February 17, 2023 | OPINION | By Esabella George
It all started with a girls’ trip to the bathroom at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. “Woahh, Esa, she’s got a Melly skirt on.”
“What’s a ‘Melly?’” I responded. Usually, I know my clothing brands.
“Melanzana…The outdoor brand.”
The girl chimed in: “Yeah, I went to Leadville at the end of this summer for it,” she said as my friend motioned for a photo of us. We smiled: The filthy fraternity sink right beside us.
I remained confused. I did not know what a Leadville was and still lacked the slightest indication of what a Melanzana was. I was a freshman and it was early September; I had never lived in Colorado before. Why was the skirt full of tiny little fleece-like squares when I felt it?
I stopped thinking about it quickly, probably the moment I rejoined the dance floor, but within the next month, I would encounter many Mellys quite frequently. The word would occur casually in conversation, so I just started nodding my head along, pretending like I fully grasped what it was and that I was in on the grand secret of it.
Then first block break came: camping with a former High Mountain Institute student who brought a light blue fleece layer with some yellow lining and a yellow hood. She started referring to this fleece as her “Melly” from none other than Leadville, Colorado, the location of HMI. I put two and two together, and realized it was that same product I had smiled beside in a picture just a few weeks prior. Now here it was, being described to me as a Colorado outdoor wear “essential.”
Do I consider these essential? Absolutely not. However, after almost a year and a half of encountering them and one visit to Leadville later, I can say that their business model and much of what they stand for is transformative and a step in the right direction for sustainable clothing brands. This appreciation for it can also coexist with my opinion that it is also important to repel any and all undertones that suggest that being in possession of a Melanzana means something of superior outdoor status.
As I would discover, those who were in possession of the most Mellys were in fact destroying the whole purpose of the brand: “Only two items per appointment.”
That understanding is not popular if you are enraptured within the Colorado College bubble that has placed Melanzana on a pedestal, in some ways framing it as the pinnacle sign of being truly “outdoorsy folk.” Unfortunately, Melanzana’s purpose has been distorted by the consumption of CC students who have co-signed onto believing that this article of clothing is a representation of loving and living outside. The pieces have achieved a negative reputation, rightfully so, as an elitist symbol on our campus and within the greater Colorado outdoor community.
They are expensive, they should not be collectibles, and they are only accessible in one small town in the world (besides the unfortunate $400 resells on eBay). Do not look to Melanzana as a necessity, but if you are interested in spending your money on a nice fleece layer and want that money to end up going to a company that stands for something, then I suggest a Melanzana.
Upon entering the store, you stand across from a group of “assemblers” who are in front of sewing machines, with tons of fabric swamping their surrounding desks, that all too familiar square fleece material scattered at their waists. You can literally watch as Mellys are made. (Wow!)
Next, you encounter a section of the store to your left that has a sort of rope blocking entry. This is where almost all their products exist within the store. There is a sign about appointments, but you don’t totally pay attention to it, because what do appointments have to do with buying clothing from a store?
That misconception will come back to haunt you later.
Then, to your right, there is a tiny, single rack stuffed with things called, “Smelly Mellys.” These appear to have a little bit of wear in them, evidenced by the subtle tarnishing of the fleece squares on the surface of the jackets.
As first-time visitors of the Melanzana store will discover, the store only allows shoppers to purchase items if they have set up an appointment in advance. And within that appointment time frame, a customer can purchase no more than two items. This felt sort of revolutionary to me when I came upon this knowledge: you’re telling me that a company has placed a limit on how much of their products can be sold? You’re saying that if someone who comes in without an appointment (like me), insists on buying right then and there, they will still turn that shopper away? Wow!
As for the Smelly Mellys, requesting only that you wash your used Melly upon bringing one into the store, they will from there assess its quality and, depending on how well it has held up, they will offer in-store credit for the jacket, or simply recycle the material if it is not quite the quality to have on their racks. So, I found myself a used Melly, a “Smelly Melly,” on a clothing rack in the back of the store. It was $40, a whole 50% less than their typical price for a brand-new jacket of $80. I tried it on; it was so cozy. I convinced myself I “needed it” for the winter season, and so I went up to purchase it and…
They turned me away because I did not have an appointment. I was furious. To be honest, I cursed them to my friends outside. I wished for Melanzana’s downfall. That was extreme of me, I admit. I just found their whole “thing” to be corny in the moment, overlooking how my reaction feeds into overconsumption and the problem of materialism that we face.
From later research on the brand, I learned that the Melanzana team is made up of 60 employees, all from Leadville, Colo., 20 of whom “own stock in the company and receive yearly dividends.” This makes the company a truly local brand; if you have the means to somehow make the trip to Leadville (luckily, I had been passing through in my situation), then you are in luck, for you can only receive a Melanzana by showing up to the single location of the store. You can only return your used Melanzana for in-store credit by physically going into the store.
This creates a larger dilemma: how does one find the means to get to Leadville? For all the good that a self-acclaimed “intentional manufacturing company” brings, it also lacks in its accessibility and allows its prices to soar higher due to its slow manufacturing model. But as their website reminds us: “In a world of next-day delivery, intentional manufacturing can feel s l o w. Slow = local jobs and functional, original, and soulful outdoor clothing.”
And then, there is “Re’Melly’d.” The website describes this as: “When Melanzana rejects fabric that doesn’t meet technical standards, it can still be suitable for use by a smaller brand.” They distribute their recycled material to other brands, creating outsourcing of sustainable materials, pushing for little to absolutely zero waste.
Here in Leadville, we call them tourist uniforms.