Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the archives

When reviewing old posts or interviews hindsight can be a curse. In this case, I think, it was a blessing. This piece from Thrift Culture Now delivered a message worthy of running again.

It’s a myth that frugal people never shop. People often think that to be thrifty one must swear off all spending unless it falls into the basic necessities sections of their budgets, and even then they must buy the cheapest versions of those basic necessities. I know I would often find myself battling my conscience, trying to resist the urge to spend while stifling my love for quality, stylish clothes and house wares. Then I found the blog, The Thrifty Chicks.

The Thrifty Chicks was created in late 2008, when four friends decided that they needed a creative outlet for their thrift shopping expertise and their desire to “build a more robust reuse market.” With the pen names, Ms. Shopping Golightly, Ms. Gently Used, Ms. Goodie Wilhelmina, and Ms. Modern Mommie, these women write about shopping in a way that dispels the falsehoods of frugality.

According to Amy (aka Ms. Shopping Golightly), people often confuse frugal living with great sacrifice and zero fun because they don’t understand the real meaning of the word.

“It appears that many misconstrue ‘frugality’ with ‘miserly’ which means to compromise, be stingy and parsimonious, connoting unhappiness in saving money. To be frugal, by simple definition, is to not be wasteful,” she explains. “By living thrift, we are not depraved.”

Just one read through the pages of this fun, informative, and thought-provoking blog, and a quick glance at the fantastic photos of Ms. Shopping Golightly and her family modeling their thrift store finds, and you will see that they certainly aren’t deprived. It’s shocking to read that the beautiful, quality clothing (Amy and her family often where brands like, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, and Hannah Andersson), furniture, kitchen wares, and toys that would cost one a small fortune to buy new, have been purchased for a few dollars at a variety of reuse venues including, thrift stores, garage sales, or online.

But don’t think, even for a minute, that this blog is only about light and fluffy shopping fun. Along with the great tips on how a frugal fashionista can find great deals, a strong and important message is conveyed; where you shop and how you shop has significant environmental and economic implications.

Amy explains that The Thrifty Chicks’ goal--to create a more robust reuse market--is heavily rooted in a desire to lighten the impact that the American new product market has on the environment. “Our current shopping behaviour costs a lot more than the price tag we see. It carries a heavy carbon footprint that no one’s fully deciphered. We know the calories in one stinkin’ pickle because the FDA regulates food labeling. But we’ve no idea the cost of manufacturing and shipping of a new pair of blue jeans made in China across the world to the U.S.,” Amy says. “The carbon footprint of our shopping is undeniably large and it continues to grow, even during a devastating recession. This makes no sense. Product reuse can significantly help lower the flow of cheap, new, energy intensive goods into the country.”

Making a conscious effort to buy from the reuse market not only helps to keep more stuff out of landfills and decreases the demand for goods that are environmentally damaging to produce, but the reuse market is also a lot easier on our wallets, and that’s good news for anyone who’s looking to save money.

Amy says she thinks that consumerism is completely out of whack in our society. We no longer give careful thought to our purchases, considering the quality and price of a particular item, but instead, we give in to impulse and buy things because they’re trendy or we think that it gives us a particular image. She refers to this consumption epidemic, and the marketing that draws us into it, as a dumbing-down of our culture. These days, even frugality is marketed.

“Save more, buy more. That is not a frugal practice,” says Amy. “For the honest frugal-natured consumer, money saved is just that--money saved, not spent.”
The way in which we’re spending—largely without thinking—has fueled the “economy of crap,” as Amy calls it (check out Amy’s thought-provoking post entitled, The Harbingers of Decline). Companies produce more and more stuff that adds no value to our lives and eventually ends up in landfills. The environment is more polluted and ravaged of resources, consumer debt rises, and the only ones who gain are corporations and Wall Street.

“Sometimes I dream of a rush of angry consumers tossing Homer Simpson Chia-Pet Heads, plastic singing fish, and chocolate fountains upon the trading floor in protest to all the crap that is created with a cause for profit, not need,” says Amy. “That’s my dark side.”

But even though it’s easy to point the finger and blame the producers of the crap, Amy knows that it’s consumers’ poor spending habits—what and where we buy--that ultimately keep the latest versions of the Chia-Pet in production. The ‘buy-more,’ or even ‘buy-more-than-you-can afford,’ mentality has definitely contributed to the growing levels of consumer debt in our society.

“It wasn’t that long ago credit cards were a hard-earned badge of honour and debt was a sign of disgrace. Now, credit cards rain on us like a ticker tape parade,” Amy says. “I cannot count the number of times my underage daughters have been pre-approved for credit cards in the mail.”

The Thrifty Chicks aim to wake-up consumers and teach them how to make better decisions when it comes to spending; where to spend and how to decide what’s worth spending money on. In particular, Amy says that she and the other women behind The Thrifty Chicks hope to “help young consumers learn more about being resourceful so that they will spend less and save more for something lasting in life like a home or advanced education, rather than the alleged ‘latest styles’ that change as soon as the clothes hit the racks.”

Amy offers some sound advice for how to improve your spending habits:

1) Learn to honour the value and not the cost: Amy says that this means stopping to consider whether or not an item fills a legitimate need or whether you’re only thinking about buying an item because it’s inexpensive. “Put an end to the super size, the more is better mentality and you’re off to a good start,” she says.

2) Learn how to identify quality: Amy says that “an ignorant shopper will spend more money,” so getting to know the feel of quality materials and looking for well-constructed clothing is a great money-saving skill. She recommends starting at the thrift stores, where you will find quality cashmere and silk, as well as less-desirable rayon and acrylic. You can feel the difference in the materials and will be more discerning when deciding what to purchase. Amy says she wore a black dress (that she purchased at a thrift store) inside out, on more than one occasion, because the quality was so high that she couldn’t tell which was the right way to wear it. She paid $5 for that dress.

3) Determine your ‘flinch point:’ Amy has a system that she uses when she’s thrift shopping to help her decide what she’s willing to buy. She says that her personal flinch point is $5, and if an item costs more than $5 then she thinks long and hard as to whether or not she will buy it. Only at thrift stores could the $5 flinch point makes sense. Compare that to regular, new market retail: “Imagine what it’s like to pick up a new jacket from Banana Republic with the $99.99 price tag still dangling next to the $5 Goodwill tag, only to stop at a major retailer on the way home and buy a tube of mascara for $9,” Amy says.

4) Purge: Amy says that a good look at the items in your closet could help to put your spending practices into perspective. Plus, if you haven’t worn something in a year, then chances are you’re not going to. Donate it to go Goodwill where it will resurface in the reuse market.

I’ve always been pretty good at saving, but it was spending that I needed to work on and I don’t mean that I needed to spend more. After reading some of the Thrifty Chicks' posts, I realized that I wasn’t always fulfilling my thrifty living mantra, not to mention doing my part for the planet. The cheapest option isn’t always the best option. The best option and, therefore, the best use of my money, is the clothing and the wares that are good quality and going to last. Only in the reuse market can you consistently find items that are both good quality and inexpensive.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

About the only item, aside from groceries, we buy new without second thought

Thrift store family of horses for my Little Pie, my Piper.
This weekend I picked up this family of horses at Goodwill. They are tucked away for the holidays for my little Piper. I will not wrap them. On Christmas morning, they will be sitting somewhere about the living room for her to spy. Besides, would it not be animal cruelty to box them? From my daughter’s imaginative point of view, these horses have feelings, personalities and eventually names. Shouldn’t I respect that?

She loves horses and when she cannot play or ride real ones, she turns to her extensive collection of Papo and Schleich figurines. Piper ensures she has the current pocket-sized catalogue to determine what Papo figurine she might like next for a treat or birthday. Sometimes she just looks at it like I used to thumb through the JC Penney catalog. Yes, these are mass produced toys, but the quality is certainly not lost.

Yes they’re imported from France and Germany and, yes, they’re plastic. But, the only shelf packaging they have is a small price point tied about one of their legs, easy to remove without leaving that annoying sticky residue. Tear it off and you’re ready to play. Daddy doesn’t get a hernia attempting to open some ridiculous packaging.

Piper plays with these figurines for hours a week.
In this photo we see the fairies have rounded up the horses in a tinker toy corral.
I know a lot of children play with Papos and Schleich. Rarely, I mean, very rarely does one find them in a thrift store. I imagine that’s because they become a legacy toy, something that is kept for the next generation. They withstand the wear. This is just like it’s highly uncommon for one to spot a wooden train set in a thrift store.

A Papo or Schleich can even enchant adults and most other brands of plastic figurines just don’t make the cut.

The family of horses I found at Goodwill are not Papo. They larger figurines, more expensive than their little Papo and Schleich cousins. These horses sit on the toy store shelf in loads of packaging for about quadruple the price. Do consumers ever think of the price of packaging? No one knows for certain. If we did know, we’d probably rather not pay the price of the cardboard penitentiary and just set our toys free. Regardless, I’m happy to pay the thrift store price, sans packaging.

After the round up, the horses convene on their own.
I graduated college in the early 90’s recession. Until I landed my what I will call the career job at The Lincoln Park Zoo Society in downtown Chicago, I worked the floors full time at Crate and Barrel. They did something unique in store display and design. Naked and alone stands the KitchenAide Artisan Empire Red Stand Mixer, daring Crate and Barrel consumers to see it for what it really is.

Time after time, I witnessed the disappointment in a customer’s eyes when they eagerly brought an espresso machine off the display shelf up to the register desk and I’d journey to the stock room to pull an espresso maker, new in the box to send home. Often, the customer didn’t want the one in the box. They couldn’t see it or touch it. “Can’t we just take this one?” While holding the actual item, they realized that photographs on the box were not enough to make them satisfied about their purchase. The same thing happened with glassware, china, and pot and pans. We watched it over and over again.

Let’s have a round up of wise toy purchases for children. Aside from the Papos and Schleich figurines, my daughters have experienced a lot of mileage on Thomas the Tank and Brio wooden train sets, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. If you’re going to invest in toys, invest in something that will be a toy, meaning it spawns imagination not hands it over.

Thoughts? Ideas?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unconventional Harvest

The autumnal equinox was last Friday, the 23rd. Fall is my favorite season. Not only am I a person who loves sweaters and hats, but also I love a good harvest, an unconventional one of course. We’ve been harvesting vegetables and berries from the garden for some time. I’m writing about the stuff that falls from trees and I’m not talking apples (though apples are appreciated).

Last week the call came in from Modern Mommie. “They’re falling! Bring some bags and meet me on the north end of Marion Parkway now.”  She didn’t need to say what, I knew. Acorns. We scavenged the grass and gutters for acorns with the endearing help of Modern Mommie’s three-year-old daughter who simply refers to them as “corns.” She was completely enchanted and very serious about collecting.

Why? Because acorns are beautiful! A mass produced holiday anything made in China doesn’t stand a chance when placed next to an acorn. Yeah, not even a plastic acorn can beat the real deal, but they manufacture them anyway and people buy them when they could just pick them up for free. Go figure. Once you bring them home, roast them in the oven at about 180 degrees to be rid of any little natural critters (worms) that like to burrow into the nut. If you pick up an acorn with holes in the nut, best to leave that one on the ground. You'll note the caps will fall off after the nut dries and shrinks, a little wood glue will take care of that. 

An aside: I've always wondered what the people in China think as they paint decorations for Christian and Jewish holidays. I'm certain its a very different experience from when their ancestors made items that pertained to their culture. Funny how for thousands of years imports from far away lands had high value and often represented fine craftsmanship, something friends came to admire. Now it could be a plastic Easter egg or a plastic carnival whistle.

The horse chestnuts will be falling soon. Here’s a garland I made several years back. I’ve about 30 feet of horse chestnut garlands, maybe more. Readers will ask so I’ll explain now. To make this garland, take freshly fallen horse chestnuts (which are NOT edible) and grab that drill. Drill holes completely through the chestnut while fresh (try to drill after they’ve hardened and be prepared for a trip to the ER). Roast the chestnuts in the oven on a low setting, say 180 degrees, until they dry out and harden up. String them up and hang them in a place to completely dry. If there is ANY moisture left in the nut, it will mold from the inside. Best to ensure it’s really good and dry. That’s it. You have an organic, homemade garland that will decorate your home for years and cost you nothing but some fond memories collecting and string.

Here’s something to think about. Young children love collecting acorns and chestnuts. It’s something they can do without help. Bring some cider and gingersnaps along when you go. When the holidays arrive the acorns and the chestnuts hang on the tree and the children feel a nice satisfaction of seeing they truly contributed to the magic of the holiday tree.

Modern Mommy’s little one had a terrific idea. She told us we need to place our “corns” in a “nature bowl.” She was right!

So, out came the wooden bowls from the thrift. I prefer to purchase bowls carved from one piece. Bowls at thrift stores may come home a little scratched but sandpaper will take care of that. I often sand off any finish and prepare the freshly exposed wood with mineral oil. They’re simple and eloquent and cost something crazy in convention retail. But, you don’t need to pay that price when you thrift.

This beautiful bowl was purchased at a half-off sale for $1.50. This is art.

Found for $6, this myrtle wood bowl somehow magically ripens pears to a mouth-watering perfection.
Our bread bowl for $3. Now's the time to prepare citrus and clove pomanders to dry in time for the holidays. Young children enjoy this most when the fruit is pre-punctured in patterns, cloves slide in the peel without struggle.
Before racing out to buy holiday decorations, which have probably already arrived in local shopping malls, take a look in your back yard or a walk in the woods. Nice memories at little cost that build up to something magical and meaningful for the holidays. 

There's one more reason I take note of the autumnal equinox, it's Mr. Golighty's birthday.

Among a few things, we made a hand stitched book of poems about his favorite things.
Please list in the comment, other handmade holiday decorations your family enjoys. Ah, if only bittersweet grew wild in Colorado. Wait, roses do. Hmm, something with rosehips would be nice.

Least I not forget the Ponderosa Pinecones. They're a bit sharp but beautiful. A small eye hook drilled into the base with a ribbon slipped through make for something beautiful to hang.

Post Script: On a recent reconnaissance mission I saw that Pottery Barn is selling wooden balls with acorn tops glued to them, made in China. $14.50 buys you 56 fake acorns. I don't have 56 acorns, I've a couple hundred. They're also selling wine corks. I doubt they're recycled corks. Rats! A missed opportunity to compare the cost of wooden bowls.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Position: Blue Jean Distresser

Officially announcing availability as a Blue Jean Distresser for the fashion market. Now Hollywood starlights can wear and feel the truly and honestly distressed jean from hard, backbreaking work. No more fake wear from machine scrubbing or acid washing. The Real Wear market is open!

I’ll even offer a line of Double Distressed starting with a pair from the thrift store. That's twice the honest wear!

They’ll be green too! These jeans will be engaged only in healthy work. Hike mountains, garden, bike, build… honest actions to establish the true and telling signs of honest work.

Special orders can be taken too. Say you want that horseback look. I’ll ride horses. Or, perhaps you’re more of a construction type, I’ll remodel my home and accent with a few paint splatters from the roller.

Be assured, the extra $200 - $900 you will be paying for that distressed look will be genuine wear. Take these above for example. They’ve held up over ten years and now I only use them as “work” clothes. I’ve planted countless gardens, hiked mountains, painted rooms, refinished furniture and many other life activities in this pair.

See! Here’s me and Petite Poe at 12,000’ on Mount Emmons in this very pair in 2004. Yup, these jeans have truly made the circuit.

Such masterpieces take about ten years to create so order now! I’m certain there are plenty of prospective Blue Jean Distressers just waiting to be called to action. Please list your name in the comments and we’ll start our list of professional Blue Jean Distressers.

Call me crazy but, I think the machine market is quite passé.

Leave your comment to become a professional Blue Jean Distresser. Only honest workers apply. Women who work family farms, I beleive you will now have a second job.

We shall be the John Henry of Blue Jean Distressers! Except we shall not die in the end! Our hard efforts will put our children through college. Just in ways we hadn't quite imagined.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How much are you going to pay? To who?

Above is a project I'm happy to complete, refinishing this vintage sewing box. Little Pie and I spied it at Goodwill three weeks ago for $9. Hand-crafted in Poland, each component still has penciled numbers on the undersides. It was a tedious process and it was well worth it. I used products we had left over from restoring our 100 year old casement windows in our bedroom. The only new items purchased for this project were brass screws and washers from the mom and pop hardware. I've deep appreciation for the amazing craftsmanship and care that went into constructing this piece so many decades ago. I think it's a work of art.

Now my thrift store sewing and craft supplies have better organization. Everything below is from thrift. Particularly interesting are the early plastic, possibly Bakelite, scuttles.

I cannot remember how much embroidery floss below cost, but am pretty certain I bought a wide color spectrum of 30 spools for less than $5 flinch point.

Embroidery floss is easy to pick up at thrift stores and it's a bargain too. I purchased this set for $1 this weekend. Modern Mommie and I took our girls to the high country of the Rockies for a two night camping trip. We sat about the fire making friendship bracelets. Little Pie makes them lickety split. I can't keep up.

Thrift stores are many things. One thing for certain they are an excellent resource for sewing, knitting, art projects and crafts in general. Whether you are purchasing something never used like a skeen of yarn, reusing yarn by unraveling a scarf or finding a new use for a moth-eaten cashmere sweater, thrift is common sense and resourceful.

Let's get honest. Shopping for craft items is really a question of who do you want to give your money to and how much are you willing to pay. Please consider that before racing off to the chain stores that largely sell products imported from overseas and likely send their profits out of your state. For example, I paid $4 total for all the black grosgrain ribbon below. It was 50% off during Labor Day weekend at the ARC. It'll take me awhile, but I will use all this ribbon. Imagine how much this would have cost at a chain retailer.

Fortunately, this ribbon was manufactured in the USA. I understand that some purchases at thrift stores are mass manufactured items from China. I'm not particularly thrilled that jobs went overseas to bring such items into our market, but once in circulation we might as well make certain items are used in a resourceful manner - if that can happen. Better to use the item than toss it unused into a landfill. Hard to imagine that unused items are tossed in landfills every day in this country.

In essence, how about we better manage the stuff we already have via reuse, repurposing or recycling before we race out into the new market and fetch stuff from across the Pacific Pond?

As I've written many times, I cease to be amazed by the stuff Americans toss. Like all this quality origami paper pictured below. I use this in making cards and invitations. Little Pie folds it. I give some to the classrooms at Little Pie's school. It does not go to waste. 

This week I picked up two Strathmore drawing pads. The first to pages had been used, that's all. There are loads of art supplies awaiting purchase in thrift stores. Drawing pads are not uncommon on school supply lists.

Every now and the a little gem comes along. Modern Mommie and I've yet to determine what to do with these crocheted flowers and snowflakes. All 25 handmade pieces cost me $6.

Follows is a random brain dump of items commonly found in thrift stores that had their original start in chain craft stores. Many of these items will never have been used. Shopping thrift is smart on the pocket book, saves items from landfills and supports a wide spectrum of charities.

Rubber stamps and stamp pads
Cutting boards, die-cutters, scalloped scissors
Picture frames and mats
Crochet hooks and tatting needles
String, yarn and ribbon
Silk flowers, dried flowers, garlands
New scrapbooks, paper and stickers
Glue guns and refills
Oasis and Styrofoam forms
Glass vases, chimeras
Polished stones, glass balls, seashells, cedar wood balls
Sewing patterns
Embroidery and quilting hoops
New and vintage fabrics
Cut quilting squares
Paper card stock, poster board, foam-core and construction paper
Bottles of glitter and confetti
Sewing machines and bobbins
Volumes of instructional manuals from making paper to recipes
Cookie presses, piping tips and bags, assorted cake pans
Boxes of new mason jars, vintage mason jars too

Along with great deals and green shopping there is another benefit to thrift. One learns a new resourcefulness when participating in the reuse market. For example, my old sewing box was not one purchased at a chain retailer, it was an old over night piece of luggage.

I'm thankful for what I find. Currently I'm knitting a holiday gift that requires eight skeens of yarn. I found eight beautiful skeens of quality yarn for $7 thrift. Conventional retail would have easily pushed this project over $100 for product.

Please share items you have found or items you have found new life or new purpose for. If you thrift, you know what's available.

Post Script: A smartly outfitted sewing hamper would be a lovely gift for the person who's about to leave the nest and strike out on their own. Do it thrift and make it personal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It ends and begins on Septemeber 2nd

On September 2nd, a group of about 300 American consumers will hit a personal milestone. With the exception of a few items like undergarments, they will not have purchased any new clothing for a full calendar year. The will have completed their pledge to The Great American Apparel Diet. The first annual diet was launched in 2009.

Often times when people remove something from their lives for a set period of time they race out and indulge once they’ve met their goal. Like, if I gave up baked sweets for a year? I’d have a huge sheet cake waiting for me to jump upon and roll around in so that every pore of my body could soak up that butter, cream, vanilla, sugar…

I don’t have the impression these consumers are going to be renting U-Hauls to hold all the goods from some wild shopping frenzy after September 2nd.

I imagine they’ll simply sign up for another year of not buying new. I imagine they’ll recruit friends to join.

Radically changing your shopping behavior in America is a personal and spiritual journey. We’re blasted practically everywhere we go to purchase items, many items that serve no real personal purpose.

It’s time to consider if you’re ready to join this group for the coming year. Should you take this challenge and hold to it, I promise other parts of your life will change too, all for the better. I’ll sponsor you. Email me when you’re fighting the urge.

Yes, many people treat me like I’m “cute” because I shop reuse. This is not fluff. This is how we choose to spend our money, our personal resources.

Me? I'm now in need to go out an buy a batch of cupcakes.

If you know of other retail diets, please list them in the comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pushing the re-set button on American retail

My mental back-burner's been simmering since the former post, “A Plea to Anthropologie.”

I fell short on a few critical points about this business proposal. Keep in mind, the mission of this blog is "dedicated to a robust reuse market." We do this by offering tips, testimonials, photos and stories from our readers. Sometimes we must pull back our sleeves and climb out on the fragile limb of brainstorming alternatives to the current retail system. Strange how this can be such a touchy subject.

Our American retail system has effectively constructed many mental obstacles on our consumer highway. New product retailers cling fast to their current MO - which is slowly (and not so slowly in some cases) destroying their customers' purchasing power. Even the most simple business model shows we can't buy much if we have no money. Who wins then? Example, do we wait until we’ve tapped all the global oil wells before we are forced by a monumental crisis to significantly make change?There is such a thing as change that can benefit both retailer and consumer. It's time.

It messes with my brain to witness how short-sighted the American cultural ecosystem has become. We’re short-sighted on energy, education, economics, health care. Even our eating habits are short- sighted. Short attention spans, anyone?

Obviously businesses are in business to first make a profit, or they can't do anything else, but that doesn't mean that's all they can ever do. Sadly, whenever someone hints that businesses consider having a social conscience, the market stops smiling and wags that nasty finger, declaring such a gesture would be one from a"socialist" or "anti-capitalist." Tell you what. Businesses better start caring about their American customers. Guess what guys, the majority of us? We've just about maxed out on credit and have little assets left. If you don't think it necessary to care about the health of your customers, I recommend you move your retail centers overseas to the countries were you've outsourced our income. However, you will need to adjust your price point to a third world economy.

I can't believe how much unsolicited credit lenders at throw at us. Should I jack the Golightly spending up to its credit limit, I can't fathom how the debt would ever be paid off, even with our modest but very smart mortgage. I’ll bet there are consumers out in Credit Land who could have bought two homes with all the (non-mortgage) interest they’ve shelled out. Someone please explain how this is good or right.
I once stood in line behind a woman at a major retailer who had two credit cards denied on her purchase. The clerk then gave her a 10% discount by opening a new credit account sponsored by the retailer. The clerk was thrilled because she received a commission for adding a new credit customer and the customer was thrilled because she now had more credit to mismanage. So there you have it. Spend money you don’t have. It’s okay. Really. Just live in the moment with your spending, it's the USA!

Here’s a few of what I perceive as mental/cultural obstacles that get in the way of people coming to understand the former post. If you don’t like Anthropologie - great - substitute a store you do like and believe sells a lasting, quality product.

Secondhand is not a market strictly open to poor people. I believe major discount big-box retailers have done a bang up job pushing the economically poor through their racks and double-wide register lines to purchase cheaply made crap. Unfortunately, this population has been, for some time, targeted as a growth industry. I cannot imagine how any architect can now design a structurally sound bridge to connect the gap between the haves and have-nots that "sustain" current conventional shopping. How about the corporate retail moguls be the first to test out that bridge? It might be wise to think about the purchasing patterns of such a large (and growing) segment of our society. Don’t ya think? Instead of thinking about methods to milk the poor, how about methods to give the poor milk so they can have strong economic bones to run that economic mile?

Secondhand is a market - plain and simple. There seems to be a misconception that profit cannot be pulled in this market. Au contraire! Goodwill has been widely recognized as a terrific business model. Okay, yeah, they are run off donations. But! Stores like Buffalo Exchange are thriving. We don't need to be victims of the usual demographic pigeonholes. We can dare to brainstorm alternatives.

Consumers don’t balk on buying a used house or car. Why the drama and disgust on other used items (unless they're considered antique or vintage)?  Most readers of this blog have no hang ups with secondhand goods. But, step outside your community and examine mainstream America. They have serious problems with it, almost a borderline phobia. I know, I know! I run into my friends at the neighborhood thrift and no one is embarrassed. It’s like meeting for coffee. I’ve friends who have significant income who shop thrift and feel not an ounce of shame. But there are people who would rather indiscriminately abuse $40K in credit card power by purchasing $178 blue jeans (yes, at stores I cite on this blog) rather than even considering a similar (or even identical) pair for $4.99. This may be true even if the original price tags for $178 were still dangling from the thrift store pair!  My fellow thrifters, these people don't need our pity, they need our help! Maybe conversion to second hand can be an act of civic responsibility. Don't think twice about it

There are more points to be scored in mass reuse than recycling. We mostly recycle down in product quality. The business world likes recycling because it doesn't really offer much competition. Recycling is a worthy practice. There is a now a huge industry that supports recycling. Note recycling requires a respectable use of energy to transform the product. Recycling = Good. What's wrong with Reuse = Good?

Reuse fundamentally requires a simple exchange via transaction. Purchasing a gently-used wardrobe? That's competition for new product. How strange that most Americans like the word competition, but not if it's from reuse. Fine for department stores to sell a "lot" of unsold merchandise to close-out retailers. But reuse? Forget it. I guess the American businesses want us to just chuck our reusable items in landfills to clear out our homes so we can purchase more new stuff. This is actually happening with some large retailers. They destroy unsold merchandise before placing in it the dumpster. Remember this January post in 2010?

It is entirely possible to build a reuse economy that caters to different economic tiers. There is a relatively small system of a tiered reuse market in place but, it’s in desperate need of growth both in product and customer quantity. There’s enough inventory in American homes to sustain a sweet secondhand market. Think of all the stuff that’s been acquired via decades of conspicuous consumption. Wow. And it’s just sitting there in closets, attics, and basements. We’ve even had an entire storage economy housing this stuff! Double wow.

Our market system was once globally admired because it encouraged ingenuity, not just greed. Used house and car market aside, its an irony that we lack the collective creativity to succeed in a statistically significant way through a more open and prevalent resale reality.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A plea to Anthropolgie

Dear friends at Anthropologie,

Anthroplogie stores are more than a shopping environment, they are a refuge; at least for me they are. The classic and vintage-inspired clothing is a relief against the keystone cop approach to trendy fashion hooking most Americans and dressing them like lost children in a deep and desperate identity crisis, one that will never find peace.

Antropologie, your stores have provided many Americans with fashion/style rehabilitation.

The problem is many Americans cannot afford your current prices.

Given this, I ask you to stand behind your product, it’s quality and test of time by opening an Anthropolgie resale market. Do not develop a lower grade product to broaden your market like so many other retailers before you in the form of false outlets. Do not compromise your quality or design. Take your current customers and offer them the opportunity to sell back items they no longer need. Offer them store credit towards new purchases to strengthen that initial market and open a new market of second hand Anthropolgie. Toss in authentic vintage if you like. Go beyond selling and teach. Yes, teach your customers about quality. Teach us how to own something wonderful and wear it for 20 years. Be good to your customer, consider what will keep them healthy and they will return the good will by remaining loyal and marketing your efforts over coffee with friends. What better marketing effort is there than personal testimony?

The current store theme evokes the feeling of a French flea market. Designers decorate stores with simple, everyday items and make them beautiful if not enchanting. Why not broaden that to wholly embrace the French flea market style economy?

Please lead American consumers in a market that is not addicted to trends, but integrity, dignity and poise. Be more a kin to the original flea markets of France. Help us appreciate re-use for your profits, consumer pocket books and the Earth’s general well being. Promoting reuse would make a bigger difference than selling reusable shopping bags.

Please help pioneer this new market and smart business model. I’m not certain that many companies would buy back their products from consumers when their product is cheaply made or is so trendy, it’s obsolete a month after purchase. You, on the other hand, have the goods to go the distance.

Smart, economically sound customers are good customers. When all the other customers have maxed out their credit, your stable customers will go the distance.

I have hope,
Ms. Shopping Golightly

Posted in the Comments but thought it should be elevated as a Post Script:
I can only hope that retailers go back to the old ways of business. Reciprocity has become passé in so many segments of our current culture, especially in the retail world.

I hope that someday retailers learn they cannot bleed consumers of their assets to meet Wall Street projections. How short-sighted can a buisness be? The monetary bloodletting of a customer base is either extremely selfish or stupid. Most American consumers are out of cash, maxed out on credit, unemployed or underemployed.

Competition must not always boil down to money. There are plenty of other ways to operate a smart, sound and lasting business model. I've no doubt that many will view these words with disdain. Too bad, we've reached the point of a retail revolution.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What are Snake Eyes?

Many people struggle finding quality clothing at thrift stores. Five 10-foot racks packed with dresses can be a bit overwhelming. I witness at least one person painfully thumbing these racks item by item upon every visit. This is not necessary.

Develop a keen sense of Snake Eyes and those racks aren’t intimidating or time consuming. Stroll along them and items worth considering practically fly off the rack, like a pie in the face. It’s that obvious.

I thought this post would be an easy, quick write. But, it wasn’t. Thrift store Snake Eyes is a state of being. Like the unspoken rules of a family, it’s hard to document with an accompanying manual.

No, Snake Eyes isn't a cult. However, the hold American conventional retail culture has on many of us is rather cult-like. Snake Eyes is more of a meditation.

Snake Eyes quickly directs a person to their style preferences, quality and condition. Ah ha! Maybe poetry is more appropriate for explaining Snake Eyes because hitting the mark with prose is difficult.

Only in the thrift store
Snakes Eyes is NOT possible in the conventional retail world. All the items, (i.e. skirts, pants, etc.) must be on one rack for direct comparison. Think about the department store. It’s organized by brand and within that brand prefabricated ensembles are the key to section organization. All this might be great to boost the average sale, but it intentionally messes with a shopper’s concentration. That’s not nice.

Personal Style
Before you begin, consider style preferences. You have them, right?
  • What color families flatter your hair, eyes, skin? Note this is not, “What is your favorite color.” Big difference.
  • What styles do you like that don’t like you? We all face that annoyance, round hole with square peg.
  • What types of fabric do you prefer? I tend to stick with organic fibers avoiding rayon, acrylic, polyester, nylons, etc. Sometimes there is a compromise with a blend.
  • Solids or prints? If prints, what styles? Paisley? Floral?
  • What types of tops do you prefer? Most thrift stores sort by tanks, short sleeve t-shirts, long-sleeve t-shirts, short sleeve blouses, long sleeve blouses, athletic tops, etc. This directs you to the right racks to avoid the department store maze featuring tanks in twenty different sections.
  • Long, mid-length or short skirts? Fitted or elastic waist?
Knowing your style is important. It’s a giant metaphor. Think about it.

There are more considerations when determining style. One thing is certain; style is in the eye of the beholder. Please don't fall prey to those nasty trends. Trends are, by nature, designed to fail. Why buy in to something like that? When tempted, I want you to remember a recent event that nearly gave us Fashion PTSD: the attempted comeback of the stirrup pant. [Shivers.]

Modern Mommy did a post on the basic foundations of a wardrobe. Have them.

It is critical to know your current clothing inventory. Instead of a closet, I have a wardrobe. The clothes hanging in the wardrobe fit the season. I’ve no doubt my wardrobe is significantly smaller than the average American's. However, knowing inventory helps bolster your diversity of clothing. How many Americans have huge closets and end up wearing the same three ensembles ad nasuem? Makes no sense and loses cents. Plus, if you’re buying to your tastes and not trends, the odds increase you’ll wear what you purchase.

Once there is familiarity with style begin with an initial fly over the racks. When something striking your style comes into view, quickly look at the fabric to gauge its quality. If it is quality, pull the item for the next step, inspecting condition.

The thrift store often offers consumers an unusual choice. Quality and crap can be the same price. Oddly enough, when offered something of high quality for the same price as crap, some people buy the crap. Sorry to write so cheeky but this is testimony to the dumbing down of the American consumer. Follows are some off the cuff thoughts on quality.
  • T-shirt fabric: How is the color holding in the material? Is it the fabric pilled or soft? What is the weight of the fabric? Take Hannah Andersson children’s clothing. Excellent fabric. Items can be washed hundreds of times with little fading or compromise to fabric integrity.
  • Cotton and blends: Again, how is the color holding and what is the fabric weight? I prefer fabric with a high thread count. It’s soft, durable and has a nice sheen. Today I pulled a beautiful dress by Garnet Hill from the girl’s section based on its sheen. Unfortunately, it was the wrong size.
  • Sweaters: To me, knitted items are cake. Hundreds of sweaters can be eliminated just because so many manufacturers use a cheap yarn. This is a no-brainer. It’s also wise to learn to recognize hand knit items, pronto. 

Most thrift stores inspect and sort clothing before wheeling it out on the racks. To learn more about this, I spent a day volunteering at the sorting tables at Goodwill. The sorters inspect clothing for stains, rips and stuff that is just not going to sell. Items that don’t make the sales floor cut are sold in huge lots at low prices to buyers often purchasing for charities in third world nations. (I’ll have to write some day about that experience. I pulled a strand of pearls out of a huge bin among other eye-popping items, in just a few hours of volunteering. It was quite an operation.)

When inspecting condition, the construction this is a telling sign of quality. How is the stitching? Is it lined? Turn the item inside out, learn it.

Also look at signs of wear. Some quality thrift store garments might need extra attention (i.e. missing a sash, easily replaced with a scarf or ribbon, a button, etc.). If wool, look for moth eaten holes. Simple things like this. The reality? Shoppers should do the same for conventional retail purchases. I’ve bought many a new item only to discover it has serious defects.

If the item passes inspection, in the cart it goes and on to the dressing room.

Making the decision to purchase
Once fit is determined, a few more questions need to be asked. Is the item dry clean? Want to keep a dry clean item? You have two options: 1) Pony up for the cost, 2) Test the item at home to see if it is hand washable, many “dry-clean” items are. But when you pay $250 for something labeled as such, who wants to risk a hand wash test? When the cost is $3.49 and you love the item, eh maybe a hand wash test is not such a bad option. A funny sidenote on hand washing: When my hand washing experiments fail, Little Pie scores because the item is now her size.

Another very cool thing about shopping thrift, you know how the item washes. Ever bought a new sweater, followed the instructions on washing and have it pill after the first wash? Oh is that annoying and just plain wrong.

The final question is, “Will I really wear this?” On the fence? Consider passing it up. A thrift store guru passes on steals upon every visit. Experience over time teaches you that possibilities in thrift stores never cease. You don’t have to buy that cashmere sweater for $4.99 with the retail tags of $250 still dangling from it. Why? Another will come around. Really.

Reviewing the steps
Let’s trim this down. The basic steps are:
  1. Know your personal style, what you like and what is flattering.
  2. Look for quality as you walk aside the racks. When spotted and it matches your personal taste, pull that item before someone else does!
  3. Inspect the item’s construction and wear.
  4. Try it on.
  5. Consider price and potential dry cleaning fees.
  6. Ask yourself the final question, “Will I really wear this?” If the answer is “Heck yeah!” then you’ve just scored big at the thrift store.
I realize this might be more of a living document in an attempt to explain this thrift store phenomenon. Thoughts on this will continue to pop up now that this is percolating on the backburner. Best to stop now before this becomes a tome.

If you have Snake Eyes, please help by adding notes in the comments. Or if you prefer, write some Snake Eyes poetry in the comments. Haiku is always fast; remember the formula, five-seven-five.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In a moment or in the moment, what’s it going to be?

In today’s terms “a moment” confirms an associated task is in our work queue and will soon receive attention, blah, blah, blah. How unfortunate.

The notion of a moment being the present is passé. Our multi-tasking, future-oriented culture makes the present an afterthought, if it considered at all.

We all do this. We’re practically forced to. If we don’t, we’re left behind. Write, “Lives in the moment,” as a skill set on a resume? Don’t expect that phone to ring.

Let’s face it, the abandonment of the moment is self-inflicted Time Abuse. It's truly wearing down our somatic and mental health. It is becoming a social disease.

Given this, I’ve been reflecting. When do I truly experience the moment? When are my mind and body at peace? This is critical to learn and teach my daughters.

Yoga classes put me there – but I’ve been neglecting attendance. The Rocky Mountain high country puts me in the moment – but I’m only there about two weeks out of the year. Gardening sometimes gets me there. No doubt; I need more paths to the present. We all do.

I realized thrift shopping puts me in the moment. Really. After paying bills (in this economy) with paper bag in hand to prevent hyperventilation, I often rush to the neighborhood thrift, a few blocks from our home. As of late, these visits are bordering on daily. Odd thing to do, go to a store when you’re worried about money.

I hadn’t really thought about the recent increase in trips to the thrift. Slowly strolling along side the long racks of dresses, skirts, blouses, or shorts with Snake Eyes fosters the moment. I am focused, attuned to one task, the environment, my emotions and body. The store staff is scratching their heads in wonderment as to why I want to be there so often. I understand their questioning my sanity. Occasionally volunteering there has taught me it’s rough work. I lost two toenails because I wore the wrong shoes when volunteering. Really, I did.

My hands might be empty upon leaving the store, but I walk in peace and there is no price tag for that.

Possibilities are exposed and hard to ignore in the thrift store. Walk in with no prediction, Psychic Shopping, and a vital curiosity of what could be? I promise things will happen. Maybe it’s new-agey stuff. Perhaps James Redfield should have included “Shop Thrift” as one of his insights in The Celestine Prophecy.

If I take something home, it rivals the cost of a cup of coffee, not a monthly cell phone bill so no Retail Remorse.

Yesterday I was in need of escape. How completely WRONG is it to write that I needed to escape to the moment?

Not only was my mind set at peace, but I walked out with beautiful quality clothing for my growing daughter that will ensure she enters high school in style and I won’t need to cash out her college savings to pay for it. I also was rewarded with a 1940’s 16mm film projector in mint condition that is worth about at least 10 times what I paid for it (two times my Flinch Point). As a result, we’re preparing to host weekly summer vintage film fests in the backyard for friends to attend. Sure, we could use as laptop projector and watch DVD’s but there’s something about the ticking of the projector that makes for an unforgettable ambiance.

Maybe our vintage film fest will help our community live in the moment at least one night a week. When in search of something life changing, we all begin with baby steps.

Please, help us all. What puts you in the moment?