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. With fast fashion as a catalyst, trend cycles are growing shorter and shorter by the year. Social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok promote waste-positive culture. Decades-long trend cycles are reduced to months, meanwhile, sea levels rise. 

Decisions catered to the individual, like consumption habits, restore power to the local community, and relinquish power from the corporations that hurt us. “Shop Local” is not a phrase unbeknownst to most, but we need to introduce a new phrase into our lingo: “Shop Slow”. The slow fashion archetype blends seamlessly into the New Orleans cultural context. Slow fashion revolves around small-batch releases, designs that stand the test of time, and quality construction of materials. In addition to shopping sustainability by purchasing environmentally conscious materials and reclaimed goods, slow fashion is about consuming ethically. Ethical consumption means buying thoughtfully and considering each step that went into constructing your clothes. 

Retailers like Slow Down Nola on Magazine Street curate sustainable goods and vintage items for socially conscious shoppers. From handmade beaded items from local artisans to vintage high fashion pieces, Slow Down Nola promotes the “slow fashion” lifestyle through their vintage and handmade items.

ALTAR New Orleans is a local retailer that champions slow fashion, enacting a socially mindful business model that not only protects the ecosystem but also forwards the community. ALTAR creates handmade whimsical printed clothing that celebrates our local artists, with each featured artist earning 50% of profits. ALTAR is carbon and community-conscious, from using recycled materials to hand-delivering local orders to reduce fossil fuel footprints.

Sister Hearts Thrift Store sells unique pieces perfect for creating a capsule wardrobe, and each sale helps to support their decarceration program for previously incarcerated individuals. Sister Hearts owner and creator, Maryam, built the store from the ground up in three years after she struggled to find employment once released from prison. Sister Hearts not only promotes slow fashion but bolsters the community by offering employment and housing opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals. 

New Orleans isn’t a trend-centric city, New Orleans is a trendsetting city. Instead of absorbing trends from our social media feeds, we can craft our own styles that embrace the uniqueness of New Orleans while giving back to our community members and our biome. We live in a city that tells many stories, and our wardrobes should do the same. Each of us can protect and preserve our natural wonder by making a conscious effort to shop slow. Supporting retailers like these will ensure leisurely brunches, humid summer afternoons, and streetcar rides for centuries to come. We will not only have another reason to linger with others and bolster community engagement, but we will be protecting and promoting New Orleans’s longevity by consciously choosing to shop sustainably. 

This piece was edited by Ellery Tripp as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University.


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