When you think of pop star fashion, chances are you flash to the image of multiple wardrobe changes, all sparkle and high-end designers. While that still may be the case for the Ariana Grandes and Taylor Swifts of the world, there are plenty of up-and-coming stars out there who are changing the rules of what on-stage style means in the year 2020. Enter Mattiel Brown, known by her fans as just Mattiel, the Atlanta-based singer-songwriter who stocks her wardrobe — onstage and off — with sustainable fashion sourced almost exclusively from thrift stores and other secondhand outlets. "It's something that is really important to me," the singer says. Take for example, her most recent U.S. tour, for which she only packed a single suitcase filled with "three or four suits" to alternate each night. "I didn't even really notice until I came home and saw all these clothes I had forgotten about in my closet," she recalls. "I was living just fine out of this tiny suitcase." Among her most valuable finds? A vintage Givenchy suit she found on eBay that she ended up wearing almost for almost every stop of the tour — and when she picks up the next leg post-quarantine, she plans to wear it again. Here, in her own words, Brown writes about her relationship with sustainability, and shares some of her favorite pieces from her own closet.
"My first memories of refreshing my wardrobe date back to around 1998 — shopping with my mother as a 5-year-old. Small-town Georgia is hit or miss when it comes to secondhand shops, but by the time I was a teenager, she'd taken me to every single one within a 20 mile radius of our home. At the time, I didn't appreciate these trips to the thrift store at all. My lower-middle class parents made ends meet, but no matter how much I begged them, I never could get my hands on any name-brand clothes from the mall. I can specifically remember girls in high school wearing Hollister, American Eagle, and Abercrombie & Fitch as if they were absolutely essential to their identities. For a while, I was envious and frustrated. I was fully aware that these status symbols were a mandatory requirement for anyone trying to gain popularity, and I was also fully aware that I was never going to check that box. I had to learn to work with whatever I had from the used clothing racks at Value Village.
But don't get me wrong — as far as sustainability goes, my hands aren't entirely clean. In college, I'd take trips to H&M, Zara, and Forever 21. I had bought my fair share of fast fashion before I understood how detrimental it is to human dignity and the environment. This is the part where I throw in some casual facts: An average American throws away about 80 pounds of clothing per person, per year. And 85% of that waste ends up in landfills. In 2014 alone, 10.5 million tons of textile waste was sent to landfill. Keep in mind that a lot of said clothing is made from synthetic fibers that will take centuries to biodegrade. Alongside fossil fuels, beef production, and plastic waste, fast fashion is easily among the most insidious pollutants on the planet.
To whomever is reading this, I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard someone preach about this. And like me, you've probably tried your best to change your shopping habits and taken a closer look at where things were manufactured. Nobody is perfect. We are all contributors to the larger problem here — but for me, making a conscious choice for sustainability has been worth the extra time and effort. And as it turns out, the most interesting pieces I've found are all from secondhand shops. So... thanks mom. It turns out you were right all along."