6.30.2014

How green is "one in, one out"? The Rag Bag "Solution"

I've seen a few posts about Uniform for the Dedicated's initiative, The Rag Bag.  Uniform for the Dedicated seems to be a clothing company that's dedicated to ethical and ecologically sound production and material sources (in their words - couldn't find any other details on their site).  The Rag Bag is a shopping bag that you can re-use to send used clothing items to a charity of your choice, postage-paid.

The video on The Rag Bag's site says the problem is not really that we buy so much clothing...but what happens to it when we are no longer using it.  Their solution is encouraging shoppers to adopt a "one in, one out" philosophy so when they buy something, they're expected to ship an old item off to charity -- to solve the environmental issue with our clothing.  

So, just wanted to break that down a little...and let's see what we think. (And by we I mean me.)

del one in one out

1) The concept that it's totally not a problem to buy new clothes (asserted by an initiative put forth by a clothing company) is kind of a problem.  I don't need to explain this.  I'm not against buying stuff.  I'm against thinking it's no big deal and not at least part of the problem, though.

2) How green is "one in, one out"?  They don't outright say this is the concept they're putting forth but it's pretty much implied.  If you buy something new, you'll have something older to get rid of - and what better place than charity!  (Actually, we don't know that charity is the best place for old clothing.)  But more so, I'm not sure that the concept of "one in, one out" or being encouraged to get rid of older clothing is all that green.  And it might make people feel better about buying new stuff if they think giving an old item to charity makes up for it.

I think if you're just trying to create a manageable or minimalist wardrobe and you use it as a way to have a wardrobe while you shop for better-made pieces that better suit your style, great.  That's a good way to not divest yourself of your entire wardrobe and then fall into the trap of just buying anything to replace it.  What "one in, one out" doesn't do, though, is make sure that those clothes are used to the extent they could be whether that's with you for a while longer or you're matching them with future-owners who will get use out of them.  (I do think re-sale shops like Beacon's Closet and Buffalo Exchange are likely better at getting stuff into the hands of people who will use them since they're more "curated" while charity shops are a hodge podge, harder to shop and their turnover is usually faster.)  I always balk at people proclaiming that they're getting rid of all of their sweatshop clothing and replacing it with ethically-made stuff.  It's already there!  Just use it until you can't use it any longer!  Putting it into the stream of used clothing doesn't guarantee it's life here on earth will be more sustainable.

3) The positive! (I saved it for last since I'm usually such a critical mellow harsher at picking apart what I think is green-washing.)  An initiative like this might encourage shoppers to consider where their old clothing goes.  A lot of people just throw them in the trash instead of charity, re-sale shops or textile recycling.  So that would be an improvement. 

That's where I landed.  I think it's more "feel-good" than "solution" but at least it's admitting there's a problem...sort of.  Agree? Disagree?

4 comments:

  1. Agree. I actually think these kinds of initiatives likely have little, or no effect on people's buying habits. I feel like "ethical" (I'm using quotation marks because we don't really have a good definition for it, and I am not even sure if such a thing exists exactly) clothing companies have this dichotomy problem to deal with. How do you keep your market going, when in our economy it means keeping people constantly buying new and we know that's not ethical? I could go on and on but I have to go to my non-ethical job ;) Thank you always for your thoughts.

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  2. I used to think that something like this was the solution, in fact I have frequently done something similar, but after reading and thinking more about it I have definitely come round to a similar opinion as yourself on initiatives such as these. I think we all have to accept that continuing to buy clothing at the rate we do while discarding items we have barely worn doesn't help things, even if we are putting things to charity shops and initiatives rather than to landfill. We also have little idea of what happens to our donated clothing as you have mentioned before. It is that difficult idea of what can we do to help get people interested in how they get rid of clothes, even if it leads a few people to consider their clothing in a more sustainable manner that's a good thing isn't it? Good post as always Jesse.

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  3. Jesse these are great and valuable thoughts on this initiative. I would like to share my own reflections. From a holistic perspective this is not A solution to the problem we see with our cultures being locked in by consumerism and fast fashion. Today there are no actual solutions for ethical or environmental devastations caused by the textile industry. At least not on a scale where we can see progressive measurable impact.
    This initiative does not claim to be a solution but a better way of practice and a stepping stone to getting consumers onboard a cycle bases on more of a circular economy motion. That’s a bit down the road but at a valuable piece of an emerging new chain. I benchmarked this take back program against the more well-known H&M initiative and concluded the following. The bigger corporation seem to have a pull strategy with a incentive which encourages consumers to buy more and is a direct point of purchase target. The consumer does not seem to have a saying where the donated garment actually ends up. Is it green washing? I’ll leave that for others to debate about. In my book its more a strategy to survive. On the corporate board level H&M are highly aware that the worlds textile fibers are on the decline when it comes to the correlation of supply and demand. According to official UN figures the planets demand for textile fibers will have more then doubled by 2030. If you are H&M, Inditex or any other big player this is kind of troublesome as we cant grow new fibers to sustain the demand. The only solution is recycling. In essence H&M are part in creating an infrastructure in able to sustain their business in the future.

    With the Uniforms for the Dedicated initiative the concept does not a primary driver for more sales as it is a post purchase initiative. The company claims the cost of postage and gives the consumer the option to actually engage in choice of where the garment goes.
    But you are right, ho do we know charity shops are the best option? Frankly we don’t. However if the option is that you and I as consumers end up chucking a garment in the trash then charity is a less harmful option as it actually has the potential to prolong the lifecycle of a garment.

    I think this Rag bag initiative is interesting as I see it as a part of a bigger program where we close the textile loop. Obviously we aren’t there by far but it’s a creative and different initiative from a brand which seems more keen on change and action then most brands out there. I read on their website that its possible to rent their garments supposed to buying them, which in essence means they have to produce less items in total. I believe its important to look at the famous Whys when it comes to initiatives with a “sustainable” tag to them. Why are they doing this, obviously it’s a business but what positives are they trying to achieve?
    Keep shining /michael

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  4. "It's already there! Just use it until you can't use it any longer!

    For real, dude! I was just reading some "living without plastic" website and their ways to cut back on plastic consumption included a lot of replacing... which I took to mean "toss yer plastic hair brush immediately and buy a boar bristle/pine brush ASAP, asshole."

    This chafes me as an owner of many things because it's not practical and it's dumb. You're just tossing it into the waste stream. It seemed like a better approach would have been "how to best use your plastic such-and-such" until it snaps and half and when it does, here is some shit to consider, okay?"

    But, on topic, something about throwing out fabric feels particularly like a mortal sin so I live my life with many buckets of rags. (That then may or may not get tossed into the fire pit when they more of a concept than a thing.) Mending beats ending so, use it up and try to be very careful when it comes time to replace it (if it needs replacing).

    I think that first time around retail item purchases should be a rare and special event. Like, I didn't feel so bad purchasing a $50 AA sweatshirt since I know it will be a only sweatshirt I have for the next 10 years.

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