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Kristen Bell Can’t Stop Buying Sweaters Because They Make Her ‘Feel Safe’

She also keeps four online shopping carts open at all times.

Kristen Bell Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

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She may play a self-centered (and recently deceased) narcissist on The Good Place — but when it comes to her closet, Kristen Bell’s approach is closer to that of do-gooding sleuth Veronica Mars. A longtime vegetarian and animal obsessive (sobbing for sloths, anyone?!), the actress goes out of her way to shop eco-friendly and ethical fashion and beauty brands.

But, Bell stresses, reducing your fashion footprint doesn’t stop after you make (or resist) a particular purchase — how you care for your clothes is just as crucial, which is why she’s teamed up with Tide for its #CleanPledge initiative. Below, Bell opens up about her favorite sustainable style sources, her weakness for expensive knitwear and exotic rugs, and the odd psychology of shopping a sale.

How does your passion for environmentalism affect how and where you shop — do you gravitate toward ethical and sustainable brands?

Absolutely, whenever I can. I mean, I’m very aware of the world we live in — it’s not always possible. A few years ago, I did this Twitter challenge, #30DayUSA, where I tried to buy only things that were made in America for 30 days. It’s very difficult!

But I’ve learned a lot. Like, it might not be possible to make something in America because the cost is too high, but even if something’s made in another country — provided that company has good manufacturing practices, of course — you’re providing someone with work so that they can put food on the table for their kids. It’s like those shows on Animal Planet: It sucks when the polar bear gets the seal, but the polar bear’s babies get to eat, you know?

But yes, to answer your question, I definitely seek out ethical companies. I love that more and more companies are doing givebacks these days; some people say they’re just doing it for press, but I say, who cares? Who cares, as long as good, productive NGOs are receiving money to do great work?

What are some of your favorite ethical fashion brands?

I recently discovered this really comfy sweats brand called nPhilanthropy, which gives 10 percent of its proceeds to charities like Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the ASPCA. And I really appreciated how designers like Rachel Comey and Kathleen Whitaker, during the Women’s Marches, donated their sales that weekend — in some cases, 100 percent of their sales! — to charities that are doing good in the world.

Bell in Reformation’s Anja Dress ($248).
Bell in Reformation’s Anja Dress ($248).
Photo: Alessio Botticelli/GC Images

I pay attention to the production line of the things that I’m buying, too, which is why I love Everlane — that brand has incredible basics and also incredible transparency. I love buying from Reformation, which not only has responsible manufacturing practices, but also uses sustainable materials and deadstock fabric that’d otherwise wind up in a landfill. And they actually show you the data on their website — for example, how many gallons of water are saved when you choose one of their garments over a newly manufactured one.

You just named a bunch of Racked favorites! Okay, so how do you keep things “green” at home?

You know, keeping your laundry eco-friendly is really just about taking teeny-tiny steps. Nothing that’ll stress you out — you don’t have to stop washing your clothes! Washing everything in cold water is a huge energy saver that’s also good for your pocketbook.

Also, read those care labels! Know how you’re supposed to clean a garment. It’ll extend the life of all your clothes, which means less will wind up ruined and you won’t have to replace as much — which will also save you money! That’s something I’ve learned the hard way. I’m pretty tiny, but if I wash one of my XS items the wrong way, it’s suddenly a 6X, and I’m giving it to my 4-year-old daughter.

Bell wore Everlane’s Luxe Sweater Cardigan ($85), among other pieces from the brand, in her movie The Boss.
Bell wore Everlane’s Luxe Sweater Cardigan ($85), among other pieces from the brand, in her movie The Boss.

By the way, if you sign up for the #CleanPledge, Tide Purclean will donate $5 to the World Wildlife Fund to support their global conservation efforts. So consider that another thing you can do to help, just by tweaking your laundry habits.

Does your vegetarian lifestyle extend to your closet, too?

I’m okay with purchasing and wearing leather, but I don’t wear fur or skins of any kind. I don’t like anything that’s harvested solely for the purpose of a handbag. And honestly, I kind of get skeeved out by fur and pony hair, because all I’m thinking when I see it is that it’s not an animal anymore.

When it comes to beauty, do you usually gravitate toward all-natural products, too?

I do use a lot of coconut oil — as a body moisturizer right out of the shower, and I put it on the tips of my hair — and I really love Manuka honey. Honey in general has all these great antibacterial properties, but Manuka honey, which comes from a specific plant in New Zealand, has the most stable shelf life when it comes to those properties. I like to use it as a face mask. It’s great for your skin — it’s antibacterial, of course, but it also leaves this amazing coating on your skin that acts sort of like a moisturizer.

And I’ll sometimes make a body scrub to use in the shower that’s made of honey — not necessarily Manuka honey, because that could get really expensive! — brown sugar, and a little coconut oil. It makes you smell like a cookie!

And I do love the Neutrogena Naturals line [Ed note: Bell is a spokesperson for the brand], which, like Tide Purclean, is manufactured in a facility that uses clean, wind-powered, solar-powered energy. My favorite is probably the Purifying Facial Cleanser — I wear a lot of makeup for work, and I find that it doesn’t strip my skin, but it really does get all the makeup off.

What’s your shopping weakness?

Definitely rugs. I went through a phase when I just became obsessed with Moroccan rugs, Turkish rugs, Azilal rugs — all these different types of beautiful rugs. I’d find them on eBay. There was a point where I had, like, seven different runners and 2x3s and 5x6s on my porch — and this was back when I had roommates, and they were like, “You need to stop buying these rugs — we literally have nowhere to put them!” But the textiles are so beautiful! I could spend the whole night going through a rug website and just completely zone out.

It’s the same with sweaters — there’s just something about soft, cozy textiles that just makes me feel very safe. I have way too many sweaters — and, like, I’ll buy a new one in the middle of the summer. That is incredibly impractical, and yet I have done it! I get a lot of them from this boutique called Mille, which in based in Minneapolis but has a great online store. They’ve got lots of amazing, mostly American-made brands like Ace & Jig and Rachel Comey and Antik Batik. Just gorgeously curated stuff.

Rachel Comey Barre Top, $138
Rachel Comey Barre Top, $138

Are you a big sale shopper?

Sales are tricky — because they are, by definition, a trick to get you to buy more, and I keep that at the forefront of my brain. I try not to buy things just because they are on sale; I’m constantly analyzing whether I actually need something and if it’ll actually get used. I’m especially susceptible to sales for kids’ clothing, because having kids is like having dolls you can dress up!

That said, you know, if Isabel Marant is having a huge sample sale, am I gonna go? Yeah, just to see what they have! But I’ll ask myself a series of questions before I buy anything, to make sure I’m not just taking advantage of the dopamine rush that is a sale. There’s an emotional relevance to something once the word “sale” is attached; you feel like you’re getting some sort of VIP treatment, when really you could just be getting taken advantage of.

Totally. It’s the polar opposite to browsing online, where you can take your time to make careful decisions.

The reason I love online shopping is because (a) I can do it while my kids are asleep, and (b) I can put everything I want in my cart and then wait a week — and I usually wind up taking 90 percent of it out because it’s all impulse buys. You know, sometimes things look less cute the longer you look at them!

So I have three or four online shopping carts constantly open, but I rarely buy any of it. Putting things in the cart, purchasing things, clicking — it’s a proven dopamine rush, a proven oxytocin boost. It’s like you’re playing a slot machine, and you just want to do it again and again. So by doing this, I allow myself to get that boost without necessarily buying something.

What’s your absolute favorite thing in your closet, currently?

Probably the black A.L.C. jumpsuit that I wore to the courthouse to marry my husband; I’ve actually worn it once or twice since that day. There are tons of beautiful clothes out there, and trends come and go, but when something has emotional value, it just skyrockets to the top of your list.

This interview has been edited and condensed.