The social hub of Orcas Island concentrates itself in two places: on the ferry, and at the market. The fashion trends of Orcas permeate from these places as well. I say this in all humor, but the truth is, the number of times I’ve walked into the produce section of the grocery store and seen an eight-year-old I’ve never met wearing my childhood clothing is astonishing. In an extremely resourceful community, consignment stores, thrifting, gifting, and trading clothes dominate the “fashion scene” of Orcas.
Recycling clothing to friends, or friends-of-friends, is mostly seen within parent groups with younger children. As growing kids cycle through clothing sizes in a matter of months, they’re passed on to younger family friends. The cycle continues until eventually the item of clothing is worn through or donated to a thrift store. Until the point where the clothing is discarded, the young adults and teenagers of Orcas Island will often find themselves face-to-face with a kid wearing one of their much loved childhood clothing items.
These thrift stores are the backbone for much of the island fashion. Other than little boutiques scattered around town, the local exchange and consignment shops bear the heaviest load in supplying clothes to islanders. Consignment stores offer not only an opportunity for islanders to purchase sustainable and affordable clothes but also offer a small source of passive income for locals who donate their clothes. As donated clothing sells, the donors receive a small share of the profit back in the form of store credit.
Youth in the islands find most of their clothes thrift shopping. Otherwise, it’s either online shopping with unreliable and expensive shipping costs, or a 12-hour trip off-island to visit a fast fashion store. (Dictionary definition of fast-fashion: A store with constantly changing inventory, and constantly changing designs to keep up with the trends. Low prices plus the constant manufacturing strain make this business model very hard on the planet.) An unfortunate, yet common side effect of off-island shopping, is the realization that maybe a leopard print shirt was not the fashion statement you thought it was, beginning the dreaded and return process. The draw of the island’s secondhand shopping not only stimulates the local economy but helps encourage responsible spending for teens.
Orcas is a wonderfully individual place, with creativity and unique quirks that all of us love and do our best to foster. But the practice of secondhand clothes shopping doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t have to be, solely an islander’s practice. Secondhand clothes shopping and the process of gifting or trading old clothes with friends enrich our connection to our community and the people in our lives and is kinder to the planet. Next time you or someone else you know finds themselves in need of a new pair of jeans, ask them (or yourself) if there are options for them in their area other than buying something new from a fast-fashion store. A local secondhand clothing store could always use your support.