03/21/12

What I’m reading: sustainable fashion edition

by Jessie Kwak

Whilst traipsing through the internets this morning, I came across an interesting series of articles by Elizabeth Cline on the Etsy blog today about the history of fashion and consumption. She’s got a book coming out on June 14th: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Her articles are a good read, and I’m really curious to read her book. I’ll report back when I do.

If you decide to gallivant off down that rabbit trail, you should also check out “We can make it in the USA, but will we buy it?” by Claire Gordon on AOL Jobs. (She quotes Cline for part of it.)

Happy reading.

03/14/12

Local sourcing and production

by Jessie Kwak

I just ran across an interesting post on the Etsy blog. Karen Brown took a look at what it takes to source and produce a coat locally, and ended up tracking down all the materials and people she would need to do so. Her result: A gorgeous $900 alpaca coat.

One huge thing that strikes me about this article: much as we don’t have to pay the full price of gas, we also rarely pay the full price of the clothing we wear. This is something that’s definitely been on my mind as I learn more about the process and economics of clothing production.

Karen Brown tells us that her coat cost her $900 to produce, but it’s a quality coat that will last her for years. Think about how many coats you’ve bought over the last few years. I’m a total coat addict, and I’m sure if I’d bought my coats retail rather than making them (or if I calculated my labor in making them), I’d have paid plenty more than $900.

We’re a culture of variety and choice. We think it’s our Right to have cheap, plentiful clothing.

(As an aside, we seem to have a lot of deleterious Rights as Americans. Besides having the Right to cheap gas and clothes, we also have a Right to free shipping [ask my boss about that one some time] and free parking.)

We have a Right to own 10 pairs of $30-50 jeans from big box stores, rather than buying a single pair of jeans at a fair price from a local manufacturer paying American wages to American workers. We have a Right to update our wardrobes with the seasons, and to match our shoes to our purses.

But wouldn’t all walk around naked if we had to pay the actual price of our garments? Who could afford to dress themselves?

A hundred years ago, people paid what the garment was worth. They didn’t walk around naked, they simply owned less. They bought a nice coat, or received a hand-me-down one from a relative, and that was that. If it got a hole in the pocket, they fixed it. If they lost or gained weight, they took it to a tailor, because it was worth too much to simply throw out when the fashion magazines said it was no longer in style.

Most people will say that they think shopping local is a good idea, that they’re upset to see their local neighborhood businesses dying. But still they’ll buy their books on Amazon to save a few dollars, rather than dropping by the local bookstore.

I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like to be constantly comparing prices and trying to make the money last, but I want to challenge myself to look at thriftiness differently. It shouldn’t be about getting the cheapest deal, it should be about making the wisest decision about where I spend my money. One good pair of shoes that goes with anything, or 6 cheap pairs of shoes that go with one outfit each? A handful of quality tops that I can style differently and wear for a month, or a drawer stuffed with mass-produced crap with popped seams and poor fit?

What are clothes really worth, anyway?

(For an interesting take on American-made vs. outsourced clothing manufacturing, check out this post from Nona Varnado.)

03/1/12

New cargo bike

by Jessie Kwak

So, gas prices are rising. People are freaking out. And secretly (not so secretly now, I guess), I love to see them climb.

Kent of Kent’s Bike Blog wrote recently about gas prices (The High Cost of Cheap Gas), and his thoughts really resonated with mine. His point is that our sprawling suburbias and car-dependent culture was created by the fact that we’ve never had to pay what gas is really worth:

I welcome higher gas prices because the artificially low prices we’ve had created the dismal landscape Jennifer describes. The true cost of cheap gas is seen in the poor quality of life we’ve built for too many Americans.

Here in the Seattle area we are “lucky” because we have light rail running from downtown to the airport. It took us years to get that “luck” and we would have been luckier, sooner, if gas prices had been higher.

If we’d always had to pay unsubsudized prices for gasoline, we would have come up with better solutions for commuting than spending 3 hours of every day stuck in traffic. We wouldn’t think it was smart to build huge sprawls of single-family homes in neighborhoods without sidewalks and basic amenities.

The artificially low price of gas has caused us to make certain short-sighted choices in the development of our infrastructure over the past century or so, but that doesn’t mean cheap gas is our birthright as Americans. It’s pretty plain that the time has come to reevaluate the way we live our lives.

I’m not saying anything revolutionary here. I’ve had this conversation dozens of times, and although I want to make steps in that direction, it doesn’t change the fact that I drive to work when the weather’s shitty or if I didn’t sleep well. Rob and I make trips out to Eastern Washington with some regularity (our families are both out there), and it’s both more expensive and a much greater pain in the ass to try to make those trips via public transportation (the Greyhound leaves for Yakima at 8am and 8pm only, last time I checked. Really. Who do those times ever work for?). Car camping is one of my great life pleasures (although I’m dying to try some bike camping this summer).

But a couple days ago (while carpooling to work), we had this conversation again, and I said I’d love to cut down on our car trips. Wouldn’t it be great to have a cargo bike so we could go grocery shopping and the like without having to rely on the good old Merc?

When Rob came to pick me up from work that night, our a giant cardboard box was stuffed into our back seat. A very long, tall, and narrow box. “Wait. Is that a cargo bike?” I asked.

It was.

Apparently, the consensus at the office was that if I had given wifely approval that morning then Rob should buy the bike quickly before I changed my mind. Probably a good tactic, really, since if I’d started looking at our budget I probably would have talked myself out of it.

So may I present the newest addition to our little family, the Torker Cargo T. It’s burly, it’s stupid heavy, and it’s a rather excellent shade of green. Rob put it together and took it for a spin to work the next day, looking oh so adorable. Stay tuned to this very channel for further reports of its adventures. We’ll see. Maybe it can take us camping, too.

Rob’s ensemble: Helmet by Lazer. Messenger bag by Cory of Dank Bags. Jacket and Seahawks-themed scarf by yours truly. Gloves by Prime (chosen to match the panniers). Bike is a Torker Cargo T.