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With the gift-giving season nigh, there’s more and more pressure to buy more and more. While many bemoan the emphasis on consumption during the holidays — which is associated with a host of ills in and of itself, including poor spending habits and overall dissatisfaction — there also are economic and environmental issues at hand.
Items are manufactured, packaged, shipped, purchased and — when they inevitably wear out or cease to satisfy — disposed of.
This is especially true for fashion, which has come to be treated as an expendable product over the years. But many clothing brands and retailers are showing a gentler take on this cycle.
For example, University of Missouri alum Liz Forkin Bohannon founded Sseko Designs as a way to employ young Ugandan women so they could earn money to attend university.
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When the company got going in 2008, Forkin Bohannon was able to hire only three women to make by hand simple sandals constructed of locally sourced leather and wax cotton fabric straps. The sandals were attractive, but had a definite bohemian quality to them. As the company grew, it was able to employ more women in Uganda to make sandals — both the original ribbon sandal as well as a leather T-strap style — and work with co-ops in Kenya and Ethiopia to bring in other accessories, such as leather handbags, loafers, flats and booties plus jewelry and scarves.
Some of these products are available locally at Swank Boutique and Route, formerly known as Mustard Seed Fair Trade.
Monica McMurry, dean of the Stephens College School of Fashion and Design, said that while fair-trade often has a reputation for a hand-hewn, arts-and-crafts aesthetic, there’s a movement within the fair-trade movement in presenting more fashion-forward, high-end goods. In the case of Sseko, this means making a “third-world piece look like it should be on 5th Avenue,” McMurry said.
But fair trade also can mean manufacturing domestically.
McMurry names as an example Shinola, a Detroit-based company known for its watches, apparel, bicycles and leather goods. Everything is made in the United States and bears an artisanal vibe.
Similarly, The Row, founded in 2006 by child-actors-turned-designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, employs factories in New York City — where the brand is headquartered — and in Low Angeles to make the brand’s simple but celebrity-approved garments.
In both instances, the Made in America label comes at a high cost for the consumer. A French terry sweatshirt from Shinola is $120; a nondescript jersey T-shirt from The Row will set you back $280.
Still, some brands are able to make domestic manufacturing work at a more affordable price point for consumers. American Apparel weathered a storm of bad press lately — last year, founder and former CEO Dov Charney was ousted after a string of sexual-harassment suits from former employees; in October, the company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy; and earlier this week, a T-shirt store employees were asked to wear on Black Friday featured an innuendo-laced slogan some felt veered too closely to Charney territory — but the company famously makes all of its apparel in Los Angeles, where factory workers receive a competitive wage plus benefits. A hooded sweatshirt sells for $48, comparable in price to a similar product from Gap.
And then there’s always the resale market, which keeps items out of landfills and, at times, offers a low-cost alternative to buying new.
We’ve all heard tales of thrift-store treasures scored for a fraction of their value. It’s true that not every shopping trip will be fruitful, but if the possibility of pulling in a big one is what keeps fishers returning to the lake, well, you can see how the same motivation exists. In addition to Goodwill and Salvation Army — big names in thrifting — Upscale Resale, The Wardrobe, Leo’s Old Clothes and Absolute Vintage are just a few notable locals on the secondhand scene.
Also of interest is Shop, Drop, and SWAP, which founder Kimberly Collier started as a Facebook group for people to resell gently used, high-end fashions and home goods. This venture grew to include a brick-and-mortar store where Collier sells new, brand-name items alongside consignment pieces.
Recycling — or, as the Pinterest set calls it, upcycling — also helps keep old items out of landfills. At Maude Vintage, there are previously owned clothes from decades past, as well as garments that have been constructed from recycled materials.
At Stephens College, students in the Crafting Sustainable Communities class look to ways to bridge fashion with sustainable initiatives.
“The idea was: How do we in fashion and design affect communities?” McMurry said.
For the scope of the class, this has meant organizing an annual Grand Bazaar, which features handmade goods created by students using recycled materials, and donating the proceeds to a local charity.
McMurry said this year’s inventory includes items made from batik fabrics sourced from a fair-trade textile mill in Kenya, as well as felted pieces made from recycled wool and jewelry and ornaments made from found objects.
The Grand Bazaar will be from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wednesday in the STARS Café, located in the Columbia Foyer connecting Windsor Auditorium to Dudley Hall on the Stephens College campus.
And recycled fashion is catching on at big brands, too. Fast-fashion giant H&M has been working toward greater sustainable offerings with its Conscious Exclusive line. It recently revealed its Spring 2016 Conscious Exclusive collection, which was designed in collaboration with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Palais du Louvre in Paris, France, and includes such materials as beads and rhinestones made from recycled glass and Denimite, a recycled denim fiber composite.
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