ARE HIPSTERS SAVING “MADE IN AMERICA?”

IMG_2650

Ever since I wrote that ethical shopping post, I’ve been thinking about something.

Is it just me, or are hipsters saving Made in the America?

+++

It dawned on me while I was visiting HELM Boots for one of my writing clients. Run by the founder of Progress Coffee, Joshua Bingaman, HELM is flat-out beautiful: Inventory displayed artfully and with restraint, white like a gallery, vintage-looking darts placed just so. That’s right. Darts.

As my friend Lauren rightfully pointed out a few months ago, “we all have different definitions of the word hipster.” So let’s dispense with some of those definitions right now:

hip.ster / “HIP-ster:” noun: A typically white, left-leaning, young individual of privilege who embraces a craft/homespun/throwback lifestyle. Usage: “Did you hear about Mark’s small-batch fruit canning business? What a hipster.”

hip.ster / “HIP-ster:” noun: An individual younger than oneself whose clothing and tastes are not readily understood but are suspected to be emergent and tangentially cool and therefore provoke insecurity. Usage: “Yeah, my new social media intern rides her single-speed bike to work now instead of driving and parking in the employee lot like the rest of us. What a hipster.”

hip.ster / “HIP-ster:” noun: A social media and/or gadget-proficient individual who possesses deep knowledge of smart phone apps, often missing key vowels (ex: Snappr, Eatr, Tiny Dancr). Known to engage in said social media and/or gadget-usage while in the company of others. Usage: “We were all hanging out eating dinner and next thing you know, Mark checked us all in, shot a short video, uploaded it to Vine, and created a pictorial essay of our food on Instagram!  What a hipster.”

hip.ster / “HIP-ster:” verb:  A bar, restaurant, or store known to espouse a craft/homespun/throwback ethic, with care and attention paid to quality ingredients and/or materials and priced to reflect a clientele of at least modest privilege, except when said bar is a dive bar (see: The Brixton, Shangri-La). Usage: “This bar is so fucking hipster.”

It’s always pejorative; nobody likes hipsters and nobody wants to be called a hipster. Me?  The only hipster that truly bugs is the social media/gadget one, the one checking Facebook on his/her phone while we’re hanging out. It’s like…I guess I’m not entertaining enough for you? But that’s another post for another day.

ANYWAY. So we’ve established that the term “hipster” is derogatory, kind of like “douchebag” or “yuppie.” My personal theory of hipster hate is the fact that people assume/resent the fact that a lot of these kids come from means, and yet embrace lifestyles that call forth a thrifty era, as if they needed to be thrifty. Rather than eat out, they garden! Rather than drive and buy gas, they bike!* In short, we think they’re posers.

And maybe some of them are. Or, maybe they simply find mass market stuff boring.

Either way, I am thankful to hipsters these days, and here is why: They are saving Made in America.

IMG_2634

+++

I remember, when I was very little, watching Wal-Mart commercials that proudly proclaimed, “Made in America.” I also remember that sophisticated people ate imported stuff. Wines. Cheese. Whatever.

Now, it has flipped. Wal-Mart makes/orders things from overseas because it is cheaper. Sophisticated people eat local things.

Which proves that Made in America can be made to scale. If Wal-Mart did it all those years ago…I mean I’m not saying their stuff is CUTE, I’m just saying it can be scaled.

Anyway, Wal-Mart shocked us a few years ago when they started stocking organic produce. Remember that? Some of us were all, “really???? Didn’t know you had it in ya, Wal-Mart!” and others were all, “greenwashing! Greenwashing! Don’t believe them! Their organic is fake organic, the bastards!” It stirred up a lot of capital-s Stuff.

Scaleable, organic food is hardly a perfect system. But – as important to perfecting that system, and imbuing it with industrial integrity, is making organic mainstream to the masses. To shake off the notion that organic is elitist, and more importantly, to make organic affordable for all.

But before Wal-Mart, whither organic food?

Farmers markets. Whole Foods. Small, local grocers. I.e., the domain of hipsters.

And those hipsters with money, or “yupsters” as I’ve heard them cleverly called, created enough of a market demand for organic food for it to get Wal-Mart’s attention.

So I think we’re just beginning to see the first teeny tiny, baby bird yelps from the hipster camps regarding Made in America clothes. But once those hipsters get older, and start raising families, and start shopping for those families at the emerging Whole Foods equivalent of a clothing store…maybe Wal-Mart will catch on again.

IMG_2630

+++

Back at HELM, everything I saw was US-made. I slid my fingers along boots made in Maine, touched the caps of American Zippo lighters, heard Joshua talk about his original business, located right down the street.

I wondered then if it was possible to make stuff like this to scale. Crafted, locally- or US-made stuff. Was it like organic food? Could you make it affordable? Could you make it available to not only Austinites/Brooklynites/Seattleites/Portlandians, but everybody?

Could you make it (gulp) Wal-Martable? Should we make it Wal-Martable?

I’m asking because I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I would genuinely like to find out.

“Our stock has moved surprisingly well,” said Joshua when I asked him about the business.

“It’s like more people see what we’re trying to do here. I guess word is getting out.”

Photos: Me, attributed to The HUNT Guides. All shots of HELM Boots.

*For further reading: Stuff White People Like.