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Jessica Marati Headshot

How Becoming a Conscious Consumer Changed My Life

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At the beginning of this year, as at the beginning of every year, I made a resolution. But this time, it didn't involve eating healthier or reading more or any of the other self-improvement vows that get neglected by March and fully abandoned by May.

This time, I felt the desire -- or actually, the urgent, desperate need -- to seriously shake up the hedonistic patterns I'd developed during my first year living in New York City. I was a cab-taking, take-out-eating, caffeine-addicted workaholic, who released stress with SoHo shopping sprees and a bit too much Friday night whiskey.

I decided to start small. I resolved to become a more conscious consumer, to think more about the purchases I make and the origins of the products I use.

I couldn't have anticipated on December 31st just how much that resolution would change my year, and indeed, my life.

I started the year by analyzing my clothes shopping habits. I realized that I was a victim of fast fashion, and that nearly half my wardrobe was poor quality, ill-fitting and good for one season, max. I donated that half to Housing Works and started to slow down. I began researching other shopping approaches: investment buying (spending more on higher quality stuff, but less often), repurposing (my local tailor hemmed my long skirts into minis and jeans into shorts) and thrifting (you wouldn't believe the deals at Buffalo Exchange!). My wardrobe is a bit smaller, but I honestly love everything in it, which makes getting dressed each morning much easier and more enjoyable.

Next came food. After delaying for as long as possible, I watched the documentary Food Inc., about the commercialization of the American food industry. By the credits, my eating habits had changed irreversably. While I could never give up meat entirely, I did become a 6-day-a-week pescatarian. I shop local, seasonal and organic whenever possible, and have managed to cut most processed foods out of my diet. My grande non-fat, sugar-free vanilla latte with Splenda is now a well-brewed Fair Trade roast with a splash of whole organic milk. Eating healthy and organic isn't about being bourgeous or weight-obsessed, as I once thought; it's about not poisoning myself with the toxins and chemicals that have become a part of the American diet.

Over the months, my exploration of conscious consumerism has invaded nearly every part of my life. I started carrying tote bags to the supermarket. I replaced my bottled water habit with a reusable aluminum thermos. I think twice before hopping in a cab, and usually opt for the subway. I support the small business instead of the big box retailer. Seamless Web has become a treat, not a way of life.

Being a more conscious consumer has empowered me. I know that my dollars don't disappear into a black hole somewhere between Bangladesh and China; they support companies, practices and people I believe in. I started a blog to share what I'm learning and pondering -- SociallyResponsibleStyle.com -- and come September will embark on a new project studying fair trade fashion supply chains in Southeast Asia.

I also want to show people that it's possible to be socially responsible without sacrificing style and budget. I'm working with a non-profit organization called Ahkun to put together a sustainable fashion pop-up shop on July 30 to 31, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Lower Eastside Girls Club. Our vendors are a carefully curated collection of sustainable brands, fair trade organizations, and independent designers, and 10 percent of sales will be donated to micro-entrepreneurs through Kiva.org. I urge you to drop by, do a little shopping and hopefully be inspired; you may just pick up a resolution for 2012.