For Jackie Rodriguez, leading a planet-conscious lifestyle is not a recent fad. Instead, at the core of how this sustainable fashion influencer approaches her consumption decisions are the working-class values her Salvadoran immigrant parents passed down through their embrace of home-cooked meals, thrift store shopping and many other prudent budgeting habits while living in a suburb of the San Gabriel Valley.
“Desde chiquita (since I was a little girl), it was instilled in me to not be wasteful,” she said in a video interview. “To conserve, whether that was energy, food, money — anything. So I think that’s always kind of been a big value and driving force in my life.”
These concepts are central to Rodriguez’s distinctive style in which she links environmental values with a more mindful approach to consumption as a way to advance generational wealth discussions among Latina millennials — a perspective she felt was missing from the sustainable fashion movement. Rodriguez drew this connection because she recognized that first-generation college educated Latinas like her are often the first in their families to hold higher-earning professional positions — and with that comes a responsibility to not only provide for oneself, but also to save and invest wisely to support family members in the future.
Rodriguez took the time to talk about her unique sustainability perspective while on lunch break at her Washington D.C. office, where she works as a communications professional. Her hair was parted down the center and pulled back into a neat ponytail, and she was dressed in a completely thrifted outfit consisting of a flowy white dress, a vintage lime-green blazer and elegant handcrafted earrings.
When asked to define sustainability, a term that is often overused and co-opted as a marketing tactic by corporate brands in our culture, Rodriguez says it’s important to adopt a new mentality as consumers.
“For me, it means only using or having truly what you need,” she said. “And of course, I’m not perfect.” Yet, she explains that sustainability demands more than solely buying less, it requires shifting our mindset to consume clothing, food or home goods with the purpose and intention to ensure future generations will also have access to the resources we are using, too.
This lifestyle is present across her thoughtfully curated Instagram feed, where she features picturesque shots modeling her own fashionable secondhand outfit arrangements, alongside slideshows and short videos where she unpacks evolving climate news and policy. Her posts also feature bilingual sustainability slogans and analysis, and she evaluates how her spending decisions impact not only the planet, but also her family’s financial legacy.
Rodriguez avoids buying anything made from polyester, nylon or synthetic fibers, which are made from petrochemicals extracted from oil and gas and whose production has been known to disproportionately affect Black and brown neighborhoods near the port in Los Angeles, “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana or the Ohio River Valley, which all experience higher rates of air pollution.
According to a 2021 study by the Biomimicry Institute, about 60% of textiles are currently made using fuel-based synthetic fibers that don’t decompose naturally and accumulate in the environment as toxic chemicals. And so, Rodriguez looks for clothing made with 100% natural fibers.
Rodriguez is well-attuned to discussions about sustainability in the fashion industry and dives deeper to discuss sustainable fashion policy. She mentions shifting our economy away from a linear mode of production and advocates for a circular approach that forces clothing companies to consider the full life of a product. A circular approach could lead to buy-back, recycling or composting initiatives, which are crucial to reducing the harm the fashion industry has on the planet, she said.
Rodriguez highlighted the importance of degrowth, a process by which both production and consumption are essentially slowed or reduced so that our economy syncs up with our planet’s limited resources.
For people looking to curb their purchasing habits, the most essential tip she shares involves buying less and, if you must buy, buy smarter. Before purchasing anything, Rodriguez runs through a list of qualifications: first, she considers whether she truly needs what she’s about to purchase; second, if it’s a true necessity, she buys secondhand items as much as possible; third, if secondhand is not available, she considers the quality or the durability of the item and how the way it was made impacts local workers and communities.
Amid the challenging climate reality that unfolds before our eyes, Rodriguez promotes a refreshing, empowering and almost contagious approach by linking sustainable fashion and personal financial legacy. She makes sustainable practices seem very practical.
“I consider building generational wealth,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s 10 cents or a penny, at the end of the day, it adds up…So when I decide to buy [something] new or actually spend money, I ask, `What’s going to be the return of investment?’”