Eco-Queen Areta Szpura On How To De-Clutter Your Closet

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

Image: Areta Szpura (@areta) wearing her 'Save The Whales' tee. 

Areta Szpura is a creative supernova hailing from Poland. After co-founding uber cool clothing brand Local Heroes, the environmental consultant set her mind to helping other local businesses do better. And now the bonafide eco-queen is on speed dial for brands both big and small.

A big part of what makes Areta so inspiring is the fact that she sees sustainability as a journey, not a destination. So rather than preaching perfection, she is all about taking baby steps towards a more positive future. And here, she shares some of her simple life hacks for a more sustainable wardrobe, home and life.

Rosie Dalton: How did you first come to work as an environmental consultant?
Areta Szpura: I was always some kind of consultant. I started working really early on (when I was 16), so I was the go-to when it came to connecting companies with a younger generation. This was the start of social media and no one really knew how to handle it, so I just followed my instincts.  

Sustainability became very important to me last year, so I decided to quit my own company and start my eco journey full time. This process took me a few years and, even now, I am still learning every day. But I couldn’t be happier!

I started off helping out friends with brands, coffee shops, or small offices. And step-by-step, it took off, Now, every time somebody throws an event, they want to make sure they are doing as much good as they can.  Whether it’s changing t-shirts to organic cotton, having reusable cutlery or giving the leftover catering to local Foodsharing, every little thing matters.

Rosie: What does your day-to-day look like in this role?
Areta: No day is like another. The only constant is my morning routine. I try to get up early to have an hour to drink coffee, meditate, do little bit of yoga and have breakfast. Then off to the unknown! I love working with brands both small and big. With smaller businesses, you can usually do more, because the decision process is shorter. But with bigger guys, even a tiny change in their scale can equal big impact.

Every case is different, but I love when brands are super open and eager to change. Usually it is not this easy ad there is someone on the team that’s unconvinced or caught up on the money side of things. But I love the challenge when my utopian ideas crash into reality and I have to get creative. It’s all about collaboration. If we change something on top, every employee has to get informed in order to understand why we do this. Because what’s the point of having a vegan option on the menu if the cashier doesn’t know anything about it?

Image: Areta wearing a 'How You Bin' tee.

Rosie: What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you personally?
Areta: When I first realised how bad the fashion industry is, I was mad. I felt like I had been lied to for half my life and had, unconsciously, become part of this evil circle. I didn’t want to make people buy more things they don’t need, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to make capitalism disappear. So I figured out that we have to limit what we have and buy only what we really need. Then every time we do purchase something, to make sure it is as local, plastic free, and fair as possible. Luckily there are more shops bringing the amazing brands together now, so it is getting easier. 

Rosie: What are some of your simple tips for consuming more responsibly?
Areta: One simple life hack is to put all the hangers in your closet on one side. Every time you use something, change the side. After a month, you will be able to clearly see what you haven’t even tried on. And that’s proof you can probably do without it.

If you don’t know where to start with ethical fashion, you can watch The True Cost on Netflix. And then Minimalism. That’s how I heard about Project 333. You choose 33 items from your wardrobe and for the next 3 months use only them. It sounds impossible (and I thought so too), but it actually makes your life much easier. 

Every time I had to get dressed or pack, it took me ten times less, because I finally knew what was in my closet.  And I had to get creative (like styling up a t-shirt when dressing for dinner). Borrowing is also an option and I did that recently when I went to a friend’s wedding. But you don’t need to be on the #333 challenge to do that. You can do it everyday! We all own way too much stuff. And uncluttering can work miracles for your apartment and for your mind.

Rosie: How do you seek to introduce these principles into your own wardrobe?
Areta: I go through my closet at least once a month, to see if there is anything I don’t like or wear anymore and then I decide what to do with it. Sometimes it just needs a little DIY to become your new fave item. And, if not, I try to find a new home for it through friends, family, garage sales, online apps like Vinted, Depop or Facebook Marketplace. If you’re not a fan of thrifting, you can support local designers instead. Or, go to a tailor and create your own dream pieces.

Rosie: Where do you like to shop most?
Areta: If I feel like refreshing my wardrobe, then I usually just go secondhand shopping. I try not to buy brand new things when isn’t needed. With vintage clothing, you can see how it looks after couple washes (and that’s what I hate the most about cheap polyester bargains). But you are also less likely to have the same t-shirts as everyone else and you save – a lot! 

Also, going into any shopping mall is like torture for me. I can feel in the air-conditioned air how much trauma had to happen so we can have that $5 t-shirt on the hanger.  We can do so much better!

High street stores need to change how, from what and how much they produce. We have already manufactured way too much clothing. I am no American Scientist, but I’m pretty sure that if we stopped making anything new right now, we would still have enough clothing to last a hundred years or more.

Rosie: And how do you reduce waste elsewhere in your life?
Areta: Again, through baby steps! My everyday essential is: glass or metal water bottle, reusable coffee cup, metal spork  and little container to avoid single use plastic. I try to have a cotton string bag and some produce bags with me for unplanned shopping.

Then there is my home: I use a bamboo tooth brush, and have wooden brushes and vegetable sponges to do the dishes with. I try to buy washing powder and all other cleaning products locally and in glass or metal containers. Basically the rule is to avoid single use plastic as much as possible. Oh and menstrual cups! These have changed my life for good. Not only eco wise, but also in terms of health.

Image: Areta saving the world, one sign at a time.

Rosie: Do you think the ethical conversation is becoming more prominent in Europe now?
Areta: Yes! It’s slow but we’re getting there.  In Poland, the fashion market boomed five or six years ago and we now have more local designers. Which is a really good starting point. 

The best place to shop sustainably in Europe, for me, is Copenhagen and Berlin. They have all the cool eco-focused department and flagship stores like Ecoalf, Carcel.  And outside of Europe, my fave place to shop is LA, because they have the coolest second hand shops (like Buffalo Exchange) and flea markets.

Rosie: If you could recommend making one change in people’s daily habits to better the planet, what would that change be?
Areta: Avoid single use plastic! It’s an amazing material that can last for hundreds of years, but not something that should be used only once and thrown away. Every time you order a drink, ask for it WITHOUT A STRAW. And remember, every little thing matters!

Do your best, talk to your friends and family and try to encourage them to do the same. I believe we all want the best, we just don’t always know how to get there. So education and collaboration are key.

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