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.

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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.

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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.

16 comments:

Sarah said...

Funny, not two hours ago I sewed up a hole at a seam of a sweater of mine. I don't own a sewing machine, and I'm a terribly klutzy sewer, but hey, no more hole.

the queen said...

Well now I have a place to put the Eileen fisher clothes I buy on ebay that don't fit. Shame I don't live in NY.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Did you read about how the popularity of quinoa has damaged the Peruvian food supply? There are always consequences.

liz said...

Amen.

lemming said...

Well said all around. There is a time and a place for cheap, but I notice how much longer Lands End Oxford shirt last than Target, and...

Marci said...

Beware Thred Up. Unless your kids clothes are in **pristine** condition, they are not likely to give you much money for them. Sent them 50 gently used items, they accepted 2 & gave me $1.65. If you don't care about the cash, you could Freecycle them, it will help someone local to you.

ozma said...

I hope that consumer behavior matters but I don't put so much stock in real change through consumer behavior only because optional choices don't do so much--the real transformation would take place when clothes do become more expensive because trade policy changes. Etc.

But it's disturbing to be part of the problem. I don't want to be so I love this post as a good reminder to stop engaging in the slapdash things I do. I am getting most of my maternity clothes used but I did buy some dumb junk I may not even wear.

The thing I think I'd rather do is keep track of it. I don't keep good track of my actions. It feels like the clothes pile up--I seem to change sizes as often as my daughter does. I keep the old sizes.

But the maternity thing also is teaching me that your really can wear 1 pair of pants and 1 skirt interchangably day after day and it makes little tangible difference in your life.

Jocelyn said...

All the values you espouse here are so common-sensical and, well, logical...yet they're in conflict with everything I learned from my "buy lots of cheap junk so you can talk about how little you paid for it" mom. Amazing how many years it's taken me to get to the thinking you're promoting--because that childhood conditioning sticks.

Ah, but think of our lucky children, being conditioned by US as they are! (harhar)

Jeanne said...

I never shop for clothes at places like Target and I mend more than anyone else I know, simply because there are no second-hand shops (very few first-hand, in fact; I buy mostly online) that make clothing for me and my two very tall teenagers.

TC said...

I just started buying Danskos! They cost LITERALLY ten times what I normally pay for a pair of shoes, and the ones that feel the best are butt ugly. BUT...my back feels better. My plantar's fasciitis is gone. I am so much happier.

And I buy the LARGE majority of my clothes at Goodwill, which my friend's son refers to as "the hobo store." I don't care. Less than $10 for pants, sweaters, etc. Stuff I wouldn't be able to afford in a store.

See? I can make cheap look like smart, when really, it's just cheap!

Sandy Repp said...

If you have a child in, say 8th grade, I recommend a trip to Plato's Closet. They are a chain (at least on the E. Coast?) of used clothing stores that cater to the teen/coed shopper and buy/re-sell brands like Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, Hollister, etc. - the pricey-yet-cheaply-made brands that my daughter loves. You will still have to do a little repairing here and there, but at least you're paying very little for the privilege. I have not tried bringing in items to sell.

kittiesx3 said...

I do sew but not to save money. That’s generally not possible – the fabric at stores like JoAnn’s is not good quality at all so to use that kind of fabric really just means you’re creating your own version of disposable clothing. Buying better cloth means you’re spending a lot more money – and that’s just for the cloth. You still need thread and buttons and probably a sewing pattern etc etc etc.

And sewing isn’t any better for the environment. Check out this site if you’re interested:

http://www.greenchoices.org/green-living/clothes/environmental-impacts

I go the fewer items of better quality route myself. Some I do make, some I buy.

cactus petunia said...

I didn't realize until now how much I've missed reading your blog. I like the way you think!

Kristen said...

"own less and pay more" - good advice which will also get us back into the locally-owned shops, as well.

But what is it about a 50% off sale that draws us in????

mayberry said...

I finally made the leap to Danskos and I am so happy with them - and my sister even bought them for me at an outlet. I'm working on quality over quantity with my children, but wow it's a tough sell.

Jenn said...

ooh - thanks for the good read ideas. I don't buy a lots of clothes either, but swing between "I need t-shirts and these $10 are quick and easy" and "I will spend my money wisely for long-term investments". I always regret the $10 buys...