Inside a Sustainable Fashion Collector’s Closet

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Photography by Natasha Gerschon. Hair and Makeup, Sierra Elliott for P1M.ca/Saie

An early environmental awakening led to stylist and activist Sarah Jay’s sustainable stockpile.

Sarah Jay’s collection of sustainable and locally made styles had a bit of a brutal beginning. “Early in my career, I had an existential crisis,” admits the Toronto-based celebrity stylist, eco activist and conceiver of the documentary Toxic Beauty. “I just felt like I was drowning in excess. I loved fashion, but I was concerned about where our clothing was coming from and how it was being disposed of.”

Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is partially to blame for Jay’s self-reflection. “That film really fact-checked me and opened my mind, but it also coincided with the worsening of my chemical sensitivities,” she says, referring to the by-product of her days submerged in chlorine as a synchronized swimmer and her self-described addiction to hair dye and beauty products. As her health declined, Jay adopted a new and more organic wardrobe to keep her skin (and environmental conscience) satisfied — and thus her collection commenced.

One of her first sustainable pieces was a dress by Ukrainian-Canadian designer Katya Revenko. “I was working for her when she won the Elle Canada Toronto Fashion Incubator New Labels Fashion Design Competition in 2006, and she paid me with clothing,” recounts Jay. Sixteen years later, Jay is now a freelancer, but she often brings stylish souvenirs home from work.

Before purchasing an item, Jay asks herself a series of questions to ensure that the ware is worthwhile: “Will I wear it more than once? Can it be styled multiple ways? Will it last over time?” As she clothes her clients exclusively in ethically and environmentally conscious outfits, the answer is almost always yes. “It’s important for me to actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk,” she says of her reasoning behind starting her fashion reservoir. “It’s also a product of being involved in the local designer community and fall – ing in love with what they’re creating.”

And she truly does love it. Over the years, the collector has acquired more than 100 sustainable fashion items, ranging from handmade hoodies to bejewelled fanny packs. Despite her citing Courtney Love as her fashion inspiration, the extensive mixture of eras and aesthetics in Jay’s collection is hard to categorize. Vintage Wayne Clark skirt suits hang among contemporary pleated pieces by Toronto-based Sid Neigum. Upcycled denim is bundled beside silk dresses. Geode jewellery by Black Line Accessories is intermingled with her kitschy handmade creations. And the list goes on.

Jay acknowledges that being a fashion fanatic turned sustainability superhero does have some challenges. She sometimes struggles with the paradox of loving looks but hating the industry. “How do I sleep at night?” she mockingly asks. “Sometimes I don’t feel authentic, but I suppose I’ve learned to understand and respect that sustainability is a spectrum. There’s no such thing as a perfectly sustainable lifestyle, garment or brand. It’s about getting in the game…starting where you are.”

But no matter the time or the textile, the appeal for Jay is always in the story. “I’m proud to support these artisans,” she says. “What can I say? I love it! I love the love that has gone into these pieces. I love knowing and celebrating the design process. And I love starting a conversation about sustainability.”

This article first appeared in FASHION’s April issue. Find out more here

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