This post arose from a gifting experience in my office yesterday. A dear friend and coworker is leaving our plant science office for a much colder climate and had recently lopped off all his dreadlocks. As a parting gift I went on a mission on behalf of the work crew to buy him a beanie to warm his naked head on his new life adventure. Finding a last minute ethical/sustainable beanie purchase in the subtopics is a difficult task and I was wary that my idea of how much a garment can cost differs from those who I work with.

After a serious and unsuccessful hunt for something in a price range I thought that my fellow coworkers would appreciate I ended up giving up and going for the option I knew would work. A $49.95 Vege Threads beanie from You the Earth & Me. Of course this beanie doesn’t really look any different from a beanie you would find for $5 at Kmart but I felt better buying something that I knew was the ethical and environmentally responsible choice. However this pride of  purchase was soon diminished by the fact I was going to have to find a way to tell my coworkers that I purchased a $50 beanie that looks no different from a $5 beanie.

My coworkers are a super intelligent and very stylish bunch but the thought of telling them I spent that much on a beanie was a bit daunting. Not because they are unethical or not environmentally minded (hey they are all environmental scientists), just that most of them shop for clothing out of necessity. When they do shop they seem to value functionality first and foremost because they don’t want to have to come back and shop again, and secondly an item needs to be the right price. This in it’s own right is a very sustainable way of shopping because you get it right the first time, wear things for their entire lifespan, and minimise the amount of energy wasted on shopping trips. It also means that all the people in my office have their own distinct personal style and they know what they wear and what suits them. For some of them the $50 I spent on a beanie might be their entire years worth of clothing purchases. Like a new shirt when their old ones have worn out. On the flip side this idea of an annual spend of $50 would have seemed unthinkable to my previous fast fashion coworkers who would spend this much a week to be dressed ‘in uniform’ for the store they work in. Two very different worlds indeed! 

When I sheepishly told the folks at work I had bought a ‘very expensive Eco beanie’ for our friend the starting price guess was that it cost $100 dollars. Fortunately every subsequent guess saw looks of relief until we worked our way down the the $50 price guess mark. They were understanding and supportive of the purchase but I know that my idea of an items cost vs. worth might be different from theirs.

Every time the idea of cost and worth crosses my mind I think of the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic (a guilty viewing pleasure of mine) and the scene where Rebecca Bloomwood is trying to scrape together enough cash to buy a ‘desperately important scarf’ she saw on sale for her job interview. When trying to get cash back on a cheque from a hot dog vendor to make up the remainder of her scarf purchase, the dashing money magazine editor Luke gives her 20 to stop holding up the queue. She tells him with exasperation that he just paid $23 for a hot dog and he quips ‘cost and worth are very different things’.

For me the cost of the beanie was high, very high, but the value of our planet, its environmental flows, the care and fair wages of the garment workers who made it, and the support for the Australian designers who were brave enough to start their ethical business, was worth far more to me than any price tag.

It’s important to remember that money is a gift of gratitude. When you pay for something you are saying thank you for a product and/or service. If my choice was to buy from Kmart and thank them for providing low prices possibly at peril of those that manufactured and the future of our planet, or to thank and support a local business who stocks ethical product by shopping at You the Earth & Me and opting to buy a Vege Threads item.

The same principle applies to any other areas of your life where money isn’t always the main cost. Today I took a container with me to collect some items from a deli. Unfortunately most of the time when you ask to have items put in your own container the people serving you look like you are mad. The cost of doing an eco action like this can be your dignity (if only for a moment and especially if there is an impatient queue behind you). For me, knowing that I am doing my bit to cut down on landfill really is worth the cost of looking like a weirdo-plastic-hating-hippie for a brief moment in time. It also makes me hopeful that someone else will notice my act of eco bravery and do the same on their next shopping purchase.

What are your thoughts on cost and worth (or confessions of a shopaholic if you want to talk about that 😃). Have you ever given it much contemplation? Please share your stories and thoughts with us below.

Love hearing acts of eco bravery that have occurred at the possible cost of loosing face.


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