There's a part of me that loves the idea of shopping at thrift shops. No, wait. I actually do like shopping in thrift shops, at garage sales, at the consignment store, and hell, at the swap meet at the local dump. Your discard, my cheap treasure. But while I will look in those places for Christmas presents, clothes for my daughter, or wool sweaters to felt into projects, I don't have the patience to rummage through racks of clothes looking for garments for myself. It's just too daunting.
But I've discovered a thrift shop that I love. In a deliciously solipsistic twist, the charitable arm of Eileen Fisher started a "recycled clothing initiative" - in other words, a thrift shop that sells ONLY Eileen Fisher clothes.
GREEN EILEEN is reimagining the way we think about our clothes. Inspired by Eileen Fisher’s timeless designs and high quality fabrics, our recycled clothing initiative gives a second (or third!) life to your garment. By donating or buying a gently used Eileen Fisher garment from GREEN EILEEN, you are helping to revolutionize the future of how we buy and wear clothes.
I love this idea. I love that by limiting the merchandise to only Eileen Fisher stuff, they've curated the thrift shop into something inviting, gemütlich. Tops are along one wall, lined up like a rainbow. Skirts over there, dresses and pants elsewhere. I can walk in and know that I'll find something I want and even need.
I just finished reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. The subtitle kind of says it all: it's indeed shocking to learn about the fast fashion industry. I'm a fairly low impact consumer - I don't buy a lot of clothes, because I'm just not that interested. I've learned that cheap shoes aren't worth the money, and I'd rather have a one well-cut top sewn out of quality fabric than five glitzy, shoddy* $10 shirts that pill up the first time they go through the wash. But still, the book made me sit up and think hard about the clothes I buy my child, and about the relationship between "own less and pay more". Later, as I was pulling laundry out of the dryer, I sighed at the broken stitches on the neckline of a barely worn Target dress, and at the holes in the toes of some nearly new socks**, and at the horrid pilliness of of a polyester shirt my kid got as a hand-me-down. But then, inspired by a chapter towards the end of Overdressed called Make, Alter, Mend, I reinforced a threadbare spot on a pair of my jeans, and artlessly repaired a hole in my husband's jeans. A few minutes work with iron-on twill tape and a sewing machine, and I bought at least some more months for two pairs of jeans. That's mending for you.
Overdressed exposes the underbelly of fast fashion in a way similar to those writers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser who've eviscerated fast factory food. What's the antidote to bad food? Eat real food, eat local, cook yourself. What's the antidote to cheap fashion? It's complicated, perhaps more so than the food issue. It'll mean paying more for clothes that are better made out of nicer fabric by people who are paid a living wage. Or, it means learning to make things yourself - if you have access to a sewing machine and a fabric store. You could start shopping in thrift shops, and altering the clothes you find to better suit you. You might start buying the Danskos that are both comfortable and long lasting - the polar opposite of the "cute shoes" at Target that give you blisters on first wearing, and fall apart on third. I'd like to think that you could shop at Green Eileen; alas, that's not likely to be a scalable concept given that its parent, Eileen Fisher, is a fairly small clothing company - I have a hard time imagining that they could have more than a couple such stores (there's only one now). You could buy on eBay; it operates like a huge thrift shop. Try ThredUp - they'll pay you for your kids clothes and you can either take the cash, or buy "new" stuff from them. Or you could find a clothing swap: my town has done it for Halloween costumes, and prom dress swaps are fairly common. Jeans, sweaters, blouses - surely you have some that a friend wants, and vice versa. Have a cocktail party and swap clothes.
What it comes down to is this - the entire matrix of how we live our lives matters. The choices we make about beef (feed lot supermarket vs. grass fed butcher) and tomatoes (slave grown in Florida year round, or local farm grown and only available in August) aren't all that different from the choices we make about clothing. Live lightly on the land, and mend the holes in your blue jeans before they get so big that you have to throw them out.
* "Shoddy" has a fascinating derivation - it turns out to be the name for a kind of cheap wool cloth made from rags and scrap fabric, recycled if you will. A noun once, an adjective now.
** Ironically, the socks with the hole in the toe are made by a company called "Darn Tough" - they claim to have a lifetime guarantee, so maybe I'll spring for some postage.