Why Not New? Clothing Karma

There’s a Hole in my Closet
I’ve culled down my wardrobe, drastically. I’ve sent old “stash clothes” to the thrift store, and I’ve put all of the synthetic stuff in hibernation for the indefinite future.
And I’m left with some glaring holes in my wardrobe. Namely pants and tank tops.
The tops I’ll work on, and can always cut the sleeves off of a tee shirt if I really need something, or just wear a tee, but when it’s 113* around here no sleeves is good.

But jeans. How ingrained is the habit of pulling on your favorite pair of jeans? I live in America and jeans could be considered one of the iconic symbols of America. I mean, Levi Strauss created them here in California for the gold miners.  Cowboys and fashionistas, grandpas and kids alike all wear them. So I can’t give up the jeans.

I went on ebay a few weeks ago and found some nice linen and 100% organic cotton slacks and draw string pants-I paid not over $13 for any of them. But this morning I really felt the pull. I “need” jeans.

After the great purge I was left with one pair of 100% cotton jeans.  I had stages of the purge-anything with spandex, rayon or other synthetics went first, but when my closet looked bare I allowed 100% cotton (non-organic) items to stay.
No, in the long run, regular cotton items-especially if you’re buying new-is not enough. I’ll get around some day soon to a post about the nasty quantity of nasty chemicals that are used to grow cotton, not to mention water. And 100% cotton could mean these jeans were sewn in sweatshops so that is on my “no” list as well.
But I gotta have jeans- I live on a farm. I get dirty. And jeans are good for about 3/4 of the year around here, so while those loose cotton pajama looking things will do for the height of summer, there must be more than one pair of jeans in my closet.

And that brought me back to the internet to look up new jeans-but righteous ones. How close to home, how or organic and fair-wage-produced could I get?

Short answer-they’re out there. I found a few companies that are doing the work to try to make good products, but seriously, NEW products is the problem. And to be honest, upwards of $100 for a new pair of jeans so I can kneel in the dirt or wrestle a sheep etc. is not in my budget. Yes, that’s the true cost of a decent pair of fair-wage, non-polluting jeans, I just can’t go there. I’m on a budget.

Why Buy New?
The big question though is why would we need to buy new? Especially when the internet exists. I hopped on my favorite site and typed in my specs and up popped several options. OK I’ll admit I was looking for skinny jeans, but those don’t really work with 100% cotton. I was looking for organic cotton and could find nothing used in my size. But I found a pair of 100% cotton, straight leg, decent looking jeans in my size for $13. Done and done.

I know some people might wonder why buying used jeans is a good thing.
Think about this-the only cost to ME for those jeans is shipping. They already exist.

When someone buys something brand new, I look at it as accruing negative clothing karma. That’s the best way I can think to put it. When you buy something new, you are telling the manufacturer to generate another “thing” in your name.
If you’re like most people in America today you generate WAY too much negative ‘thing karma’ every year. According to CNN, “Consumers in the United States buy approximately 450 million pairs of jeans every year.
Let that sink in. I’m pretty sure that’s NEW jeans, because I don’t think there’s much, if any, consumer reporting done on used clothing, books or other items. There’s no corporate profit to be made (or mostly not-some would argue Goodwill makes quite the profit) off of used clothing, but that’s an incredible amount of new jeans karma, and and incredible amount of pollution and water wasted for a new pair of pants. Especially knowing that a large portion of the population will wear them for a year and discard them.

YES young people I’m talking to YOU. When kids are growing, you have to buy them new clothes frequently, but once they reach their teen years, if they live in America, they’re likely hooked on “fashion” and “retail therapy” by the time they hit middle school. They are the focus of much of the advertising in the fashion world (ever wonder why the average model is an emaciated 16 year old?) and kids are the biggest spenders in the family. They also have not learned about the toxic excesses going into their ever-rotating fashion, and moreover, most of them don’t care.

Kids are not the only guilty parties in the shopping binging though-women (and a growing number of men) are as well. Here’s a great piece called “The Real Cost of your Shopping Habits”.  This has everything to do with shopping (like eating) to sooth our emotions, and with being picky. We want everything exactly the way we want it because advertising and peer pressure are real. It’s entitlement and we all need to get over that because it’s killing our planet. And parents-if you are aware enough not to feed your daughter that “princess” mindset, don’t feed them the “retail therapy” doctrine either.

Here’s an important point, another thing that youngsters won’t get, but if you’ve ever bought a house, or an armoire, you might understand.
One house I lived in was built in the 1930’s. It had a closet just big enough to stand in-about the width of my shoulders.
HORRORS you say? All the TV shows tell me new houses need walk-in closets? Why do you think closets were nine square feet less than 100 years ago and now are bigger than my 10’x10′ bedroom I had as a kid?  Gluttony my friends, pure, emotional, American, entitled Gluttony.
Same goes with a wardrobe or armoire. Have you seen one? Do you know they weren’t made to keep your TV in? No, they were a way to keep bugs away from clothes-frequently used in Europe, the American South and the Caribbean. The average 100+ year old one is about 36″ wide. That’s it.  And don’t even get me started on electronics, household appliances and other goods that are now just thrown out about once a year rather than repaired. (Four refrigerators in three years people-I know). In the old days people used to repair everything-and now they are made to be unrepairable. It’s called “Planned Obsolescence”.
Clothing (and everything else) cost much more back then-especially if you had to take the time to make it yourself, or pay someone in your town to make it for you. No externalized, sweatshop-cheap labor then. You valued every thing you had. Not many do that now-days.

Understand that today there is an incredible amount of advertising going on, even subliminally in TV shows and movies (it’s called product placement), and just like the fast food and junk food industries, the bottom line is they want your dollar.
But with every dollar you spend on “new” anything, YOU are causing pollution. YOU are causing people to work for poverty wages if you’re not careful. So if you have to buy new, choose companies that are local, or made in the US (or near you if you’re not US based) and made with the most sustainable, non-toxic, least water-wasting processes available. And don’t buy black clothing (has to do with dyes-more in a future post). Choose clothing in light colors-less dye always means less pollution.

The better thing to do is to find something on ebay or other apparel resale websites and go with that, because the clothing karma that was generated when someone bought new is not on you. Or as my husband says, “The greenest most sustainable item is one that already exists”.

And let me just say that buying new clothing, and moreover expensive clothing, is an economic privilege that many even in America can not afford. Yes, even in America. And if you don’t know that, you should. Check your privilege.

So while groups like Fibershed are doing a tremendous amount for re-localizing clothing production, and when we can afford to, and do choose to buy new we should support our local producers, my fall-back is always to used. It’s so easy, it’s helping keep waste out of landfills (go look in a thrift store dumpster sometime), it has it’s own fashion fans, and there’s no clothing karma on you.








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