How a disgruntled customer changed the course of my business
She was a middle-aged, tall-ish woman who looked like she had somewhere to be that Saturday morning. She was motoring by my booth at The Market at Western Fair with her friend when she stopped in her tracks at the sight of the t-shirt I had displayed out front. I don’t remember which design it was that caught her attention but her face lit up, giving me that good ol’ I-love-that-you-love-it feeling. Then she checked the tag.
“Ugh. Rayon,” she huffed, and dropped the shirt like a dirty rag as she turned to walk away. I swiftly and instinctively dance-jogged across my booth and called after her, “Excuse me! Hi! Did you have a question about the manufacturing of the shirt?” I wanted to know what it was that made the corners of her mouth curl. “You should really be using shirts that are 100% organic cotton,” she said. “Rayon is terrible for the environment.” She was abrupt, I stayed curious. “What about bamboo? The shirts over here are a bamboo/cotton blend.” “No. You should be using organic cotton,” and with that she charged ahead, her friend following closely on her heels.
Mildly shell-shocked, I wandered back over to the stool in the back of my booth and did what any red-blooded business owner would do… I googled it. “Environment rayon bad.” In the hour that followed (for those of you who look into my booth and wonder what I’m doing all hunched over my phone, there you have it), I combed through article after article uncovering a divisive debate over organic cotton vs. bamboo and which of the two was the least harmful to the environment. The deeper I dug the clearer it became that the internet had reached nothing even resembling a consensus. Then I read this:
“North Americans send 9.5 million tons of textile waste to the landfills every year, 95% of which could be reused or recycled.”
Oof. Suddenly the cotton/bamboo debate seemed secondary to a much larger issue. 9.5 million tons… how many t-shirts is that? I read on.
“What many do not realize is that when an item is thrown away, it is not only the item itself going to waste, but the natural resources required to create it… This means 700 gallons of water for every T-shirt sent to the landfill.”
I looked around my booth and imagined my t-shirts all piled up in a landfill, and me standing in the middle of it, shrugging my shoulders like, “I guess I just didn’t think about it.”
That was the moment I first considered printing on thrifted clothing. A year later, here I am launching an exciting community collaboration with Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes called Rewear; my new line of thrifted clothing, redecorated with my existing photography art of places in London, Ontario.
Reduce. Reuse. Rewear.
Rewear is the culmination of a whole lot of questioning, soul searching and getting clear on my priorities. All should-ing aside, that random passerby got me thinking. I had been so preoccupied with getting my business off the ground and the insane number of things I was learning as a first-time entrepreneur, I’d lost sight of the bigger picture. Specifically, the negative impact my business was having on the environment.
It’s not uncommon for there to be a discrepancy between the things we acknowledge as important and the way we behave day-to-day. It can be really challenging to live out your values. How many times have you watched someone have a moment of clarity about what’s most important to them, then turn around and get so caught-up in what they’re doing they forget all about it? We get busy, we get stressed, we get selective thinking. It’s very human. I’m about to quote Grey’s Anatomy here, which I feel a little sheepish about, but here we go, “You do what you can, when you can, why you can, and when you can’t, you can’t.”
I decided, in this case, I could do more. So let’s take a closer look at what I came up with, shall we? I’m pretty excited about it.
Good for the environment
Look, printing on thrifted shirts instead of new shirts isn’t going to solve the textile waste issue, but it’s better than walking around with my fingers in my ears singing, “LA LA LA LA” until I forget there’s even a problem. Maybe it’ll get other people thinking about it too. That’s something.
But waste goes far beyond textiles, doesn’t it? We waste a lot of stuff, us humans, whether it’s consuming more than we need or throwing away what we have. Clothes, food, money, people, time. It’s practically an epidemic.
I have a notion that waste is a state of mind. If I practice minimizing my waste in one area, I’m more likely to make changes in other areas too. It makes sense to me that the more we look at the bigger picture and act accordingly, the harder it gets to unsee it and revert back to our happy little bubbles were troubles melt like lemon drops up on the chimney, or whatever.
There so many businesses right here in London working to help us keep this issue top of mind give us some options. Zero Waste Forest City is a passionate community group that has opened a zero waste demonstration hub/retail space on King Street called Reimagine Co. and holds workshops regularly; there’s a new zero waste booth on the second floor of The Market at Western Fair District that has all kinds of environmentally friendly alternatives; TheCOBShop rescues couch leather from the curbside and makes beautiful bags, wallets and totes; and of course we all know and love Purdy Natural and their amazing shop full of natural, chemical free products. That’s just off the top of my head.
Good for the community
I mentioned up there that Rewear is a collaboration with Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes. I couldn’t be happier about it. Not only are they a purveyor of thrifted clothes, they’re also a nonprofit social enterprise meaning they have a social and environmental purpose at their core. They’re diverting textile waste (and other waste too) from the landfills and any profit they net from their stores goes to providing “work opportunities, skills development and employee and family strengthening for those who face barriers such as disability or social disadvantage.” When I buy stock for my Rewear line, I’m supporting an organization that empowers people in my community to find work, to become self-sufficient, and to reach their full potential. If that’s not good for the community, I’ll eat my hat.
Good for your closet
This is mostly just a catchy heading. I mean, yeah, a one-of-a-kind piece of clothing printed by a local artist with photography art featuring a place in London that you love? That’s a pretty cool accent piece to add to your capsule. But the Rewear line isn’t so much about your closet as it is about you.
I keep thinking about that line from The Family Stone where Luke Wilson says, “You have a freak flag, Meredith, you just don’t fly it.” It stuck with me a) because Luke Wilson was brilliant in that movie and, b) because I’m over here trying to figure out where the heck I put my freak flag. I think it might be hanging behind the J Crew sweater I bought a couple of years ago even though I couldn’t afford it because I imagined wearing it and feeling at least as happy if not happier than the girl in the picture.
There’s a whole industry out there telling us that keeping up with the latest fashion, and paying top dollar for the latest thing, is the way to go if you want to be your most vibrant, happy, confident self. Is it? Of all my friends, there are 4 who faithfully shop at thrift stores and they all couldn’t care less what you think about it. They work on doing what makes sense to them, being true to themselves, trying new things even if it’s not what everyone else is doing. They also happen to be some of the most dynamic, engaging, creative people I know. They’re out there, doing what they love and contributing their talents. Aren’t those the people you look at and think, wow, they’re shining? Isn’t that what we’re all looking for when we dawn the latest fashions?
Thrifting challenges us to be a little different. Maybe, even, a little daring. That’s when we see what we’re made of. That’s how we come to know what makes us us. That’s when we shine.
There you have it. The Rewear line, in a nutshell. I leave you with a little bit etymology. The word “thrift” has its roots in the Middle English word thriven "to thrive". Coincidence? I think not.
P.S. The Me & C. Rewear line will only be available in my booth at The Market at Western Fair District, open every Saturday 8-3 and starting in October, Sundays 11-3.
Hop over to instagram and follow @meandclondon to see the latest one of a kind piece I print up. There’s only one.