In seventh grade I had the perfect pair of jeans. They fit exactly the way I wanted them to; they were soft, comfortable and actually current. I grew up in a frugal household where I hardly got new clothes and relied heavily on hand-me-downs from my older cousins. So, when Caitlin’s low rise, light-wash, bootleg Levi’s showed up in a garbage bag full of her has-beens, I was ecstatic! Here in front of me was the fashion staple that dominated the early 2000’s.
I wore them non-stop for years. In these jeans I had my first day of a new school, my first kiss, my first breakup, and my first Ben and Jerry’s binge while crying inconsolably. I had some of my best (and worst) memories in these jeans and they became not only a part of my wardrobe, but a part of my life. As they formed holes, I held them together with safety pins, which happened to be functional, but more importantly demonstrated that I was indeed a rebel (in case you didn’t realize). Eventually though, the holes got larger. Any possible functionality of my beloved Levi’s disappeared by being so impressively worn-in I’m sure they were the first two-dimensional object to ever occupy space. I retired them into a box for safekeeping and eventually they were thrown out.
I had always wished my Levi’s lasted longer. I mean, they had a good run seeing as they were already second-hand when I got them. Still, I felt as though I had lost a part of my story when they were thrown out. As I grew older, I realized that this was no isolated incident. I am so attached to the things I buy, I would find myself sad and missing pieces I could no longer wear or use: shirts from first dates, jackets for new jobs, and boots I got stuck in the mud. When they were on their last legs I couldn’t justify holding onto them, but letting them go was hard for “just a worn out pair of boots”.
While materialism is seen as superficial and talked about in a negative light, I believe there is something to be said in its defense. Of course, things should not necessarily define our worth, but they can hold a deep value beyond price tag and status. Even when my torn pants could hardly pass as rags, I felt that they were so far beyond a piece of fashion; to me they represented a coming of age and a rite of passage. I am reminded of the Tom Hanks movie, Castaway, where the character Chuck Noland is attached to his one and only friend Wilson on a deserted island. Wilson of course is a volleyball, and while he is completely non-sentient, Noland’s dependency on the object’s “company” holds him together until his rescue. Yes, this is just a movie, but in reality “things” can be tied to so many important moments and even become part of our identity or our expression of it. To misidentify filling our lives with “things” as merely materialistic is so disparaging when their value can be so immensely emotional. Why should we feel the need to purge our lives of attachment when it brings us such pure comfort and happiness?
I was simply frustrated and saddened by how my favourite and most meaningful clothes, shoes, and bags would get so worn out I would be forced to retire them. So, out of this frustration I journeyed into shopping sustainable fashion.
Sustainable fashion to me wasn’t spurred by my need to be more environmentally conscious and socially aware. I’ll admit that I was ignorant, like many, as to how we spend our money on a daily basis can actually have significant impacts. Instead, I was focused on something that was far more subjective and hit home in a much different way than trying to change the world one item at a time. This was the emotional benefits of sustainable shopping. Maybe it was out of selfish intent, but I still reaped all the same sustainability benefits on top of the relief that my wardrobe would finally last. Buying sustainably meant that the investment in my wardrobe reduced waste, avoided exploitive labour, and lowered environmental production impacts. I was much happier shopping for long-term benefits and this was what I wanted to instill in my own business.
When I created my first line of bags, the Oldenburgs, the entire foundation of the design was “build to last”. This dictated everything: the materials, the pattern, the seam allowances, and finishes. Every design has its weak spots and I addressed every single one of them to reduce the need for repairs and to prevent my work from ending up in a landfill. I made the designs timeless so the bags would not only last decades, but be worn proudly and fashionably for decades. For my materials, I insisted on shopping from local suppliers in North America who use only local fair-trade labour because the environmental and social impacts of my business were, and still are, very important to me. While integrating all these tangible aspects of sustainability, I maintained my roots in the idea of personal connection. Interestingly enough, most of my clients were guided by this emotional impact of sustainability as well.
One of my first clients had a customized Oldenburg messenger made the summer before he started undergraduate studies. He’s currently finishing up his last year, and with a few touch-ups on his bag, this same satchel will be at his side post-grad and throughout his career. Another client had bought a messenger bag with the engraving “Will You Marry Me?”. The husband-to-be spent months searching me down after his love had fallen for the bag online and this was to be the perfect surprise for their Christmas engagement. She said “yes” of course, and now this bag will commemorate their love for decades to come.
I’ve had countless clients express their gratitude for creating an everlasting good. Maybe it’s for the sake of saving money, not having to buy the same thing over and over again. Maybe it’s because of not wanting to contribute to landfill waste or the use of oil by-products. Or maybe, it’s people who felt the same way I did, because there’s so many memories and experiences that this good has to last through to immortalize the beautiful life you’ve built. I am dedicated to creating more than a bag. I am dedicated to creating an emblem brought to life by its owner to be held onto for decades. I want to be sure that you can always wear your life’s memories proudly and confidently.