There’s a corollary to my post on why I make my own clothes, which I think is an important point on which to end the month (aka Slow Fashion October). That is: I don’t make all of my own clothes, nor will I. Not only do I think it’s not necessary to make 100%, and not only do I not want to restrict myself in that way, I believe it’s critically important to support the companies that are trying to make a difference in our messed-up clothing industry. In other words, opting out of fast fashion is a good step, but so is opting in to better alternatives.
If there’s one thing that’s become crystal clear to me in these past four years owning a small business, it’s that it really does matter where you spend your money. For one thing, every dollar you spend is a vote. When you give money to a business, you’re encouraging them to do more of whatever they’re doing, whether those practices are harmful or beneficial. More so, money is fluid — handing it to a company isn’t the end of it. I’ve come to see myself as a caretaker of people’s money. When you buy something from me, you’re supporting me and my business and my two part-timers, of course. (And thank you!). But more important, you’re entrusting money to me, and I consider it my duty to re-spend it responsibly. I spend it on product that creates jobs in Nashville and New Hampshire, where our Field Bags and totes are sewn. I place orders that support the businesses of small producers like Ambatalia and Bookhou and Little Seed Farm who do quality, conscientious, beautiful work. And I give a percentage of it to charity — specifically to Heifer, who in turn provide fiber animals to impoverished families, where those animals represent milk and fiber and income. My point being not to pat myself on the back at all, but simply to say that I know first-hand, feel it daily, and understand quite deeply that how you spend your money matters — whether that’s a farm or a small business or a corporation. And that informs my view of all of this.
As for me and my closet, I love pulling on handmade garments, and yes feel quite humming on those rare occasions when I’m dressed entirely in handmade (apart from my underwear and shoes). But what actually feels best to me is any outfit that’s a blend of all the things we’ve talked about this month — long-worn/mended, second-hand, handmade and small-batch/known-origins. Say, a handknit vest and homemade top with local jeans. Or a locally made tunic with my ancient mended camo pants. Or even a ten-year-old t-shirt (from who knows where) with a handmade sweater and jeans from J.Crew’s made-in-L.A. line, Point Sur. I like knowing that I’m not just opting out of the ready-to-wear industry altogether and hoping the situation will improve without me, but that I’m using what purchases I do make as a way to support sustainable small-batch makers and even big companies that have done something I want to encourage, like J.Crew making jeans in L.A.
On those occasions when I’m able to buy a piece from Elizabeth Suzann or Lauren Winter or Han Starnes (because I’ve shopped less, saved by making, and then waited for a sale!) I feel like the purchase is the message — I’ve supported their business and cast a vote for them to do more of what they’re doing. But when deciding to buy from a mega-company like J.Crew because they did a thing I support, I feel like I need to go beyond just making the purchase and actually tell them that I bought those jeans as a result of that choice they made, that it’s not incidental. And to add that it would be even better if they’d use North Carolina denim.
And what about those overseas factory workers? I’ve heard so many people say that we’re doing them a favor — that the jobs created by our spending are better than what they had available to them before. Maybe that’s true — I have no way of knowing. I agree that people in other countries need jobs, too, but I also see that our corporations don’t have to insist on impossibly cheap price tags on our behalf. They don’t have to pocket enormous profits after telling the factory they won’t pay enough for the goods that the factory can afford to pay the workers a decent wage. We’re keeping people in poverty with our insistence on $6 t-shirts and $15 button-downs. So I’m raising again that I want to find a way to communicate to these companies that there are a lot of us who want another option — to pay a fair price and know the workers were fairly paid as well. If you have any specific ideas about that, please share them!
The conversation we’ve been having this month has been amazing and meaningful and I know for real that it impacts people’s thinking and choices. But we have to make ourselves heard in the marketplace. Consumer demand is the only way change happens, and financial support is the only way new things are possible.
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As I’m always saying, there’s no such thing as a pure closet. Everything we make and buy will have some element of trade-off; the point is to maximize the good and minimize the problematic as much as we can, to be thoughtful about our choices, and to do whatever is possible and affordable within our own circumstances. Even the smallest steps add up when enough people take them.
Here are just some of the possible steps to consider:
– Wear the things you already own for as long as possible. Using what you have (rather than discarding it and/or acquiring anything new) is the most environmentally responsible act there is. (And don’t forget: No one wants your old clothes)
– Additionally on the long-worn front, acquire things second-hand — either via thrift stores, online consignment or clothing swaps. Thrift stores can also be a great source for fabric, as well as sweaters for unraveling into yarn.
– Make as many of your own clothes as makes sense for you. For every garment you make, you can be sure no factory worker was exploited in its making. If you can also use traceable yarn or fabric, and avoid materials that may have been produced in damaging ways, so much the better.
– If you have a fabric outlet in your area that sells remnants and overstocks, support them. Even if the fabrics weren’t sustainably produced, you’ll be putting them to use and keeping them out of the landfill. (And saving money!)
– Buy directly from small, sustainable brands if that’s within your reach. Help them survive, thrive and multiply.
– If you shop in small boutiques in your area, ask them what they have that’s from sustainable brands. Let them know you want that. The same with your local yarn and fabric store — make a point of asking what’s local/sustainable/traceable, and support what you can afford to.
– If you see “import” on a product page in lieu of where something was actually made, ask them to be more specific. If they aren’t willing to say “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in Cambodia” they shouldn’t be manufacturing there in the first place, and we (the consumer public) shouldn’t let them get away with not disclosing that.
– And the hundred things I’ve overlooked that I hope you’ll make up for in the comments. ;)
. . . . .
I can’t thank you all enough for the amazing conversation this month. I always think I’m hyper-aware that I don’t have all the answers — far from it — and you still always challenge me in ways I didn’t see coming. The discussion on #slowfashionoctober this month has been smart and introspective and inspiring on so many levels. I know everyone will carry it forward throughout the year, but today I’d love to hear from you what your most important takeaway is, how your thinking has changed, or what you plan to do differently.
And if you missed anything here on the blog, the full batch of posts from this year can be scrolled through here.
top left: 10-y-o J.Crew cardigan, even older and very mended J.Crew jeans, homemade plaid top
top right: homemade wool gauze pullover, J.Crew striped top, Point Sur jeans (made in US)
middle left: handknit vest, Fischer wool button-down (made in US), old J.Crew ponte pants
middle right: homemade linen dress and handknit vest
bottom left: very old and mended Gap camo pants, homemade top
bottom right: Elizabeth Suzann sample-sale tunic, same ancient J.Crew mended jeans
[Gap boots from a few years ago (China), very old tan J.Crew sandals (Italy), Salt Water sandals (China)]
PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Slow Fashion resources