Oh this? Thanks, I got it on sale. You won’t believe how cheap it was! When the heck did American’s start doing that anyway? Bragging about a deal, finding a sale.
What Determines Worth
In the 90’s my Dad managed Grossman’s, a recycling plant in Ohio. I loved going to work with him. He was a proud Dad. “This is my Daughter” he’d say, introducing me to the people working the plant floor.
I vividly remember, watching the workers sorting. Standing atop groups of gigantic bins, they all seemed to have perfect aim. Synthetics were balled up and pitched to the right bin. Cottons to the left. Jeans straight ahead. One hand grabbing, the other throwing. Clockwork.
When Japanese businessmen came to town, they came to Grossman’s to dig through the bins. In search of Big E Levi’s, made before 1971. They used to pay big bucks, several hundred dollars a pair for used jeans. Mind you, that was in the early 90’s.
At the time, I remember thinking, why?! Dad told me, “They want to dress like James Dean for karaoke night back in Japan.” Craftsmanship has a long history of respect in Japan. For these guys, only the best vintage denim would do. Yep, American Levi’s.
That was my first understanding of value. While synthetic “fashion” clothing was hitting the scrap bin, the classic American workhorse, Levi’s jeans, demanded big bucks. Both were vintage but only one had worth. Supply and demand. Capitalism.
So why, do you ask, does this matter to you?
You Are What You Buy
Where do you see yourself in twenty years? Even if you haven’t thought that far ahead, big box companies making the cheap stuff, have.
Remember this add? The one where a cheap lamp gets thrown out and you get teased for feeling bad. This commercial was an award winner because it hit on something deep in us all.
One, what we buy and what we own, is a statement of who we are. Two, we associate feelings, memories with things. Right or wrong we do. Yet, cheap stuff never seems to hold onto much feeling.
How to Buy Products That Last
Flash forward to 2016 and you’ll find one of the best spokesmen for purposeful ownership in Portland, Oregon. Old Portland Hardware & Architectural Owner, Bret Hodgert. A staunch advocate for the workhorses of American craftsmanship. Something that’s clear whether he’s talking Levi’s or lights.
Bret literally cringes, at hearing “I got this for $10! Can you believe how cheap I got it for?!” The confusion of value for a deal.
“That’s like comparing apples to rocks. Old stuff isn’t for everybody. So I totally understand for a lot of people it’s more important to get a good deal then it is to get something that will last forever, or mean something. To a lot of people this is not their thing. It still crushes me every time I hear that.”
Often that conversation evolves around plastic. So is plastic, the throwaway material, all bad?
“It’s not that plastic is bad. I just don’t get any feeling from it. I don’t walk in, run my hand over it and think ‘there’s something more you’re not telling me.’ Plastic is not a good conduit for stories or history. It ‘s cheap, fast and easy to make. So it’s used to make a lot of pop culture stuff. Pop culture is in the moment, instantaneous and then it’s gone. People that collect toys are doing it for nostalgia but they will never use it again.”
On the flip side, Bret points out metal, wood and particularly glass are resilient. These are the materials, used to make products, intended to last.
Over time wood get dirty, dinged, bumped and scratched. The scars of age. Metal and brass rust and corrode. Yet they all can be restored and hold function.
Now, glass, glass is fascinating. It might crack or break but unlike metal and wood, when it’s cleaned properly it still holds its original form.
In other words, an item with a mix of metal or wood and glass gives you both character, function and original form. Fascinating stuff when you think about it.
Still not convinced. How about the idea that the memory of you can pass on to the things you own?
Your Impact On The Things You Own
Purposeful ownership isn’t just about avoiding plastic. It also has to do with looking to the future. When something is made to last, there is a very good change, it will exist beyond you. Your story now becomes a part of the history of that item moving forward.
As we care for and pass on products made to last, we impact their story and send our story forward. A perfect example.
Two lamps hand in Old Portland Hardware & Architectural from the same era. The one of the left (first image), the patina if time was allowed to set in and show. On the right (second image), the owner removed the aging by polishing the lamp within an inch of its life.
Both are beautiful, both function and hold great value after many years. Yet they have a very different glow and character.
One shows the hands of time, while one shows the hands of its owner. That owner, the one who polished away part of the value of an antique, is now part of that’s lamps story. Part of the story Bret will pass the new owner.
Would you rather have your story, pass down to the next generation or sitting out on the curb in the rain?
All this week and next, ALOR will be featuring Local Portland Businesses, Owners, and their teams. Come back tomorrow for a look at Reverend’s BBQ and how a dedicated team stuck together and became a local favorite of in Sellwood.