Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


What is Ethical? 7 terms you need to know

7 ethical terms
This post contains a few referral links, noted with a *

When I first started this blog, I found it rather difficult to navigate the ins and outs of "ethical consumerism." I knew vaguely that designated fair trade items were preferable to conventionally produced goods, but that was about it. All I really knew was that my consumer habits needed to change if I was to live up to my faith tradition's call (and personal goal) to love even when it's inconvenient.

I thought it might be a good idea to define a few terms in the ethical consumerism category and parse out the pros and cons of different models.

Let us begin...

  Fair Trade:  

According to the World Fair Trade Organization (my go-to for fair trade info), fair trade is defined as:

a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.

The fair trade model is set up to help the poorest people in the poorest areas of the world. It doesn't necessarily seek to revolutionize the entire industry (though I think many would argue that it does set itself up as a model for the ideal relationship between producers and consumers). Rather, it hopes to provide economic opportunities and social stability to those who would otherwise not have access to good work and fair wages. That's a big reason why fair trade organizations and businesses focus on skills and education for women, who often experience the greatest disadvantages when access to resources is scarce.

A number of the most prominent "ethical" companies - and certainly most of the brands I've featured here - are categorized as fair trade. Some have official fair trade status granted to them by external auditing agencies, but it costs a pretty penny to get fair trade certified, so some operate under fair trade principles without official certification. Many fair trade organizations are classified as non-profits.

  Social Enterprise:  

Social Enterprises, according to the Social Enterprise Alliance, are:

businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.

Social enterprises operate in the regular business sector instead of the non-profit sector. A perfect example of this is Sseko Designs*, who employs women in Uganda as a means of both providing job skills and assisting with their ongoing education through scholarship programs. Operating as a regular business also allows them to take on investors, expand, and develop new products and job positions quickly and efficiently (ideally), which in turn means greater economic prosperity for everyone involved. Sseko's model also means that no one is ever made to feel like a charity case.

A less wonderful example of the social enterprise is TOMS. Don't get me wrong: TOMS revolutionized the ethical market with its often copied one-for-one model, but it's taken them awhile to realize that people would rather have a nice job and pay for their own shoes than get free shoes and remain unemployed. Until recently when they began to improve working conditions at their factories, TOMS and Sseko Designs were on opposite ends of the social enterprise spectrum. Instead of offering dignified employment (the start of the marketplace), they offered goods to those in need (the end of the marketplace).

In my mind, a social enterprise is better than just any old enterprise, but it leaves itself open to some troubling mindsets and can cause more harm than good for both the people who receive the "benefit" and for the psyches of American consumers. Watch this awesome video with Slavoj Zizek for clarification.

  B Corporation:  

According to the B Corporation website (and helpfully summarized on Wikipedia) a B Corp Certification is:

a private certification issued to for-profit companies by B Lab, a United States-based non-profit organization. To be granted and to preserve certification, companies must receive a minimum score on an online assessment for "social and environmental performance”, satisfy the requirement that the company integrate B Lab commitments to stakeholders into company governing documents, and pay an annual fee ranging from $500 to $25,000.

Phew! That's a lot of money. Basically, B Corp certifications are given to businesses with a commitment to fair labor, sustainability, and transparency. The B Corp is the no nonsense sibling to the sentimental social enterprise in the sense that they strive to do good by integrating it into the entire supply chain. B Corps aren't necessarily attached to a specific social good, but they aren't as likely to fall prey to well meaning but ineffective ways of "helping" people because they're simply adhering to a sort of best practices for people and planet.

A good example of the B Corp is PACT Apparel (from whom I just purchased a couple of cute t-shirts).


The above terms have slightly different connotations depending on who you ask, but for a lot of brands, they're often interchangeable concepts. Organic and eco tend to fall under the larger umbrella of sustainability. Sustainable manufacturing, as defined by the International Trade Administration, is:

the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound.

You've probably noticed that some ethical brands are more oriented toward environmental impact while others focus on labor rights. As it turns out, the eco/sustainable brands tend to think of what's ethical in a holistic way - after all, we don't exist apart from nature - so most incorporate fair labor into their business model while also finding ways to reduce waste, water usage, and pesticides throughout the production process. I was initially turned off by the hippie dippie branding of the sustainability movement, but I've come to embrace it because I know that those who are committed to sustainability understand that it must extend to employees, consumers, and the earth.

Of course, there's been a lot of greenwashing - or labeling things as "eco" when they're not - as it's become more popular in recent years. Not everything made with organic cotton is truly sustainable. Not everything in a green bottle is nontoxic. Be wary. A certification for organic cotton is available for companies who can afford it. Look for the GOTS Certified label on product listings and tags to ensure that your organic item was produced with consideration for sustainability and human welfare.


The basic definition of transparency is fairly obvious and doesn't just apply to the fashion industry, so I'll use Everlane's* concept of "radical transparency" here:

Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.

Everlane certainly isn't the first or only company to value supply chain transparency and, in fact, most companies that fall under the previous categories are likely concerned with transparency, as well. But they have made transparency a buzzword and I think they set a particularly good example for other companies who may not be ready to get certified organic/B corp/fair trade, but want to respond appropriately to consumer demand for ethically produced goods.

Companies concerned with transparency are ready and willing to share information about their factories, production standards, costs, raw materials, and corporate structure. They do an unusually good job at answering tough questions because their employees are trained to know the answers. And they're prepared to make changes if they don't live up to consumer (or their own) expectations.


In the words of Happy Cow, Vegan fashion is:

clothing and accessories made from cruelty-free sources, i.e. NO animal products were used in making the garments and gear, and no animal was harmed.

I'm not a vegan, but I do believe in maintaining high ethical standards in the meat and fashion industries. The definition is simple and straightforward and, as such, something can be labeled as vegan without necessarily being sustainable or concerned with the human good. Some leather substitutes, for example, are fairly toxic to the environment and to the people who work with them. But by ensuring that no animals were slaughtered to make your purse or shoes or whatever, you can be certain that no animal suffered, and that matters.

It should also be noted that the conventional leather industry wreaks havoc on workers and the environment, so choosing leather substitutes that treat animals, people, and the planet with respect is a good idea (The True Cost movie expands on this. You can download it here if you haven't had a chance to see it).


This one's a doozy, because ethical priorities are different for everyone. I'll stick to the Ethical Fashion Forum's definition:

...ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.

The models defined above are all ways of being ethical. What I like about Ethical Fashion Forum's definition is that it broadly defines the two main categories (or really one category if you can smoosh together the artificial human-nature dichotomy for a second) that matter: people and planet.

Whether you come to this conversation because of your concern with climate change, human trafficking, pollution, personal health, or economic justice, people and planet are connected, and ideally we'd let our definition of ethical include everything that we have the power to influence. And heck, even the Pope knows that we don't have time to waste here. We're destroying ourselves and our earth home.

Ethical is no longer an option; it's absolutely essential.

special offer: eshakti's new website (+ a sweet discount)

Make A Statement In Bold Pants Or Shorts!

Just wanted to stop in to let you know about a special offer from custom clothing site, eshakti. I first reviewed eshakti at Thanksgiving. I received some good feedback from readers on that post regarding their production standards, which I encourage you to read here.

Eshakti guarantees that they have their employees' (primarily women in India) best interests in mind and that they both pay 50% to 100% over minimum wage and routinely inspect their facilities. They recently updated their website to include more contemporary styles and easy-to-shop themed categories based on current trends. They also offer custom fit options at reasonable rates above the base price. I opted to change the sleeve length on my little black dress last fall, but in the future, I think I'll try full custom!

I like the look and feel of the updates and am finding that a lot of the newer styles appeal to me much more than previous selections. They've definitely embraced the graphic and minimalism trends and, though I'm not going to turn into an Everlane model anytime soon, it's hard not to be influenced by it, so I think it was a smart move for eshakti. It feels to me like they've narrowed their selection, too, which makes the site more manageable to peruse.

Eshakti is offering a $35.00 discount for Style Wise Blog readers. Just click the code below to enter the site and make sure to enter it at checkout. Note that if you use my custom code, I'll get a bit of commission on the sale (which would be groovy!).

GC CODE: STYLEWISEBLOG35Valid till 06/30/2015
Enter this code in the 'Gift Coupon / Referral Code' box at checkout
Only one gift coupon can be used in an order
Not valid on previous purchases / purchase of gift cards.
This gift coupon cannot be transferred, re-issued or exchanged for cash.
Minimum order value $30.

My picks are these vintage inspired swingy shorts and this bell sleeve dress


I feel like I've been manically posting about brands all month, which is both wonderful and overwhelming. I had some time to work on a longer form post that I hope will be helpful for those interested in diving deeper into the conscious consumerism discussion. It'll post Monday morning.

the moral wardrobe: Elegantees Hayley Top

elegantees fair trade blog

I heard about Elegantees on instagram a few months ago and was intrigued by their business model. Founded by fashion designer, Katie Martinez, Elegantees works closely with anti-trafficking agency, The Nepali Rescue Project, to provide consistent, gratifying employment to survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal. 

Elegantees focuses on dressed up basics because they want women to feel stylish, comfortable, and empowered. Designs are created and tweaked both by head designers in the US and, more recently, by Nepali staff, and sewn by a team of less than a dozen women in Nepal. Elegantees hopes to triple their sewing staff by this fall!

made in nepal elegantees
elegantees hayley
elegantees outfit post
Ethical Details: Top - Elegantees Hayley Top; Skirt - vintage; Sandals - Sseko Designs (select items* 25% off); Earrings - Mata Traders

I bought the Hayley Top in my new favorite muted pink, Rosewood, because of the cool sleeve detail. I've already received a compliment on it by a customer at work who makes her own clothing! Though it has an over-sized fit, it's cut well with slight contouring at the lower hem and a nice breast pocket. If you like t-shirts but aren't ready to go full on #normcore, Elegantees may be just the thing for you. 

Click here and get free shipping on your Elegantees order with code, STYLEWISE.


Shop the Hayley top here. Visit Elegantees on facebook, instagram, and twitter.

I received discounted product in exchange for writing this post.

*denotes affiliate link

the moral wardrobe: Ikwetta "Jewelled Peacocks" sandals

ikwetta sandals

Ikwetta is a Kenya-based social enterprise with a mission to help artisans find sustainable work by broadening their customer base and improving manufacturing. They're in the middle of their Kickstarter campaign and are only a couple thousand dollars away from reaching their goal. Money raised will go to creating the first big batch of hand beaded sandals and improving manufacturing facilities. You can read more about them on my original post here.

ikwetta sandals

Cofounder Sheeni sent me the Jewelled Peacocks style to sample. The beadwork is stunning and I find the shape of the sandal foot-flattering. Additionally, the beadwork is backed with soft, velvety fabric so it won't cause skin irritation. They're also true to size!

ikwetta kickstarter
ikwetta jewelled peacocks
Ethical Details: Top - People Tree; Shorts - DIY vintage Levi's; Sandals - c/o Ikwetta

Ikwetta has several other styles and colors to choose from on their kickstarter page. The Dose of Daisies style is my second favorite.


Help fund Ikwetta here. 

Learn more about Ikwetta on the website

the moral wardrobe: indigo girl

Mata Traders In Full Bloom Dress
Mata Traders In Full Bloom Dress
Sseko Designs Chiffon ribbons
mata traders dress
Ethical Details: In Full Bloom Dress - Mata Traders; Sandals - Sseko Designs*

The moment you've all been waiting for! This is the dress I bought at Mata Traders in Chicago. The rich indigo and resist dye flower motif are beautiful and the classic silhouette makes me feel feminine but not twee. As I mentioned in my behind-the-scenes post, I have trouble finding a good fit in some Mata dresses, but this one works great on my frame and the waist hits right at my natural waist as it's meant to. 

You've probably noticed that this month's blogging schedule has been jam packed. I was determined to finish the Justice Conference posts while everything was still fresh (and relevant), but between that and all these (awesome) giveaways, I've spent a lot more time blogging than usual. I think I'll ease up and get my bearings next week. 

Speaking of giveaways, the Hands Producing Hope giveaway is over and a winner will be contacted shortly. The Synergy gift card giveaway is still going strong 'til next Friday, however, so enter if you're interested. And if you don't have an instagram account (the mandatory entry), just click through as if you do and make sure to sign up for the Synergy newsletter. I don't want you to be left out just because you don't have access to an expensive iPhone or iPad.

*denotes affiliate link.

giveaway: $50 Synergy Organic Clothing gift card

synergy organic clothing giveaway

Synergy Organic Clothing is giving away a $50 gift card to one lucky Style Wise Blog reader. With $50, you could get this cool muscle tank or a fun high low skirt (and dozens of other things). Or, you could get a significant discount on the Beatrice Dress, which I wore in Monday's The Moral Wardrobe post.

To enter, just complete the form below. Note that the first entry is mandatory, but all other entries are bonuses! Plus, you can come back here and tweet about the giveaway once a day for extra entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Open to international readers. Contest ends at midnight Saturday, June 27. Winner will be randomly selected and notified by Monday, June 29. 


Check out Synergy Organic Clothing on facebook, twitter, and instagram. Visit their website here

the moral wardrobe: Synergy Organic Clothing Beatrice Dress

synergy beatrice dress review
synergy organic clothing

Synergy Organic Clothing started out as a yoga wear company, but quickly expanded to include comfortable, versatile stretch cotton looks for almost any occasion. They've committed to using organic textiles, low-impact nontoxic dyes, and fair labor practices for all of their products and they still manage to offer fashionable, affordable, figure flattering clothing!

Jules at Synergy sent me the Beatrice Dress to review. I own one other piece from Synergy since I walked in a fashion show featuring their products at Floyd Fest last summer, so I had an idea of what size and styles would suit me best. Because I'm pear shaped, I opted to go one size up in this dress so that the super stretchy fabric wouldn't pull at the hip. When I pulled the dress out of the bag, it looked a bit too big up top, but it quickly conformed to my body, so I think I made the right choice when all is said and done. I'd say Synergy clothes best fit a straight figure, so if you have a few curves, pay careful attention to the size chart. Petite people may want to size down.

spotted in synergy

I wore this dress to explore the quaint little mountain town of Crozet and do a wine tasting at King Family Vineyards last weekend. It looks a bit dressy, but it feels like pajamas, which means perfection. 

synergy organic clothing tank dress
My face is ridiculous.

The Beatrice Dress is priced at $66.00 and is available on Synergy's online shop. Synergy Organic Clothing is offering a $50.00 gift card to one lucky Style Wise Blog reader, so check back Wednesday to enter the giveaway!


Check out Synergy Organic Clothing on facebook, twitter, and instagram. Visit their website here

Justice Conference Part 2: All things go to recreate us

The title's a reference to Sufjan Stevens' Chicago, which is a pretty perfect summary of my Justice Conference experience.

Read Part 1 of my Justice Conference recap here.


Racial Reconciliation Pre-Conference, afternoon sessions

About a dozen of us were seated in a circle in a small classroom waiting for the first afternoon class in the Racial Reconciliation pre-conference to begin. The panel was comprised of prominent Christian bloggers/twitter enthusiasts of varying backgrounds and ethnicities: Eugene Cho, blogger and pastor of a cool-sounding church in Seattle; Mickey Jones, "creative extremist for love" and Director of Training and Program Development at Transform Network (a ministry devoted to reconciliation); and Benjamin L. Corey, blogger at Formerly Fundie. The topic was "how to have a civil conversation online" and I was pretty excited about it, firstly because Hannah and I were with our people here. We get this world. I've also had a really difficult time navigating my place in discussions about race and privilege as a white woman with mostly white friends, particularly on facebook, so I hoped to get some constructive feedback.

The moderator asked general questions about how to deal with trolls and speak truth online without coming off as arrogant. When he opened up the floor for questions, I timidly raised my hand and asked the question that's been plaguing me for months: "How do I speak for the marginalized without making it about me? Where does my voice fit into the discussion and should it be there at all?" A helpful attendee recommended that I follow leaders within the black activist community on twitter so that I can gain some insight before speaking up. For whatever reason, it hadn't dawned on me that the internet makes it possible to expand my narrow and segregated community to something bigger, and more fruitful. Eugene Cho nuanced the conversation by saying that he thinks everyone has a role to play here and that speaking up in solidarity with those who are already sharing their stories is important because it helps frame the discussion for those you have the direct power to influence (like facebook friends and family members). He told me not to be afraid! And I realized then that it was fear of getting called out for doing activism wrong that kept me from doing anything at all. It was one of those otherwise normal pieces of advice that came at the right time; it stuck with me through the rest of the weekend.

The rest of the afternoon was interesting enough but uneventful. In the spirit of not being afraid of speaking truth, however, I have to tell you that I learned more about trafficking from the Racial Reconciliation track than I did from the Human Trafficking morning sessions. And the reason is simple: when there are diverse voices in the room ready to tell their stories and reconcile their histories, transformation happens. When people are faced with acknowledging "the other" as part of their community, they listen more and talk less. "Those persecuted people over there" aren't powerless or voiceless. We don't need to go to conferences on the other side of the world and speak on their behalf. We need them in the room!

The fun begins...

The Justice Conference started with a bang. In fact, I was so wound up when we got home Friday night I barely slept. The main conference sessions took place in the beautiful Romanesque-meets-Art Nouveau concert hall of Auditorium Theatre. The worship team started us off with a song from my traveling teen worship band days (seriously, though, we went on tour!), which made me incredibly nostalgic for some good contemporary worship music. Then spoken word poet, Malcolm London, performed his piece, A Praise for Black Women (and I was fangirling because I'm obsessed with the Chicago spoken word scene) before welcoming Dr. Cornel West to the stage. 

I've mostly heard West's name in the context of controversy, but I'd never heard him speak, so I was blown away by the eloquence and power behind his words (lots of quotable quotes, too). He said that we can't do justice work without acknowledging suffering head on, without understanding how life is always wrapped up in death: "When you're talking about love, you're talking about death, 'cause love is learning how to die." I'm on a lifelong journey to come to terms with mortality because I'm convinced it must be done if we're to fully appreciate life and serve others. West's talk brought that concept of fear back into my mind. We have to stop fearing death if we're to love fully. On the topic of racial reconciliation, he said: "People always come up to me and ask if they can be an ally. We don't want allies! When you're a follower of Jesus, you don't ask for permission to be a force for good!" 

The night ended with some good ol' David Crowder (I saw him in concert twice as a teenager), a popular worship artist in the early 2000s (and apparently still popular?). He's gotten a little blue-grassy since the last time I saw him and he ended the night with some old timey hymns with banjo and fiddle. It was amazing. 

There is always a cost to justice. This is why Jesus tells us to take up our cross. 

(Eugene Cho)

Ah, Saturday. I knew the trouble would come eventually. Saturday was a long, exhausting day spent cooped up in the theatre. With 21 speakers presenting on Saturday alone, you can imagine it was a lot to take in. Things started off great with Eugene Cho urging us not to "seek justice unjustly" by seeing people as projects and thereby dehumanizing them (Amen!). On the topic of God moving mountains, he said: "You and I, we might be the mountain God wants to move." 

But then we got Bob Goff cheerily talking about executing witch doctors in Uganda and educating "the enemy" with only a Bible and a copy of his Christian memoir (gag! Hannah and I gave each other some looks during this session) and a panel full of women talking about poor people who have no voice and crying and telling us all to be the "Esther Generation" (seriously, though, when's the last time you read Esther?). Admittedly, I was probably looking for things to get upset about during the women's panel. I have a hard time seeing women behaving in traditionally feminine ways within the context of Evangelicalism, because I worry they're just reinforcing harmful stereotypes. I should give them the benefit of the doubt.

Jonathan Merritt (he follows me on twitter!) came up and spoke about nurturing virtues as part of the justice-seeking journey: to seek to understand instead of seeking to be understood, empathy, and diversity as a way of creating a higher consciousness around hard topics. His topic led up to the highlight of the day: The Racial Reconciliation panel comprised of Gabriel Salguero, National Latino Evangelical Coalition President; Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary; Dr. Arloa Sutter, founder of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago; Reverend Tracy Blackmon, pastor in Ferguson; and Pastor Michael McBride, national director of the LIVE FREE campaign. 

These guys were hilarious. I think everyone was a bit nervous that the mostly white audience would be a tough crowd, but they did a great job of defining privilege and sharing their stories in a way that was accessible to all. Several important points were made here, I think, from "Segregation is a church problem" to "Privilege is to declare that the God in someone else is less than the God who lives in me." One panelist pointed out that one of the easiest places to see privilege is in what we define as "normal." For instance, theology done by white men is simply called "theology" while theology done by people of color is called "black theology" or "liberation theology." The final point - and one that needed to be said in this crowd in particular - was "Don't say you're going to go save Africans when you don't even know an African American in the United States."

The unexpected lesson

Hannah and I were pretty worn out by mid-afternoon and skipped some of the afternoon sessions. We had met up with Anna, a member of the Ethical Blogger Network, at lunchtime and decided to head to the touristy part of town for a pizza dinner. Well, the pizza took awhile, so Anna headed back to the last session of the night and Hannah asked if we could give some pizza to a homeless person we'd just passed at a street corner. I reluctantly agreed; I'd had a lot of unfavorable and awkward conversations with homeless people in my college town and I was wary of approaching someone at random like this. 

We asked him if he wanted a few slices of our pizza and he told us he was lactose intolerant. His name was Ryan and he was reading a novel about Judaism. The sign propped up in front of him had a list of necessities - like a weekly train pass - and explained that he had grown up in foster care. He couldn't have been older than 19. We ended up sitting down and having a very normal conversation with him for 5 or so minutes. He told us he'd tried to find a job, but no one would give him one since he didn't have an address. He told us it was hard and uncomfortable, especially in the winter. Then we shook hands and left. 

Basically, the miracle in all this is that we just saw each other. We were people being people together and that wasn't nothing. And that theme came back to me again. Fear - irrational fear - had almost kept me from making a normal connection with someone. There would have been no repercussions (outside of some awkwardness), but I was still too afraid to approach. I felt ashamed for myself, but I also got hit in the face with injustice in real time for the first time all weekend. This is why justice work matters. Because kids like Ryan age out of foster care and end up on the street. 

So I'm trying not to be afraid. I started the trip feeling awkward and unlike myself and I ended it the same way. But so much of the story is in its interpretation and I was starting to learn how to live in awkwardness. Seeing people, building communities, trying to meet people's needs, asking for help: it's all awkward! But you know what? There's no sense fearing awkward. The Justice Conference, as it turns out, was meant for me and I think I'm ready now to throw off that terrible, scratchy wool cloak of fear and start running toward a more just world. 

Justice Conference Part 1: It's complicated

justice conference graphic
Image source: Justice Conference Facebook page

A whirlwind Thursday...

I put off writing about my experience at the Justice Conference in Chicago last weekend, at first, because I was physically exhausted and didn't think I could go back over my notes and reflect appropriately without getting overwhelmed. Instead, I went out to the mountains twice in two days and didn't really think about anything.

When I initially took the plunge and purchased tickets to the conference, I assumed I wasn't the target market. After all, the Justice Conference presenters were largely evangelical - largely charismatic or mega-churchy - and I left that world a few years ago because I felt like it was destroying any chance at my finding peace in the Christian faith as an adult. But I think I've done some healing since I left and I wanted to know what these people were doing to enact justice in the world. Like a lot of the presenters said, "we don't have a monopoly on justice." No matter what "we" you are, that statement holds true, and remembering that helps us find ways to "live justice together" (this year's Justice Conference slogan). 

When I got back from the conference late Sunday morning, everything felt fresh and easy - I felt empowered to do the hard work of justice in my community - but by Tuesday evening, I was starting to feel unsure and uncomfortable in my own skin. The discomfort still lingers and I'm trying to interpret it. So let me give a bit of context:

I took a direct flight to Chicago from Charlottesville at 5:00 in the morning on June 4. That left me with an hour once I arrived at the airport to anticipate meeting my virtual "friend," Hannah before setting out to tour fair trade shops for the day (Hannah runs an ethical fashion blog and we'd only spoken via Google Hangout before meeting in real life). I don't buy into the introvert/extrovert scale so much, but I do know myself pretty well, and the thing that's stuck out to me more and more is that I tend to over-process new experiences to such an extent that I go into fight-or-flight and become mute until I can get my bearings again. My inability or subconscious unwillingness to engage "normally" with new people or new surroundings, though it's meant to make me feel more in control, makes me feel self-conscious. I'm fighting with myself to just say something.

When I met Hannah for the first time, it was exciting, but it was also a relief. She's cool, you guys, and really smart. Still, I felt like I didn't have much to say. We spent the rest of the day touring around, meeting wonderful, like-minded people, and I was having a great time somewhere deep down, but there was always the anxiety that I wasn't putting my true self (whatever that means) forward. But, you know, it didn't really matter; I felt safe to be or not be whatever worked best for me because Hannah and our hosts were all very welcoming, and I slept like a baby that night.

Human Trafficking Pre-Conference, morning sessions

The pre-conference started bright and early the next morning. We headed out on the blue line to the conference center and then went our separate ways to learn about human trafficking and racial reconciliation. Having started the trip on insecure footing, I entered the lecture hall where the human trafficking track began with some reservations. Christians interested in anti-sex trafficking efforts are easy to stereotype as young, conservative, and sheltered. I don't think it's unfair to say Evangelicals are tied up in the cause of anti-sex trafficking specifically because it relates so well to their sexual ethic in general. If virginity is a gift to be protected and shared within the very specific, hallowed context of monogamous marriage, then being sold into sex trafficking to do it with hundreds of people a month is the worst kind of degradation. And I don't necessarily disagree, but I think there are all sorts of terrible things we do to people that need to be addressed in tandem with anti-sex trafficking efforts.

Tangent aside, I came into a room of well dressed young women (and a few outliers) full of self protective judgment, thinking all sorts of mean things ranging from the logical, "How can you care about human trafficking and be wearing brand new Skechers and a top from Target (brands that most definitely have exploitative practices somewhere along their supply chain)?" to the weird, "How can you work against the exploitation of young women wearing that much makeup?!" Despite that, I really enjoyed some of the speakers:

Dr. Paul Lee, sociology professor, looked at the number of academic articles being written on human trafficking from 1995 to 2014 and found a dramatic rise after 2005 (not coincidentally around the same time that key trade embargos were lifted in the US that made it easier than ever to use cheap foreign labor to produce goods, leading to a dramatic rise in the popularity and profits of "fast fashion.")

Then Dr. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson, called the "Slumdog Professor" because of his early life spent in New Delhi slums, made the powerful claim that the whole Bible is an extended narrative about human trafficking and violence against women, from Eve being manipulated by a phallic Sumerian serpent god to the Hebrew people enslaved by the Egyptians to the demon possessed slave girl exploited by her owner in Acts. His basic point was that the Bible, unlike concurrent religious narratives of the time, not only sees exploitation but interprets it as the horror story it is. We are asked to live in narratives of injustice so that we can do the work to end it. I'm sure a lot of people have very valid rebuttals to this approach, but I find it useful within a wider conversation about Biblical interpretation.

After a few other speakers presented, we broke for lunch and I decided I'd learned about all I could learn from the human trafficking track (there were about 6 other speakers in the morning that didn't provide the depth of insight I was hoping for). I decided to join Hannah in the Racial Reconciliation track for the afternoon sessions. And that's when the recurring themes for the weekend started to take shape for me...


behind the scenes: Mata Traders HQ

mata traders tour

I met up with Hannah of Life Style Justice for the Justice Conference in Chicago last weekend. The weekend exceeded my expectations in every way and I found a dear friend in Hannah. I'll talk more about the conference once I've taken the time to process it all.

On Thursday, Hannah and I met for the first time at the airport, then headed out for a day of exploring fair trade shops. We started, quite fittingly, at Mata Traders. Mata was the first fair trade clothing brand I ever heard of and I even interviewed for a position there a couple years ago! We were welcomed immediately by their staff and shown around by cofounder, Jonit.

mata traders office
fair trade warehouse
First photo: the Fair Trade Federation Principles wall; Second photo: Hannah scoping out some jewelry

Mata headquarters is housed in an industrial building with beautiful art deco details and exposed brick walls throughout. The office has an open floor plan with stock, desks, and work areas arranged within the same room. All of the employees were wearing adorable dresses - most of them Mata - and the atmosphere was one of both collaboration and individual work ethic.

mata traders
mata traders
Hannah and I shop the Mata warehouse. Photo credit: Jonit

Cofounder Maureen and design staff asked us our opinion on some Spring '16 prints (so exciting!), then Jonit let us loose to shop the stock. I've had difficulty in the past finding a good fit with Mata dresses because I'm small up top and a little hippier on the bottom. Jonit went to work helping me find dozens of dresses to try on. It was a fantastic opportunity to see what silhouettes work with my figure for future ordering and I was able to find a versatile skirt and dress that make me feel great.

mata traders
mata traders staff

I never imagined I'd have the opportunity to get an inside look at Mata Traders and I'm so thankful I got to meet everyone! Thanks for welcoming us, Mata team. You're awesome.

I'll be sharing the items I bought in outfits posts in the coming weeks!


You can shop Mata Traders online and at select boutiques.

giveaway: Win a Shalom Necklace from Hands Producing Hope

Hooray for a giveaway! Hands Producing Hope has graciously offered a Shalom necklace to one lucky Style Wise Blog reader. Complete the entry form below to enter. The giveaway runs until Friday, June 19 at 12:00 am EST, so share it with your friends.

I also wanted to share the remaining questions from my interview with Hands Producing Hope founder, Rebecca Gardner. You can read the first couple of answers on Monday's post.

What are the long term goals for the organization? 

Long term we would like to be working in multiple countries around the world with women in remote communities who lack the opportunities needed to provide for themselves and their families. One next step is growing our Costa Rica program by hiring a local woman to help manage our work there. One goal that we are very excited about seeing come into fruition is launching a program in Rwanda, something that is currently in the works! Be sure to sign up for our email list to be the first to know when we launch! Other goals include wanting to see women leave our program because they have the training, skills and education needed to pursue other work that they have dreamed of doing. We also hope to continue to increase the number of scholarships and life skill classes that we have available for our artisans!

Besides making a purchase, how can we get involved? 

While purchasing products is key to HPH being able to grow our impact, there are many other ways people can get involved!

Social Media: Follow us on social media, share our page on facebook, share your favorite posts to your wall, and snap a picture of you wearing your HPH jewelry and tag us on Instagram and use #wearinghope! You can find us on social media here: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.

Volunteer or Intern with us: We have a range of internships available for college students who are wanting to get experience in their field of interest while also being part of a growing social enterprise! View internships here! We also welcome help from professionals wanting to volunteer their time to help see HPH flurish. Whether you are a lawyer, accountant, designer, marketer, business owner or a jack of all trades --we would love to hear from you! Email rebecca AT if you are interested!

Become a Campus Ambassador: Another opportunity for college students is to represent HPH on their campus through our Campus Ambassador program! Host events, engage your community and earn free jewelry! Learn more here.

Host a Trunk Show: An HPH trunk show is a great time to gather with your bible study, co-workers, classmates or neighbors. Have an evening of hanging out, yummy food, sharing about the importance of who made your goods and a time to shop!! Interested? Learn more here.

Recommend us to your favorite retailer: Is there a shop in your town that you wish sold HPH? Shoot them an email recommending us or simply send us their contact information and we will let them know how we found out about them! If we end up working with them, we will send you a gift as a thank you!


  a Rafflecopter giveaway


The Shalom necklace is available for sale online at Hands Producing Hope.

the moral wardrobe: Hands Producing Hope Shalom necklace

hands producing hope shalom necklace
hands producing hope shalom necklace

Hands Producing Hope is an accessories company with a mission to support marginalized women in Costa Rica through dignified work, life skills courses, and spiritual guidance. They sent me this beautiful Shalom necklace to review and it's become a fast favorite. 

The Shalom necklace is made of glass beads and seeds from the Ojo de Buey ("eye of the bull," part of the legume family) and Jaboncillo harvested by the artisans. I like that it's an organic twist on a statement necklace, plus the neutral tone makes it versatile. I wore it four days in a row when I first got it!

fair trade jewelry
fair trade outfit
Ethical Details: Top - c/o Tonle; Skirt - secondhand via thredup; Necklace - c/o Hands Producing Hope

I reached out to founder, Rebecca Gardner, for a behind-the-scenes interview about the daily running of Hands Producing Hope. I've included a few of her answers below (you'll see the rest Wednesday).

What does a day in the life of an artisan look like at Hands Producing Hope? 

The days of our artisans vary quite a bit because we work with women ranging from high school students to grandmas! Most of their days start soon after the sun rises, begins with either getting their own children ready for school or getting themselves ready for school. Soon after waking up they begin making the fire that will likely be burning during the entire day. Rice is a fairly normal breakfast or at times it is some form of meat if the family has recently slaughtered a chicken or pig (with no refrigeration, meat needs to be cooked right away and then consumed fairly quickly).

The women work on their jewelry or headband assignments throughout the day as they have time. This often happens while babies are napping, beans are cooking or kids are in school. Having the flexibility to work any time during the day or even not work on day and just do more work another is key for the women in our program, as many of them have many other responsibilities with their families! Often families have houses near each other and so sisters, cousins and in laws will get together during the day to work together and just spend some time socializing. If there is a soccer game on, you are sure to find a large crowd at the nearest house with a TV that evening. While this isn't an exact representation of what every day looks like for the women in our program, I hope this gives you a glimpse into their daily lives!

How do you select materials for your goods? Who designs them? 

We love utilizing local, natural materials. We also love the contrast of a beautiful metal beside a hand picked seed. Our products include materials found in the artisans local village, a near by town, and around the world. The designs are a collaboration between myself and our awesome board member/product design extraordinaire Emily Duke. We often pull designs from traditional Guaymi patterns and styles!

Make sure to check back this Wednesday to learn more about Hands Producing Hope and enter to win your own Shalom necklace!


Check out Hands Producing Hope on facebook, twitter, and instagram. Shop here

introducing Ikwetta

Ikwetta is a fair trade, sustainable accessories brand based in Kenya. Co-founders Varsheeni Raghupathy and her husband Leela, a Kenya native, were honeymooning in his home country when they happened upon beautiful, handcrafted sandals at a local market. When they realized that the artisans were not able to make a livable income due to competition and a relatively small consumer market they decided to partner with them to bring their goods to a wider audience.

In their own words:
"While my wife and I fell in love with the products, it was the people behind them that we feel the most for. We realized that African artisans definitely have the talent and their passion shows in the products they make, but what they lack is an avenue through which they could make a decent living through their skills and hard work. We want your support to help us create that avenue …. we want your help to build Ikwetta."

Ikwetta launched a Kickstarter campaign today to get the company off the ground. It's a great opportunity to help some talented people and get some lovely fair trade goods. I really love the Flower Power and Jewelled Peacocks styles shown above.

the moral wardrobe: backlogged

Ethical Details: Earrings - handmade by Hannah Naomi; Top - thrifted; Sandals - Sseko Designs

I started this post, uh, like a month ago and forgot to post it!

This morning, I dropped off Daniel at school, then headed over to Albemarle Baking Company, a Charlottesville staple. I dreamed about their chocolate croissants last night, so I was determined to get one. When I got to the counter, I ran into my old boss from Java Java! The male attendant complimented me on my Sseko Designs sandals, handed me my croissant and hot tea, and I settled into an outdoor table with a magazine for the next hour or so. 

I'm not very good at taking time to just breathe. I spent a lot of time at home dawdling and reading blogs, but my mind's always preoccupied with the next task, so it was nice to really settle into leisure time this morning. 

The True Cost Movie: a useful primer on the clothing industry

the true cost movie review

The True Cost, a documentary by Andrew Morgan, explores the intricacies of the fashion industry from the cotton fields to the leather tanneries, from the mills to the garment factories, from the garment worker slums to department stores. Narratives from fashion designers, economists, and laborers are woven together to provide the true story - and the true cost - of fast fashion.

It may be true, as one reviewer pointed out, that the very people who most need to hear this story are unlikely to seek it out. If you're here reading this, you're already aware of the horrors of the fashion industry and have come to terms with your part in it. But The True Cost may be just the tool we need to get more people on board - if we're willing to put in the work to get people to watch it. You feel the gravity of the despair impressed on garment workers by the insatiable demands of western consumers, but you also get a sense of the way the whole system works and what you can do to change it; its a relatively succinct primer on the ethical consumerism conversation and Lord knows that conversation can get really long and really complicated rather quickly.

I was particularly impressed with the film's coverage of the flimsiness of Corporate Social Responsibility standards (which talk a big talk without affecting safety and labor standards in the factories they claim to protect) and its blatant critique of Capitalism, which "must be able to expand infinitely" in order to be successful. Both points speak to the need for federal regulation that holds corporations accountable for the way workers are treated.

the true cost movie still

I took a few notes during the second half and was struck by a few quotes and statistics:

Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil. 

Leather tanneries release chromium as a byproduct, often into local river systems and ground water. Chromium poisoning causes jaundice and can lead to liver cancer if left untreated. Families in rural Indian communities can spend their entire household income paying for medical treatment for ailments caused by chromium poisoning.

Garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh often have to leave their children with friends and family in villages because they are unable to support them in the city. Workers may not be able to see their children more than twice a year.

"My God, we can do better than this!" - Richard Wolff 

When workers peacefully protested for higher wages in Cambodia, police opened fire to break up the crowd. Five people were killed, at least one of them by severe beating.

"The only person [in the current fashion industry] who's becoming richer is the owner of the fast fashion brand." - Livia Firth

The fashion industry is "a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside it." - Andrew Morgan

the true cost movie still
the true cost movie still
Did The True Cost change my life? No, but it reinforced my resolve to not turn away from the people and resources affected by an unsustainable and inhumane clothing industry. It reminded me, too, that the industry hurts me directly by exposing me to harmful chemicals and encouraging me to be a rabid consumer of throwaway goods that will never leave me satisfied.

As ethical consumerism activists, we have the opportunity to use The True Cost as a launching pad to tell our own stories and to help people find the resources they need to change their consumer habits.

Watch the trailer here. Download the film here

Photo Credits: first and third image - The True Cost press kit; second and fourth image - screenshots from film pulled by me.


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