Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability

SUSTAINABLE STYLE & ETHICAL LIVING

Hope is a Moral Imperative: A Reflection after My First Season of Community Organizing

community organizing

I wrote this piece to present at the seasonal wrap-up of my local community organizing group. Alas, I am very wordy and had to cut some of it for the sake of moving the meeting along, so I decided to share the full text here. 

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Over the last few years, I’ve found that my life has – somewhat unintentionally - started to orient itself around social justice and community service.

First, I started an ethical fashion blog – which basically means I talk about labor rights, pollution, and economic policy through the medium of personal style; I promise it’s more exciting than it sounds. Because most of the people I talk about and advocate for live in other countries and have vastly different lives than my own, I reflect a lot on how I can best cultivate a broader sense of what it means to not just shop ethically, but live ethically.

Secondly, I started managing a local thrift shop that functions as a ministry of a local church. It’s important to me that I always keep that word, ministry, in mind as I work through the tedium of sorting donations, schedule volunteers, and talk with and assist our customers, who come from many different backgrounds, cultures, and places.

It strikes me again and again that there’s no one size fits all when it comes to reaching people, or being present. 


At the thrift shop, I tend to reflect on how I can best cultivate an environment of radical, universal welcome, how I and my volunteers can make each person feel at home.

And then I started working with my local justice ministry. I’d been asking these BIG questions about Ethics and Ministry and it seemed to me that working within an interfaith, multi-demographic, local community organizing group could answer some of these questions for me.

When I first got involved last fall, I thought I would just feel things out, attend a few meetings, and come to the annual events. I didn’t anticipate that I would become a team member, and then give my friend’s testimony [on the difficulty of aging while impoverished] at the fall assembly. And then I joined a strategy committee. And then I made friends, younger, older, from different faiths and different life paths. And things since then have been exasperating and life-affirming, sometimes in the same meeting! And people have rubbed me the wrong way, and the same people have encouraged me in this work.

And I’m coming to realize that I can’t have a pet cause when it comes to justice. 


It’s all or nothing – once you see injustice, you can’t unsee it. And even when the community’s and the world’s problems seem insurmountable, you start to hunger to change things. As author Barbara Kingsolver said recently at a local event: “Hope is a moral imperative.” You hope – and work – for change because you have to. It becomes your calling.

Seeking loving justice in the local, tangible way that this justice ministry does has changed me. It makes me realize how much I don’t know, and it challenges my individual notions of what is best. It has forced me to realize that the important thing is keeping the conversation and the work moving forward.

It grounds the more theoretical work I do in the realities of community and connection. 


And working specifically on the elder care issue has opened me up to the challenges of my largely older volunteer team at work and to my customers young and old who sacrifice much to care for their loved ones.

I believe in justice ministry because I can see change – not just in the communities we seek to aid but in the relationships formed in this space, and in my own life. Admittedly, there were times in the last few months where I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t think straight. I felt like quitting everything. But we need each other on every scale, on every level.

And understanding that has not only helped me do better work and write better blog posts, it’s helped me orient myself even more toward the humility, compassion, and dedication my faith has called me to. 


Getting Thrifty With It: Part 1, 5 Things to Avoid at the Thrift Shop

second hand and thrift shopping advice: 5 things to avoid

A couple of years ago, I shared 10 introductory thrift shopping tips for those who find secondhand shopping daunting. In light of some of your survey responses asking for more thrift shopping advice, I've decided to start a series with more specific tips for finding good quality items on the secondhand market.

I'm a huge proponent of buying secondhand, but not everything on the secondhand market is created equally in terms of stitching, fit, and fabric quality. And since most things have been used or worn before, it's especially important to be aware of the way certain fabrics and materials wear over time, and to be alert to any condition issues like pilling, pulling, staining,  stretching, and shrinking. I recommend looking over the pieces you're considering in natural light - find a window or see if you can take the item outside - because yellow fluorescent light has a way of covering a multitude of problems.

I've been working as the manager of a thrift shop for almost 2 years now, so I've become much more aware of the styles and fabrics to avoid, as well as the most common wear issues on secondhand clothes.

5 Things to Avoid When Secondhand Shopping

1. Polyester & Rayon Blends


If you want your items to wash and wear well, avoid anything made of knit polyester and rayon blends. The term polyester can refer to a huge variety of textiles - from chiffons to satins to knits - and not all of them will show wear quickly. But in my experience, clothing made from both knit cotton/polyester blends and rayon/stretch knits will start pilling after light wear, even if you take care to hand wash and air dry the items. And since you're already buying these things secondhand, it's best to just avoid these fabrics altogether.

2. White Shirts


White shirts are so crisp and summery, but it's best to avoid them on the secondhand market unless you're shopping at a curated consignment store. In my experience, the majority of white tees, tanks, and blouses donated to thrift shops have either armpit stains or food stains that didn't fully wash out. I'm constantly having to cull white clothing from our racks at the shop because of pit stains. If you must buy a white shirt, make sure to check it out in natural light.

3. Vintage Elastic Waist Pants & Skirts


While I've found lovely vintage skirts at secondhand shops, I would generally advocate avoiding anything 20+ years old with an elastic waist. Elastic wears out over time, losing its stretch and expanding. To check for elastic loss, give the waistband of the item in question a firm tug and listen for the tell-tale crinkling sound of bad elastic. Sometimes elastic goes out in swimwear due to prolonged exposure to chlorine. In this case, the whole suit may feel brittle. When in doubt, put it back on the rack.

4. Jeggings


The thin, stretch fabric that today's fast fashion jeggings are made with loses its shape very quickly, conforming to the original wearer's specific curves and movement. It's best to avoid pants, jeans, and jeggings made of insubstantial, stretch fabric because you'll often find when you get them home that the knees start sagging or the area around the crotch and thighs has stretch marks from heavy wear by the previous owner.

5. DIY Hemming & Tailoring


Just say no to items that were cut, cropped, and taken in at home. There are exceptions to this, of course, but I've been pretty disappointed by items I took home only to find that the hem was uneven or the seam allowance too small for minor alterations of my own. Even if the item was professionally tailored, it may still be a no go, because tailoring is body-specific. An item that may have fit you at its original proportions is now cut just right for the nice lady who donated it to the thrift shop. Tailoring makes it nearly impossible to tell what size the item really is since the size on the tag is now irrelevant.

A few other items to avoid: used socks and underwear (that one's probably obvious), appliances with only 2 prongs on the plug (it's a shock hazard!), and particle board furniture (it will likely fall apart in transit).

I'm interested to hear your thrift shop horror stories! 


What items disappointed you after you purchased them? What fabrics and qualities do you avoid when secondhand shopping?

Review: Calypso Glow Ethically Sourced Body Care


It can be exhaustingly difficult for beauty and body care companies to ensure that all products were sourced with the environment and worker welfare in mind, especially traditional drugstore brands that incorporate dozens of ingredients into a single product. But even companies with an eco or ethical stance have to work hard to trace their ingredient sourcing.

Calypso Glow, which specializes in Caribbean-inspired organic skincare, is dedicated to this process, communicating regularly with the farms where they source their ingredients and, more recently, working with the St Lucian Agricultural Department’s Coconut Platform:

The St Lucian Agricultural Department’s Coconut Platform [is] a network supporting local farmers through training and access to distribution channels, ensuring fair pay and sustainable plans for growth. We are also making new connections with a grass roots women’s farming cooperative in St Lucia, helping to empower and sustain their small businesses, so that they can provide for their children’s education and long-term livelihoods. These activities take time to develop but we’re thrilled to be taking these steps towards meaning social impact.

calypso glow organic skincarePatricia from Calypso Glow kindly sent me several items from their current collection to review, including the Lemongrass Moisture Rich Body Oil, which they just debuted this season. 

My skin is finicky when it comes to skincare. I started using organic and all natural skincare products years before I adopted a more ethical stance toward consumption because my skin had become intolerant to nearly all conventional products, even those marketed for sensitive skin.

That being said, just because something is natural doesn't make it suitable for sensitive skin - getting the correct balance of highly potent ingredients is essential - so I used these products with caution.

So far, I've incorporated the Body Oil and Coconut Water Enriching Body Bar into my regular routine. I add some body oil to my Whole Foods lotion in the evenings and apply it to my face. I've noticed that the skin under my eyes looks more nourished and supple, smoothing out the fine lines that are starting to appear there (too much smiling, I suppose...JK).

The body bars are sealed in compostable packaging - which is awesome - and contain exfoliating granules (shredded coconut and sand) which, while convenient for a quick shower, means I can't use my natural shower sponge without damaging it (I learned that the hard way from a previous bar of soap).

The ingredients are simple: coconut oil, algae extract, essential oils, olive oil, grated coconut. It makes it easy to check the list for anything your skin might be sensitive to.

Based on my preliminary testing and research into the brand, I would highly recommend Calypso Glow products, particularly their body oil. The price point seemed high to me at first, but I only need to use a small pump of it each night, so it's bound to last me a long time.

Shop Calypso Glow here. 


Shopping List: Ethical Black Sandals

ethical and vegan black sandals


I used to think every pair of shoes in my closet needed to be a different color, but in the past few years, I've developed a real love for black shoes with everything. I wouldn't call my personal style anything close to edgy, so the bit of black at the base adds something modern to otherwise very simple outfits.

I've seen lots of black sandals around this season, but I want something that looks just as good with shorts as it does with a fancy dress. That means chunky Birkenstocks and thick foam flip flops are out. I've narrowed it down to the options above (admittedly, I'm not the best at narrowing down), making sure to add a good mix of high and lower end, vegan and sustainable leather. Some of these are a bit outside my price range, but they may be worth saving up for.

My favorite ethical black sandals are:

(clockwise from top left)

1. Deux Mains Bel Nanm Sandal, $64.99

Made fairly in Haiti out of upcycled tires, sustainable leather, and all organic ingredients.

2. Everlane Street Sandal, $120.00

Made ethically in Italy out of Italian leather.

3. Nicora Goodall Sandal, $119.00

100% vegan. Uppers made out of recycled X-Ray film, soles and heels made from recycled rubber blend, domestically produced.

4. Bourgeois Boheme Emma Sandal, $194.00

Vegan. PVC free eco vegan leather, handcrafted in Portugal.

5. Nisolo Serena Sandal, $98.00

Made ethically in Peru. Get $25 off your purchase with my referral link.

6. Everlane Slide Sandal, $98.00

Made ethically in Italy out of Italian leather.


I'm leaning toward the Nisolo Serena Sandal, because it combines a sophisticated silhouette with a price point I'm comfortable with (though I still need to pinch some pennies to get there). The Nicora Sandal is a close second - you really can't beat their thoughtful sourcing and attention to detail. I feel like I'm getting real clarity on what I want and "need" within the context of my current lifestyle. It's exciting to have a uniform of sorts. Now all I need is the weather to stay warm so I can actually wear my warm weather gear!


The Moral Wardrobe: Finding my Style with Made in USA staples from IMBY

IMBY ethical capsule wardrobe review IMBY ethical capsule wardrobe reviewIMBY ethical capsule wardrobe review
My friend, Sara, founded IMBY out of her own frustration trying to build a capsule wardrobe that was both financially sustainable and ethical. An IMBY item must incorporate three principles: made ethically in the USA, designed with a small wardrobe in mind, and priced in a range people can afford.

Each piece is curated to fit together, so whether you're building a capsule wardrobe or just don't like to think too much in the mornings when you're putting your clothes on in the dark, you'll look good. It's a refreshing take on an ethical marketplace model, which can often feel overwhelmingly patterned and incongruous. I'm finding myself drawn more and more to simple but striking pieces (and fits that look good on me rather than things that are in right now), so the pieces Sara sent me to try are helping me get a better sense of what I ultimately want for my wardrobe.

IMBY made in usa clothing review Ethical Details: Organic Circle Shirt - borrowed from IMBY; Perfect Blue Jeans - c/o IMBY; Shoes - Sseko Designs

This one-size-fits-all circle shirt is extraordinarily fun to wear. The tunic length, low back, and spin-able silhouette make me feel put together and modern, but also like I'm wearing lounge wear. It's made from an organic cotton/bamboo blend, so it gets extra points for sustainability. That being said, it's probably a better fit for someone who wears a medium or large rather than a small. 

The jeans are made of surplus stretch denim that feels luxurious. The high waist is on trend without being juvenile and I'm excited to wear them again and again in the coming years. A tip on sizing: I had to get a Large in these to fit without pulling at my hips, so ask Sara for some advice before ordering!

Though I've been shopping thoughtfully for about 3 years now, it's still a challenge to put my blinders on and make shopping decisions that suit me in the place that I'm in now while also being adaptable for the future. Life in my 20s has been full of transition and it can be difficult to know what styles and cuts will work for me in the future. Being able to collaborate with curated companies like IMBY helps me streamline my approach. Finding jeans that work in both casual and semi-professional settings feels like a big win. 

Shop IMBY here. 


Follow IMBY on social media: Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Pinterest

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I've been thinking a lot about some of your responses to my Reader Survey. Know that I plan to address your questions more in the future, but I do hope you've noticed that I intentionally work with brands and choose products that offer items in a moderate price range, and try to limit my collaborations to 3-4 times a month max to allow for a variety of posts. The vast majority of my wardrobe is comprised of items I purchased myself over a span of months and years (if the item shown is not marked "c/o" it means I purchased it myself). If you ever have questions or concerns, please do address them with me! I promise I don't bite.


Book Review: Thrive by Kamea Chayne

Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth

Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth


I know Kamea through the Ethical Writers Coalition and I was so excited for her when she let us know she was working on publishing a book! Kamea sent me a copy of her new book, Thrive, a couple days before the official launch a few weeks ago, and I was glad I had the opportunity to spend last Monday afternoon digging into it.

Thrive is intended to be a comprehensive, holistic approach to sustainability and wellness. It's divided into easy-to-digest sections on Positive Thinking, Exercise, Nourishment, Skincare, and Ethical Fashion, so you have the option of taking it step by step or flipping through to your favorite section first. I was really impressed with this method of organizing the book - it allowed me to skim through chapter topics I already knew a lot about and take more time on chapters that contained information that was new to me.
  thrive by k. chayne book review
Kamea speaks authoritatively and directly - the book reads like one of those enjoyable, introductory college courses you sign up for just for fun - and her charts, diagrams, object lessons, and parables make information that could easily feel daunting easy to follow. I particularly like the Nourish Your Food chapter on the complicated nature of deciphering the pros and cons of organic versus genetically modified (or GMO) agriculture, as it's something that continues to be hotly debated among both consumers and scientists.

Kamea says:
As consumers, we want to support business practices that improve our health (and the health of our planet) and help us work toward sustainability. So, should be be pro- or anti-GMOs? The answer is neither - for now anyway.
She goes on to skillfully discuss what's at stake, allowing for nuance rather than making a premature decision about the best path forward:
As a start, we can push for mandatory labeling of GMO products so we can at least make informed shopping decisions. At the same time, perhaps we should refrain from being strictly pro- or anti-GMOs. Instead, we should focus first on supporting food production methods that work in harmony with nature, such as small-scale organic farming that encourages crop diversity while minimizing the use of toxic chemicals.
The Sustain Fashion chapter is top notch, as well.

The Verdict?


I would recommend this book to people who are ready to take issues around sustainability and health seriously, and want a primer that is both academic and approachable. Thrive is serious without being stuffy, well-researched without being elitist. The fact that it manages to cover a lot of ground in just under 225 pages is impressive.

Congratulations, Kamea, and well done!

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You can buy Thrive on Amazon here.

I need your help! Please take my Reader Survey

StyleWise ethical style blog reader survey

Hey, y'all! As I continue to write, create content, and share brands and stories, I would love to have more input from you! My goal for StyleWise is to transparently and honestly share my ethical consumerism journey with you while making sure this space feels inclusive, appropriately challenging, and ultimately encouraging. Your responses will ensure that I employ the right platforms, share the most relevant topics, and work with brands you actually care about. The survey is brief and shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. Your answers are anonymous.

The incentive? More content that is meaningful and relevant to you in your ethical journey.

Everlane Review: Linen and Cotton Tees

everlane review
It's been a good while since I did my last Everlane product review and, admittedly, I've become even more of an Everlane hoarder since then. I live in Everlane knit tees, particularly their classic v-necks, u-necks, and pima cotton half sleeve tees, and the store credit I receive when people order through my referral link ensures that I have an incentive to try new products as they're released.

Everlane, if you haven't heard of them, focuses on radical transparency, meaning that they make the customer aware of both raw materials' and production costs, and the welfare of their workers. They contract with facilities in the US, Italy, China, and Vietnam to make their clothes, so it's nice to know that they know about the conditions of the factories and the protections and resources offered to the workers.

For size reference, I have a 34" bust and typically wear a Small in tops. My height is 5'7".

First up...

THE OVERSIZED COTTON V-NECK IN WHITE/HEATHER GREY STRIPE, $20

everlane oversized v-neck review
As a rule, I size down in anything Everlane marks "oversized," because I find that the slightly smaller fit ensures that I retain the casual look they're going for without baring it all when I bend over. This shirt reminds me of classic unisex American Apparel tees with a slightly more fitted cut at the shoulder and sleeve. I like pairing this tee with high waist jeans and skirts.

Size ordered: XS
My rating: A-

THE MICRO-STRIPE CREW NECK, $20   

everlane crew neck review
I don't not like this tee, but I don't like it either. I ordered my standard size small in this and I find it to be unflatteringly tight at my hips. I have this tee in the wider, red stripe, too, and I sized up to a Medium for a more oversized, 1970s-vacation-in-Brittany look. Much better.

Size ordered: S
My rating: B+


U-NECK IN BLACK, $15

everlane u-neck review
I had originally sworn off the u-necks due to their oversized fit, but they're perfect if I order a size down. The deep U is flattering and feminine, plus the slightly cropped front and longer back pairs really well tucked into skirts, because the cut doesn't bunch up in the front or come untucked in the back like other shirts I own.

Size ordered: XS
My rating: A


THE LINEN LONG SLEEVE IN GRAPHITE, $40

everlane linen long sleeve review
Not the most flattering silhouette I've ever worn, but the high longer, tunic-like length and side slits give this a really cool, modern fit. I wear my typical Small in this and I find that the sleeves are just a little short on my 5'7" frame. Linen has a magical quality of being warm when it's cold outside and breezy when it's warmer. I wore this through the winter as a layering piece.

Size ordered: S
My rating: A-


THE LINEN SCOOP NECK IN BLACK AND WHITE STRIPE, $35

everlane linen scoop neck striped tee review
Yet again, I sized down on this one, because I could tell from the product shots it was going to fit loose at the neck. The Extra Small, however, is perfection. I love the wide U-neck and the linen is great in transitional weather.

Size ordered: XS
My rating: A+


THE PIMA STRETCH MID-SLEEVE IN BLACK AND HEATHER GREY, $25



I didn't have a chance to take product shots for these, but I really love the long length, half sleeve, and soft, stretchy knit cotton. The neckline is a bit awkward on me - I wish it was slightly lower - but I get a lot of use out of these.


Size ordered: S
My rating: A

Let me know if you have any fit or quality questions about anything I reviewed. Happy Shopping!


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Shop Everlane with my Referral Link here.


5 Reasons To Dye Your Hair with Henna + My Process

henna dye review process
I decided to ditch traditional chemical hair dyes last year when I realized that some of the more than 5,000 possible ingredients found in the ubiquitous drugstore product are carcinogenic. Used in commercial settings like hair salons, they can also pose a health risk to bystanders. Knowing this - and knowing that there was an easy alternative in henna, having dabbled with it before - made it easy to say goodbye for good.

5 REASONS TO DYE YOUR HAIR WITH HENNA

1. It's conditioning.

Unlike chemical dyes that rough up the hair follicle and make it more porous - and thus, more susceptible to breakage - henna strengthens and conditions the hair follicles. It adds subtle thickness and lots of shine to my fine, dull hair, and the individual strands feel much stronger.

2. It's cost effective.

I pay $5.99 for a 4 ounce tub of henna powder at my local Whole Foods (it's even cheaper online). I just measure out a few tablespoons per treatment and screw the cap back on for easy storage. Since my hair is short, I get 5-7 applications out of one tub!

3. It's pretty and customizable.

You can buy henna in a variety of tones and supplement the dye with things like lemon and tea, though most shades will provide a bit of red. I have friends with very dark hair for whom henna provides a mahogany finish; one of them always mixes her henna with brewed coffee for a richer brown tone. I tend to get more of an auburn to bright red, depending on what shade I use and how long I keep it in. Henna is both heat and time sensitive, so if you wrap your head well and keep it under a dryer or let it sit for several hours, you'll get a brighter, richer tone. If you just want a hint of color, leave it in for an hour or less.

4. It's organic and non-polluting.

Henna is a plant native to parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Henna powder is simply the crushed leaves of the Henna shrub, so standard henna dye contains no artificially-derived ingredients or pollutants. There are formulations of henna dye available on the market that are mixed with other ingredients that may cause allergic reactions, however, so make sure that the henna you purchase has clearly marked ingredients.

5. It connects you to a long tradition.

Henna has been used as a hair dye for 6,000 years and its use spans continents. From Ancient Egypt to India to nineteenth century Europe (a favorite of the Pre-Raphaelites), henna has provided aesthetic pleasure, connected people to their traditions, and reinforced cultural values.

henna hair dye

MY PROCESS


What you'll need:

  • a glass or plastic mixing bowl
  • a plastic spoon (I use a tablespoon)
  • rubber gloves (optional)
  • boiling water
  • henna powder (I highly recommend Rainbow brand)

What I do:

  1. Boil water in a tea kettle or in the microwave.
  2. Add desired amount of henna powder to a glass bowl (henna reacts to metal, so you must make sure you don't use any metal implements during the mixing or application process). Knowing how much henna you need will take some guessing at first. Err on the side of caution, because you can always mix more later.
  3. Add boiling water to henna powder and mix until the texture resembles cake batter. It should be runny enough for easy application, but thick enough to adhere to itself. You don't want it to fall off of your head during application.
  4. Cover exposed surfaces underneath the bowl containing your henna, apply gloves if desired (the henna will slightly dye exposed skin, but it will fade quickly), and begin applying henna by picking up a clump with your fingers and running it from root to end in thin sections.
  5. Continue until your whole head is covered. Make sure the henna is applied consistently and fairly thickly. You need it to dry to a paste for the dye to set properly. I usually have a bit of henna left in the bowl after my initial application that I use to double coat my hair. The more the merrier.
  6. Wrap your head in a plastic grocery bag or shower cap, then wrap a towel over it. This will keep the heat in.
  7. You can use a blow dryer for maximum saturation. I usually just let the henna sit in my hair for 2 hours.
  8. After the appropriate amount of setting time, jump in the shower and wash the henna paste our of your hair. This normally takes 2 washes for me. Make sure that your shower tiles are washed clean of henna runoff so that they won't stain. 
Henna is a temporary dye unless it is mixed with acid, like vinegar or lemon juice. It will slowly fade over several weeks, leaving you without exposed roots or the need for a touch up.

red hair with henna all natural hair dyeFor this application, I mixed Persian Burgundy with Persian Red for a more subtle red tone. 


Any questions? Just let me know and I'll do my best to answer them! 


If you dye your hair with henna, feel free to tag me (@stylewiseblog) in your Instagram and Twitter posts!

The Necessity of Nuance | Why Some Critique is Essential

the necessity of nuanced critique
I recently read a thoughtful article about the phenomenon of the #girlboss label and whether or not it's actually good for women. This is the type of critique that feeds my soul - the sort of thing that makes me say Yes! out loud when I'm reading it. And, while I'll admit that I tend to agree with author Anna Jordan's critique of the phrase as unnecessary and maybe even a bit patriarchal, I would have liked this piece even if it had taken a more charitable approach to the phrase.

I liked it because it was critical while remaining gracious, assertive while remaining inclusive. 

No one was supposed to feel attacked or left out, maybe just uncomfortable enough to think on it for awhile.

I think critique - particularly internal critique - is essential to personal and professional growth. And I believe it's necessary ethics work, as well. If you're a Christian, you're probably familiar with the verse in Matthew (and the line in the contemporary worship song, I Will Never Be The Same Again) that talks about God "burning away the chaff." The chaff is the coarse exterior husk of wheat or corn that needs to be separated from the grain in order for it to be edible or, at the very least, enjoyable to eat.

I like this imagery in the context of critique. Think of it as an editing process. You revise and revise - taking away the filler adjectives and the unclear sentence fragments until you're left with something more digestible, and perhaps closer to the truth.

But, while I advocate critique, I never advocate dismissal. Unfortunately, most of us have been on facebook and twitter long enough that it can be difficult to see critique as anything but dismissal. We're conditioned to be ready for backlash before we even hit the Publish button on our statuses. I've "unfriended" several people because their trolling comments were jeopardizing my emotional health. So, while it's understandable that we're all geared up for the fight-to-the-death battle that is 80% of conversations on the internet...

This defensive stance toward critical engagement with others is ultimately hurting us. 

Self defense can be healthy, even necessary, but we should be more careful to note whether the person we're "up against" is actually against us. We need to leave space for clarifying questions and legitimate revision. In the case of Anna Jordan, author of the #girlboss piece, it seemed clear to me that her intention was to clarify the reasons for using the term, Girl Boss, instead of simply, Boss, in the context of female leaders. She wanted to better understand the ways use of the term may ultimately be harmful - even condescending - to women due to its implication that women in leadership are an anomaly that need qualification. But she didn't end with a feminist battle cry swearing off the term altogether, or asking women who like it to abandon it as soon as they finished burning their bras. She was the definition of gracious.

And yet the comments rolled in and a few angry respondents acted as if she had told women who celebrate the term, Girl Boss, that they should go to Hell! I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and interpreting this as poor reading comprehension skills conditioned by internet trolls rather than a calculated effort to dismiss her legitimate critique.

That being said, if they were angry that she disagreed with them, why were they acting as if she'd committed some sort of human rights abuse - some scandal in the female solidarity movement? It's because they couldn't, or wouldn't, account for nuance.

They couldn't understand that disagreement is not inherently dismissal. 

We come to our beliefs and opinions from different places. Our lives tell different stories, have different arcs and different triggers. If I disagree with you, it very well may be that after a nice chat, we'll start to understand each other, even if we still don't see eye to eye.

If I tell you the color pink sucks (it totally does) and you disagree with me, it does not necessarily follow that I think you suck, too. And what if I said that coral shouldn't technically be classified as pink when it's really more of an orange, and you disagreed? If you could get past the feeling that I was attacking the very essence of your pink-and-coral-loving identity and calmly explain why you felt otherwise, we could make real progress! On the other hand, if you'd dismissed me from the beginning, we would continue to hold our opposing views - no matter how wrong - forever and ever. We would build tiny fortresses around our Pink and Coral beliefs when we could have built a lovely, technicolor castle and have someone to eat dinner with every night.

The point is that disagreement is not a crisis, it is a part of life. 

And if we can learn to be critical without being dismissive and, on the flip side, if we can absorb critique without shutting down, we will be better for it. Sometimes critique is scary. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it's supposed to. Let's cultivate in ourselves and in our communities the reasoning and grace to understand the difference between trolling and legitimate critique.

Because if we lose our tolerance for real critique, we've lost our primary tool for cutting away the chaff. And if we lose that, how are we going to eat?

Sotela: The last dress you'll ever need, now on Kickstarter

sotela kickstarter
I've known Hanna for a few years now, both through her former blog, Gold Polka Dots, and through our mutual membership in the Ethical Writers Coalition. Hanna is compassionate, intelligent, and thoughtful. And now - with the launch of her Kickstarter campaign - she's a sustainable business owner and awesome entrepreneur!

Sotela aims to solve the what to wear conundrum by offering a range of garments that look great and fit regardless of hormonal or seasonal weight and size fluctuations. I love this concept, 1. because it's truly sustainable in that you don't have to buy something new when your size changes, and 2. because it graciously acknowledges regular weight gain and body insecurity. It reminds women that our value isn't determined by how our clothes fit.

I'll let the official press release give you a bit more info about the company and Kickstarter launch:


Sizes may change, but your style doesn’t have to. 


Sotela, a new California-based fashion brand, is solving the “nothing fits” dilemma with its debut collection of essential dresses that span multiple sizes, now available for preorder on Kickstarter.com.

sotela kickstarter campaign
My favorite silhouette, the Cocoon Dress

The brand, conceptualized in 2015, designed a collection of three dresses that span multiple sizes, eliminating time wasted searching for an outfit that fits. Size 1 ranges from 0-6 and size 2 from 8-12.

Never compromising ethics over style: each piece in the Sotela collection is eco- friendly, and features fabrics such as tencel and modal - sustainable fabrics known for their breathability and softness. All Sotela pieces are also locally made in the United States.


Sotela founder, Hanna Baror-Padilla, recognized the need for a dynamic clothing brand for women, as well as the lack of options currently available at major retailers. “Like most women, I’ve struggled with weight fluctuations that have made fitting into my regular clothing a chore. I know first-hand how insecure you can feel when your clothes don’t fit the way the way you remembered."

"I created Sotela because I believe we should be able to reach into our closets and have multiple pieces that will always fit, and better yet, make us feel beautiful.” 


Sotela’s debut dress collection is available for preorder on Kickstarter through June 9, 2016. Once the campaign reaches its fundraising goal of $15,000, funding and manufacturing will begin for “The Last Dress You’ll Ever Need.”

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I am really enjoying watching wonderful women in this community come into their own and change the world in the process.



Also, check out fellow EWC member, Kamea Chayne's, new book, Thrive: An Environmentally Conscious Lifestyle Guide to Better Health and True Wealth, now available on Amazon!

inspiration board: May Edition, featuring Veja, Everlane, Mata Traders


A SERIES OF DREAM OUTFITS FOR THE WARM DAYS AHEAD...


Meanwhile, the gray skies persist here in Charlottesville for the foreseeable future. My SAD is fighting with me this week, but I'm determined to remain hopeful, get stuff done, and enjoy the little things.

All items are ethical, sustainable, and/or domestically sourced. Click on the images to be redirected.*
Notes: For busy days at work or couch hunting around town on a day off.
Notes: For Sunday afternoons at the winery.
Notes: For vacationing in historic towns this summer.

The Moral Wardrobe: a Whole Lotta Mata (Traders)

mata traders maxwell midi skirt reviewmata traders maxwell midi skirt review
Mata Traders works with women's co-ops in India to produce their line of festive, feminine dresses, skirts, blouses, and jewelry. They sent me the Maxwell Midi Skirt and the Layered Amulet Necklace from their Spring 2016 line to wear and review. I love the updated designs and the versatility of these items.

First, the hand block printed geometric design on the skirt is graphic without being too busy, and it pairs well with my overabundance of Everlane tees. The length is great for work, where I often have to lift boxes and pick up dust bunnies, and the necklace adds a thoughtful touch to basic tops. I imagine it would look great layered with other jewelry, as well.
  mata traders maxwell midi skirt reviewmata traders maxwell midi skirt reviewEthical Details: Maxwell Midi Skirt and Layered Amulet Necklace - c/o Mata Traders; Tee - Everlane; Sandals - secondhand via Thredup

Now for the downsides: I always have trouble getting the right fit in Mata Traders items, particularly with their woven, non-stretch fabrics. The skirt is too big in the waist by several inches even though I followed their size chart (definitely size down). As a result, it's a bit awkward to fit evenly at mid-rise, as I'm wearing it here. The skirt also lacks a back or side slit, which limits my stride when I'm walking, though they did add enough fabric near the knee and calves to provide reasonable walking comfort if you're not a fast walker, like I am.

I'd definitely still recommend the skirt, but you may want to reach out to Mata Traders for specific details before ordering. The necklace is lovely, as well.

I took these photos on the only sunny day we've had in, like, 14 days. I'm back in sweaters for now, but I enjoyed the brief respite.

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Mata Traders is featuring artisan stories and running a giveaway until May 16th! Check out this post to learn more. 

Interview: Stephanie Nicora of Nicora Shoes

This post originally appeared on My Kind Closet.
nicora shoes interview
From Stephanie of My Kind Closet:

A couple of years ago I was on the hunt for a pair of nice looking heels that I could pull off at a fancier affair, like a wedding, but that would also get a lot of use of for more casual occasions.

The catch? This was one of my very first purchases after having gone vegan, so I wanted something that was free of leather made from animal skin, but I also wanted something that was high-quality and made well. This was also around the time I really started considering how and where the things I bought were made…And while it was certainly true that there were plenty of non-leather options around, they were cheap in both construction and in price, so I couldn’t be sure of where they came from or what they were made of.

After a doing some research I came across the Priscilla heels, by Nicora Shoes. I loved their natural wooden heel, the elegant strapping detail, and the fact they were American made by a brand committed to social and environmental responsibility and a love for animals.

I reached out to the e-mail address on their website as they were out of stock, and Stephanie, one of the co-founders, was kind enough to e-mail me back and connect me with a shop in Chicago who carried the heels. If that’s not commitment to your customer, then I don’t know what is! A couple years later, the heels are still looking great and I wear them often.

In any case, founded by Stephanie Nicora, a third generation shoemaker, and Reyes Florez, who left Wall Street to pursue something that would enable him to have a positive impact on the world, Nicora Shoes has grown quite a bit in a short couple of years, now supporting approximately 35 American jobs. 

Their commitment to people, animals, and the planet is stronger and more evident than ever.

Stephanie Nicora, the namesake and head designer of Nicora, was gracious enough to answer some questions and tell me a bit about the brand, their production, and the values that drive them.

WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU COME TO START NICORA SHOES?

I am a 3rd generation shoemaker. I began apprenticing in shoemaking in 2012 and practiced making shoes in my home. I used repurposed furniture upholstery and any materials I could get my hands on. Simultaneously, I began researching materials. It was evident right off the bat that traditional materials, namely leather or foreign produced plastics did not align with my ethics. I source only USA made eco materials and as I started moving along in my shoemaking, I realized I was the only person doing so. The interest for my designs grew through social media – and before I knew it I was selling online and now we are a fully grown brand, making shoes out of Los Angeles.

CAN YOU PLEASE DISCUSS WHERE YOUR MATERIALS ARE SOURCED AND WHY IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR YOUR TO KEEP PRODUCTION IN THE USA?

We are committed to US production because we are committed to people. 

We decided we wanted to build communities and impact people’s lives in our own backyard. Our teams of artisans are absolutely amazing! We feel really good that they are able to live an enriched life practicing the skills they have honed for generations. We don’t have to rely on audits or reports to tell us whether our artisans are being treated the right way. We know they are, because we are in the factory with them, side-by-side, making great looking shoes.

On the supplier side we have found that because many of our vendors can’t compete on price they compete on quality and sustainability.

So by sourcing American materials we are getting the highest level of quality you can imagine. 

It is the craziest thing to travel to an old mill town community in South Carolina and find companies that are utilizing the latest advancements in textile technology to produce some of the most sustainable textiles in the world. Who would have thought!

From Stephanie of My Kind Closet: Fashion Revolution week focuses on empowering consumers to help make positive change within the industry for the people who make our clothes, many of whom are sadly underpaid and work under poor conditions. There are people who view veganism as a movement only for the animals, when it really is so much more – I’d like to discuss how veganism is a choice that helps people too- even in fashion:

The leather and tanning industries are among the most toxic and harmful industries in the world (in 2012 Human Rights Watch published a 102 page report documenting the health repercussions for individuals working in a leather factory in Dhaka and the implications for the entire community.)… 

CAN YOU TOUCH UPON THAT AND WHY YOUR VEGAN MATERIALS ARE BETTER AND SAFER FOR THE PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH THEM (AND THE ENVIRONMENT)?

You hit the nail on the head in saying that vegan is much broader than animals or diet. It really is about a worldview that says, “I am going to be thoughtful and aware about the impact my choices have on the world around me.”

Leather, as you mentioned, is not only incredibly harmful to people working in the tanneries, but also to neighboring communities. Our materials are better in a number of ways. First they don’t require anywhere near the amount of natural resource inputs that leather does. Second we use the latest in engineered textiles, so our materials are premium quality without all the nasty plasticizers or off-gassing that is often a part of other engineered materials. Lastly, the bulk of our materials have some recycled component to them. For example fabric dyes used to color our latest release, the Goodall, actually comes from the use of recycled ketchup bottles and old x-ray film.

It is very much part of our mission to continue researching, learning and collaborating with textile manufacturers to find a better and smarter way to do things. 

We believe there is always room for improvement. We are excited about what the future holds in this arena.

nicora vegan shoes interview

DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH THE DESIRE TO BUY LOCAL AND/OR ETHICALLY MADE PRODUCTS IS BECOMING MORE MAINSTREAM?

Yes we do. Whether it is due to a desire for quality or out of support for a social mission – or some combination of both – we see more and more people choosing locally produced / ethically produced products. Today’s consumer is incredibly connected with the products they buy and as a result they want to get behind something that shares their values. It has never been easier to research companies to understand production processes and supply chains and consumers are really taking advantage of that. It is an incredibly positive movement.

FAST FASHION HAS GIVEN MANY CONSUMERS THE FALSE NOTION THAT CLOTHING, SHOES, AND ACCESSORIES SHOULD BE CHEAP, SO THE STICKER SHOCK FOR ETHICALLY MADE PRODUCTS CAN INITIALLY TURN SOMEONE AWAY FROM MAKING THAT PURCHASE - HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN APPEAL TO THAT CONSUMER?

Being American made, obviously our inputs are more expensive than someone who is sourcing globally. But we are ok with that. While the extra production costs results in higher sticker price, we like to think about things in terms of cost per wear. We build our shoes to last, every NICORA shoe is repairable and resoleable. We also think about sustainability from a design angle, and create pieces that are meant to be versatile and cross seasonal. So when you buy a pair of NICORA’s you are buying life partners. When you consider that the cost of each pair is spread out over years of wear our shoes are actually a better value. This also translates to a win on the environmental front as well, by creating high quality heirloom like pieces we keep more waste out of landfills.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE ETHICAL BRANDS?

Just to name a few…Vaute Couture, Brave Gentlemen, Groceries

Shops: Bead and Reel*
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I, like Stephanie, love the Goodall sandals for summer. Read more posts by Stephanie on her blog, My Kind Closet.

*All photos belong to Nicora Shoes.

Buyer Beware: Exploitative Advertising Practices or "Poverty Porn"

This is the fourth 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. Read about Direct Sales Models here.
poverty porn and exploitation in advertising
Before I continue with today's post, I want to clarify a few things with you all. Firstly, I appreciate the discourse this series has created. It's tricky to navigate potentially heated conversations on the internet with people you barely know, and I want to thank those of you who have commented for sticking with your convictions without dismissing me as a human being. I hope my responses have been perceived as gracious, as well, even if we continue to disagree.

More than anything, I think we must, at the very least, talk about these things. 


They must be public and vocalized. Because if we don't allow ourselves to process potential pitfalls of a given strategy or model, we can't be sure we know what we're supporting. Regardless of where we land, it's fruitful that we've talked it out.

Secondly, I intentionally use the phrase, Buyer Be Wary, as a means of clarifying my position toward the companies and models I call out. I'm not necessarily advocating a complete boycott of a company just because it uses a strategy or framework that I find potentially damaging or misleading, I'm simply suggesting that we attempt to fully understand the pros and cons of a business model before we become an advocate of it.

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Today's issue is harder to pin on one company or business model, because one could argue that advertising is inherently exploitative, if not to the subject, than to the target audience. 


That being said, I'll break it down from both perspectives: 1. advertising that misleads or exploits the viewer, and 2. advertising that exploits the beneficiary (in charity and social enterprise advertising, a marketing angle that highlights the poor, suffering beneficiary is often termed poverty porn.).


ADVERTISING THAT EXPLOITS THE TARGET AUDIENCE

Poverty porn tells donors that because of their position in society and because of their resources they have the ability to be the saviors in vulnerable communities they might know nothing about. It fails to awaken Western audiences to the mutual need for transformation they share with their poor brothers and sisters and instead perpetuates dangerous paternalism (Huffington Post).

It's a well known fact that advertising strategies routinely prey on our insecurities to sell us products. Buy the deodorant so you won't be socially ostracized. Wash your face with this product to make those unsightly blemishes go away. We see it all the time in women's beauty and lifestyle ads.

But when it comes to ethical enterprises, I think we're less likely to put our guards up because we assume that a company who cares about its workers and the earth would have adopted a "do no harm" marketing strategy, as well. But ethical companies aren't perfect, and their good intentions sometimes get muddled by a very real need to grow their business.

Instead of preying on our superficial insecurities, however, they prey on our guilt.


Case in point: a couple of months ago, a fair trade company ran an Instagram campaign with the tagline 5000 Followers = A House. The copy went on to say that the company would give a home to one of their employees who was raising 5 children in a house with no door only if the brand reached 5,000 Instagram followers.

Do you see what I see here?


The problem with this strategy is that it not only suggested that the well being of a woman in need was completely dependent on egocentric likes and follows, but that it put the onus on the individual viewer to do whatever was needed to ensure she wasn't left hanging. Any person with a heart would hurry up and follow the account just to make sure the waiting was over! For that reason, I would define this strategy as highly coercive.

Not to mention the fact that the campaign was misleading. I spoke with a representative from the company after seeing the post and she clarified that the employee in question would receive the house regardless of the result of the advertising campaign. Desperate for growth, they felt that the tie-in could kill two birds with one stone. 

In this scenario, the representative and her Insta-allies were all well meaning, lovely people. But because they didn't consider the implications of their advertising angle, they betrayed the trust of loyal followers and inadvertently discouraged bystanders like me, their target audience, from fully buying into their mission.

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ADVERTISING THAT EXPLOITS THE BENEFICIARY


A starving child with a puffed up stomach in a barren landscape. A smiling woman in indigenous dress behind her loom. Barefoot children playing soccer, or heading to school. If you've been interested in social enterprises long enough - and maybe even if you haven't - you've seen these images.

There is nothing wrong with portraying the realities and diversity of life across the globe, but it's important that we're seeing eye to eye. 


...we need to pause and ask ourselves whether it is ethical to depict the graphic qualities of a human being to Western audiences for the sole purpose of eliciting an emotional experience and ultimately, money. It is a practice called poverty porn, and it does almost nothing to address the real structural problem of poverty...Poverty porn objectifies its subjects, defining them by their suffering and stripping them of the vital components of all human life — agency, autonomy and unlimited potential (Huffington Post).

Unfortunately, I still see an abundance of imagery burdened by the Western gaze. If you're going to show me a picture of someone, tell me their name. Tell me their story. Let them speak for themselves. If you're going to take a picture of a child, get their parent's permission! People who look, and live, differently from us are not on display, regardless of whether their lives have been wrought with tragedy or banality. We can help people in need without making a spectacle out of them. And we should be just as happy to buy into companies that simply use industry best practices as we are to support enterprises that employ survivors or provide educational and medical support.


After all, fair wages and humane treatment are human rights, not rites of passage only after tragedy strikes. 


Tavie from MadeFAIR speaks well on this subject in her essay, Why Pity is a Bad Marketing Angle:

This subject is viscerally irritating to me because my mother came to the United States as a genocide survivor. Close friends, family, and pushy strangers know about our family’s history, but it’s a fact I don’t usually publicize on popular blogs. That’s because besides being a “survivor,” she is an expert seamstress, talented designer, international volunteer, and a hard-working mother of two strong-minded daughters. She never put “genocide survivor” on her resume. 
The most damaging aspect of pity is how it perpetuates a colonial dichotomy between maker and buyer. The makers are from the “Third World” or “developing” nation, while the buyer is from the “First World” or “developed” nation. Those terms are outdated and create a hierarchy that turns the West into the paragon of society who can force its values on other countries. Framing a marketing campaign around adversity exploits the maker and manipulates the buyer. Pity solicits a knee-jerk response that may work once, but isn’t sustainable if a business wants to retain customers.

Every company on my personal Buyer Be Wary list is guilty of more than one offense, and all of them get a low grade for avoiding advertising that exploits the beneficiary and the target audience. In fact, I have it on good authority that a particular one-for-one shoe brand writes off their shoe donations as an advertising expense. If that's not telling, I don't know what is. 

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as ethical marketing. Marketing-Schools.org defines it as "less of a marketing strategy and more of a philosophy that informs all marketing efforts. It seeks to promote honesty, fairness, and responsibility in all advertising." Strategically, it aims to build trust in both the quality of the product and the brand's intention to be transparent about the brand-customer relationship.

As companies like Nisolo*, MadeFAIR*, Everlane*, and Fair Indigo (there are many more!) can attest, it is totally unnecessary to manipulate and exploit for financial gain. Today's consumers seek authenticity and we respond well to simple, straightforward honesty. Tell us why the product is worth it. Don't mince words. Tell us about your employees, broadly or individually, but do it in a way that honors their time and talent.

TL;DR: Even ethical companies create ad campaigns that exploit and mislead. Their tactics are harmful to both the target audience and the beneficiary.

Additional Reading:

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Read Parts OneTwo, and Three.

Coming up in this series:


- Great Mission, Terrible Products