Maine Style goes shopping for used gear to save money (and natural resources)
Back in the early 1990s, Patagonia was the first major company to start turning post-consumer waste (plastic bottles, specifically) into clothing. They were way ahead of the reduce, reuse, recycle curve, and since then the world has come a long way in recognizing the way clothing manufacturers—and shoppers—have contributed to greenhouse gases and clogged landfills worldwide. Many brands are highlighting why sustainability is crucial to their business strategy. Levi’s has a line of pre-worn, “remastered” vintage jeans. This winter Target signed on to a Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. Locally, L.L.Bean touts its switch to using recycled polyester fleece in its Trail Model Fleece line as having kept almost 40 million plastic bottles out of landfills in the last decade.
But Americans still dump an enormous number of textiles every year, an estimated 82 pounds per person, according to the 2015 documentary about fast fashion, The True Cost. And no matter how careful manufacturers aim to be, there is nothing sustainable about creating something new en masse. I, for one, do not intend to become a nudist, so what’s a responsible consumer to do? This has been at the forefront of my mind as I start to emerge from winter hibernation and begin planning my spring and summer outdoor adventures. That and cost. Outdoor gear is expensive, and often a necessity for safety.
Luckily the world of resale is creating an extended lifecycle for previously loved items that might otherwise be taking up space in closets, storage bins or worse, clogging landfills. When I first met Emily Kirkton in January, it was clear this concept is at the heart of her business. Kirkton is a registered Maine Guide, and spent 10 years running outdoor education programs before opening GearME, an outdoor gear consignment shop in Freeport (475 Route 1). She has been a passionate consignment shopper for many years in an effort to save money and reduce her own carbon footprint. “I realized that there’s not much in this area that combines outdoor gear with that secondhand model,” she says. “So I decided to see if there was a market for this here. Outdoor gear is made to last forever! And so often we don’t need to be buying this stuff brand new.”
Kirkton carries base layers year round, along with footwear for all activities. In the fall and winter months she has a wide selection of snow pants, ski jackets, snow shoes and cross country skis. In the spring and summer she carries camping equipment, including sleeping bags, tents, backpacks and cookware as well as big ticket items such as bikes, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards. Where does all this inventory come from? Kirkton says there are locals who have expertise and high quality equipment, who, for one reason or another, want to move it along. “I’m getting brand new dry suits,” she says. “High-end climbing packs. Mountain and road biking shoes. We have regulars that come every week or two and take a spin and see what new things we have. Those are the ones who will catch the really good products as they come.”
Kirkton lent us some of her gear as we headed north to explore Tops’l Farm in Waldoboro, where owners Sarah and Josh Pike are committed to implementing environmentally sustainable practices. With acres of nature trails, access to the Medomak River for fishing and canoeing, and snug A-frame cabins, the experience at Tops’l falls somewhere between glamping and camping. You can bring your own food, or you can order up a s’more and hotdog cooler. It was the perfect place to test our borrowed outdoor items, from the dry suit to the hiking shorts.
When gearing up for the great outdoors, the most basic rule to remember is to avoid cotton, which wicks heat away from your body when it is wet. The best outdoor brands use materials, often proprietary, that ensure the body stays comfortable in any condition. Sometimes I’ll hike with several layers on so I can shed them when I’m working hard. Kirkton reminded me of how important that is, particularly in spring. When you get to the peak of a mountain, where it is typically windy and cold, everything goes back on. As for shoes, you don’t have to wear hiking boots (many people prefer trail shoes) but you do need a good solid sole that you won’t feel every rock through. The fit is crucial, so you don’t end up with blisters and sore feet.
Overall, I was thrilled with the gear we took for a test drive. As is often the case with consignment shopping, many items were brand new (that dry suit still had its original tags on it) or only gently worn. If you didn’t look at the receipt, you’d never know they were purchased second hand. Consignment shops tend to curate their inventory more carefully so you get a selection of pieces with many miles left in them. Being carbon conscious never looked so good.
For more detailed fit reviews of these items and more Maine fashion, head over to the East Coast Inspired blog, eastcoastinspired.com.
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Amy Power and Amanda Whitegiver are co-founders of East Coast Inspired, a fashion and lifestyle blog. Amy is a mother of two (and the model featured in this column’s photos) who spends her days dreaming of the ultimate craft room and intending to go for a run. Amanda is a lifestyle family photographer who adores dark chocolate and singing with her two daughters.