Today Anna Lehtola is the 23-year-old CEO at Lovia, a sustainable design accessory company giving new life to fish skin, excess furniture leather and other leftover materials, but there was a time when she really loved fast fashion. She now shares her practical secrets on how to ditch a bad shopping habit. Warning: You will experience decreased carbon emissions and increased quality of life.
”Oh gosh, I thought to myself, as I stood in my first own apartment surrounded by piles of hardly worn, badly kept clothes. I had just moved out from my childhood home and started realizing how toxic my mindless shopping habit was, not only to my home decor, but for my peace of mind and the whole planet.
The problem was that there was nothing more to the fast fashion clothes to me than the way they looked. I had no connection to their background. I had so little respect for them that if I saw them lying all wrinkly on the cupboard floor, I wasn’t even bothered to lift them up.
Even though I dreamed of owning less clothes of better quality, I felt like I couldn’t do it. It feels ridiculous now, but I felt like I just had to update my outfits all the time to ’stay in the game’ and be admired in the social circles. When I think about it afterwards, it feels like my style was based on the need to be part of whatever trend was the current ’it thing’ – my style was to fit in.
After my wake-up call on the moving day I wanted to stop being part of the fast fashion problem, but I still craved nice new things to express myself. I had always been into fixing or sewing clothes myself, and now I also wanted to start buying vintage. I shopped as much as ever, just switched to second hand. I actually ended up starting my own vintage online shop with a university friend because it was so hard to find nice stores selling modern pieces. My motivation to make a change grew hand in hand with the business, as it taught me more and more about the horrors of the fashion industry.
I studied economics, not fashion, but I can still point out two moments in my studies that also had a huge impact in the way I relate to fashion today.
The first was a lecture by the Finnish impact guru Aape Pohjavirta at Hanken. Something he said really stuck with me: As a consumer, you can’t resign from anything by thinking that you won’t take any part in it. Whether you’re conscious about it or not, every single consuming choice you make speaks out for you. With every purchase you advance something in the world.
The other groundbreaking step was a course about Mindfulness leadership by Stanford neuropsychologists. It was pretty basic mindfulness stuff, such as taking other people into notice, meditation, just learning more mindful habits regarding leadership and life in general. I really got into the mindfulness mentality, observing everything and focusing on every moment, from brushing my teeth to yes – buying clothes.
Until then, I had bought stuff on a whim, with ’oh, that looks nice’ being a good enough reason to whip out my credit card. But after the course I couldn’t walk around one eye closed anymore. I had to start looking behind the price tags and the world I was contributing to with my purchases.
That’s the road I’m on now. Clothing is still an important way of self expression to me, but the things that I want to communicate with them have changed. It’s not just about the superficial appearance anymore, but rather about showcasing my personality and the fact that I’m a conscious individual that cares about the planet. I carry my vintage findings with the same, or even bigger, pride that I used to feel about wearing the latest trends.
The luxurious feel and good quality of sustainable materials also encourages me to take better care of the pieces. That’s also a way of showing appreciation to the passionate artisans who created the products.
I love the fact that sustainable fashion also became my career. I’ve been working at Lovia for 2.5 years now and feel super lucky to be an entrepreneur and CEO at a company that shares the same thoughts and values as me. Lovia is a Finnish sustainable design accessory company based on the idea that we already have all the material we need to dress the whole population, we just need to use it more wisely. What we do is turn waste material into design accessories with full transparency, showing respect for nature, people, honesty and purpose every step of the way.
My best tip for making the shift towards more sustainable fashion is this: be mindful. Every time you’re about to buy something, stop and think. Do you really need it? Will it really improve your quality of life? Is this a business that you actually want to support?
If you decide to buy, keep thinking about the purchase as it ages. Does it bring you the kind of energy that you thought it would? When you realize how good you feel from making mindful, sustainable choices, it’s easier to keep doing them.
When I still felt the need to express myself with ever-changing outfits, I thought buying cheap clothes is the only way to go. That’s a key problem: fast fashion companies have altered our thoughts about what clothes are supposed to cost. Proper products feel overpriced to us, when we should be thinking that it’s the underpriced ones that are the problem. A cheap price tag is always a sign of exploitation of nature, people or both. One of the things that I’m most proud of with Lovia is the way we strive for transparency in our business. One way we do this is that all the products have a DNA code that allows you to check where the materials came from, who made the product, where, and what we paid them. As far as I know, we’re one of very few companies in the world who do this.
Even if you end up spending a little more than planned on a sustainable, high quality product, I can almost guarantee that you will be left with a nice feeling for supporting something good. And these individual choices do matter! In the end, consumers have all the power.
Of course, shopping habits matter on a personal level too. My quality of life has notably increased after I gave up the endless buying of unethical, poor quality products. There’s a new element of fulfillment and calmness to my happiness now that it’s independent of superficial things and that the constant need to buy more has vanished. It feels amazing to live and consume according to my values."
Consumption (pink):I always try to find the things I need second hand, unless there's an ethical brand I feel like I want to support. If I can’t buy what I need second hand, I try to buy long-lasting quality.
Food (yellow): I'm now trying to concentrate on finding food that has not traveled a long way to the store and also choose products with less packaging. I think this is also an important factor to think about besides eating less meat.
Flying (light green): As I've lived in San Francisco and many friends have been getting married around the world, it's been very hard to avoid long flights lately. As I'm also very much into learning from different cultures, flying is definitely the hardest one. I try to compensate the harm done by supporting local (sustainable) businesses on site and learning something important about the culture I visit to come up with new ideas on how to make the world a bit better place with my own actions.
Electricity (dark red) and heating (red): I do use green electricity, but for example heating the electric sauna on a chilly Sunday evening is a guilty pleasure. Our apartment is right above the house's gateway which means the stone floor gets very cold on freezing winter days. That's when we tend to use underfloor heating as well. I'll try to use it less and wear extra warm wool socks this winter instead.
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