Monday, January 16, 2012

The Case of the Missing Bathing Suit

The inspector sat in his wing-backed chair, squinting at the report in his hand. The light was poor, and the cigar smoke drifting up from the tray made it difficult to focus on the words.

The door to his office slammed open. A woman entered, and the Inspector could instantly sense her distress. Her hat was slightly askew, and her hair had been hastily pinned.

"Inspector," she cried breathlessly. "There's been a robbery."

"Why don't you take a seat." He got up, and putting a firm hand on her elbow, guided her to the chair.

"I'm sorry," she said, brushing the hair from her eyes. "It's just been so distressing." She proceeded to tell the inspector her story.

****************** Fast Forward 6 Weeks ******************

"I'm sorry to be the one to break the news to you, my dear." The inspector was sympathetic. "We've discovered that, in fact, there was no robbery. It was simply a misunderstanding - your husband accidentally donated all of your summer clothing to The Salvation Army. He must have mistaken the box with your bathing suit for goods that were to be given to the poor."

"Well....," she said, at a loss for words.

Yes, it's a true story (minus the inspector). My summer clothes are gone - now hanging at the local Salvation Army. Or so I assume, as I haven't had a chance to go "shopping" there yet. The Salvation Army is closed on Sundays (duh).

All of my bathing suits (actually, I'm guessing those get thrown out), my shorts, tanks and god knows what else, are on display for the world to purchase. At a low cost, mind you.

The situation is a funny one, because really, things like this only happen to me, ie. people who are dumb enough not to double check all of the bags and boxes of stuff being loaded into the car.

Many people living in this world don't even have enough clothes to wear, so really, I can't be very upset. Except for the fact that we're on a strict budget at the moment, and I can't really afford to buy a bunch of new things (I've budgeted for 1 new pair of work pants for the next month). And it won't be a problem until the weather is warm enough for me to waltz around in shorts and t-shirts.

So the whole kerfuffle has me reflecting on the value of my clothes, and thinking back to a recent interview I heard on CBC's Q. The clothes we buy from stores like Reitmans and H&M cost pennies to make, but cost lives to consume. The "sweat shop" issue is far from old news. In the 1990's there was a big hue and a cry over practices by brands such as Nike. And yet today, we barely here a peep of dissidence, despite our ever-growing appetite for cheap and fashionable clothing.

I haven't read the book featured on Q, but the interview certainly struck a cord. Most of us fill our closets with cheaply made clothes, replacing our things with the changes of the seasons. And every garment we buy will end up in a landfill - despite our efforts at donating clothes, they will someday need to be disposed of. And the new fabrics, which are not natural at all, do not decompose well in our mountainous landfills.

The answer to the problem is a tough one for the "modern" woman (ie. the woman who wants to look semi-fashionable, especially in the workplace where this is expected) - we must spend money on really good quality clothing, which will last 10x longer then the hastily sewn stuff at H&M, but our bank account will suffer in the short-term. We don't tend to see the long-term benefits, and in a consumer driven world, this is not enough motivation to change our purchasing habits.

So in essence, it's a behavioural change problem - a lot of us know about the social and environmental impact we have on our world, but this doesn't translate into changed behaviour. We may care about the workers who are treated poorly in other countries; we may care about the massive quantities of natural resources used to make our clothing; and we may care about the waste; but we care more about our wardrobe and how we "look" to others.

In having lost all of my clothes (some of which I may recover by taking a visit to the good old Salvation Army), I am suddenly forced to take a good look at my desire for new clothes, coupled with my desire for a sustainable wardrobe. My goal in the next few months will be to scour the city and online stores for clothing that is going to last me a long time, albeit at a much greater cost in the short-term.

First up? A bathing suit - I may not be allowed to enter the pool with A's swim class wearing only my birthday suit :)

Have any tips or suggestions for sustainable clothing? Share them below!


  1. Loved the detective part! Good luck with the clothes hunt.

    1. Yes, I've been reading a lot of Murdoch mysteries lately, hence the detective part ;)

  2. I hit all the second hand stores( Value Village, Goodwill. Sally Ann etc.) and find incredible vintage cotton, wool etc clothing that DOES stand the test of time and eventually will biodegrade. It's also cheaper than buying poorly sewn and cut new items from a mall.Classic wool items in neutrals are always in style and last indefinitely.
    and I have fun " treasure" hunting too!


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