The Stories We Wear

When did you last wear that?

The much-loved local company, Patagonia, recently made a short film titled the “The Stories We Wear.”

I have to admit I loved the concept.  In an era when we constantly shop and constantly dispose for new trends, the thought of wearing an article of clothing for 15 years is almost, shall I say, romantic.

In the film, several Patagonia customers shared tales of surf shorts, hiking gear, and cold weather jackets that they’d cherished for two decades, repaired endlessly, and passed down through generations.  The original form of recycling, one could say.

As I sit and write this column, I’m wearing a pair of pajamas that my mom once wore.  She gave them to me when I went to college.  I wore them through undergrad, grad school, and since then, on trips around the world, working.  The waist is beginning to tear, tatter, and show the elastic band.  They slip from time to time and there a few holes cropping up.  Yet, I just tie the knot tighter to keep them upright.

It’s hard to dispose of them.  They’re not just PJs to roll around the house in; they’re PJs that I wore baking cookies, hanging Christmas lights, making pancake breakfasts, and watching movie marathons growing up.  They are the stories of my childhood, and perhaps, that’s why I find it hard to toss them.

But it’s also about how clothes used to be made.  They’re one of the few articles of clothing left in my wardrobe that are made in the USA and have lasted for so many years.

So, that’s why this holiday season as more and more people flock to stores in search of sales, I wonder if we could substitute those sales with stories.   Why not give something that has the potential to be a story in itself one day, to be more than a hand-me-down but an heirloom.

Perhaps, it is the minimalist philosophy – “we only need so much” – that enthralls me.   But when we live in a world of “more, more, more,” I find myself gravitating to less.  Fix it, sew it, love it, clean it, and recycle it.

In the short film, one of Patagonia’s loyal customers, Christo, actually returns a pair of board shorts to the company.  He says, “with mixed emotions that I return these boardies to you after 15 years of outstanding service.”   Abused and loved, the boardies eventually needed repair.  The bottoms of the shorts started to tear and fall apart (after countless surf trips around the world); so, Christo replaced the fabric with that of a beach umbrella.  The striped bottoms are eye-catching, needless to say.  But, most of all, he sewed a new story into an epic pair of shorts.

Another one of Patagonia’s customers, Kristin, has hiked over 10,000 miles across the United States solo.  However, she always has her trusty “friend,” she says – a blue fleece, striped hat that she’s owned since she was 9 years old.

Sure, the film is a great marketing tool for Patagonia.  But it’s also part of the company’s ethos, which they’ve turned into a formal recycling program (The Common Threads Initiative):  return any worn out Patagonia gear (like Christo’s board shorts) and the company will recycle it into new fabric, new clothes – and new stories.

Two years ago, on Black Friday, the company ran an ad in the New York Times, advising customers to think twice before making a purchase (even though Patagonia is a retail company, essentially selling stuff).  The ad stated that the Common Threads Initiative was created:

 “to lighten our environmental footprint, everyone needs to consume less.  Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality.  Customers need to think twice before they buy.  Why?  Everything we make takes something from the planet we can’t give back.”

Yvon Choulnard, founder of Patagonia, said, “The economy we live in is marked by “not enough.”

It’s tricky, though.  We think we don’t have enough.  Yet, reality is we have more than enough.  Just think of all the tales one piece of clothing can provide: it’s in abundance, actually.

So, what are the stories you’ll be wearing this holiday season?

This originally appeared in the Ventura County Star.


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