February 17, 2012

Defining ethical clothes, fur vs vintage, and a new life challenge...

As I've said multiple times this winter, I was not prepared for the bitter fucking cold temperatures that make unannounced cameos throughout the months of December, January, and February in NYC.  In general the weather has been quite mild, but the calendar is sprinkled with days when the high might have reached a bleak 18° F.  I got pretty good at layering, but sometimes that's just not enough.  Quite frankly, my balls are cold.

My roommate Byron and I were walking through the Lower East Side a few weeks ago, and we came across David Owens Vintage Clothing.  I wasn't really looking to buy anything; in fact, I remember verbally confirming this to Byron in a loud and obnoxious manner:  "DON'T LET ME BUY ANYTHING OKAAAAAYYYYYY?!?!?!?"

Then I shit my pants when on the first rack I found a vintage, pea green Givenchy dress for $150.00.  Every single piece I picked up was beautiful, impeccably made, and had its own story.  I was gagging over an old silk jacket with diamond buttons and cuffs when a coat dangling sideways on the end of a SALE rack caught my eye.  I tried it on and my balls immediately started sweating.  Problem solved!

I have named her Наташа, and here she is:

I know.  She's pretty glamorous.  And warm.  No layering required.

Now.  Let's get down to business.  The body of the coat is entirely faux, but the collar is real.  As in, actual fur.  Everyone has an opinion about fur, including me.  So let's talk about it.

I have thought about this A LOT.  To be honest, I had a bit of fur regret after Natasha came home with me, but I realized there are many more factors than what a garment is made of that define its ethical value.  Bottom line:  I don't support the fur industry.  "But Jason!  You're wearing fur!  You're such a hypocrite two-faced Gemini!"  That may be true, but it's important to note that this coat is vintage (the fashion industry's word for used clothes, usually dated between 1920-1970), which means a few good things:
  • The purchase of this coat does not perpetuate growth in the fur industry.  It neither decreases nor increases the demand for new fur products, because the coat itself was not created as part of a readily available supply that needs to be replenished when pieces are consumed as part of the present economy.  That's the magic (and curse) of thrifting - supply and demand can't be qualified.  You could argue that the very act of me wearing fur increases the demand for new production (as in, someone sees me on the street wearing this coat and that influences their decision to purchase new fur), but that would imply that I'm a trendsetter, in which case I'll take the compliment.
  • The purchase of this coat directly decreases the demand for new clothing that is cheaply made by outsourced, third-world labor.  I think this is pretty obvious.  Fur ethics aside - clothing that was well-made by American workers in the early half of the 1900s has lasted (and will last) decades, while a dress from Forever21 made by under-paid workers in China will fall apart after a few years (if it makes it through the first one).
  • The purchase of this coat directly decreases waste and carbon emissions.  Old things get thrown away and added to landfills all over the world that are deeper than the Statue of Liberty is tall.  If you buy something used, you're saving it from a garbage dump.  You're also cutting energy and emissions that result from modern textile production (for instance, the masses of fuel used to ship new clothes overseas).
  • The purchase of this coat directly supports a local business.  An amazing local business, which consists of one man with a passion for clothes.  If we want to rebuild our economy, let's shop small and local.  BTdubs: David Owens Vintage Clothing, 154 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002 (between Stanton and Rivington) 212-677-3301
  • This coat is part of history.  It is not an imitation or a replica of the former zeitgeist - it is an original piece of the past that serves a viable function (i.e. keeping my balls warm).  The fashion industry is rooted in art, culture, business, and industry.  All that, in a piece of outerwear.
I think all of these points have been realized before, which is why West Hollywood made an exception for vintage pieces in its fur ban ordinance.

I don't think Наташа needs much more defending.  She speaks for herself.

After reading and personally accepting everything I just wrote, I told myself (out loud, in fact), "Наташа is a martyr!  Why would my argument only apply to fur or anything else that is ethically controversial?  Why would I pull the "cutting down on waste card" when buying a vintage coat with a fur collar but not when buying a brand new pair of shoes made by a child in China?  I need to pull ALL these cards for EVERYTHING."

So, I'm kicking off a new life challenge:


This means I'll be doing a lot of research about what brands manufacture their products ethically and locally, looking into international labor laws, analyzing emissions and waste data, and buying locally and used.  In fact, I'm going to pledge something quite drastic:

Exceptions, because there's always fine print: underwear, gifts, promotions, make up,
 obvious exceptions (like toothpaste and lube), and things that are sometimes impossible 
to find used (like specific-colored leggings).  And I'm sure I'll think of
something else along the way.

Obviously this is going to be really fucking difficult.  But certainly not impossible.  In fact, I believe it will teach me the magic of searching for something special, finding it, investing in it, and treasuring it.  Not to mention there is great value in building a great collection of things that will last forever.  Also, I'll look hot.

i-D cover moment
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE hold me accountable in every way possible.  If you see me tweet about buying a new pair of Jeffery Campbells from Solestruck, send me poop in the mail.  Also, if any of this makes sense to you, why not play along?  I'll be making this a series, and it would be fantastical to see other people's progress, opinions, findings, and tips & tricks.

Also, do you think I can actually do this?  Am I insane?  Feel free to send me motivational hate mail!

All photos by my super-awesome roomie, Byron!

Turban - HUE leggings; coat - vintage; gloves - no idea, from Nordstrom Rack; leggings - Diesel; shoes - Aldo



  1. I could leave a, "This is so well-written!" comment for every post on this blog, but I ADORE the thought you've put into this post and think you did a fantastic job putting these very important ideas into plain, convincing language. I'm inspired to give this a shot, too! It's gonna be a lot harder for your adoring friends back here in Greenville/Carolina in general, but I think it's a worthwhile challenge.

  2. I love this post, Jason! Glad that Valerie pointed me to it!

    Also, to prove I'm not a robot, I have to type "uselet Gods" in the field. Can we make something of this?

  3. good thing there are some fab pre-owned Jeffery Campbells on ebay... (I'm bidding on a pair now).


    & I don't wear fur (ever- well, unless my cat sits on my head), but vintage stuff I'm much more willing to not barf on.

  4. I think this is great! More than half of my clothes are bought in vintage stores, but I could never ONLY buy second hand stuff. And I need my Jeffrey Campbell's! Good luck xo

  5. Omg, I LOVE that coat! And, I love your explanation of why vintage fur coats are ethical. I feel the same way about vintage fur but have never been able to articulate it quite like you just did. Bravo.
    Also, I'm intrigued by your mission to only buy used or vintage clothing. It sounds difficult, but I look forward to seeing how you make it work.

  6. This is amazing!! I love finding great things in thrift stores :D Good luck with your new life mission, in NY you should have no problem making your carbon foot print tres chic! :D

  7. This is a great post; well written and well thought out. I admire the sentiment and wish you great success in your pledge. It is an awesome pledge.

    I think a statement saying PREDOMINANTLY previously-owned or vintage rather than ONLY might be more realsitic and could alleviate much of the fine print disclaimer.

    I hope many others join you in this endeavor. I certainly am intentional about my purchases leaning towards to fairtrade, previously owned, american-made, etc. to reduce carbon footprint and increase potential for ethical trade. I also endeavor to support local business. I fail at it a lot, but I try.

  8. Thanks everyone! And you may be right, Joe. Predominantly may be much more realistic... but I don't really live on planet Earth, so I'm just gonna go for the gold!

  9. I've always thought your blog was well written. I always learn something new and amazing. I love the fabulous footprint approach! I'm happy that this is something you and I have done many times together...well, much lesser scale and not with the great finds that you've come across. Can't wait to come see you. I so miss you. Take care. Love you! nh

  10. Great post and a great challenge. You should kick it off with a clothing swap!

    I recently quelled my urge to shop by doing this with a few fashionable girlfriends and have been getting tonnes of compliments on my new/their old threads. Love it.

  11. You look amazing!! So zsa zsa and very 6 page spread!!


  12. I LOVE YOU you are my new favorite person! you make me want to shop vintage. im going to shop vintage (i promise)

  13. You put up a good argument here, but none of your points are escapable of the fact that an animal has been murdered for this fur - no drugs so it was in pain, it would have been hunted and captured in absolute fear, then brutally murdered, and theres a good chance skinned alive.

    Look at this image, it says the most valid message of all arguments - http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1201/1075612930_dea617b0c1.jpg

    It's not about what other people think or argue, it's about your own morals. By wearing fur you're compromising a good part of yourself that is supposed to be against it. It's about upholding what you believe in, not contradicting what you believe in with excuses to make yourself feel better about it.

    What I tend to say is, would you hunt, kill, and skin the animal yourself to get the fur? Most wouldn't be able to, but would be fine with letting someone else do it, which I find disgusting. It completely ignores reality.

  14. I fly a bird of prey. Some think this is cruel as he does hunt things and they probably go through the same fear the animals in the fur and meat industry do. He was a rescue and had previously been subject to abuse. Does this make me a cruel person? A fair amount of certain types of fur come from efforts to keep population levels down in the wild... The animal is going to die anyway. I do not support any kind of modern fur trade, but when it comes to vintage... Well put quite blankly nothing is going to revive that fur so why not reduce the carbon footprint and get some use out of it. When it's done with you can donate it to animal shelters to help rear orphaned animals.


Speak your mind! *muah*