Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Every city has a personality. An attitude. A style. What might your geographic area look like, embodied?
For Bellingham, it might be a 20-something in wire-rimmed glasses, sipping tea at a coffeehouse, earphones in, a book open on their lap.
But perhaps most notably, a pair of Doc Martens straight out of 1985 on their feet, a denim jacket wrought with holes from age and the kind of eclectic jewelry you’ve never seen in a store.
I am not a sociologist and this is not a sociological study, but when trying to nail down Bellingham’s exact “style” and how and why it came to be that way, I found what I believe to be the heart of the matter: There is heart in the matter.
Clothing has always been a personal outlet for Bellingham fashionista Ginger Gionet.
“Ever since elementary school, my hands have been full of rings. I had all the different colored Converse,” Ginger said. “People knew me because of my style.”
Ginger is a 20-year-old Western student originally from West Seattle. She spent a few of her teen years living in Italy where she became inspired by the Italian’s fashion-focused culture.
“It just altered my view on clothing,” she said. “I realized how fun it is to dress up and that you can wear this stuff every day. You can wear high heels every day if you want to. It’s up to you.”
In September 2018, Ginger went to hang out with a guy she’d recently been seeing. At his house, she met one of his roommates, 21-year-old Eloise, Ella, Gibson from Portland, Oregon. The two talked after they noticed each other’s outfit and found they had a number of shared passions from travel to sustainability to fashion.
“Soon, I totally forgot about the boy,” Ginger said, laughing.
Ella is a well-traveled yoga instructor whose primary passion is to make moves toward a more sustainable fashion industry. Ella saw the amount of excess and overproduction in the industry when she worked for Nike in Portland. She noticed it wasn’t limited to that brand alone. She left Nike with bigger goals and a more environmentally friendly workplace in mind.
Soon after meeting, the girls started their own brand and secondhand store called Rugged and Reclaimed. The business took off organically from the outset. These girls hit Bellingham right in its second-hand heart.
Rugged and Reclaimed started with an Instagram account, where amateur photographer Ella and first-time model Ginger conducted photo shoots in thrifted clothes they were trying to sell.
The girls developed an intriguing aesthetic. Ella’s photos are well composed, artistic and professional. Ginger is holistically sexy and intriguing. She’s tall, dripping in homemade jewelry and comfortable in front of the camera.
It’s no wonder the clothes they’re marketing in these shoots sell well with the talent Ginger and Ella bring to the table. The selection is also spot on for young people in Bellingham. While the stylish clothing would likely sell no matter what, the artistic finesse the girls add give the brand a unique, personal touch.
Rugged and Reclaimed has the merchandise people are looking for in thrift stores in this area: vintage Levis, silk slip dresses, oversized denim jackets and Carhartt pants for a steal.
Although Bellingham has a particularly grungy-chic fashion sense, these days the “thrift-store-chic” style exists in many fashion cultures. New sustainable brands are emerging left and right with increasing light being shed on the negative environmental impacts of the fast-fashion industry. Everlane, JUNGMAVEN and REFORMATION are a just few eco-friendly brands popular right now.
Fast-fashion empires like Zara and H&M are trying to make moves in the right direction. In 2018, Zara released their “Join Life” campaign, which is a collection of clothing made from recycled and or sustainable textiles. H&M released a similar “Conscious Collection” years before.
But according to an H&M press release, the brand still produces over 600 million garments annually. That excess has a destructive impact on the environment which cannot be negated by choosing organic cotton and recycled wool alone.
That’s where secondhand pieces take the stage. If you buy something secondhand, you’re working to take a piece of clothing out of the fashion cycle. You’re keeping it from ending up in a landfill and keeping yourself from contributing to the environmental impact of buying brand new garments.
Apps like Depop and Poshmark make it easier than ever to find stylish pieces for lower prices. They’re especially helpful if you find yourself overwhelmed by the size and quantity of chain thrift stores like Goodwill and Value Village. Bellingham also has a number of smaller, more accessible secondhand-store alternatives like Buffalo Exchange and Ragfinery.
Thrift and vintage being the trendy, if not preferred, clothing in Bellingham has made this area especially fruitful for a business like Rugged and Reclaimed. Nearly all the items people buy from Rugged and Reclaimed are one-of-a-kind which.
The girls have pop-up sales around town and monthly rummage sales in their brick-and-mortar store, which is actually in Ginger’s apartment. The girls have curated just the right environment to sell their clothing in that space.
At the sales, there is Rugged and Reclaimed artwork made by Ginger’s cousin, Caroline May, framed and pinned to the walls. String lights and vinyl records dangle from the low ceiling. There’s tea on the stove in the kitchen and one corner of the living room squeezed with mirrors. It feels like my college apartment. It’s personal, it’s genuine. The outgoing duo greet you with a smile at the door.
As shoppers pick things up, it’s clear how in-tune the girls are with each item. Ginger casually mentions of having “found that top at a vintage shop in Italy.” Ella tells someone she “picked that bag up at a thrift store in Portland last summer.” And that’s the very idea — each piece has a history and a story, just like each person.
“Fashion is a form of self-expression,” Ginger said. “You wake up every morning a blank slate and say, ‘Okay, who do I want to be today?’”
For Ginger, fashion is about dressing from the inside out. It’s about wearing clothing that makes you feel confident rather than wearing an outfit because it appeals to others.
A pair of friends at the rummage sale bring a pile of clothing into the bathroom, giggling while trying things on before stepping out into the living room for feedback. It feels like a laid-back party or a classroom discussion — a chorus of opinions but overall a lot of support.
The Rugged and Reclaimed set up is a thoughtful alternative to traditional shopping. Everything is comfortable, unique and just a bit edgy. And that of course, sounds a lot like Bellingham itself. ∆
See the original story here.