Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability

SUSTAINABLE STYLE & ETHICAL LIVING

Krochet Kids' "What's It Worth?" Initiative

krochet kids lookbook image
This post contains a few affiliate links

What is knowing who made your clothes and accessories worth to you?


Krochet Kids is a leader in the transparent manufacturing movement with their strong emphasis on the human element behind every product (they created the #knowwhomadeit hashtag), and they're amping up the conversation for the next 24 hours with their What's It Worth? Initiative.

From the press release:
The “What’s it Worth?” initiative will last for 24 hours (Wednesday, September 30th at 9am PT through Thursday, October 1st at 9am PT) and shoppers will be able to name their price on a selection of products including headwear, bags, apparel, and accessories for both men and women. KK intl. hopes to accelerate the conversation surrounding transparency and social impact by asking supporters to name their price and consider what knowing who made their product is worth to them.

krochet kids #knowwhomadeit

It's not clear to me exactly how the pricing structure will work since as of my writing this the initiative hasn't begun, but it's a thought provoking move. To really have to think about what something is worth rather than just stewing over what I can afford forces me to stop thinking about myself for a second. Textile manufacturing is difficult, skilled labor. If I were doing it myself, I know what I'd deserve to get paid. Maybe I should work harder to see the garments I buy for the work, and the people, behind them.

Sure, recognizing the true value of something makes it a heck of lot more expensive, but it also makes it mean something to everyone involved. And if we're not striving to live with meaning, then what exactly are we striving for?

Let me know if you buy anything through the special event today! I'm curious to see how it goes.

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Read FAQ on the initiative here. Shop Krochet Kids' What's It Worth? sale here.


the moral wardrobe: all the stripes that we can see

multi stripe casual dress
fall outfit inspiration
ethical personal style
striped dress
Ethical Details: Dress - secondhand via consignment shop; Earrings - Mata Traders; Cardigan - old

My car was due for a safety inspection last week and it just so happens that the garage I go to is across the street from a shopping center, so I dropped off the car and walked over to see what I could see. I'd been in local consignment shop, Rethreads, before and hadn't really seen anything I liked, but this time around, I struck gold. This dress is everything a stripes-lover could ever want, plus I've been on a black and white kick for several weeks now (to the point that the volunteers at work are remarking on it), so I snatched it up. They have great prices and a reasonable consignment structure, giving back either 50% of the sale price in store credit or 25% in cash to the original owner.

When the weather gets cold and dreary, I try to make sure I'm wearing something that makes me happy. As a result, my cold weather wardrobe is a lot more varied than my summer one. That and afternoon tea are the only ways I get through winter here. Fortunately, it's not that cold yet, but we haven't seen the sun here in about 5 days. Suffice it to say there was no lunar eclipse viewing party at our house this weekend. 

Why Pity is a Bad Marketing Angle, by Tavie Meier of MadeFAIR

pity marketing is bad

This essay was originally published on EcoCult, a blog devoted to all things sustainable in NYC and beyond.

“For just 10 cents a day, you can help a child in need,” said Sally Struthers with an emaciated, brown child sitting on her hip. Cut to a group shot of more malnourished brown children with flies congregating around their eyes and mouths. “No child should go hungry. Find it in your heart to sponsor one.”

Those commercials gave my 8-year-old self unfamiliar pangs in my stomach and pulled at my tiny little heart strings. Now, as an adult, it’s Sarah Mclachlan’s ads for rescue animals. It’s always late, and I mournfully stare at the residue in the bottom of my wine glass, emotion is running high, so I pick up the phone. However, my credit card isn’t within reach, so I promptly hang up and turn on Netflix.

That feeling is called pity. It creates awareness of a problem – always sad and far away – but it’s not strong enough to make us take action. We convince ourselves that it’s not within our power to help, or our power is too limited to make a difference.

This strategy is prolific in ethical fashion. There are two types of buzzwords associated with our niche:
  1. Fair Trade, ethical, sustainable, and 
  2. Survivor, at-risk, war refugee, sex-trafficked, poor, needy
As MadeFAIR’s buyer, I prefer the first because they describe the products. I actively avoid companies who use the second because they reduce their makers to simple adjectives.

Ethical fashion is commonly – and erroneously – regarded as charity because it’s a solution to fast fashion, one of the main contributors to global poverty. 80% of humanity lives under $10 per day, due in part to complex and sinister socio-economic systems which ensure the West has access to cheap clothing. Ethical is not the fashion or any major industry’s default. It’s growing, yes, but 98% of clothing manufacturers exploit workers and/or create irreparable damage to the environment. Fair trade offers customers a choice on how to spend their money on products they’d buy anyway.

Pity and guilt come into play when ethical labels market the perceived tragedy in their employees’ backgrounds. I have seen countless businesses and charities march through Cambodia with both sinister and wonderful intentions, but who produce similar results that perpetuate poverty and harp on Cambodia’s past.

dorsu top at madefair.co

Here’s an example from an online store that works in Cambodia, with the URL www.BuyHerBagNotHerBody.com, a dire binary in which neither choice sounds appealing.

The Nomi Network is in business to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking. Every item you buy provides jobs for survivors and helps end modern-day slavery.

While it’s true that poverty is root cause of human trafficking, not all people living in poverty are at-risk of being trafficked. A study in the 2011 U.N. Inter-agency Project on Trafficking said that, at most, 1,058 prostitutes in Cambodia out of 2.7 million females living in poverty were trafficked and held in a brothel against their will – including 127 children, six of whom were under the age of 13. That’s .03% of the “at risk” population.* I’m not painting the image of “the happy hooker” or downplaying the abhorrence of the modern slave trade, but you can see that poverty does not immediately put someone at risk of human trafficking or prostitution as many companies imply. They could be at-risk of back-breaking agricultural work, or dangerous commutes to factories, but these scenarios boil down to the lack of better employment options.

Survivor is another buzzword ubiquitous in ethical fashion and offers a lot of leeway. A survivor of what? In Cambodia, anyone over the age of 35 is a genocide survivor, and anyone over 20 lived through a coup d’├ętat and civil war, including people working in garment factories. Fundamentally, nothing differentiates a shirt labeled “Survivor-Made in Cambodia” with an H&M shirt labeled “Made in Cambodia.”

This subject is viscerally irritating to me because my mother came to the United States as a genocide survivor. Close friends, family, and pushy strangers know about our family’s history, but it’s a fact I don’t usually publicize on popular blogs. That’s because besides being a “survivor,” she is an expert seamstress, talented designer, international volunteer, and a hard-working mother of two strong-minded daughters. She never put “genocide survivor” on her resume.

The most damaging aspect of pity is how it perpetuates a colonial dichotomy between maker and buyer. The makers are from the “Third World” or “developing” nation, while the buyer is from the “First World” or “developed” nation. Those terms are outdated and create a hierarchy that turns the West into the paragon of society who can force its values on other countries. Framing a marketing campaign around adversity exploits the maker and manipulates the buyer. Pity solicits a knee-jerk response that may work once, but isn’t sustainable if a business wants to retain customers.

I want MadeFAIR to be different, keeping stories of survival at bay and focusing on moving forward rather than calling on people’s tragic backgrounds for marketing purposes. We’ll never call an artisan a “survivor,” “at-risk,” or “underprivileged.” They’re seamstresses, craftsmen, and business owners.

sseko designs gold loafers from madefair.co

So, instead of describing a scarf like this:

This scarf was hand-loomed in rural Takeo by elderly survivors of the Khmer rouge who lost their families to the genocide and their land to factory development.

Try this:

This season-defying scarf was meticulously hand-loomed by expert craftswomen in Takeo, a province renowned for their exquisite silk weaving and hand-dying technique, ensuring each piece is one-of-a-kind.

Alden succinctly worded what ethical fashion should be in her policy on free stuff: “beautiful, useful, sustainably made, and ethically produced.” We are not charities. We’re selling products, not causes. Ethical fashion is long-term capitalism at its best. We gainfully and rightfully employ people with the skills to make desirable products. Customers will know our ethical values the first time they buy, but repeat customers appear when our products outstanding quality.

When the revolution happens, it will be due to innovation and creativity. There’s limited space in our brains for an exhausting emotion like pity, and limited market space for the same bohemian bag made by a different set of survivors.

If we’re to compete with thoughtless fast fashion, our energy needs to focus on building alternatives that can replace cheap, throwaway clothing. As the revolution takes hold of the industry and more workers are fairly compensated, their “tragic” histories will be replaced by a bright new story, and the companies who rely on those tragedies will be lost as well.

*Based on a population of 15.2 million Cambodians, a .96 male-to-female overall ratio, and a 2012 poverty rate of 17.7%.

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Tavie Meier is owner of MadeFAIR, an online ethical clothing shop based between her hometown, Denver Colorado and adopted town, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where she’s lived and worked for the last three and a half years. Armed with a degree in anthropology from CU Boulder, she worked in the non-profit sector for ten years before founding MadeFAIR, a retailer which partners with ethical fashion labels, small businesses, and artisan workshops that ensure their employees receive fair wages plus use sustainable, repurposed, and biodegradable materials in their products as often as possible.

P.S. Check out the MadeFAIR* sidebar ad for a groovy coupon code.

*affiliate link

giveaway: win a set of Bracelets 2 Educate friendship bracelets

bracelets 2 educate giveaway

Happy fall, y'all. Charlottesville got the memo about the season change this year and is keeping things cool and sunny this week.

And now for a giveaway! Bracelets 2 Educate is Education and More's bracelet line that gives back 100% of profits to education programs in Guatemala. Check out my last post for more information about the company. Today they're offering a set of friendship bracelets in shades of blue to one lucky Style Wise reader! My birthday is Saturday, so think of this as a party favor!

You can enter two ways...

Option 1: 

Subscribe to the Education and More newsletter (find the subscribe box at the bottom of the homepage here), then come back here and leave the email address you signed up with in the comments.

Option 2: 

Find the above graphic on my instagram and follow the entry instructions.

The Fine Print: You can enter using each option once. Open to US readers only. Giveaway will end Wednesday, September 30 at 11:59 pm EST. 

Best of luck to all of you.

If you have more than one friend you want to give a bracelet to, you can use code, birthday, for 26% off your purchase at Education and More!

the moral wardrobe: Bracelets 2 Educate

education and more bracelets 2 educate

When Karen of fair trade organization, Education and More, asked if I would review their new friendship bracelets for Style Wise, I got excited. I'm not much of a bracelet wearer, but my sister and I were always begging my parents to buy us little macrame bracelets at souvenir shops in our coastal hometown as kids. Even though we didn't get along until late high school, we wore our matching friendship bracelets all summer long until the sun and chlorine wore them down. I didn't have time to send a bracelet along to my sister before getting this post together, but I do intend to send one to her soon!

Education and More is a Christian nonprofit working in Guatemala to raise women and children out of poverty through fair wages and education. The Bracelets 2 Educate line is unique in that 100% of profits go back into their education program in Guatemala. Plus, the bracelets themselves were fairly made by artisans employed through their program. The friendship bracelet idea is such a fitting one for a project that treats people with respect and love.

education and more bracelets
bracelets 2 educate
Ethical Details: Top - Everlane; Sandals - thrifted; Bracelets - c/o Education and More

The great thing about these bracelets for me, a small-wristed individual, is that they're adjustable. And the ends of the braided thread are waxed so the macrame clasp stays in place once you've gotten it where you want it. If you like layering bracelets, you can buy a few and stack them. Bracelets 2 Educate are reasonably priced at $5.00-7.00 each. If you're already thinking about stocking stuffers, these might be a good choice.

These bracelets might be simple, but they're really well made, streamlined, and great for everyday wear.

Since it's my Birthday Week (the big 2-7 on the 26th), Education and More is offering 26% off your order with code, birthday.


And stay tuned for a giveaway later this week!

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Shop Bracelets 2 Educate here. Follow Education and More on twitter, facebook, and instagram

sustainable living: making the switch to cloth pads

cloth menstrual pads

A couple of months ago, I finally made the switch to cloth pads. After the Kotex pad I had used for years was discontinued — it was part of the line that gave TSS to former model Lauren Wasser — I decided I needed to make a change.

I've spent the last three years blogging about conscious consumerism, so it was about time I extended my ethics to everyday goods like pads. From both a financial and environmental perspective, it was the right choice for me, and I wish I'd made it sooner...

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Read the rest at Mind Body Green

the moral wardrobe: oldies

personal style
h & m jumper
polaroids
sseko designs loafers
Ethical Details: Top - made in USA; Dress - old; Shoes - Sseko Designs c/o Made Fair

Sometimes the most ethical thing you can do for your wardrobe is wear out your old things. I bought this dress at H&M a few years ago on a trip to Richmond with a friend. At the time, I was impressed with H&M's corporate social responsibility report and thought they'd be a good option for ethical goods. My opinion has changed over the years - fast fashion is unsustainable regardless of how well-intentioned your policies are - but I am pleased to see that H&M is starting to make jeans out of recycled materials and plans to use organic cotton for all its cotton goods within 5 years. It's not perfect, but it's a start. 

I've been spending a huge amount of time at work preparing for and implementing our seasonal switchover to fall-appropriate clothing. Lots of physical labor. But it's pretty much done now and I'm excited to have more time to enjoy the cooler weather and maybe stop by a nearby sunflower field in the next couple of weeks.

A note on the camera: my parents sent me back from my recent visit with my old Polaroid camera, so I bought myself some film and tried it out! It still works just fine and it made a nice prop for this photo shoot. Maybe I should hold more things in my hands when I take outfit photos. It makes me feel like I have a purpose.

second hand challenge: outfit 1, black and white stripes

second hand outfit
low back top
strappy flats
black and white outfit
Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Skirt - secondhand via Thredup; Shoes - upcycled

I take it for granted how much of my wardrobe belonged to someone else before it got to me. Working at a thrift shop, you can lose track of how much you're taking home with you. When I bought this blouse (for $3.50), I remember thinking it wasn't quite my style and wondering if I'd actually get around to wearing it, but I love the plunging back and the fit of it so much that it's become one of my favorite pieces. 

That's not always the case, though. I've made a lot of terrible impulse buys that I end up re-donating. Still, I've had pretty good luck getting things I love at second hand shops. In the past month alone, I've purchased a cashmere cardigan ($3.50), practically new Urban Outfitters duster ($3.50), Sam Edelman Petty Booties ($3.99!), and a current season J. Crew top ($10.00) from thrift shops and ebay. (You may be asking, "But what about your capsule wardrobe?" at this point, and to be honest with you, that's up in the air; that project really helped me figure out my style and narrow down my purchases, but the seasons here are so unpredictable that I haven't been ready to start it.)

I know a lot of people find no thrill in sorting through poorly organized racks of second hand clothes (I can't imagine why! JK), but it's definitely worth your while to take a quick look around a second hand shop before splurging on a new item. You'll save money and give old things another chance to see the light of day. 

giveaway: Win $100 to MadeFAIR!

This post contains an affiliate link.

My excitement over new ethical boutique, MadeFAIR, still hasn't worn off and I've been wearing the heck out of my gold loafers, so my eyes are bulging out like a hyped up rodent over today's giveaway (I know this visual is weird and not particularly flattering to me, but I'm typing this while gazing lovingly at my pet rats, so the simile came easily).

Founder, Tavie, is offering a $100.00 gift card to MadeFAIR to be used at the winner's discretion. Just use the entry form below to enter and make sure to check out my giveaway announcement post on instagram for additional ways to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Open to international readers. Contest will run from Tuesday, September 8 to Tuesday, September 15 at 11:59 pm EST. Additional entry available on instagram. This contest is not affiliated with instagram. 

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Get 15% off at MadeFAIR anytime using the code, STYLEWISE15.
Visit MadeFAIR on facebook, instagram, and twitter


find me at Seasons & Salt today!

true cost movie consumerism
Film Still from The True Cost movie; text and effect added by me

When Andrea (of this helpful capsule wardrobe post) asked me if I could write on "the importance of considering where your clothes come from," I was convinced I'd have a hard time with it. After all, I write on this topic a few times a week for Style Wise. But I'm thankful for the challenge, because it forced me to expand my focus from the day-to-day issues and crystallize a lot of my thoughts about behemoth topics like labor, consumerism, and capitalism. 

You can read my post, Knowing Who Made Your Clothes Matters, on the Seasons & Salt blog today. Thanks for having me, Andrea.

second hand challenge: upcycle your way to the perfect closet

DIY black strappy flats

Part of the fun of buying second hand, particularly if you're at a thrift shop, is that you can get a bit experimental with your style both because thrift shops carry a huge assortment of goods and because things don't cost very much money. And if you can't find the exact thing you want, you may be able to buy something similar and make a few tweaks when you get home.

I'd been wanting a pair of black flats that weren't plain jane for awhile, but I just couldn't find anything that worked out at the numerous thrift shops and second hand sites I visited, so I decided to make my own! The best part is that I was able to use things I already had lying around, but you should have no trouble finding a plain pair of flats at your local thrift. I'd recommend scoping out yard sales or calling your local thrift shops (and maybe a Habitat Store if you're near one) to find basic craft supplies. My church's prayer shawl ministry just gave away a whole bunch of unused craft supplies, so double check to see if people in your community have spare bits and bobs.

make strappy flats diy

To make a pair of strappy flats, you'll need:

  • sturdy, flat ribbon (I used a wide grosgrain) for loops
  • scissors
  • heavy duty craft glue like E-6000 or 9001
  • chiffon fabric/ribbon or leather cord (depending on what type of look you're going for) for laces
  • plain flats

shoes tutorial

Instructions:

  1. Make loops for your straps to go through: Measure the height of the sides of your shoes, then double this measurement and cut your grosgrain or other sturdy ribbon to size. Using the first piece of ribbon as your template, cut 7 more pieces of ribbon. 
  2. Create loops by folding each piece of ribbon over itself, then secure with a strong craft glue. Let dry. 
  3. Figure out where you want your loops to be secured on the shoe (I eyeballed it), then glue your ribbon loops into the shoe. I used a relatively small amount of glue on the side of the shoe to ensure that the shoes wouldn't become too stiff or uncomfortable. Let dry.
  4. Choose your laces. I used my Sseko Designs chiffon ribbons*, but you could make your own chiffon ribbons from a thrifted dress or skirt or buy some cord from a craft store if you want a narrower strap.
  5. Lace straps through loops like you're lacing a sneaker. Secure around your ankle.

black strappy flats

Since I may decide I don't want straps on my flats after awhile, I made sure not to use too much glue when securing the loops onto the sides of the shoes. If I want plain flats again, I can simply cut the loops off.

Sometimes changing up your wardrobe just takes a bit of brainstorming. Next time you're looking to update an old standby, consider altering what you already have with a bit of help from a second hand store. 

*denotes affiliate link.

EWC Second Hand Challenge: don't chuck your junk in my backyard

Ethical Writers Coalition Second Hand Challenge

The Ethical Writers Co. of which I am a part has decided to host a Second Hand Challenge for the month of September. That means something different to each of us, but we're all hoping to bring to light the beauty of buying second hand. I've gone on and on about the benefits of secondhand shopping already, even writing an article about it for Relevant Magazine, but I'm still learning to Shop Secondhand First for everything instead of impulse buying on Amazon.

Since I manage a thrift shop, my perspective on the secondhand industry is perhaps more obsessively parsed out than most. While I think that the used goods market is a vital middle man between retail stores and the landfill, it is by no means a perfect system. For one, a lot of donors assume that everything they give to thrift shops and other charities will find a happy home and go on to live a full life, but that's just not the case. At my shop - and I think we're rather generous about what we keep - we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day. We send most of that off to another charity in the hopes that they'll find some use for it, but we're fooling ourselves if we don't admit that half of that pile will end up being thrown out.

"...we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day."


This is the biggest pitfall of the secondhand market: it operates (for many) as a guilt release valve for over-consumption. People don't feel bad about buying new stuff because they know they can hand over all their old stuff to charity. They don't have to deal with the burden of tossing it in the trash.

This point assumes, of course, that people tend to feel guilty about throwing things away, but that's not true for everyone. Some people give to thrift shops simply because it makes them feel like they've done their good deed for the week. One donor even told me that she considers donating her stuff to thrift shops her primary act of goodwill, as if handing over unwanted items to us is a heavy burden for her. While I'm sure every charity shop is immensely grateful that people donate, it shouldn't replace real activism. The donor-receiver relationship is mutually beneficial; it's an exchange, not a great moral deed.


"If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them."


Another downside of the secondhand market's existence is that it allows people to be flippant about their possessions and the human and environmental costs of production. If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them. I've made it a habit to pray for the makers of the things I buy, use, and wear whether they were fairly sourced or not, not so much because I think my prayer will change the lives of those I pray for, but because I think the habitual act of prayer will change my heart for the better - it will orient my thinking toward justice and intentionality.

Despite its shortcomings (but let's be honest, they're really our shortcomings), shopping secondhand is still a very good thing, because it gives perfectly usable things another chance to live our their intended lives instead of being thrown out or otherwise abandoned. And everyone can benefit from the secondhand market: people with lower incomes have access to nice things, shopaholics can curb their spending, landfills don't fill up so quickly, local charities receive financial support, and the people who made the goods in the first place are remembered and respected through the long term use of their products. But, as with everything in this life, we must act responsibly.

rules for shopping with intention

Shopping secondhand is a budget friendly way to shop more sustainably and I'm determined to get in the habit of buying more than just clothes on the secondhand market. Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift. Plus, there are a ton of other ways to get exactly what you're looking for on the secondhand market thanks to marketplaces like ebay and thredup; or you could host a swap with your friends or in your community and find things you love for free (plus, passing things on to the specific people you know will value them is often a better option than donating willy-nilly to a thrift shop). I figure that if I can buy something that's on a slippery slope to the landfill instead of buying new, that's a small win for sustainability.

"Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift."


So follow along with me and the EWC this month as we take on the #ethicalwritersco Second Hand Challenge. If you use our hashtag on social media, we'll be able to see what you're up to and get some inspiration! You may be a novice to shopping secondhand or a seasoned pro, but we want to know how you're taking advantage of charity shops and online consignment sites to create a more sustainable, less wasteful life.

Additional Reading:


From the EWC: