Can Polyester Save the World?

February 21, 2007

No, this is not an attempt to become Beauty Tips for Ministers II. I’m filing an update on my New Year’s Resolution not to buy clothes for a year. And I am on day sixty-something of this, having bought my last piece of clothing December 21. I was thrilled and renewed in my determination when I read this article at the New York Times – Can Polyester Save the World?

The article writes about the new trend of “fast fashion” where clothes are so cheap, they can be bought in larger quantities and just discarded when they go out of style or start to show signs of wear. Three of the stores named in the article are were three of my favorite places to buy clothes – H&M, Old Navy, and Target. Yikes. The problem is, of course, is that buying more, cheap clothes is not so good for the environment when multiplied by millions of people doing it. As the article points out

…clothes — and fast clothes in particular — are a large and worsening source of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, because of how they are both produced and cared for, concludes a new report from researchers at Cambridge University titled “Well Dressed?”

And all of this helps me remember why I am not buying clothes for a year.  First, because I don’t need to.  I’ve amassed a collection that I need to learn how to work with and not get clothes just because it is fun. Which brings me to point number two is that I bought clothes just for fun, and I really craved them.  More made me want more. I didn’t like that. And three, this is an attempt to save money, although I realize that I really didn’t spend that much on them.  So while it saves some, it is mostly turning out to be a good exercise in discipline and anti-consumerism. It reminds me a lot of my transition to vegetarianism – it got easier with time, and each time I rejected meat I felt sort of accomplished and more content with my decision.  And much faster than with vegetarianism, the “I really might not stick to this” type of temptation has faded.

So that is the update.  No clothes so far with about ten months to go. It feels good.

May a Curse Fall Upon The House of Pottery Barn: Trying to Want Less

January 14, 2007

I wrote this a long time ago and left it in my drafts folder. It is a good time to revive it given that I have gone the first 13 days of the new year with no clothing purchases, even after walking through and H&M AND a Target. Between now and the start of classes in a few weeks, I will be cleaning out the closets (er, I mean the basement piled high with boxes of useless stuff) and working on my resolution to get less, want less.

I’m sure others out there must have a love/hate relationship with the Pottery Barn catalog that comes to your house with all sorts of adorable furniture and trinkets and wooden tables and perfect looking homes that look NOTHING like my home. If it is not Pottery Barn, I bet a lot of you have some sort of magazine that comes to your house that you love, yet hate. J. Crew? Car World? Book of the Month Club?

One of the things that Elaine St. James, simplicity guru, suggests is that you cancel magazine subscriptions because it just makes you feel inadequate. Partialy true. Yet, I also love looking at magazines (subscriptions and shopping ones).

In the Pottery Barn magazine, there are no piles of misc. stuff in the corner. There is not cat hair covering every imaginable surface. There are not the shelves from IKEA that your husband LOVES and that make the living room look sort of like a Sweedish utility closet. No dirty towels, cat throw-up, or accumulated dishes. I know, I know. Pottery Barn is not real, Elizabeth, just like the women in the magazines with the flat stomachs and airbrushed faces are not real. But that does not seem to matter to my little psyche that longs for a Pottery Barn world in my own apartment, yet at the same time knows that I am being tricked by The Man who makes lots of money off of poor little graduate students longing for the organized world of oak shelves with matching baskets and beautifully placed picture frames.

Be it resolved that I will appreciate my lovely Pottery Barn magazines, but never ever even consider buying something so amazingly overpriced and just enjoy the decorating ideas and remind myself that no normal person’s house should look like a Pottery Barn magazine. Just like I regularly resolve to remind myself that there is SUPPOSED to be a bump on my stomach and it is not supposed to be flat like the women in magazines who do not eat enough and exercize too much.


Ethical Clothes Shopping

August 10, 2006

On the very day that I read the post by Boy in the Bands on “want[ing] good assurance that the people who make and sell [clothes I buy] receive a fair wage and decent work standard” I went to The Garment District here in Cambridge which is the best second hand store I’ve ever ever been too. BiTB was pointing out Justice Clothing. Do have a look (after you read this).

So I felt a little inspired to write something on ethical clothes shopping, something which, honestly I have always struggled with. 1) Is it ethical to buy things that cost so much? and 2) Is it ethical to buy things made with animal parts (leather, wool, etc.) and 3) Should I boycott all stores that have things made by cheap, sweatshop labor?

The GarmentDistrict has helped to answer some of these questions for me because relatively little gas and energy is used in shipping the clothes (many are local consignments), no new sheep suffer for the wool, no new cows are killed for the leather, and no more workers in poor conditions sweat and toil to make the clothes. By buying second hand, one does not contribute any demand to any of these very sad and harmful things (sheep, cow, worker suffering, and increased energy usage and pollution).

I’ve always loved buying second hand, but it was hard to sort through the clothes at Goodwill to find something wearable, and Poor Little Rich Girl in Davis Square and Second Time Around in Harvard Square can be a little snobby and are quite expensive for second hand stores. Second hand is a great way to spend lots of money on clothes when that money could be put to much better uses (like, say, increasing your pledge to your church or donating to a NGO that helps set up cooperatives in developing countries, etc.). Plus, get this:

At present, The Garment District Inc. processes several million pounds of clothing a year. Much of it purchased from charitable organizations, providing them with sorely needed revenue. As it comes in, the clothing is carefully sorted and categorized. Approximately one piece in thirty is selected, steamed, and tagged for sale in the store. Other useable items are sold through Dollar-A-Pound+. Clothing not stylistically interesting to retail customers is baled and shipped to the developing world for reuse. Items which are unrepairable or soiled are sent to a “shoddy mill” and are ground up for other “post-consumer” uses. Over time The Garment District has also developed a very substantial consignment department, and consignors are always welcome to call. The staff is committed to the mission of being an ethical recycling company which offers “high quality clothing for any taste”.

I don’t know about my regular readers, but I know that if any readers of Beauty Tips for Ministers mosey over here, we are likely to be kindred spirits in that we do like to buy clothes. Both because I like to look sharp in general, and because if I don’t try to look sharp and a little older at my job, I could easily pass for a 17 year old. I know, I know. I will appreciate it when I am older. But when people still ask you what grade you are in when you are an intern minister and a grad student and married, it does wear on you a bit. But back to the point – lots of us like to buy clothes because it is fun to have new stuff to wear and we want a selection. But who can do that with $50 shirts at J. Crew, or, $89 shirts at Ann Taylor? And even if we could, is it ethical to spends so much on clothes when there are such pressing needs that our money could go to? I think we need to ask ourselves about this with our consumption.

Although it does take a little bit more work, you can save tons of money by shopping at a second hand store and do your part for the environment. And, if you try out The Garment District or another place like it (there are also consignment stores specifically for professional clothes), there is enough selection so you don’t get frustrated and decide you must resort to the mall. Even the on-sale stuff at the nicer stores at malls is really quite expensive. And, I’ve really tried to make Old Navy clothes look sharp and professional, but truly they just don’t look as nice. And, again, it contributes more to suffering and exploitation, uses energy getting it from here to there, and helps put more $ in the pockets of big corporations rather than local businesses.

Got other tips for ethical clothes buying? Please share!

p.s. I know some may not be aware of the harm that raising sheep for wool does to the sheep. If you are interested, you can take a look at this. No shocking pictures, just text.