Handbags: Repair, Reuse, Recirculate
I was greeted this morning with a newsletter from a company called Artbag. The headline caught my attention: "Hot Topic: Sustainability. Do your part... don't throw out your old handbags! Refurbish! Refurbish! Refurbish!"
I have been repairing handbags before I went back to school at Parsons and learned about supply chains and sustainability. Yes, I have used Artbag, and no, they aren't paying me for this post.
Artbag is in NYC institution and has been around since 1932. I first learned about the company when my grandmother gave me several beaded evening purses from the 1930s; one of them had an "Artbag" tag. I have used the company to refurbish these treasures from her over the years. However, the bag I use almost every day has been repaired numerous times, all locally by shoe cobblers and the tailor at my dry cleaner. It is a circa 2011 shoulder bag that I bought for $24. It may be the most used item I own.
The material is most definitely not eco-friendly. It is made of a synthetic that looks like leather but feels nothing like it. I love this bag and, periodically, have looked for a replacement, but can't find anything close to the aesthetics and size. I also find that if I have a choice between repairing something or sending it to the landfill, I have it fixed. I've probably spent about $200 - $300 over the years. The lining has been replaced twice, so the bag no longer has a tag or an interior pocket. It has a new zipper, shoulder straps, and the bottom has been mended because of holes. I added the leather tassel right after I bought it, and it cost more than what I paid for the bag.
Artbag or similar businesses are a great place to go if you have a bag that is tired or needs to be fixed, but there are plenty of other ways to keep old handbags in circulation and out of the landfill.
The key to sustainable shopping, whether it is something new or used, is buying less, buying better, and buying what you love. If you don't like something enough to refashion it when styles change or repair it if it becomes damaged, consider whether you need to buy it all.
Transitioning to a more sustainable wardrobe: the t-shirt edition! Why are we starting your sustainability adventure with a t-shirt? First, it seems that every sustainable fashion brands start with a t-shirt, so there is a wide range of styles and price points. As important, t-shirts are a year-round item as a layering piece with a sweater in winter, alone as a top with shorts in summer or under a jean jacket for spring and wall. I like mine fitted, soft, and not particularly long. I was a huge fan of Everlane's pima micro rib tee, but transparency isn't the same as sustainability, so I've moved on to other brands.
Building a more sustainable wardrobe means you will be visiting the "About" section of websites more often. If a brand is concerned about their supply chain's impact, they are going to want to share that information. If you can't find anything about how or where a brand is making their clothes, email them.
My new favorite t-shirt is the fitted crew by Kotn. The Kotn crew is made from 100% cotton micro-rib jersey, and the neckline hits perfectly below my collar bone. The tee comes in 7 different colors and retails for $28. Read the fabric, details, and care notes before buying. If you plan on throwing it in a machine rather than hand washing, the company suggests that you go up a size. I should mention all of the shirts I am writing about come in different colors.
If you like your tees to fit a bit looser, there are two other designs to check out: an essential crew and a relaxed v-neck. For those of you who like a higher collar, try the band tee in black.
Kotn has a traceability tab at the top of their website. They are working hard to develop long-term relationships with suppliers and make a point of giving back to the community. I emailed the company several times to ask questions about everything from returns to their supply chain, and customer service was friendly and quick to respond.
Another brand you might want to check out is the Classic T-Shirt Company. It has earned reliable reviews for being sustainably and ethically produced. I tried the women’s v-neck and short sleeve crew. After the v-neck was washed, it fit perfectly, but it was a little long out of the box. The crew tee had a neckline that was too high for me, so I returned it. Customer service was terrific, and I got an email after I made my purchase asking for feedback.
Here are some other eco-friendly options to get you started: