If there is one sustainable thing Burning Man is famous for, it’s the Leave No Trace element. And that extends to our fashion choices for the Burn.
Attendees are encouraged to costume themselves in a way that not only doesn’t shed and litter stuff all over the Playa, but equips us to reduce our waste, and pack out any waste we do create ourselves. Reusable water bottles, reusable cups, and MOOP (matter out of place) bags for our beer cans and wet wipes and cigarette butts are de rigueur.
This ethos, unfortunately, doesn’t always extend off the Playa. For example, last year at the end of the Burn somebody gifted me a bunch of blinky light necklaces. Last night I went through my bin ‘o Burner stuff, and found them – rubber LED lights wrapped in plastic, made who knows where by who knows who. They’re going to be immensely useful for not getting run over at night! But I can’t recycle that plastic film they came in.
Sometimes I imagine 20,000 people (a gross estimation of the proportion of the 70,000 Burner who operate this way) all over the U.S. and world buying outfits made in China, unwrapping them from plastic, and throwing all the packaging away in their hometown, before traveling to the Playa and being outrageously aware of their own waste. No MOOP on the Playa – we just left it everywhere else!
One thing I’m doing about this is I’m putting myself in charge of shopping for our RV this year. I’ve come up with a grocery list of healthy items suitable for desert living, and just like last year, I’m bringing reusable produce bags and plotting the list so as to produce as little waste as possible. I also made the tiny little decision to do our non-edible supply shopping at Target instead of Walmart.
I’m also being very aware of my outfit shopping. And here we come to the purpose of my post. My radical self-expression involves staying true to my sustainable values, even when dressing up for Burning Man. I’m really not into things made in China, and definitely not in Bangladesh. So I spent a considerable amount time this year poking around, looking for low-impact accessories and clothing. Here are things I look for:
- Made of upcycled or vintage materials
- Handmade in the U.S.
- Made by fairly paid artisans (instead of derivative or appropriative of other cultures. I’m looking at you, eagle feather headdresses and “tribal” print items made in Bangladesh.)
- Made of natural and organic materials
- Made of or with non-toxic processes (like vegetable tanning)
- Made in a way that reduces or eliminates waste byproduct
A few notes before we get into it:
- Thrift store shopping is an excellent way to reduce the impact of your outfit shopping. Try that first! But I always want to support cool designers, too.
- I am not vegan, though I support the lifestyle, and neither is everything in this post. Some things are.
- This is a list of things that inspired me. Burning Man is inclusive of all styles, and I don’t think this list could ever properly represent the breadth designers and makers out there being sustainable, ethical, and creative. It’s just a starting point and proof you can make several entire outfits from low-impact items.
- Burning Man is against commercialization, so in this post, I have clearly marked the four items which are affiliate links, that is, they pay me a percentage of the sale price if you buy them. This links are automatically generated when I put them in, depending on the retailer. I didn’t put anything in that I don’t love, but if that bothers you, you can avoid those products, or find them with Google without clicking through from this site.
That being said, I am incredibly inspired by all the wonderful things out there that can be put together to express yourself in the desert. I hope you’re inspired, too.
Even if you go naked at Burning Man, you’ll still need these things to survive: a vessel for carrying your stuff, shoes, and a water bottle.
The Bare Minimum
Just enough clothing to be decent(ish), but nothing more.
For when you need protection from the sun during the day, and the cold at night.
The final touches that will make you stand out!