For those without a historical timeline in their heads, let me put you in the picture. The 1930s was the decade of the Great Depression that began with the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and ended with the involvement of the US in World War II in December 1940, a conflict that required everyone to use ration books to purchase essentials like sugar, flour, gasoline, clothing, cooking fats, meat and other daily goods. People who lived in the 1930s survived the whole decade and thensome in the clutches of the worst financial times this country has ever experienced. People lost their jobs, lost their homes. A record number of people were unemployed (I think it was up to 1/3 of all working people, most of whom were the breadwinners in their families). How did they survive?
In a way, the people who survived the Great Depression and WWII were better prepared to "do without" than we are today. Our Western world is a world of abundance. We are never hurting for clothing, furnishings, cleaning items, power sources because we can trot down to the local big W and buy it all cheaply.
The problem is that we buy these things... over and over again. And what do we do with the old ones? They go on the local landfill. Or they float around in barges on the sea to be dumped at the first place where it's allowed (and maybe even where it's not). When you've spent some time out in the open sea, it's shocking the things you see floating in the water and laying on the beaches of the world.
Nowadays waste reduction and recycling is on everyone's minds. We carry our paper waste and cardboard to the local recycling center every week. We don't buy soda so we don't have all those plastic bottles and cans to deal with. We reuse glass bottles whenever we can and we take them to the recycling when they break.
But what about our old clothing? Synthetics are just as un-biodegradable as plastics. Nylon, Lycra, Polyester, Microfibre, and others will sit on a landfill until the human race is extinct and the coakroaches have taken over.
Maybe they'll find a use for it all...
But I'm getting a little far afield. Let me try to steer back to the point. As you know, I'm in love with the clothing of the 1930s. One of my hobbies is collecting sewing books from this time period and the following war years. A recurrent theme of these books is mending your clothing or remaking it to conform to this year's styles -- raising or lowering hemlines, remaking lapels, altering sleeves and adding or removing decoration. During the war years, the mantra "Make Do and Mend" was often heard. Sewing books from that time often included instructions on how to convert a used man's suit into a woman's suit by recutting it and doing away with the worn out areas. This was the act of people who couldn't get new clothing for five years.
It's interesting to me that we never see the people of the 1930s and the war years in rags. I'm sure there are some pictures that don't show people at their best. But of all the family photographs I've seen (and it's my hobby -- I've seen a lot of them), I always see people looking like movie stars. Their hair is done. Their makeup is perfect. Their clothing is clean and pressed and not a thread is out of place.
One day I asked my Mum about this phenomenon. Mum was born in 1930 and was a teenager in the War Years. She told me that because they only had one or two skirts, they took very good care of them. They knew that if they abused this skirt, there wouldn't be a replacement for it. So they treated their clothing well. And it lasted.
The problem is that you have to buy good clothing in order for it to last long enough to be remade. Good clothing costs more. But if a pair of pants lasts through ten years of frequent wear, how much more are they worth than the pair that will fall apart and end up in a landfill after only one?
I am, of course, fixating on the clothing side of this equation. But this can be extended to other things. Many new mothers are considering laundering diapers instead of using disposables, and there are diaper services that cater to them. This I applaud. But the non-maternal of us can do things to. Ever write with a fountain pen? Can you count the amount of pens you've thrown away in your lifetime? Recycling isn't just about aluminium cans and plastic bottles. It's about everything we throw away.
Imagine if there was no dump, no garbage collection and all your garbage had to live in your backyard (that's what the Italians are dealing with). Think about that the next time you buy one of those calculators where you can't change the battery. Think about that when you get a new cell phone every year because your plan gives you one for free.
Those of you who know me know I'm hardly a luddite, and I'm not suggesting a rejection of technology to anyone. I earn my living on a laptop and with two industrial printers. My products are sold around the world with the assistance of FedEx and their fleet of trucks and planes. I travel widely and love my little blue convertible.
But I ask, do we really need disposible pens?