Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Pssst, Early Access to Purse & Clutch's Housewares Collection, ...and Such

purse and clutch early access and such
Purse & Clutch, purveyor of fine fair trade bags and leather goods, is launching their first Housewares collection tomorrow. The decision to expand their product offerings arose out of a desire to fill a gap in the marketplace. In their words:

At Purse & Clutch, we're obsessed with buying ethically, but have been disappointed with the selection of items from home decor to tableware that fit our design aesthetic. It seems that the overlap between our style & ethically sourced items is so small. We've already been hard at work for the past four years making finding an ethically made handbag that you love super simple & we're on the cusp of launching something new that will expand beyond our current product offerings. Purse & Clutch is becoming Purse & Clutch …and Such!
fair trade housewares sale

That's exciting enough as it is, but you can get access to the collection one day early by using the link below!

Get Early Access to ...and Such here!

The ...and Such collection employs a small batch, small curation strategy and will be available for one day only on the first of every month, so early access is a helpful incentive.

the moral wardrobe: mountains in 2 languages with Degree Clothing

Degree clothing ethical fair trade
When Degree Clothing reached out to tell me about their sustainable, organic clothing line, I hopped on over to their website to take a look at their offerings only to find that I couldn't understand the product descriptions! Degree is a German brand that caters to a German market and yet, despite the language barrier, I appreciated their design approach and ethical priorities (plus, they have an Etsy shop in English). With the help of Google Translate and my German literate husband, I narrowed in on this beautifully hued graphic tee that says:

Weil bayern berge hat

According to our German church organist, this means "Because Bavaria has mountains." The phrase is meant to conjure the nostalgia, warmth, and culture of mountain-side living. I was drawn to it because I know a thing or two about the beauty of the mountains, nestled as I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Did you notice that the shirt just happens to be Blue Ridge Mountain Blue?

Blue Ridge Mountains Degree clothing ethical fair trade
As fate would have it, I wore this shirt to take my very first tour of nearby historic landmark, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop home. While I enjoyed viewing Jefferson's unusual and eclectic home, I was deeply moved by the 45 minute tour about the enslaved people who called Monticello home.

The thing that stuck with me the most was a comment the tour guide made about personal agency and family life. You were owned from dawn to dusk, but when night came, you finally had the chance to cultivate your real identity among friends and family who grounded you in cultural traditions and reminded you that you had a right to exist on your own terms. Historians of slave documents note that slaves often ranked fear of family separation above fear of death. Can you imagine waking up in the morning and someone telling you that your husband, wife, or child was going to be sent away, never to return?

It's brutal, and yet it was commonplace for our founding fathers and their contemporaries. In the retelling of these stories, we are reminded that deeply rooted, terrible injustice can be - and is - normalized. We can know something is wrong, as Jefferson knew about slavery, and continue to benefit from it. It's not enough to know. We have to f*ing change the systems that allow cruelty to be perpetuated, condoned, and institutionalized.
  Monticello The view from Monticello Degree clothing ethical fair trade
Ethical Details: Top - c/o Degree Clothing; Skirt - thrifted; Sandals - Sseko Designs

Well, that was a tangent (nevertheless, an important one). Anyways, Degree Clothing is fairly and organically produced with a contemporary streetwear aesthetic. Lots of cool tees and sweatshirts at really reasonable prices. This tee will cost you about $29.00 if you purchase through the Etsy shop

If you're based in Germany, shop the Degree site here


Follow along: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

review: bonJOY spring subscription box

bonjoy subscription box review
I've been waiting to get my hands on a bonJOY box to review and the time has finally come! I'm kind of skeptical of the whole idea of subscription boxes because I figure you'll nearly always end up with a few things you'll never use, but I know a lot of people like having access to an affordable sampling of products before committing to purchase at full price. For that reason, the subscription box model makes a lot of sense for ethical companies that don't have a ton of brand recognition.

The bonJOY box is unique in that it sources most, if not all, products from social enterprises working to end human trafficking and pays full wholesale prices for all goods used in the box. Products are often produced by survivors of trafficking who are paid a living wage and offered resources for recovery, and a portion of proceeds are reinvested into social causes. The company is also certified carbon neutral! Learn more about the bonJOY mission and structure here.
  bonjoy subscription box reviewbonjoy subscription box review
So what's inside the spring box? I was scared when I opened up the box to pink tissue paper, pastel gloss, and rose-tinted beads; I tend to avoid anything I deem too saccharine. But, after giving myself a few minutes to play around with the contents, I discovered a collection of products that, while definitely feminine, suit me quite well. Plus, I was made aware of a few awesome companies that would have gotten lost in a sea of ethical companies had I not had the chance to sample them through bonJOY...

This box contained 4 items with a total product value of around $60.00 (at a subscription price of $45.00):

1. Tagua Nut Necklace, Tipharah's

Natural Tagua nuts dyed and strung by fairly employed women in Ecuador, this piece is beautifully handcrafted. Not my normal look, but I think it will look great with a simple u-neck t-shirt.

2. Free to Bloom Pouch, The Tote Project

I follow The Tote Project on Instagram, so I knew a bit about their mission to fairly employee trafficking survivors in India. The pouch is made of lightweight, organic cotton and I plan to use it frequently when traveling. It's a great size for toiletries, or maybe even dirty socks.

3. Rose Sparkle Lip Gloss, My Sister

This lip gloss is a real throwback to my middle school days, but I've got to admit that I love it. A friend recently gave me a My Sister brand balm that soothed my chapped nose after a never ending cold and I'm really impressed by the quality of both products. The bonJOY blog has some application tips you can read about here.

bonjoy subscription box review
And last but not least, my very favorite of the bunch:

4. 4Her Fragrance, The THX Co.

This perfume is like catnip to me (it's no wonder because it has notes of bergamot, blood orange, mint, and roses - just a few of my favorite scents). I don't even like perfume, but I can't get enough of this stuff. Floral at first, it mellows out into a rich, smooth, drop-of-rain-water-on-a-spring-leaf-in-the-forest sort of scent. I did some extra reading on THX Co., too, and I really like their business model. 100% of profits are donated at the end of the year to a handful of charities, sustainable sourcing, pricing transparency, a focus on building infrastructure, adequate financial reporting - they've covered their ethical bases.

The bonJOY box really did bring me joy in some small way, and I am surprised, really, that a subscription box could deliver that kind of emotion. But I had a lot of fun learning about new brands and researching their ethics, and I feel even more connected to this global community of people trying to be kind, aware, and focused on what matters most.


Follow along with bonJOY on social media: Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook.

the ethical closet: spring closet update

ethical capsule wardrobe madefair thredup This post contains affiliate links.

Though I swore off doing a rigid capsule wardrobe last fall, I'm finding that my personal taste is narrowing in on particular colors and silhouettes that work well together anyway, and that things inadvertently look a bit capsule-y around here.

I used to find simplicity unbearable, but I'm learning that a well-cut garment that fits me correctly can be more beautiful than an unusual print or style. This season, I've updated my closet with a few things that will carry me through summer and into fall. I love knowing that what I'm buying can be worn for months and even years and still look good. Some of my pieces have become like security blankets, things I can fall back on when I'm not up to the task of putting together a complicated look.


(clockwise from top left) 

1. Mata Traders Here and There Dress via MadeFAIR, $64.99
It's not spring without Mata Traders! I was thrilled when the brand introduced cotton jersey to their collection last year, but the colors didn't quite work with my complexion. I'm loving this red for spring and summer. Hand block printed, fairly made in India.

2. National Picnic Organic Cotton Skirt via MadeFAIR, $59.99
I didn't purchase this particular skirt, but the style and print are what I look for in spring skirts. I always hit up the thrift stores for vintage midi skirts and recently found a polka dot chambray one at the shop where I work. I'll be featuring National Picnic on the blog soon, so make sure to come back and learn about the brand. Organic cotton, handmade in the USA.

3. Sseko Designs' D'orsay Flat in Caramel, $89.99
I have poor circulation in my toes, which leaves them feeling cold even when the weather's warm, so I'm betting on these beautiful flats to keep my feet comfortable. The style is perfect for both casual and more formal looks, so I think I'll get a lot of use out of them. Leather sourced from small scale meat industry, fairly made in Ethiopia.

4. Everlane Micro Striped Tee, $18.00
I love Everlane's new pima tees and I can't wait for this one to arrive in the mail. I plan on pairing this subtle pattern with my printed vintage skirts. Milled and ethically made in Los Angeles.

5. Jean Jacket via thredUP, purchased with store credit
I've had this jacket since early fall, but I have a feeling I'll be wearing it all spring. As I explained here, it looks like denim, but it's actually a woven, stretch cotton, so it's super comfortable. Secondhand.

6. Teva Sandals via thredUP, purchased with store credit
These aren't an exact version of the pair I purchased, but I'm glad I took the plunge into slightly ugly footwear, because these are quite comfortable and fully adjustable for the perfect fit. Check out ebay for a better selection of secondhand Tevas. Secondhand.

What are your spring picks? I'd love to know about new ethical brands you've discovered recently, as well.

Being Mortal: Sustainable Death and Burial, by Steph Villano

This post originally appeared on My Kind Closet, a blog by Steph Villano.
sustainable death and burial

From Leah: In the Episcopal tradition, we have been encouraged to spend the last 40 days reflecting on our mortality. The Lenten season begins with the solemn words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," uttered by the priest in hushed tones as little crosses made of ash are imprinted on our foreheads.

It may sound macabre in a world that routinely turns a blind eye to the alarming rate of violent deaths locally and globally - and to mortality in general - but it's meant to help us come to terms with who we are, to make us better prepared to understand the startling, overwhelming story of Jesus' sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection. 

This Lenten season has been particularly difficult for me, as I've lost a loved one and have seen many friends and family members fall ill or suffer the grief of loss. But I don't want to turn away from the reality of being human. It's the most normal thing in the world to die and see people die, and yet we pretend it's not a part of our daily lives until we're forced to make hard decisions for ourselves and for our family members. In light of this Good Friday where we remember the darkness and grief of Christ's awful death, I think it's time to take a look at how death can be environmentally sustainable, and made more meaningful through intention and care. 


Let’s have a conversation that some find uncomfortable. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that most people find this conversation unpleasant as our culture tends to evade this topic until it’s absolutely necessary. The conversation I’m talking about is death and how we care for the body of a loved one after he or she has died. This is a very sensitive and personal conversation to have, but I think it’s crucial to acknowledge the environmental and sustainability issues connected to the current standard methods of caring for the dead. In doing so, we might make choices that are better for the environment, but also reconnect us to a natural process and bring an intimacy and reverence back to after death care.

When we think of death we imagine hospitals, funeral homes, caskets, and perhaps the strange but vaguely familiar smell that seems to permeate the air in funeral homes.

We’re not terribly connected to death and the process of burying our loved one’s like our ancestors were. 

Home funerals were the norm and the body of a loved one was washed, dressed, and laid out in the home by family members who then invited friends and members of the community to pay their respects. The body wasn’t feared or reviled. Instead, the process allowed for loved one’s to ritualize the process in a way that fostered closure and acceptance. In many ways it was therapeutic.

Sadly, nowadays, the bodies of our loved one’s are whisked away, treated like contagions that require sterilization, and when it’s time to be buried we see vague approximations of their faces as they rest in their caskets embalmed and painted so that we don’t actually see any physical evidence of their decomposition.

We’d prefer if it looked liked they’re only sleeping. Not dead. Not gone. 

We try so hard preserve what is, in reality, no longer there. In fact, one can choose to be buried inside a casket which is specifically intended to stave off decomposition; To protect nature from reclaiming what should be returning to the Earth.


Embalming Chemicals are nasty.

Embalming is the process of replacing bodily fluids with chemicals in an effort to delay decomposition. Embalming fluids contain formaldehyde, which is known to have adverse health effects including cancer, which means that embalmers themselves are especially at risk. Embalming fluids also contain methanol, which is known to be harmful to animals. These fluids ultimately leech into the ground, contaminating the soil and groundwater. There is growing concern that they might end up reaching water supplies.

Adverse environmental effects of embalming fluids leaching into the ground following a body’s burial have yet to be adequately established, but over 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are introduced into U.S. soil every year through burial, sometimes disconcertingly close to animal and plant life The conventional lawn cemetery is a resource-intensive, inefficient use of space and uses herbicides and pesticides.

Conventional cemeteries are intended to look like peaceful park settings; A place to take a quiet walk and visit our deceased loved one’s while immersed in nature. Unfortunately, a natural environment it’s anything but. Extensive maintenance is required to keep conventional cemeteries looking as pristine as they do, which means that herbicides and pesticides are used, which introduce pollutants into the soil and prevent native flora from growing. But, what resides below ground is problematic, too.

According to National Geographic,

American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. All of this below ground makes it quite difficult to ever use the land again. The space is condemned to hold the concrete and steel vestiges of one’s existence long after their last friend or recent family member or anyone who might care enough to visit has passed on. In fact, Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters, contends that cemeteries are more like landfills.

Those caskets are doing more damage than simply taking up space, though.

Most studies of noxious chemicals leeching into burial grounds tend to focus on fluids emanating from bodies and do not address any chemicals that might come from caskets. A 2012 study in South Africa looked at the mineral contamination from corroding and degrading metals used in caskets. From the study,

Indeed, recent studies conducted found the highest contamination arising from cemeteries originated from minerals that are released by burial loads [1]. The minerals that are used in coffin-making may corrode or degrade releasing harmful toxic substances [2]. These may be transported from the graves through seepage and diffuse into surrounding soils. From there they may leach into groundwater and become a potential health risk to the residents in areas surrounding the cemetery [3,4,5,6,7,8]. Most existing cemeteries were sited without thinking about potential risks to the local environment or community [9]. Toxic chemicals that may be released into groundwater include substances that were used in embalming and burial practices in the past as well as varnishes, sealers and preservatives and metal handles and ornaments used on wooden coffins. Indeed, it would seem as though the caskets intended to stave off decomposition are themselves no match for nature and erode their chemicals into the soil.


Luckily, natural and green death care is a quickly growing industry as the environmental consequences of conventional death care and burials become more and more apparent.

There are some pretty innovative movers-and-shakers within the death care industry who are quite knowledgeable about more natural methods of burial, and are even creating new methods of disposition (like this Mushroom Death Suit!).

I really love Caitlin Doughty, mortician and founder of Order of The Good Death, who, along with her Order members, is a wonderful resource and really helpful in learning about death acceptance and natural burial. I encourage everyone to check out the website.

Anyway, in addition to yearning to be more connected to the end-of-life process, people want to be buried in a way that is in line with their values.

The funny thing is that green burial is not a new concept. If you think about it, it’s the way humans have handled their dead for thousands of years. Some cultures still do.

It was only as recently as the Civil War that we began to commercialize the death process. Family members wanted to preserve the bodies of their loved one’s killed during the war, so they were embalmed in order to be transported back home for a proper burial. This quickly became a booming business and the funeral industry as we know it grew from there.


Don’t embalm.

The easiest and most obvious choice is to bypass embalming. With rare exception, embalming is not required by law. Contrary to what some funeral directors may have you believe, embalming provides no public health benefit and is merely used to delay decomposition.

Choose an eco-friendly casket, urn, or shroud...


Read the rest here.

Underneath It All: Larkspur Offers Confidence-Inspiring Lingerie

larkspur ethical bralette review

When Amanda, owner and designer of Larkspur, and I first started talking about a collaboration, I let her know I wasn't sure about modeling her beautiful selection of bralettes and panties for all the world to see. I'm modest - by nature and nurture - and I didn't want to do anything I'd be embarrassed about later on.

But I was intrigued by her suggestion that Larkspur garments are made to be worn - flattering real bodies* - rather than strategically arranged in a flatlay, and I decided it was a good time to challenge myself to create something artful. Something that felt like me. Not exposed or gaudy, just confident and comfortable.

larkspur luella bra review

I think we need to challenge the idea that women, and female bodies, have value only through objectification and sexual gratification. We can do this by encouraging women to dress, and live, according to their values, beliefs, and aspirations.

It's not selfish, slutty, or prudish, to know - and live by - your limits. 

On the other hand, it's important that we simultaneously grapple with our collective tendency to downplay women's sexuality. We are full people with complex narratives. Let's try not to oversimplify our humanity.

larkspur ethical sustainable lingerie

I love that Amanda and the Larkspur brand appreciate the full humanity of women and honor it. 

Larkspur focuses on comfortable, wearable pieces that make you feel empowered:
At Larkspur, we want to find the place between fantasy and reality, to make a place where women can be more comfortable with their bodies, and be more comfortable with expressing their true selves and their own fantasies. We are exhausted of society pressuring us to be a different person or a different shape than we are, especially while wearing our underwear.

This ethos expands into materials sourcing, as well. Larkspur uses organic cotton, sustainable modal, and high quality factory remnants for the health of the wearer and the planet. Items are handmade in Los Angeles.

Amanda suggested the Luella bra for me, because my skin is sensitive and I've had comfort issues with underwire bras in the past. I love the gray and navy tones and the subtly patterned straps, plus the bra actually fits, unlike the vast majority of conventional bras on the market (it's hard out there for an A cup!).

I'm glad I got the chance to review something with a mission and a style that I love and I'm looking forward to spending my days feeling comfortable and confident in my own skin.

Clothes (and underwear) don't make the woman, but they certainly help us live into the people we want to be.


Shop Larkspur here. Follow along on facebook, instagram, and twitter.

*A point of clarification on my use of the term, "real bodies": Speaking as someone who was so thin in high school that people regularly asked if I had an eating disorder, I generally avoid using terms like "real bodies" and "real women," because they tend to imply that models and conventionally attractive women aren't, in fact, real. When I use it here, I mean that Larkspur doesn't feel beholden to traditional silhouettes, measurements, or contours, because they realize that real women (meaning all women) prefer garments that move with them over garments that merely look good on the hanger. 

giveaway: Malia Designs Pleated Crossbody + Matching Wallet ($80 value)

fair trade crossbody purse giveaway

Malia Designs has partnered with Style Wise for an Instagram giveaway, happening now:

Win a Pleated Crossbody and Matching Wallet from the Spring '16 Collection!

To learn more about the Pleated Crossbody, ethical guidelines, and the spring collection, see my review post here. To enter, check out the Instagram post. Best of luck!


Enter here.

the moral wardrobe: Malia Designs' Spring Bag Collection

ethical outfit Malia Designs crossbody
Sometimes things just work out perfectly. One cold winter day, I was sitting in front of my computer pondering what type of handbag I wanted for spring and where in the world I would find it. I knew I wanted something large enough for my planner and a book, with lots of organizational pockets in a fairly neutral print. Plus, it needed to be a crossbody (I only use crossbodies). A few days later, I got an email from Lucia at Malia Designs asking me if I'd like to collaborate with them on a post about their spring line!

Malia Designs is a well established fair trade handbag company. The artisans and producers they work with in Cambodia - primarily marginalized or at-risk women - are paid a living wage and provided a safe working environment. Read more about one of their artisan partners here. Additionally, all materials are sourced locally, which is more sustainable and benefits the local economy. A portion of proceeds are donated to Damnok Toek, an anti-trafficking rehabilitation and resource center that primarily serves child survivors of sex trafficking.
  Malia Designs Pleated Crossbody reviewethical outfit with Malia Designs
That's all well and good, of course, but a product needs to suit your lifestyle and your personal taste, too. The cotton canvas Pleated Crossbody in Canary (part of the Khmer Collection) is sturdy, beautiful, and comfortable. I've always loved gray and yellow together, and the screen printed leaf print feels like spring without overdoing it.

It's such a luxury to be able to fit a lot in my bag after carrying a tiny purse around all winter (though there are benefits to carrying virtually nothing around, too). That being said, it's still a manageable, everyday size that transitions well, whether I'm going out to dinner or stuffing a day's worth of work into my bag. At $50.00, it's a reasonably priced option if you're in the market for a new purse this season.
  Malia Designs Fair Trade HandbagsEthical Details: Dress - secondhand; Sandals - Sseko Designs*; Earrings - Hannah Naomi; Pleated Crossbody Purse - c/o Malia Designs

I've been toting around the Pleated Crossbody for the past week and I've already gotten a lot of compliments on it. Plus, now that I have room for my planner, I'm not forgetting everything anymore (it was getting pretty bad - someone showed up at my house last week for a meeting and I asked them what they were doing here!).

Here's to warm weather, remembered meetings, and ethical handbags.

I'll be giving away this bag and more later this week, so make sure you're following me on Instagram!


Shop Malia Designs here. Follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Buyer Beware: Direct Sales (Multi-Level Marketing)

This is the third 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. Read about One-for-Ones here. Read about Covert Missionary Operations here.
direct sales pyramid scheme critique

Admittedly, I've got a bone to pick with the direct sales people. I *tried* to sell Avon for a couple years in college and all I got was company debt (talk about owing your soul to the company store!) and a bunch of subpar makeup.

If you haven't experienced direct sales (similar models include home parties, trunk shows, and various iterations of "independent consultants"), you're one of the lucky few. You'll know when one of your friends has started selling makeup, clothing, jewelry, shoes, tupperware - you name it - through this model, because suddenly 90% of interactions convert into sales pitches.


1. Your friend learns about a "fun way to make money" in a nontraditional way. This is really appealing to students, moms, people who for whatever reason can't work traditional jobs, or people who are trying to balance lots of things and could use some additional income.

2. She meets with a brand consultant, typically someone higher up in the pyramid who lays out the program's benefits and helps her purchase starter kits, set up an account, and order catalogs and supplies. There is normally some investment at this stage, or at least the suggestion that having sample product will make her a better salesperson. Your friend purchases a starter kit and has already lost money.

3. Your friend's starter kit and catalogs arrive. She has been told that her best customers are her friends and colleagues. She gets to work telling everyone she knows that she's selling this great product that changes the world/is nontoxic/is uber cute/etc.

4. At first, her friends are like, "Cool. I'll buy something. Let's support so-and-so." Your friend reaches her minimum monthly order (not all companies have this guideline, but Avon did. If you didn't meet it, you had to pay a fee each month).

5. The next month rolls around and your friend is faced with the task of reminding all her friends that she sells an awesome product. They just wanted to go out for coffee. Everyone feels sad.

6. Your friend is having trouble making additional sales, so she reaches out for advice from her direct sales network and they all say that you just have to be persistent, so she posts incessantly to social media, throws "parties" to tell her friends about the new catalog, and orders more sample product.

7. All of her friends unfriend her on facebook. Nobody buys anything. Your friend dies a miserable death at the hands of the direct sales model. The world is ablaze. We are doomed.

I really hate direct sales. If the above object lesson didn't do it for you, let me summarize:


The people on top make all the money and your only chance at middle tier success relies on you being sort of sleazy toward your friends and neighbors, except in rare circumstances where you may fill a need. Even then:

Forget coming out ahead — just breaking even can be tough. In his 2010 study of 12 multilevel marketing companies, FitzPatrick says, he found that the bottom 99% of salespeople did not earn a net profit — at all. The reason? Expenses. (Market Watch)

If you're just in it for the discounts, know what you're getting yourself into. To avoid fees or lower tier status, you will continually be told that your success hinges on turning your deeply meaningful social network into a sea of regular customers. That's not fair to you and it's not fair to them.

Add to that the reality that most people who get taken advantage of by these sorts of jobs are already poor, unable to find conventional or regular work, or desperate to make a little extra money. Not to mention the gendered dynamics: direct sales models are almost exclusively pitched to women, who still make just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Encouraging women to pursue a direct sales career that is almost inevitably doomed to fail does nothing to promote pay equality.

A clarifying point: Within contexts of affluence, like sororities, neighborhood organizations, or church groups, I'm sure direct sales can work quite well. But because direct sales is often marketed to people who don't have the advantage of collective affluence, a lot of the people involved don't have a real chance of success.


My argument still stands.

Consider this: you spend hours a week as a direct sales consultant advertising for a company that may never even pay you for the work you've done, because it completely rests on your shoulders to make the sale and get the commission. Even if the company has good intentions, this simply isn't fair. Add to that the tough sell of higher priced products and you may find yourself in a bind pretty quickly.

In most cases, in fact, the fair trade direct sales model makes me even angrier than conventional models, because it uses all this marketing on the front end to talk about offering fair wages to its artisans but it quietly ignores the fact that the consultant may make close to nothing. People in Cambodia or Uganda or Guatemala don't matter more than you. We're equal. Let's make that clear in our sales strategies.

TL;DR: The direct sales approach is a legal pyramid scheme that has exploitation built into its framework and is ultimately not compatible with fair trade.

(If you sell through a Direct Sales company, please know that I don't hate you. To the contrary, I don't want you to be taken advantage of the way I was in college. I intentionally didn't call out particular fair trade brands, because this isn't a brand problem, it's a structural problem.)

Additional Reading: 

Update 11/8/16: Don't take my word for it! Check out this John Oliver clip on Multi-Level Marketing


Read Parts One and Two.

Coming up in this series:

- Exploitative Advertising Practices
- Great Mission, Terrible Products

How Instagratification is Changing the Fashion Industry, by Kasi Martin

fast fashion instagram runway
Your 2017 winter coat is coming down the runway right now!

That promise didn’t do much for you, right? That’s because our shopping expectations have changed.

It’s a time of instant gratification. Or, let’s call it Instagratification to be topical. Nowadays, it’s easy to scroll through Instagram and click-to-buy something because a brand or blogger made it look irresistible. Our transactional decisions are predicated on an aspirational life, but now it’s sold to us in expertly edited 1080 x 1080 square pixels.

Instagratification has been the norm at NYFW for a few years. But this season, something has changed. It’s the first time a number of designers are speaking out against the traditional, four season [Spring/Summer, Resort, Pre-Fall, and Fall/Winter] calendar [read: CNBC]. There are many motives behind this, but in general, designers are saying production demands are too high and the lag time it takes them between runway and retail allows fast-fashion brands to copycat their designs at a lower standard [Instagratification in action].

It’s a blurry era in fashion where luxury can’t decide whether to compete against its fast-fashion foes or set itself apart. Fast-fashion is left suspended in time, hoping its copycat model keeps working.

Typically, when there’s this much confusion in an industry consumers need something to fill the void. It has to be something they didn’t know they needed but when it hits, it makes perfect sense. Ethical designers would be crazy not to jump at this opportunity to find their foothold amid the chaos. It’s the perfect time for an ethical intervention.

Here’s why.


Real craftsmanship and luxury design isn’t appreciated the way it used to be. The fashion industy as it exists is a trend producing machine built for women (and men) chasing an ephemeral notion that new clothes will fill a void – of coolness, of credibility, of whatever tickles their fancy.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m guilty of indulging in style. I love the feeling of finding a brand that gets my aesthetic as much as any gal. But fashion is art. Design is hard work. And it’s not being respected because we’re able to find copycats of real design so easily and so cheaply.

Imagine yourself as a designer today. The process goes something like this: seek inspiration – toil over sketches – present idea to team – negotiate with manufacturers and suppliers – burn hours of midnight oil in production against looming runway deadline – pitch collection to retailers – host big-budget runway show – see a crappy, poly-rendition of your design on a prosaic Zara mannequin at the mall for $74.99 three weeks later. I bet that feels rewarding to Burberry’s head designer. I can’t even afford these clothes and it irks me.

There are other forces at play that have designers fed-up. Luxury sales are lagging due to weather trends because designers are unable to adapt and produce on-season clothing at the same pace of mass retailers [read: nytimes]. This is also where inventory becomes a concern. If designers are producing seasonal collections a year in advance with no predictive data on consumers or the weather, they can be left with huge stockpiles of unwanted clothes when their designs reach retail.

The bottom line is, what’s driving this change is not based on ethical decisions. But it may lead to more stringent supply chain management and less production in general. And that’s only a good thing. It could, however, mean competition from luxury designers that would pit ethical brands against fashion’s establishment.


The change is not just happening with luxury retailers. Fast-fashion brands are wising-up and adapting to two key trends. They’re moving toward more eco-conscious and ethical designs and scaling their clothes up to offer higher-quality, curated collections. Why? Because consumers are saying they prefer buying consciously and dressing in a minimal, uniform way. This shift sounds promising, but fast-fashion is answering this call with half-baked ethics.

Take Zara’s studio collection as a case-and-point. According to R29’s interview with a Zara spokesperson,

With the ‘studio’ collection, the quality standards are not different; however, [those] garments tend to carry a more elevated and exclusive feel. In spite of this, all of our production follows the same SRC policies

So basically, They’re positioning it as a luxurious option, but what they’re really selling you is a load of BS when it comes to quality. See what I mean about blurry and half-baked?

Fast-fashion brands are also defying traditional notions that luxury is reserved for the few.

Retailers like Banana Republic and Jcrew have shown at fashion week. And, most recently, H&M launched another collaboration with the front-row-girl’s favorite brand, Balmain. This is a more refreshing trend that proves conventional models are out the door and off the showroom floor.


Read the rest at The Peahen blog. 

An Approachable Guide to Sustainable Fashion for Teens and Novices, by Elizabeth Stilwell

This piece originally appeared on The Note Passer, a comprehensive resource for ethical alternatives.
approachable guide to sustainable fashion

While this piece was originally intended for teens, I love it because it's relevant for anyone who has just discovered the unethical underbelly of the fashion industry. It's approachable and informative and I hope you learn a lot!

I recently gave a talk about ethical fashion to 8th to 12th grade girls. Before doing so, I solicited the advice from colleagues and deliberated about the best way to transfer my important yet often depressing knowledge about the problems within the fashion industry. I decided in the end that truth, power, and hope would be the themes of my message.

As a teacher, I know students appreciate honesty, even around difficult discussions. Without the truth, it's impossible to change. Having been through the information myself, I know that changing something as behemothic as the fashion industry can feel hopeless, but knowing you have power over some of the changes helps tremendously. Hope can be found in the advancements of technology and awareness forcing positive changes everyday.

Use the information and resources below to help you talk to teens about fast fashion, ethical fashion, and how it all relates to them.


Don't get caught with your organic cotton pants down; be prepared for a lot of questions. While you may not be able to answer them all (and can even search for them together) try to be ready with the basics.

Some articles to get you started:


A documentary called The True Cost has made inroads by exposing in clear terms the incredible destruction of the fashion industry. From factory collapses, to fast fashion, to pollution, to capitalism, this film is tough to watch but necessary to see. I will warn you that there are some disturbing images during the parts about the Rana Plaza collapse and other violence in the industry (it's PG13). If you don't want your teen to watch it, please watch it yourself and relate some of the information instead.

Other informative videos:

  • Unravel is about garment recyclers in India and relates the incredible volume of cast-offs we send out of our lives. 
  • Udita (Arise) is about the grassroots movement of female garment workers in Bangladesh. 
  • See my (Elizabeth's) media section for more resources.


Ethics are personal. While some metrics should always be upheld—like fair wages—others are more subjective. It should also be noted that it's difficult to overhaul your entire outlook in one swoop so to make transitions more successful and less painful, help your teen determine priorities. Love animals? Consider cruelty-free fashion first. Passionate about the environment? Research fabrics, dyes, and raw materials. Child labor can be especially relatable to those who are still children themselves. While it may seem insensitive to share, it is unconscionable that it still happens. Teens deserve the right to know about it and the opportunity to lend their voices to the fight against child labor.


5 natural cough remedies to try when nothing else works

I developed one of those awful, persistent coughs a few weeks ago and seemingly nothing would make it go away. Things were mostly manageable during the daytime, when I was upright and not taking deep breaths, but every night it would come back with a vengeance, tormenting me at my most exhausted. I'm not kidding when I tell you I bargained with God to make it go away (I mean, it did get better, so I guess I need to follow through with my promises).

Before I launch into the What I Learned portion of this post, let me say that I have no qualms with modern medicine. I am migraine-prone, so I always pop a few ibuprofen when I can feel a headache coming on, and I take Sudafed during the first few days of most head colds. 

But there were a few hitches this time around. For one, I didn't have a lot of sinus pressure or aches, so standard cold medicine wasn't necessary. Mucus didn't seem to be the main problem, because Mucinex only exacerbated my dry cough. The folks who swear by Alka-Seltzer let me down, because it did precisely nothing for me. And I'm allergic (like vomiting-all-night-and-can't-breathe allergic) to cough suppressants. So natural remedies were my last - and only - hope. 

Here's what I relied on to get me through the worst of it:


Add enough salt to warm water for it to taste like the ocean, then gargle, spit, and repeat until you feel satisfied. This was the single best remedy to persistent, dry cough that I tried. It coats and soothes the throat, plus salt has antibacterial properties that help combat infection and aid in healing. This was the only thing that slowed down the coughing long enough to help me fall asleep.


Do this all day, every day, if you can. Try adding a spoonful of honey and a squirt of lemon juice to hot water for instant throat relief. Honey, like salt, has antibacterial properties and coats the throat, while lemon loosens up mucus. If you like having tea, try this remedy in a cup of antioxidant-rich green tea (in the evenings, I liked to drink lightly brewed ginger tea instead).

While this didn't give me the longterm relief I needed to fall asleep, it helped me overcome some of the throat pain caused by incessant hacking and got my throat into good enough condition to spend last Sunday singing with my church choir just days after the coughing started to let up. Plus, it tastes delicious.


Bromelain, a substance in pineapple juice, is thought to help reduce swelling, though the scientific community hasn't thoroughly tested those claims. Regardless, I bought myself a pineapple, diced it up, and enjoyed a small helping with lunch for several days and it gave me a small but noticeable amount of throat relief. Also, like honey water, it's delicious and (relatively) nutritious, so it's a mood booster even if it isn't proven to reduce coughing.


Like pineapple, a substance in chocolate called Theobromine can help with persistent coughing. Unlike pineapple, it's scientist endorsed. According to a 2004 study, cocoa was a better cough suppressant than codeine, the current drug administered to the coughing inclined. I had a bit of hot cocoa with almond milk and my throat certainly felt a bit better. It temporarily relieved coughing - I'd say it gave me about 30 minutes of peace.


Quit the chatter! This was a hard one for me, because I work in retail and like to talk, and the last few weeks have been full of social engagements that have made it more difficult to stop talking. But it works! If you can manage to go on even a partial voice rest, you'll start to heal much more quickly. I managed a couple good days of this and I could feel the results almost immediately.

To those of you out there with nasty coughs and colds, I wish you good health and lots of rest.

Let me know if you've found other cough remedies, too. After weeks of sleepless nights and misery, I want as many options for combating coughs as possible.

Things I tried that didn't work:
Peppermint Tea
Cough drops

the moral wardrobe: tried and true

bonlook selfie glasses and ethical outfithannah naomi bar earrings manos zapotecas purse fair trade made in mexico ethical outfit native american textile bag
Ethical Details: Top - SkunkFunk via Ash & Rose; Purse - Manos Zapotecas; Cardigan - thrifted (similar here); Shoes - old; Earrings - Hannah Naomi

Today I want to talk about the work horses of my wardrobe. Though I rarely photograph it, this thrifted cashmere cardigan has gotten me through weeks of cold weather and even a midday nap or two. It's cozy and lightweight, so it's a great layering piece. 

I deliberated for months over the perfect glasses and finally settled on the Selfie frames in Rose Sepia from BonLook. BonLook's manufacturing structure is comparable to Warby Parker, but they don't have a charitable branding strategy. That's alright, though, because I decided to donate to the presidential campaign of my choice in tandem with my glasses purchase. Sometimes I get so caught up in buying ethical things that I forget I can always donate cash to causes I care about. Don't forget to vote in the primaries!

These Converse All Stars have been in my wardrobe now for 11 years! They've seen me through three moves, heartbreak, high school, college, and beyond. I don't wear them often, but I'm reconsidering now that sneakers have made a comeback. 

The earrings and top are relatively new, but I love anything that's simple-with-a-twist. The top is made of sustainable bamboo viscose, which is both soft and sturdy, and the earrings are by Hannah Naomi, one of my favorite jewelry designers.

The thing about conscious consumption is that you get to have a connection with physical objects, not in an unhealthy way, but in a way that makes you thankful for the warmth and comfort a well-loved object can provide.