Until a week ago, a sign on a Cole Avenue building in Williamstown said Women’s Exchange, although that organization closed 10 years ago.
The building is being repurposed. The exchange was started in 1957 to help finance the Williamstown Visiting Nurses. Later it broadened its beneficiaries to include Hospice and the North Adams Regional Hospital (now also closed). The idea was to leave your used but wearable clothes there on consignment and shop there for inexpensive but often quality clothes. It helped keep textiles out of the trash.
Next to the aviation industry, the textile industry pollutes most, including waste and carbon emissions. It also uses enormous quantities of water. Its employees are often mistreated. From 2000 to 2018, global clothing production doubled, presumably setting a trend line. “Fast Fashion” refers to the industries’ successful efforts to encourage consumers to buy more as styles quickly change. As a result, the buyer wears the clothing less. And the excess is tossed.
Even without the benefit of the Women’s Exchange, it needn’t be that way. At the heart of the problem is the consumer’s overly enthusiastic response to the industry’s beguilement. It is not necessary to continually replace older clothes for new. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” Those enterprises often turn out to be an attempt to impress.
Even leaving purchasing habits aside, however, there remain multiple ways of keeping discarded clothes out of landfills and occasional ways of replacing old with new-to-you — and possibly making a new fashion statement to boot (or sneaker). In some instances you donate, others operate on consignment.
Goodwill of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont offers drop-off at multiple locations and shopping at several. The Salvation Army has stores in Pittsfield and North Adams.
In addition, member municipalities of the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste Management District host Salvation Army bins at the locations residents use to drop off their trash and recycling. One World Center maintains bins in Cheshire, Williamstown and Windsor. Williamstown residents might remember the International Institute for Cooperation and Development, which once worked out of a property on Hancock Road. In 2013, IICD, now located in Michigan, changed its name, but still operates the same way, volunteers cruising its Michigan neighborhood to collect money for their work abroad. The clothes OWC receives are repaired and sold in developing countries.
A Better Community, located in the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, collects clothes, many shucked by Williams College students, and sells them on occasion in Williamstown. The income supports several local charities and keeps cloth out of the trash.
Nature’s Closet on Spring Street in Williamstown has a consignment section, primarily outdoor gear. Local Consignment and Boutique opened briefly at 131 Water St., once the home of the Mountain Goat. The shop specialized in women’s clothing.
This partial directory is skewed to North Berkshire, but presumably similar opportunities exist throughout the county. In Berkshire, where Zenas Crane formerly collected used cloth from local households to make into paper, the mantra ought to be: never throw out textiles.
At least, that’s the way it looks from the White Oaks.