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You Deserve Better Than Fast Fashion: An Interview with Amanda of Clotheshorse Podcast

Amanda McCarty is the person behind the Clotheshorse podcast that loves clothes but hates capitalism!

She’s also the designer/writer of its unique and unforgettable Instagram. With an aesthetic that repurposes hypersweet mid-20th century illustrations to talk about very 21st century issues around fashion and the health of the planet. And if this all weren’t enough she also co-hosts The Department Podcast about trends and taste.

She’s a fashion educator in the best sense of the word. Between her personal experience in the fashion industry along with talking weekly to other experts* she starts the conversations that we all want to be a part of, and invites everyone to participate. We managed to get some “alone time” with Amanda to talk about community, clothes and capitalism.

*we define experts as those with a lived experience of an issue

NKM/Katya: So I love all your little hello kittys! -in the background of Zoom- I was obsessed with Hello Kitty when I was younger.
I still am. I have a Hello Kitty tattoo. It represents something positive in my life even though I hate that it also represents mindless consumerism and #capitalism.

when Amanda says she loves Hello Kitty she’s not kidding around

Yeah, I know. When I was little, my best friend’s parents were divorced and constantly vying for her affection by giving her things. And so she had all those little teeny, tiny Hello Kitty things and accessories. And I was quite covetous.
There’s something about those things. And when you said covet, I knew that feeling so well as a kid when I saw it in a store or someone else with it, even though it was so silly, right? 

It’s pretty funny, in retrospect, how we’re trained to want right out of the gate. Leaving that for later, I am super excited to put you in the spotlight.

You have such an engagement on your Instagram. And this came from your Clotheshorse podcast?
Maybe there’s a two-week difference, but I started on Instagram because, with a background in retail and the fashion industry, I’m always asking how do you build a brand? How do you get brand recognition? And so, I had to start an Instagram account to promote the podcast.

But how it evolved into its own entity where I would reach so many people and have great community engagement –I didn’t see that coming. I look at it now, and it makes sense because that’s my space. A place to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise meet. 

It turned out to be something I’m really good at that weirdly blew up on its own. I know there are many things that are bad about social media and Instagram in particular, and the way it motivates people to buy or feel bad about themselves, but it can also be a tool for connecting and educating, and inspiring people. It doesn’t have to just be a source of dresses you should buy on Amazon.

Why not take Instagram and use it for good?

Exactly! Let’s talk about Clotheshorse podcast. How did it start?
I spent my entire career working in fashion, not because I chose it per se, but because I’m good at it. And my last job before the pandemic was working for a rental company that a big, fast fashion conglomerate launched.

I was running their buying team but was furloughed within two weeks of the pandemic beginning because people didn’t want to rent clothes during a pandemic. And I worked with my team for those two weeks to cancel everything we had on order. This is what the “pay-up movement” began with, right? 

It was industry-wide, and we canceled stuff that was supposed to deliver in a week or two, or it was already on the boat or was sitting in the vendor’s warehouse waiting to come to us. And so people didn’t get paid the whole way down the chain, from those who made the clothes to the fabrics, and zippers. It had a cascading effect. And it felt wrong. The company I worked for always has $100 million in cash in the bank. I felt sick about it, knowing the effects of these cancellations, when they didn’t really need to happen.

But with my team I had to show a different face and say, This is what we have to do. It is what it is. I felt like I was spending hours on the phone just talking people off the ledge, not knowing I was about to get fired, too.

Yeah, if you knew you were losing your job, you’d probably say Fuck this.
Exactly. Two weeks later, I got furloughed. And I was very depressed for quite a while.

I tried to be brave and see this as a sacrifice we’re all making to save lives. And at first, it felt real, then it was tough to be brave. I thought I am so fucked because there are not a lot of jobs out there at my level. I mean, fashion jobs might go away for a long time, right?

So I was at the end of my career, and I’m thinking about this a lot. All of the stuff I’ve compartmentalized. The shit that you just have to accept when you work in this industry. Now, I could unpack it and really sit with it. 

So it was 2020. In addition to every other horrible thing going on in the world, there was a lot of drama surrounding an influencer, Danielle Bernstein, and her stealing designs from designers of color. Can I say this on the record? 

Of course!
I found myself on Reddit, explaining to people how this works because they were like, Oh, she has this huge clothing company and blah, blah, blah.

And I wrote, “Actually, she has a licensing deal –probably with some creative direction. She definitely tells them what to make to a certain extent, but she’s not designing it. She’s not handling the production. She’s probably not even paying for the clothes. She just gets a cut.”  And it dawned on me that people don’t know this part of the industry.

And I wondered, would people be interested in listening to a podcast about that? Dustin, my husband, and I had been joking for years about all kinds of random podcasts we were going to start, and I said, I’m going to make a podcast. I thought it would be that easy. It’s not, but I’m lucky because Dustin is also a professionally trained audio engineer.

a dynamic duo: amanda + dustin

That helps!
I could not have done this without him. And I just started making episodes. I was releasing two episodes a week to keep busy during the lockdown.  And people started listening. I would look at my podcast analytics and I would see like, one hundred people listening to an episode. That’s great. I don’t even know 100 people.

But the people who I personally knew who were listening were people in the industry. Their reaction was, Thank God someone’s finally talking about this! All of it is so messed up, and no one can say it for fear of getting fired. But I could because my career in fashion was over.

And in the fall, suddenly, there were many new people showing up on Instagram and a lot more people listening to the episodes and messaging me. It was really growing. It’s still growing, every week.

But I have to work a full-time job to support Clotheshorse. I do my day job, and then I do Clotheshorse. I know it’s not sustainable long term, but I’m willing to put in that –I hate this term–this is such a startup bullshit hustle culture term. But that sweat equity.

I work hard because this matters to me. And someday, it will be something. Even if it just makes people think differently, that’s a big deal. When people say, Wow, I didn’t know this thing, and now I can’t stop thinking about it, it changed this for me. That’s the best thing I can hear from anyone.

That’s great. How did you find your first guests?
Originally they were people I had worked with in the past. I’m an introverted extrovert who loves people and hearing their stories.

That’s how we connect, right? And so many people never get to feel like what they think or what they’ve lived matters. So for me, it’s like a mission to expose their stories to others.

And in terms of our mental health, a sense of acknowledgment is one of the biggest things we need. And so I think that’s huge.

Who was one of your favorite podcast guests so far?
I can’t name one favorite guest! For one, every guest has been so smart, open, and inspiring.  I am so lucky that so many rad people give me their time! But also, I actually have found that I have built so many great friendships over the years with so many of my guests. In fact, many times, they return again and again. I hope the same thing happens with you, Katya! I will say that some of my favorite episodes are those that feature audio essays from all kinds of members of the Clotheshorse and slow fashion community.  The term “audio essay” sounds kinda fancy, but it’s really just people recording their thoughts on various topics, often using the voice memo app on their phone.  It has allowed me to share my platform with so many different voices. 

I think many of us have been told that our stories and experiences don’t matter.  But that’s just not true! It’s our own experiences that create our value systems and motivate us to work for a better world.  Furthermore, sharing our stories builds bridges.  It helps others understand who and where we are.  Hearing the stories of others can be inspiring, motivating, or even just open the door to a new perspective. This is an integral part of the Clotheshorse mission…I certainly find myself getting very, VERY personal on the podcast.  Listeners have heard stories from my life that even my closest friends didn’t know.

Is there something you learned (from a guest) that completely surprised you?
Here’s something I have learned that applies to just about every guest I’ve had on the show: People are uncomfortable talking about themselves. The first ten minutes of every recording are kinda awkward, and I can feel the discomfort of the guest. But then something happens at the 11-minute mark! I can literally hear the guest open up and feel GOOD sharing their stories and ideas. 

My parents were divorced when I was very young, and I was raised by my mother.  I didn’t really know my dad until I was an adult.  He has this quality about him that makes all kinds of people feel at ease and like they can be themselves with him.  I think he’s really good at meeting people where they are and so a natural connection builds immediately.  I have inherited that from him, but when sometimes I will ask myself “How would my dad make this interaction even better?” 

What have you learned about yourself from podcasting?
Working on Clotheshorse has changed my life.  And specifically, I think it helped me learn to love myself, to fully appreciate that I have value and talent.  Something I touch on pretty regularly on the podcast is that I did not have a good time growing up, somehow surviving a lot of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and very early “adultification.” 

I’ve always been an overachiever: straight A’s all through school, chronic “teacher’s pet,” winning all of the academic contests, and participating in every extracurricular activity possible.  But I was never allowed to feel proud or good.  I was told that I was actually a horrible person, unworthy of love or praise.  I’ve learned that you can go to lots of therapy, read all the self-help books, practice all the self care you can…and still feel like you’re worthless. Clotheshorse has made me realize that I bring value to the world. People connect with what and how I communicate.  People connect with ME.  There were so many days in the first two years of the pandemic where it felt impossible to live another day, but the community that formed around Clotheshorse helped me get up each morning and do something meaningful.  I am so grateful for that.

clothes horse instagram image of squirrel holding valentine that says you're doing great!

Biggest lesson you learned from podcasting?
Double, triple check that everything is plugged in and turned on before you start recording! I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve been in my office, recording a 45 minute segment of the show…only to realize at the end that I forgot to plug in the the microphone or literally hit “record.”  Seriously…so many segments of Clotheshorse have been re-recorded MULTIPLE times because I forgot to do something like that.

I want to go back to Instagram for a second – what are some of the best things about having a community there?
I was pretty smitten with Instagram early on. On Facebook you could write something or share an article , and people would talk to you. But on Instagram, you had to show something about your life. You had to take a picture of it. And this was much more interesting and participatory.

And in the beginning, it felt really genuine. We were all vulnerable about what was going on with our lives. And we were putting effort into it. And then suddenly, it switched – people started to curate a life on Instagram, right? Like they were going on exotic vacations and showcasing their food.

I was like, No one’s food looks like that when they make it. Like they’re putting all this work into perfect plating of that. Like breakfast, right? The perfect avocado toast or bowls of granola with blueberries.

You know what I’m talking about?

Yes, totally. 
I thought, what is going on? And we’re starting to see influencers begin and people buying things because they saw someone post about it….

And then I started to see it more around my specific friend group. When we go out, we have to take all of these photos until one is perfect. And you can’t wear the same outfit to different parties.

And I remember going to this fabulous mausoleum in Portland that was built in the mid-century of the last century. It’s really cool aesthetically, of course, and it’s only open to the public one day a year. It’s almost like an indoor city. All gold and roses. Now if I’m going somewhere like that, I might take some pictures –but for myself for inspiration later or to remember it.

But we were with someone who kept making us pose and stage photos. And it was so odd that for this individual the whole point of it was to take photos of us.

To document instead of experience that spectacular space…
Precisely. I realized it was so that it could be on Instagram. That was a tipping point.

Even though I was acutely aware that people were posting this very sanitized, perfect version of their lives on Instagram, and I was aware of the artifice, I just couldn’t participate in it. And even if I did, it wouldn’t look as good. It made me feel like a failure. This is how Instagram started to really mess with our mental health.

So I decided, if I’m going to participate in this, I’m going to act like I am having the craziest, most fun all the time. I would go out all the time and take party photos and crazy outfits and new ones for every event. And everything I did was just super weird –like manic pixie dream girl stuff. And that wasn’t me either, you know? Then I realized I didn’t want to be a part of Instagram anymore.

And then 2020 came, and we’re all at home, and suddenly, the only way we can connect with anyone (other than people in our home) is through social media.

And so I returned to social media and found that things had gotten really weird while I was away. It was like a shopping mall driven by Amazon for things that none of us need. But beneath the surface were people hungry to connect.

And as a person who’s been bouncing around all over the country my entire adult life, this is my favorite thing about social media –that we can still be connected and still be part of one another’s lives. 2020 was accidentally a great time to start Clotheshorse because I was able to present things we weren’t seeing on other social spaces.

And I wanted to get beyond Slactivism. “Oh, I shared that post. I’m totally good for the day” you know? And try to reach beyond that and have conversations and connect people so they can have their own community or be a smaller part of a larger community.

And it’s been amazing to see how that works with Clotheshorse. I think it’s about the authentic imperfection that we haven’t seen for a long time.

Yes, you’re super relatable. That’s definitely part of the appeal. If there’s one thing you wish people knew about fast fashion? Wow, it’s just a bad deal. I see people justifying their over-consumption. But when they buy from Shein and say, “Well, it’s cheap. It’s all I can afford.” I want to say it’s not a good deal for you or the people who made it or sold it – it’s a bad one for everyone except for Shein. You’ll have to jump through hoops to make it last more than six months. And you deserve better, right?

Oh, I love that. You deserve better—a great re-framing.
Over the past three years, I have been trying to find out how we talk about issues like fast fashion and climate change in a way that resonates with people. And what does that mean for us, right? As individuals? How does that impact us? Because it’s a really scary world to live in right now. 

Because when you ask someone to question their shopping habits, a common response is, “fuck you. I am just trying to live right? I’ll never do to the planet what Amazon has done. So why do I matter?”

And so my mission, which is not easy, is to keep asking –now that we have the facts –how does this information impact us? How do we help people who don’t want to hear it or can’t see what to do next, feel empowered to go do something now and to change?

Right? You have to detach from personal attacks and negativity. Respond, but also separate from any further reaction cause it’s hard to know when to start or stop engagement with some people.

What’s one thing you wish you could tell your younger self?
I think I would say you are great just as you are because I see so much of my life has been feeling like I’m not good enough or I don’t belong or proving that I wasn’t as insufficient as I felt.

I come from a low income background in a tiny town. My mom was a teen mother. My parents got divorced very young. My mom was married seven times. I have been on a journey. But I am also really smart and funny, and I have great style. And so I can get ahead in the world in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

I should have told myself, Amanda, everyone should be really proud of you for where you started and where you are right now. You are worthy of everything.

I think that’s it. A lot of us need to hear that. Sometimes it’s too bad we can’t travel back in time and tell ourselves.

110%! All right. So I am also going to ask you for your favorites – 

A podcast that isn’t yours?
I have two podcasts that I listen to really religiously. One is Mother May I Sleep With podcast. It’s about Lifetime movies and I barely watch Lifetime movies but they’re kind of a unique piece of media, a document of people’s fears and hopes, all at once.

And there’s another one called Trend Lightly, which is about online trends like TikTok and Twitter. Things I don’t engage in, and it’s fascinating to me. 

Movie or series?
Okay. Right now, this is not my favorite, but I’m re-watching Big Love, which was from the aughts. And it’s about polygamists, and it holds up. It could be one of my new favorites. 

Painter Alice Neel with self-portrait

Creative inspiration. What inspires you?
People. My favorite thing to do is walk around and look at people. Probably makes me creepy, but people inspire me aesthetically, intellectually, and creatively. Someone who also really inspires me, who I keep as a North Star for myself as an artist, is Alice Neel.

She did portraiture during the era of the Abstract Expressionists. So no one thought she was cool. She was hanging out with Jackson Pollock and all those very toxic art bros. She was just a single mother trying to support her kids while painting.

But no one wanted to see portraits. Then in her sixties or seventies she blew up and had success very late in life.

And for all of us who are like, why am I not successful at what I love?, it’s important to remember that we have this whole journey where it could happen later. She never said, “Okay, well, portraiture is not paying the bills for me so I’m going to start splattering paint around or something”. 

Love that response! Your favorite food?
Tacos, which is great because I live in Austin, Texas.

We’re not big trend people, but we know there are trends. So a trend you like and a trend you hate.
I am a sucker for princess dressing. And I love that we see that happening right now. And people are wearing big fluffy dresses and going for this Marie Antoinette aesthetic, I mean like the Marie Antoinette film by Sofia Coppola.

I am happy to see that aesthetic happening  because during the pandemic, the early days, everyone was always wearing sweatpants. It was supposed to be the “end” of fashion and style.  And to see people moving back to a whimsical, fantastical, dreamy aesthetic makes me so happy.

So that’s one that I love. I also love that goth is back. Not that it ever went away. And if they all get it from watching Wednesday, that’s fine.

And is there a trend you hate?
I’m just so sad that people are getting into Abercrombie and all these mall brands of the aughts. But I’m also glad that someone is wearing those clothes secondhand. It’s interesting. I want to say it was like Kylie Jenner, one of the Jenner’s -I can’t tell them apart.

She was wearing a vintage Abercrombie sweatshirt, and everybody was losing their minds over it. And it freaks me out because those brands were so gross and everything I hate in terms of their cultures. But I’m glad people are wearing the clothes because otherwise, they’d be sitting in the landfill. However, I don’t want it to spread so far that those brands make more new clothes.

Right. Totally agree. Favorite quality in a human being?
Loving animals. When I met my husband, I was not in the market for a relationship, much less marriage. And the first time we hung out, he talked about his cat at length and showed me pictures of him, and I was like, Wow, this is a really special person. 

100% animals!
A favorite person you admire?
My grandma Sandy, in addition to being the best grandma ever, would tell me when I was a kid, “You know, a lot of people are going to say you should marry a doctor, but I’m going to tell you that you’re going to be a doctor.”

She was my cheerleader when nobody else was. And she’s the nicest person I’ve ever met. And she would go on a cruise twice a year and curate an entire wardrobe for it. I loved that when she went on vacation, she dressed like that.

It was like a fantasy version of her life with lots of sequins added on.

It also conveys self-worth. How she took care of herself in the way that she defined it for herself. Not like how other people say you should be. I think that’s amazing. Your grandmother’s freaking awesome.
Yeah, Amazing. Amazing.

 Well, it was so lovely to speak with you again. I feel like we’re such kindred spirits and I can relate so much to what you’ve shared. In some ways our lives are totally different because I’ve never actually worked in fashion, but the growing up part, my grandmother was super key for me. 

And I love knowing someone else who is passionate about the same issues and sharing with people. 
I’m so honored even before I knew you, I was a fan, of No Kill. So I just feel like, wow, it’s a big deal for me.

FIND AMANDA HERE & HERE & HERE


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