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Alice Wilder
"This Is Uncomfortable" Newsletter

This is how clothing brings us together

Alice Wilder, Marika Proctor, and Tony Wagner Apr 5, 2024
Alice Wilder

Hey y’all,

This is Alice Wilder. I produced this week’s episode of the show, much of which we taped last September near my home in Durham, North Carolina. 

Our team had already been planning an episode on fast fashion when my boss suggested Reema and I go thrifting together while she was in town visiting family. It ended up being one of my favorite days at work ever — when you listen to the episode I think you’ll see why. 

In the parking lot outside the thrift store, Reema and I had a long conversation about how we often dress for the person we want to be rather than the person that we are. That pressure to reinvent yourself on the first day of school never really goes away, even as an adult.

Redoing your wardrobe to keep up with trends leads to a lot of wasted money and resources. Americans wear only about 20% of what’s hanging in their closets. And the average U.S. consumer tosses out 80 pounds of clothes every year. Meanwhile, fast fashion brands are built to keep us impulse shopping. Reema and I both wanted to get out of that toxic cycle of consumption and shame.

So that day last September, I took Reema to Rumors, a secondhand clothing store where I’ve gotten some of my favorite clothes over the years.

There’s a pair of socks I got there — sky blue, with little clouds on the ankles – that I love. I’ve worn them so much, they started getting threadbare in places. I was sad about throwing them away, when a friend mentioned that they loved darning socks. They patched up the holes for me with bright pink sparkly thread — making my favorite pair of socks so much more special and keeping them out of a landfill.

In my experience, finding secondhand clothes, mending what we already have, and sharing clothes isn’t a chore, it strengthens our relationships.

More than once, I’ve noticed a friend of a friend wearing something I had brought to a clothing swap. It’s so cool to see something that no longer worked for me find a new life with another person, and to build that new friendship. I’ve started leaning into borrowing clothes from friends, too, to cut down on the “panic buying” Reema and I discuss in the episode.

Like last summer, I had nothing to wear to a weeklong journalism conference. It was my first formal work trip ever. I didn’t want to buy a bunch of frankly boring clothes I’d rarely wear, so I borrowed a week’s worth of professional clothes from my friends instead. I felt more confident, wearing my friend’s skirt and my sister’s blazer, like I had a little piece of them with me.

Reema came away from our thrifting adventure with a few new outfits and some new perspective on her wardrobe, and I hope you do too. This episode isn’t all shopping though. We also spoke with sustainability stylist and educator Lakyn Carlton, who brought her firsthand experience on impulse purchases, buyer’s remorse and the impact all those clothes have on the planet.

This is the first of two episodes we’re working on about fast fashion, and there’s even more in this week’s newsletter. We have a “Defend Your Splurge” from a textile pro and some recs for anyone who wants to learn more about sustainable shopping.

Happy thrifting!

— Alice

Defend your splurge with Melek Cansu Petek

Money messes with all our lives, but sometimes the right purchase at the right time can make things a little better. Tell us how you’ve treated yourself lately, and we’ll include the best stories in our newsletter!

This week’s splurge comes from Melek Cansu Petek, owner of Petek Trading Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota. Petek works directly with artisans from her native Turkey to source handmade home goods repurposed from old Turkish kilim rugs. Her work is all about cultural exchange, and that’s true of this splurge as well. 

The framed woodcut print described below.

I spent most of last summer on the verge of a severe burnout, if not already living it.

It is hard to be a small business owner in the best of days, and I was still grappling with grief from personal tragedies – including the aftermath of a massive earthquake near where my family lives in Turkey. 

I was desperately trying to find ways to calm my poor nervous system, which is how I found myself in Japan in September — courtesy of a major flight deal and airline points I had been squirreling away. 

My first day in Kyoto was overwhelming, but also more grounding than I anticipated. I am always drawn to the water, and it wasn’t long before I found myself walking along Kamo River. I teared up, as I felt for the first time in months that I could breathe a little bit easier. 

I veered off the riverwalk after some time, and wandered into a tiny art gallery called Yokoyama. I had no intention to purchase anything; in fact, most items were well beyond my means. Then I stumbled upon the table displaying Japanese woodblock prints. 

I am a huge fan of Japanese ukiyo-e prints. I pored over the display, trying to convert yen to dollars in my head as I looked. Eventually I saw one I loved and could afford to splurge on. The print was by Asano Takeji, called “Snow in Kamigamo Shrine.” 

The bright red Shinto shrine was the perfect embodiment of Kyoto, and the snow made me think of Minnesota, my adopted home. Later I learned that Kamigamo Shrine is located on the upper banks of the Kamo River that had brought me to this shop, and together with the lower shrine, it protects Kyoto.

This gorgeous print, perfectly framed by an artist friend who also loves Japanese woodblock prints, now hangs over my reading chair in our living room. The print itself was 15,000 yen (about $100), and with the frame the total cost was $225. A splurge, but well worth it. 

The Comfort Zone

What our team is into this week.

This newsletter was written by Alice Wilder and edited by Tony Wagner and Zoë Saunders. Marika Proctor produces “Defend Your Splurge.”

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