Community connections and shopping choices

Satsumabug’s local presence
Tierra giveaway Hooray, Tierra Yoga‘s giveaway has begun! Yogis who bike or walk to classes at the studio may enter to win my Radiance mat tote! Doesn’t it look so happy and, well, radiant on its windowside perch at Tierra? (It also looks as though a meditator could sit on that velvety plum-colored pouf and just contemplate the tote for hours. Hee!) Tierra is a young studio with a totally eco-friendly mission, so my work fits right in there. The studio’s owner made a lovely sign to place next to the tote, explaining the giveaway and including my own blurb about the bag’s origin in reclaimed fabrics. I’m also offering a discount to Tierra members until May 1.

It’s gratifying being involved in this way with another local business, especially as we’re both just starting out. A month ago a Yin Yoga classmate purchased one of my totes, and she couldn’t be a better salesperson if she were on my payroll (if I could afford a payroll!)– she’s been spreading the word about my shop to everyone! Thanks to her efforts, recently another Tierra member bought the last mat tote in my shop. Counting me and whoever wins the Radiance tote, by the end of the giveaway there will be four yogis at the studio toting Satsumabug mat bags! As other Etsy sellers know, when we sell online, we send our work out to faraway places, and more often than not, we never know what becomes of it. With my Tierra connection, I get to see my mat bags in use just about every week… in fact, my mat bag gets to hang out on the shelves with its cousin. 🙂 Corny as it sounds, the sight truly warms my crafting heart!

I revisit my shopping history, and add a new chapter

I guess it’s not so surprising, but since I started (a) sewing and (b) selling my work, my relationship to shopping, and particularly to apparel and accessories shopping, has changed entirely. I’ve never had enough money (or been thin enough, frankly) to be a total clotheshorse, but I’ve been a wannabe fashionista since high school. starI discovered InStyle in eighth grade, and when my best friend gave me a blank book during my freshman or sophomore year, I felt moved to start filling it with fashion designs. I vividly remember my first drawing. It was Chinese New Year and we were at my aunt’s house in Fremont, and while the adults talked, I sat at the kitchen table with my colored pencils and drew a girl with short brown hair, wearing a Valentine’s Day design: a long-sleeved, mini-length red dress with a heart on the chest. At the time I had no idea I was launching an obsession, but my design habit continued all the way through graduation (and through the pages of several more blank books, which I still have). I didn’t know the first thing about fabrics or about sewing, but I created several “lines” (including the one pictured, the Hollywood-glam “Star,” which I think was from my junior year) and won the fascinated interest of all my classmates.

In Berkeley, I discovered secondhand clothing stores and filled my closet with as many designer brands as possible (the hot-pink BCBG dress at left was one of my favorites). When I moved to LA, the long slog of a PhD program had me rarin’ for some instant gratification, and the many sample sales made me heady — I spent way more than I should have, on beautiful, trendy, and impractical pieces that mostly ended up being eBayed or donated within a year (strappy silver stilettos for my lifestyle? what was I thinking?). After watching so much of Erik’s and my money going down the drain at these sales and online, I quit shopping, cold turkey, for six months. Eventually I started augmenting my wardrobe yet again, but that early level of frenziedness has never returned, thank god.

When I first started crafting in earnest, around summer of last year, I (mostly) stopped shopping again, and this time it wasn’t so much deliberate as something that just evolved naturally. Learning to sew made me realize, as I had never realized before, the value of my dollars, as well as the time that goes into creating any garment. On top of this, I couldn’t see my way to buying new clothing or bags, when it seemed possible that I could (someday, if not now) make many of the things the stores were charging $75 or $100 for. Even more recently — within the past few days, in fact — it’s hit me that articulating the value of my own creations has made me completely unwilling to pay money for items that were manufactured in opposition to those values. When I enter a store and see racks and racks of identical dresses, I think of all the waste and harm that went into creating them: the water usage, the pesticides in the cotton, the underpaid workers in developing countries, the overpaid executives in this country, the cult of novelty and the marketing gimmicks that persuade us we need new clothes all the time. I was thinking about this last night, and it struck me yet again that handmade seems so expensive only because the true costs of mass production have been hidden from us.

So I decided, this time quite deliberately, that I’m going to change my shopping habits. I love fashion as much as any girl, but I don’t want to fill my closet with soulless clutter made by unhappy workers in faraway places. So from now on, as much as possible, I’m only going to buy handmade, local, organic/fair trade, or secondhand… and, on top of that, I’ll buy as little as possible. I’ve been moving toward this for a long time, but I think what clinched it for me was thinking about the price, and realizing that if I buy only a few pieces of clothing or a few accessories per year, it doesn’t really matter if these things cost a little more. In fact, it’s perfect if they do. I was musing on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years — one of my all-time favorite books — and if I remember right, when she got married she only had a few dresses (her black cashmere and… a lawn and a poplin?). Since our closets are stuffed with clothes, they get holes, stains, and wrinkles, and then we toss them out and buy new ones at Target. Laura and her family only had a few outfits, and they’d made them themselves, so they took impeccable care of them. Happy Golden Years is scattered with descriptions of clothes-making and care. Of course it’s a bit facile to compare 2010 with 1880, but I’d like to bring my shopping habits more in line with that old-fashioned way of having only a few possessions and treasuring them deeply.

Wow, I’ve written quite a lot on this subject. I was going to use all the above as a lead-in to something more relevant to my shop (and not so much my shopping), but I think I’ll just let that wait till tomorrow!