Tagged: how to shop

Thoughts on Why We Don’t Understand Quality

This I Wear | Why We Don't Understand Quality

Your mother may have had a sewing machine; but if she didn’t, her mother definitely did. It wasn’t that long ago that home economics classes still existed in schools and sewing your own formal dress for your high school dance was the norm.

But today, the only peers I know with sewing machines went to fashion school, and even they complain of their poor sewing skills. However, they have one up on the rest of us, because regardless of their ability to sew a suit from scratch, they can tell a quality garment from one of lesser quality. They’ve seen and touched it firsthand.

The majority of us have no idea what quality looks or feels like in clothes. I think I audibly sighed when reading a section in “Overdressed” when a young woman touched a dress from Forever 21 and said the fabric felt nice. This is not a good sign.

To me, this is the equivalent of kids not knowing that oranges grow on trees and potatoes grow in the ground. It is the equivalent of eating Taco Bell and thinking you’ve experienced real Mexican food.

We are totally and utterly separated from where our clothes come from. And many of us are only slightly aware of this ignorance.

And because of this, in just the last few decades as the vast majority of sewing jobs moved overseas and fabric stores shuttered in our local communities as demand plummeted, we don’t know how our clothes are made.

And just to clarify, we don’t know where the fiber comes from (the farm vs. the lab), how the fabric is made, and how (and by whom) the clothes themselves are constructed. Though to give us some credit, the system is so complicated that many in the industry might not be able to tell you either.

This is a problem for many reasons, but namely that (1) we are buying cheap poorly made clothes because we don’t know better and (2) we won’t pay higher prices for quality clothes because we can’t understand the skill and better materials that make them more expensive now but guarantee that they will last and fit us well.

So how do we start to understand quality?

One reason I personally advocate for “Made in the USA” is that perhaps more local production will help us understand our clothes again. Local production means local skill development. Bring back exposure to sewing skills and the materials that go into a garment, and you bring back understanding of what quality is and how much quality costs. And then maybe consumers will start questioning how a pair of jeans could be $10, and just maybe they’ll start telling companies that poorly made fashion isn’t good enough anymore – whether vocally or through their changed shopping habits.

How can we learn the difference between cotton and polyester or how to tell the strength of a seam? In order to change, we need information, and proximity to information is a huge help. Like many of the clothing designers I know, we don’t need to have professional level sewing skills to begin to understand what we buy and wear everyday. But just as urban farms have taught kids that a potato grows in the dirt, bringing back local clothing production to our communities could spark a revival of these skills and a demand for knowledge. And that’s where change can start.

Do you feel like you know where your clothes come from? Share your stories in the comments below or tweet @ThisIWear.

Shop thoughtfully: Opt out of Black Friday

Merci Paris | This I Wear

How important is the experience of shopping to you? I recently revisited some papers I wrote in a college class on “The History of Shopping,” which focused literally on the history of how shopping went from buying things we need to becoming an experience and a pastime. One class focused solely on how department stores grew to be a family destination of sorts when they first debuted in the nineteenth century: literally the whole family would travel together to the store and spend the day there. It reminds me of a few of my favorite stores – Anthropologie, Liberty of London, MERCI in Paris [pictured], and many small boutiques – where the visual merchandising is so stunning, you not only take your time in the store, but you specifically go out of your way to get there. The experience of shopping almost feels like one of discovery rather than just simply consumption.

Shopping is an experience, and it is ok to enjoy it. Perhaps it is even your only social time with some of your family and friends. For a period of my life, the only time my sister and I said anything nice to each other was when we were shopping (“You look amazing in that dress!”). At present, some of the only time I spend with my grandmother is helping her pick out another pair of white capri pants at her favorite store. I am grateful for that time.

But I think Black Friday is the opposite of the enjoyable social and sensory shopping experience that many of us crave. It just seems really…unpleasant. Instead, I’d like to suggest a few responsible alternatives to indulging in Black Friday shopping that you can even sleep in for and still enjoy.

Choose not to shop.
1. Spend the day “shopping” in your closet: Create a pile of the things you don’t wear anymore and donate them to a local nonprofit (especially those winter coats). Pull out what needs to be repaired and support local small businesses by taking them to your neighborhood tailor or shoe repairman. Challenge yourself to wear anything that still has the tags on it within the next month.
2. Keep it in the family: You’re already over at their house anyway, so dig into the closets of your friends and family. When I’m at home, I have a habit of playing around in my mom’s jewelry box. I love asking her to tell me about the pieces she has, and she is always willing to share the stories (and sometimes the jewelry) with me.

If you must shop, shop thoughtfully.
1. Find a deal on vintage items at local or online vintage retailers and thrift stores (or even eBay) that will give you the thrill of the hunt while keeping previously worn items out of landfills.
2. Give thanks by purchasing items that give back: The one-for-one model started by TOMS is being replicated by tons of young brands, including Warby Parker and newcomer OAK Lifestyle. But make sure to do your research on the brand and make sure they’re giving back as promised.
3. Support the handmade: Spend some time on Etsy and consider reaching out to a seller to make a custom gift for a friend or family member. You’ll be a part of the making process and the recipient will get something extra personal.
4. Shop local: Wait for Small Business Saturday and support your local boutiques.

How are you spending your Black Friday? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear #AltBlackFriday to share stories and photos of your post-Thanksgiving weekend plans.

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