Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability

SUSTAINABLE STYLE & ETHICAL LIVING

inspiration: fair trade florals

florals
florals by stylewiseblog featuring fitted dresses

Featured Items (clockwise from left): Nomads Summer Halter Dress, Mata Traders Primrose Dress, Reformation Peony DressEthica Elysees Dress, Ash & Rose Cherry Blossom Dress

I had settled into a nice minimal wardrobe, content with my Everlane tees and dark wash jeans. But, one day not long ago, the trees in the median of a nearby street suddenly bloomed dazzling pink and now I just want to wear bright florals to chase the last bit of winter away. 

Solid colors have their place - and they're essential building blocks if you're someone inclined to prints - but it's a season for pattern and I'm so excited to dress a bit more feminine after being on a menswear kick for the past few seasons. In reality, I'll be depending on thrifting and accessorizing for floral accents. I don't think I can justify overturning my wardrobe (or my budget) to make way for half a dozen new dresses.

Oh, and by the way, I'm using the Style Wise facebook page to post interesting articles and fair trade sales. There's a lot of interesting stuff happening in the world of retail right now.

interview: Jess Burt of rePURPOSE

interview: jess burt of repurpose

Today I'm interviewing Jess Burt of rePURPOSE. Jess and I got in touch after my guest post on Rachel Held Evans' blog and I'm so glad she reached out, because her company and its mission are awesome. rePURPOSE makes fabric accessories out of upcycled and domestically produced fabric with a mission to help trafficking survivors. Read on for more information.

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Tell me a bit about yourself. 


I am a creative, sarcastic, extremely social and super active person. I don't sleep much between raising my two girls, and owning a photography business and rePURPOSE. Last year, my husband and I renovated an old 1800s farmhouse in northern NY, one of the snowiest places in the country. I love dancing, thrifting, reading, tattoos, playing Catan, hunting and of course, Jesus. 

Was there a particular moment or event that prompted you to consider where your clothes and accessories came from? 


I read the book, "Passport through Darkness" by Kimberly Smith, founder of Make Way Partners. Which, by the way, is the most gut-wrenching and eye opening book I've ever read. It changed my life completely. The book mentions a woman from Sudan who made little handmade crosses. A visiting American Pastor brought the crosses back to his church and started selling them to raise money for the woman. This became her business and created sustainability for her. I had NO clue about fair trade until I tried getting online to find this woman's business. Instead of finding her specific business, I found an entire network of fair trade companies and organizations. I also discovered the horrors of how our products are typically made in other countries. I watched documentary after documentary on slave labor, then I read every article I could find on it. I took a quiz that same week about my slavery footprint (take the quiz here), and discovered that the number one culprit in my house was children's clothing! I decided I would stop buying new at all costs if it wasn't made in the USA or another country with fair wages. Obviously I have to make an exception once in a while, but I try my hardest not to. 

repurpose accessories slouch beanie
Upcycled sweater Slouch Beanie by rePURPOSE, worn with a Nomads tunic and secondhand jacket

Why rePURPOSE in particular? What gave you the idea to reuse t-shirts? 


I tried hosting events to raise money for organizations I was passionate about, until a friend said to me "If you had something to give people, they would spend more money" which is sad, but true. I wanted to create a small business to make a little money for these organizations. I am crafty and I love accessories, so I got on pinterest and found some great DIY ideas. 

The problem I had was finding craft supplies or fabric that weren't made in China. I didn't feel right using materials made from people in terrible conditions, to basically turn around and donate it back. It would be completely contradictory. Trafficking and poverty go hand in hand, so by supporting unfair labor, I would be supporting the trafficking industry. I chose to use old t-shirts instead, which meant when I shopped at the local mission thrift stores, my money would go back into the community. After a couple of months my little "side" business took off. We have continued to come up with new and better ideas, and now I have this full-blown business which is taking over my life! 

How are items produced? 


We have a tiny workspace at my mother-in-law's spa in Watertown, NY. I have a great group of about 20 women, some volunteers, some paid, who help me when I need it! We have shelves and shelves of used t-shirts, fabrics, lace, buttons, yarn, etc! We shop at thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets to find all of our materials. Some women make the products at home, while others join me in our little workshop. 

Because we are now getting into wholesale, we had to create a way to produce larger quantities of some of our styles, so we use a fabric company out of North Carolina to make our newer prints. Everything else we create is still from used materials. All of the web design and processing is done by me, and thankfully, I was able to hire a marketing director last year! 

repurpose accessories

Where do you see rePURPOSE headed over the next few years? What professional and ethical goals do you have for the brand? 


I would like to see rePURPOSE grow into a large enough company where we can profit hundreds of thousands of dollars to just give away! My other goal is to eventually have women in need get paid to create the products, whether they are rescued from trafficking or living in poverty. We are in the VERY beginning stages of this right now by reaching out to some of our international contacts. I would love for every single part of this business to make a difference in someone's life, from the production to the profits being donated. 

Anything else? 


Since another important part of rePURPOSE is to raise awareness, I encourage you to check out the organizations that we support. They are The Exodus Road and Make Way Partners.

repurpose accessories

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Visit rePURPOSE on facebook and instagram!

the moral wardrobe: evening light

shadow filigree
ash and rose lattice top
sseko designs sandals
evening light
Ethical Details: Top - Ash & Rose; Cardigan - Seamly.co; Sandals - Sseko Designs; Earrings - Mata Traders

Ah, warm evening light. I love the glow of early evening and the shadow filigree it creates on every surface. 

I've really overbooked myself over the past couple weeks and the madness doesn't end until May, so I've been struggling to keep up with everything and maintain sanity. I've resorted to using my planner again; I hope jotting things down will keep me from waking up in a panic over meetings and appointments several times a night.

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P.S. Don't forget to enter the Ecouture giveaway!

giveaway: Ecouture Twist Dress in the color of your choice [closed]

ecouture giveaway

Today's post concludes Ecouture week, but the giveaway has just begun! Thanks to the Ecouture team and especially coordinator, Helene, and founder, Johanne Helger Lund, for your input. To read previous posts in this series, follow the links for the Interview and The Moral Wardrobe.


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ecouture twist dress

I'm very pleased with the flattering cut and quality of construction on the Ecouture Twist Dress I received. As previously noted, it's made out of silky soft organic cotton-jersey with pretty polka dot trim.

Ecouture is offering readers a chance to win their very own Twist Dress in the color of their choice: red, grey, petrol, or black (not shown). To enter, simply complete one or many of the tasks in the giveaway form below. You can tweet about the giveaway through the Rafflecopter form once each day for extra entries.


a Rafflecopter giveaway
The contest runs from March 23 to April 2 at midnight, EST. 
Open to international readers.

Sumzine: a sustainable magazine


Sumzine is an NYC-based slow fashion magazine. Its conceptual photography and interviews with high profile designers and influencers in the sustainable fashion community make it a great resource for those who love fashion, but want to work to see real change in the manufacturing industry. In fact, that's exactly how it got its start:

After a decade of working in the fashion industry, Sumzine founder Jamie Ortega knew that she wanted to see a change. The industry employs over 75 million people and affects billions. Whether it is the 3 billion tons of soot released into the air or the 1,100 lives lost at the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse--the casualties of the fashion industry are clear...
Slow-fashion can mean a lot of things, but at its core it’s about making better choices. Whether it’s the material used or ethical practices, it’s about creating less waste. In the words of Dame Vivienne Westwood: Buy less, buy better, and make it last!
(from Kickstarter page)

Published bi-annually, the small staff relies on crowdfunding to publish new issues. They're working on their third issue and need a little help raising the last few hundred dollars on their kickstarter page.

They asked me to get the word out before their kickstarter ends on March 24, so I haven't had the chance to peruse an issue myself, but I encourage you to check them out for yourself.

the moral wardrobe: springtime with Ecouture by Lund

It's Ecouture week! Today I'm sharing a personal style post featuring Ecouture's Twist Dress in Petrol. This is the second post in a three part series, concluding with a giveaway, so check back! Read the interview here.

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ecouture by lund

What glorious weather we've had! Daniel and I spent Sunday afternoon on the patio at the Downtown Mall drinking fair trade, organic coffee and reading books. I got my hands on an advanced copy of Rachel Held Evan's Searching for Sunday and I'm really enjoying it. 

ecouture twist dress
ecouture twist dress in petrol

I wore Ecouture's Twist Dress in Petrol the whole day and it was perfect. It's made of organic cotton-jersey that feels almost like silk, plus it's feminine without being revealing and long enough to be comfortable for all day wear (mini dresses are too constricting). 

The silhouette feels like a departure from my usual style - maybe because it highlights parts of my body I'm not used to highlighting - but I felt confident in it and got a lot of compliments throughout the day. This dress perfectly embodies founder Johanne Helger Lund's statement from Monday's interview: "I think it is possible to be feminine AND a powerful woman at the same time!" 

I don't often associate feminine silhouettes with empowerment, but feminism is about freedom, so why not embrace the things that make you feel confident?

springtime with Ecouture by Lund
Ethical Details: Twist Dress in Petrol - c/o Ecouture by Lund; Cardigan - thrifted; Earrings: handmade in USA via Ash & Rose; Bike Shorts (not shown) - American Apparel

I'm crossing my fingers that cold days are gone for now. I'm much more productive when the weather is nice and we've got tons of work to do at the shop since it's nearly time for the seasonal clothing switch-over. I get to spend this weekend massively reorganizing the clothing racks with my awesome volunteer team.

interview: Johanne Helger Lund of Ecouture

ecouture interviewecouture

Today I'm interviewing Johanne Helger Lund, creator and designer of Denmark-based sustainable clothing label, Ecouture. It's the first post in a three part series on the brand, so stay tuned for a personal style post and a giveaway early next week! Ecouture is looking to make a name for itself internationally and they offer reasonable shipping options to the States. Read on for more information on the brand and its mission.


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Tell me a bit about yourself. 

I am born and raised in Copenhagen, the capital of the Denmark. My mother is a famous Danish actress and political activist (http://helger.dk/) and my father is a musician. I worked in the Danish theatres and television shows as costume designer for many years of my youth. I then decided to get my degree as a designer which I partly got in Copenhagen and Barcelona. When [I] decided to start my own brand I had no doubt that I wanted to do it with respect for the environment and the people who make the clothes. 

When did you first become interested in ethical fashion? Was there a particular moment or did it happen over time? 

I have always been concerned with the environment. When I started my brand most ethical clothes out on [the] market was very boring and grey, so I wanted to contribute to the ethical fashion area with clothes that were more spectacular and colorful. There are so many fashion brands in the world and they all look the same. I would not make clothes if it wasn't for the ethical element, because the world has enough “normal” brands. 


ecouture by lund


Your clothes have a great theatrical, feminine quality. What draws you to this aesthetic? 

First of all my background as [a] costume designer. Secondly I think that there is a sad tendency in the fashion world to make clothes that are more and more androgynous. I make clothes for women, and I think it is possible to be feminine AND a powerful woman at the same time

How do you source fabrics for your clothes? How are they manufactured? 

Most of my clothes are GOTS certified. We use natural textile fibres like cotton, flax, hemp, silk and wool fibres, which can be grown eco-friendly and according to the rules of organic farming. These are textiles marked endorsed by organizations such as the Dutch Control Union (formerly BE), Swedish KRAV, and Swiss IMO. Our clothes are sewn in Poland in workshops that do not use child labour, and where workers have decent conditions and a good working environment in keeping with the local laws. Design, finishing, and selling takes place in Denmark. 

ecouture interview

What is your favorite item from the current collection? 

All of them :) 

Where do you see Ecouture headed in the next few years? 

We are very popular in Scandinavia, but I would like to expand to the rest of Europe and USA. My big dream is to be able to start my own production projects in India, and create a great and healthy environment for the people who grow cotton for example, and for mother earth.
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I appreciate Ecouture's original aesthetic, commitment to ethical production, and desire to improve and grow for the greater good over time. Thanks for the interview, Johanne! 

the moral wardrobe: clothing swap


Finally, my clothing swap dreams have come true! I've wanted to attend or host a clothing swap since I first heard about them years ago, but it just never came together. But my friend, Natasha, who's moving to Austin, asked a few of us if we wanted to go through her old clothes before she donated them and I asked if she'd like to do a clothing swap instead. We headed over to her house last weekend with a couple bags of clothes each and laid out our goods for our friends to sort through. 

clothing swap

It's rather embarrassing to see how much one person can accumulate over time, but it's also a lot of fun to see your friends in your old clothes. A shirt can look totally different on someone with a different frame and I think we were all pleasantly surprised that, despite our varying sizes, we all found something that suited us. We donated the rest to the thrift shop where I work.

menswear inspired outfit
cropped jeans look
Ethical Details: Cardigan - secondhand via swap; Top - made in USA; Jeans - thrifted; Ear Cuff (not shown) - secondhand via swap

I got this cardigan from my friend, Greta. It's been funny watching her husband slowly realize that all of his wife's friends are wearing her old clothes.

the moral wardrobe: '70s vibes with ash & rose


Online ethical retailer, Ash & Rose, sent me a few items to sample and I'm extremely excited about it! The shop offers a curated selection of fair trade, eco-friendly, and sustainable brands, including some of my favorites like Tonle, Mata Traders, and Synergy. I believe that variety is the spice of life, so I love being able to shop a ton of great brands in one place (unlike middle school me, who only wanted things in the same brand with the same fiber content - I think I was going through something).


I decided to experiment with back lighting since I walked outside right as the sun was sinking below the houses. It's hard to balance shadow and light when the light is behind the subject, but I think it really suits my vintage-inspired ensemble, so I'm calling this shoot a success. I think I'll spend more time shooting in this direction as the days lengthen and see if I can improve on it.

Ethical Details: Lattice Top - Ash & Rose, ethically produced by Echo Verde; Audrey Hat - Ash & Rose, handmade in Ecuador; Teardrop Earrings - Ash & Rose, handmade by Hannah Naomi; Jeans - made in USA via ModCloth

You guys! I think spring is here! I had the most glorious weekend contra dancing, eating good food, cat sitting, exploring the local reservoir, and taking a day trip to groovy Richmond with friends. And with Daylight Savings, the days are long and full of sunshine. The best thing about winter is that it really makes you appreciate warm, sunny weather. 

the moral wardrobe: snow no

Ethical Details: Cardigan - Seamly.co; Top - Everlane; Jeans - thrifted; Boots - thrifted; Gloves - American Apparel; Scarf - thrifted (a looong time ago)

Pardon any weird facial expressions in these photos - I was desperately trying to avoid snow blindness. We got at least 6-7 inches of snow last Thursday. I took a walk down the street to take in the pristine view, but I tired quickly trudging through the snow and had to circle back within a few minutes. You can see the photos I took on my walk here

I finally bought the Seamly.co Wrapped Cardigan a couple weeks ago and I don't regret it at all! I haven't experimented with any styles, but I love how long and cozy it is, like being in a blanket (Daniel likes to call my obsessive blanket wearing a Leah Burrito). 

Oh! Welcome to all of you who found me through Rachel Held Evans' blog. You can learn more about me or find my favorite ethical retailers by clicking on the About and Resources tabs at the top of the page. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at leahcwise@gmail.com.

interview: shop ethica

shop ethica logo
I had the opportunity to interview one of the co-founders of fashion forward ethical fashion site, shopethica.com, this week. Known for discovering and promoting independent designers, Ethica has a unique aesthetic in the world of ethical retailers. Enjoy the interview and keep reading for a special discount!


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If you would, please briefly introduce yourself: name, favorite city, and a fun fact about yourself. 

Name: Melissa Cantor
Favorite City: Istanbul
Fun Fact: My husband and I have the same birthday – inevitably a conversation starter when we check in for a flight or have to show ID for some reason. 

shop ethica founder, melissa cantor

When did you become interested in ethical fashion? Was there a particular event or conversation that made you rethink your purchasing habits? 

I’ve been interested in sustainability for at least the past decade. That translated into progressively becoming a more proactive and responsible consumer, which in turn led me to pursue an interest in ethical and sustainable fashion about six or seven years ago. It was a gradual journey and a confluence of circumstances much more than a single event. 

How did Ethica begin? 

My sister and I followed a number of ethical and sustainable fashion brands that we felt transcended the "granola" look that was still the dominant stereotype a few years ago. There was no one place where we could shop all of these brands that we loved, so we created one. The idea of creating our boutique online was most appealing because it allowed us to use the shopping process to raise awareness about these issues within the fashion industry, and also to serve a national and international customer base. 

What are your ethical and aesthetic criteria for the shop? 

We have underlying criteria for labor conditions and sustainability for everything we sell, and then specific ethical categories under which we group our merchandise (sustainable, trade not aid, handcrafted, made in the usa, and vegan). Aesthetically, we look for pieces that are stylish, wearable, high-quality, comfortable and that won’t date–we look for “special” much more than anything trend-oriented. 

ethica

Shop Ethica items above here.

How would you describe the Ethica woman? 

What’s important to communicate is that she's a “real” woman with a conscientious bent–someone who is invested in issues larger than herself and tries to do her part, but who also has a life to live, and all of the demands that come with that. 

We've found that when people first learn about ethical fashion, it’s very appealing, but it can also be overwhelming. What sometimes happens is that they start thinking of it as an all-or-nothing lifestyle–like you’re either an ethical shopper or you’re not. Of course, the reality for all of us is much more nuanced than that, and I think it’s important to take it one step at a time and approach each choice individually. It’s actually one of the things that I admire most about our customers. They have busy lives that don’t revolve around ethical fashion the way mine does, and yet they have still made the time to "buy better" and harness their spending power in a positive way. 

You source from a lot of small scale designers, which is great. How do you discover them? 

Everywhere – referrals from other designers, trade shows, social media. We get approached a lot through our site or by showrooms, and we always have our eyes peeled when we travel. “Discovering” a new label is one of the most fun parts of what we do, and it’s also one of the biggest reasons that people visit Ethica. It can be challenging to work with designers that are only producing their first or second collection, but quite a few of our designers later get picked up by like-minded shops and the eco-fashion press, even the mainstream press when they do eco-fashion stories, and it’s very rewarding to see that happen and know we had a role in it. 

What are your long term goals for the shop? 

I hope we can continue to make people excited about ethical and sustainable fashion, and continue to serve this growing community in various ways. As this movement grows and takes shape, there’s also a need to come together and collectively define terms like ethical and sustainable fashion, as well as pursue some common, tangible goals, and I hope we'll be on the forefront of this. 

shop ethica items from ace and jig
Items from Ace & Jig


What are your thoughts on the current state of the fashion industry? Where do you see it headed over the next several years? 


From the industry side, there’s no question that the ethical and sustainable fashion space has exploded in the past 12-18 months, and there’s also been a big rise in awareness among consumers, especially here in the U.S. We've also been hearing increasingly from celebrities who want to promote sustainable designers, which I think has great potential to help spread the message. Even industry bodies like the CFDA are stepping up their sustainability initiatives. 

This sea change has been incredible to witness, but it still represents a tiny fraction of the industry as a whole. The big corporate retailers are really the crux of the problem (and thus, the key to the solution), and for now they’re mostly ignoring the issue or trying to greenwash over it. I happen to think that they will eventually have to change course because what the industry is doing now is simply not something that can be sustained on this planet, but the question is whether that change will take hold in 5, 10 or 20 years, and what the costs will be in the meantime. 

What are your favorite ethical brands? 

Laura Siegel, Atelier Delphine, Ace & Jig, Litke, Awaveawake, Bhava, Svilu, Pima Doll – there are so many! I could go on and on.
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Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Melissa!
shop ethica coupon code

an ethical alternative: pastel leather handbags

pastel leather bag

During last week's snow day doldrums, I asked readers to give me prompts for posts. Catherine kindly stepped up to the plate, letting me know she was looking for a pastel handbag similar to the ones shown in Coach's Spring 2015 Collection (she wasn't that detailed, actually, but I read her blog, so I know she's had Coach on her mind). 

Finding an ethically sourced pastel leather bag is more difficult than you'd think. The bags above are the best matches I could find under $500.00. I must admit I haven't done a ton of research on leather production; I know tanning is typically a pretty nasty chemical process and that not all leathers are sourced from livestock used for meat. For this reason, I asked each company to fill me on on their leather sourcing and have listed relevant information below. 

The bags that made the cut are (clockwise from top):

Brynn Capella Pamela Hobo

  • Price: $350.00
  • Handmade in Chicago, IL
  • Donates to various causes, mostly local

Blair Ritchey Pak in Thistle

  • Price: $245.00
  • Handmade in Cleveland, OH
  • Leather sourced from USA

Parker Clay All Leather Purse in Tie-Dye Grey

  • Price: $225.00
  • Handmade in Ethiopia
  • Leather sourced from Ethiopia
  • Byproduct of meat industry

Sseko Designs Leather Citrus Shibori Hobo

  • Price: $189.99
  • Handmade in Ethiopia
  • Sheepskin Leather sourced from Ethiopia
  • Byproduct of meat industry with full animal utilized 
  • Free range


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Recommendations from Readers:

  • Vegan Leather Bags from JOYN
  • Leather sourced from cows who have naturally passed from Matr Boomie

Tell me your favorite brands in the comments and I'll add them to this post!

inside an ethical wardrobe: winter 2015


I took a cue from Hannah at Life Style Justice (who I just "met" on Google Hangout this weekend!) and decided to share my wardrobe with you. If you haven't checked our her closet post, do it now! It's rather impressive. I haven't managed to whittle things down to the same extent, but this exercise helped me assess what I actually wear versus what I'm holding onto for no real reason (and made me realize I impulse buy too many things at thrift shops).

I should also mention that this post differs considerably from popular Capsule Wardrobe posts (prime example here), because I'm absolutely not interested in doing a useless exercise in restraint and aesthetic minimalism every season. The items featured here are things I wear more often in cooler weather, but I also rely on all-weather and transitional pieces like cardigans and t-shirts for additional warmth. I try to get a lot of use out of most of my wardrobe no matter what season it is.

american eagle jeans
fair trade capsule wardrobe
sweaters
thrifted boots

The majority of my wardrobe, particularly skirts and shoes, were purchased secondhand. Though I love supporting ethical creators, it's more in line with my budget to go the secondhand route most of the time.

Also note that not everything I own is ethically sourced. As I've mentioned before, I broke down and purchased questionably sourced denim at the beginning of the season because I ended up wasting a ton of money on an ethical denim search with poor results. I went with dark wash, simple styles because they're much more versatile and will hold up for longer. When I lived in Florida, I just avoided jeans altogether, but I can't manage the winter here without pants.

Tops and leggings aren't pictured because I consider them layering pieces this time of year. I wear a lot of simple tees from Everlane, Threads 4 Thought, and thrift shops under sweaters and cardigans. If you're interested in seeing a bit of my jewelry collection, you can view my jewelry post here.

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I'll be back in a few weeks with a look into my spring wardrobe and an overview of my everyday layering pieces.