Out of Context

Sustainability = Usefulness


I once sold a tent to a middle-age woman. After careful consideration and obvious consternation, she arrived at an expensive and extremely well made choice. With the high-tech shelter rolled up snug in its stuff sack on the counter between us, she sighed and said something to herself about how much money she was spending. Then she fished through her wallet, took out a credit card and looked at me, saying to the two of us, “I can’t afford to buy junk.”

She comes into my thoughts these days as I stand in my garage surrounded by decades of household goods, clothes, and old outdoor equipment, much of it in great shape. Looking around, it is very noticeable what was used and what I wasted money and the planet’s resources in purchasing. I bought products based on color, brand and price. I bought things just to “try them out.” I come from a belief system that if one pair of binoculars is good, then two pairs must be better. My intent is to purge, but the realization is, I’ve bought a lot of junk.

Sustainable is today’s catchword. Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact and overall sustainability of their lifestyles. An emerging holistic consciousness sees unused possessions as simply gratuitous and material excess as waste. People want fewer things with more meaning and usefulness in their lives. Wasting chemistry and carbon to make unused and unloved stuff just doesn’t make any sense. Possessions in a more sustainable world will be rooted in everyday use. Just ask your kids if they’re interested in grandma’s china.

These no-junk-for-me consumers are changing society’s behavior in several different ways. The first is by an increase in sharing. Americans share everything; cars, vacation properties, sporting goods, tools, just about anything imaginable can be found via an app on your phone. Secondly, there is more of a focus on what’s already been made through reusing, repairing, and upcycling. Picked and patched is in style, reusable water bottles de rigueur. Third, there is a dramatic increase in attention to quality. People are more and more interested in the lifespan and functional effectiveness of the products they buy. “How does this work within my lifestyle?” is the question they ask themselves.

In retail apparel we see customers looking for better textiles, better construction and better fit. Textile companies and apparel brands could respond to the sustainability trend by highlighting the benefits of better fabrics, working with factories to maximize garment integrity, and developing a broader, more inclusive, range of fit by adding sizes. After all, the most sustainable garments are the ones that we wear, the rest end up in the garage.

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray thought he was a consumer but it turns out he was an accumulator. The Publisher may not share in his opinions or trips to The Salvation Army.