To some, spending money in a store is akin to casting a ballot in an election. While this is an imperfect analogy, I’ve come to appreciate it. Undoubtedly, we send companies a message every time we open our wallets to them in the marketplace. We monetarily reinforce the multiple components of their business model – from where they operate and their modes of production to who they employ and the quality of their goods or services. If you can envision a continuum of social responsibility, then different companies will occupy different places on it depending on their practices. I’ve been thinking about this more now that I’m living in the West and buying gear for outdoor activities. Here are some small choices that I’ve made to help stem the world’s bleeding, both figuratively and literally…
American Giant Classic Full Zip Hoodie: In September, I came across a company on a CBS Sunday Morning report that manufactures its clothes from start to finish right here in the United States. Yes, it can be done. The company is American Giant. Now, you won’t pay big box discount retailer prices, but you will purchase a high quality product that won’t need to be replaced in a year while helping employ some people in our country. Reading the eye-opening book Fashionopolis got me thinking more about what I buy as a consumer (and how sweatshops still exist in places like Los Angeles). Click here to watch a great interview with the author, Dana Thomas, and here for a related podcast. Anyways, the 100% cotton camouflage sweatshirt I bought is the most solid one that I’ve ever owned. The thickness and cut of the fabric, longer cuffs and taller waistband, reinforced sleeves, and stitching are amazing. No doubt, this garment is manufactured to last.
Ben Davis Charcoal Heather Beanie: This acrylic hat is warm and comfortable. It fits snugly on my head and is substantive enough for climates where the temperature drops below freezing and there’s plenty of snow to contend with, i.e. the Tahoe Basin. I wear it during my commute and then around the college even after I’ve been in the building for an hour or more. Ben Davis still manufactures some of its clothing, including this winter hat, in the United States. I came across the brand just by chance in a work apparel store last summer.
Carhartt Duck Quilted Flannel Lined Active Jacket: I’ve worn this coat on several mornings when the temperature has fallen into the twenties, and the wind simply can’t penetrate its tough, duck canvas shell combined with a warm, comfortable polyester lining that isn’t too thick. What also helps is the elastic waistband and cuffs. While I have yet to use the hood, I’m confident that it will protect me when multiple snowstorms roll into the Sierras over the winter. This United Food and Commercial Workers International Union made coat is manufactured in the U.S. of domestic and imported materials. Normally, I wear a size medium in just about everything, but here I need a size small.
Gerber Gator Drop Point, Plain Edge Knife: You never know when you’re going to need a knife while out in the wilderness. This is the perfect one to carry because it’s solid and light. The stainless steel blade locks when fully opened and the rubber handle provides an incredible grip when you’re holding it. It can be easily kept in your backpack or worn on your belt. The blade is 3.75 inches by 1.125 inches wide. The sheath is 6 inches long, 3 inches wide, and has a low profile at 1.25 inches with the knife inside. Plus, the knife is made in the U.S.A. Note: The nylon sheath is made in China.
Merrell Moab Vegan 2 Shoes: Honestly, this company has managed to combine durability, traction, and comfort to make the best shoe that I’ve ever bought. And, they’re vegan-friendly! So far, I’ve worn them on multiple hikes in the mountains of California and Nevada where the rocks are rough and jagged. They passed the test. Both the sole and upper can withstand the terrain and they feel extremely light on my feet. I have not come home with any blisters. Also, dust and dirt can’t easily permeate the top of the shoes like another pair from a competitor that I previously owned. I’m really impressed with the synthetic upper they’ve developed.
Patagonia PolyCycle Full Zip Hoodie: While I had heard of Patagonia back when I lived in Houston, I never really paid close attention to the company’s products until after I relocated. Last year, a colleague told me about their business model. Is ‘ethical capitalism’ really possible? Hmmm. We discussed it a bit and I’m still not sure. That said, they’re doing far more than most corporations in our society. For example, they use recycled materials in some of their clothing lines, repair their products if they tear or break, use factories where workers are respected, and help activists network with organizations in their community. So, I decided to buy one of their recycled polyester sweatshirts from the outlet store in downtown Reno. It’s well designed and constructed. Furthermore, the style is appropriate to wear with jeans when I teach during the fall and winter months. As a side note, I also want to recommend their Atom Sling 8L for simple day trips or meetings. It’s perfect for items like a phone, notebook, pen, camera, recorder, and snacks.
REI Co-op Trail 25 Backpack: When it comes to a backpack, there are multiple factors that I consider before making a purchase. To start, there’s functionality. Will it meet my storage needs for long day hikes, i.e. adequate space for water and food and ease of access while moving down the trail? Next, construction. Just how thick is the material and how strong is the stitching? I always look at the inside. Then, comfort. How does the pack feel against my back and the straps on my shoulders, chest, and waist? Finally, style. I don’t like any that are loud with too many straps or obnoxiously bright colors. After going to different stores and looking at numerous models from several major name brands, I found the perfect pack in the Trail 25 (and I get to support a company that cares about the world as evidenced by their annual Stewardship Report). Yes, it meets the checklist, and it costs much less than most others. Plus, it has a convenient pouch on the side where I store my canister of bear spray. I’ve owned it for nearly three years and know it can handle all different kinds of trips.
Subaru Forester: While I miss my Honda Fit, the Subaru Forester made the perfect replacement after moving to California (and now Carson City, Nevada). I’ve owned mine for over a year and it hasn’t disappointed me. I’ve driven it 75+ mph down gravel roads in the Amargosa Valley just north of Las Vegas and then onto the sand of Big Dune. I’ve driven it through blinding snowstorms on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe where the plows can’t keep up and the center of the road is about 6-12 inches deep in some places. Having all wheel drive here is imperative. The Forester handles the different conditions like a champ. In addition, its interior is spacious for road trips and hauling music equipment (e.g. a Marshall half-stack, a guitar, and some other gear) to band practice. Now, I wish it got slightly better gas mileage, but thirty-three MPG is good for this kind of vehicle. Without question, Subaru builds high quality, dependable cars. If you check the Consumer Reports Buying Guide 2020, the Forester received the highest rating of all the compact SUVs (p. 171, 178). Enough said.
As humans, we’re imperfect, and consequently, no choices we make are perfect solutions to the problems we’ve created. One could argue that our very existence is harmful to the world around us, and I’m inclined to believe this is true. However, the mere fact that you can’t do everything shouldn’t become a reason to do little or nothing. Moreover, we ought to push ourselves to be better consumers because our lifestyle choices have repercussions that can no longer be ignored.