Q: What’s the point of buying used or recycled goods, especially when some sustainable clothes and accessories cost more than a brand new version?

A: I shared your question with two enterprising women who make a living turning “trash” into treasures. Brooke Schultz worked as a pharmaceutical representative in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina carved a devastating path across the Gulf Coast. Stripped of her possessions, Schultz developed a new attitude about material things. Recently, she and business partner Julie Golden opened a whimsical consignment store called Re-inspiration that carries quirky yard art, jewelry and home décor crafted from recycled items.

“People live in a mass-produced society,” Schultz says. “We decided to provide a space for art that was affordable and made with recycled items.”

Schultz and Golden scour festivals and craft shows to stock their eclectic shop. They also frequent Etsy.com, which features an eye-popping assortment of handmade items. Check out my previous column for more tips on unearthing green goods like a pro. I plan to makeover the old chairs gathering dust in my garage when Re-inspiration offers classes on recycled art. As for the merchandise currently on display at Re-inspiration, I’m partial to super-soft throws sewn together with old T-shirts, as well as a cheeky collection of coin purses made from plastic shopping bags.

Mega-discount chains offer plenty of inexpensive blankets and coin purses. But, as my friend likes to say, cheap costs money in the end.

“You can buy a picture frame from a neat, cheap store, but what’s the value — and what will it mean in three or four years?” Schultz says. “You want stuff to have a meaning, especially after losing something.”

Sometimes stuff that has staying power — and a cool history — is way off the beaten path. Surplus Japanese denim, remnant Italian leather and vintage U.S. military tents serve as the tools of choice for L.A.-based designer Heather Heron, so she scours the globe for sustainable fabric, sifting through old warehouses and pulling apart ancient kimonos.

“It can be a dusty, dirty job but I’m inspired to work with what’s already here,” she says. “It’s not necessarily easier — new fabric just isn’t where the inspiration has led me up to this point.”

Heron’s accessories line includes a three-piece set of leather travel pouches, feathery hand-knitted organic hemp scarves, and sturdy travel totes made with Japanese denim. Her collection ranges in price from $125 for a surf bag composed of vintage military canvas tents to $600 for a leather and hemp weekend tote. Due to the finite amount of vintage resources, each item is a limited edition, and it can take a day to stitch just one of her handmade scarves. All of her items are made in the United States.

“Most would say what I’m doing is not worth the time,” says Heron, noting that U.S. labor may cost five times as much as it would overseas. “It’s a real commitment to design in this way. My wish is that it doesn’t have to be the exception.”

I’m glad that Schultz, Golden and Heron are committed to the road less traveled. In addition to keeping items out of a landfill, they help make shopping far more interesting!

Photos: Morieka Johnson

Why should I buy used or recycled goods when some brand-new versions cost less?
As Morieka Johnson's wise friend says, 'Cheap costs money in the end.'