Sustainability Spotlight: Sage Schwer
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Sage, I’m from Jersey City, NJ and I grew up downtown. I’ve always had an interest in fashion— my mom was in the industry which was definitely an inspiration of mine. I went to college for Fashion Merchandising at the University of Delaware. I’ve always loved being active, going on adventures, and experiencing new things.
What are your favorite Jersey City spots?
For food I would say Taqueria, it’s the most authentic. Or Pet Shop, it’s a great vegan spot and bar! For clothing, I would say Another Man’s Treasure. It’s a vintage store— all of their vintage is top-of-the-line and displayed in an awesome, gorgeous way.
What is Porch Finds, and what inspired you to start it?
Porch Finds is an online secondhand store aimed on focusing and encouraging a more sustainable consumer culture and to empower all people to embrace their individuality.
I started Porch Finds when I was in college, studying Fashion Merchandising. My program always focused on the environmental and sustainability aspects of the industry, which exposed me to the negative affects of fast fashion. This made me view stores I had previously shopped at differently. I had an internship the summer before my senior year as an Assistant Buyer for a huge corporate company. Getting an inside look exposed me to their fast fashion-like practices and solidified that I wanted no part in a company whose practices didn't align with my morals and values. It was that experience that made me realize that I would love to buy for a store, but one that was my own and sustainable. I thought, why not do it right now? I asked my friends if they'd like to join in and together we transformed my dingy college porch into a little boutique with a chandelier, carpet, and a mixture of our vintage and contemporary personal pieces. That's how we got the name Porch Finds. From there I decided to pursue it more seriously after college and although my friends are no longer major roles in the company, they are always very supportive of the brand!
What are the goals of Porch Finds?
Our brand goal is to inform consumers and encourage them to live a more sustainable lifestyle in regards to fashion. It’s also to encourage people to embrace the uniqueness of secondhand and eliminate a potential negative connotation.
I also reduce the process of secondhand. I find and sell well-priced, beautifully curated pieces that you can still afford. Down the road I would love to have a truck that I travel around the country with (sustainable somehow, with solar panels maybe?) and do pop-ups, educate people and grow the brand from there. I would love to go thrifting everywhere while traveling.
Can you explain benefits of buying secondhand?
I mean there are a lot. It’s more sustainable and you’re not giving into an industry that supports child labor, unfair wages, and unsafe labor conditions.
Other benefits are that you have unique pieces— that you can go out knowing that you won’t see anyone else wearing the piece that you have. So the individually of it but also the morality of it. Most secondhand places are individually owned so you’re supporting small businesses and independent retailers over large corporations.
Can you define fast fashion for us?
Companies producing micro trends at low quality costs with cheap materials. Overall it’s when companies create this consumer mindset that trends are out of style so quickly because they introduce you to new trends so quickly. The only way they can do this is by using cheap materials that will not last. They purposely use low quality goods because if it breaks after 3 washes, it’s already 3 weeks out of style, so you can’t have that, you know? And the only way that they can support this process is with low wages.
Can you speak to how fast fashion is a human rights/feminist issue?
How can you buy a shirt that says “Feminist” when it's actually made by a woman in Bangladesh who was compensated measly cents for a day’s work? It is ignorance at the end of the day, so putting out information is important. People need to actively seek out information about where your clothes came from and who actually constructed your garment.
You focus a lot on the environmental impact of fashion.
It takes 1,800 liters of water to make one t shirt. That’s in the whole process, dying, growing cotton— it’s major. Think about how much stuff is produced everyday.
Can you tell me about the circular vs linear clothing economy and where porch finds comes in?
Porch Finds interrupts a linear economy of raw goods to eventual waste, and Porch Finds interrupts that line. We turn it into a circular economy, where someone would sell/donate their clothing to be reworn, and the cycle continues. They can resell their clothes to be reworn by someone else. I’ve gotten more into reworking pieces. I would recommend people going to a local thrift store, selling at Buffalo Exchange or your local thrift store. I would also consider taking donations of cool things if you have things you want to get rid of.
Major problem with donating clothes in those donation bins, is that they are sold in other countries. Many of the clothes you donate are actually just turned into rags. I think it's important that to find a way for people to recycle their clothes.
Which retailers have you found are biggest perpetrators of fast fashion?
Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Zara, Topshop. Then there are others that people don’t really talk about like Fashion Nova, which is undoubtedly bad. If it’s that cheap, there’s a reason why. People want to claim ignorance over wondering why they are able to source something so cheaply.
[ Editor’s note: Cognitive Dissonance: the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. People love finding a “steal” and can blindly operate without actively questioning and seeking out information as to why these products can be sold at such a low cost. In reality, most people likely know they are contributing to the subjugation of other humans and endorsing that behavior by supporting the company, but would rather claim that they don’t know what is happening overseas.]
People aren’t educated on the subject. As long as the information is out there, then if you decide to still shop at these companies, then that’s your decision. But you have to live with the fact that you’re taking part in the oppression of children. Fashion already has so many things wrong with it, and you don’t have to add to it. We are going to encourage a more conscious generation.
One cool thing that happened to Porch Finds?
One of the first pop-ups that we did. My friends and I had a band perform, it was a huge party for thrifting. We collaborated with another brand called And Again, coming together, hanging out, shopping and learning. Other things have been cool like getting reposted by celebrities, but that was the first major milestone.
Do you have any tips for people looking to start businesses at a young age?
Just don’t be afraid to start, and that everyone makes mistakes. You don’t need a degree or specific education in any subject, just Google it or YouTube it. Just really dedicate yourself to it. If you want it, you can learn it and make it.
In what other ways do you practice being sustainable?
I don’t eat meat, that’s a huge factor. I take public transportation. I walk and bike everywhere. I’m just being more conscious in general, thinking about everything.
How can people buy your clothes?
My website, porchfinds.com, and I have shops on DePOP and ReLovv [apps]. I’m always doing pop-ups— if you check our Instagram we will post about where we will be. A typical pop-up is at a singular business. I’ve done markets that are run by Jersey City companies and organizations, and gone into businesses that I think would be a cool fit. I’ve done them in bars, coffee shops, gyms, etc. Or I’ll do it in a vintage store, like Vintage on First in Hoboken, NJ. Currently we have two racks at The Vintage Alley in Verona, I highly recommend you check it out.
One takeaway that you want readers to start doing after reading this article?
Look into industries that you support. Don’t allow yourself to just accept things into the bits that you know. Pay attention, and question; if something is so cheap, ask yourself why.
Cover photo credited to @suspencepho