The Occasional Shopper: High Variety (in Green Stilettos)

Timely, it was, to receive an invitation to attend an event in aid of Variety the Children's Charity in the very same week that Carolyn Donovan's book, Greenies in Stilettos: How to save the world without really trying ( 5 easy steps) should find its way to the shelves (with a stop at Mary Ryan's Milton store). And then to meet and make new friends with whom you can exchange discourse about things such as the National Disability Scheme? Well, what a treat.

The event, you see, was a swap party (a "Swap&Shop" to be exact) hosted by the family behind Alpha Car Hire at the Princess Theatre, Brisbane. Emceed by Image Boutique stylist Sara-Hatten Masterton, who wore an impressive sequinned jacket in jewelled tones, the sounds of brother/sister duo Rebecca and Ric Kneen, along with vocalist Alex Vickery, serenaded the stylish young crowd into a frenzy of fashion-for-a-cause.   

Citing The Council of Textiles and Fashion Industries of Australia, which reports that women under 30 buy, on average, 102 items of clothing a year (perhaps some contributing more to the sum total than others), the event's coordinator Ivana Nikolic encouraged invitees to think about increasing the life cycle of their clothes.

"Without a doubt the increase in clothing options means that more clothes ultimately end up in landfill and are probably only worn a handful of times," she said. "Swap&Shop means that we can breathe some new life into these items, which would otherwise be forgotten."

It's a sentiment captured delightfully by Donovan in her newest book, which aims to awaken the sleepy shopper from a consumptive stupor and enter a state more commensurate with environmentally friendly values.

"I love shoes – oh, how I love shoes – and adore clothes," writes Donovan. "However, it's my complete obsession with upcycling that has those around me pointing Greenie at me. My sheer love for the discarded, unloved or overlooked – a swatch of fabric, broken jewellery, an animal, a child, a party dress, or even a chair – has driven this passion ever since I can remember."

Trivial much? No, says Donovan, whose earliest recollection of upcycling saw her mother cutting up her own skirt to create a summer smock for her daughter, who lives by the dictum, 'Everything deserves a second chance', and who urges her readers to take to their ecological duties with urgency. Like, now.

"The effect of one person bringing her own bag to the supermarket may seem inconsequential in the global context, like a tiny drop in the bucket. But think about this: if we all bought our own bags, the total impact would be enormous... Magazines, television commercials, newspaper articles and billboards all tell is how to live 'green' by buying things... but what most of us really need are fewer things!"

Michelle and Eamonn
It's in this spirit of minimilisation-meets-measured acquisition that the girls sorted, spruced, submitted and swapped their clothes at the Swap&Shop, the perfect mix of motivation and music. In attendance were Michelle and her son Eamonn, who has been aided by the provision of a special wheelchair by Variety, which would have cost the family upward of $10,000 if it were not for the charitable gesture. 

"Getting the chair means so much, because I can now move him from room to room on wheels, I can take him outside with the kids, he can sit happily in the chair for periods of time, he can join us for dinner and just hang about and help me cook," said Michelle. "It makes life more fun for him and heaps easier for us."

Eamonn, she says, is easy to love – an easy child. But while Michelle's mum has been a hero, Michelle works part-time and cares with her husband for their four children, and they need all the extra help they can get. 

"We would love to have someone help out with therapies, with giving Con and I some respite, perhaps," says Michelle. "It's such hard work doing the little things for him. Every meal, every toilet, watching his breathing, anticipating illness, watching his temperature, it's just endless. While you love your child, the simple things feel like Everest."

In her concluding chapter, "Opening Your Eyes Wider" Donovan cuts to the core, the intersection of where our beliefs and actions work themselves out, as we do anything from shopping to battling peak-hour traffic to caring for other human beings. 

"Language, gender, nationality, religion, taste in fashion, food, music, you say tom-may-to, I say tom-ah-to... a multitude of things divide us in this world, but there is one thing that unites us: the deep inner knowing that treating another human being with injustice is wrong. Call it humanness, compassion, or the ability to walk a mile in another's shoes."

Though her tone is more one of gentle persuasion than intimidation, Donovan doesn't mess with home truths. 

"It is amazing – and beyond sad – when cost cutting measures allow people to force unthinkable acts of injustice on another human, while we, the consumer, wander blissfully unaware through the comfortably, climate-controlled, brightly-lit shopping centre, deciding which item to purchase... ". 

It's this generosity of spirit toward others that perfectly encapsulated the Swap&Shop event, with its egalitarian approach to swapping (no hierarchy of labels = first in, best dressed accessibility) and goodwill at its core, which turned an otherwise chilly winter night into one of warmth. 

To see one of the girls (in the white shirt, pictured) bestow a gift on Eamonn, who threw himself into its unwrapping with abandon, was the cherry on top of the three-tiered cake (music, fashion, charity). The footprint we leave behind isn't just ecological, after all, but how we treat things, and people, big and small. 

You can buy the GWAS-recommended book Greenies in Stilettos at Avid Reader. And you can offset your Carbon Footprint at

See also:
Carbon tax – environmental martyrdom?
Book Shelf: Carolyn Donovan, Chooks In Stilettos

Girl With a Satchel


Ais said...

I would love to have a local shop & swap here :)

Elle said...

I've always found it fascinating how everything in life is inter-connected. And I think sometimes I treat these connections like cogs and gears; parts that need to be greased and fixed to keep humanity ticking along. You're very last sentence made me think and remember that the 'things' that are connected are people, and that everything we do, can and does effect people, many who we'll probably never meet.
On another note, I feel you teased me a little with your introduction...anything coming our way on the NDIS? I'd love to hear what Variety & Michelle have to say on theatter.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Elle, what an engaging and insightful comment! I very much love the quote by Spencer W. Kimball, "Love people, not things; use things, not people". The NDIS might be a means to help people with things - such as mobility and the living and enormous medical expenses associated with disability - but in essence it's about connecting people to US, the able-bodied, able-minded people in full and glorious health who have all the choice in the world. I posted a 'Satchel Review' taking in the NDIS, but might do more on it. Michelle was truly inspiring... the picture she paints is not one of happy-ever-afters, but 'this is hard and we need help'.