Last night I found myself in the position of trying to justify to some friends my desire to save up for a $150 shirt. Now, that seems like an exorbitant amount of money to pay for something that will cover a fraction of my body just as well as a $3 t-shirt from the Target clearance rack. But this shirt is special: it’s designed and handmade by a blogger and designer that I’ve followed for years. It is one of maybe 25 garments that she produces each year. It’s created in her tiny studio in a walk-up apartment in Brooklyn. It is unique and beautiful and well-made.
Thinking about this incident led me to start thinking again about the dismay I feel over the culture of disposability here and now, in the twenty-first century United States. So much of what we wear and use every day begins its life in a factory in India or China. Those low prices at the big box store tell a tale of underpaid men with families at home living on a knife’s edge. One injury, one long illness, one day of being unable to bring home those few dollars, stand between them and aching hunger. These articles end up on shelves in our stores, then in our homes, where they are not valued or often cared for very well, since they were obtained so cheaply. When we tire of the clothing, we load it in bags and take it to a thrift store, where it is sorted and resold to the hipsters and homeless. The very dregs that even the thrift stores refuse make their way in giant shipping containers, ‘donated’ to Africa or other parts of the third world, where the clothing is almost always sold to enrich officials and other middle men. It has come full circle, almost.
There is so much that could be said about the small changes over decades that have brought us to this state. The desire to create has died out in millions of people, replaced by only the ability to consume — media, entertainment, fast food, pop culture. It seems nearly impossible to avoid this mentality, but I would argue that it is an attitude both immoral and inappropriate, especially for Christians. We love and serve a God who invented and made every thing in the universe. He is filled with joy when we create beauty out of the things he has given us.
This has become sort of a series of meditations flowing out of one another. The point is, I want to invest in things that last, not instant, cheap gratification. I want my money to support people who are passionate and skillful in their craft, not feed into a corrupt, exploitative manufacturing system. I want to learn to make and care for and steward lasting things. I want a life that’s not disposable.