26 February 2013

Fast Fashion / Slow Clothes

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.

21 February 2013

End Of An Era

First it was the costume shop. This time, the theatrical shoemaker in my office building went belly up.

He had shelves and shelves of shoe lasts, old wooden forms, most speckled with nail holes, many still sporting masking tape labels with the names of the actors/dancers for whom he'd made custom footwear.

Some were for flat shoes; others for high heels. A tiny doll-like pair was for a dwarf; a huge size 13D for an N. Wyman. The shop smelled like leather and ancient cigarette smoke, hot metal and dust.

Like the costume shop, he went out of business because no one wants custom made shoes for Broadway shows. Or no one wants to pay for custom made shoes. Or no one needs them?

And now, no longer necessary for their intended purpose, a pair of high-heeled feet - 7C, Dottie Frank - sit on a windowsill in my living room, a reminder of the days of handwork and small factories, of craft and things made one at a time.

18 February 2013

Can't Go Home Again

I’m cleaning up my computer's “desktop”, filing all sorts of electronic detritus, the great morass of random, poorly named files, mostly pictures. And, as it's not possible to do otherwise, the task is filled with aimless archeology. It's not enough to move the pictures to a folder; one must ascertain just what these pictures are.

And my heart stopped when I found this. I didn't take it; the girl did. But it's my once-upon-a-time room, the room I grew up in, the bed, the fireplace. And she used a Hipstamatic filter so it looks all far away and underwater and old and, oh, memory.

It might as well have been taken 35 years ago.

How can it be that it's no longer there?

15 February 2013

Manipulating The Dawn

Dear Director of Marketing and Public Relations,

I get a lot of pitches from PR companies and publishers. Most emails just get deleted – no, I really don’t want to interview a religious advisor on how to prepare for end-of-life, nor do I want any printable Pajanimals valentines, and I’m not interested in learning “how to cook like a deaf chef”. But sometimes I read the email, and I’m intrigued enough to respond.

Such was the case when you asked if I’d like to read a memoir about sailing around the world. It’s such a romantic notion, putting out to sea like that. And sailing – is there anything more exhilarating? I used to sail a lot as a young person – racing Blue Jays, cruising Long Island Sound on my grandfather’s yawl. Once we spent two weeks on that boat, with a compass and a one-way radio, and I’ll never forget sailing to Block Island through pea soup fog, somehow managing to hit the harbor entrance spot-on. If we hadn't, we’d probably have ended up in Portugal, at least, that’s how we like to tell the story.

So your book arrived, and because of various things going on in my life, I didn’t get to it for a while. When I finally sat down to read it, it turned out to be a slog. Oh, it’s not that it’s not interesting in parts – I mean, sailing around the world with islands and broken stays and a cat and drama is not uninteresting – but it’s dreadfully written.

You sent a follow-up email, asking if I’d “ever received a copy of How the Winds Laughed?”

And I answered:

I did, thanks. I'm finally reading it. I'm not likely to write about it because, frankly, I don't think it's very good. Interesting at times, yes, but rather clumsy and kind of confusing.

You wrote back and offered a few more books from your publishing house.

I wonder if you'd like to try reading a book by one of our seasoned writers? It's also a memoir, about end-of-life circumstances with her parents. It's tragic, funny, and transcendent and has been praised by all who've read it so far. It's called Entering the Blue Stone. I have attached the press kit here.

Apologies for never answering that email, but I was a bit put off after I figured out that Entering the Blue Stone had been written by your mother. I mean, it may well be a lovely book, but I think you should have mentioned up front that your mother had written it. In fact, though, you didn’t even name the author in the email – but when I saw in the press kit that you shared a last name, well, that sent me off on a search. It's not that it's a conflict of interest that you're representing your mother, but it seems to me you should be a little more transparent about the relationship.

By the way, because maybe I was unclear – by “not likely to write about it”, I meant that I probably wouldn’t take the time to write a blog post, because a blog post needs a hook and some passion, for me anyway, and I didn’t really have the energy to review a book that wasn’t worth reading. Also, remember that your initial email to me was addressed "Dear Esteemed Blogger", which leads me to think it's pretty clear that we were talking about my blog. But, because I like to warn my fellow readers, and because I compulsively track the books I read, I did post a few sentences on both Amazon and Goodreads:

After slogging through 40% of this, I decided to put it aside because life is too short to finish lousy books. Sure, it's interesting at times, and doesn't everyone kind of want to run off and circumnavigate the globe in a 28' wooden sailboat? Alas, it's rather clumsy and kind of confusing.

Sample sentence:

"Dawn rose slowly, pulling up her various window shades, tinting the lagoon gray". Please, who the hell is Dawn? Oh, Dawn's not a person, dawn is when the sun comes up. So why is the lagoon gray, and where are the rosy fingers?

The other day, you found the Amazon review I’d written, and you sent me a fairly unhappy email.

I'm writing because I was a bit stunned to see that you took the time to write a very negative review of How the Winds Laughed on amazon. I understand you didn't like the book--not every reader "gets" every book--and Addie Greene's primary audience may be readers with some knowledge and experience of sailing. But when a reviewer lets us know (as you did), that they don't want to review a book, we'd never dream that he or she would then post a derogatory review on amazon.

Fuze is a small press, running on a shoestring and dedicated to taking chances on new voices. For Addie Greene, Winds is her first book; she would be eager to hear constructive criticism/feedback. Amazon has complicated algorithms that greatly influence whether they totally bury a book or not, and negative reviews play a significant part in that decision. Given all this, I wonder if you would consider removing your review? Of course, if you had bought the book and felt dissatisfied enough to post such a review, I would never take issue with it.

First – I am a reader with some knowledge and experience of sailing. I’ve been on the water, and will be again. No, I’ve never sailed to the Marshall Islands. But I know how to fold a spinnaker, I know why a mast needs stays, I can tie a bowline, and I know what “batten down the hatches” means. Furthermore, I don’t think that a predisposition to the subject matter is what makes a person like a book. I’ve read about geology and long distance trucking and shad fishing with great relish, just because John McPhee can turn a sentence like no one, and makes obscure, idiosyncratic, unfamiliar topics come alive. The writing makes the book. Sadly, that wasn’t the case here.

Second – I didn’t say I didn’t want to review the book. I said I wasn’t likely to write about it, but that’s different. Further, a person is entitled to an opinion, not to mention a change of heart. As a publicist, you take risks every time you send your product out into the world. So do your authors. Someone will love your book, someone will hate it. Last week, a dance review in the New York Times began and ended thusly:

“N’a pas un gramme de charisme” is a worthy title for Claude Wampler’s new show: it translates, roughly, as “Hasn’t an ounce of charisma.” ...[snip]...Why does the title limit the show’s omissions to charisma alone? Everything about this piece is terrible: poorly conceived, poorly executed.

Do you think the publicist, or the choreographer, called the Times and asked them to take down the review? Um, no. It doesn't work that way. And, just so you know, the Times dance critic gets comp tickets. It's not as though buying your tickets lets you write a bad review and getting free tickets means you have to stay quiet.

Third – that you would have the temerity to ask me to remove the Amazon review is flabbergasting. Amazon’s been gamed. The review system is subject to manipulation by people who pay for five star reviews. Your request that I remove the review is just as manipulative as the person who pays $5 for a review.

What it boils down to is this:

If you send me a book, I may or may not write about it. I may or may not write something nice. That's the risk you take.

I think perhaps you’d better take me off of your list.



Disclosure: The publisher sent me a free copy of How the Winds Laughed. My opinion is my own, and I wasn't compensated for anything I said, here or on Amazon or on Goodreads.

14 February 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Darling, I got you a paperclip.

Darling, I got you a paperclip

The design firm my office uses sends out whimsical Christmas cards and sporadic chapbooks, playful wordy designy things. This year's Christmas card was captivating, and I repurposed it into valentines. Mostly I made hodge-podge assemblages of stickers and rubber stamps and Happy Tape and ribbon. But one of them? Yes, it included a paperclip.

A whimsical Valentine's Day to you and yours.

08 February 2013

The 46¢ Snow Day

After dithering about this morning, paralyzed with indecision about whether or not to trek into the office, I decided to stay home. At 8:15, when I made the call, it was snowing - gently but steadily. Now, shortly after lunch, it's coming down at a good clip. Clogs were fine when I put the girl on the bus; when I go pick her up at a friend's house later, I'll need boots.

I'm shuffling papers, checking email, baking bread, thinking about a website, doing laundry, contemplating benchmarking, and enjoying the quiet. It feels like a gift, this day - though I'm working, I'm not at work. Caramel brownies are on the agenda, and a fire in the fireplace wouldn't be wrong.

Besides, it was a great mail day. Today's pile included a valentine, a poem in an envelope made from a magazine picture of a pork roast, no bills, and an oversized solicitation from the goddamned NRDC containing a return envelope with a 46¢ stamp.

Remember, people, open all those envelopes from the NRDC, because they might just be sending you a free stamp.

(PS: If you need the back story on why I'm so irritated at the NRDC, read these posts.)

07 February 2013

Stories Everywhere: Sorry, No Cats



As I watch, you delicately, discreetly, tuck your scarf up under your nostrils. What terrible thing do you smell?

What do you do with that long pointed dirty thumbnail?

Hmm. Mustard colored tights. That takes chutzpah to wear, she added admiringly.

Dr. Zizmor parody spot on. No self-respecting cat would ever consider plastic surgery.

Yeah, I did just take a picture of a subway ad. You got a problem with that?

Wow, ugly hat.

You, with the inside out tote bag slung over your shoulder? I recognize the squiggles and can decipher the backwards lettering; it's an Eden Fantasys bag, like the ones they were handing out at BlogHer. I love that you have it inside out, but I'm onto you.

Why do we make silly faces at other people's babies? (Yes, guilty as charged.)