Scraps, You, & Me
What if I told you that you could lose 80 pounds in a year?
What if I told you, you already probably do?
In a 2016 study by the EPA, it's estimated that the average American disposes of 80 pounds of clothing and accessories (including shoes, purses, and bags) each year. That's up almost 20 pounds from the same study 10 years ago. Contributing to this increase is more fast fashion brands- items made cheaply in both quality and in labor. Meaning the product lifespan is not likely to last more than a year or two of occasional wear before hitting the garbage or thrift store and it's likely made by someone working for well below minimum wage in often unsafe working conditions. China, India, Bangladesh, and Taiwan- we're looking at you. More on that later, but if you want me to ruin your weekend, check out "True Cost" on Netflix. I digress.
The aftermath, however, is these discarded rags and materials are shipped off to other countries in large bales, thousands of pounds in weight, stacked in warehouses and then sold to the locals. People in developing countries are buying our trash...that we gave away for free. Our trash is now a business.
In Haiti, there is a lovely woman named Kathy. Known as Mama Kati (or MK) in the community, she left the suburbs of Atlanta in 2004 with her husband and children. The lithe, pale blonde with long dreads and eye crinkles that blossom with each frequent smile, is a surprising force, exuding an abundance of grace and a gentle kind of power. Did I also mention she's the grandmother of 4?!
I met MK at a recent market where wholesalers connect with retail partners. MK started 2nd Story Goods, and although I had recently signed up to partner with them, I was curious to see their goods in person before making an order. Y'all.
If you're not southern, when someone says the double "Y'all" followed by the look and the nod, it means listen up. I was blown away. Sustainable fashion, slow fashion, ethical fashion- call it what you will, has a reputation for being pretty costly. And while there are a lot of companies that are a price tag shock, 2nd Story Goods is not one of those. Aside from curating a lovely selection of goods, they are rather transparent about their costs and profits, and they're not making a huge margin off customers and solidly provide a higher than a living wage to their artisans.
MK was showing us some of the product lines and kept mentioning the "Pieces" collection. At first glance, it's not especially remarkable. The bags look like they were made from small quilts with no particular pattern or theme. So I asked her, why this collection?
She paused for a minute, surprising me with her sudden shift in energy and emotion. "Along the streets there are markets, many that sell used clothing and goods, bought from the large "trash" bales sent from the U.S. The clothes are sold in small bulk amounts to the individuals who sell at the market. They are rated from 1-3, with 1 costing the most and consisting of the best quality items in new or excellent used condition and 3 costing the least and consisting of goods with tears, rips, and stains."
MK, being MK, goes to the women selling the rags, the lowest quality goods, usually found at the outskirts in the market in the hot sun, without a tent or shade, tables or chairs, often with their wares places on blankets or grass. She will spend hours sifting through items, trying to find ones that have patches of cloth that can be salvaged. She then purchases her finds, takes them back to the workshop where they are washed, cut, and repurposed into a scarf, a bag, pouch, pillow, or quilt.
And the least of these are given new life.