Like many teenagers, I didn’t want to spend time with my family. I regarded them as nice people with whom I was forced to cohabitate with until such time as I was released to pursue the thing I wanted most “My Own Life,” independent of other’s demands, desires, and transport limitations. Like many teenagers, they continued to demand my participation in activities with them, as if they didn’t recognize my difference, my purposeful growth and movement away from them. There were some family activities that I continued to enjoy, but was forced to express a general displeasure toward in accordance with my commitment to the code of teenage dissatisfaction. Often, on winter Saturdays in the season where the light returns and the cold remains, my younger sister would ask to go to the Salvation Army, our term for a motley collection of second hand shops in the neighboring town, again and again until our parents, serial home redecorators, yielded to her in exchange for her cooperation in a visit to Home Depot. My presence would be requested and I would begrudgingly agree to join. At the secondhand stores, I bought floppy flannel shirts that were miraculously in style, comfortable, appropriate for my body type, and available in vast quantities. I always bought at least two pairs of unstylish narrow leg jeans. My sister would buy gold lame anything, sparkly tops and acid wash jeans. My parents would consider large wood cupboards and over the years developed an impressive collection of “secretaries” desks with drawers and compartments with a folding cover. Back at home my sister and I would sit with our growing collection of sewing machines and bags of fabric, buttons, trims, and notions, while our parents wiped off their new piece of furniture and considered sanding and stripping it of its existing varnish and painting it a bright color. Let the deconstruct begin. I specialized in opening the out seam of the legs of the jeans and inserting large pieces of brightly colored material to create bell bottoms or adding the entire legs of a second pair of pants resulting in enormous, sweeping wide legs which were also, mercifully, popular in the 1990’s. My sister had (and still has) a great affinity for bedazzling, setting rhinestones, and grommeting, setting metal rings into clothing. On one occasion, when she was around 10 years old, she also opened the outside leg of her jeans, but employed a different tactic by setting a line of grommets from the ankle to the hip on each side of the seam and lacing them back together with a long leather strip. This style, while preternaturally fashionable for 5th grade, was deemed “too revealing” by her teacher and therefore for public use in general and sadly, she could only wear them around the house.
Our parents supported us not only in our quest for individuality, but introduced us to the supplies and skills we use with A. Bernadette today. Our affinity for and defense of “secondhand” or “used” clothing as the raw material for sustainable fashion, for fashionable fashion, is not an economic or superficial choice. We believe in secondhand clothing because it represents quality: we select materials that have lived before and show that they can stand up to even more wear and tear. It represents the environment: we are honoring all of the resources and labor put into the material and garment and delay that cotton, rayon, leather, and effort from becoming landfill. It represents connection: there are no true “raw” materials, even when we work with “new” materials we recognize that they were grown, designed, and manufactured, by many others throughout a global system. The understanding that everything is connected to and influenced by others whom we may never meet helps us value our materials down to the scraps swept up off the market floor and respect all those who contributed to our products.