Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mission Accomplished!

Back during the holidays, I set out to assemble an ethical dressy ensemble for my daughter. (details here) Today, we purchased the last element, the shoes (See image), which were very much the most difficult to find. We'd gotten off to a good start with a black wool A-line skirt (Value Village, $5), then added a gold-embroidery trimmed black evening bag (fair trade from a local craft vendor, $25). After the holidays, we visited Hoopla and found a sleeveless crimson bamboo top on sale for $70. The same day, we attempted to scope out Setchi in Georgetown, but it was closed on Mondays. Hearing the news that the owner was relocating to New York and having a bodacious sale, we headed back this afternoon and scored a pair of very high-style vegan, fair-trade (Italy, not China) pumps for $125 (original price, $340).

I think this turned out to be a great exercise for several reasons. Mainly, it helped me think through what it will take to make green fashion truly practical for that vast body of American consumers who want to do the Right Thing, but have jobs, families and sticker shock then they contemplate "investment pieces". (That would be your Nice White Lady in a nutshell.) Let's break it down:

black wool A-line skirt Who can quibble about a $5 skirt that is well made and classic and cam be worn for many years to come? Yes, it was affordable, but finding it took trips to two thrift stores and more shopping time in each than I generally like to spend. Most thrift store items are essentially one-of-a-kind, since they will not have your size back in the stockroom. Overall, not too difficult, and the hunt was fun.

gold-embroidery trimmed black bag This was a serendipitous find, as I just happened to stumble on a holiday craft fair downtown and wasn't really in focused shopping mode. I'd been looking at online collections of fair-trade accessories, and coming up dry. "Fair trade" craft items are not going to be cheap, but "reasonable" is not out of the question. All-in-all, a satisfying purchase.

sleeveless crimson bamboo top and very high-style vegan, fair-trade pumps These both illustrate the same principle: great, ethical style is out there, but for a price. So many of the inexpensive eco-fashion tops are either too sporty or too yoga-class, not designed to be worn for work or dressy occasions. And shoes...! The vast majority of women's dress shoes do not meet the ethical consumer's standards for materials (leather tanning and dyeing are very, very dirty, and decidedly not vegan) or production (shoe manufacturing long ago moved offshore to avoid those pesky unions and labor laws).

In a way, those two items are the best illustration of the quandary we find ourselves in as consumers. Like food and oil, our clothing has been relatively cheap for decades, resulting in a tendency to waste (discarding clothing before it is worn out) and over-consume (Love these sandals? Scoop one up in every color! -- see the "snag the perfect sandal item). It's not easy, after decades of $15-25 tops and $50-80 shoes (and I never pay full price), it was not easy to shell out $200 for a top and a pair of shoes. It won't be easy to pay $4 a gallon for gas, either. We might even have to change our consuming habits and rethink our "needs".

My mother always told me, "Waste not, want not". She was raised during the Depression and knew how to be frugal. She taught me a lot, in fact, so I feel like I am better off than most; I've got a great nose for a bargain! On the negative side, I have found it difficult to pay extra for top quality, even when it really counts. $230 for a dressy outfit that can be worn for years and broken down into separates that combine well with other clothing? Hey, it's not so bad, I saved about $200 by waiting for a sale. And it's all clothing my daughter can live with. But she'd better not wear those shoes in the rain.


jane said...

I agree that we need to do a lot of rethinking about consumption, and especially in this area of dressing ourselves. The potential gap between need and want is so vast.

I would love to know your thoughts on how clothing maintenance (dry clean, hand wash, washing machine ,dryer etc.)cranks into the analysis. I have long avoided things that need dry cleaning, but now I wonder if that is always the good choice.

Jo Paoletti said...

hmmm great idea for a topic; watch this space...