Green Is the Color of Money: Growing a Sustainable Local Business Approach

Today I attended the monthly green business networking lunch organized by Sustainable Local Investment Partners of Spokane. The incredibly dynamic and inspiring speaker was Michelle Long, executive director of Sustainable Connections in Bellingham and also of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), a national "network of networks" for sustainable businesses.
She showed a quote from Wendell Berry; I found a longer version of it at the Unstuffed blog. It's from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (here's an Amazon link but what you SHOULD do is go buy it at Auntie's if you're in Spokane or at your own local independent bookstore to support a truly local business).
"One of the primary results--and one of the primary needs--of industrialism is the separation of people and places and products from their histories. To the extent that we participate in the industrial economy, we do not know the histories of our families or of our habitats or of our meals. This is an economy, and in fact a culture, of the one-night stand....
"In this condition, we have many commodities, but little satisfaction, little sense of the sufficiency of anything. The scarcity of satisfaction makes of our many commodities, in fact, and infinite series of commodities, the new commodities invariably promising greater satisfaction than the older ones. And so we can say that the industrial economy's most-marketed commodity is satisfaction, and this commodity, which is repeatedly promised, bought and paid for is never delivered. On the other hand, people who have much satisfaction do not need many commodities.
"The persistent want of satisfaction is directly and complexly related to the dissociation of ourselves and all our goods from our and their histories. If things do not last, are not made to last, they can have no histories, and we who use these things can have no memories. We buy new stuff on the promise of satisfaction because we have forgot the promised satisfaction for which we bought our old stuff...
"The problem of our dissatisfaction with all the things that we use is not correctable within the terms of the economy that produces those things. At present, it is virtually impossible for us to know the economic history or the ecological cost of the products we buy; the origins of the products are typically too distant and too scattered and the processes of trade, manufacture, transportation, and marketing too complicated. There are, moreover, too many good reasons for the industrial suppliers of these products not to want their histories to be known...
"If the industrial economy is not correctable within its own terms, then obviously what is required for correction is a countervailing economic idea..."
What was so exciting about Michelle's presentation: They have demonstrated in Bellingham that encouraging businesses to connect with other local businesses genuinely grows the local economy. 
After having a much higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state, they have had a lower unemployment rate over the past five years. They were recently certified by the EPA as being #1 in the nation--in the nation--for green power. They're working with local government to change permitting processes so a green building isn't a problem that goes to the bottom of the stack to be processed.
National numbers are quite clear: There's more job creation in small businesses than in the giants. In Bellingham they appear to be learning to think first about whether there is a local source for something they're used to importing, whether it's food or anything else.
This idea isn't the least bit anti-business--it's pro-good-business-we-can-live-with-over-the-long-haul.
Here's another take on our economy (and how the financial system is not the same thing as the economy), from someone far more knowledgeable on finance than I--Leslie White, a Wall Street veteran:
"Let's get to the task of facilitating the efficient exchange of goods and services, which, in the process, employs people in productive capacities so they can then afford to buy what they need. It sounds simple, and it is simple.... Every one of us can take a leadership role in some aspect of our local economies. We can buy local food, shop at locally owned stores, enjoy neighborhoods and communities, and engage in financial transactions at the local level."
Nearly 80 people at the lunch thought Spokane is ready for this kind of approach (with a few who aren't sure we'll tackle it). I hope we do.

Women’s Clothing for Biking that Doesn’t Look Like It’s for Biking: What to Wear, What to Wear

I have nothing to wear. 

As in, there are very few choices if you’re a woman looking for professional clothing that’s made for cycling (no ill-placed seams in the crotch, no fabric that irritates, no flappy wide-legged trousers or long full skirts that get caught in the chain) and that looks good when you walk into a meeting in which all the men wear ties and jackets and you’re the only person taking off a helmet and gloves.

Once upon a time I used to drive to work and hang clothes there. I now bike almost year-round so I really don't want to drive (and was never very happy with having to decide a day or two in advance what I’d feel like wearing on a given day).

In my next phase I tried riding in bike clothes, rolling everything and packing it into panniers, changing when I arrive, and changing again to ride home. I still do some of this when it’s really cold; I just keep my base layer on under my office clothes because I like to be toasty warm.

Mostly, though, I’ve changed my shopping habits to get to where I am now: If I can't bike in it, I don't buy it. I do a lot more moving and contorting in dressing rooms than I used to so I’m sure I can throw a leg over my bike and take off.

But what I really want—what I’ve started dreaming about—is good-looking clothing that no one will guess is made specifically for cycling. Only I will know about the extra comfort elements and careful tailoring. Fashion-forward options with secret gussets will get us beyond the Spandex Dork image from which cycling suffers and will help encourage more women to bike, I’m just sure of it.

Bike Shop Girl just blogged about this same dilemma. I found out because I asked her via Twitter, after a semi-fruitless Google search, if she knew of anyplace to get good-looking pants. (My search, in case you’re curious: women’s tailored clothing for urban biking—terms I arrived at after realizing that “professional” and “cycling” in the same search would yield nothing but Spandex).

The one nice-looking pair of cycling-specific women’s pants for office wear I’ve found, made by Outlier in New York City, costs $180. Gulp.

Call me cheap (I prefer “thrifty” in homage to my Depression-era parents), but I’ve never paid that much for a single item of clothing. No matter how good they look, how can I justify the investment—wear them every day? Back up to where I said I’m a woman and this is a fashion dilemma. Same pair of pants every day ain’t gonna happen.

Plus I’d have to buy online. How will I know whether I look good in these pants? And did I mention they cost $180?

The only other item of women’s clothing they offer is a merino wool tank top. Nice, but hey guys, we’re women, OK? How about a wider selection for us?

Oh, wait, I forgot. This is cycling—one of the few clothing product lines in which men will have more colors and options than women. (Also, hello again, Outlier? If you’re going to offer three color choices you have to Show. The. Actual. Colors.)

My Google search led me to this article on Treehugger that lists only 5 items, mostly for men, apparently written before Outlier added the women’s pants. Pickings pretty slim again. Swrve makes knickers for women, but no trousers. (They make men’s pants, of course.)

And seriously, knickers? It’s nice to keep your knees warm when the temperature drops but I don’t want to look like a misplaced golfer once I’m in the office in my plus-fours.

BikePortland had an article in the search results and I got all excited. It’s Portland, right? Should be plenty of stylish options there, right?

They link to the Sheila Moon site (“infuses cycling apparel with a twist of fashion”), which offers knickers in several fabrics. There’s that golfer thing again and it doesn’t change my mind just because they say knickerbockers are big with the velocouture crowd, whoever they are. I can also get stretchy yoga pants. Not so good with the suit/tie-couture crowd.

The BikePortland piece also points to Ibex, which has a slightly more promising line—at least there are the “global wool pants” that look more like trousers. Icebreaker has some pants that might work too.

But c’mon, who’s designing these sites? No back view of the pants! What is the one thing I want to know about every pair of pants I own? That’s right—do they make my butt look big?

I do like the way that mousing over the product at Ibex shows me a close-up and lets me scan—I just want to be able to rotate to the back side and do the same thing.

The product photography on these sites mostly fails. Particularly with dark fabrics, it’s almost impossible to see crisp detail. If I can’t zoom—as I can’t on the Icebreaker site—I can’t tell much about the item. You’re already asking me to trust you and ship off my money when I can’t even try the thing on. Is it too much to ask that I be able to really see pockets, zippers and stitching?

The real test almost every product I’ve found fails is the “does it look like workout clothing?” test. Visible logos, visible seams, sizing that runs S/M/L instead of true women’s clothing sizes, descriptions that include “comfortable for yoga”—these aren’t going to pass for boardroom wear.

For now I’m making do with regular clothes. My ride to work is 2.5 miles, mostly downhill. During the day I may do another 3-5 miles to various meetings. The ride home is uphill but I’m heading home so I don’t have to sprint. I’ll cover some of my clothing management tactics in a future post.

What are your clever accommodations if you’re a bike rider who needs to look polished at work?

A few related posts: