The Less Blog

An attempt to make space in life for the good stuff.

What A Blue Wool Cape Taught Me About Provision

americanapparelcape

I really, really wanted this blue wool cape. It’s from American Apparel. It was $170, I mean, an insane amount of money. I was saving up my pocket money, $20 a week.

And then: it went on sale! I had the money! Perfect. I put in my order, I couldn’t wait. Until…I received an email from the store. “We regret to inform you the cape is out of stock. Would you like to order something else?” I couldn’t believe it. I was so sad. I couldn’t believe they’d accidentally left it in stock on their website. I feel absolutely deflated.

But that weekend, like many Saturdays, I popped in to the Give and Take, that old raquet-ball court on campus filled with used goodies that students donate. Everything is free. We give freely and take freely. I love treasure hunting in there, and its presence nearby keeps my closet from getting too cluttered.

That Saturday, I could barely believe it, right there before my eyes was a blue wool cape. I mean, seriously, what were the chances? It was fabulous: heavy and warm, reversible, blue and brown with a little zip. A collar to pop. It was exactly what I’d dreamed of. It was better than the American Apparel cape. And for $0, it was mine.

In that glorious moment of swishing the cape around my shoulders, I know it sounds crazy, but I really felt that this cape was a gift from God. Sometimes I get so worried about how I’ll look or whether I’ll have the right clothes for some upcoming occasion, or – for the sake of this project – whether I really will find what I need if I can’t rely on regular means of acquiring clothes. But there, in the Give and Take, I was given a physical, practical example of Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow: they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

(Image: American Apparel)

Factory Made Alternative #3: Loving The Clothing You Already Have

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Sometimes the best remedy to not knowing what to buy is to buy nothing. And I really do think the best way to feel content in buying nothing is to celebrate what you already have.

So today’s post is about that: loving the clothes you already own. I went through my wardrobe and picked out some of my personal favorites to show you. Those pieces I love, that I look forward to wearing, that are “me.”

First: nautical sweater. Ohhh it’s hard to describe the joy I felt when I stumbled upon this, during my visit to this weird hospital thrift store I found in Philadelphia, while exploring the city on my own. The sweater was less than $5. It has boats, waves and seashell buttons. I mean, whoever designed this really went all out on the theme.

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Next, skunk brooch. It is from Etsy, and is so wonderfully made: a nice heavy wood piece with teeny sewing details. Whenever I wear it it reminds me of my treasured friend Aimee, who has one just like it that’s a fox. I always wanted one, then treated myself to it upon finishing my first semester of Hebrew. I could wear this with everything.

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Third: this grey wool coat I found at the Give and Take. It’s so warm, it’s like a blanket, and I feel so proud that I repaired it to it’s current state. It had buttons falling off, the pockets were half ripped off. Now look at it! And I love love love the contrast color inside the sleeves. (Sorry about the photos, I think my camera is dying? Or the lens is dirty?)

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Fourth: my black and white Doc Martin brogues. I bought these basically unworn for less than $5 on eBay. I wish I wore them more often but I am paranoid about them getting dirty. I kind of just love that they exist. Note to self: remember to wear these in the Fall.

 

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Last, this bunny ring. Jono bought me this for Christmas and I love it so much. I almost never wear rings, but this one I wear. It’s big and pink and brass and fantastic.

So, there’s a few of my favorite things tucked away in my wardrobe. In fishing them out I realized a few things about myself and my own favorites:

  1. I love clothes that have a story behind their acquisition/creation. “Easy gets” at the mall or online don’t rate for me. Rescued treasures or special gifts are where it’s at.
  2. I don’t wear my favorite things enough. Maybe I think I’ve got to “save them up”. But that’s crazy, right?
  3. I wish there was more killer and less filler in my wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be nice to see only your favorite items rather than a whole lot of junk?

Now it’s your turn! Get into your closet and find a couple of wardrobe favorites. Share them with me! I love it when people show me their favorite bag or scarf or skirt that’s totally “them.” Either reply here or post your photos on my Facebook page. Let’s delight together in buying nothing, celebrating what we’re already blessed to call our own.

(Photo credits: Alison Gerber)

Less Factory-Made Clothes For Me…But What About For My Kids?

kids at sand castles

So I face a dilemma. As I explore the topic of less factory-made clothes this month, my plan was to abstain from buying said clothes as I do so. That just seemed to make sense. It’s not so hard for me: I don’t really need anything. I could probably go a year without buying anything at all and be perfectly alright.

But then there’s Ivy. What a style queen, right? She can’t go a year without any new clothes, because she’s shot up at least one full size in the last month. Ralph, too, needs new pants badly. I looked at his clothes from last Fall – he was wearing size 3. Now he’s at least a 5.

So I actually need to buy something. But do I go the second-hand, free, fair-trade, hand-made, slow-clothes lane for them too? Or are they exempt?

After chatting about this with Jonathan we decided that it would be okay to buy the kids some new clothes for back to school from our usual clothing sources.

But you know what? As I was holding the clothes, I just couldn’t get the image of kids sewing clothes for my kids out of my mind. 

old navy children

Yeah, no.

So I’m sending most of what I ordered back. I should say, most. A couple of pieces I did keep. A pair of pants, some tops. I wish I could say I am a perfect 100% ethical clothing consumer but I admit it is really hard to do that when you need to get something. Argh.

So, soul-searching time. I think it’s key to ask the question: why am I happy to buy fast-fashion clothing for my kids but not for me?

  1. It looks nicer. They’re both starting new schools this year. And, call me a crazy Mom, but I want them to look cool. I want them to fit in, and not be the “second-hand-clothing kid”. I want them to have nice new clothes for that first-day-at-school photo. True confessions.
  2. It’s easier. I have tried to rely more on second-hand clothing for the kids in the past. But in order to get them “looking nicer”? It’s hard work. It means regular thrift store visits. It means storing good-condition clothes you have come across there or received as hand-me-downs, maybe for a year or more. For Winter coats it means bidding on eBay for what seems like a month. And it is really hard to find boys things in good condition. I don’t know how they get so worn out – it’s like they rub sandpaper all over their body whenever they aren’t with us.

When I look at both of these points, they really are the same reasons that head over to the mall when I need something rather than taking the time to source something better. They are also the same reasons that I have deemed invalid for myself – because when I weigh the human and environmental costs of buying sweat-shop clothing against “It looks nicer” and “It’s easier” …well…that’s like putting a large and endangered elephant on the scales beside a very selfish mouse.

So, back to eBay for me. And planning what clothes the kids will need. And scouring the give and take. And storing stuff. It’s not easier, but it is better. It’s thinking beyond my own family to them and the world they are living in. And perhaps in doing so I’ll find another opportunity to “train up a child in the way he should go.”

(Photo credit: 1. Claire Harrison. 2. Al Jazeera America.)

An Ode To The Give And Take

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It’s hard for me to talk about factory-made clothing alternatives and not talk about this humble abode, the building you see pictured above. It seems pretty shoddy from the outside, but it really is one of the greatest places on earth.

This building is what’s known around these parts as the “Give and Take”. What was once our graduate school’s raquet-ball court, it is now the home for anything anybody on campus has “outboxed” from their home. Clothes, toys, bedding, home decor, jars of baby food, packets of diapers that are no longer the correct size…everything is in this place. Once I found a remnant of 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fabric inside there. Everything.

The rules are simple:

  1. Drop off what you don’t want or are no longer using.
  2. Take whatever you’d like.

It’s for everyone who lives on campus. There’s no cost. There’s no requirement like “bring three things in order to take three things.” You’d think, with everything free, the place would be empty, but it’s not! In fact, it’s the opposite. People seem to love the giving part more than the taking part. That’s incredible to me, it’s like some kind of graduate-school utopia. The insides of this shoddy old building are just bulging with goodies.

There have been so many times the Give and Take has saved me. When we first moved here from overseas, we had nothing. The Give and Take provided our first dishes, cups and cutlery. It meant we could eat off something. The day we needed so many more towels than the four we owned to mop up the pool of water that had somehow collected inside our 20-year-old car – The Give and Take saved the day again. The Give and Take has been the source of Halloween costumes, surprise gifts, new outfits for a Saturday night date. It has made the Christmas present pile more mountainous, and left the wallet a little more full. It’s what I call “God’s deposit box”. It’s opening hours are probably also the only time you will see me running up a hill.

I wish everywhere in the world could have a Give and Take like mine. A place where everything was recycled and everything was free. Wouldn’t that be a lovely dream? In the meantime, I offer to the Give and Take my humble thanks: by means of all the goodies I’ve cleaned out of my closet and home. May they bring the delight to one of my neighbors that my neighbor’s discarded bits and bobs have brought to me.

(This article is edited and reposted from its original, also written by me, found here. Photograph my own.)

Factory-Made Alternative #2: Etsy

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Isn’t Etsy awesome? Apart from this: there are increasingly more sellers on there who are actually selling new, sweat-shop-factory made clothes on the site. ARGH. Like many others, I wish very much that Etsy would enforce stricter policies with regards to the origins of their products. But they haven’t. After many petitions, they still haven’t. Because Etsy makes a whole lot of money through commissions off sales from the site, and who would want, then, to restrict sales?

(For more on the problems Etsy is facing, you can read a pretty thorough article here, and this blog here.)

So then, Etsy is a mixed bag. It is both paradise and the worst kind of shopping mall. Through which you will have to navigate until the world of craftspeople think of something better. So then, how best to determine when you’re buying from an actual person making the clothing in their home/studio or from a factory? Here a few guidelines:

  1. When you search the item, check if there are exact replicas of that item also on Etsy. If so, this is a pretty dead giveaway that someone is either ripping off someone else’s design, or all sellers are buying from one cheap, common, factory source. For example, a search for “aztec leggings” results in this. They are all the same leggings.aztec leggings
  2. Think very carefully: is it even possible that this item could be handmade in the way they describe? You should know that things handmade are going to look kind of handmade. A home knitted scarf does not look like a scarf you would buy from Gap. A hand-crafted silver ring will not look like a ring from the jeweler downtown. Look at those leggings – there is no way they are hand-knitted. At the least: machine knitted. Use your brain.
  3. Is it incredibly cheap? Look at the price. Handmade clothing should be more expensive than clothes from Forever 21. Because this is the real cost of making something and paying the maker a real wage for doing so. This isn’t always the best indicator, because the seller could be marking up prices. Take price into consideration with all of the other factors.
  4. Ask: where is it coming from? Like price, this might be a give-away, it might not. Items listed as coming from China or India may indeed be from individual craftspeople. But if their inventory is full of things that don’t appear handmade…proceed with caution.
  5. Look at reviews online. Look at the reviews for the item you’re considering purchasing, but also search the store name online to see if anyone has complained in the wider web that all is not what it seems when it comes to this particular store.
  6. Ask: can this be made to custom specifications? If an item can be custom made, or if the maker is offering services custom-making items for you, chances are pretty good it’s handmade. If not, this could be an indication that the seller and the maker are not the same person.

Now, onto the good stuff. I would love to make a list of Etsy sellers we know are legit, who make great quality fashion-goods you can trust and feel proud to support. Have you ever bought anything off Etsy that you’ve totally loved? Share a link to the store below and I’ll add it in my round-up of great Etsy sellers, coming soon!

Why not just give up on fashion all together? Or, on the differences between Val and Al.

val o

Here is my precious friend Val. Val and I are so similar in lots of ways. We’re both passionate about ministry, we both love preaching, board games, we’re both competitive. We both love to read…and write. We both love a good giggle. We both treasure our families. We’re both Aussies!

But we’re pretty different in some ways too. One evening when I was over at her house she handed me a bag full of makeup. “I’m not going to wear it anymore,” she tells me. When we took a trip to the hairdressers together, she had no specific directions except “cut it in a bob.” She regularly wears her hand-me-down skirts and her husband’s sweaters.

Val is gorgeous. But she’s not all about fashion. I mean, I have seen her dressed up and looking amazing – I just doubt it would be in her top 10 favorite things to do. But it is in mine.

Val and I both care about what the fashion industry does to people. We’re both not okay with oppressing others for our benefit. But Val’s response then, for the most part, is to forget about fashion and just to wear whatever is available and ethical. Should my response be the same?

I think there is another similarity between Val and I that is important here: we both need to wear something. We’re not nudists! Every day we’ve gotta get up and put on clothes. And as we get dressed, there are actually two questions on the table:

  1. Do I care about what I wear today, style-wise?
  2. Do I care about what I wear today, ethics-wise?

Val and I answer question 1 very differently. But we answer question 2 the same.

For Val, as she gets dressed, question 1 and 2 are never in conflict, because question 1 is a non-event. But for me, where I run into problems, is when the answer to question 1 becomes more important than the one to question 2.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to care about fashion – as long as I can find ways for it to not be in conflict with my care for the world and those who live in it. Because when I care about how I look more than how others are treated in the world, then I am going against Philippians 2:3’s charge to “think of others as more significant than yourselves.” Caring about fashion is a me-pursuit. Caring about where my clothes come from is an others-pursuit.

So I’ll continue to search out some alternative ways to be fashionable but to put the well-beings of others first. And for those times I can’t find anything ethical to wear? I’ll remember Val, perfectly happy, giggling and smiling in hand-me-down sweaters and skirts.

An Overview Of The Problem: John Oliver on Fast Fashion

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A few week’s back, John Oliver highlighted the perils of fast fashion on his comedy/current affairs program “Last Week Tonight.” Did you know the average American buys 64 new items of clothing a year? How can we afford to do that? And what are the consequences of that? Take a look at what he had to say below.

(Warning: this clip contains some pretty extreme language. Please don’t feel pressured to watch if you’re sensitive to that. From 6 minutes in til 14 mins is a good overview of how this plays out at Gap and it is fairly coarse-language free.)

Factory-Made Alternative #1: eBay

talkabouteffortlessdress

I bought this dress! It was originally from Modcloth, but I found it gently used on eBay for $15! It came in the mail last week and is fantastic. It fits well, its condition is pristine. I can’t wait to wear it out. Date night, perhaps?

For those who want to buy secondhand, but their local thrift stores leave a little to be desired, eBay is an excellent alternative. But there are no returns and few guarantees. How does one buy well on eBay? Here’s what I’ve learnt over the years.

1. Buy clothes from brands you’ve bought before. You know what size fits you. You have a good idea of the quality of their clothing. It just makes sense.

2. Look for colors and styles you know will suit you. For me? Blue is a tick. Lemon yellow, I’m dreaming. Elbow-length sleeves? Yes, please! Ruffles on the bust? Uh-oh. If you’re not sure what suits, think about the color/style of that item of clothing, that whenever you wear it, you are complimented. Bid on something that shares similarities with that.

3. Look for clothes that are elasticized, or loose and flowing, in areas that are typically tight on you. For me, it’s the waist. Waists in cute 1950’s-style dresses don’t fit an “apple” (read: need to lose some pounds) shape like me. So I look for waists that are free flowing or elasticized – like the dress above. That way, when it arrives on my doorstep, I’m not disappointed I can’t get it on.

4. Carefully take your measurements. If there’s something fitted that you really love, this is what you’ll need to do: have a friend take your measurements – there’s a how-to guide for that here. Then, take an item of clothing that fits you really well, that is fitted at the bust and waist (not something too big/stretchy and not something that squishes your bust). And lay it flat on a hard surface and measure it under the arms, and also at its waist. Having these numbers on hand will also give you a good idea as to what will and won’t fit.

5. Investigate each item thoroughly. Look at each photograph of the item of clothing carefully and read the description carefully. What are the measurements of this item? Is this item from a non-smoking home? What is it made from? How worn is it? Is it faded in any place? Does it have holes or tears? Or stains? Carefully check for all of these in the item’s description. And don’t be shy about asking questions. If any of the above are not answered well on a listing, message the seller and ask. If they won’t answer, walk away. It’s hard sometimes to do this, but it’s better than losing $30 on a garment that didn’t live up to what you’d hoped it would be.

Inspiration: Kelly White of The Storybook Rabbit

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I met Kelly a few years ago, though I doubt she’d remember, at a Blythe collector’s gathering (a Blythe is a type of Japanese plastic doll, for those who don’t know). She was the most fabulously dressed woman in the room. We connected because I was wearing a brooch that she and her sister had designed and made.

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Ever since then I’ve sneakily followed her on Instagram (@thestorybookrabbit), loving her style.

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Obviously this girl has quite the wardrobe. But what inspires me most is the fact that much of it comes from hunting down vintage finds, swapping clothes with friends, having her Mum knit jumpers, and buying from small hand-made artisans online. Even a bunch of her pairs of shoes are one-offs, made by hand.

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Whenever I think “ho-hum, what am I going to do if I can’t buy anything at the mall?” I remember Kelly White. Just look at what she can do! She’s the ultimate reminder for me that creativity in fashion can come minus the sweat shop.

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(Find her blog here: http://www.madebywhite.com/blog/
And her online store here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/thestorybookrabbit)

(Image credits: 1. The Vintage Post, 2-5. Made By White Blog)

This Month: Less Factory-Made Clothes

apartment therapy wardrobe

I can’t help it: I love fashion. I know it seems cliche, but I love to express myself through clothing. I want all of my inside-self on display on my outside-self. “Hello, me!” I greet myself with in the mirror in the morning, “you look awesome.”

Born of this: for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to acquire more and more new clothes. Such are the required tools of the passionate lover of fashion. Case in point: my 7th birthday. What did I ask for? A denim jacket. With embroidered flowers. It was 1989.

And so this continued well into 2012. My blissfully ignorant acquisition of new clothes for the purpose of self expression. But everything changed when this happened:

 

In November of that year: 117 people died and over 200 injured working in a factory that produces the very same cheap clothing I was proud to own.

This wasn’t just another news story to me. It felt personal. Call me crazy, but I felt personally responsible for this tragedy. By buying the clothes that I bought, I was supporting an industry that so disregarded the safety and wellbeing of their workers that over 100 of them died preventible deaths. What can I possibly do now? How can I keep going to the mall, buying clothes, injecting cash into a system that hurts, that kills people?

I know this is a complex question, which is why I want to give myself some time to figure it out. And a space: this blog, where I might share my thoughts and also hear what you have to say. And all the while, I am making a commitment to not buy any factory made clothing. I’ve thought about giving up fashion (and I suppose I’ll get to this question)…but I can’t do it. It’s like chopping off an arm of my ability to self-express. Instead I’ll spend some time looking at other alternative ways, perhaps even more creative ways, to live out that passion.

All of this will be here, on the Less Blog, for the next couple of weeks. I hope you’ll subscribe, comment, share, tag along!

(Images: Not my wardrobe! From Apartment Therapy’s Monica Wang)