Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability

SUSTAINABLE STYLE & ETHICAL LIVING

A Reflection on Grassroots Justice & Badass Grandmas, by Maggie Rogers


Maggie is a beloved 4th year (UVa's term for senior) who attends my church. As she'll tell you, she and a group of students from two college ministries took a piligrimage to the US/Mexico border during their spring break to bear witness to the complexities of life on the border. Her story - and the stories of others who visited - were, at once, bleak and hopeful. In any situation that seems insurmountable, there are people who are determined to find a way. In Maggie's story, we get to meet some of them. 

It's my feeling that you can benefit from the heart of this story whether you identify as Christian or not, so please know that you're invited to this conversation no matter your practice or belief.

This story recalls the words of Barbara Kingsolver at a talk she gave in town recently: "Hope is a moral imperative."


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Two weeks ago, I returned from a pilgrimage to the US/Mexico border.

Although I’m back to my regular 4th year schedule of going to class, spending time with friends, and spending a slightly ridiculous amount of time in the architecture studio, my soul is still pretty tired. On the Mexican side of the border, one of my favorite parts of the trip was having the opportunity to spend time with what is maybe my favorite demographic of people, badass grandmas.

Many community engagement experts will tell you that if you are trying to get something done in a community, it’s a lot easier when you have the grandmas on board. 


The kids are hard to reach without buy in from the parents, and the parents are too busy, but the grandmas - the grandmothers are often underrated as the group with the most influence and the most passion to make the world better for their children, and their children’s children.

On our trip to Mexico, I was struck by how many abuelas opened up their homes to us, fed us delicious food, and then would slowly start to tell us about the awesome selfless work they had done in their lives. They had fought against huge systems of oppression, all to make their community a safer and healthier place for their families and all the members of their community.

One woman worked trying to rescue children who were trapped living in tunnels under the border where they were abused and exploited by cartels, used as drug mules and mercenaries. This woman worked with others to get the children out of the tunnels, into orphanages and halfway houses to teach them how to read and write, and get them the help they needed. Unfortunately, the organization of women she was working with had to stop when trying to help the children in the tunnels was putting their own immediate families in serious danger from the cartels.

Another group of mothers and grandmothers we met had started a permaculture cooperative, a kind of community farm. 


After seeing so many men in their town stop working because of an influx of charity and donations from well-meaning white people on the other side of the border fence, they knew they needed to set a better example for their children and grandchildren. So this group of women started making adobe bricks by hand, and then they built a workshop, and after that they built a greenhouse, and they built a shed to keep bunnies, and all this time they have been working the earth, repairing God’s creation, to grow fresh healthy fruits and vegetables for their growing children and grandchildren, and to teach them that they are worth something, their work is worth something, that they can provide for themselves and their families, that they are not victims of their circumstance.

In systems that are set up to oppress them and put them at a disadvantage, these mothers and grandmothers are fighting the good fight to spread God’s love and the hope of God’s kingdom to come.


[In John 19:26-27] Jesus tells Mary, here is your son, and to John, here is your mother. He calls on them not to love and take care of each other as one colleague to another’s mother, but as a family. Jesus calls on all of us to love our neighbor as our family, and just like a family, we may not like each other all the time.


We are called to love each other, and protect each other from injustice, and rescue each other from hardships too vast to save ourselves from, just as Jesus loves us and works to pull us all out of systems of oppression and injustice. 


Jesus no longer walks our mortal realm, but we walk it together.

Dear God, who watches over us like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings, and comforts us as a mother comforts her child, help us to protect and comfort each other, loving each other as you have loved us.

Amen.

The Moral Wardrobe: hips don't lie

simple ethical outfit sseko designs krochet kidskrochet kids pocket tee
I am "pear shaped" according to those silly women's body quizzes that compare you to different fruits. Though I know it's absurd, I generally take the body proportion rules for dressing pretty seriously. I try to wear things that "cinch at the waist and skim over hips and thighs." It's true that I look much slimmer when my proportionally larger hips and butt are hidden away, but at some point you just have to ask yourself what you're trying to achieve by adhering to superficial standards that you know are harmful.

So today I'm wearing a pair of jeans that most definitely wouldn't be allowed in my What Not To Wear post-makeover wardrobe. Screw it! I like 'em. I like the mid-rise and the straight, cropped leg. I feel like a cool '90s woman who has just discovered feminism and feels that she can achieve anything, starting with tackling androgynous denim trends.
  boyfriend jeans ethical outfitethical outfit sseko designs
These jeans weren't sourced ethically, I'm afraid. I've mentioned it before on Instagram, but I have had 0 luck finding good quality, long lasting jeans on the ethical market that fit. For that reason, I make sure I look for conventional denim with a comfortable rise, good seaming, and thicker material that will last me for years. I haven't bought new denim for a couple of years and my last purchases are still going strong. It's one way I ensure that I'm still being thoughtful even in less than ideal circumstances.

krochet kids outfit Ethical Details (contains affiliate links): Tee - Krochet Kids; Shoes - Sseko Designs via MadeFAIR

What compromises do you make when it comes to building an ethical, meaningful closet? Is there a particular type of item you haven't been able to find on the ethical market?

Let's share our resources and see if maybe we can't find it after all. 

Every day is Earth Day for the EWC

ethical writers co earth day shenandoah national park
This year, members of the Ethical Writers Coalition banded together to share ways we honor the earth every day of the year. We get lots of pitches this time of year from brands who think today might be the only day we care about their nontoxic, zero waste, renewable-energy product, but in reality, the 65+ members of the EWC think about this all the time, so why not share it?

I mean, it's great that the earth has its very own day, but in light of the news last month that 95% of the Great Barrier Reef is now bleached due to rising water temperatures and the reality that Americans throw away 65 pounds of clothing per person per year, I think we can agree that honoring the earth is something we need to be actively pursuing on a daily basis. I hope the below statements inspire you and help you find small ways you can make a difference.

Mine: 

I honor the Earth throughout the year by using cloth menstrual pads instead of disposables and washing them with eco-friendly detergent.

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Alden Wicker, EcoCult

I honor the earth every single day, by always packing a reusable water bottle, a reusable handkerchief, and a reusable bag in my purse – they are as important as my wallet and keys!

Emily McLaughlin, Gathering Green

I honor the earth all year, beyond Earth Day, by being mindful of where my food is sourced, joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, and educating myself on modern farming practices.

Stephanie Villano, My Kind Closet

I honor the earth every day by wearing my clothes more than once to save water with fewer washes, and sourcing my food locally whenever possible - even growing my own produce in the summer and fall.

Danielle Calhoun, Black Sheep Bride

I honor the earth every day by teaching my children the importance of picking up trash and recyclables in on our daily walks around the neighborhood and showing them the value of eating what’s available to them in our own environment (in our case fish from the Gulf of Mexico we catch).

Annie Zhu, Terumah

I honor the earth by buying organic and supporting local farmers.
  ethical writers co earth day
Catherine Harper, Walking with Cake

I honor the earth every day by teaching my boys to recycle, using what we have instead of always buying something new, and eating locally-grown foods.

Faye Lessler, Sustaining Life

I honor Mama Earth every day of the year by always being mindful of my actions, asking questions before I purchase, and appreciating the beauty of life.

K. Chayne, Kamea World

I honor planet earth every day by using a holistic view of health—one that encompasses the health of our minds, bodies, and our collective environment—to shape my thought processes, habits, and consumer choices.

Jacalyn Beales, Out of Wilderness

I honor our Earth everyday by striving to use products which don’t violate the rights and welfare of our planet’s wildlife.

Hanna Baror Padilla, Sotela.co

I honor the earth every day by creating timeless clothing with eco-friendly fabrics that is made in the US.

Chandra Fox, These Native Goods

I honor the earth every day by appreciating everything she has provided us with and by reducing my family's waste through more conscious shopping practices, when selecting our food and goods -less packaging, less chemicals, less impact.

Nichole Dunst, Green or Die

I honor the Earth by abstaining from products, materials, and practices that rob it of its precious natural resources, by getting out and enjoying the natural beauty that it has to offer, and by practicing compassion towards all of its creatures.

Renee Peters, Model 4 Green Living

I honor the Earth every day by not consuming animal products, walking and taking public transportation, consuming products responsibly and wasting less, and by using my platform as a model to spread my message...The little things that we, as individuals, do everyday all add up to combat climate change. Never underestimate the power of small, daily actions that add up to be a huge reduction in our carbon footprint.
  florida seagulls ethical writers co earth day
Eleanor Snare, Eleanor Snare

I honour the Earth each day by spending time outside, fully absorbing what’s around me, reducing my impact on the planet and learning to interact with the planet in new ways through planting, growing and nurturing.

Elizabeth Stilwell, The Note Passer

I honor the earth everyday by treading lightly on her resources and inhabitants as I practice minimalism, veganism, and use public transportation as much as possible.

Addie Benson, Old World New

I honor our one and only earth every day by making old things new again, such as thrifted fashion finds, thereby not encouraging the use of our finite precious natural resources.

Sara Weinreb, IMBY

I honor the earth everyday by using plastic-free packaging that is made of recycled and recyclable materials when I ship out new orders of our Made in USA clothing.

Abby Calhoun, A Conscious Consumer

I honor the earth every day by taking in as much as information as I can about her resources, climate change, and our role as consumers in the ‘bigger picture’. I promise to never stop asking questions and having conversations, and will always look for alternative consumption practices to relieve the pressure we are placing on our planet.

Juhea Kim, Peaceful Dumpling

I honor the earth every day by composting and eating vegan. I’ve been vegan for almost 10 years and composting for 5 years. These two activities ground me and make me feel more compassionate, conscientious, and connected to the earth.

Greta Matos, Greta Matos

Quiet moments to watch the sunrise, daily hikes in wild places, conscious and focused appreciation for the abundance of this planet and my connection to it- these are my daily rituals to honor this incredible Earth! I also fold this appreciation and respect into all aspects of my work- whether I am writing and sharing my adventure stories, publishing photos, or consulting on ethical supply chain strategy, I am inspired in my work by the beauty of nature and honor it throughout.

Dominique, Let’s Be Fair

I honor the Earth by loving the people on it and enjoying the beauty of the world with them as grateful stewards.

Kasi Martin, The Peahen

I show my love for the Earth by talking her up! You can eat vegan, live as minimally as possible, and do your homework when it comes to clothes, but when others know the motivation for your lifestyle choices they can also be inspired to action.

Holly Rose, Leotie Lovely

I honour Mama Earth each and every day by being mindful of how my actions and purchases affect her, from my clothing and food to my toothbrush and detergents.

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There are a lot of ways to make a change and we're not all going to have the exact same priorities, but the important thing is that we're trying, and that we're working together for a better world.

How do you honor the earth every day?


*All photos belong to me

The Problem with Telling Women and Girls to "Be Brave"

feminism be brave
Don’t tell me
to Be Brave,
again,
as if courage
is instinct for
half of us and
Learned Behavior
for XX chromosomes
alone. As if
my going
out is not its own
defiant act
And my speaking:
Bold, Direct
is not akin
to wielding
the sword.

Don’t tell me
Courage is:
holding my tongue
and the serving tray
at a 3rd wave feminist
Dinner Party
thrown for strangers with
pasted on grins

I am no one’s
Darling
I am already
Strong

THE CATCH-22 OF BEING A WOMAN

I've been dealing with ongoing sexual harassment from an older customer at work the past couple weeks. Though he swears his comments are innocent, I feel more and more agitated every time he comes in because I don't know what the correct - but really, the safe - response is. I read an article once that said women at bars tend to treat the creepers more nicely than the regular guys because they're afraid to set them off. The creepers interpret this as romantic interest rather than terror, and freak out anyway when the women finally refuse their advances.

I feel like those women at the bar. I work in a customer service field and it's generally my responsibility to be nice. But when that generosity of spirit is interpreted as genuine interest by people who ask if they can work there "just to look at you," I'm left without a clear exit strategy. On the one hand, I absolutely have the right to tell him to bug off. On the other hand, what if that makes him angry and he parks his car next to mine at closing then kidnaps me?

That might sound crazy, but it isn't really. Even if women aren't naturally aware of our surroundings, we're told from childhood not to walk alone or stay outside when it's dark. We're told to keep our phones and our keys in our hands, and our finger on the pepper spray. We have to be vigilant if we want to avoid harassment, assault, and death.

But let's say this man's behavior will never escalate to violence. I'm still left dealing with the discomfort of having to publicly assert my right to not be sexually harassed at a potential cost to my shop's reputation. Will other customers think I'm overreacting? Will he post a negative review on Yelp? I've been pushed into a corner I have to get out of without kicking and biting and saying nasty things. Because I have a reputation to uphold. It all falls on me, and I hate him for it.

WE DON'T NEED TO BE TOLD TO BE BRAVE

In the past year or so, I've seen the phrase, "Be Brave," tacked onto everything from posters to t-shirts to devotionals. It's a recurring marketing theme for a couple of women-centered social enterprises I follow, as well. However well meaning the call-to-action may be, I've found myself rolling my eyes every time I come across it.

Frankly, I don't think women need to be told to "be brave." Women are forced to navigate an impossible set of expectations every day, straddling harmful patriarchal values and an increasingly rigid form of feminism that leaves little room for personal expression. The last thing we need to be told is to be brave.

We're already sorting out the details of identity formation in the context of societal and relational expectations, and I think we're doing a pretty good job. We're already advocating for ourselves when we feel we have the space to do so. If we're silent, it's for our own protection. If we're too nice, it's because we know that sometimes that's what it takes to have our voices heard.

WHAT IS BRAVE?

I'm also disturbed by the adulteration of the word, brave, in the context of female "empowerment." Male bravery conjures images of knights, soldiers, and public figures. Female bravery as its contextualized in the circles I'm in only serves to reinforce traditional female virtues like hospitality, generosity, and meekness. We're told that it's brave to say sorry and write letters. We're told that bravery is being nice when no one's watching.

I'm here to tell you that none of that is bravery! Lovely qualities to have, to be sure, but we might as well adopt the coercive, polygamist-Mormon phrase, "Keep sweet," if we're really only concerned with women staying in their place. I'm not interested in "reclaiming my femininity" or discovering "authentic womanhood." These terms only serve to further limit acceptable ways of being a woman. I want more space, not nicer throw pillows!

I'm ready to keep being whatever I am in the world. Sometimes sweet, sometimes confrontational, sometimes fearful. But always brave.

We are brave by default. We have to be.

This post still feels unfinished, but I'm publishing it anyway because I want to hear your stories. What's your take on the "Be Brave" trend?


Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. - Rebecca Solnit

3 Years Into the Revolution

fashion revolution day
I've been writing at Style Wise for a little over 3 years now. I started just three months before the Rana Plaza collapse, the tragedy that set off a global movement to create safer, fairer work environments for people in the fashion industry.

On a micro level, a lot has happened in 3 years. 

Hundreds of new fair trade shops have popped up. Companies like Everlane are using "radical transparency" as a marketing strategy. H&M has expanded its Conscious Collection. A whole lotta people have embraced simplified, minimalist lifestyles. Workers are protesting in Cambodia, Bangladesh, China, and all over the world. The True Cost documentary shed a light on the underbelly of the manufacturing industry.

We even have a democratic socialist holding his own against establishment politics, and I can't help but see that as part of a broader movement set in motion, at least in part, by our concern with corruption and exploitation in a globalizing world.

On a macro level, though, things aren't so clear cut. 

Fast fashion is still king, with global companies like ZARA and H&M dominating the industry. People have been trained to seek out bargains above all else and, in the United States at least, falling or stagnant income levels deem low prices almost essential to survival. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will funnel billions of dollars into the United States, but income inequality will increase. And the pervasive ideologies of Capitalism keep people from understanding the world outside of their purchasing power.

The longer I'm at this the more socialist I become. You see, I'd like to be convinced that Capitalism can be harnessed for the greater good - no doubt some companies are finding ways to make incremental change - but the more crowded the ethical market becomes and the more ethical writers and bloggers and sojourners I run into, the more I realize that we have been fundamentally corrupted by the interplay of American exceptionalism and Capitalism's tendency toward fierce individualism. We can cover our Instagram feeds in quotes about unity and harmony all we want, but it's not changing our behavior.

I want conscious consumers to become conscious people. 

I want this for myself, but I especially want this for the good of our growing conscious community. Instead, I fear that we're still operating, however unintentionally, under an "every woman for herself" ideology that favors the collective only as a means to get ahead personally and professionally. 

In the past few months, I've heard stories of ethical companies suing other ethical companies over branding similarities and I've seen fights break out in ethical communities. I've seen people silenced. I've seen paranoia that won't be moved by the truth. I've seen people refuse to work within the community for fear of losing their individual voices. And, while I realize that tension is normal and disagreement is inevitable, I find it sad (I mean, really sad) that this overbearing fear culture imposed on us by those who see America's slow decline in dominance and White America's slow decline in cultural capital as apocalyptic has embedded itself in communities that call themselves ethical.

social justice and universal ethics fashion revolution

What is ethics if it doesn't all-out invade our character, our sense of self? 

It's not enough to talk conscious consumerism, adopt a zero waste lifestyle, or pledge to go vegan if we're not also asking ourselves where else we could improve. An ethical life for me means living in the tension of my privilege, abandoning a culture of fear, joining hands with the collective even when I've had a long day and people are driving me crazy. It means loosing my grip on my personal goals when they don't align with my sense of morality or my understanding of the greater good. It means trusting that people are worth trusting. It means letting myself get angry, and finding ways to use that passion in productive ways instead of lashing out - or silencing myself.

We don't have to be sweet and cheery all the time, but we have to try a heck of a lot harder to be good. We are people empowered only because of the collective. We are people who have committed ourselves to ethical, thoughtful, intentional, fair, and conscious living. This is our calling and our vocation and it's about time we live into it. 

Imagine a world where sweatshops didn't exist, and people were kind in the airport security line. Where leather tanneries stopped polluting whole towns' water supplies, and online communities had lively and gratifying conversations. Where plastic bags were banned, and black and brown lives really mattered. We can't work tirelessly to correct one injustice and simply ignore our complicity in all of the others. We can't love sweatshop workers and hate that ethical blogger we see as our greatest competition. We can't fight against corruption while willingly participating in it for personal gain. It won't work.

So, we're 3 years into the Revolution.

But maybe we haven't learned that the Revolution is as much in our hearts as it is in our factories and fields and public offices.


Read more Fashion Revolution posts from the bloggers of the Ethical Writers Coalition:

the moral wardrobe: an epic ten thousand villages review + giveaway

ten thousand villages outfitten thousand villages giveaway
When Ten Thousand Villages reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in a collaboration, I was delighted. Ten Thousand Villages holds a special place in my heart as one of the first fair trade shops I ever visited, long before I even knew what fair trade was. They're also credited with inventing the fair trade model as we know it back in the late 1940s when Edna Ruth Byler came back from a trip to Puerto Rico determined to expand the market for artisans there.

Ten Thousand Villages works with hundreds of artisan partners around the world with a mission to empower women, build relationships, preserve cultural arts, sustain livelihoods, and show dignity. In my experience buying from Ten Thousand Villages for several years, the products are well made, with attention given to detail and consistency. Plus, they make great gifts and their Christmas ornaments are lovely.
  ten thousand villages outfitEthical Details: Top and Skirt - thrifted; Shoes - Sseko Designs c/o MadeFAIR; Necklace and Earrings - c/o Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages sent me the Honeycomb Blossom Necklace and Earring Set made by Tara Projects in India. The pendant pieces are made from dyed bone sourced as a byproduct from animals that have either died of natural causes or are killed for food production. My position on material sourced from animals is that it must be a byproduct of a preexisting industry so that as much of the animal is used as possible, so I'm glad to hear that. The bone makes these delicate and super lightweight, so sensitive ears will have no issue wearing the earrings. I also appreciate the unexpected way the tri-flower necklace pendant is attached to the chain. It feels very contemporary.

ten thousand villages outfit
The spring-time exuberance of this set inspired me to get out and take photos on one of those perfect, breezy, warm-in-the-sun, cool-in-the-shade early spring days. And now that the Northern Hemisphere is hurdling toward warmer weather, I'm excited to be giving away not one, but THREE Honeycomb Blossom Necklace and Earring sets. Details below.
  ten thousand villages charlottesville
I'm honored to not only be working with Ten Thousand Villages Corporate, but to be collaborating with my local Ten Thousand Villages store (Sallie and her team are the bomb!) to offer two ways to enter the giveaway.

Option 1: Enter to win one set at the Charlottesville Store. 


You'll have an opportunity to win one Honeycomb Blossom Necklace and Earring Set when you enter at the Charlottesville Ten Thousand Villages on the Downtown Mall. The contest will run for one week at that location, so check the store for details.

The address is:
105 W Main St
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Option 2: Enter to win a set for you and a set for a friend on my Instagram account (@stylewiseblog).


Head over to my instagram account for the opportunity to win 2 necklace and earring sets, one for you and one for a friend you tag in the comments. 

This contest will run for one week. The Charlottesville store will designate its own entry period and rules, and information can be found in store. The Instagram contest, in collaboration with Ten Thousand Villages Corporate, will run until Thursday, April 21st at 11:59 pm EST. Winners will be selected randomly.

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in the news: H&M, Fashion Revolution, & the Pope

ethical and fair trade news

Fashion Revolution Day is coming up fast. If you haven't participated before, I encourage you to read up on the event's purpose and suggested ways to get involved (The Ethical Writers Co. will be creating a series of posts around Fashion Revolution's #haulternative concept, so stay tuned). In 2013, 1,134 people died brutally and tragically when a garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. The factory contracted with prominent brands like WalMart, Gap Inc., and British discount company, Primark. This was the crystallizing moment for a lot of us in the conscious community. Even those of us who were considering our purchasing decisions before were rocked by the bloodshed. And we became determined to hold ourselves accountable for our complicity in a system that allows negligence at the cost of human lives.

In related news...

Thane: Massive fire breaks out at garment factory in Bhiwandi, 80 people feared to be trapped
Since the fire engulfed at the ground floor of the building and there’s no second exit, people inside the building have stuck. The fire is travelling upward from the ground floor posing more threat to stranded people inside the building.
Pope Francis sees links between exploiting the planet and exploiting people

The Truth About Your Clothing Donations
But it wasn’t until the onset of fast fashion in the 1990s that things took a turn for the worse. Unsurprisingly, the sharp decline in clothing prices has had a dramatic effect on shopping habits. Americans now buy five times as much clothing as they did in 1980, and this trend has had far reaching side effects. In the 1990s, donations to Goodwill increased by 10 percent every single year. 
Pants to Poverty drops its ethical stance

Am I a fool to expect more than corporate greenwashing?
I may be a fool to let my heart get crushed by corporate green marketing, but it’s not just the audacity I object to: it’s the timing. H&M’s Recycle Week clashes exactly with the grassroots Fashion Revolution campaign.
Bangladesh: Tanneries Harm Workers, Poison Communities

Against Activism
To be an activist now merely means to advocate for change, and the hows and whys of that advocacy are unclear. The lack of a precise antonym is telling. Who, exactly, are the non-activists? Are they passivists? Spectators? Or just regular people? In its very ambiguity the word upholds a dichotomy that is toxic to democracy, which depends on the participation of an active citizenry, not the zealotry of a small segment of the population, to truly function.
Let’s Celebrate The True Heroes
Fashion Revolution's response to H&M's recycling campaign that curiously coincides with Fashion Revolution Week.

What have you been reading? What are your plans for #fashrev?


The Moral Wardrobe: An Ethical Dress by National Picnic

ethical outfit national picnic dress National Picnic Dress review made in usa
I've said it before and I'll say it again: you can tell if I feel confident in an outfit by the way the pictures turn out. This outfit - particularly the National Picnic Tank Dress, given to me for review - is a real winner, and it helps that the flowering trees are showing off behind me.

If you didn't catch it Monday, make sure to go back and read my interview with Betsy, founder of National Picnic. She describes the Tank Dress best:
Right now I love the tank dress. I would spend every summer day in one and it’s been good to me. It fits a very wide range of body types. It’s pleasing to sew. It’s easy to sell. It can make use of so many different fabrics. It’s a great outdoor photo shoot piece. It’s fun and ageless.

National Picnic Dress review made in usaEthical Details: Tank Dress - c/o National Picnic; Bracelet - c/o Candorra Artisans; Shoes - Sseko Designs via MadeFAIR*

So, what do I love about this dress?


I like that the neckline is flattering without being too deep or narrow. The drawstring waist means it'll fit whether I gain or lose a few pounds (and it hits at my natural waist, which is a rarity!). The length is perfect for wearing to work or to the park on the weekend, and the flared skirt means I can wear shorts under it without anyone noticing (when you work in retail, shorts are a good idea - you never know when you'll have to bend down and pick up a loose dust bunny or donation box). And the big pockets add some vintage charm. Plus, the fabric is made of organic cotton and the Bouquet print reminds me of Liberty fabrics. Phew! That's a lot of things. Oh, also that it's a timeless silhouette that will work in my wardrobe forever.

ethical style blogger
The National Picnic Tank Dress is made to order in a number of prints and colors. It retails for $120.00, but you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. Check out National Picnic's full selection of garments here (lots of cool tops, too).

Giveaway: National Picnic is giving away one Tank Dress in the color and size of your choice!


Check Instagram now for giveaway details!

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Shop National Picnic. Follow National Picnic: Instagram // Twitter // Facebook.

Interview: National Picnic Founder, Betsy


Betsy makes versatile, handmade garments with organic and heritage fabrics under the label, National Picnic. Her aesthetic is just what I prefer: classic, wearable pieces with a twist, and her focus on sustainability, domestic production, and timeless silhouettes means I can feel good about wearing a National Picnic piece. I hope you enjoy this in depth interview about the design process and fabric sourcing. I'll be back in a couple days with a review of the best selling Tank Dress and a giveaway! Thanks to National Picnic for sponsoring this post. 


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WHAT'S THE NATIONAL PICNIC ORIGIN STORY?

I’ve always loved to sew. I began sewing National Picnic clothing in 2011 for friends and neighbors. I hand-delivered the tops and dresses myself, wrapped in brown paper packages tied up with strings.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE NATIONAL PICNIC WOMAN?

Well, I’m always surprised at who might see it and love it, but I began designing for women like myself who wanted "casual-fun" clothing that was easy care and better content.

It’s not a coincidence that the styles I design would all be suitable for a picnic. 

She enjoys being casual and wants to look nice in a unique way while she is being casual.

WHO MAKES YOUR CLOTHES?

I make about 95% of my clothing at this time.There has never been a single garment that I haven’t had some hand in cutting or sewing. I’ve experimented with local contracting at times, and have had assistants help me with larger orders, but in the end I am usually doing the sewing. I’d love to have enough orders to hire, to generate more work for local contractors, to directly affect more jobs. That isn’t far off the radar but demand has to be there. So I’m hoping this answer will be different soon.


HOW DO YOU SELECT YOUR TEXTILES?

Twice a year I get to go to NYC and hunt for fabrics at trade shows and garment district warehouses. It’s one of the highlights of designing because I have always loved textiles. But it’s also quite a hunt, and building a fabric sourcing network that fits a small business is an ongoing process. I just found find a favorite organic fabric supplier last year. That was a score because I could finally put some cool organic prints in my collections with some degree of reliability.

Another means of selection is like treasure hunting: searching warehouses for roll ends and other industry surplus. 

I might find a few yards of something amazing that I can turn into a style that is hyper-limited and truly rare and special.

WHAT ARE YOUR AESTHETIC INFLUENCES?

I like the classic fabrics and details of vintage Americana - mostly countryside and working class -

I catch myself staring into vintage photos guessing if a woman made the dress she had on and what I’d change to update the look. 

I am also very influenced by memories of clothing I wore in my youth. Not to say my clothing looks like a certain era (OK, it was the 80s), but I had an affinity for loose-fitting, structured shapes that draped away from my body, things like oversized tees, twill above-the-knee skirts and oversized poplin shirts. I styled myself into a tailored-artsy mashup that still shows itself each season in the National Picnic brand. I can’t remember ever wearing tightly fitted clothing, and as I design now, I meet lots of women who enjoy a similar fit and feel. I read somewhere that Jackie Kennedy requested looser fitting clothing from her designers. Not my decade, but she would have been in my club, definitely.


HOW DOES SUSTAINABILITY PLAY INTO YOUR OVERALL MISSION?

I try to make low-impact choices that are tempered with the size and scale of my business. I wish I had a more airtight formula that more easily explained how sustainable I want to be. Like, for example, setting out to have all product made from 100% organic source that does XYZ, etc. But it didn’t begin as a sustainability-first plan.

It began with my pure love for making clothing, grew into a plan to make clothing my livelihood, and it’s being fitted for sustainability as I move along. 

I’m trying my best to make smart choices in everything I do, from choosing FSC-certified tags, choosing materials considering their footprint (which is based on the location and circumstances of its acquisition, ranging from GOTS-certified to “someone gave it to me hoping I could use it"), and other considerations. More detail from an interview with MadeFAIR:

I’m still very much looking for more domestic organic. Domestic mills that produce organic cotton right in the US are like unicorns, and to find one that will sell me a roll of fabric at wholesale prices is like finding a two headed unicorn. But to my surprise, I found one! Recently. So expect more in future seasons. And I’d love to know of more, so I’m always eager for a tip or lead. Organic textiles make sense. If you can use an input that has less harmful output, then why would you NOT choose organic? 

But to be honest, I don’t know if getting an organic fabric shipped halfway across the world is a better choice when there are existing fabrics, organic or not, that I can haul home from New York on public transit. 

I work with reputable sources for my re-orderable, imported organics and I add local inputs for balance and creative details. Carbon footprint is a buzzword but a business like mine can’t hire consultants offering to calculate just how sustainable business practices really are. When considering fabrics, I try to strike a balance between what’s already around me vs. what might need lots of added shipping (a miles-to-closet component), organic/natural vs. local vs. waste reduction, and the business components to sustain a livelihood that supports myself and my family. It’s a messy equation that is different with each style, but the thoughtfulness adds up and ultimately produces a healthier product. 

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE FABRIC TO WORK WITH?

I love shirting and similar wovens for practical reasons. They are easiest to roll, cut, and sew. Jeez, don’t I sound boring! A designer that doesn’t have to make their own styles would probably have a more romantic answer. But if you don’t choose details with self-production in mind, ideas can easily become projects that are impossible to produce.


WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GARMENT FROM THE CURRENT COLLECTION?

This answer runs deep, because it’s not just about visuals.

Right now I love the tank dress. I would spend every summer day in one and it’s been good to me. 

It fits a very wide range of body types. It’s pleasing to sew. It’s easy to sell. It can make use of so many different fabrics. It’s a great outdoor photo shoot piece. It’s fun and ageless. Any styles that become popular and good for my livelihood are obvious favorites. Sometimes you try out a style and it won’t sell well, and the investment of designing and developing it are a loss. Those are the heart breakers. I love them and wish every style to do well, but they might not be everyone’s cup of tea and they don’t get ordered. You hope for home runs. The tank dress is a home run.

CAN CUSTOMERS BROWSE YOUR CLOTHING IN A PHYSICAL STORE?

I have a new shop in Old City, Philadelphia that has become an awesome new component of my business. It’s a space I share with other designers where I can work on the boutique floor while the door stays open for the public to walk in and browse.

It’s a special place because it’s like a laboratory for testing new ideas, interacting with customers, learning from colleagues, and it’s a way to generate some business while I work.

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