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Thrift stores can yield awesome like-new stuff for reasonable prices, if you’re patient and willing to dig through racks of clothing.  Shopping at Buffalo Exchange on Telegraph for the first time this semester was a magical and eye-opening experience for me.  I walked in feeling completely crapulous at the tail end of a fairly awful week, and walked out two hours later with a twinkle in my eye and spring in my step, clutching a bag stuffed full of cheap new clothes.

The buy counter at Buffalo Exchange.

Michael's roommate calls this phenomenon "retail therapy".

Buffalo Exchange essentially buys, sells, and trades used clothing.  It, like several other thrift stores in Berkeley, is based on the premise of recycled fashion.  Keep in mind that we are not talking old-lady puffy-paint applique holiday themed sweatshirts here:

You know the kind I mean.

You know the kind I mean.

Rather, thanks to the discerning eye of the store’s buying team, shopping at Buffalo Exchange feels akin to raiding the closet of an older sister, cool aunt, or best friend.  Every item in the store is unique, and the merchandise changes constantly.  Low prices make it affordable to experiment with new pieces that I might otherwise not be daring enough to try.  Pieces such as:

Polka-Dot Skirt, Express, $8.50

Polka-dot skirt, Express, $8.50

Party dress, Roxy Rox, $12.00

Party dress, Ruby Rox, $12.00

Brown top, Express, 50% off at $3.25

Brown top, Express, 50% off at $3.25

Mock-tweed jacket, La Belle, $9.50

Mock-tweed jacket, La Belle, $9.50

Black fitted jacket, Arden B., $14.00

Black fitted jacket, Arden B., $14.00

Green hooded vest, rue21, $11.50

Green hooded vest, rue21, $11.50

I am particularly stoked with my discovery of the $12 strapless Ruby Rox dress.  I recently paired it with on-sale shiny black peeptoe heels from going-out-of-business Shoe Pavilion on Shattuck, $2 bold red hoop earrings from Wet Seal, and black nail polish from the dollar store.  I felt quite glamorous, with a punk-rock sort of edginess.

Katherine’s Tips: How to shop at Buffalo Exchange

When you first arrive, it’s tempting to want to buy twenty things in one go because they’re all so cheap.  Just be sure to follow these ground rules to avoid complete anarchy of the wallet:

  1. When you decide to buy something in the fitting room, first make a mental note of the maximum price you would pay, then look at the price tag.  Compare the two.  If your price is below Buffalo’s, buy the item.  If not, save your money for a better discovery.
  2. Remember that some items would be steals if they were new, but are only mediocre deals when you consider that they are used.  In these cases, save your money for actual new clothing from an actual new clothing store.
  3. Before your final purchase, inspect the clothing for damage and wear.  Nothing deflates consumer surplus more than finding out that half of the sleeve of your new jacket is falling off.

Like any great store in Berkeley, Buffalo Exchange does its part to help the environment.  In addition to the resources you inherently conserve by not demanding the production of new textiles, the store encourages customers to bring their own bags.  Buffalo Exchange also holds an annual Earth Day Dollar Sale, wherein certain items are a mere dollar, and the proceeds go to nature conservation.  As if you needed any more incentive to get shopping.

Buffalo Exchanges Tokens for Bags program donates five cents to one of several worthy charities when you bring in your own bag.

Buffalo Exchange's Tokens for Bags program donates five cents to one of several worthy charities when you bring in your own bag. (Flickr credit: jvree)

Jealous?  Don’t despair if you don’t live in Berkeley — there’s likely a Buffalo Exchange near you.  You’ll probably walk out with the same twinkle in your eye and spring in your step, cheerfully asking Buffalo Exchange, as I did, “Where have you been all my life?”

Ecoist.com sells handbags and accessories made from repurposed candy wrappers, food labels, movie posters, billboards, and other materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfills.  Their collections are designed by artists from around the world, and are manufactured in non-sweatshop, free trade environments.

We believe that style comes first.  However, by promoting our brand, we hope to enhance the planet, elevate consumer consciousness, and transmit our values, not just our sense of style.

Ecoist.com

Ecoist’s bags are pretty pricey at $25 – $150 for any bags approximating a practical size, though they do carry other items and have periodic sales.  You can do what I do and window-shop by signing up for their email newsletter.  You’ll be entered in a monthly drawing for a free handbag; besides, the newsletter is just fun to look at for the adorable and innovative designs they carry:

Coasters, Subway collection, $18

Coasters, Subway collection, $18

Coin purse, Sprinkles collection, $22

Coin purse, Sprinkles collection, $22

Baguette, Coca-Cola collection, $48

Baguette, Coca-Cola collection, $48

Small Tote (made from a movie billboard), One-of-a-kind collection, $48

Small Tote (made from a movie billboard), One-of-a-kind collection, $48

The LBD, Confetti collection, $60

The LBD, Confetti collection, $60

Francisca, one-of-a-kind collection, $84

Francisca (made from soda can tabs), one-of-a-kind collection, $84

The Daily, One-of-a-kind collection, $158

The Daily, One-of-a-kind collection, $158

Ecoist’s website also has a photo gallery that offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at all of the work that goes into making one handbag:

Coca-Cola bottlers provide off-spec labels that could have otherwise end up in landfills.

Coca-Cola bottlers provide off-spec labels that could have otherwise end up in landfills.

The labels are cut according to design specifications.

The labels are cut according to design specifications.

Each piece is folded individually to create a module; modules are interlaced to create braids which are then sewn to make bags.

Each piece is folded individually to create a module; modules are interlaced to create braids which are then sewn to make bags.

The zipper is placed and the bag is complete.

The zipper is placed and the bag is complete.

Look to Ecoist’s website to learn more about their business model and philosophy, the variety of media coverage they’ve gotten, and of course, all the collections and products I didn’t have space to cover.

Apparently this is 2007 news, but it’s news to me and to a lot of people I’ve talked to: the Australian government has decided to ban all incandescent lightbulbs in the country by 2010 to encourage the use of alternatives like CFLs.

Those had better be fluorescent lights, Sydney.

Those had better be fluorescent lights, Sydney.

CFLs are more expensive than incandescent lightbulbs, but they use about 1/5 of the energy (less energy is wasted as heat) and they last longer, so your energy bill can be lower in the long run.  In fact, my physics professor last year mentioned that when he was suprised when he traveled to Morocco, a relatively poor country that you’d think could not afford the high initial cost of CFLs.  In fact, it turns out that everyone in Morocco uses CFLs because they can’t afford the high sustained cost of running incandescent bulbs.

Nowadays, CFLs come in all shapes, and they dont cast a harsh light like old fluorescents did.

Nowadays, CFLs come in all shapes, and they don't cast a harsh light like old fluorescents did.

One common concern about CFLs is that they contain trace amounts of mercury.  I’ve heard that CFLs don’t have enough mercury to pose a danger to the consumer (unless you’re a total moron and run over to a broken bulb, inhaling deeply), but I suppose that disposing of them properly could be a concern.

Do you think that Australia’s move to ban incandescent lightbulbs is an example of a government taking positive steps to address the environment, or a decision best left up to individuals?