While this is dandy for formal events, if you’re like me, your idea of everyday luxury is a shirt with no visible holes and/or marinara stains. Renting something for daily wear seems far-fetched, obtuse. Not to mention, not-so-sustainable. If you’re so caught up in trends that you need to constantly update your wardrobe, the clothing selection’s rentability will diminish faster than your wallet and green cred.
Two sites that bridge the gap nicely are Mine for Nine for maternity rentals and thredUP for kid’s clothes. While we obviously don’t want y’all getting pregnant just so you can rent some flexi-pants and OshKosh B’goshes, it makes sense to quit buying clothing for rapidly changing bodies.
Christina Ruiz and Helen Ochoa don't seem to have much in common. Ruiz is a stylish, photogenic fashion school grad who owns and operates TopShelf Boutique, San Francisco's first fashion truck. Ochoa is a single mother of three, an immigrant from Guatemala who lacked a credit score and struggled for years to find a decent apartment for herself and her children. But their differences are not so vast as they seem. Before she opened TopShelf, Ruiz, too, was financially flailing, suffering from a bad credit score that prevented her from financing her mobile shop. Without access to traditional loans or credit, both women turned to the same place to realize their dreams: San Francisco's Mission Asset Fund.
The Mission Asset Fund is like a financial version of a potluck dinner: Everyone contributes something of their own, but each individual also benefits from what everyone else brings to the table. Its most popular financial product, "lending circles," formalize the peer-to-peer lending practices common in low-income and immigrant communities. Members of a lending circle contribute small monthly amounts to a common pot, which is then loaned to a member in need. The borrower makes payments on the loan just like he or she would a bank loan, only there's no interest or fees.
Borrowers are held accountable by the community -- lending circles often include friends and even family members, so the power of peer pressure ensures timely payments. Mission Asset Fund reports the payments to credit bureaus, allowing borrowers to build credit histories and win access to traditional loans. According to the fund, the credit scores of lending circle participants have increased by an average of 49 points through the program.
And if someone doesn't pay it back? Well, it doesn't happen. When a borrower is struggling with payments, Mission Asset Fund sets him or her up with intensive one-on-one financial counseling and resets their payment schedule. So far, the approach has worked every time: Spokesperson Tara Robinson says the lending circles’ repayment rate stands at 100 percent.
The program is similar in philosophy to Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and a pioneer of offering microcredit to the poor, as well as recent American peer-to-peer lending programs like Prosper and Lending Club. While the latter two for-profit companies charge interest and require borrowers to meet certain credit standards, the basic goals -- cutting out the Wall Street middlemen and leveraging the power of human interconnectivity to promote broad financial health -- is shared by all.
With mounting school loans and the uncertainty of finding a job after graduation, 26-year-old Jenny Monfore decided to leave college early and look for alternative education. At the Driftless Folk School in Wisconsin, the Bozeman, Mont., native and massage therapist studied organic food preparation, blacksmithing, and mushroom identification -- skills she hopes will augment her income and allow her to live a more independent lifestyle.
“We no longer have practical skills, we don’t know how to feed ourselves, and we’ve basically become lost,” Monfore says. “So we’re slowly building new, thoughtful communities.”
Folk school: The phrase calls to mind cloggers, birch bark hats, and strains of “If I Had a Hammer.” But these craft schools of yore are experiencing a resurgence of late, drawing young do-it-yourself homesteaders and restless baby boomers to the woods to learn about everything from organic farming to electric cars.
Neal Gorenflo is the founder and publisher of Shareable, a website dedicated to promoting the sharing economy in all its forms, from car sharing to tool-lending libraries and even pet sharing. A former corporate up-and-comer, he quit his job in 2004 and vowed to “make a world where people felt like they were part of something meaningful.”
Amy Twigger Holroyd approaches fashion with sharing in mind. In one project, she created garments that could be shared by friends with different body types. By making clothes that don’t constrict in places where people vary the most, a size six could potentially share her sweater with a size 16. Yep. Her project basically takes the magic out of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Unless you count buying a pricey sweater with the express intent of sharing it with friends a different kind of magic, which I certainly do.)
But Holroyd’s projects go beyond one-size-fits-all couture. Her PhD research on “fashion as a commons” is an exploration of how to democratize and disrupt the clothing industry. “If you’re not able to make, you’re dependent on buying,” she says. “And if you’re dependent on buying, you’re dependent on what those people [in the fashion industry] have chosen -- the quality of it, the design of it, the aesthetic of it.”
And so, under the umbrella label Keep & Share, she teaches folks how to fix and knit their own clothing, creates and sells long-lasting, sharable clothing, and hacks into cheap knitwear to send a message about the industry. Thanks to the independence of PhD funding, Holroyd is trying to figure out how to make this work in the real world without, you know, tanking her business in the meantime.
Holyroyd has been working and thinking about sustainable fashion since 2003 and describes her job as “designer-maker-researcher -- lots of hyphens.” I was curious about Holroyd’s experiments and called her up. Here’s our edited conversation.
Q. I first came across your work with sharable clothing inFashion and Sustainability. Judging from your website, your work is much broader than that.
A. My design philosophy has always been about trying to help people get more out of each item of clothing, but to do it in a gentle way. There are some approaches like creating clothes to be multifunctional -- it’s one thing then it transforms into something else. Whereas, I have always tried to take a more gentle approach. I try to create things that can be shared between purposes. So a garment which you feel comfortable and happy wearing in different situations. And also things that can be worn by different people so they can be handed down over time.
The interwebs these days are packed with sites designed to help you get rid of your old couch, offload that pile of scrap lumber from the garage, and otherwise share your stuff with everyone else on the planet. Mr. Rogers would be proud. But do we really need another "sharing" tool?
Adam Werbach thinks so. That’s why the former Sierra Club president and author of Strategy for Sustainability founded yerdle, an online sharing platform that launched in the Bay Area in November and spreads to New York City this month. He and cofounders Andy Ruben and Carl Tashian recognize that we already do an awful lot of sharing. “We just want to help speed it up,” he says. “We set out to make it as easy to share things with friends as it is to buy things.”
Yerdle follows in the footsteps of platforms like NeighborGoods and the now-defunct OhSoWe. But unlike its predecessors, it works through Facebook, connecting users to their “friends” and friends of friends. Dana Frasz, a self-described freegan and an early Bay Area yerdle user, says those fewer degrees of separation set the service apart from established giving-economy platforms like Freecycle. “You’re meeting people who know your people, but you just haven’t been connected yet,” she says.
“It seemed like every single person I met on yerdle was awesome,” Frasz continues. “Instead of just a Freecycle pickup where someone leaves [an item] on their door handle, I’d wind up talking with these people for an hour.”
“While some people have chosen to be a single parent, many more people look at scheduling and the financial pressures and the lack of an emotional partner and decide that single parenting is too daunting and wouldn’t be good for them or the child,” said Darren Spedale, 38, the founder of Family by Design, a free parenting partnership site officially introduced in early January. “If you can share the support and the ups and downs with someone, it makes it a much more interesting parenting option.”
The sites present what can seem like a compelling alternative to surrogacy, adoption or simple sperm donation.
Seattle crunches quite a bit of granola, hugs more than its allotted trees, and has the second highest bike commute rate for U.S cities. But, as of yet, it has no bicycle sharing system -- which is what all the cool, sustainable cities are doing. (I see you, Tulsa.)
Bikeshares make bicycles available to the public through a network of checkout stations, typically in densely populated areas. They can help cut down on traffic congestion, reduce pollution from cars, and act as the gateway bike for the beginners among us. Oh, and cycling makes us happy. Don’t you want to be happy, Seattle?
In January, the nonprofit Puget Sound Bike Share announced its search for bike vendor proposals in King County, Wash., bringing Seattle one step closer to a bike sharing system. But here’s the problem: No bikeshare has ever been successful where there is a strict helmet law like Seattle’s, which requires cyclists to helmet up regardless of age. (Most municipalities only require children under a certain age to wear a helmet, or have no helmet law.)
If Seattle can pull this off, it will pave a path for cities aiming provide an easy, clean mode of transportation, even while insisting that riders protect their melons.
"She's gone," the voice on the intercom said of my would-be landlady, the woman from whom I thought I’d rented an apartment for the next month. "You're too late."
I stood outside the building with my suitcase, so new to Buenos Aires, Argentina, that I had no idea of where the hell I even was. Two hours earlier, I'd arrived at the flat I’d arranged via the website Airbnb, which allows people to rent out their vacant guest rooms, living rooms, and apartments, and found the place locked and gated.
I hadn't known what to do until a man ran from the doorway of the next building, repeating my host's name and firing questions at me in a slurry of Argentine Spanish. I was overwhelmed from 30 hours of bus travel and could only nod as he stuffed an address into my hand and packed me into a quickly-hailed cab. I arrived at this mystery location, pressed the intercom button next to the door, and got a thorough dressing-down from the unseen stranger who, fortunately or unfortunately, spoke perfect English.
It would go down as one of the highlights (or is it lowlights?) of a three-month trek across South America in which I sampled all manner of websites and resources that facilitate sharing – and learned (often the hard way) the true value of human generosity.
It’s a Wednesday morning like any other, and Vicky Manalansan is speeding down the freeway toward Washington, D.C., in her silver minivan. Riding in her backseat are two complete strangers she picked up at a suburban commuter lot.
Smartphone-wielding techsters in San Francisco might call this “ridesharing,” but in the D.C. area, where carpooling has been an accepted way of life for decades, they call it “slugging.” Each day, an estimated 10,000 commuters in northern Virginia hitch rides this way. Passengers get a free ride; drivers get a free pass to use the special “HOV-3” routes, open only to cars holding three passengers or more.
“With the price of gas, and this traffic here,” Manalansan says, gesturing to the jammed lanes of 395, “it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” During the almost two decades she’s been doing this, she says, slugging has reduced her commuting time by more than half.
Carpooling is nothing new. In the United States, it began during World War II as a money- and resource-saving device. Likewise, sharing cars with strangers predates all those ridesharing apps by decades. Northern Virginia’s dedicated HOV-3 lanes along 395 were constructed in 1969, and commuters have picked up strangers ever since.
Slugs were so named by bus drivers trying to distinguish between carpoolers and people standing in line for the bus, much as they once kept a vigilant eye out for fake bus tokens -- known as "slugs." There are also slugging systems in San Francisco, Houston, and Pittsburgh. And, internationally, Jakarta has HOV-3 lanes to help with its intense traffic, though that system is not without flaws.
But slugging was born in the nation’s capital, and it continues to thrive here. The D.C. area has the second-busiest traffic during rush hour in North America, according to a November 2010 report by NAVTEQ. To avoid the congestion, approximately 13 percent of D.C.-area commuters carpool in some fashion. The number is even higher -- 18 percent -- in Virginia’s Fairfax County, where slugging began.