I quit subscription boxes.

A pile of cardboard shipping boxes with the text 'it's not you it's me'.

My first subscription box was at Quarterly. Quarterly gets really neat people and businesses to curate boxes of cool stuff every quarter. You buy in at a set rate (like $50 per box) and select your curator. Their box gets shipped to you and the items within are totally secret to you until they arrive.

It’s a great concept. I jumped in when one of my favorite blogs, Unclutterer, was getting in on the action. It was exciting! Like Christmas! A box with secret items on my door step. And I liked the idea that these were selected by someone whose opinion I valued. The objects within would be worth my money.

But soon the novelty wore off. I had $50 of items to help me organize my home, but they weren’t all things that I would be able to use. Or return. I canceled before my next box came.

This is the problem with these subscription services. If you’re not familiar, they’re showing up hot and heavy on the internet lately. It’s a model very similar to Quarterly (described above), but with different products. There’s clothing, makeup, accessories, toys, pet treats, meals… all kinds of things. Selected for you by the experts at these companies and shipped to your home.

The companies are nice enough. My experience with Stitch Fix and Dia & Co., two services that evaluate your style and send you five clothing items to try, were great from a customer service standpoint. (And each of them shipped me items made in America when I asked if they could!) The folks at Blue Apron were kind, too, when I canceled after my first week. The food wasn’t too shabby, either.

But the clothes are never quite right. One or two items will be okay… or I’d have to settle on one article of clothing so not to lose my styling fee. (The fee is $20 you pay initially, which gets credited to the price of an item you keep.) Blue Apron had meals that weren’t really my style (or had nuts in them, but those are easy enough to omit or avoid) but I tried them anyway.

Here’s my core issue. It’s something that can’t be erased by the fuzzy happy feeling that is “I’m getting a special package in the mail with a surprise inside!” Nor free shipping. Or coupon codes.

These companies employ experts to handpick a package for me. But… they’re not experts on me. How could they be? I am one lady out of thousands. The allure of asking an expert to pick something especially for me is tempting but it’s a hard fantasy to deliver on.

I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “Yes! Nailed it!” and end up with five new clothing items in their closet. I’m sure there are people who thrive in the structure a food delivery service gives them. Who are excited about new makeup. New toys. New stuff. But I can’t seem to find a groove. Usually it’s a hit and miss.

I think I’ll keep to being my own personal shopper. I know what I like to wear and what I can eat. If I see something in a store, I can make a decision about it without having it shipped to my house first. There are a lot of wonderful things on the internet that I’ve enjoyed doing  and buying – this just isn’t one of them.

As for all the subscription services I’ve listed above, just remember – It’s not you. It’s me. Thanks for trying.

Fast Fashion

I’m not much for fancy clothes. I wear stuff I like that makes me feel comfortable. And I don’t tend to go shopping unless I need something. For example: my black ballet flat shoes I’ve had for like six years finally wore out when the toe had a hole in it. I noticed it when I walked through a puddle and water came gushing in. If you look at my clothes, it’s a lot of the stuff I’ve had for years. I wear things until they fall apart.

Maybe it’s because we didn’t grow up with much. Maybe I’m just low maintenance. But I know it has something to do with my awareness of how fashion works and the industry that manufactures it. Thanks to the internet and to the owners of small, local clothing businesses, there are things I can’t unknow.

It started out with my attempts to find items that were made in America. Several years ago all I could find was clothing from American Apparel. American Apparel was based in California and I bought shirts from them for years. But when the head of the company turned out to be kind of a skeezeball, I stopped buying.

I would ask the question when I was in stores. “Do you have anything made in America?” It was nearly impossible to find anything in any large commercial chain. Just blank faces and shrugs from the staff.

Why was I asking? Because goods made in America meant I was supporting people here, in my country and community. I associated it, too, with quality. I’d had stuff made in far-flung countries that fell apart too quickly. I was content with keeping my dollars at home.

What made my quest nearly impossible was the fact that manufacturing had been largely outsourced to cheap labor overseas.

Not long ago, we made clothing here. Check out this old commercial from the 70s that celebrated American made clothing:

 

Somewhere along the way that changed. We shipped it all overseas and these nice ladies and men lost their jobs. And yes, sure, now some other human being is being paid to make that article of clothing. I think I’d be okay with it if I knew they were being paid fairly and in good working conditions. But a majority of them aren’t. News stories in years past have documented how large manufacturing shops have collapsed or had fires break out that left workers injured or dead. The wages these people receive are meager at best. By buying these clothes, we perpetuate a system that is exploitative and unfair.

When you’re at the mall and you see shirts for dirt cheap or giant sales, realize the manufacturer planned for that. So to make any profit at all, the amount they must pay for labor and materials has got to be impossibly low. Some people might say, “hey, that’s capitalism” but paying someone just enough so they’re not technically a slave doesn’t sit right with me.

Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert. I’m not saying I have the answers. And I’m also not saying I’m 100% perfect. I don’t make a lot of money and sometimes the shoes or purse or whatever I own were made overseas. I’m not preaching perfection. I’m saying we should try to be more knowledgeable. We should care. We should adjust our habits where we can.

I have seen a resurgence in made in America goods. Fair trade clothing items are becoming more common too. Again, with the internet, you can find more information and shop clothing that is more in line with healthier manufacturing practices. There is a potential to fill your closet with clothing that is not to the detriment of others.

I’m sorry if this is soapbox-y. I just care about this. I think we can all be a little better with some extra consideration.

If you want more information about fast fashion and common manufacturing practices, check out the documentary “The Real Cost”. It’s on Netflix streaming. For more information about ethical fashion (or eco-friendly fashion, another thing I try to incorporate into my buying habits) check out ecouterre.com.

I promised gift/holiday shopping ideas. Here are some websites.

Before we get into the sites, just three things I want to note first.

1. Shop early. Especially if you’re shopping online. We live in the future. Do not procrastinate.

2. Consider small businesses first. Surely there are independent stores where you live that sell the same items as big box stores. For an example, in Rice Village in Houston there’s a nice man who runs a kitchen supply shop called ChefMarket with the same exact gadgets and accessories Bed, Bath, and Beyond does. Support small, local business!

3. If you can’t shop local, at least save yourself some money. Coupon codes and deals are so easy to find. …you need two sites: slickdeals.net for deals, retailmenot.com for coupon codes. Also, do not be afraid to google. Type in the item name and brand, shop around. See where you can get a good coupon and maybe buy it there! Okay, on to the good stuff.

Small gifts (coworkers, friend of friend) and stocking stuffers.

Yes, Target does have many small convenient items, but year after year I always find myself looking at two places: The Container Store and Restoration Hardware. Not places you think of when you think gifts, but every year they provide a diverse amount of reasonably priced goods that are unique. It’s nice to give people something that is memorable. …maybe it’s useful, maybe it’s not.

Container Store tends to be more handy like this Tea Bag Buddy (holds in heat, manages the stringy bit, gives you something to squeeze the extra water out when you’re done!) or this re-usable cutlery set.

The holidays are the only time I approach Restoration Hardware for anything. The rest of the year they sell distressed bedroom sets and arctic fox fur BEAN BAGS. Not even kidding a little. But during the holidays they have great gifts. There’s a fair amount of items for ourdoory types like this swedish firesteel and a lot of items for kids like this prank kit or this voice changer. And the packaging is this wonderful retro style I adore.

General gift giving.

Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, based in New York, can only be described as every fun thing you could imagine. It is awesome. (If you live there, check it out, they say the website is just a fraction of what they offer. If you live in Houston, check out Candylicious for similar fun times. I used to work there and the owners are good guys.) From Glow In The Dark Stars to this classy metal flask to this beautiful foosball table they seem to have something for everyone. 

Fishs Eddy is a charming shop out of New York City that does dishes and serveware. Their stoneware has fantastic personality and vibrant colors. And, having purchased their wares before, I can assure you they pack items very well for shipping.

-Ohh, if I could, I would just shop at Crate and Barrel. Everything is just fantastic… and while there are some pricey things, a lot of their stock is affordable while not sacrificing design. Their holiday season collection is great (food/decorating/etc.), and they offer just a really solid selection of general home goods. The kitchen section is nice, but it isn’t unique by any stretch. (See my note about shopping local and price hunting!) If you’re looking for something a little younger feeling, check out their trendy sibling shop CB2. I love these tree bookends!

Uncommon Goods is somewhere between lovely airport gift shop and rampant silliness. There’s jewelry, home decor, books, toys, gifts for new parents, art, and more. Their gift guides are usually pretty spot on, so use them to look around the site. I got this whiskey stone set for my father-in-law last year. This bonsai forest is pretty neat and the idea of an emergency clown nose just makes me laugh.

Etsy, etsy, etsy.

Etsy is this wonderful marketplace of fun and diverse goods. There’s art and jewelry, yes, but there’s a lot of functional items here too… crafted by hand (for the most part) by an independent artist. If you have time, consider looking around etsy to give a truly unique gift. Here’s a round up of shops and items I’m a fan of.

Kim Westad makes beautiful porcelain pottery. Her pieces often have incredibly detailed dots forming patterns and texture. Her whirl bowl is one of my favorites.

Lulu Bug Jewelry does silver pendants with colored concrete (!). It makes a neat visual effect. This little leaf necklace is small but cute. Jewelry doesn’t need to be huge to be interesting.

-There’s something very northern about Western Art Glass. It’s fish and leaves and just nice stained glass art. I like these leaf earrings and this fish seems like something my dad would hang up in his office.

Gnome Sweet Gnome pretty much just makes these kleenex box whales. I mean there’s a couple other things, but… whale!

Standard Design does quirky prints. I’m a fan of ‘Hello Darkness My Old Friend’. Also a bumper sticker.

Avril Loreti has modern home goods and accessories. Like these paint chip table runners!

-The Dichroic Fused Glass Jewelry by ccvalenzo is truly art. Mostly nature scenes, they look painted in shadow on top of glass tiles, like little scenes dangling around your neck. There’s a lot of gifty stuff in this shop.

Pica Pica Press is just quirky nerd jewelry. Weeeell, for the most part. I like these Pacman earrings and these triforce earrings really could pass as cute, normal jewelry to those not-in-the-know.

-Finally TippyThai Bags. I’m not normal one to squee over purses, but I like these bags A LOT. Like this one. And this one

I hope all these links give you a starting point. And if all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask someone what they want. They’ll appreciate it!