Monday, March 9, 2009

Going Green with Vintage

There's a myriad of reasons why people buy vintage and secondhand-- it's cost effective, the items are more unique than what can be found at big box stores and sometimes it's the nostalgia factor, your grandmother had a plate or bracelet just like it. For the past two years the majority of my wardrobe has been sourced from thrift stores, consignment shops and estate sales. Nearly all the furniture in my apartment was found on Craig's List, including our couches (which we had professionally cleaned). My personal reasons for favoring vintage is a love of a particular era (mainly 1950s-1970s) and the feeling of owning something that has a history. I've never considered my buying preferences as a political act until a recent e-mail from the Goodwill thrift store that urged me to "Go Green!" by shopping at their store.

Buying secondhand extends the life of an item that might have ended up in the trash heap; it also allows more people to experience what some consider to be a disposable/one-off item like novels, CDs and DVDs. How feasible is it, however, to completely give up shopping at stores like Target, H & M or The GAP? I came across the blog of a 24-year-old Australian girl who made a New Year's Resolution in 2008 to not buy any new clothing for the entire year based on environmental, ethical and personal reasons. She documents her experience with daily entries at The Vintage Year.

(Photograph of The Vintage Year's author in one of her secondhand outfits)

After the year-long experiment she had this to say: "Now, though, I'm hopefully going to maintain the shift in perspective that last year gave me. Not buying anything new helped me to rediscover how much I love thrifting; it helped me to break out of the cycle of earning and spending my money; it allowed me to think more deeply and thoughtfully about the environment and the world we live in. So I'm going to try and carry on not buying anything new unless it's absolutely necessary. I'm going to try and think about every purchase and not impulse buy. I'm going to try and plan and budget for each new item and have it be something to celebrate, not feel guilty about. I've been trying to think of ideas for how to stick to this plan. Do I donate a certain percentage of the price of new items to charity? Do I impose a limit on how much I can spend or how many items I can buy? Do I make a rule that each time I buy a new item, an old item has to go? I'm still trying to decide... but for now it's just my conscience that will dictate it, and I hope it has the mettle to follow through."

While The Vintage Year's blog focuses mainly on clothing/fashion, it is a good example of how someone is making a conscious effort to buy secondhand as a political act.

Interior design and home magazines are also pushing vintage as a budget-friendly and eco conscious choice, an article from Remodeling Magazine said "[w]hen you use vintage pieces, you bow out of buying something new, and potentially save usable material from entering the waste stream." Better Homes & Gardens presented a slideshow titled "My Vintage Way of Going Green" that features window valances made of old aprons and tableclothes, a coffee table made out of a chicken pen and a 1940s dresser enlivened with wallpaper scraps.

Design-centered blog, Design Sponge, often features DIY projects from users who rescue outdated and somewhat shabby furniture from thrift stores, relatives and even alleys and curbs and modernize them with a bit of paint and new fabric. Below are some 'before' and 'after' pictures.

A chalkboard/message board made from an old mirror.

(Above a footstool enlivened with a fresh coat of white paint and contemporary fabric. Below, a hand-me-down chair from artist leslie sigler's mother-in-law was given a modern facelift).

Buying vintage fits in with the "reuse" part of the familiar "reduce, reuse, recycle" slogan of the 1990s. I believe it's eco friendly in two ways: 1)it saves furniture, clothing and electronics from going to the dump, thus reducing land use for our waste and 2)It reduces our dependence on foreign imports and addresses some of the ethical dilemmas people face about purchasing clothing produced in sweat shops. Buying vintage is also a relatively easy way for the public to do something "green" and raise consciousness about what we use and dispose of on a daily basis.

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