Thursday, February 5, 2015

Our New Year's Resolution, Part 2

I talked about lowering prices on vintage clothing in Our New Year's Resolution, Part 1 last month. We have lowered all our prices on vintage items and are already seeing improvement in sales! Thank you! 

Part 2 is where it gets tricky.

Our New Year's Resolution, Part 2: Lowering our prices on redesigned and handmade items.

Photos by Jordan Hampton

Photos by Ian McFarlane

Community Service is our in-house line of redesigned and handmade clothing. Our redesigns can be as simple as shortening the hem of a skirt, or taking the sleeves off a dress. Some are more involved, like adding leather sleeves to a wool coat, or completely changing the fit of a garment and transforming it into something new. 

Photo by Jeremy Barton

We bring out the potential we see in the thrift store find that is made of great fabric, or has a fabulous pattern, or a unique detail that we fell in love with. We strip away the ugly and the dowdy, the dated and the costume-y. We cut around holes and stains, and take off satin flowers and shoulder pads. What is left is flattering to the modern eye, and inspired by runway fashion and our favorite boutiques that we wish we could afford to shop at.

Photo on right by Ian McFarlane

Taking it a step further, we also make clothes from scratch, using vintage and sustainable fabrics. Some of these are leftovers from a redesign project. The bottom of a shortened dress becomes a skirt, or a bandeau. We make party dresses out of curtains, and skater skirts out of a little boy's bed sheet that is covered with a print of all this favorite football teams. If we are lucky we find a roll of vintage fabric in the thrift store, or buy one from an elderly customer who had it stored since the 80s.

Photo by Sanni Baumgärtner

For our 2014 collection I got to design my own fabric though a sponsorship from Spoonflower, a company based in North Carolina, that offers digital print on fabric from your own design. The revolutionary thing is that you can order a very small quantity, as little as one yard of fabric, which makes it possible for a young designer to create a unique collection without having to invest thousands of dollars to get started. 

Inspired by lichen on a recent hike, I took Athens' photographer Ian McFarlane on a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains to photograph lichen, moss, and tree bark in it's natural habitat, which Spoonflower then digitally printed on 100% organic cotton fabric. The Community team created a collection from these fabrics, mixed in with some vintage fabrics and redesigns. So the Community Service lichen print dress, the moss print men's button front shirt, and the bark print tank dress are truly unique and only available at Community.

Photos by Ian McFarlane

Aside from the special organic cotton fabric from Spoonflower, the cost of material for a Community Service design is usually less than 30% of the price of the garment. The price for the redesigned and handmade items is mostly determined by the cost of labor. I still sew some of my designs, but as a business owner my time is limited. The majority of sewing is done by our seamstresses and re-designers, who either get paid by the hour or get a percentage of the retail price once the item sold. I care about them and their hard work, they are precious to me and the business, and without their skill, creativity, and enthusiasm, Community Service would not be what it is today. I am striving to raise their hourly pay, so they can make a living. 

Photo by Becker Whitney

Yet, we are determined to find ways to lower the prices of our Community Service pieces this year by creating faster and more efficient ways of producing them. Rather than taking a one-of-a-kind vintage dress that we are spending hours redesigning, we are working on developing patterns, so a dress can be made from a variety of fabrics, and in a variety of sizes. Once we have the patterns, we can produce more than one at a time, streamlining the process, so we can cut down on the time spent on each item. We are still working in very small numbers, we might make 6 skirts, not 600, so everything is still made from start to finish by one person, rather than a production line, where each seamstress just completes one step.

We still won't be able to compete with H&M or Forever 21 for rockbottom prices, but we provide better quality, and sustainability by producing locally and from vintage and ecofriendly materials. If you have ever been to Community, you know our seamstresses don't work in sweatshop conditions, but instead in a place filled with light and warmth. We are not aiming to create clothing the cheapest way possible without consideration for the people, animals, and environment involved in the process. Instead we aim for making your new favorite dress that is affordable and will last for as long as you want to wear it. And when your friends ask where you got it from, you now have a whole long story to tell.

Sanni Baumgärtner, owner of Community

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Our New Year's Resolution, Part 1

We have just started into a new year and with it comes the magic of change and new beginnings. We want to be our best selves, and in that moment of excitement, we feel sure that we can make all our resolutions come true. So we begin 2015 with new ideas and renewed ambition for moving towards our goals. 

Our new year's resolution, Part 1: Lowering our prices on vintage clothing.

We at Community have a passion for vintage. It is not so much out of nostalgia for a time passed, rather we appreciate the quality of material and design that survived the test of time and is difficult to find for an affordable price in today's boutiques and department stores. As champions for sustainability, we also prefer buying used rather than supporting the dirty industry of fast fashion that puts a strain on the environment and people alike with it's synthetic fibers, chemical processes, and poor factory conditions.

The golden age of vintage buying, when thrift stores were filled with 50s prom and 60s mod dresses, that sold for dirt cheap and often by the pound, has long passed. Goodwill & Co. have caught on to the vintage trend, pre-selecting vintage pieces before they even hit the sales floor and whole selling it by the ton for a higher price. Some stores now have "vintage sections" with prices that are comparable to hipster vintage stores. Pickers everywhere are selling their finds on Ebay, and since Mad Men first appeared on the TV screen, pieces of mid-century modern furniture and home decor are nowhere to be found. What is left are the orphans of fast fashion, cheaply made clothing of synthetic fabric and "vegan" leather shoes, just barely out of style. 

Yet there are still treasures out there, which makes the endless hours of combing through overflowing racks fly by and the hunt still exciting. It makes me get up at 6 am to wait in line at estate sales, and scout the long rows of flea markets, searching for the trends from the 80s and 90s. The silk shirts and velvet skirts, and knits that were still made from wool and cashmere. The Doc Marten's and the vintage Coach bags. The 90s platform boots that are coming back in style. Slightly obscure designers like Maison Martin Margiela and brands like Rag & Bone and All Saints are not yet household names in the thrift store world, and therefore priced the same as something from Old Navy. Staying ahead of the curve and spotting those treasures and coming trends before everyone else does, is what pays our rent and keeps our lights on. 

The mark-up on vintage is usually more than 100%, even more for the occasional designer finds, but aside from the hours of shopping and driving, it requires washing, steaming, ironing, and often mending, then tagging and pricing it before a piece is ready to be sold at Community. There is something deeply rewarding about bringing a vintage garment back to life, so it can continue writing it's story.

We like sharing our appreciation for vintage with you, and for you to enjoy our treasures. We are determined to lower our prices on vintage clothing this year. We want our prices to be fair and affordable for you while we still want to get paid for our work, and balance the overhead of having a brick-and-mortar store where you can try on your outfit before you buy it. So this year, we will try to find that balance point by adding more inventory but marking it up less. 

Lower prices means more affordable for you, and the more you shop, the more we can lower our prices and still be able to pay our bills and ourselves. More sales also mean a higher turnover, which keeps the store inventory fresh and exciting. 

One thing that could happen though, if you buy more of our vintage clothes, is that we have to go thrifting more often - and that we wouldn't mind a bit. 

Sanni Baumgärtner, owner of Community.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Do We Really Need Our To-Go Mugs?

Like many people, I am addicted to caffeine. I refuse to believe that my coffee habit is bad for me (a little caffeine if fine in moderation, right? And haven’t I read somewhere that coffee is healthy?). However I have realized that my dependence on coffee can be harmful for the environment. Our beloved to-go coffee mugs cannot be recycled and are environmentally harmful. In fact, Americans trash about 23 billion paper coffee cups in a single year.
            In the interest of being greener about my beverage consumption, I recently took on an experiment: I gave up all to-go cups (not just coffee mugs, but any and all disposable beverage containers) for three weeks. To make the challenge more interesting I also added plastic water bottles to the list of banned containers because, although plastic can be recycled, most bottles end up in the landfill—over 40 million per day in fact.
            Without the convenience of a paper cup from Panera’s or a Jittery Joes travel mug, I armed myself with two key weapons:  my reusable coffee mug and my Nalgene water bottle. If I wanted coffee from Jittery Joes, I brought along my reusable mug and handed it to the barista, requesting it to be used in place of the customary paper mugs. If I ate dinner out at Moe’s I filled up my Nalgene with water from the soft drink fountain instead of buying a drink.
            More often than not, the employees were happy to help me out, and Jittery Joes even gives a discount to those who bring their own mug. I also found that when I ordered a small coffee they filled my mug to the brim, so I ended up paying for a small but receiving the amount of coffee meant for a large. For a coffee addict such as myself, this was a huge plus.
             The only issue was that lugging around my various reusable containers became quite cumbersome. If I decided to stop by Jittery Joes after class, I had to plan in advance to take my reusable mug with me, and if I went out for dinner I could not forget my Nalgene bottle without being desperately thirsty throughout my meal.  However, I learned that simply asking restaurant employees for a reusable glass to drink from is no problem. One evening when I forgot to bring my water bottle to a fast food restaurant, the cashier happily provided me with a glass cup to replace the restaurant’s customary Styrofoam one. People were willing to work with me, and cutting out to-go cups was easier than I had anticipated.          
Carry reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic ones!
            The truly rewarding aspect of my challenge was not only learning about the feasibility of reducing my disposable container consumption, but also realizing how much I reduced my environmental footprint. Over the course of three weeks I saved a total of 97 containers: 9 coffee cups, 4 restaurant-style to-go cups, and 84 water bottles (I took my plastic water bottle with me everywhere).
            With our oftentimes busy schedules, we understandably gravitate towards convenience. The trick is finding a compromise between efficiency and sustainability. Making small changes, such as bringing your own coffee mug once in a while or switching to a reusable water bottle allows us to be kind to the environment without sacrificing comfort.

--Claire Ruhlin, Community Intern

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

Fun reusable shopping bags from Baggu
          It’s no question that shopping bags are a part of daily routine. At this very moment you probably have a stash of grocery bags stuffed under the kitchen sink, in the car door, the pantry, or a secluded corner of the garage (I know I do). The US alone consumes about 10 million paper shopping bags a year, and nearly 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide. However, our shopping bag habit is costly. Paper bag production depletes forests, uses harmful chemicals and emits greenhouse gasses. Plastic bags are made from the non-renewable resource crude oil, and a single plastic bag takes about 400 years to decompose. Despite their prevalence disposable shopping bags present an environmental dilemma regarding production and recycling.    
            Though recyclable, plastic shopping bags cannot be deposited in curbside recycling bins since they can clog recycling machinery, damage equipment and interfere with the sorting process. However most grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling bins, and plastic bags can be taken directly to some recycling facilities such as the ACC solid waste department.
            An alternative to plastic bags is to request paper bags, which can be recycled with the rest of your paper products. Contrary to popular belief, paper bags are actually no more environmentally friendly than plastic. In fact, even more energy is required in the recycling and transport of paper bags than that of plastic.
         Here lies the problem: paper or plastic?  Instead of regular shopping bags, stock up on reusable bags. On average, the lifespan of a reusable grocery bag is equal to more than seven hundred plastic bags, and by just one person switching over to reusable grocery sacs, over 22,000 plastic bags would be saved. Most grocery stores provide well-priced reusable bags, and online stores sell all types of designs and colors. You can also get crafty and try sewing your own out of an old t-shirt. Substituting reusable bags for their paper or plastic counterparts cuts down on waste as well as the amount of energy used in production and recycling.   

-- Claire Ruhlin, Community Intern

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Recycle, Reconstruct, Redesign

     The average American throws away a whopping 68 lbs. of unwanted clothing in a single year. In response to this issue, the industry of redesigned or recycled fashion is expanding on all levels. Revamped fashion has also become more accessible thanks to sustainable companies and designers devoted to transforming used textiles into coveted and fashionable garments. Companies such as TRAIDremade, Preloved, E2, Geoffrey B. Small, Urban Renewal, and Community Service are among those following this movement.
            TRAIDremade is a brand and a registered charity. The company creates edgy garments made exclusively from donated materials collected from 900 recycling banks across the UK. TRAID stands for Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development. The charity works to save clothes and shoes from the landfill, raise funds for overseas development projects, and educate the public on environmental and poverty issues. Since its launch in 2000, the company has donated a total of over $1.8 million to projects such as creating a fishing cooperative in the Philippines, supplying clean water for the people of Kenya and providing educational activities encouraging students to discuss relevant issues. The recycled clothing offered by the brand became widely available through a partnership with Topman, a high-street chain, in 2002. Now TRAIDremade’s clothing is available in Topman’s Oxford Circus store, allowing for accessible sustainable clothing.

TRAIDremade Peplum Dress
        Très chic!  French partners Michele Meunier and Olivier Chatenet founded the label E2 in 1999 as a means of pursuing their love of vintage clothing. Meunier and Chatenet combine contemporary taste with vintage designer clothing and ethnic items through selling their products directly from the runway or showroom in season. The line offers refashioned vintage pieces from high-end designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Madame Grès. The brand also provides reworked ethnic costume as well and a line of elaborate dresses made from vintage silk scarves. They source their redesigned items from estate sales, auctions, and flea markets. E2 clothing can be purchased online, from its exhibition-like shows, or by appointment.

E2 Silk Flower Print Dress
            The ever avant-garde American designer Geoffrey B. Small exemplifies successful incorporation of recycled pieces into modern fashion. Small has pushed the envelope of innovation, a key factor to his revered position in the fashion world. He has displayed more collections at Paris fashion week than any other American designer and has distributed over 30,000 recycled pieces from his Boston-based company. He is accredited with pioneering the use of recycled design in fashion, and his impressive list of clients includes Mariah Carey, Winona Ryder and Halle Berry. Today he resides in Italy where he handcrafts a limited series of garments for select stores around the world.

Geoffrey B. Small Runway

         Urban Outfitters offers an exclusive Urban Renewal line made of one-of-a-kind pieces handcrafted in Philadelphia from vintage, surplus or unwanted materials sourced from rag mills worldwide. The company uses local manufacturing and staff to reconstruct vintage pieces and recycle discarded fabrics. Source materials include men’s shirts, sheets, vintage t-shirts and Levi’s denim. These pieces are washed, dyed and trimmed until they are ready to wear. No Urban Renewal item is made from the same material, so each creation is slightly different from the rest. Customers can choose the shape, size and color of each garment, and will receive a printed design from what is available. The line includes dresses, tops, scarves, vests (for the men) and even jewelry.

Urban Renewal
           Community Service is a redesigned clothing line here in Athens created by Sanni Baumgaertner, owner of COMMUNITY. The line consists of revamped vintage pieces with a modern twist. Community Service has produced collections and fashion shows biannually since Fall 2010. The  Spring 2012 collection will be available for purchase in COMMUNITY this week.

Community Service
             The potential for sustainability exists in the way we produce, the way we shop, and the way we live. By looking to these companies we can all find inspiration for incorporating revamped or refashioned clothing into our wardrobes. 

For more Information:
TRAIDremade: shopsupport
E2: shop
Geoffrey B. Small: site
Urban Renewal: shop, blog
--Claire Ruhlin, Community Intern

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recycling 101: Egg Cartons

Egg cartons
Image Source
             Recycling egg cartons can be tricky business, especially considering the variety available: styrofoam, cardboard, and plastic. Here are some helpful tidbits to keep in mind:
        Unfortunatley styrofoam packaging is not widely recyclable so it is best to avoid these containers.  However, if you do have some styrofoam egg cartons and want to be more environmentally conscious, Publix stores provide recycling bins for styrofoam containers, including egg cartons.
         Unlike styrofoam, cardboard egg cartons are recyclable. Since they are made with a softer paper pulp which breaks down easily, they can also work beautifully for backyard composting.
        Plastic cartons are also recyclable, and can go with the rest of your plastics. Just to be safe, you can always check for the recycling symbol on the container.
        Happy Recycling!

-Claire Ruhlin, Community Intern

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Recycling 101: Did You Know?

Starbucks cups
Image Source
          Your coffee habit is hurting more than just your wallet. Paper to-go cups are non-recyclable and according to betacup approximately 58 billion paper cups end up in landfills each year. The cups are laminated with a plastic resin, which, although keeps beverages warm, prevents recycling. 
            As an alternative, try substituting reusable coffee cups for paper ones. This will decrease the consumption of disposable mugs and cut packaging costs for coffee shops. You can save money too. Jittery Joe's gives anyone who brings their own travel mug a discount. Or better yet, skip the coffee shop and brew coffee at home. If you’re in a hurry pour it in a reusable to-go mug, or enjoy at the kitchen table. Simple changes such as these are small steps towards reducing waste and living more eco-friendly.