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Episode 151: Learning Within The Grey Area, with Rachel Greenley

Writer Rachel Greenley joins us to share what she learned about fast fashion while working at a seasonal warehouse job processing returns for a big online retailer. She has the unique perspective of working in both the corporate office and warehouse of the same company. Experiencing both ends of the business only underscored the complex, grey areas within retail and our society.  If you have not read her essay, This Is the Reality of America’s Fast-Fashion Addiction, go read it NOW! Also: Amanda welcomes us to the year of Earth Logic.

Go follow Rachel on Instagram: @rachel_greenley_words

And check out these books recommendations from Rachel:

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
Having and Being Had, by Eula Biss
Nickel and Dimed (20th Anniversary Edition): On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

 

Transcript

Welcome to Clotheshorse, the podcast that hasn’t worn a body con dress since going to Homecoming at another school in 9th grade.

I’m your host Amanda and this is episode 151, the first episode of 2023!

I’m back after taking a few weeks off to rest (spoiler: I didn’t rest) and have a vacation in Japan with Dustin. It was great! And if you’re interested in hearing more about my trip, you should listen to episode 69 of The Department, where I talk about the trends I observed while I was there (including a huge expansion of secondhand shopping), along with some stories from my trip. I was recently informed that I do NOT do a good enough job of letting you know that I have another podcast, so here I am telling you that I do a second podcast with my friend Kim. It’s called The Department, and it’s all about trends and how they define the world around us. It’s about all genres of trends: social, food, style, economic, and so much more.

Okay, enough about that. I am so excited to get this year started with a very special guest, writer Rachel Greenley. I stumbled upon Rachel in late November, after the “algorithm” served me her New York Times opinion piece “This Is the Reality of America’s Fast-Fashion Addiction.” It explains–so eloquently–what Rachel learned about fast fashion while working at a seasonal warehouse job processing returns for a big online retailer. I would urge you to read her piece before listening to this episode, because I think you will get much more value out of our conversation! The day I discovered this essay, I read it about half a dozen times, because I knew it was going to be transformative for so many people who had never before considered the words “fast” and “fashion” as a pair. You may recall that I also posted about it on instagram. Anyway, that IG post connected me with Rachel and I was beyond delighted when she agreed to be a guest on Clotheshorse! I am so excited for all of you to meet her!

Before we jump into that, I wanted to give just a tiny taste of the direction I am planning for Clotheshorse in this new year. If you follow the Clotheshorse account closely on IG, you have already heard me talk about this. It is the Earth Logic Plan.

The Earth Logic Plan was developed by world-renowned researchers and professors Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham, and it is designed with two undeniable facts about our current situation:

Communities are coming together (frequently online, but also IRL). And these communities are developing out of the knowledge that we CAN change the world and shape the future that we want, if we all work together to make it happen. That’s what the slow fashion community is, right? And ultimately, the slow fashion community is just one part of a larger community/movement focused on environmental and social justice.

The time is NOW to make these changes. We can no longer procrastinate, waiting for some unspecified date in the future when it will be time to work on saving the planet. The work has to start immediately.

Through the specific lens of clothing, we know some pretty hard facts that must change immediately. On average, Americans buy about 70 new articles of clothing each year. If you’re listening and saying (a bit smugly) “well, I’m Canadian or British,” I want to assure you that your fellow citizens are buying a similar amount of new clothing on average. If you’re shocked by that or you haven’t bought new clothes in years…remember that this is an average. That means if you bought no new clothes this year, someone else bought 140 garments.

Over the past 15 years, the amount of clothing produced each year has doubled, while the amount of time we actually wear a new item has dropped by 40%.

We know that the overconsumption is having a profound negative impact on our planet and its people, exhausting resources, consuming water, releasing an incredible amount of carbon, and impacts the lives of millions and millions of workers around the world, along with the people who just happen to live in the areas around the factories and facilities that are part of the apparel supply chain.

We need to change this immediately.

Okay, now that we know WHY Earth Logic is so important right now, what is it?

Earth Logic puts nature, our planet, and its people first. This is a departure from “Growth Logic,” which has been the status quo for decades. That approach focuses on profits and constant economic growth…and that’s both on a business level and a governmental level. Even our elected leaders march toward an economic growth model. Each year, countries plan to be more productive, and make/sell more stuff, fuel more consumer spending.

Rachel and I are going to talk about that a bit from a business perspective in today’s conversation. But ultimately, the goal of any large business, retailer, brand, etc out there right now is growth year over year over year. Meaning: this year we have to do more sales than we did last year, and next year we will do more than this year…and on and on. When I say it out loud, it is preposterous! Why would we expect infinite growth in anything? But that’s the way just about any industry works, and as a person working within the fashion industry for so long, it was just assumed that I would have to sell more stuff next year at a higher profit. Meaning: more stuff would have to be made, and it would have to be cheaper than it was last year. And next year it would have to be even cheaper. Spread that expansion in sales and reduction in cost over 20-30 years, and now you understand why clothes are cheaper now than they were in the 90s, even though everything is a lot more expensive.

Now, the Earth Logic Plan first arrived in 2020, but I just learned about it in late 2022, as people are still talking about it. It’s a pretty dense report, super academic, and I honestly think it’s just been taking people this long to digest and reflect on it.

Here’s what I love about Earth Logic: while so many conversations about slow fashion, sustainable fashion, etc focus on shopping–where to shop, where not to shop, brands you should support, brands you shouldn’t shop–It’s all about shopping! Earth Logic shifts away from the “where/what to buy,” and says “BUY LESS.” Like a lot less.

Earth Logic has a bold target for us: buy 75% less brand new clothing. If we use the 70 garments per year as a jumping off point, that means buy about 18 brand new garments this year. Anything else has to be secondhand or upcycled.

That’s a serious change, right? But as Mathilda Tham (one of the creators of Earth Logic) said, “For many years we’ve been dressing like we are somehow separate from the Earth. But our fate is tied to the health of the planet and this means we need to change.” And it’s true. Greenwashing campaigns (and many brands in the sustainable space) offer us the illusion that we can continue to buy 70 brand new articles of clothing each year without consuming resources or having a negative impact on our planet. And it’s just not true. We just don’t need that much brand new stuff in our lives, even if it feels like we do.

But cutting our consumption of brand new clothing by 75%? That feels like a Mt. Everest-sized task. Yet I fully believe that we can get there really fast and still have a great quality of life. Still feel like we are looking our best. Feeling confident. Feeling happy and fulfilled and all of the things that we want to feel when we buy new clothing. If you’re already there, like you haven’t bought new clothes since high school or you only shop secondhand 100% of the time or you sew all of your clothing…congratulations, that’s great! But that doesn’t mean you get to pat yourself on the back and smugly sit the rest of this out. Nope, the work is just beginning. We have to help others get there, too. This means sharing our expertise and educating those around us. It means leading by example, both IRL and on social media. It means having some conversations with our family and friends that might feel awkward. It means stuffing away any judgemental feelings and approaching others with open ears and compassion. It means recognizing that for far too long, knowledge and skills have been a privilege, rather than a given.

Kate Fletcher said, “The Earth Logic Plan is about rooting fashion in creativity, community, curiosity, courage and care. It is about caring so much about saving this planet that we commit to changing fashion. If we are serious about saving our beautiful planet and future generations, we need to be brave and commit to changing fashion. Every action counts, there is no time to waste.”

That’s why the focus of this year’s content will be adapting Earth Logic into our wardrobes and lives. Here’s my commitment to all of you:

I will continue to unpack the reasons we overconsume and how we can change our behaviors around shopping and clothing. Our first audio essay opportunity for this year will be about retail therapy and how shopping became a coping mechanism for many of us. We’ll be dissecting how shopping became a hobby, a social activity, and a means of self care, all rolled into one.

I will work to shift the narrative from “what/where to buy” to “why you don’t need to buy.” I will share more ideas for expressing ourselves creatively with the clothing we already own. We will debunk the myths and fashion “rules” that keep us shopping!

I will feature content that helps all of us make our clothing (and other stuff) last longer, including laundry advice and mending resources.

I will continue to explore the #SecondhandFirst way of life!

I’m always skeptical of black and white thinking.You know like “this is right/this is wrong.” Because unfortunately we’re all living within a system where nothing is purely “good.” And the purely “bad” exists, but even digging into the layers there would probably uncover someone along the way with good intentions. As I have moved through life, gotten older, experienced more things, and really taken the time to reflect on what I know and what I have yet to learn…I have recognized that most of the answers are found in the grey areas. And if we want to find them, we have to get comfortable with the realization that the answer is complicated. Nothing is simple. But we are going to keep working to find the solutions together.

And that’s really a great transition into my conversation with Rachel, whose current mission is diving deeper and deeper into those grey areas. Let’s meet Rachel!

Thank you to Rachel for spending some time with me. It was an absolute pleasure and I think I could talk to her for hours every week. Hopefully Rachel will return for a visit when she has finished her next project! You can follow Rachel’s journey into the grey areas on Instagram @rachel_greenley_words. I will be sharing that link in the show notes, along with her essay and all of her amazing reading recommendations. I will also be sharing more information about Earth Logic. Lots of homework this week in the show notes!

It’s that time again, when I remind you of just how powerful we are as a community! We all have an impact on the planet and the people around us. I have two huge examples for you:

Amazon wouldn’t be the massive juggernaut that it is if everyone hadn’t started shopping with them regularly. I know that I was a part of that. It started with “well, I don’t have a car and I need to get cat litter ” and over time turned into “it’s also where I buy vitamins, soap, sheets, shampoo, etc.” Multiply that behavior by millions of people, and suddenly…you have Amazon as the biggest retailer of clothing (and other things) in the U.S.

LET’S TALK ABOUT KEURIG MACHINES. You already know how I feel about those (also, the coffee they make is just not that tasty). But if you have never heard of them…they are the instant-ish coffee machines that brew single cups of coffee or tea using these little plastic cups . The cups are ostensibly disposable, but we know nothing is truly disposable. And for the most part, these plastic cups are NOT disposable. About 25% of American homes use a Keurig, and most use them multiple times a day. That’s 75 million households using these K-cups. Well, it’s not surprise that the amount of K-Cups trashed into landfills could wrap around the planet more than 10 times!

Here’s the thing: yes, it sucks that places like Kohl’s only offer Keurig machines. Yes, it sucks that you can also buy them from Amazon, you can get the K-cups just about anywhere…yeah, it seems really unfair that so many of these things are for sale right now. That companies continue to create these little non-recyclable cups, when there are many far less wasteful ways to make coffee. And yeah, Keurig is working on a takeback program, other companies are working on compostable cups, etc…but at its core: the Keurig-ification of coffee creates an awful lot of waste.

So yeah, it sucks that Keurigs are so profitable and companies keep selling them to us. But here’s the thing: we made Keurig popular. 25% of American homes bought one! Or two! Gave them as gifts! Tossed out their regular coffee makers! People loved the convenience of Keurig and bought into it. And continued to buy into it. There are enough K-Cups in landfills to wrap around the planet more than 10 times because people bought and used that many of them! They could have stuck with a regular old Mr. Coffee with a filter and a bag of Folgers or whatever. They could have gone the pour over route. They could have had instant Nescafe. But consumers chose Keurig and companies leaned into it, making more types of machines, creating new variations and flavors in the coffees, and customers kept on shopping. If the Keurig had hit the market and no one liked it. Thought it seemed kinda dumb and wasteful. Or admitted that the coffee was kinda meh at best…that would have been the end. No K-Cups wrapping around the earth. Retailers and manufacturers would have moved onto something else. That’s how much power consumers have. That’s how much power we have! We get to say what gets made, how much it costs, and how long it sticks around as a popular item.

That’s why I also believe that we have the power to move things in another, more sustainable, more ethical direction. Because I’ve seen how our collective consumption habits have created entire trends, industries, and companies.

This is where “progress not perfection” comes into play. Acknowledging and accepting that we are not set up for an easy “best” or “perfect” choice is important, but surrendering to that and giving up is not an option.

Make decisions thoughtfully. Assume the responsibility for the lifespan of the things we buy. Know that nothing is actually disposable. Buy less. These things are impactful, especially when we are modeling this behavior for those around us and educating others. Significant change will require a larger societal behavioral shift. That starts with us! Social trends start with a few, spread through more and more groups, until they become second nature for everyone. We can do it!

One person can’t change the world alone, but real change WILL happen when we work together!

Want to Support Amanda's Work on Clotheshorse?

If you want to share your opinion/additional thoughts on the subjects we cover in each episode, feel free to email, whether it’s a typed out message or an audio recording:  [email protected]

Clotheshorse is brought to you with support from the following sustainable small businesses:

Thumbprint is Detroit’s only fair trade marketplace, located in the historic Eastern Market.  Our small business specializes in products handmade by empowered women in South Africa making a living wage creating things they love like hand painted candles and ceramics! We also carry a curated assortment of  sustainable/natural locally made goods. Thumbprint is a great gift destination for both the special people in your life and for yourself! Browse our online store at thumbprintdetroit.com and find us on instagram @thumbprintdetroit.

Picnicwear:  a slow fashion brand, ethically made by hand from vintage and deadstock materials – most notably, vintage towels! Founder, Dani, has worked in the industry as a fashion designer for over 10 years, but started Picnicwear in response to her dissatisfaction with the industry’s shortcomings. Picnicwear recently moved to rural North Carolina where all their clothing and accessories are now designed and cut, but the majority of their sewing is done by skilled garment workers in NYC. Their customers take comfort in knowing that all their sewists are paid well above NYC minimum wage. Picnicwear offers minimal waste and maximum authenticity: Future Vintage over future garbage.

Shift Clothing, out of beautiful Astoria, Oregon, with a focus on natural fibers, simple hardworking designs, and putting fat people first.  Discover more at shiftwheeler.com

High Energy Vintage is a fun and funky vintage shop located in Somerville, MA, just a few minutes away from downtown Boston. They offer a highly curated selection of bright and colorful clothing and accessories from the 1940s-1990s for people of all genders. Husband-and-wife duo Wiley & Jessamy handpick each piece for quality and style, with a focus on pieces that transcend trends and will find a home in your closet for many years to come! In addition to clothing, the shop also features a large selection of vintage vinyl and old school video games. Find them on instagram @ highenergyvintage, online at highenergyvintage.com, and at markets in and around Boston.

St. Evens is an NYC-based vintage shop that is dedicated to bringing you those special pieces you’ll reach for again and again. More than just a store, St. Evens is dedicated to sharing the stories and history behind the garments. 10% of all sales are donated to a different charitable organization each month.  New vintage is released every Thursday at wearStEvens.com, with previews of new pieces and more brought to you on Instagram at @wear_st.evens.

Deco Denim is a startup based out of San Francisco, selling clothing and accessories that are sustainable, gender fluid, size inclusive and high quality–made to last for years to come. Deco Denim is trying to change the way you think about buying clothes. Founder Sarah Mattes wants to empower people to ask important questions like, “Where was this made? Was this garment made ethically? Is this fabric made of plastic? Can this garment be upcycled and if not, can it be recycled?” Signup at decodenim.com to receive $20 off your first purchase. They promise not to spam you and send out no more than 3 emails a month, with 2 of them surrounding education or a personal note from the Founder. Find them on Instagram as @deco.denim.

The Pewter Thimble Is there a little bit of Italy in your soul? Are you an enthusiast of pre-loved decor and accessories? Bring vintage Italian style — and history — into your space with The Pewter Thimble (@thepewterthimble). We source useful and beautiful things, and mend them where needed. We also find gorgeous illustrations, and make them print-worthy. Tarot cards, tea towels and handpicked treasures, available to you from the comfort of your own home. Responsibly sourced from across Rome, lovingly renewed by fairly paid artists and artisans, with something for every budget. Discover more at thepewterthimble.com

Blank Cass, or Blanket Coats by Cass, is focused on restoring, renewing, and reviving the history held within vintage and heirloom textiles. By embodying and transferring the love, craft, and energy that is original to each vintage textile into a new garment, I hope we can reteach ourselves to care for and mend what we have and make it last. Blank Cass lives on Instagram @blank_cass and a website will be launched soon at blankcass.com.

Gabriela Antonas is a visual artist, an upcycler, and a fashion designer, but Gabriela Antonas is also a feminist micro business with radical ideals. She’s the one woman band, trying to help you understand, why slow fashion is what the earth needs. If you find your self in New Orleans, LA, you may buy her ready-to-wear upcycled garments in person at the store “Slow Down” (2855 Magazine St). Slow Down Nola only sells vintage and slow fashion from local designers. Gabriela’s garments are guaranteed to be in stock in person, but they also have a website so you may support this women owned and run business from wherever you are! If you are interested in Gabriela making a one of a kind garment for you DM her on Instagram at @slowfashiongabriela to book a consultation.

Vagabond Vintage DTLV is a vintage clothing, accessories & decor reselling business based in Downtown Las Vegas. Not only do we sell in Las Vegas, but we are also located throughout resale markets in San Francisco as well as at a curated boutique called Lux and Ivy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jessica, the founder & owner of Vagabond Vintage DTLV, recently opened the first IRL location located in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas on August 5th. The shop has a strong emphasis on 60s & 70s garments, single stitch tee shirts & dreamy loungewear. Follow them on instagram, @vagabondvintage.dtlv and keep an eye out for their website coming fall of 2022.

Country Feedback is a mom & pop record shop in Tarboro, North Carolina. They specialize in used rock, country, and soul and offer affordable vintage clothing and housewares. Do you have used records you want to sell? Country Feedback wants to buy them! Find us on Instagram @countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl or head downeast and visit our brick and mortar. All are welcome at this inclusive and family-friendly record shop in the country!

Located in Whistler, Canada, Velvet Underground is a “velvet jungle” full of vintage and second-hand clothes, plants, a vegan cafe and lots of rad products from other small sustainable businesses. Our mission is to create a brand and community dedicated to promoting self-expression, as well as educating and inspiring a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle both for the people and the planet. Find us on Instagram @shop_velvetunderground or online at www.shopvelvetunderground.com

Selina Sanders, a social impact brand that specializes in up-cycled clothing, using only reclaimed, vintage or thrifted materials: from tea towels, linens, blankets and quilts.  Sustainably crafted in Los Angeles, each piece is designed to last in one’s closet for generations to come.  Maximum Style; Minimal Carbon Footprint.

Salt Hats:  purveyors of truly sustainable hats. Hand blocked, sewn and embellished in Detroit, Michigan.

Republica Unicornia Yarns: Hand-Dyed Yarn and notions for the color-obsessed. Made with love and some swearing in fabulous Atlanta, Georgia by Head Yarn Wench Kathleen. Get ready for rainbows with a side of Giving A Damn! Republica Unicornia is all about making your own magic using small-batch, responsibly sourced, hand-dyed yarns and thoughtfully made notions. Slow fashion all the way down and discover the joy of creating your very own beautiful hand knit, crocheted, or woven pieces. Find us on Instagram @republica_unicornia_yarns and at www.republicaunicornia.com.

Cute Little Ruin is an online shop dedicated to providing quality vintage and secondhand clothing, vinyl, and home items in a wide range of styles and price points.  If it’s ethical and legal, we try to find a new home for it!  Vintage style with progressive values.  Find us on Instagram at @CuteLittleRuin.