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clothes2.jpgThose of you keeping track will notice that a good quarter of the things I've purchased in 08 have been clothes.  Frankly, I've done more shopping in the last two months than I did in the previous two years.  I'm shocked that it's managed to keep my interest -- I guess the research-project aspect of it and more money to spend have made it tolerable.  There's a huge spectrum of options out there, ranging from sweatshop-tastic to mittens made from pampered bunnies hand-combed to yield a special angora.  I thought I'd report back, and pose some questions to the people out there challenged by similar issues.

At the "worst for the environment and for people" end of things, I finally went to H&M to redeem the gift certificates I received last summer.  I didn't actually spend any of my money though I did articulate the opinion that cheap throwaway clothes - jeans and a work shirt - are something people want.  I noticed one shirt in the store that was made of organic cotton, a step in the right direction, but I didn't need it for anything and it was ugly besides.  I have a couple more certificates that I will use, and then I will try to say goodbye to H&M forever.  It's been a mainstay for basics and things that don't get heavy use, like work clothes.

I also went into Old Navy to look for some T-shirts that a friend recommended.  They didn't have a single one in my size, so I cruised over to the clearance table.  $2.99 for a long-sleeved tee!  Wow! --  But wait, it's a funny color. -- But it's only $2.99!  And it looks really cozy! -- "Made in El Salvador." 'Made in Vietnam." "Made in Cambodia." -- I started to feel a little sick: this shirt definitely didn't cost $2.99.  I know it's just a little 8oz shirt but I'm sure there's a fuel cost -- and packaging costs and equipment costs and the costs of paying the Old Navy workers, not to mention the amount the Vietnamese factory worker SHOULD be getting.  Increasingly freaked, I just walked out of the store.

clothes1.jpgI still need t-shirts.  The ones I bought a couple of years ago are worn out completely.  Not only do they have to be the right size, have the right feel, the right weight, the right colors, it would be great if they could be made locally of organic cotton in a certified fair-trade environment.  But I don't think they have local organic fair-trade t-shirts.  So I have to pick one or some of these criteria.  I will probably be able to afford a couple American Apparel shirts (sweatshop free?), but their organic selection is very small.  I don't know of any major retailer who is making basic organic cotton t-shirts that I can try on somewhere.  Most of the organic clothes places I've found make stuff that seems pretty coarse and hippie-ish.  Let me know if you have any ideas.   

The closest I got to local clothing was buying some stuff from a couple of New York designers that I really like.  They're not still small enough to be manufacturing the stuff by hand in the shop, like when they started, but they are both quite involved in the production and sales of their designs.  Meg, one of them, told me how she's trying to move her Pakistani fabricating shop into the same building as the store -- she's been working with the same guy for 15 years.  As her business has grown, she has expanded to factories in Canada, Asia, and the Middle East; she told me she's visited every one.  It was fun chatting with her about this: I felt a little like I do at the farmer's market.

I also had fun trying some stuff from Nau, a new company that is trying to be both fashionable and sustainable.  They use exclusively renewable materials and sustainable processes and describe their sources on their site; I was also impressed by how little packaging the stuff arrived in - just a small envelope made of recycled paper.  The cost of these wonderful things is normally beyond my reach; I am looking forward to their New York sale March 6-9.  Finally, I bought a pair of shoes for work and for fun; not explicitly "sustainable," they seem to be of high-quality materials and made to be repaired.  Shortly afterward, I found this company online: I will look forward to checking out the Terra Plana store in New York when I need shoes again.

I should be clear that I don't think products are the answer to our environmental and social problems.  I think as a culture we buy and throw away too many things that we never used and never needed.  Of course the things we do need - t-shirts, shoes, toilet paper - must be produced in better ways or soon enough they won't be produced at all.  We'll be digging them out of old landfills.  With that in mind, at the end of all of this shopping, I went to another clothing swap, the most fun way to get new clothes. 

swap1.jpg  swap3.jpg  swap2.jpg

The shopping I did was really shopping: that is, I looked at labels and asked questions and tested things out and compared items.  It's time-consuming and things aren't so transparent.  At the end of it all, it became even clearer to me that buying used or refashioning something old is the most people- and earth-friendly way to go for a new getup.  Still, it's really nice to have something fresh and new every once in a while.

Posted on Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 08:17PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf in | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

Natural Selections is a store and website based in my town, Fairfield IA -- they feature clothes made from organic cotton and other good stuff. Pretty stylish too, although a little pricey.

February 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

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