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From fashion to decor, Tucson shops contribute to sustainability efforts

A linen pleat-front jacket from Laura Tanzer (Courtesy Laura Tanzer)

When you shop local, you support your community. Your money goes into the businesses of friends and neighbors, of local artisans and designers, and is circulated here, throughout our economy.

Of every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $43 remains in the local economy, vs. only $13 of $100 spent at a non-locally owned business. 

When you shop local, you sustain the community, but you also sustain the environment. Local businesses are more likely to use local supplies and services, reducing transportation, waste and environmental impacts. Large corporations deliver products cheaply, but this is at the cost of high energy and resource consumption. The Jewish concept of tikkun olam means “repair of the world,” and this also translates to environmental consciousness. 

Laura Tanzer, a local Jewish fashion designer, integrates her background in fashion, sustainability, and business to create an award-winning brand that emphasizes quality. Her store, called simply Laura Tanzer, is located downtown at 410 N. Toole Ave., and her heritage, she says, is “always” influencing her work.

“I was brought up in a liberal, intellectual, artistic, creative way. Question everything. Travel. See new and different cultures. Be inspired by the ordinary. While my family was not overtly Jewish, the underlying theme for living in the world was to preserve identity. By that I mean we have strong cultural ties but we don’t act in caricature. I always knew I was a Jew. I identify as a Jew. I also identify as an artist. And I understand the power of my identity,” she says.

Her work represents a shift from fast fashion, comparable to fast food, to slow fashion, which is environmentally conscious and artisanal.

Tanzer’s production process is sustainable “all the way through the waste stream,” she says. She hires local workers and uses textiles with natural fibers, purchased from companies that operate through need-based production. She buys only what she feels she will need, keeping in mind that her creations are high quality, limited edition garments she describes as “wearable art.” Her designs come to life though a low-energy process called “digital printing.”

From the scraps of one clothing line, she creates new, one-of-a-kind pieces in another line called “Frammento,” which is the Italian word for remnant. What can’t be re-used is donated to K-12 schools for art projects.

With a clientele that extends beyond Tucson, she believes that sustainability education is highly important, and that consumers can become more conscious when they ask questions about products and don’t follow fads.

“Trends are not important,” says Tanzer.

Her shop is just one of the businesses across Tucson that help make shopping sustainable.

Tucson Thrift Shop helps consumers reduce, reuse, and recycle. Photo: Shayne Tarquinio/AJP)

Arlene Leaf, another Jewish business owner, has been in the thrift business locally for about 40 years. Her store, Tucson Thrift Shop at 319 N. 4th Ave., features costumes, accessories, and vintage clothing that has either been recycled or sourced by Leaf herself.

By buying second-hand, Leaf believes that people enforce a “reuse, recycle consciousness.”

And on another level: “It’s spirit.”

Tucson Thrift Shop has a symbiotic relationship, Leaf says, that flows between the community and the business. Leaf believes that people can connect deeply with her products, in a way that places a new value on each purchase.

“It’s when people love finding something that’s old, it’s got a vibration, a feeling,” says Leaf. “It’s got an emotional component as well as a practical component.”

People appreciate the deeper connection to community businesses, Leaf says, which is reflected throughout the businesses of the Historic Fourth Avenue district.

Pop-Cycle is packed with handcrafted art featuring recycled materials.

Pop-Cycle, right across the street from Tucson Thrift Shop, is a gallery of recycled materials transformed into art by local artists.

DeeDee Koenen, Shannon Riggs, and Jennifer Radler co-founded Pop-Cycle in 2008. Their art hits close to home, flourishing with symbols of the desert like cacti.

The desert not only influences their art, but also their mentality of sustainability. Both artists and the desert “understand scarcity,” says manager and co-owner Libby Tobey, so Pop-Cycle has found beauty by exploring the creative values of recycling and refurbishing.

“There’s an abundance of things we don’t use just from our surrounding environment,” says Tobey.

Their store is filled with handcrafted mugs, jewelry, and art prints. They sell used and vintage clothing like worn cowboy boots. Their graphic t-shirts are locally designed and printed.

Pop-Cycle enriches the community, says Tobey, who has noticed a shift toward a “local first” mentality as consumers pay more attention to their surrounding world.

Many sustainability efforts start with the basics: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift Shop finds include salt and pepper shakers, left, and spice jars labeled in German.

“Reduce the landfill, reuse what you can, recycle what you don’t want,” says Ron Creson, the manager of 1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift Store at 5851 E. Speedway Blvd.

1st Rate 2nd Hand takes in more than just unwanted fashion, including electronics, household items, and books, to help items find a new home.

In addition to reducing waste, the store supports 18 local Jewish organizations including Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Hadassah, JPride, and the PJ Library, as well as the local Jewish War Veterans post and local congregations. Volunteer hours and donations can be credited to a Jewish nonprofit or synagogue.

“We recycle a ridiculous amount for the size of our store,” says Creson. Last year, the store took in 50 tons of recycled items that were filtered back out to the community, which otherwise could have ended up in the landfill.

Reusing what’s already there is not only affordable and convenient, it’s a way of living.

“Second-hand shopping is more popular than ever,” says Jessica Pruitt, the marketing associate for Buffalo Exchange, a national thrift store chain that started in Tucson in 1974.  When clothing and accessories are recycled, those items are given “a second life,” says Pruitt, which means less waste and less consumption.

“It’s really important for Buffalo Exchange to have a positive impact in the community,” says Pruitt.

Their Tokens for Bags program reduces waste and supports local organizations. For every shopping bag that a customer chooses to forgo, they get a token that can be placed in one of three boxes, each one representing a local charity. Each token is five cents donated to the organization and each unused bag is one less burden on the environment.

“We don’t want to waste anything because there’s already so much,” says Heather Martinez, manager at Uptown Cheapskate, another clothing reassignment store in town located at 7475 N. La Cholla Blvd.

To Martinez, it’s simple: recycle.

This is not to say that if you don’t buy second-hand, or reuse every piece of scrap metal, or if you forget to forgo that plastic straw every once in a while, the world is inevitably doomed, the turtles will disappear, and this scorching desert we call home will one day be unlivable.

By paying attention to what and how we consume and interact with our environment, a more sustainable consciousness becomes embedded in the individuals, families, and business owners of our community. And every little change really does help repair the world.

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