My friend Carla is plugged into alternative culture and frequently sends me great articles about things she knows I care about. Lately, these articles have been about clothing manufacturing and looking beyond the labels to the story of the making of the clothes.
Grist describes a new movement to draw consumers' attention to the people making items in their wardrobe:
Telling those tales is the inspiration behind the online apparel hub Of a Kind, which connects shoppers with small-time, and often sustainable, clothing makers. Working under a philosophy similar to the “know your farmer” creed of the food movement, the site aims to make “people feel like they’re investing in a person and not just buying a necklace or a bag,” says President and Cofounder Erica Cerulo.
Here’s how it works: Of a Kind works with a designer to release tiny batches of clothing or accessories that are usually made in the U.S. and often handmade. Alongside its wares, the site gives glimpses inside the designers’ studios and creative processes.
Does it work? According to the article, "85% told the online survey that they read the stories associated with the products." Understanding the process behind making an item of clothing offers justification for the higher price tag for a consumer. We're spoiled by cheap goods, but at what cost? Something well-made will last for years, but how many of us have purchased a bargain shirt only to have the seams tear or the hems fray in short order? We justify buying local organic food because the initial higher cost will be offset by enhanced physical health and lower medical bills. Shouldn't we buy clothing with the same idea that spending more on an item means we'll have it longer and won't have to replace it, saving precious dollars?
I am an avid fan of buying children's clothes second-hand and I've noticed that the well-made Boden and Hanna Anderson items offered at such shops, often priced as high as a brand new item from Old Navy, weather repeat wearings really well. Still, these clothes are made far away and we have to take Johnnie Boden's word that they "visit all factories we use to ensure that they are high quality, safe places and that they adhere to high ethical standards."
Okay then. So we know that people are tapped into ethical manufacturing and lots of artisans are trying to figure out how to market to the demographic that can afford high quality locally made food, home furnishings, and clothing. But not everyone can afford to spend that kind of money and we're all still a little hung up on feeling that we "need" lots of everything. Marketing is very effective in that regard and the credit market is proof that consumers live it. And that's where I feel we need to affect change - get people thinking about slowing down and making what they need. Learning to knit seems crazy - hats, mittens, and socks can be had so cheaply, yet I knit a pair of mittens last winter that are warmer than anything I've ever purchased, including pricy down mittens. Sewing is a skill that offers tremendous savings on high quality clothing, not to mention the ability to copy worn favorites and tailor for the individual.
It's not just making clothing though, this thinking applies to so many aspects of life at home. We have all these gadgets designed to save us time, but for what purpose? So we have more time to surf the internet or buy more stuff? If you bake cookies for snack day at school, spending some time in the kitchen doing something which doesn't require any special knowledge or supplies, it can
be a calming and communal activity and fills your house with divine smells. Hanging out laundry is good for the environment and it offers the added benefit of spending some time outside soaking up vitamin D and listening to the birds. Plus, sunshine is great for your whites!
I find doing this kind of stuff actually saves me money because I don't really have time to go browse through TJ Maxx if I'm trying to focus on doing more things at home, like baking chocolate cakes:
And adopting adult skirt patterns for a smaller client with decided and rather expensive taste:
The satisfaction derived from both pursuits cannot be overstated.
UPDATE: It dawned on me that I should add a local clothing designer. Kate Nutter Lamarre makes lovely organic clothing - mostly knitwear with lots of drape. Her shop is called Woolen Moss and we met when she worked at Homespun Boutique before her business became a full-time gig. She kept sheep back then and was the person who told me that a ram makes for really good sausage if he gets too noodly in the pasture to keep around.