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A story in two parts…

Part 1: Potts Point Vintage

If you’ve been reading along for the past couple of years, you’ll know that we’ve been trying to reduce our environmental footprint. And since watching The True Cost, we’ve tried to source our clothes secondhand wherever possible. Now that’s easy to do for everyday clothing, but what about the big wedding we have coming up next summer? It’s much harder to buy evening wear and suits secondhand, but we wanted to try nonetheless.

Thankfully my friend Anita, who is a style goddess, put us on to the wonderful Arnold at Potts Point Vintage. If you live in Sydney and love vintage clothing, do yourself a favour and pay him a visit. His shop is a glorious Aladdin’s cave of immaculate pieces from the 1920s onwards.

On our first visit, Pete came home with this bespoke suit, tailored in Italy in the 1970s from exquisite Ermenegildo Zegna wool. It cost us $249 and the jacket fits him like it was made for him. In present day dollars, the fabric alone would have been worth $2,000…

The following week, we dragged Small Man in to try on a black wool suit that had been too small for Pete. Again, a perfect fit and this one didn’t even need hemming! It was handmade by a tailor in Sydney several decades ago. All of Arnold’s suits are thoughtfully selected, carefully cleaned and in great condition, and his prices are extremely fair. Small Man’s suit was just $129…

It was almost too much to hope for a hat trick, but Big Boy was so impressed with the suits that he and Monkey Girl popped in the following Saturday. He found the most gorgeous formal tuxedo – made by Rundle Tailoring in Newcastle between 1992 – 1996 from Australian cool wool in a panama weave (with silk lapels and stripes).

Bronwyn Rundle very kindly provided us with the information (she was able to identify the suit from the label) and mentioned that some of the ladies who might have made the suit still work for their company. Rundle Tailoring continue to make their suits locally – one of the few Australian companies to do so. They’re definitely worth supporting if you’re in the Newcastle area and looking to get something custom made!

Despite being as old as he is, Big Boy’s tux looks brand new and fits him perfectly with absolutely no alterations needed. Arnold had just $145 on it, which is the price to rent a tuxedo for one night.

As you can imagine, we’re pretty excited by all this (as is our new friend Arnold). We honestly didn’t think we’d find secondhand suits that would be good enough to wear to a wedding … and we’ve ended up with three amazing outfits far better than anything we could afford new (a contemporary Zegna suit starts at $5,000). If you’re looking to buy a suit (or a vintage fur coat, or a 50s hat, or a 60s evening gown), pop into Potts Point Vintage first. It’s really luck of the draw as to whether or not you’ll find something in your size, but that’s part of the adventure!

Potts Point Vintage
2/8a Hughes St,
Potts Point, NSW 2011

http://www.pottspointvintage.com.au/
E-mail: info@pottspointvintage.com.au

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Part 2: The Opera Coat

It’s funny how one thing in life can inspire the next.

While searching in my favourite opshop for a “mother of the groom” outfit (I’ve found it, by the way, but you’ll have to wait until next year to see it), I came across a badly torn vintage coat in the throw out pile. It was in appalling condition – the lining was shredded and the wool was badly matted. The shop assistant very kindly told me I could take it home if I thought I could do anything with it, so of course, I did.

When I got home, I instantly regretted that decision.

The lining in the sleeves was badly damaged (I suspect they’d been eaten) and there was some seriously gross crap (sigh…literally) in the cuffs which needed a vacuum before I could even go near it. The shoulder pads had turned into matted cotton wool. I removed the sleeve linings completely, then hand washed, then MACHINE washed, then tumble dried the coat. ALL of which are contraindicated, I know, but you didn’t see the revolting stuff that was inside the cuffs…

The wool in the coat shrank, of course. I didn’t dryclean it because a) it was free and b) I wasn’t sure that I could save it. Thankfully, the shrinkage was a good thing because it now fits me perfectly and the bouclé Astrakhan fabric has regained its sheen. (I’ve since found out more about the fabric from the Vintage Fashion Guild website!) I remade the sleeve linings in cotton ticking and then nearly lost my mind trying to figure out how to reattach them properly (I’ve never done any tailoring before). The lining needed shortening by an inch overall to compensate for the shrinkage.

Throughout the whole process, I kept wondering if I should just toss the whole thing in the bin. It was hideously gross at the outset. But the label “Milium Insulated Fabric” and the single button told me that it was a 1950s opera coat. Milium was an aluminium-backed lining introduced in the 1950s and only around for a decade or so. And I kept thinking about what an interesting life this coat must have had, and how I didn’t want to be the one to throw it away.

After five hours of unpicking, washing, more washing, drying, relining, restitching, hole-mending, and defluffing, I stepped back and took a look … and as if by magic, this incredibly glamorous coat suddenly appeared…

It’s now 100% clean, gorgeously retro and I believe it’s 60-70 years old. I’ve quite literally rescued it from landfill, which makes me incredibly happy!

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Are you a lover of vintage clothing too?
If so, please tell me about your favourite pieces! ♥

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Have I mentioned recently how much I love Kiva?

I’ve been micro lending through this wonderful organisation for over ten years now (here’s the post I wrote in 2009). Kiva provides small loans to people who might otherwise be unable to access funds. We lenders contribute in lots of US$25 – it’s really very small scale.

I say “lend” because even though we don’t earn any interest, the principal is repaid whenever possible. (Kiva doesn’t charge any interest, but its field partners do to cover operating costs. The amount of interest charged is carefully monitored by Kiva).

Over the last decade, I’ve lost a tiny $1.04 in currency exchange and had no loans default. The average lender ends up with a default rate of just 1.70%. To be honest though, I really don’t care if folks can’t pay it back – the goal has always been to help, not invest. According to the Kiva stats page, I’ve lent to individuals and groups in 16 countries, with a focus on women.

The best thing about the system is that I’ve been able to lend far more than I’ve actually put in, because as the loans are repaid, I’m able to re-lend the same funds. My most recent loan has been to a Cambodian group who wanted to buy a filter to access safe drinking water. They needed just US$225 and I was one of their nine lenders.

Microfinance has had some negative press over the years. In its early days, it was touted as a solution to poverty, but it never ended up achieving those lofty goals. What it does do though, is make a significant difference to individuals who need just a little help to make their lives better.

If you’re interested to find out more, please visit Kiva.org. ♥

Every day brings a new story…grab a cuppa and let me tell you about our Persian rug.

30 years ago, when we were young and stupid, we bought a deceased estate federation house. It was in a seriously dilapidated condition – no inside toilet, no hot water, no laundry, no shower. The tiny kitchen had just half a metre of bench space, divided into three sections. It was partitioned into pokey rooms for use as a boarding house and in such a state of disrepair that it had lingered on the property market for 14 months before we bought it. Even so, we could barely afford it – if it hadn’t been for my parents’ legendary generosity, we wouldn’t be here today.

We were coming from a little unit, so of course, we needed furniture. We borrowed an extra $3.5K to cover this, which in hindsight was a small fortune.

Anyway, we walked into a cool shop in Ultimo called Nomadic Rug Traders and…we both fell in love with this Meshkin Kilim runner from Northern Persia (Iran). See, it really IS a Persian rug. An antique, tribal, handwoven runner from circa 1900. At five metres long and over a metre wide, it fit our hallway perfectly…but it cost $2,500. Yup. Madness, I know. We had to furnish the rest of the house, including appliances, wardrobes and lounges, with the remaining $1,000. We sat on beanbags for a year!


But oh, how we LOVED our rug. It lived in the hallway for ten years and made us happy every time we walked on it. When the kids were little, they rode bikes on it and dropped crumbs all over it. Then Small Man developed severe eczema – at its worst, his skin was peeling off in sheets – so we had to roll it up and put it away. No fabric furnishings allowed, the dermatologist said. I sewed a cotton bag to store it in, then we packed it carefully in mothballs and crossed our fingers, hoping it would survive.

Today, more than 30 years after we bought it, we pulled it out of storage. I nearly wept when I saw that it was still in the same condition as when we’d rolled it up all those years ago. We washed the underlay and vacuumed the rug before returning it to its rightful spot in the hallway.

It’s amazing how much more I appreciate it now than I did back in the 90s! Over the intervening two decades, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with tribal and handmade textiles, but this is where it all began. And it speaks to the adage to buy once and buy well – it was an impetuous and mad purchase, but 30 years on, it still brings us so much joy! ♥

Photo from the fabulous Fashion Revolution Fanzine LOVED CLOTHES LAST,poem by Hollie McNish. (click for links)

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My young friends have a current slang term – they talk about being “woke”.

Loosely translated, it means “aware”. And once we start looking into waste and sustainability and our impact on the environment, it’s very hard to stay asleep. Whether we like it or not, we end up woke.

We started down this rabbit hole (a metaphor used by my old friends) 18 months ago, when we tried to reduce the amount of waste we produced as a household. If you’d like to read about our journey, I’ve collated all the posts here. But once I started researching, it became obvious that there were other aspects of our lives that needed changing too. It wasn’t just about finding ways to recycle our foodscraps or switching out paper napkins for cloth ones, we also needed to start questioning the clothes we bought, the food we ate, the way we voted, and so much more.

In particular, we needed to start assessing the true cost behind how we chose to live our lives, taking into account the price being paid by the environment, other living creatures and our fellow humans, rather than making decisions based on assigned dollar values. Being even a little bit woke about the current state of our planet is discomfiting, but without some awareness, there can be no impetus to do anything differently.

I know that it can sometimes feel pointless to keep trying. I drove past a bridal wear store recently and saw someone filling an entire red wheely bin with plastic wrapping, even as I was heading to Coles to drop my soft plastics into the RedCycle bin. I wondered if the efforts of our small family of four really made any difference at all in the face of fifty years of thoughtless global plastic consumption. Mind you, I’m in no position to lecture, as we have used, and continue to use, more plastic than I’m comfortable owning up to.

But…there’s no turning back now. Thankfully the zeitgeist is shifting, and folks no longer consider us deranged greenies for refusing to use cling film. And it’s a mistake to think that our small changes aren’t having an impact, because we humans are social creatures (some of us more than others) and as we talk and share our ideas, they start to spread. Now that we’ve stocked up our own green kit, I’ve started sharing the things I make with friends and neighbours. The crocheted dishcloths and mesh vegetable bags are always in high demand, and I know that the six veggie bags I sew for a friend could result in their family avoiding hundreds of single use plastic bags this year. My darling neighbour Jane arrived to pick up bread yesterday with a furoshiki, which saved a paper bag. I was sooo chuffed, because I knew she’d take that loaf home and wrap it in the beeswax wrap that I made her six months ago.

Bit by bit, we’re becoming more aware of the need to conserve resources. After months of reading and watching and trying to understand, the conclusion I’ve come to is that the biggest impact I can personally make towards reducing my environmental footprint is to simply consume less. As a raging extrovert, I find that hard to do, because I like new things. But I’ve discovered that approaching my purchases with curiosity – asking questions about where, how and why something was made – has turned me into a discerning shopper. I bring home far less than I’ve ever done before, and appreciate my carefully selected items much more. We eat less meat, purchase misshapen vegetables with glee, and recycle all our food waste via four different backyard methods (chickens, worm farm, bokashi bucket and soldier fly farm). Even if our impact is miniscule in global terms, I’d like to think that we’re making an effort to reduce our personal family footprint.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blogpost.

I’ve realised that the way we can make a difference beyond our efforts at home and within our community is to share our story with you. I know we all make decisions based on our personal circumstances, but I would like to encourage you to be woke. Ask endless annoying questions. Were the folks who made my jeans paid living wages? What was the environmental impact of growing the cotton? Was this chicken allowed to free range or locked in a crowded shed? How long does this head of lettuce take to decompose in landfill? (Believe it or not, the answer is 25 years.) Do I really need to buy water in a plastic bottle?

Try to do as many of the “re”s as possible – reduce, reuse, restore, refurbish, rewear, recondition, reclaim, reimagine, recycle – you get the picture. I guarantee you’ll save money in the process. And please, please share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below. Through discussion and conversation, we can learn from and encourage each other to keep the momentum going. And I know from personal experience that even small changes can lead to huge results. ♥

A long time ago, I worked at Reverse Garbage with the irrepressible Belinda M. She was sassy, totally adorable and had her own unique view of the world. I remember the morning she came in and declared that she was no longer a vegetarian – she’d watched David Attenborough’s “Life of Plants” and decided that they were living things with feelings too. So, true to her Italian roots, she went back to eating bolognese and lasagne.

Belinda also taught me my most valuable “fashion” lesson and over the past twenty years, I’ve rarely wavered from it. She always wore stripes (and only stripes) until one day, when she came in furious because stripes were the hot look for that season. “Dammit, now I’ll have to stop wearing them until they go out again!” she said.

She was right too. Why on earth would we want to dress like everyone else?

However, it wasn’t until I discovered thrift shopping (driven by a new found awareness of sustainability) that I found my “style”. I know I’m using a lot of quotation marks in this post, but if you ever met me and saw what I actually wear, you’d understand.

This year, we made a concerted effort to source as much of our winter wardrobe as possible secondhand. Pete, bless him, is always supportive, so he’s allowed himself to be dragged to numerous Salvos Stores and opshops. We’ve found some wonderful treasures, but they all needed tinkering with to make them our own.

Let me show you what we’ve been playing with! But first, please allow me to introduce you to Blue Rhonda, my latest eBay find and named after her original owner…

. . . . .

Pete fell in love with the cut and heavy duty fabric of this old US Air Force shirt. The entire garment is contoured for movement – the sleeves are shaped rather than a single piece, and the body is slightly tapered in at the waist. It fits him like a glove, but we needed to demilitarise it so that he wouldn’t have people asking him where he’d served.

I started by taking off all the patches…

We then soaked it in a half-strength black dye (which cost more than the shirt) to remove the khaki greens and browns, while keeping the pattern. Pete’s worn it almost constantly since, as it’s the perfect layering weight for early winter. He posed somewhat reluctantly for these photos…

. . . . .

I needed a new winter coat that wasn’t black, so I was pretty chuffed to find this vintage Edward Kazas Italian wool/cashmere swing coat at Anglicare for just $25. Apart from a bit of cat hair, it was in almost perfect condition. I paid our fabulous local dry cleaners $20 to make it like new again…

Many vintage lovers insist that you shouldn’t mess with original features, but the shiny gold buttons really weren’t me, so I switched them out for funky purple ones that I found at Reverse Garbage for ten cents each. A couple of friends have commented that they look like lollies, which makes me love them even more!

. . . . .

A second jacket, this time an old denim chore coat which I bought at Uturn in Marrickville for $6.70 (they were selling three items for $20, so I picked this up with Pete’s air force shirt and the jeans below). The chore coat is an American classic, but I’m bad at leaving things alone…

…so I added a panel of the Japanese print that my young friend Luca gave me when he went off to Paris to study fashion…

…and a tiny bird patch on the collar…

. . . . .

The third piece in our three for $20 purchase were these too short Diesel jeans. I let the hems down and celebrated the fade line as part of the ongoing story of the jeans, then darned the holes with purple 4ply cotton (picked up for $2 from the Salvos) and added octopus patches (as one does)…

The patches were a gift from my lovely friend Moo, who bought them at WOMAD earlier this year. They were hand stitched in Indonesia on old Singer sewing machines…

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I turned a pair of too big linen pants and Pete’s old linen shirt into a couple of lightweight shawls…

…and a scrap of kantha quilting into a reversible poncho…

. . . . .

No winter wardrobe is complete without accessories! I was pretty happy with this one carrot ring that I picked up at the Salvos for a dollar…

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Finally, let me leave you with some wise words from the always stylish Emma Watson and the folks at Fashion Revolution…

I suspect my clothes say I’m a bit of a nutter, but you know what? I’m ok with that.

Are you a sustainable fashion shopper? We’re quite new at this, so I’d love any tips you have to share. And for more information and inspiration, check out the fabulous Fashion Revolution resources page. You can also read all their fanzines online for free at Issuu – here’s the link.

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