The Curated Closet: Aléna Tran, Ethical Wardrobe Expert + Blogger @allyctran, Librarian, and Creative
Aléna Tran is all about slowing down— in fashion, at home, and in life. Check out why this ethical fashion influencer and expert changed up her purchases, which ethical brands make up her wardrobe, and her advice on living slow this fall.
So, who are you? :)
My name is Alena, and I'm a 24-year-old creative living with my husband in Calgary, Alberta. I have a website and Instagram dedicated to educating and inspiring people on the journey towards a more ethical wardrobe. Many people don't know that fashion is the #2 polluter in the world next to fossil fuels, and many of the garment workers making our clothes are treated unfairly and don't receive a living wage. While style inspiration is an aspect of what I do, I aim to shed light on the darker side of the fashion industry, and show people that it's possible to dress well without fast fashion—to dress well using only vintage, secondhand, and ethical clothing.
When I'm not doing that, I also enjoy working part-time as a librarian, meeting up with other local creatives, and perusing the local secondhand shops...or at a coffee shop—I'm always at coffee shops (but not drinking coffee. I'm a matcha addict). Art in some form or another has always been a part of my life, and lately that's looked like experimenting with watercolors. I've just started getting back into it after a year-long break, and it feels good to be holding a paintbrush again. No matter what it is—writing, photography, painting—I always need to be doing something artistic.
How do you describe your style?
That's always been difficult for me to pin down since my style goes through seasons, it seems, ever evolving to reflect what new influences I'm drawn to and what persona I'd like to reflect in my outfits. In the past I've put pressure on myself to adhere to one very narrow aesthetic—as though if I didn't, I didn't know who I really was—but I've recently come to accept that who I am is someone who changes and appreciates the beauty in a range of styles. My style varies from day to day depending on my mood, what I'm finding beauty in. That being said, there are a few things that have stayed consistent: I adore vintage-inspired looks, and I'm always incorporating vintage pieces into my outfits, whether it's a pair of shoes from the 70s or a bag from the 50s. Neutrals are always a must. And I try to stick to what's classic and made to last, avoiding pieces that are obviously very temporary trends. My outfits are very simple, and I never wear hats. I'd like to think I have a somewhat Parisian approach to styling, but I could be dreaming.
How has your style changed throughout the years?
My style saga can really be divided into two sections: Before I watched the documentary "The True Cost", and after. Around the time I watched "The True Cost", I had been fascinated with minimalism, and my wardrobe reflected that philosophy. I wore very sleek, simple silhouettes, and had enthusiastically flung myself on to the monochrome wagon, refusing to wear any color except black, white, or grey and the shades therein. But the documentary changed everything. After learning what I did about the dark side of the fast fashion industry, I knew I would never shop at my favorite minimalist-inspired brand again. I had enjoyed not having to think too hard about putting outfits together, because everything from that brand paired so well together (probably because it only sold clothing in like, two colors). But I was also excited about the challenge of exploring a new realm of fashion: ethical and secondhand. Because the boundaries forced me out of my comfort zone, I discovered a new creativity and interest in fashion I never knew I had. I began shopping for vintage clothing again. I began slowly incorporating more colour (beige is a colour, okay?) into my wardrobe. I experimented with new silhouettes. And because secondhand is less of a financial investment than new clothing, I felt I could be more bold about my choices. Today, I feel free to experiment with a variety of aesthetics and have gained a deeper appreciation for fashion and the treasure hunt that is dressing sustainably.
What is your go-to look?
As you probably guessed, my go-to look changes often. This summer, it's a Marmier unisex white tee tucked into a pair of flared pants (my faves are from Iris Denim or Betina Lou), and some secondhand mules. The bag I wear almost every day is handmade by a local brand called DUVAL [see her post on the brand].
What's a piece in your closet you wear to make more of a statement?
Without a doubt, it's the striped jumpsuit by sustainable brand VETTA Capsule. While still a classy and neutral outfit, jumpsuits are always a bit of a statement, and I tend to feel like eyes are on me when I wear it (hah). It's flowy, comfy, and the best part is, it's reversible! The runner-up would have to be the black ballet top by an ethical brand from my hometown, Buttercream Clothing. It has a dramatic scooped neckline in the front and back, showing a bit more skin than I normally do but in a very elegant way. It also features ingenious snaps to hold your bra straps in place.
Can you chat more about your philosophy on how slow living and slow fashion go hand in hand? What advice do you have to staying sustainable/living slow this fall?
Slow living is a return to a simpler, more mindful way of going about your day. Paying attention to the little things, rooting yourself in the here and now, making room for what's important. Valuing experiences over things, quality over quantity. In a similar vein, slow fashion is about slowing down the cycle of consumption. It's about buying fewer clothes, but better made ones. Buying garments that are made by workers who are treated well or choosing to wear preloved clothing to keep it out of landfills, where a lot of used clothing ends up. Slow fashion is a beautiful antidote to the relatively new fast-food model of consuming clothes most of us have grown up with.
This autumn, there are a few easy ways you can approach fashion a little slower! The first is, instead of running out to by new fall clothes, try bringing out the warmer clothes you already own, and get excited about the transition back to your favourite cozy sweaters and cardigans. Practice gratefulness for these beautiful pieces you already have, and imagine the different outfits you can make with them as the weather gets cooler. Contentment is an amazing adversary against the desire for new. The average person buys 60% more clothing today than the average person did 20 years ago—that's a huge, and frankly unnecessary, increase in our consumption of fashion. We really don't need that many options, and often, too many options leaves us feeling stuck as we gaze into our closets!
My second piece of advice is to use consignment and thrift stores as your main supplier of clothing instead of buying brand new. Shopping for preloved and vintage pieces is one of the best (and most fun) ways to slow the cycle of consumption, because you're extending the life cycle of a garment and keeping it out of landfills.
And finally, if you're going to buy new—perhaps because you're unable to find a piece you need in the secondhand stores—invest in a good-quality ethical piece you really love and will wear for years to come.
What brands do you love?
Gosh, there are so many! I personally buy mostly secondhand pieces, but I've had the pleasure of testing out garments from a variety of ethical brands through my role as an influencer. Although it's almost impossible to choose just a few, because there are so many incredible ethical brands out there, some brands that have especially stood out to me because of their values and beautiful work are Everlane [more of her thoughts on Everlane undergarments], Outland Denim [check out her post on the jeans brand] , Hackwith Design House, Nisolo, and Kotn [another blog here!].
What's your advice on finding a style and building a closet you love?
My advice would be to not put too much pressure on yourself to cultivate one narrowly-defined style. I've lost count of how many women have shared with me that they've felt bad for not having figured out exactly what their style is. I don't see why humans should try to put themselves in fashion boxes! I think if you're wearing what you love, a pattern will naturally emerge, and you'll be able to see what's "you," and what isn't. Of course, I'm a firm believer in using Pinterest boards and collecting images to help you see what sort of outfits you're drawn to. And some people find that having a clear idea of their style helps them avoid buying pieces they don't really like, which is great! But I think that if you're already putting thought into what you buy and you're only buying what makes you feel confident and beautiful, your unique style will naturally take shape. And it's okay if it changes. Just don't be wasteful with the clothes you no longer enjoy wearing—be sure to take good care of them and donate them, or sell them at a consignment store.