Category Archives: Shopping

Responsible Shopping

When it comes to shopping more responsibly for clothing, there are a few truisms.  First, you generally have to pay more for clothing that pays workers a living wage.  Second, the more responsible a company is, the more information they provide consumers about how they source products.  And finally, smaller companies are doing a better job than the fashion giants at solving the social and environmental problems that clothing production entails.

Fast fashion simply cannot be sustainable.  The cheap prices and fast turnover of styles in the stores encourages over-production.  I’ve looked in a lot of Goodwill bins, and the great majority of clothing to be found in them is cheaply made, fast fashion from Forever 21, Walmart, and Old Navy.  While a high price tag cannot guarantee an ethical garment, an extremely low one almost guarantees that somewhere along the line there have been abuses, usually in the form of  low wages for workers.  I’ve got to wonder how Forever 21 owner Don Chang got to be a billionaire, but the same question can be asked about billionaire Ralph Lauren.  So price of the garment might be a hint as to practices, but it can’t be the only factor.

Many companies are working toward transparency in their supply chain.  I was amazed at the good job several companies I looked at were at telling consumers where their products were made.  Probably the best is Patagonia, who tells not only what country a product is made in, but tells and pictures the factories that provide materials.  The website has information about every supplier to Patagonia.  They also have an innovative repair and recycling program.  Not that you’ll ever need it.  I’m still wearing a pair of Patagonia hiking shorts I bought used about fifteen years ago.

Contrast that with what seems to be the industry standard of only revealing that a product is “imported.”

Another website that gives detailed sourcing information is Zady.  Zady is not so much a brand as it is an online store that sells multiple brands, though there are some Zady branded articles.  I’ve never bought from Zady, but I do have the site bookmarked to consider if any clothing need arises.

Probably the most ambitious company at the present in regards to sustainability is Eileen Fisher.  They have put into action a plan to correct the weaknesses in their supply chain, and they have the plan tied to a timeline.  For each item for sale on the website, there is information about how that garment is eco-friendly.

One thing that these three companies above have in common is size.  They aren’t tiny companies, but they are not the huge corporations that are so often tied to garment production and sales.  One of the most telling stories to come out of the Rana Plaza tragedy was that many of the companies that did business with the factories in Rana Plaza did not know their goods were being made there until the labels were found in the destroyed building.  The system of contracting and sub-contracting has become so huge and involved that the management of many big companies can’t tell who makes their clothes because even they do not know.

So it’s refreshing when mid-sized companies make it their business to know with whom they are working and are not ashamed to publicize their partners on their website.  Last week, after thousands of people began tweeting and instagramming companies asking who made their clothes, many companies began showing workers from all over the world.  What I noticed was that so many of these companies were small.  Topshop was too busy showing off photos of the new Beyonce line to comply, though Forever 21 did post a photo of a plant for Earth Day.  When H&M posted a cute message about their recycling program, they were quickly accused of “green-washing”.

There are lots of smaller companies who are beginning to show the inner workings of their industrial process, and I see that as a great sign.  A video on the Fresh Produce site takes the viewer through several of the manufacturers that work with them here in the US.  Okabashi shoes are made in the USA and their products are 100% recyclable, something you can do by returning the wornout sandals to the factory. These sandals are great for the beach, by the way. And in the UK, Peopletree also gives information on sustainability issues for each garment.

So, there are ways to buy new clothes in a responsible manner, but you do have to make a commitment to investigate companies and their practices.  And that is what the internet is for.

 

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Working Toward a Better Closet

This is a view into my closet.  Hanging here are 87 articles of clothing, about 65% of the clothes I own, the others now being in storage for the warm months.  I did a quick survey and I found:

  • 48 items were bought new
  • 20 items were bought used
  • 8 items were made by me from new materials
  • 11 items were made by me from used materials
  • 33 of the bought new items were made in the USA, Canada, or Europe
  • 21 of the ready made items were changed by me (hemming, repairs, button changes)
  • 8 of the bought new items were bought within the past year
  • 20 of the bought new items are over five years old

By looking at it this way, you get quite a bit of information about my buying habits.  To be honest, I was a bit surprised that over 50% of these items were bought new, as I consider myself to be a diligent thrift shopper and seamstress.  Taking a close look at the newer bought items, I realized that much of what I’ve bought in the past three years happened on trips to New York.  Somehow I can excuse myself for buying souvenirs of the big city.

Several of the new items have been bought this spring, as at 61 I’ve decided that my days of wearing shorts outside my immediate neighborhood or at the beach are over.  I’ve found that shorts with attached skirt (skort?  I hate that word) are a cool and comfortable substitute, and when I found a design I like that is made in the USA, I stocked up.

My closet is not perfect, and I can see what I can do in acquiring new items to make it more to my liking.  I want to make more of my own clothes, using fabrics that I already own.  I want to investigate brands that are making an effort to be more responsible in their practices.  And I want to be satisfied with what I already have, adding new pieces only as they are needed.

But while I can see a lot in my closet, there is much that I can’t see.  I’m good at choosing clothing that I feel is made in safe factories that pay a fair wage, but what about the fabric?  Most of my warm weather closet consists of cotton, which is notoriously bad for the environment.  Much cotton is grown in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan where the crop is picked by forced labor, much of it children.  Very few companies go so far as to tell consumers where their cotton is sourced.

So what is a consumer to do?  How can we do our best to ensure that as little harm as possible is done in the creation of our clothing and other textiles?  Over the next few days I’ll be looking at ways I’m going to make my closet  better.

Shop Secondhand

Probably the most obvious strategy is to buy less new and more secondhand and vintage.  By doing so you are not producing any new waste.  Shopping in vintage or consignment stores supports  local businesses.  And shopping in thrift stores supports charities.  Some people think that the thrift stores no longer produce treasures, but some of my favorite garments were thrifted:  a 1970s Bonnie Cashin coat, a stack full of vintage cashmere sweaters, a plaid Pendleton coat, and my favorite jeans.

If you are going to buy secondhand, it helps if you have basic sewing skills.  I’m always amazed at the number of great things I see in the Goodwill bins that are there simply because a button is missing or the hem is out.  Making basic repairs can greatly extend the life of a garment and prevent waste.  It’s also helpful if you can do a bit of altering.  I’m short, so I usually have to shorten pants, and even shirt sleeves.  I recently found a french-made Breton stripe shirt of hefty cotton, but it was two sizes too big and had wear at the neck.  Cutting it down to my size eliminated the damage, and was a quick and easy fix.

Shopping secondhand takes time and dedication.  One can’t just run down to the local thrift store to buy a size medium polo shirt in light green as one might do on a trip to Target.  But with time and a bit of luck, secondhand clothing can become a big part of your closet.

Next:  Some clothing companies that have got it right, and some others that are working on their social responsibility game.

 

 

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Window Shopping

Click to see Charleston Style in all its glory.

I used to love to shop retail.  I still love to window shop,  but I have so many clothes that I don’t do a lot of actual buying.  To me,  “shopping” means looking at what is new, and what works, and to be honest, what can I take from this to use in my own sewing.  Not that I do not buy – I do, but it has to be so great that I know I’ll be wearing it for years, maybe even the rest of my life.  But before I even go into a store, I have to be enticed by the windows.

Shop windows are fun.  You can tell so much from them.  Take the windows above.  They are in the shop of Joan Crosby, a locally owned store in Charleston, South Carolina, where I took all the photos for today’s post.  What I like about this particular store is that it is so very Charleston in style.  Charleston is a city, but it also has a resort vibe.  Think Lilly Pulitzer.  Charleston has a Lilly Pulitzer store, but this local shop is far more interesting.

The shops in Charleston are a mix of national brands and local stores.  Mall shoppers would feel at home on King Street (the main shopping street) but so would people looking for a more local experience..

Here is a national brand, Fresh Produce, that is using Charleston’s closeness to the beach in their appeal to passersby.  And isn’t that what a shop window is – an inducement to come in and shop?

So, who does it better, the locals or the chains?  It’s very much a mixed bag, with some local stores being totally uninspired, and others…

using their windows to attract the casual shopper.  Redefined is a consignment shop, and I didn’t get a chance to go in, but I loved the window.  And looking at so many varied windows made me stop and wonder why all stores don’t maximize the free advertising that is literally right in front of them.

One store that usually does a great job with windows is Louis Vuitton.  This time around I thought they were a bit uninspired, with large pastel niches that contained one product.  But on the other hand, they can always be counted on to showcase an antique piece or two.  This trunk dates to 1906.  It looks like it was never used.

Big companies like Louis Vuitton have designers who “do” the windows for all their stores, so the windows in Charleston must be very similar to what is in New York, and Nashville, and Chicago.

To show just how easy effective windows can be, here’s one from Kate Spade.  The ribbon streamers not only mirror the colors in the dress, they serve to focus the viwer’s attention on the dress and not on the clutter of the store.  It made me take a closer look, as this one window said much more about what was inside the store than any other window on the street.

I’m not a bit tempted by ice cream truck purses, but check out that Scotty dog key ring, and the little suitcase one as well.

I’m not going to name the store, but this top was in the window of a national mid-priced chain that caters to career women.  I took the photo because, frankly, I liked the top enough that I might someday make a version for myself.  And had the maker made an attempt to actually match the stripes, I’d have gone in and tried it on.  And if I had liked it, I would have bought it.  But instead, the wonkiness of it kept me from even going inside.

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Vintage Shopping with the Vintage Traveler

Once again, it’s time for a little shopping trip, this time to antique stores in east Tennessee and along I-26 in South Carolina.  Above you see what could possibly be the most interesting girdle produced in the 1960s.

Lilli Ann is a well-known (and coveted) label in the vintage world.  Most desired are the high quality suits and coats from the 1940s and 50s, but the company produced some interesting clothes in the 60s as well.  In the mid 60s and into the 70s they made some great dress and coat ensembles in a nice polyester knit, sort of mod for the married set.  This vest is made of wool knit and is made in Hong Kong which seems to put it in the early 60s.  I’m sure there was originally a matching dress or skirt.

That’s a lot of design.

The over-flowing hat basket is a commonly found feature of antique malls.  This one gets extra credit for being a double.

This is a close-up view of a 1890s bodice.  The fabric is velvet, and is beyond beautiful.

There were several Vested Gentress dresses at one store.  This one is a classic, with Briney Bear the dog and his nemesis, Pedro the parrot.

In 1919 the US Army had not quite given up on the horse.

This Caribbean themed fabric was interesting.  It was in three pieces, all the size of feedsacks, but it was rayon instead of cotton.  There were even stitch holes like are seen in deconstructed feedsacks.

Collier’s Weekly often featured sports on their covers.  I love that she’s reading a book titled, How to Ski.

This is a late 1930s dress for a preteen girl, which shows that even a ten-year-old wants a fashionable sleeve.

As long as I live I will never understand why anyone would cut up an old crochet piece so she can hot glue it to a pair of vintage (and almost antique) boots.  These are canvas, of the type made by Keds, though I’ll admit I was too upset to even look for a label.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Evening in Paris was considered a cheap gift given by boys who were beyond clueless.  I do have to admit that this set from probably the early 50s is pretty nifty.

This bag is by John Romain, which looks to be an attempt by that company to keep up with the times.  Romain bags were popular in my area in the mid 1960s, but nobody was carrying them by the 70s.  Funny, though, to see a handbag with a piece symbol.  By that time it was all about the shoulder bag.

Cute Scotty dog sighting, but I was strong and left the pair for another dog lover.

And finally, possibly the largest item I have ever seen for sale in an antique store, a late 1940s Pontiac Silver Streak.

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In Thrifting, as in Real Life, Sometimes You Win and Sometimes You Lose

While perusing the goods at my fancy shopping place (aka the Goodwill Outlet Center), I’m always on the lookout for vintage table linens.  I keep some for myself, but others I pass along to people I know can use them.  While making a quick pass through the bins last week I spotted the tablecloth above.  At first it looked to be mid 20th century, but something about it looked a little too much like a modern interpretation of a vintage design.

I pulled the cloth out anyway, just to make sure I was not making a mistake.  The first thing I noticed was how thin the fabric was.  Vintage printed cotton and linen tablecloths are usually very hefty in weight.

Then I looked at the hem.  The almost half inch turn under and the very wide stitching had me convinced that this was not vintage.  But then I noticed the real proof.

Oh, well.  I knew it was too good to be true.

The popularity of retro and vintage design has really made it hard to tell what is new and what is old unless you educate yourself as to the differences.  Several weeks ago I posted a photo on Instagram of a display of new hankies that were designed to look old.  After a few washings I’m sure these new hankies will look even older.  And reissues of Vera Neumann designs are identical to those she produced in the 1950s through 1970s.  The difference is in the fabric and the finishing.

When I spotted these Vera napkins at the same fancy shopping spot, I knew they were the real vintage deal.  The linen fabric was soft but sturdy, and the edges were beautifully finished in cotton thread.  It really took the sting out of being fooled by Martha.

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A Good Shopping Day

After whining about the poor state of the vintage market, I thought I really ought to counter my last post with a more positive view.  That is, simply put, there are plenty of old treasures still out there.  Many times the things are tremendous bargains.  I don’t buy things because they are cheap, though.  I buy what I know is fairly priced, and finding a bargain is always a pleasant plus.

I mentioned in the comments that I could resale everything I bought on that shopping trip and make a nice profit.  These days I buy only for my collection, but with a bit of luck and patient looking, one can still find things for resale, and I suspect that part of the reason I find fewer things for myself is because diligent sellers have shopped before me.

The bag above was someone’s embroidery project, and she did a very nice job of it.  Instructions for bags of this nature are commonly found in women’s magazines in the 1910s through the early 20s.  This is linen, embroidered in  cotton.  The ribbons are old, but probably not original, as they appear to be a later rayon type.

I’ll give a better look at all these items later, because you really do need a good look at the details of all.  The Christmas card is actually a photo holder.

I found this little change purse at an antiques mall.  It is only three inches high, and probably dates from the later 1940s or early 50s.

I’ve been looking for a good pair of dumbbells, not to use, but to display with my early gym attire.  These are only a half pound each, and must have been for a very weak person, or maybe a child.

After having just posted about vintage chenille, I was lucky enough to stumble across this beach cape.  See the anchors?

And the back is a complete beach scene with palms, sun, gulls, and what might be a life preserver.

And what was probably my favorite find, an early 1920s dress, complete with machine embroidery and covered button trim.  My photo does not begin to do it justice, and I will post a better photo of it later to show it off and to talk about the construction.

Here’s a closer look at the hem along with the buttons.

I don’t usually talk about the prices of things, as what is more important is an object’s value as an object of history and as a piece that helps me tell a story through my collection.  But as proof that bargains are still to be found, I will tell you that I paid a total of $59 for the items above.  Yes, it was a very good shopping day.

 

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The State of Vintage Shopping

Above you can see the sad remains of what was once a thriving vintage and antiques market.  Held on the first weekend of every month, there was a time when this entire space would have been jammed full of dealers in old stuff.  I’ve been going to the Metrolina market for around fifteen years, and over that time I’ve watched it shrink and shrink and shrink.  This week the word was out that the owners are retiring and selling the property.

The reality of the show I attended yesterday is not quite as pitiful as my photo would lead one to believe.  To the right are two large buildings that contain vendors.  The scene inside them was livelier, but still there were plenty of empty spaces for absent vendors.  To the left are a row of smaller buildings which are occupied by little shops that open only when the show is in progress.  These people are now scrambling to find new spaces for their shops before Metrolina closes in June.

I could go on for hours, reminiscing about all the wonderful things I’ve found here over the years.  But I’ll not, mainly because my keyboard couldn’t take the tears.  Just know that a sizable amount of my collection was purchased in this empty lot.

It’s not all bad news, however. One thing that I’ve found to be true about myself is that I find the same amount of stuff to buy regardless of the size of a market.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that knowing there is less ground to cover lets me take the time to give everything a closer look.  I love old photographs, but if time is tight I’ll pass by a stack  because looking through them takes so much time.  Yesterday I took the time to sort through some I found and was rewarded with a wonderful Victorian woman on a bicycle and a fully documented shot of a 1923 beach with bather.

And there is a section of dealers that I always seem to leave for last because I just never find much there.  Yesterday I had the time to pass through that area and found another 1930s chenille beach cape.  Because there was extra time, I stopped at a favorite restaurant for a pimento cheese burger and a craft brew, and then did a walk-through of a nearby antiques mall.  There I found a superb early 1920s dress with embroidery and a sweet little change purse with Florida tourist destinations.

This mall has been in business for about three years, and is located in an old textile mill.  It’s is huge, and has been pretty much full since opening.  Unfortunately I noticed that one big room has closed, and there were a few empty spaces.  Worst of all, I’m seeing more new decorative objects.  These are not a good signs.

I’ll show off all my plunder later this week, but here are a few things I loved but did not buy.

I see a lot vintage prints, and I just love the ones showing women involved in sports.  These two were new to me.

This is a counter display, and is three-dimensional.  I love stuff like this, but I just do not have the space for it.

My regular vintage clothing dealers were not there, but I did spot a few nice pieces in various booths.  This was a lovely 1960s dress and jacket ensemble from maker Dan Millstein.

I pretty much limit myself to buying only fashion magazines, but this The American Magazine cover was just too fantastic not to share.

I’s love to hear what other vintage shoppers are finding in their geographic areas.  Are sellers of old stuff all moving to the internet?

 

 

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