Something old, nothing new

Going green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  February 20, 2008

I was going to write this month’s column about eco-fashion, the latest green trend to make the leap from niche to chic. But would that really have been the most environmentally friendly subject?

It certainly wouldn’t have been difficult to write a dreamy combo-column that made joint mention of two popular topics: eco-clothes and buying local. There are tons of opportunities to shop green around Portland, where several stores sell duds made from organic cotton, bamboo fibers, or hemp.

Take Small Victory Studios, the South Portland boutique T-shirt maker, run by husband-and-wife team Jeff and Lydia Badger. (They sell their wares at a couple of Old Port shops.) After learning how commercial cotton farming could affect the environment (with pesticide use, primarily), they committed to printing works by local artists onto organic cotton shirts only. Not only does the material feel different, “it doesn’t cost that much more (anymore),” they write in an e-mail. “As more and more designers use organic cotton for their lines more and more suppliers are scrambling to get out an organic product. Every month we’ve been in business a new organic cotton line comes out, increasingly from major blank suppliers like Anvil [Knitwear].”

Even mainstream names like Gap and Wal-Mart are jumping on the green runway (see “Green Is the New Black,” by Sharon Steel, November 8, 2007), and thus eco-friendly shopping sprees may soon become the norm. And that’s great.

But as fun as it is to buy new stuff, the greenest wardrobe choice — and the hardest one, for me — involves making the most of what’s already in my closet.

For one thing, buying less stuff reduces my personal consumption in terms of the materials and energy that go into manufacturing new items. Even more important, however, is the precedent it sets — a personal pattern of non-consumption, or at least of less-frequent consumption. The more often I demonstrate (to myself) that fixing or even re-inventing things can be fun, cheap, and/or easy, the more often I’m likely to do it.

I guess the first step will be to learn how to use the $100 sewing machine I bought on a few months ago. After one thread-tangling attempt, I gave up — not a very determined attitude, to say the least. If I teach myself how to use this machine, I could alter ill-fitting pants, shirts, and sweaters, things I don’t wear often, but would if they looked better on my body. I’ve already taught myself how to securely patch jeans by hand, greatly elongating the lives of two ripped pairs that would have otherwise been relegated to weekend chores. A more expensive, but less time-consuming (and probably more professional) version of this strategy is to visit a tailor. To re-hem and take in two pairs of dress pants, Donatelli’s on Munjoy Hill would charge about $30 apiece.

One of the best things about deciding to buy less stuff is that you suddenly want to own less stuff, too. The ascetic (or at least moderately less cluttered) life becomes more appealing. Following this instinct, I cleared out the items in my closet that I wouldn’t wear, no matter how much they were altered: too-small jeans that embody the concept of wishful thinking, boxy sweaters that no amount of sewing skills could transform, and shirts with patterns that I simply don’t like. I brought them to Material Objects on Congress Street, and by doing so, I fueled another important part of the eco-fashion lifecycle: the sale and purchase of used clothes.

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  Topics: The Editorial Page , Nature and the Environment, Environmental Protection, Lydia Badger
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