Being a conscious consumer is a giant pain in the butt, but we do it anyway. We are in no way perfect at it and I don’t know that it’s even possible to get there, at least in our world today. I’ll admit that this is not something I thought I’d be into… but that was long before my composting days. Today I’m finding myself feeling a lot more pro-people and pro-planet. Which frankly, when it comes to acquiring goods, sucks! It’s significantly easier to be ignorant, but it just so happens that ignorance is not really the pro-people, pro-planet stance. What inspired this change? A documentary, of course (documentaries are dangerous things for us to watch as time and time again they’ve inspired us to make major life changes). “The True Cost” tells the uhm… design to table?… design to shelf?… story, of apparel manufacturing. “The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?”
Now we know. The film features, among other things, a close up of a factory worker, who sincerely says: “These clothes are made of my blood. Why would you want to wear something made from my blood?” We decided we don’t, and so began our shift with how we purchase and think about clothes, shoes and other wearable items.
I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but as recently as November of 2016, we would consider going to H&M for a bit of a shopping spree, a fun pass-time. We’d take pride in how little we spent for a giant bag of clothes that we didn’t even need in the first place. *Sigh*
We have since changed our ways, which was guided by the aforementioned film and Project 333. The film made us question the fast fashion culture, designed to make us want new items every week. Project 333 made us realize how abundant our lives (and our closets) already were. Simply put, we didn’t need anything new. Not buying was a great solution… until it wasn’t. We’ve since purchased a few things, based on needs. These are shared below, including our reasoning. I will say that sadly, one of the things you need to decide is: what are your priorities? Is it the treatment of workers? The eco-factor? The price point? It is very rare to hit all three successfully- you’ll find something has to give. My priority is treatment of workers, and I think I got Mr. SS on the bandwagon, although he does occasionally lean towards sustainability and the environment. I will also stress- NOT BUYING THINGS IS THE BEST WAY! but it won’t always work, sometimes you need stuff.
The first item we discovered we needed were rain boots. We own 10 acres of land, which during the “wet season” (pretty much late March to mid-June) a few days of rain turns into 10 acres of mud. Our micro-home is roughly 350 ft down an unpaved hill from our parking spot and the main road. It was impossible to traverse said distance in regular shoes and have dry socks, or attend a work meeting set in an office, not a farm. The boots were a must, so we started researching companies. I found Sloggers, which seemed pretty good, but their boots run around $40 a pair. Not crazy, but I also didn’t need my boots to have a cutesy design. I remembered that our local Tractor Supply (you know you live in a budding metropolis when you utter that sentence) randomly carries things that are made in the USA. We lucked out. Simple, black, made in the USA rain boots for $12 a pair, unbelievable. We got those, and are still happily wearing them. Later we saw a very similar pair at Walmart, made in China for 50 cents more… so naturally we felt pretty great about our purchase.
In a similar vein, we needed bike helmets. We’ve owned our bikes and used them for quite a while. Until moving to the land, we didn’t feel a need for bike helmets, because we were biking on sidewalks in a residential area. Now, my commute, while only a brief 6 minutes involves a stretch of county road, where people notoriously go 50 mph. Protecting our heads felt like a good investment, so we decided to purchase helmets. Full disclosure- we didn’t think about it as clothing so we didn’t necessarily go into it consciously. However, looking at Amazon, we noticed that one of the helmet styles, comparative in price to others we were looking at, was American made. This was a very easy choice. In random notes- this can be adjusted to fit over a winter hat!
Next on the list were leggings. Evidently, my inner thighs are made of small nails/ sandpaper (Mr. SS suffers from a similar condition under his buttocks). As a result, we consistently rip clothes in the same spot. I’ve tried fixing the seams, but once I bulk them up, the leggings become impossible to wear. I work with kids in the summer, and my basic kid uniform is a tunic or dress + leggings. If I don’t have the leggings, I’m out of things to wear. So I researched US made leggings and came across a company called “intouch”. Their clothes and materials are made in California, and they are very reasonably priced at around $14 a pair. I got them in black and gray. Unfortunately, the two different colors ended up being two different sizes, even though they both were labeled as a large. The gray pair was a looser fit, and I still have them. The black pair ripped in the predictable spot within 6 months, which was disappointing.
With winter came the need for winter boots, as mine had cracked at the sole. They were Croc brand boots and it was my third year wearing them. I decided to try to get them resoled, with a local shop. They were hesitant to do them, as the shoe was a low quality shoe, but I really didn’t want to purchase a replacement pair. The repair costed $70 and lasted 3 months- I should have listened to the experts. Conversely, my husband had a real nice pair of dress boots he picked up from a thrift shop in NYC for $20. The resole cost was around $40 and he was told that the shoes were originally $200-300 and if resoled every 3-4 years would last him a lifetime- they are still going strong. However, I needed winter boots- need I remind you, winters here are intense! I decided to explore the used market on etsy & eBay. I found an awesome pair on etsy, but they turned out too small. I knew this might be an issue, so I was only buying from sellers who take returns. The next pair came from eBay and are sufficient. They might last through this winter, but I may need to invest in a new, long lasting pair. I welcome your suggestions.
Running shoes are the one item on this list I feel we’ve nailed. If you’re physically active, these present a problem item, because you really should replace running shoes every 6 months. We can get away with 8 months, and typically wait even longer, to the point where the shoes start hurting our feet and joints… (I don’t recommend this) I needed shoes first and did a lot of research. I found a brand called Newtons. They are a Certified B-Corp located in Colorado and they do all kinds of good… but their mission was to create a really good running shoe. Have they ever! This is the most comfortable, most supportive shoe you’ll ever wear. If you aren’t picky about the design or color, you can buy these for around $50 on Amazon (they are significantly more expensive on the companies website). Mr. SS just got a pair, I’ve had mine for about a year and I’m almost in the market for a new one.
The last category on this list is thrift store shopping. Obviously, this is a really good option, sadly it just doesn’t work for everything. This is best for things that are slightly more wants than needs, or requires frequent searching that we often don’t have time and energy for. However, prior to the next kid-filled summer I needed another pair of leggings. I was lucky enough to find one for $5. Mr. SS picked up a pair of workout shorts and two pairs of pants, since he recently lost some weight. Additionally, I was able to find a pair of comfortable flats and an amazing jumpsuit (totally a want splurge for $7) and Mr. SS bought a hat for working outside.
I could go on about how we’ve tailored some pieces after weight loss, and how amazing those look, (in fact the majority of Mr SS’s “formal attire” which he wears fairly often for work are tailored items from the thrift shop) but I’ll save that for another post as this already turned out epic. Purchasing things in a conscious way takes a lot more time and a bit more money. However, you balance out the money by shopping much less frequently (this post has been cumulative list of “clothing” purchases since Nov. 2016). The research has to be done one time, because after that you can purchase goods from the same companies, over and over again. What we do isn’t perfect- the shipping materials and carbon footprint of delivery of these items are just some of the problems, but we are doing better. Right now, I’m not sure perfect is achievable, but you can always do better. As we’ve said before, there is a give and take, and what you decide is ultimately up to you, but there is a better balance that we can achieve if we educate ourselves and chose knowledge over ignorance.
What have you found? What things are you willing to give and take? What are your priorities? The environment and sustainability? Human rights? Vegan materials? Frugality and anti-consumerism? Minimalism? What did we leave out that you feel passionately about?