Eco 'It-Girl' in Focus: Mia Frilander On Building a Responsible Wardrobe and Embracing the Japanese Wabi-Sabi Ideology

A responsible creative to follow: Mia Frilander, a Finnish fashion journalist, stylist, and model, writes at musla.fi about minimalist living and responsible fashion. Mia tells Savant about embarking on a mindful journey of shopping free life and zero waste living to fight her insecurities, and shares some tips on how to create a sustainable wardrobe, and practice the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. We are awe-inspired - thank you, Mia!

Words: Meri Frig

  Image: Mia Frilander / Photography: Niklas Sandström

Image: Mia Frilander / Photography: Niklas Sandström

You decided to go for a shopping detox for five months. How was your experience? 

I decided to do the detox because I felt trapped by my habit of consumption. At the time, I was living a lifestyle I couldn’t afford, because I was trying to be someone I actually wasn’t. I work in fashion and I’m constantly surrounded by images of beautiful things and images of fabulous women wearing them. I wanted to be one of these fabulous women as well, and often told myself, the way to achieve that was by owning the right wardrobe pieces from the right brands. Wrong!

I spent a lot of my money on clothes, but it didn’t make me any happier. Instead, it made me feel more miserable, because after spending all that money, deep down I knew I was overspending. So, the decision to stop buying stuff was actually a huge relief. I felt so free! Finally, I didn’t have to worry that much about personal finances anymore.

"It helps me to live in the moment and realise how unnecessary and time consuming any kind of worrying is – things have a way of working themselves out."

Has it changed your shopping behaviour afterwards?

The detox was a true reality check. After the detox, I’ve stopped dreaming of impossibly expensive things, because I know that it would be irresponsible of me to buy shoes costing 500 euros without the corresponding lifestyle. I realised it is a lot of money away from things that could make me much happier. 

The shopping detox also came at a point in my life when I felt I needed to figure out who I really was. Finally, I needed to be at peace with myself: I wanted to be happy to be the person I am, instead of trying to project a fake version of myself to the world. I shopped because of insecurity; buying stuff that made me look like the person I wanted to be: this chic, successful and cool woman. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately, and nowadays, I’m pretty comfortable with myself, with my flaws and all. When I finally reached this stage, I also felt like I needed much less, because I was already happy with what I’d got.

Going cold turkey on shopping for five months was a good way of getting myself out of the habit of buying stuff, when I felt insecure and like a failure. It also forced me to analyse these feelings and overcome them. Of course, I still love clothes and occasionally buy new things, but I know a piece of clothing won’t change who I am, nor turn me into a different person. After the detox, I definitely feel I need a lot less.

"I shopped because of insecurity; buying stuff that made me look like the person I wanted to be: this chic, successful and cool woman."

  Image: Mia Frilander   via  Musla.fi

Image: Mia Frilander via Musla.fi

Can you tell us about living a zero waste lifestyle – how challenging was the one-month experiment? 

It was so hard and I definitely failed to be completely plastic free for the whole month! But I still think the whole zero waste movement is so inspiring. I feel incredibly energised when I visit Lauren Singers Trash is for Tossers blog, for example. The choices we make can actually make an impact. Everyone could probably change the world into a little bit of a better place, by just making some small changes and adjustments to their lifestyle. For example, I’ve almost stopped ordering takeout and I never buy take-away coffee.

The zero waste concept is also about living a slower life. It’s actually so much nicer to take the time to drink that cup of coffee in the cafe, or go to that restaurant and talk to the person you’re eating with, rather than having a quick TV-dinner.

Did you discover new great ways to reduce plastic use during the experiment?

When doing the groceries, I try to buy mainly vegetables that aren’t wrapped in plastic (a pretty hard task in Finland in winter!), and skip the cheese. This has forced me to explore more nice vegan recipes. A concrete tip I actually started with already is to skip the cotton pads for removing makeup (I love micellar water and mainly use that to remove makeup, so you need cotton), and use a muslin cloth instead. Works well and there's no waste!

You have also written about trying the positivity challenge for one week. Do you feel it had a positive effect on you? Would you recommend it to others?

I did the positivity challenge a year ago. Looking back now, I realise I was a bit depressed then. I was kind of sad and had really negative thoughts about myself. Back then, that challenge really opened a door and helped me to notice that negative self talk I had gotten into the habit of. Not that one week alone cured my budding depression – I needed to work on that a lot more. And some say that not letting yourself feel those negative feelings can actually do a lot of harm – you need to let it all out.

"I'd love to build a wardrobe of clothes that I'd still want to wear when I'm old, so I always ask myself: "Would 50-year-old Mia wear this?"."

  Image: Mia Frilander   via  Musla.fi

Image: Mia Frilander via Musla.fi

For me, stopping myself every time I was telling myself I’m not good enough was a helpful way to realise how hard I was on myself. I still use that method for different things. For example, I worry and obsess quite a lot about the future – what am I going to be when I grow up, what should I do with my life, am I on the right path, etc. It’s good to think about your future, but after a certain point, it’s just excessive worrying. So I might tell myself that, for the next week, I’ll just enjoy my life as it is now, and stop thinking about the future. Of course, it does not work all the time, because I forget I’m on my 'not-thinking-about-the-future' week. But when I do remember, it helps me to live in the moment and realise how unnecessary and time-consuming any kind of worrying is – things have a way of working themselves out.

"The wabi-sabi concept [...] celebrates the old and worn stuff you already have, helps you to see beauty in everything that's broken and a bit off, and makes you look at yourself more lovingly."

  Image: Mia Frilander   via  Musla.fi

Image: Mia Frilander via Musla.fi

What are some of your best tips for creating a sustainable wardrobe for the beginners?

Identify your style. This takes some time, but for example, I have realised that I shouldn't buy high heels (I like to walk fast), or hoard too many summery clothes in my closet (I live in Finland). Knits and perfectly-fitting vintage Levi’s are usually a good idea for me to buy, since I’m always cold.

When you have identified what your style is about, you shouldn’t get rid of stuff too easily. I have a pair of flared jeans that I didn't use for years, but I kept them because I knew they were my style, and now I’m really into them again.

  Image: Mia Frilander   via  Musla.fi

Image: Mia Frilander via Musla.fi

When buying something, I try to ask myself: is this a very trendy piece? If it's a trend, I usually wait for a while before buying it, maybe until the sales, to make sure I'm buying it because I like it, not because it's in fashion. I'd love to build a wardrobe of clothes that I'd still want to wear when I'm old, so I always ask myself: "Would 50-year-old Mia wear this?". This rules out some of the trendy stuff I might be tempted to buy, and makes me gravitate towards timeless pieces of good quality.

You have written about the Japanese concept wabi-sabi. How has it inspired you personally?

I think it's a problem in today's world that we like new things too much. Brand new clothes and things, flawless skin, youthful appearances. New stuff just for the sake of buying something new. This leads to overconsumption and low self-esteem (which, in turn, leads to buying more stuff in order to fit into impossible beauty standards). The wabi-sabi concept is the cure for all of these things: it celebrates the old and worn stuff you already have, helps you to see beauty in everything that's broken and a bit off, and makes you look at yourself more lovingly.

Every time I look at myself in the mirror and see cellulite, fine lines or enlarged pores, I try to remember that, according to the wabi-sabi philosophy, these 'flaws' are interesting. Of course, it's hard to unconditionally love your appearance in this crazy world that we live in now, but I find this train of thought helps a bit.