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The Moral Wardrobe: A Denim Miracle

Everlane Top and made in USA denim Everlane Top and made in USA denim Everlane Top and made in USA denim Everlane Top and made in USA denim
Ethical Details: Top - Everlane; Jeans - Karen Kane (made in USA, similar); Belt - thrifted; Shoes - Frye (some styles made in USA)

Let me tell you about these jeans.

For the last several years, I've been on a somewhat noncommittal hunt for ethical jeans that actually fit my body type. I have wide hips and a relatively narrow waist and it seems like all the "cool" small, ethical brands make jeans for straighter figures. For that reason, I've tended to fall back on American Eagle jeans despite their less-than-stellar production standards, justifying it by purchasing dark wash, mid-rise styles that I can wear for years.

The only problem is that American Eagle's quality has gone waaay down since the last time I bought jeans there. So I went on a frantic hunt around the mall looking for an alternative. On a whim, I walked through Belk, checking the labels of a half a dozen jeans before I came across these, by Karen Kane. Produced in the USA out of imported fabrics, they're not the pinnacle of sustainability, but at least they check off one my boxes.

This was the only pair left, not my typical size, and listed as $89.00. I tried them on anyway and they fit. I worked up the nerve to throw down nearly $100 at the checkout counter (I can spend a hundred bucks no problem online, but I have trouble facing that price tag in person), but then the clerk said, "Your total comes to $25.00." Suppressing my surprise and childlike glee, I paid up.

Sometimes you reluctantly make the better choice and the Heavens open up and reward you for it.

Grove & Bay Makes Conscious Consumerism Compelling + Accessible

Grove & Bay new online ethical retailerThanks to Grove & Bay for sponsoring this post. 

"The World's Best Shopping Experience for Conscious Consumers"

Chris Welch, the founder of new online ethical retailer, Grove & Bay, is best described as a pragmatic idealist. He wants global change in the manufacturing industry as much as the next conscious consumer, but he knows that simply slapping some fair trade goods up on a website is not enough to create a sea change.

It has everything to do with the foundational questions. 

Instead of asking, "how can I convince people that fast fashion is bad?" Chris asked, "what makes educated, empathetic consumers choose fast fashion over more conscientious retailers?"

Let me unpack that a bit. I think that most of us in the conscious consumer community are preoccupied with that first question. We think that if we just provide enough detail about the state of the fashion industry - about sweatshop labor, factory collapses, deforestation, and widespread pollution - that people will obviously change their shopping habits. We push brand stories, even to the point of selling narratives more than products.

But research shows that our assumptions simply aren't true, and that over-selling the ethical narrative can even push people away. People, by and large, don't change their habits when introduced to troubling data. In fact, they might just dig in their heels and deny what they hear.

But people do respond, very favorably, to an attractive, easy shopping experience. 

That's where Grove & Bay comes in, bringing education, quality, price point, and user experience together for an overall experience that will give fast fashion retailers a run for their money. This isn't your quaint, run-of-the-mill ethical retail website. This is sophisticated, thorough, and, most of all, clear.

Grove and Bay Fair Trade Ethical Retail

How Grove & Bay is Different

Style First, for Women and Men

Grove & Bay understands that a brand story can only go so far. Clothing and accessories must be stylish, wearable, and high quality or they're not truly sustainable. After all, what's the point of "choosing better" if the item is ill fitting, scratchy, or poorly constructed? Grove & Bay aims to limit their selection to styles that people will want to grab again and again, for years to come. Plus, they carry both women's and men's styles on one convenient platform.

Transparency Guide

Grove & Bay researched over 1,200 ethical and eco-branded items to select the best of the best in the industry. Rather than organize collected data using a badge system or secondary menu, each product's ethical designations are available on the individual listing's page for both ease of access and absolute clarity. Love a top but wonder what makes it "ethical"? Scroll down to its Transparency Guide and learn everything you need to know.

Ethical Fashion on a Budget, Grove and Bay

Sizing Tools

Each item at Grove & Bay has been measured individually so you can be sure that the thing you ordered will fit when it arrives at your door. Their cool sizing technology also lets you compare items in the shop to ones you already own so you get a sense of silhouette, not just measurements.

Affordable Prices

Conscious consumers everywhere know that one of the biggest barriers to shopping ethically is price. Grove & Bay is committed to showcasing affordable goods, with all items ranging from $12 to $120.

That's all well and good, but do they carry things people will want to buy? 

Grove & Bay wants to focus on classic-but-not-dated, casual style. Think your GAP or J. Crew shopper. Their introductory product line includes offerings from Amour Vert, Etiko, Alternative Apparel, Passion Lillie, United by Blue, and more, with brand launches every month. They're also the only US-based online retailer offering Thought (formerly Braintree) Clothing, one of my favorites.

In an industry that's been trying, with some futility, to change hearts and minds by focusing almost exclusively on the makers, I'm thrilled to see a company successfully marrying maker stories with consumer interests. Though it can be discouraging to realize that empathy alone won't change the world, the sooner we can collectively make smart choices, the closer we get to authentic, sustainable change.

That is worth celebrating. 

And that's why I'm sure I'll be one of Grove & Bay's first customers. More than a product or a mission, the Grove & Bay model is smart, appealing to both aesthetic and ethical sensibilities, and maybe - hopefully - bridging the divide between hardcore ethical shoppers like me and people who would make better choices if only they had the resources and the time to do it.


Grove & Bay launched yesterday! Be one of their first customers...

Shop Grove & Bay here.

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What I'd Say About Ethical Fashion if I Met You on the Street

ethical fashion and generosity

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who I hadn't seen in awhile and she said something regarding my blog that has stuck with me:

"Maybe it would be a good idea for you to move somewhere where people are less concerned with being intellectual so you can know what it's like in the real world." 

I'd taken this to mean that my approach on this blog can seem inaccessible, even judgmental, to those living outside of my specific social circle. To give you some context, I had just been complaining about the Type-A, aggressively driven culture of UVa and Charlottesville, how it exhausts me while also pushing me to strive for more. In many ways, it's a great thing to be surrounded by people who are obsessed with going after their dreams. But it inadvertently creates a culture of judgment and misplaced expectation because it assumes that anyone who isn't doggedly pursuing something "important" (it's easier to tell what's not important than what is important around these parts) is lazy, or maybe not very smart. And those things, in this context, are very bad words.

When I first moved here, I had no idea what I wanted to "do with my life" (now, I think we're fooling ourselves if we assume that there is only one thing we're "supposed" to do). When people asked me, "So, what do you do?" I couldn't give a satisfactory answer. "I'm a barista" or "I work at a screen printing company" were not adequate in the eyes of these driven, high-minded people. I'd get a blank stare and then a follow up, "Oh, but what do you want to do?" I wanted to yell "That's not what matters! I matter! See me for who I am, now."

I fear that maybe I can come off as a "What do you do?" person. 

As blogging became more central to my life, I started to get more respect and fewer blank stares. "I write on ethical fashion" or "I collaborate with social good companies" sounds like a real thing, believe it or not, and the academics among me could relate it to the type of work they do. On the one hand, it's nice to have a project that forms part of my identity. But it also makes me prone to becoming the type of person who values people only for their labor and not for their being.

And maybe sometimes, it makes me seem like the type of person who would judge you for not living according to my standards.

So, let me be clear...

If I met you on the street, I would not tell you that you are bad, or not good enough. 

If you asked me "what I do," I would tell you my spiel, "I write on ethical fashion and manage a thrift shop," but I wouldn't then expect you to engage in any particular way with that information.

If I met you in the store or at church or at a university event, I would not try to guilt you into embracing my lifestyle, or pretend that I had it right. Don't get me wrong: I love to talk about ethical fashion with people who seem genuinely interested. It gives this project some validation in the real world. But I don't ever want to give the impression that because I am living a certain way that I expect you to do the same.

In the tiny room that is this blog, the conversation is different, sometimes more intense.

But you - the reader who keeps coming back - are having this conversation by choice. You entered this space of your own volition. 

If you're a woman stopping into the thrift shop while your brother's getting his weekly transfusion at UVa Hospital or a volunteer hoping for a little camaraderie during the week or a fellow parishioner at a weekly dinner, you didn't ask me to talk to you about this. I respect that and I honor you.

I believe that people have the responsibility to live according to high moral standards and encourage others to do the same. But accountability comes as relationships mature, not in the beginning.

So if I meet you on the street and I'm not living up to the standard of inclusion and hospitality that I strive for, you have permission to tell me so.

And I'll try my best to not ask you what you do, but what you enjoy and how you spend your days. You matter so much more than the work that you do can ever let on. I've sorry if you've ever been told otherwise.