When Sara Smiles

Interview with Sara dubbeldam from ‘When Sara Smiles’, a Dutch conscious fashion blog

I got in touch with Sara because I’d been following her on social media and reading her blog ‘When Sara Smiles’ for a while and I just felt I had to meet her and hear her story. I visited her in her lovely home in the centre of Amsterdam where I captured her on film, at ease in her own environment and out on the streets surrounding her house and in the nearby park. It was a very dreary day, weather-wise, but a very happy, sunny day because of the company. She is a true inspiration. I’m so glad I got to know her a little, and I hope you will feel the same after reading this interview and that you’ll be as inspired as I was and longing to make that transition to a conscious wardrobe!

Her friends describe her as an energetic person, spontaneous, curious, rather chaotic and open-minded. She feel it’s important to, next to her personal life, contribute to this beautiful planet we live on and to the happiness of others. Her inspiration mantra in life is ‘expect nothing, appreciate everything’ and although she feels that she still has a lot to learn (she’s only human ;-), she jokes), this reminder is her reason to stay open to everything that comes on her path and to appreciate the small things. In her daily life she is a branding strategist at a branding agency.

When did you start your blog ‘When Sara Smiles’? More importantly, why did you start it? Have you always been interested in fashion and how did you end up with conscious fashion? 
Yes! I’ve always loved fashion, trends, experimenting with fashion and shopping. I used to buy everything I could get my hands on. About 8 years ago I started a fashion blog (a different one) on which I wrote about trends and posted images of outfits. I also ran an online shop with jewellery and sunglasses. At a certain point I noticed that I got dragged into that world more and more. I continuously felt the need to buy new items of clothing, to keep looking interesting. And I wasn’t the only one; it had become the focus of the fashion blogging world. And that actually really didn’t feel like ‘me’. I also discovered through my online shop that the quality of the cheaper items was usually awful. So much plastic junk! On top of that, I noticed that people bought many items at once. Buybuybuybuy! When the disaster at Rana Plaza happened in 2013, a clothing factory in Bangladesh, during which more than 1000 employees died, I was shocked. I realised that with my purchases I was contributing to a system I didn’t support at all. This had to change! I challenged myself to only buy fair fashion for a month, as an experiment. In this month I learnt so much about the fashion world and at the same time I discovered how difficult it is to find better alternatives that still match my style. From the assumption that there had to be more people like me, I decided to start writing about it.

Why do you focus on conscious fashion? 
Because I think it’s very important that it gets a bigger audience. It’s so necessary! The fast fashion industry has such a huge impact on our planet and the lives of so many people who live in dreadful circumstances day in day out and who make our clothes in very unhealthy conditions. And so many people still don’t know about this. There are also so many beautiful brands that do contribute – and I’d like to offer them a stage. I’m also convinced that our consumerism isn’t only destructive for others but also for ourselves. I believe that when we learn to make more conscious choices, we will be happier too. By learning to be more content with what we have, by choosing quality and what we really like (instead of what the trends dictate) and by contributing to initiatives we endorse.

What does conscious fashion mean to you and how do you think it ties in with ‘slow living’? 
To me conscious fashion is clothing made with respect and worn with love. Honest, sustainable and conscious in every way: the materials used, the working conditions, quality, transport, care, everything. It ties in perfectly with slow living, because it’s about choosing and contributing to what you feel is important and what makes you happy. Don’t let yourself get hyped up by the trends and the rush of society! To me, conscious fashion is inextricably connected with a conscious lifestyle. You can be interested in conscious fashion, but if you’re not conscious in other aspects, that doesn’t feel right to me.

Do you have tips for people who aspire to this lifestyle or at least a conscious wardrobe? Where should they start? 
Start small! The next time you buy something, choose a brand that produces honestly and sustainably. Choose quality over quantity. And try to gain insight into your own spending habits and get to know your blind spots. Are you an ‘emotion-buyer’? Do certain brands, products or marketing tricks manage to seduce you over others? Is there a pattern in your bad bargains? Which items do you wear most and make you happy? Eco pioneer Livia Firth has a useful rule, the ’30 wears rule’; ask yourself the question before you buy something; ‘am I going to wear this item more than 30 times?’ Simple! And, an important tip; keep it fun and achievable! Don’t try to be super sustainable in one go, but take a step-by-step approach. If you make a mistake, that’s fine too. I’m not perfect and I compromise sometimes. Try to see each moment as a new, separate chance to do something good, it helps to keep a positive energy!

What is your favourite conscious fashion brand, and why? 
‘Reformation’, because they make conscious fashion so attractive with their incredible branding and on trend clothing, so much so that even the non-conscious fashionistas lie in wait for it. In this way they bring clothing that isn’t just beautiful but also honest and sustainable to a large audience. When it comes to bags, I’m a big fan of Matt & Nat (vegan) and Kings of Indigo is excellent for the perfect pair of jeans. These brands show that there’s no need to compromise on style when it comes to buying sustainable!

Do you think more and more people will make the transfer to sustainable fashion? You contribute to this with your blog. How do you try to inspire others? 
Yes, I see a positive development. Thankfully, more and more people are gaining awareness about the wrongs in the fashion industry and at the same time more and more people are choosing more consciously and there are more and more beautiful, honest brands. This is positive, yet I want to emphasise that the fast fashion industry is also growing immensely and becoming even faster. So the battle isn’t over yet ☺ I try to inspire others by writing about three subjects on ‘When Sara Smiles’:

– Inspiration and tips to build a more conscious wardrobe.
– Knowledge about the fashion industry: what goes on behind closed doors? How is clothing made and from what materials?
– Articles about why we consume so much and in which I try to help you make more conscious and smarter choices.

Sara’s Tips on What to Read and Watch about Conscious Fashion

The True Cost (documentary)

Dit is een Goede Gids” by Marieke Eyskoot, the book she is reading in the images, a book filled to the brim with knowledge, tips and tricks and awesome brands to build a conscious wardrobe with. Sara’s blog, ‘When Sara Smiles’ is mentioned in this book.

The More of Less’ (by Joshua Becker), a book about minimising. Very inspiring to want less and choose more things (amongst which clothing!) that make you truly happy.

Sara’s Outfits

• Blouse: Popupshop
• Cardigan: Nanushka
• Jeans: Kings of Indigo

• Coat: her mum’s favourite coat 🙂
• Jumper: Filippa K
• Skirt: second-hand
• Bag: O My Bag