Photos c/o Kat Harris
My very first season of runway I took the subway to the Upper West Side from JFK (no easy feat for a newbie) to stay with my friend Cara. We didn’t know each other that well, but we had a lot of mutual friends, and she had a loft in her apartment with an extra bed. She was graduating from Parsons and searching for jobs in the fashion industry, and I was trying to figure out how to shoot runway. We became fast friends. After my initial trip I was in the city every few months, and I’d sleep in her little loft and we’d grab late night dinners and talk and talk about our dreams, passions, God…(and of course boys). What I learned quickly about Cara is her heart is full of gold. She is intentional, and cares deeply about others. And what I respect so much about her is her commitment to the things she believes in and loves. She is fierce, and teaches me so much that a bunch of little decisions can make an big impact.
Cara I love your heart + can’t wait to share your story!
Kat I’ve always loved fashion. I’ve been making my own dresses since I was a child, and enjoyed expressing myself through clothing. It wasn’t until college that I starting thinking about how clothing could also be an expression of my heart and my values, and not just my style.
While studying fashion in New York City, I discovered that 75% of garment workers are women, and most of them live in developing countries. I started thinking about how every piece of clothing had a story, and I wanted to know what it was. But the more I researched, the less I wanted to know . Most of the brands in my closet had been cited for labor abuses, and I felt sick about wearing someone else’s suffering on my back. But the problems were distant and the solutions seemed elusive. When I looked for socially responsible brands, they were either not my style, or not in my budget. I tried to forget about the whole thing, but it was always in the back of my mind.
Years later, in 2012, I decided to do something about my conviction. I made a commitment that for one year I would not buy any products that exploited people. I would find brands that were doing good, that also fit my budget and my aesthetic.
It was hard at first – really hard. I didn’t buy much, and it was especially stressful when I was in a hurry to find something for a special event. The day before Valentines Day I tried to find something new to wear for a special date. I paced a few blocks of mainstream stores with no luck, and finally returned home in tears.
During that first year, I learned a lot and had to ask myself some hard questions. Could I be beautiful to my Valentines date, even if I didn’t have a new dress? Did my wardrobe define me? What was this impulse that made me feel like buying something new was so important?
I had to rework my relationship with my wardrobe, and learn that beauty was not just about style – it was about being mindful. And it ended up being the best thing, not just for my conscience, but for my wardrobe too. I used to stare into my closet and see a lot of trendy clothes I didn’t want to wear. Now I see quality clothing, pieces I love, which will last a long time. I also see the stories of people who have been given a decent paying job, who are able to support their families; people all over the world who can flourish because they’ve been treated with fairness and respect.
These people have hopes and dreams and deserve to be paid fair wages, and work in a safe environment. They deserve to live. To me, beauty is being mindful of their stories with every clothing purchase I make. I feel more beautiful when I know I’m wearing their success, their dignity, their hope for a better future.
I decided to continue my commitment to socially conscious fashion, and have now just passed three years. The experience has taught me a lot, and I am learning every day. I’ve dedicated myself to helping others shop in a conscious way, and direct people to the growing number of brands (link bit.ly/bienfairebrands) that are creating beautiful products in a responsible way, and who are making a difference around the world.
Mindfulness won’t look the same for everyone. There are hundreds of ways we can be more thoughtful in our purchases in relation to people and the environment, in everything from the fashion industry to the food industry to the electronics industry. The important thing is to not get overwhelmed or beat yourself up, but do what you can, right where you are. If we all make small changes, together we will make a big impact!
founder of Bien Faire, a lifestyle blog and shopping resource for a wardrobe that reflects your style and values.