The Three Blessings of the Swap Gods

Woman browsing dresses at clothing swap

In case you missed the very brief plug at the end of my last post, we’re having another clothing swap soon! If you’re on the fence about joining us, let Bethany convince you with her tales of three blessings from the clothing swap gods. – Julia

The Match Made In Heaven

“I’m wearing your pants!”

Amanda never fails to text me this statement and it never fails to make me smile. She picked up a pair of gray pants that I had brought to the first clothing swap. These pants were nice gray jeans, something that I really liked, but they just fit me strangely and I could never quite make them look right on me. I reluctantly brought them to the swap thinking that I would take them home after if no one took them.

Sisterhood of the traveling pants

Amanda modeling the sisterhood of the traveling pants

Fortunately, the swap gods had different plans in mind. Amanda snagged them quickly and went to try them on. She came out of the bathroom wearing this pair of pants that looked like they were made for her. These pants that I struggled to make work because I loved them so much looked exactly how I wanted them to when Amanda put them on, and it was wonderful! The only thing better than getting a match made in heaven is being able to provide one for someone else, so don’t hesitate to sacrifice those items on the cusp to the swap gods – they have a match in mind!

The Impulsive Grab

Towards the end of the swap, the items left on the table are often plain t-shirts or basic clothing that doesn’t have a lot of obvious pizzazz to it. A few times, I’ve impulsively picked up a plain shirt at the end thinking “well, it can’t hurt anything, if it doesn’t work I’ll just bring it to the next swap.” Somehow, those impulse grabs from the discards always end up being the items that I wear the most. One of them was a plain black t-shirt that is thin and long, and I wear it constantly. Another last minute grab was a tank top with a bold fern and red flower pattern on it – not something that I usually gravitate towards. However, it turned out to fit me perfectly and is an item that I’m really looking forward to wearing this summer. Trust the impulses that the swap gods send!

The Gift Of The Story

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I bought it at such and such a store”
– conversation ends –

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I got it at the Fair for All Clothing Swap!”
“What’s a clothing swap?”
– conversation flows, friendship is made, everything is lovely and wonderful –

Okay, maybe a bit exaggerated – but one of the biggest blessings bestowed by the swap gods is the story that your new favorite shirt has. There’s something special about having a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, and it’s really fun to tell people where you got your eco-friendly new duds.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about the three blessings of the swap gods, and that you’ll come experience them in person on Wednesday, March 15th, from 6 pm – 8 pm at New Day Craft. Click here for more info and to RSVP!

~ Bethany

Get Ready for SpringSwap16

It’s time for the next Fair for All style swap! SpringSwap16 is your opportunity to clean out your closet and swap unwanted items for new-to-you fashion.

This will be our third clothing swap event, and I’m so excited to have built up a community of people who enjoy getting new clothes in this fun, personal and environmentally-friendly way.

SpringSwap16 promo graphic

SpringSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 • New Day Craft Mead & Cider

See full details & sign up >>

Some scenes from our last swap:

Women browsing tables of clothing

Woman peruses jewelry table

Rack of women's clothing

As always, the style swap is a free event. And like at our last swap, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on in the front room at the same time, where you can get a chair massage and a glass of mead or cider for just $10. (Be sure to arrive early if you want a massage; slots fill up fast.)

We hope to see you on May 4!

How to Get Rid of Clothing Swap Leftovers

We hosted our most recent style swap on January 20, and the boxes of leftover clothes and accessories have been hanging out in my living room ever since.

Two boxes overflowing with clothes

Hi, guys.

Dealing with the leftovers is a minor inconvenience, but I actually appreciate that the swaps have given me an opportunity to experiment with different ways of connecting stuff with people who actually want it. Here’s what I’ve tried so far with this latest batch:

Consignment/Resale

At the swap, I announced that I might try selling some of the leftovers and donating the proceeds to Dress for Success. A few weeks ago I took what I considered the best of the leftovers to two consignment/resale shops, Plato’s Closet and Simply Chic. Unfortunately, neither store purchased any of the items, saying the items weren’t recent enough or weren’t in styles that sell well.

Facebook Sale Groups

After trying the resale shops, I posted four of what I considered the most appealing items in a local Facebook sale group, listing each item for a dollar. One item sold (a skirt from H&M), but the others didn’t. Given the fact that people weren’t jumping on what I thought was good stuff, I didn’t continue posting the rest.

Screenshot of Facebook sale group post

Nobody wanted these dope shoes!

I would like to continue experimenting with what works best for these groups—is there an optimal time of day to post? There are multiple sale groups for my neighborhood—does women’s fashion sell better in one group than another? Is it better to post a “closet cleanout” style post with lots of pictures and numbered items, or post one item at a time? I’m hesitant to post lots of items at once, because you still have to communicate with each buyer individually regarding pickup, which could become time-consuming if a lot of items sell.

ThredUP

My best friend is an avid devotee of ThredUP, an online resale shop for women’s and kids’ fashion. She raves about the experience from the consumer side and suggested I try out the selling side to see what it’s like. Despite the fact that the local consignment stores didn’t accept any of my items, I browsed ThredUP and saw several items similar to the items I had tried to sell, and most items I entered into the site’s Payout Estimator were marked as “Accepted.” A few items even had surprisingly high estimated payouts:

  • Etcetera dress pants – estimated payout of $18.80 to $22.80 (this has to be some kind of glitch)
  • Paper Denim & Cloth jeans – estimated payout of $8.88
  • J. Crew khakis – estimated payout of $5.13

I ended up sending in about 24 items, filling one of ThredUP’s cleanout bags. The mix included two pairs of shoes, several pairs of dress pants, tops, sweaters, and a couple of dresses. The submission process was super easy—the free shipping label comes already attached to the cleanout bag, so you don’t even have to worry about sticking it on.

Full ThredUP bag

Say hi to Frodo in the background!

Yesterday I received an email from ThredUP announcing they have received my bag and it is scheduled to be processed on April 24. The site says they accept less than 40% of what they receive, so I know not to expect them to take everything, but I’m interested to see how close the estimated payouts come to the actual, especially on the big ticket items listed above. For the items they don’t accept, they connect with textile recyclers, which I’m totally in favor of and wish I had more direct access to as a consumer.

Donate

Some of the swap leftovers weren’t on-trend enough or in good enough condition to submit to ThredUP, so I’m planning to take those items to Thrifty Threads this weekend. I like to support this particular thrift store with swap leftovers since their proceeds support the Julian Center, a local women’s shelter. I know they would probably prefer to have the good stuff than the dregs, so I hope they’re set up to sell unwanted items to textile recyclers or other resellers—this is something that’s been in the back of my mind to research.

What have your experiences with clothing resale been like? I’m hoping ThredUP is more accepting than the local stores since they cater to national trends, which are sometimes slower to reach Indiana. (I don’t think people here know that wide-leg dress pants are a thing again!) Have you ever used ThredUP, either as a buyer or seller? How about a Facebook sale group?

Making It Do: Cardigan Repair DIY with Lace Edging

On her quest to make ethical clothing choices this year, our contributor Bethany is back with some tips for giving new life to clothes you already own. Enjoy! — Julia


Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

I love that saying. It comes out of the depression era, and I find myself saying it often (especially when I’m tempted to purchase something new that I don’t really need).

Cardigans are a staple of my work wardrobe. The office I work in has odd temperature regulation, and I’m pretty sure the elusive thermostat (no one knows where it is located) is set to “Antarctica.” Recently, I pulled out my favorite green cardigan and was shocked to find little holes where the collar is attached.

Hole in sweater

My first instinct, I’m sorry to report, was to throw it away and buy a new one. As I was considering it, that saying popped in my head, and I knew that I could definitely make this cardigan do if I put a little effort into it. I’m not very good at sewing, but I have a grasp on the basic “thread needle, stick in cloth, try not to make it look too horrible.” I quickly sewed up the little gaps, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result. You could see the repairs, partly due to me not having an exact color match for the thread, and in a few places it made a little bit of puckering in the fabric.

Poorly sewed-up hole

Sure, it would “never be noticed from a trotting horse” (another depression-era saying), but I don’t know many people who ride trotting horses through offices. I set the cardigan aside to think, and wore something else to work that day. I hit on a solution a few days later, and started working on it. A long time ago, my grandma taught me a fiber craft called tatting. It’s basically tying knots in string to make doilies, but you can use it to make edgings and lace as well.

Fancy tatted doily

Fancy tatted doily

So I found some green thread that matched my cardigan, and made an edging for it, and then sewed the edging onto the cardigan to hide those unsightly holes.

Section of tatted lace and tatting shuttle

The beginning of the piece. The light made it look brighter green than it actually is.

Tatted lace on edge of cardigan collar

Finished and attached to the collar

Bethany wearing cardigan

Cardigan in action!

By this point, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking “well, that’s great for you that you have this oddly specific skill that was passed down through generations and you sacrificed seven goats for the nimble fingers and coordination needed to make lace…but there’s no way I can do that.”

Never fret! Often you can find miscellaneous lengths of lace trim and rickrack at thrift stores that would do this exact same thing without the labor intensiveness. Go to the back of the store and look around where they display the sheets/tablecloths/fabric remnants. There are often bins of miscellaneous crafting materials that are perfect for little jobs like this.

You don’t have to be great at sewing, so don’t be intimidated by that. You may need to practice a little bit, but small repairs and refurbishments like this are pretty forgiving. Take a look at my stitches inside:

Poor stitches on inside of cardigan

I am not a master seamstress by any means. Just keep in mind that it’s better to err on the side of smaller stitches and using manageable lengths of thread (even though that means you’ll have to knot the thread and re-thread the needle more, it makes it more secure). Here’s a tutorial with a few basic stitches that I use a lot, particularly the whip stitch.

I found a lot of satisfaction in making this with my own hands. I found that this cardigan quickly became even more of a favorite because it now has a story. Instead of a cheap throwaway piece of fast fashion that only lasted one season, I was able to fix it and refurbish it into something that I’m excited to wear again.

If you’re interested in learning to tat, there are plenty of tutorials available online. This one is pretty clear and easy to follow. Video demonstrations like this are particularly helpful when first learning. I would also encourage you to think about what random skills you have that could be applied to hide a repair or freshen up a piece of clothing that you’re tired of. Do you make beaded jewelry? Maybe you could make a beaded collar. You could crochet pockets for a dress or maybe use a contrasting color of thread to sew up holes and make an interesting effect. How can you “make it do” with the pieces you already have in your wardrobe and extend their lives?

Introducing Bethany, our new contributor!

I’m thrilled that my good friend Bethany Daugherty is joining the Fair for All team as a contributor! She will be sharing periodic updates as she goes on a mission to buy only ethically-made or secondhand clothing this year. Here’s Bethany’s introduction to her quest in her own words. — Julia


Three years ago, I texted a number off of a really sketchy looking flyer that was posted on a bulletin board at the college I was about to graduate from. The flyer was very vague and plain, and said “Looking for a bass player for a bluegrass band. Text Kevin at 317-XXX-XXXX.”

I had just stolen a string bass, and was looking for more opportunities to learn how to play it. Okay, okay, I didn’t really steal it…I actually borrowed it from my mom and then never gave it back (thanks Mom!). I texted the number. This Kevin character texted back, and it was all set up for me to attend the first rehearsal at his house. All I could think was “I’m probably going to get murdered and killed.” Then I got another text asking if I had any food allergies. Murderers don’t care about food allergies! Little did I know that texting a random person from a sketchy flyer would turn out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And guess who was also a part of this band?

Group photo of Juvin: The One-Man Band

Bethany (left) with her quasi-stolen bass and the band

That’s right, none other than the lovely Julia Spangler! Over the past three years, we have become good friends, and I started reading this blog. When she screened “The True Cost,” I attended, and it was really eye-opening for me. Over the past six or seven months, I’ve had a Dr. Seuss quote stuck in my head:

Even though you can’t hear them or see them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

It really reminds me of the issues that were presented in that film. I can’t hear or see or know the people who are at the other end of the goods that I consume, but I can’t pretend they don’t exist.

In 2016, I’m tackling the sartorial issue head first—I am choosing to take responsibility for every dollar I spend, and committing to not purchase any new items of clothing unless they are fair trade. I’ll be relying on thrift shops, clothing swaps, and fair trade retail…and making do with the clothing I already own! You can look forward to upcoming blog posts throughout the year about my progress, what I learn through this process, and various DIY posts as I spruce up the clothing I own.

Bethany browsing tables of clothing

Bethany swappin’ it up at FairSwap15

I’m pretty new to all of this, and I’m still learning all the ins and outs on my quest to take responsibility for my own wallet. I still make mistakes, and I still occasionally buy something that I’m not entirely sure where it came from. Some of the challenges I’m anticipating are finding work-appropriate pants (that fit correctly and are not giant bell bottoms), blue jeans, undergarments, exercise clothing, and shoes. I’m only one month into this challenge, and it already sometimes feels overwhelming, but at the end of the day it helps me sleep at night to know that I’m doing what I can to treat those invisible and silent people with respect.

Upcoming Events in January: Trunk Show and Style Swap

January looms before us as a barren wasteland of post-holiday gloom. But fear not! I have two free events coming up that are sure to break up your winter doldrums.

Slow Fashion Trunk Show promo poster

Slow Fashion Trunk Show

Thursday, Jan. 7 from 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Outpost (Circle Centre Mall, 2nd floor, across from H&M)

Elizabeth Roney from Liz Alig, Sara Baldwin-Schatz from Lux & Ivy, and I are teaming up for an evening of fair trade fashion, secondhand style, and sustainable strategies. Elizabeth and Sara will offer great slow fashion items from their brands, and I’ll speak on the differences between slow fashion and fast fashion, with time for Q&A from all three of us. It’s also a great chance to see the Outpost pop-up shop before it closes!

Women browsing clothes at FairSwap15

WinterSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 6–8 p.m.
New Day Craft

FairSwap15 was such a big hit last September that we’re bringing it back in January! Collect any wearable holiday gifts that weren’t quite your style, plus any other unwanted clothing, shoes and accessories you have, and bring them to WinterSwap16. This swap will be bigger and better than the last with more items allowed per person. Plus, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on at the same time! Sign up and get the full details. Spots are limited!

Check out photos and details from past events on the Events page. Happy holidays and I’ll see you in January!

Product Review: Fair Trade Crossbody Purse

When I attended the Fair Trade Federation conference back in the spring of 2014, one of the booths that caught my attention was Manos Zapotecas. Their bags are a gorgeous combination of native textiles and leather and immediately made me want to go on a very sophisticated hike over desert steppes. I walked past their booth again and again just to ogle them.

Recently I got in touch with Hannah Aronowitz of Manos Zapotecas to learn more about the process of making their beautiful bags, and she also lent me their Luisa crossbody purse to review.

Coral and beige fair trade crossbody purse

The Luisa purse in Adobe & Earth

Fair for All: Describe the process of making a Manos Zapotecas bag.

Hannah Aronowitz: All Manos Zapotecas bags are handmade according to time-honored traditions by Zapotec weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Our weavers are also the designers of the beautiful patterns found on all of our bags. Many are the traditional Zapotec designs while others are modern interpretations of their tribal patterns or even abstract expressions. Our Style Coordinator works closely with the weavers to discuss colors for seasonal lines and each designer gets a chance to draw up their designs on paper, and then produce a sample. We offer feedback throughout the design process and choose the best samples to be made into Manos Zapotecas bags.

Manos Zapotecas weavers use bi-peddle treadle looms and preparing the loom to weave is an intensive process unto itself. A completed woven piece is called a tapete, or woolen tapestry. Most traditionally used as rugs, Manos Zapotecas utilizes these small tapetes to make into bags.

The next step is to sew the tapetes into the shape of the bag it will become. It is then sent to a dedicated leatherworker in a nearby town who adds the leather handles and base, siding or fringe, depending on the model. The bag is returned to the weaver so they can sew in the zipper and lining and make sure the bag is in perfect condition to ship out.

This video goes through this process as explained by two of our weavers.

Julia wearing fair trade crossbody purse

How did Manos Zapotecas get connected with the artisans who produce the bags? Why did you choose to work in the Zapotec community specifically?

In 2009, Manos Zapotecas founder Shelly Tennyson was volunteering with a microfinance non-profit in the small Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. She was offering business classes to the female loan recipients, many of who were weavers. Shelley realized that no matter how exquisite the product, or how savvy their business skills, without buyers, these hardworking and skilled artisans were not being able to support themselves or their families adequately.

Three years later, Manos Zapotecas was borne out of a belief that commerce can, and should, change lives for the better. What began as a wild idea to sell Zapotec bags globally, in a village where most of the women hadn’t even left the state, has grown into a fair trade fashion brand that is run by a team of five women in the US and supports over 50 weavers in Oaxaca. The purpose of Manos Zapotecas is to perpetuate the beautiful traditions and improve the lives of the Zapotec artisans by connecting them with socially conscious consumers around the globe.

Julia wearing fair trade crossbody purse

Cropped to eliminate major RBF in this photo

Can you describe the natural dyes that are used in some of the bags?

Some weaving families still use natural dyes, the knowledge of which is passed down from generation to generation. These dyes are concocted from a variety of plant, animal and mineral sources, such as nuts and flowers, cochineal bugs and indigo. Other families prefer the more vivid colors produced by aniline dyes. For either method, the yarn is boiled with the dye, a fixative (such as lime juice) is added and then the skeins of colored yarn are hung to dry in the sun.

Where does the wool for the bags come from, and where are the metal and leather components of the bags produced? Do these producers follow humane and sustainable practices?

The 100% sheep’s wool comes from Puebla, Mexico, the leather from Leon, Mexico and the hardware from Mexico City. Because we don’t have the capability to visit these sources at the moment we don’t want to make any claims in terms of sustainability. Our weavers and tanners have built strong relationships with their suppliers, some have been working together for the last 30 years. We at MZ place high value on those current relationships and for now the artisans continue to source their own supplies.

I love that the meanings behind the traditional Zapotec designs are on the Manos Zapotecas website. Which pattern is your favorite and why?

Grecas pattern

Grecas pattern

This pattern, called grecas, mimics the mosaic fretwork that is found spectacularly preserved at the ancient Zapotec religious center of Mitla. This geometric spiral represents the life cycle, according to the Zapotec worldview. Each step represents a stage of life, beginning at birth, moving on through youth, maturity and then decay, followed by the other world. It is a powerful symbol that is often repeated in MZ bags.

Is Manos Zapotecas a member of any fair trade organizations?

Yes! We are a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, which means that we abide by a set of guiding principles which ensures that the artisans are getting the fair pay, support and safe work conditions they deserve. Making these kinds of business decisions comes second nature to a company that values the humans behind the products higher than the profits themselves. We see business as a means to improve lives, not just to line pockets.

What’s next for Manos Zapotecas?

We are very excited to launch our Fall 2015 Collection this September, which is comprised of about 25 new bags in a perfect fall palette. Also, we are looking forward to adding men’s products to our line in the coming year.

Tag on fair trade crossbody purse with name of artisan

My favorite thing about this purse was the hand-signed tag from the artisan who produced it. After watching videos about the process on the Manos Zapotecas website, I was inspired by the craft and creativity of the weavers and I’m so glad they are able to preserve their tradition. Scrolling through their online store is like perusing a gallery of abstract art.

The bag is a great size for everyday and has a convenient adjustable strap. It’s biggest downside is that there’s only one interior pocket. The lining could also be made of sturdier fabric to help the pocket hold its shape.

While I like the Adobe & Earth pattern on the bag I tried, if I was going to order a bag to keep permanently, I would choose one of the more colorful made-to-order designs like the Sunburst Sky or Dark Arrows. In my dream world I would also have the Mitla duffel bag.

Thanks to Hannah for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the Manos Zapotecas process!

Disclosure: Manos Zapotecas temporarily lent me the Luisa purse to review. All opinions are my own.