Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Ethical Fashion Isn't Fun Enough?

ethical fashion is fun

Ethical fashion is having a moment right now. Celebrities are instagramming it. Big time bloggers are talking about slow fashion. And communities that used to only talk among themselves - fair trade, ecoconscious, vegan, all natural - are becoming so large they're starting to run into each other, creating a big puddle of passionate, ethically minded people who can learn from one another. It's beautiful. If I had a little wine in me, I might shed a happy tear over it.

But, as with all of-the-moment things, popularity invites critique. 

A recent Forbes article suggests that sustainable brands need to "become more fun and less preachy." Shoppers in a new psychological study suggested that consumers who cared about ethics were boring (and un-sexy, of all things). And some sustainable fashion insiders suggest that distinguishing something as "ethical" or "sustainable" dooms it for failure. As if that's not enough, I recently ran across the profile of a blogger who suggested that sooooome of us ethical bloggers just don't know how to be approachable with the young people because we talk too much about certifications and regulations and ethics. Or maybe because we keep telling people to stop buying so much gosh darn crap, and that's not very fun, is it?

While I think internal and external critique is beneficial, I feel like we're selling ourselves short by insisting that everything be as appealing as possible, with the lowest barrier to entry. I started Style Wise as a personal style blog on purpose, because I thought it was an approachable way to prove to myself and other fashion blog readers that you could dress fashionably - and more importantly, like yourself - wearing all ethically sourced pieces. Along the way, I realized that a lot more needed to change than simply where I spent my money and I began to recognize the ways that local justice work, environmentalism, politics, and labor rights play into one another. It was, and is, a slow path to progress, but it happened because I continually challenged myself to learn as much as I could about the industry.

I think the whole ethical and sustainable living experiment is fundamentally about education.

And education is sometimes technical, sometimes boring. Sometimes not fun at all! As author Marilynne Robinson said at a talk I attended last week, we are equipped with the most sophisticated organ in the known universe - the human brain - and every single one of us has one! We have too much potential within us to insist on everything being perfectly approachable on the first read. We can do better than that, and we must if we want to create a better world. I want to live in a world where people are interested in having the kind of fun that doesn't come at a cost to others.

Now, I can totally see how brands benefit from talking less about the marginalized makers and letting the product speak for itself, but I don't see that as the real issue here. I think we need to redefine what we mean by fun in the first place. Call me weird, but I think it's fun to see hard work, dedication, raw talent, and profound respect for people and planet come together to create a product that will have a long life in the home or on the back of someone who cherishes it. It's way more than fun, actually: it's gratification, contentment, awe, connection. It's meaning-making.

So, I can't buy a critique that tells me that the only way to convince people that this matters is by continuing to over-consume (in the case of a few well-intentioned bloggers) or by removing all the hard facts from my posts or by branding myself in a way that isn't transparent, authentic, or true. I can't promise that I'll always be having fun over here, but I'll always be striving to be transparent and hopeful. 

I'm all-in, accepting the tragedies and triumphs of this messy industry and this occasionally overwhelming lifestyle choice. Will you be all-in with me?

review: the LoveGoodly February Box delivers natural, healthy goods to your door

lovegoodly box review
This post contains affiliate links.

I discovered LoveGoodly by chance late last year and was immediately intrigued by their subscription box concept. Subscription boxes are the thing right now, but not all of them are created equal. And while I like the idea of some of the fair trade clothing and accessories boxes, I knew I wouldn't find as much value in them since I'm fairly literate about my options in that category.

But I am in the process of finding more sustainable health and home goods, especially as the market rapidly expands, and the LoveGoodly box offers full size products at a 50% discount. Plus, a portion of proceeds from this month's box goes to support the charity, Cure Cervical Cancer.

lovegoodly february box review

I sampled the February box using a discount code provided in exchange for review.

Here's what's inside:

  • Purely Elizabeth Apple Currant Muesli, $6 value:
    • I had no idea what muesli was before I received this, so I hunted around to make sure it didn't need any special preparation. Muesli is a glorified granola/oatmeal that can be used as cereal, granola, or hot porridge. I like mixing it with Greek yogurt. I'm really enjoying this, but I don't think I'd spend $6.00 on it. I might make my own blend. 
    • Available for purchase here.
  • May Yeung Infinity Bracelet, $40 value:
    • This bracelet makes me go Ehh (shrugs shoulders). It's fair trade with a sterling silver charm and is really quite lovely, but it's just not my thing. 
  • skinnyskinny Basil & Mint Soap, $12 value:
    • Sadly, this soap contains palm oil, which is easy enough to avoid for the sake of rainforest conservation. The plus side is that it smells great; I dig the bright, herbal blend.
  • Cellar Door Tahitian Grapefruit Vanilla Travel Tin, $10 value:
    • I LOVE this candle. It smells like a beachside vacation, so it's a nice pick-me-up on cold days when I'm stuck indoors. I would definitely repurchase. Cruelty free, fair trade, made in USA.
    • Full size available here.
  • LVX x LOVEGOODLY True LOVE Red Nail Polish, $18 value:
    • A saturated, classic red, this is a good staple, plus its toxin free, cruelty free, and creates a nice, glossy finish. I would repurchase this, too. 
    • Available for purchase here.

All in all, I was a little disappointed in this box. I would only repurchase the candle and the nail polish. Still, I enjoyed experiencing muesli for the first time. I was hoping for a facial care product like I've seen in previous boxes, but I'm really thrilled that I was introduced to Cellar Door candles. 

lovegoodly review
Left to Right: Cellar Door Candle at teatime; Muesli with Yogurt; The candle canister on Valentine's Day

Some products that came in this box are available for individual ordering at the LoveGoodly shop.


Get $5 off your LOVEGOODLY purchase of $25+ with code, LOVESHOP5.

interview: introducing GoodWell, a new kind of ethical certification

GoodWell certification interview

If you've ever purchased something that was labeled "fair trade," you're already familiar with the idea of certifications. From GOTS to Fair Trade to Rainforest Certified, certification programs exist to ensure a minimum standard is met before companies can use that particular term to define their products. Not all "ethical" products are created equal, after all. Familiarizing yourself with the standards of any given certification can help you navigate your way to products you believe in.

GoodWell founder, Pete Gombert, likes the idea of certifications, but he felt that no current certification program embodied all of the qualities he - and fellow conscious consumers - looked for in an ethical company. A slew of certification programs not only confuses customers, it creates a financial burden for companies who must certify each component of their company through separate enterprises, stacking B-Corp on top of Fair Trade on top of organic cotton (GOTS) certifications. He and the GoodWell team are about to launch the first comprehensive ethical certification program on the market and, after reading this interview, I hope you'll be as excited about it as I am. 

Thanks to GoodWell for sponsoring this post.


How did GoodWell get started? What inspired it?

About 6 years ago while I was the CEO of my third startup company, Balihoo, I was struggling to find purpose in my professional career. I have been fairly successful by conventional definitions, however, I found the work we were doing to be uninspiring and I needed more. I started looking into how I could leverage my position as the CEO of a technology company into something more purposeful and stumbled into the corporate social responsibility arena. The first book I read on the subject was Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chiounard, the Founder of Patagonia and it opened my eyes to the possibility of business as a force for good. Ever since that moment I have had a passion to solve the problem of the role of business in society. GoodWell is the manifestation of 6 years of research, conversations, interviews and thought on how we can slightly alter the existing system and produce massive systemic results.

What is the end goal of the GoodWell Certification program?

GoodWell’s mission is to create a world in which all businesses operate at a basic level of humanity. The GoodWell certification program will return a level of transparency to the market we haven’t seen for ages. In the past, consumers would hold companies accountable for bad behavior by not purchasing their products. Back in the day of Adam Smith, businesses were members of the community, they played a role and were expected to act with basic humanity. Today, we as consumers don’t have that level of visibility into the companies we buy from, they are simply too large and complex. Our only methods for determining if a company is worthy of our dollars are brand, price, quality and customer service. GoodWell’s simple, yet audacious mission is to change the world by giving consumers the information they need to support good, caring, conscious companies and avoid irresponsible, greedy, self-interested companies.

fair trade versus GoodWell certification

Is there a rating system? If a company reaches out and doesn't meet your minimum requirements, what happens?

GoodWell has developed a simple process to ensure companies act with basic humanity. It is a simple process with the possibility for unprecedented results:

  1. Companies join GoodWell and commit to the GoodWell Code of Conduct. 
  2. Companies measure 13 simple metrics each to demonstrate their adherence to the Code. 
  3. Every year as part of their financial audit, an independent third party verifies the company metrics.
  4. Companies display the GoodWell logo in order to provide consumers with the assurance they are buying from a good company.
If a company isn’t in compliance with all 13 metrics, they cannot become GoodWell certified. It’s a binary system that is intended to be simple, universal, and transparent, for all companies - of all sizes and in all industries. This is important because we are aiming to be the floor of corporate behavior. Our metrics should be simple for companies to achieve and as a result if a company can’t meet all metrics something in the business is wrong and should not be supported. We believe this type of transparency is critically needed in the free market today.

In the past, organizations like the Ethical Trading Initiative have been called our for having too broad a definition of what "ethical" means, resulting in labor abuses through the supply chains of some of their certified companies. How will your process differ from other broad certification programs?

GoodWell believes all companies should treat their customers, employees, communities, suppliers and the environment with decency and respect and operate in a sustainable manner. In order to achieve GoodWell certification a company must pass all 13 metrics, so one cannot become certified if it is stellar in one area but lacking in another. Further, the metrics and their collection method are required to be independently verified and audited by a third party on an annual basis.

In addition to the independent audit, GoodWell requires the company to certify their entire supply chain over a ten-year period. This is one of the most critical differences between GoodWell and other certification programs. This causes a cascading reaction all the way through the supply chain, to the very end, which is often in the parts of the world most susceptible to environmental and human rights abuses. This requirement makes it much more difficult for a company to clean up their own house and outsource their bad behavior.

For the purpose of certification, how do you define a living wage (in hourly wages)? If the federal minimum wage is raised to $15.00/hour, will this affect your certification standards in any way?

GoodWell requires companies to pay at least 90% of their full-time employees a living wage, defined as a wage high enough to keep a family of four above the poverty level. The poverty level will obviously vary by country of operation. In the US this would mean someone working full-time would need to be paid more than $12.12 per hour. If the legal minimum wage was raised above that level, then that requirement would be automatically met.

ethical certification introducing GoodWell

On your "How it Works" page, your section on suppliers says that companies must strive to GoodWell certify their supply chain. What does that mean in practical terms? If supply chains are not certified up front, what steps are taken to ensure that they are in the near future?

GoodWell has a strict requirement for certified companies to ensure their entire supply chain is GoodWell certified over the course of a 10-year period. A GoodWell company must exceed the following supply chain certification levels for each year after they sign the GoodWell Commitment:

Year 1 – 20%, Year 2 – 40%, Year 3 – 50%, Year 4 – 60%, Year 5 – 75%, Year 6 – 85%, Year 7 – 90% Year 8 – 95%, Year 9 – 98%, Year 10 – 100%

GoodWell serves as the clearinghouse for the certification standard and as such we control the calculation of the supply chain adherence. As part of the audit process the auditor will provide GoodWell with a list of all suppliers to a given company and GoodWell will then match those suppliers with our database and calculate the score to determine if the metric is met.

I'm intrigued by the idea of a universal standard - and I think it's a step in the right direction - but I worry that standards that are made too broad will result in a sort of greenwashing (or ethical-washing) of the industry and obscure the truly conscious choices. What steps are you taking to ensure this doesn't happen?

There are two keys to our program which ensure greenwashing is eliminated.

  1. Binary metrics. Because our metrics are a binary pass fail there are no grey areas or room for interpretation. Each metric must be passed in order to achieve certification.
  2. Independent Auditing. Given the lengths companies will go to promote good behavior and hide bad (look no further than Volkswagen) we believe independent certification is essential and as such it is a cornerstone of the process.

Additional Info: GoodWell is a for-profit Public Benefit Corporation with the specific goal of creating social benefit. There is a certification fee that varies based on the size of the company and companies with less than $500,000 in annual revenue are certified free of charge.


Special thanks to Pete and Kallen for reaching out and answering all of my questions!

Interested in learning more about GoodWell? 

Check out their website

Become a founding member here.
Follow along on social media: Facebook // Twitter

6 movies on female exploitation to watch instead of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls

sex trafficking solutions and a review of nefarious

I was recently invited to a viewing of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls at a nearby church and enthusiastically accepted the offer to watch another film about the sex trafficking industry. Though I know more than the average joe about trafficking simply due to the fact that you can't talk about fair trade very long without running into exploitation, I wanted to see if I could gain new insight.

The film starts with the booming, bass-heavy music one typically associates with a crime thriller...

Admittedly, the title turned me off. It sounds like a pirate horror movie. And the production value didn't really help change my perception. The film starts with the booming, bass-heavy music one typically associates with a crime thriller, and a reenactment of a new girl being groomed for trafficking, her abuser pushing her into a dark room full of scared, crying young women. Meanwhile, the voice-over of a "rescued" trafficking victim retells the horrors of her life imprisoned. I don't want to make light of this: I have no doubt in my mind that her experience - and the experience of a million girls, women, boys, and men - is absolutely true. But I hoped that this over-dramatized start wasn't setting the viewers up for the oversimplified narrative of a crime thriller. After all, this is real life.

Producer and director, Benjamin Nolot, was on a mission to discover the realities of trafficking for himself, so he went to Europe, Cambodia, Thailand, and the US to track down traffickers, the trafficked, and the people trying to change things for the better. He discovered that trafficking at its broadest definition was simply "exploiting the vulnerable," and that vulnerable situations ran the gamut from economic despair to childhood abuse to cultural dynamics that supported - and even endorsed - trafficking. Though I have a few bones to pick, mostly having to do with the film's total lack of nuance on policy and individual cultural conceptions (Here are a couple: 1. Sweden's prostitution laws, which are held up in the film as an example of what works, have been critiqued numerous times for having the effect of driving trafficking even further underground, making it more difficult to aid victims and, 2. human trafficking is MORE than sex trafficking!), most of the data presented rang true based on what I already knew about trafficking. And it's hard to argue with the facts.

And yet...

And yet, I couldn't help but want to yell at Mr. Nolot as he contorted his facial muscles grotesquely, listening to the heart-wrenching statistics and personal stories: "You can do better than this!" You see, Mr. Nolot and his ilk don't see that they themselves exploit the exploited by juxtaposing their stories against gaudy graphics, over-dramatic reenactments, and the faces of the do-gooder men trying to "save these girls."

"These girls'" stories are quite enough all on their own. Cut the music, cut the harsh lighting, cut the weeping. Look at them. Let them speak. They benefit from our help, sure, but they don't need us to cry over them. They need us to be strong with them. It is as awful as it sounds. Let that be enough.

So, if you're thinking about watching Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, maybe watch these movies instead:

  • Whore's Glory - a documentary team follows prostitutes in their daily lives in several countries. Beautiful and striking in its subtlety, the story is told through the eyes and in the words of the women. (Available on Netflix.)
  • The True Cost - a larger look at labor exploitation in the global economy. Not specifically about sex trafficking, but will provide a wider lens with which to view the issue. (Available on Netflix.)
  • Very Young Girls - covers sex trafficking of young girls and women in New York City. (Available here.)
  • Hot Girls Wanted - a look into the porn industry through the eyes of young women who enter voluntarily. (Available on Netflix.)
  • The World Before Her - follows young Indian women involved in the Miss India pageant and the Hindu Nationalist party. A troubling glance at how patriarchy limits women's choices. (Available on Netflix.)
  • Girl Model - a documentary about Russian girls who enter modeling contests in the hopes of having a better life. (Available on Netflix.)

The movies above are about the exploitation of women, not just about trafficking. It strikes me that we can't keep talking about the evils of trafficking if we don't want to talk about patriarchy. Economic inequality and corruption are worth noting, but women keep getting the short end of the stick because of entrenched ideas about our worth. We need to look at the whole problem, not just at sex. Women are conditioned to constantly be thinking about our bodies, to protect and hide them or to flatter and use them as a means to get ahead. Men and women alike are complicit in encouraging us to objectify ourselves. Things are made worse when rapid social change, damage to infrastructure, and economic injustice run rampant. Some of us have more privilege than others, but none of us are free.

And if you want to do something about trafficking, there are a few things I can think of. 

  1. Commit now to stop buying products from sweatshops, non-fair trade chocolate and coffee, and new vehicles. The International Labour Organization estimates that 18.7 million people are labor trafficked globally. Of that, "14.2 million (68%) [are] in forced labour exploitation in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing" (Anti-Slavery International).
  2. Purchase from social enterprises that support anti-trafficking programs, such as Thistle Farms
  3. Find local organizations committed to combating trafficking in your area and see what you can do to help. Consider donating time or money. Many communities host meetings on this topic with local law enforcement, so try to attend local events. 
  4. My friend, Hannah, is helping get a social enterprise up and running to provide employment to women in the Philippines who are in recovery from lives of trafficking and abuse. They hope to have their screen printing shop up and running by summertime and are currently raising money to purchase equipment and supplies. I strongly believe in Hannah and her team's mission and think they're doing a great job of helping without further exploiting the women they serve. 

If you have a bit of money left over (maybe from your tax refund?), please consider donating here:

Support A Beautiful Refuge.

A final thought: We will never change the world if we keep painting ourselves as heroes and saviors. We will never change the world by calling ourselves "change-makers." I want to change the world, so I do my small part. Context is everything and everyone is multifaceted. We do an injustice to all when we make blanket statements about who's good and who's evil. I try to see shared, equal - always equal - humanity in the face of everyone I interact with, whether they're the exploited or the powerful. And that might not change the world, but I think we want to be seen, to be acknowledged. I believe that the more we share in that, the more humane we become. That means something.

the moral wardrobe: here we go again

bonlook glasses nomads fair trade tunic outfitlong cardigan and jean jacket layered looklong layered cardigan
Ethical Details: Tunic - c/o Nomads (Fall '14); Cardigan -; Jacket - secondhand via Thredup; Boots - thrifted; Earrings - locally handmade by A Pocket Novel

We got hit with another snowstorm Sunday night and the snow is still falling as I write this on Monday. I don't think we'll hit blizzard level this time, but I'm pretty sure it's going to mess up work scheduling. A lot is shifting and changing at work due to employee health issues and a general need for improvement to the building and store displays, so I'd rather just get back to work. Snow always insists that we slow down and I'm not in a slowing down mood!

I put this outfit together in my head last night. I like playing with lengths when layering and the cardigan and jacket together provide just enough warmth for a brief foray into the white wilderness. After over 3 years trying to make smarter, more ethical purchasing decisions, I'm finally starting to be able to pull together looks comprised of almost entirely ethically sourced things. 

It's important to use what we have regardless of where we got it, so it's not a huge accomplishment, but it's nice to see how items purchased from various fair trade and secondhand shops work together to create a wardrobe that is distinctly me. I don't feel limited at all!

interview: meet Helga Douglas of sustainable lingerie brand, Svala

svala sustainable loungewear and panties made in usa

Svala is an LA-based sustainable lingerie and loungewear company that makes delicate, feminine pieces out of surplus lace and sustainably-sourced bamboo viscose under ethical labor guidelines. I've been hunting for simple loungewear pieces to replace some of my older items and Svala fits the bill. I had the opportunity to ask founder and designer, Helga Douglas, about the inspiration behind her collection, as well as some nitty-gritty sourcing and sustainability questions. Thanks to Svala for sponsoring this post. 



My name is Helga and I am originally from Sydney but I have been living in LA for the past seven years. The name for Svala comes from Iceland where my mother is from. It is one of my favorite girls' names and means swallow (bird) which represents freedom and hope.


I have always loved fashion. My first job out of high school was at the wholesale office for Versace in Sydney. I also love nature and the environment and as I learned more about the detrimental effects that the fashion industry can have, I started to research brands which were producing sustainably. I ended up writing about sustainable fashion for the Los Angeles Examiner a few years ago. Researching what other people were creating in the sustainable scene inspired me to create my own brand.


I usually get up pretty early and try to get to a yoga class before starting work. Then I begin dealing with what needs to be done for the day, including marketing and design.


During production we use established companies that have a good reputation and pay their workers fairly.


When I first started designing lingerie and sleepwear, I tried using organic cotton lace but it didn't seem to keep its shape very well and was difficult to work with. I love lace and started searching for alternatives and ended up choosing to use factory surplus materials.

svala sustainable loungewear and panties made in usa


(...I know that bamboo viscose can be processed organically or chemically and that the latter poses potential environmental and health risks. Can you speak to that concern?)

Our supplier uses bamboo which is certified as organic by the Organic Crops Improvement Association (OCIA). The main chemical in processing the bamboo fiber into viscose is caustic soda or CS2, one of the most widely chemicals used in the world. This chemical is used in production of paper, soap making, food production and nearly all cotton fabrics including organic cotton (during the wet processing). It is approved for use on textiles under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).


Our supplier states that the process is done in a hermetic container where 100% of the chemicals that are used are trapped and contained, not released into the factory, environment or atmosphere and 73% of CS2’s are recycled while 26% are recycled into Sulfuric Acid (H2S04). They do not claim that the whole process is “green” but they do strive to be as eco-friendly as possible.


The colorful feel of Sydney and LA and the simplicity of Scandinavian design. I want everybody who wears Svala pieces to feel beautiful and cozy.


The Vivien lace lingerie set in beige floral and sky blue, which is my favorite set.

svala lace bralette set


I am always on the lookout for new fabrics and dyeing methods to expand the line and increase sustainability. I am currently looking for fabrics besides viscose from bamboo for the sleepwear range which are biodegradable and produced more sustainably.


Every little bit counts!


Svala Pieces range in price starting at $25.00. My favorites are the Vivien Lace Bra in Beige Floral ($65.00) and the Mari Sleep Shorts ($60.00).

Keep up with Svala on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest

Shop here:

svala logo

natural bodycare and home products you can make yourself, by Hanna Baror-Padilla

This post was written by Hanna Baror-Padilla and originally appeared on the Sotela Blog.
diy skincare recipes

Sotela is a forthcoming ethical clothing brand that supports and encourages women through all seasons of their lives by providing well-designed, versatile clothing in a range of sizes. Click through to discover more simple beauty and home recipes. 

In Hanna's words: are all the DIY beauty and home recipes I use daily, which I’ve found on Pinterest or other blogs. And get this: every recipe has 5 ingredients or less! Everyone is different so these may not work perfectly for you, but give it a shot before you decide it isn’t for you.

I’ve become even more zero waste with my beauty routine since this post because I mostly make everything myself. Instead of buying packaged beauty products every couple months, I buy packaged bulk items, which last a couple years.


(Recipe adapted from Wellness Mama)

  • 1/2 cup olive oil 
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup beeswax
  • 3-4 tablespoon shea butter
  • 20 drops lavender essential oil


If you go to Wellness Mama’s blog, you can see how she makes the face lotion. Each batch of lotion lasts about 6 months and I haven’t had any problems! Talk about budget friendly and minimal.


(Recipe by Trash is for Tossers)

  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 25-30 drops organic food grade peppermint essential oil


You can watch Lauren of Trash is for Tossers make toothpaste! If you feel like it is too much oil, you can add more baking soda, which is what I did. Either way works for those pearly whites!


  • 1/2 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 20-40 drops lavender essential oil

Optional: Lauren of Trash is for Tossers adds 1/4 cup of shea butter. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m going to for my next batch because sometimes my armpits get sensitive.

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a double broiler and stir until melted. I use a large jar and place it in a pot of boiling water.
  2. Once all of the ingredients are melted together, I mix one final time and add 20 drops of lavender. You can use any oil you like!
  3. To apply, simply scoop some out with your finger and rub on your armpits.

Get more simple recipes on the Sotela Blog.



I made my own Lavender Body Spray after getting inspired by Hanna's recipes. Instructions are below (adapted from this website). 
diy lavender body spray


  • 5 tbsp rubbing alcohol (90% or higher)
  • 1/4 tbsp essential oil
  • 2 tbsp distilled water
  • 1/4 tbsp jojoba oil

  1. In a glass measuring cup, mix alcohol and essential oil. Add distilled water and jojoba oil slowly. You may adjust each as necessary. 
  2. Pour into dark (preferably glass) container. 
  3. Let sit for a few days for ingredients to meld. Shake thoroughly before use.

What are your favorite DIY recipes for home and body care?

new in: Sseko Designs' spring collection 2016

sseko designs spring 2016

I always look forward to seeing how Sseko Designs' creatively reinterprets its original versatile ribbon sandal each season. They did not disappoint.

The Spring '16 collection launched today and I'm digging the new stitched leather soles on their ribbon sandals, the accent updates, and the brand new designs in their collection, like these cool, gold slip on sandals.

My favorites, pictured above, are:

(clockwise from top left, affiliate links included)

It's so inspiring to watch ethical companies I love thrive and improve over time. Sseko Designs deserves their success. They've worked hard to ensure that their business improves not just the lives of the young women they employ, but the local economy, as well. Their employees go on to get degrees, start their own businesses, and serve as mentors for new hires. 

Buyer Beware: Covert Missionary Operations

This is the second post in a series called Buyer Beware on business models I generally don't support. Make sure to check for updates to see more on this topic and read my first post here.christian social enterprise critique
Today I'm continuing my Buyer Beware series with a word of caution to Christians and Christian-founded social enterprises, specifically those who set up shop with the specific goal to evangelize their employees or local, marginalized communities with which they do not identify ethnically, culturally, or religiously.


This topic is bound to be a sensitive one for many of my readers simply because the fair trade movement is dominated by Christians. As a Christian raised in the Evangelical tradition, it's particularly important for me to address it as an insider rather than as an external critic. Lots and lots of fair trade companies are founded and run by Christians and there's nothing wrong with that. But an unfortunate combination of naivete about global economics, the importance of local cultural and religious traditions, and our history of economic imperialism can turn good intentions sour very quickly.

Social enterprise - and the fair trade model in particular - arose in the US out of the Christian missionary tradition when, in 1946, Mennonite Christian Edna Ruth Byler went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico and realized she could provide a larger market for the artisan goods she discovered there by making them available to US buyers. I admire her passion and tenacity to found and maintain one of the most respected fair trade companies in the country, Ten Thousand Villages.

Mission work connected, and continues to connect, Americans to people around the world who benefit from linking up with vendors and marketplaces that support preexisting small businesses and build local infrastructure. That's great. But I think we're often too quick as Christians to turn our justice work into proselytizing work before we've met any needs or cultivated honest and equal relationships, and that's devastating.

Here's what I believe, plain and simple:


In the case of Christian social enterprise, that reward is often the satisfaction of saving souls. But considering your evangelism sales pitch before you've even gotten to know someone is not putting people first. That should be obvious, but too often it's not. For myself, I want to embody Christ so thoroughly that my words and actions point to my faith without me having to pull out my Evangelism 101 handbook, guide people through the "Roman Road," or recite the Sinner's Prayer. If I'm doing this Christianity thing right, I'm in conversation with people, not preaching to them.

Think about it this way: Jesus is the perfect embodiment of, well, Jesus. When he healed the sick, they knew who he was and what he believed, but they weren't required to jump through any hoops to benefit from the miracle. Jesus doesn't take back his gifts or withhold healing. And neither should we.

Required Reading:

I read a company's mission statement several months back that enthusiastically exclaimed that all of their employees were required to undergo spiritual coursework every week if they wanted to work there. Keep in mind that this was a development project in an impoverished village where work was scarce. Telling people they must commit to exploring a new faith to keep their job, particularly when that job is their only option, amounts to coercion.

Creating a Diversion:

I also know of organizations that exist solely to cover up mission work in countries hostile to Western, Christian missionaries. I get the appeal of this type of work, namely that we shouldn't let governments stand in the way of speaking truth - and it doesn't come without real danger - but before we start sending over spies, maybe we should ask why some countries don't want us there. 


I suspect it has a lot to do with economic and cultural imperialism.

When most people think about imperialism, they think of the British Empire, which, at its peak, controlled nearly one fifth of the global population. But, while the age of imperialism may be over, the practice is alive and well.

Colonialism and imperialism are calculated moves to ensure maximum wealth and power for the dominant nation through the control of resources and manipulation of people and culture.

It's the anti-Robin Hood strategy: steal from the poor and give to the rich. Great Britain isn't the only nation to have done this. America benefits from it, too (I suggest you read the Wikipedia page). Big business interests have ravaged South and Central America by disrupting local economies with an influx of factories and cheaply made goods. In its early years, Wal-Mart even paid for South American students to attend free market classes in order to disseminate its economic principles to their home countries, thereby giving Wal-Mart easier access to manipulate their economies to its own end. Meanwhile, the US government "intervenes" repeatedly in foreign affairs for its own social and economic benefit.

Previously colonized and currently imperialized countries don't trust Westerners. They don't want us marching in there and telling their citizens what to believe and how to behave, and for good reason. Certainly, it's not correct to conflate all forms of Christian practice with Western imperialism, but I think it's fair to be wary of Americans who come in not just to start businesses but to evangelize a way of life that, historically speaking, almost always includes exploiting the poor and stealing resources. 

All that to say that there are complicated dynamics at play when we start bumping up against other countries and other cultures. We need to recognize our complicity in undermining infrastructure and make sure that our social justice work fixes systemic issues. By all means, live out your Christian faith through social enterprise, but do it with sensitivity and constant self-reflection.

TL;DR: I don't support "ethical" companies that, through their branding, marketing, and mission statement, make it clear that they are more concerned with converting people than with meeting their needs through dignified work and high quality products.

Additional Reading:


Coming up in this series:

- Direct Sales/Home Parties
- Exploitative Advertising Practices
- Great Mission, Terrible Products

in the news: factory fire, refugee child workers, & new ways to report abuse

clothing industry news for conscious consumer
Syrian refugee children found working in Next and H&M factories
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian adults in Turkey work for low pay far below the minimum wage of 1,300 Turkish lira (£309) per month. Many children are employed as cheap labour on farms and factories in breach of Turkish and international laws that forbid those under 12 from working. Children aged 13-14 are banned from all but light work.

“We cannot talk about it”: Factory workers for major fashion labels live confined by guards
Among the worst of the findings in the report was that some Bengaluru factories kept women (the majority of garment workers) in hostels monitored by male security guards and severely restricted their movements. Most were allowed to leave for only two hours a week, usually on Sunday to buy groceries and other items, and only after registering with a guard.

Another major factory fire in Bangladesh shows “industry safeguards” are failing
The Matrix Sweater Factory, on the eighth floor of a building in Gazipur, burned for nearly four hours before firefighters could contain it, the Daily Star reported. The same factory caught on fire on Jan. 29, News Bangladesh reported.

21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own
...our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes

Starbucks the Benevolent?
Working there typically means making low wages and having to smile when customers order no-whip, extra-foam lattes with one and a half packets of Splenda. But in a growing number of places, Starbucks will do a little something special to make up for that.

Cellphones Are Letting Companies Learn What Their Factories Are Really Like
A “social audit” is one conducted in person, which sounds rigorous. But in practice, managers are often present during audits, making factory workers hesitant to complain for fear of retaliation, and, on top of that, some workers have reported being coached by managers on the “correct” responses to inspectors’ questions. 

Thanks to Ethical Writers Co. members and ZADY's The New(s) Standard for the links! Sign up for The New(s) Standard here.

the moral wardrobe: second tries

jean jacket thrifted outfitalpaca sweater modern ethical jewelry from madefairethical outfit
Ethical Details: Sweater - NOVICA; Jacket - thredup*; Boots - secondhand via ebay; Necklace - MadeFAIR*

Sometimes I photograph an outfit only to realize upon reviewing the photos that I hate it. I switched out my sweater and jacket and ended up with something that felt much more me. I have a tendency as a shopper to buy multiples of the same thing until I find the perfect version of it and occasionally I wonder what that says about me. Am I striving for perfection? Is that healthy? Do I need the thing at all if I can't seem to make it work?

In the case of this "jean" jacket, I'm happy I took a second chance. I love the look of denim jackets, but I can't stand to feel constricted in the shoulders, so this knit one from thredup was a much better fit.

I guess my point is that anything is better than nothing, but if there's a better way, a better opportunity, than why not strive for that? (In case you wondered, I'm not really talking about clothing anymore.)

On another note, this sweater is an Alpaca/Wool blend and it's awesome!

Buyer Beware: One-for-One Models

This is the first post in a series called Buyer Beware on business models I generally don't support. Make sure to check for updates to see more on this topic.
one for one model critique

If you've been around here long enough, you'll have noticed that there are several brands prominent in the conscious consumer community that I never mention. Some of you have even commented or emailed me with the assumption that maybe I just haven't heard of them. For the most part, I'm not going to name names - God forbid I gain a reputation as the tattle tale in this space - but I do want to highlight the business models and brand strategies I generally feel uncomfortable supporting over the course of the next few weeks.

In most cases, progress is progress, no matter what that looks like. I expect companies to make mistakes along the way, because I make mistakes, too. But if your entire company ethos has the potential to destroy as much as it builds over time, I can't consider you ethical. That's all there is to it.


One-for-One Models

I've talked about the one-for-one model before (I'm even advertising one of them on my sidebar), but I think it's worth mentioning again. One-for-one models, popularized by TOMS shoe company, operate under a "Buy something, give something" branding strategy, wherein the consumer's original purchase triggers the donation of a good or service to someone in need. On the surface, there's nothing wrong with that, but in practice, the model often does more harm than good.

And here's why, according to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School:

“When you give away something free, you’re giving away a band aid. You’re not addressing deeper causes [of poverty] and you may be inhibiting long-term solutions,” Miller notes. “Poor people aren’t poor because they lack stuff; they’re poor because they lack the infrastructure to create wealth.”

If your company undermines development of local infrastructure, your model has failed. The article recommends that companies interested in one-for-one as a marketing strategy need to be careful to ask what the needs of the community are before they begin in order to ensure that aid provided is useful long term. That's why some companies (like ones who provide glasses and vision care, for instance) are fine in my book, while others are just so-so.

The other (extremely important) question to ask of your favorite one-for-one company is this: who produces your product and under what conditions? TOMS has made moves in recent years to ensure that its factory workers are being treated just as well as its beneficiaries after receiving criticism from business experts and consumers. No sense helping one party and screwing over the other. That's not charity - that's just crazy!

Some points of clarification based on your (very good) feedback:

One-for-one models, and TOMS in particular, trail-blazed the whole concept of conscious consumerism. There's no denying it. They also serve as a good introduction into the ethical conversation. I am grateful for that (I wrote about TOMS a couple years ago, too). But I can't help but feel uncomfortable with a model that uses questionably conceived charity as its primary branding strategy. Copycats (watch Shark Tank - the millennial wantrepreneurs are all over one-for-one models) take advantage of this marketing strategy to overcharge for their goods without making any discernible changes to their production standards or employee wages. I would never tell you that you should boycott a one-for-one as long as it's making strides throughout its entire production process, but it's important to look past the initial feel-good nature of these companies and ask yourself whether you really want to buy in.

TL;DR: One-for-one models just aren't ideal, 1. because they don't solve structural and economic problems in poor communities and, 2. because labor and sourcing issues are often obscured by the glossy finish of the noble cause.

Additional Reading:

Update 8/29/16: New documentary, Poverty, Inc. (available on Netflix) does an excellent job of describing the differences between a charity model that can ultimately harm local infrastructure versus a fair, economic model that puts the power in the hands of the people. I highly recommend it.

Update 4/5/17: I LOVE when other people catch on to this and make quality content for our viewing pleasure. For further evidence that this model is flawed, watch this video:


Coming up in this series:

- Direct Sales/Home Parties
- Exploitative Advertising Practices
- Covert Missionary Operations
- Great Mission, Terrible Products

ethical giveaway: celebrating 1,000 followers

I'm celebrating 1,000 Instagram followers with a BIG giveaway on Instagram, running for the next week. Click on the embedded post to enter. If you don't have Instagram, simply use the form below to enter instead. Thanks for following along; I'm happy to be able to give something back to you all in the form of a non-sponsored giveaway.

ethical giveaway style wise

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