Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


3 Simple DIY Beauty Recipes, by Annie Zhu

I love the freedom of summer's long days. The lingering daylight makes me feel like I can spend more time doing things I love and nurturing myself. It's also a season that requires very little concern for clothing, as it's almost always warm enough to wear a single layer and be done with it. So instead of obsessing about the weather and the shopping that comes with it, I like to spend more time doing things with my hands, reading books, and experimenting with DIY projects. Annie Zhu's all-natural beauty recipes, below, fit the bill.

This post originally appeared on Terumah. Illustrations by Elizabeth Stilwell.


It’s not hard to make your own beauty products at home. The few ingredients required are readily found at your local supermarket and health food store. Empty jars and containers are perfect to reuse for this. By making your own products, you’re guaranteed to end up with something that’s 100% natural.

Here are 3 super easy beauty recipes you can whip up in the kitchen:

salt scrub recipe

Peppermint & Sea Salt Body Scrub

  • 4 tbsp sea salt
  • 4 tbsp almond or jojoba oil
  • 1 tsp fresh mint
  • 5 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 2 drops grapefruit essential oil

Mix sea salt, fresh mint and almond/jojoba oil in a bowl. Add essential oils. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Scrub can keep for up to 6 months.

beet lip balm recipe

Beet Lip & Cheek Stain

  • beet juice
  • 2-4 drops freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • optional: coconut oil, almond oil or vitamin E oil

Make fresh beet juice with a juicer. If you don’t have a juicer, cut the beet into quarters after taking the top and root off. Toss into a blender with some water. Pour juice through a strainer into a small bowl. An eyedropper can help you get the juice from bowl to jar. An empty roll-on jar would work best. Be careful, as beet juice can stain.

Depending on how big your container is, add 2-4 drops of lemon juice. This helps preserve the color. Lemon juice can be drying, so add some oil for moisture.

Keep this in the fridge and it will last up to 2 weeks.

natural face powder recipe

Face Powder

  • 2 tbsp arrowroot powder
  • 2 tsp or more cocoa powder
  • 5 drops lemon essential oil

Mix cocoa powder and arrowroot powder in a box. Stir in lemon essential oil until color is uniform. Add more cocoa powder to match your skin tone as needed.

Pour into a powder jar (an old mineral powder jar is perfect.) Use the powder to set foundation and to mattify skin.


Get 21 DIY Beauty and Makeup Recipes from Terumah here.

The Henna Experiment: Dyeing My Hair with Henna + NUMI Organic Rooibos Tea

dye your hair with henna and rooibos tea Numi collaboration
Special thanks to Numi Organic Tea for sponsoring this post. All opinions (and results) are my own.

The last time I dyed my hair with henna, I was intrigued by the instruction booklet's suggestion to use hot tea instead of water to alter the final color: black tea to reduce the red undertone, red tea to enhance it. I stuck with regular hot water that time around, but I made sure to stock up on tea for the next time. And that time is now!

As I discussed in my last post on the subject, henna has been used as a natural, organic hair dye for centuries. It's known for it's thickening and conditioning properties and, of course, its distinctive red tone. Since I've been hankering for a new hair style (you may have noticed I'm growing it out), it was the perfect time to make a statement, so I decided to add red (or Rooibos) tea to my henna powder for vibrant red hair.

I chose to use Numi Organic Tea because of their commitment to fair trade practices, sustainable infrastructure, and quality. They kindly sent me a range of teas to select from for my little experiment and I decided to stick with their traditional Rooibos. Numi tea is really delicious - unlike many grocery store brands, they use full leaf tea in their bags for a richer flavor - so I made sure to use every last drop of it by drinking what I had leftover from the dye process while I let my hair steep. It's not every day that you can say you drank your hair dye or dyed your hair with a beverage. The efficiency freak in me feels quite satisfied, so I'm coining a new term for this process: tea-fficiency.

dye your hair with henna and rooibos tea Numi collaborationdye your hair with henna and rooibos tea Numi collaboration

The dyeing process is actually quite simple. Don't let the plethora of preparation materials intimidate you.

You'll need: 

Two tea bags, a plastic spoon, a glass or plastic mixing bowl, henna powder (I purchase mine from Whole Foods), gloves (definitely use them - I didn't and now my hands are orange!), a plastic bag or shower cap, and a towel.

Make sure you're wearing clothes you don't mind dyeing and avoid metal utensils and bowls, as henna reacts with metal.

For bright red hair...

  1. Make sure your hair is clean. It may be damp or dry.
  2. Pour boiling water over two Numi Organic Rooibos tea bags and let steep for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add a few tablespoons of henna powder to a glass or plastic bowl. You can always add more if you run out during application.
  4. Add tea until mixture takes on the consistency of yogurt.
  5. Put on gloves and apply mixture with your hands, making sure to cover each strand from root to end. Make sure to cover counter tops and surfaces, as henna can and will dye ceramic tile and other materials. 
  6. After a thick coat has been applied to your hair, wrap a plastic bag or shower cap around your head, then wrap a towel over that. 
  7. Wipe off your ears, wrists, forehead, and neck to keep henna from dyeing unwanted areas. 
  8. Brew yourself some extra tea to sip as you sit in a warm place (I sat in my back yard) for at least an hour. 
  9. Wash your hair thoroughly, first with warm water, then with 1-2 rounds of shampoo. Finish with conditioner, then rinse with cool water.


Henna is heat reactive, so it's important to apply the henna while the tea is still warm, adequately cover your head to close in heat, and find a warm place to let it do its work.

The Result:

  red tea and henna hair dye with Numi
Before and After

red tea and henna hair dye with NumiNumi Tea DIY henna

The interesting thing about henna is that it will actually get brighter in the hours after you finish dyeing your hair as it continues to react to heat. You can expect your henna to last 4-8 weeks depending on how frequently you wash your hair. The color will fade back into your regular hair color over time.

I LOVE the result of my Henna + Numi Rooibos Tea experiment, and judging by the incessant compliments I've been getting, so does everyone else. The red is quite assertive without looking alien. Keep in mind that your results may vary depending on your base color, but the tea should deepen your red tones all the same.


For more creative uses for tea, check out the Numi Tea Garden Blog. 

Follow Numi on social media: Instagram // Twitter // Facebook

The Ethical Closet: Summer Closet Update + Spring Changes


In March, I shared my Spring Closet Update, but I made a few changes as time went on and it became clear that a few things I thought would be perfect didn't quite measure up.

Firstly, the lovely Mata Traders knit dress I shared dyed not only my purse, but my body, even after several washes, so I had to send that one back as a defective item. It was easy to replace it with the National Picnic dress I reviewed in April. Secondly, I realized that the TEVA sandals I bought occupied the same super-casual niche in my wardrobe as my black Birkenstocks, but were more challenging to wear in an outfit, so I donated those to a local thrift shop. To replace them, I ordered the Nisolo Serena Sandals, as they're more streamlined and dressy than the sandals currently in my closet.

My Summer Closet Update includes:
(clockwise from left)

LA Relaxed Jade Off the Shoulder Top, $58

This top is truly perfect. Soft, flowy, and lightweight with tiny stripes. I had been on the hunt for an off the shoulder top and I ultimately chose this one because the elastic at the neckline allows me to wear it more like a boat neck top if I want extra coverage. Made in LA of ecofriendly Modal.

Everlane Cotton Striped Dress, $38 (purchased with store credit)

This is definitely more of a beach dress, but the swingy shape and dropped shoulder make it feel retro 1980s, which is sort of cool. I like pairing it with my Sseko Designs D'orsays*. Made with transparent manufacturing practices in Vietnam. Shop via my referral link.

Everlane Cotton Tank, $15

This tank has a slightly oversized, long fit without being slouchy or sloppy. It looks great tucked into skirts and high waist pants. Made in LA. Shop via my referral link.

Eileen Fisher Cropped Boyfriend Jeans, purchased with thredUP credit

I scored these secondhand, but they're still available at Neiman Marcus. I like loose fit jeans for the summer, because they provide better aeration. Made with organic cotton in the USA. Shop thredUP via my referral link for $10 off your first purchase.

Nisolo Serena Sandals, $73.00 (received $25 off through referral link)

Thanks for your feedback on my Ethical Black Sandals post. You all helped me narrow down the selection to something that feels classic and versatile. Made ethically in Peru. Shop via my referral link for $25 off.

For some reason, it's been more difficult than usual to transition into summer dressing. I had developed a dependable uniform of tees, jeans, and sweaters over the winter. Since everything was relatively neutral, it was super easy to get dressed in the morning. But I enjoy wearing patterned skirts and quirky items when it's warm and sunny, so I've had to get back into the swing of planning outfits ahead of time. These easy-to-wear additions are making the transition less intimidating.

Megumi Project Brings New Life to Old Kimonos

Megumi Project repurposes vintage kimonos

Today I'm stepping back and letting social enterprise, Megumi Project, share their story. I'm really excited about their commitment to upcycling, sustainability, and cultural awareness and I hope you enjoy learning more about the brand. Thanks to Megumi Project for sponsoring this post.


Megumi Project - Restoring Beauty

Megumi Project is an ethical fashion social enterprise that provides employment and community to women in post-tsunami Northeastern Japan. At our production site in Onagawa, vintage kimonos donated from all over the country are recycled and recreated into one of a kind scarves, bags, journals and accessories. We sell both online at and at our brick-and- mortar shop in Onagawa.

In Japanese, “megumi” means grace/and or blessing. This word reflects our ethos as we desire to be a source of grace and blessing in the town of Onagawa where we are based, a town that has suffered much loss in the past five years. This small port town was devastated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which swept away 8% of Onagawa’s population, along with 80% of the town’s infrastructure and housing. In the wake of these disasters, Megumi Project was started by a Christian group of American, German, and Japanese relief workers in cooperation with the local Onagawa community, as a way to support the economy and community-building of the town.

Megumi Project currently employs seven women, mainly young mothers, who were all directly affected by the tsunami. 

None of the Megumi artisans, except for one, knew how to sew initially. Two years into operation however, we’ve developed a rich assortment of skills in sewing, product design, photography, marketing, administration, computer know-how, customer service, and English communication, through learning from and encouraging one another. One recent way our progress is reflected is in the launching of our recent kimono accessory collection. This collection, which utilizes scraps of leftover kimono fabric to make earrings, hair pins, and brooches, was spearheaded entirely by two of our staff- members who, very successfully, brought their product design ideas to completion.

In the wake of the disasters, many people left Onagawa to start new lives elsewhere. Many young people in particular have left Onagawa in search of better job opportunities and more hospitable environments to raise families. In response to this, Megumi Project seeks to support the community of young families in the area by providing a workplace for young mothers that is flexible and understanding of the specific demands and needs as a parent.

Megumi Project repurposes vintage kimonos

So why kimonos? 

The recycling of kimonos is a creative response to the decline of the traditionally worn kimono in Japan. While the kimono continues to be a valued part of Japan’s aesthetic and cultural heritage, it has largely disappeared from general everyday usage, and only appears at formal occasions (weddings, funerals, coming-of- age ceremonies). The detailed knowledge of how to dress oneself properly in a kimono is also declining amongst the general population. With the kimono being reserved for only the most formal of occasions, many heirloom kimonos, handed down through generations, are left sitting in closets all over Japan, only to get moth-eaten or stained. In fact, according to an article written for Fashion Revolution’s Japan website, the estimated value of unused/unworn kimonos is 3000 billion Japanese Yen, which converts to roughly 30 billion dollars. This is where innovative new usages for kimono fabrics becomes a need. However, even before this current time of an overabundance of kimonos, a tradition of repurposing and reusing kimonos has already long existed in this country.

The inherent design of the kimono, which is made from a single bolt of fabric divided into straight strips of fabric, is such that it can be disassembled to wash, repair or replace individual panels, or be altered altogether. In Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), kimonos that had become too threadbare to be worn, were recreated into futons, cushions, bags, rags or diapers, and at the very last stage of their lifecycle, were turned into ashes, that were then used in fertilizer or soap-making.

In other words, repurposing and recycling are built into the very DNA of the Japanese kimono. 

This careful, environmentally responsible usage of the kimono embodies the Japanese ethic of mottanai, or the refusal to be wasteful. At Megumi Project, we love that we are part of this tradition; not only honoring the cultural and artistic heritage of the Japanese kimono, but also exercising an ethic of responsible production and care for clothing. We have so much to learn from the generations that came before us, the generations that modeled practices of repairing, altering, recycling, and repurposing.

What we do embodies a slow fashion ethic as we prioritize sustainability and ethical practice in fashion by taking fabrics that would otherwise be unused or tossed out, and by giving them new life as contemporary fashion items. We receive all of our kimonos as donations from people from all over Japan. Many of these generous people reach out to us with stories of their mother’s and grandmother’s kimonos that sit unused, but of course are much too precious to throw out. We celebrate the distinct culture of Japanese kimono and are grateful that we can share a bit of Japanese culture through our products with customers from all over the world. Through our online shop, we’ve been able to send our unique kimono products to customers in 18 countries, and counting! At our brick-and- mortar shop in Onagawa, we also enjoy meeting tourists from all over Japan and sharing our unique story of restoring beauty.

Most importantly, we want to uphold the dignity and nurture the personal development of each staff member, as we grow together as a social enterprise community in the remarkable town of Onagawa.

Megumi Project fair trade in Japan
The Megumi Team

Follow up Questions:

Do you have additional products or designs in the works?

Yes! We are planning to launch a bolero collection later this summer. The design is similar to our turtleback shawls, but with a petite body type in mind, with a simple design that makes it easy to throw on over a range of outfits for some extra warmth and elegance.

kimono infinity scarf megumi project
We will also be launching infinity scarves (pictured to the left) in the fall that utilize both kimono fabric as well as a soft fleece lining. Cozy and one-of-a-kind!

P.S. Our fold over bags are also quite new, and we are proud of them too! 

Are there broader efforts in Japan to keep the tradition and skill of kimono culture alive?

Yes! There are movements to encourage the wearing of the kimono in more ordinary settings. In our neighboring city Ishinomaki, there is an organization that offers tutorials on how to wear kimonos, and plans concerts and gatherings which people attend wearing kimonos. I think this is reflective of the cross generational interest in keeping the culture of kimono wearing alive.There were also recent trends of wearing kimono items in non-traditional ways amongst younger people--a kind of fusion style of Western clothing with kimono items.

Along with that, the culture of repurposing kimonos is very vibrant. There are workshops all over Japan on how to turn kimonos into new clothing items or bags. Vintage kimonos can be found reasonably at many used clothing stores in Japan, which people purchase to recreate into new items. For anyone out there interested in procuring vintage kimonos, Etsy and eBay both have great assortments!  The prices for vintage kimonos probably average around $50, which is significantly less than the $2000 price-tag of a new kimono! 


Thanks for the introduction, Megumi Project. Looking forward to watching you grow and flourish over the years!

Shop Megumi Project here.

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The Moral Wardrobe: The Decadence of Fabric

vintage ethical outfit with everlanevintage ralph lauren skirtvintage ethical outfit with everlanevintage ralph lauren skirt Ethical Details: Top - Everlane; Skirt - thrifted vintage Ralph Lauren; Sandals - Betula via Ebay; Necklace - old Greenola Style c/o American Nomad

A couple months ago, I went on my annual, pre-summer skirt hunt at the local thrift stores and found this one at my first stop for $3.75. It's vintage Ralph Lauren Country, made in the USA from yards and yards of medium weight woven cotton. The sheer amount of fabric on this makes it feel decadent, and it falls beautifully because it's quite heavy. If you were to buy this much by the yard at a fabric store, you'd probably spend more than $50 before you'd even begun sewing. 

I always scoop up Ralph Lauren pieces from secondhand shops when I find them, because the cut, proportions, and fabric quality can't be beat. I'm a bit of a quality snob these days, but it's just because my experience working at a thrift shop has made me aware of the quality that used to be present in mainstream garments and is now virtually impossible to find unless you buy from a high end designer who still cares about these things. 

Giveaway: $100 Abrazo Style Gift Card

abrazo style mexican embroidered dress giveaway

As I mentioned in yesterday's review, Abrazo Style makes ethical, handmade pieces inspired and created by Mexican artisans. The Lilia Dress I own shows care and craftsmanship, from its subtle, asymmetrical hemline to the way it skims over my hips. And the embroidery, of course, is really well done.

In light of the fact that this style of garment is increasingly popular, it's especially important to know that the artisans received a living wage and work in an environment where they receive respect. You may be able to find similar pieces in markets throughout the southern United States and in Mexico, but there's a high likelihood that the people who made them were not compensated fairly. Abrazo Style ensures this, and their custom designs intended to flatter and fit makes them stand out.

I'm excited to announce that Abrazo Style is giving away a $100 Gift Card to one StyleWise Reader. The giveaway will run through Wednesday, June 22 at midnight.

Enter to win by following the prompts below! Good luck!

  fair trade clothing giveaway abrazo style

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Shop Abrazo Style here.

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The Moral Wardrobe: Summer Dressing with Abrazo Style

abrazo style mexican embroidered dressabrazo style mexican embroidered dress

Traditional textile and embroidery work is oft copied in fast fashion, and I'm sure at least some of the work is done by artisans rather than trained factory workers, albeit at a low wage that doesn't do justice to the detail or skill of the work.

Abrazo Style, however, is the real deal. They work with the Indigenous artisan communities of Oaxaca and Chiapas to create a beautiful range of hand embroidered dresses, blouses, and swim cover-ups, paying a fair wage and making sure that the artisans themselves have a big say in the design process.

Abrazo Style artisans
Efrain, Abrazo Style's Mexico manager, and Rebeca, master embroiderer, collaborate closely to bring the hand embroidered, fairly traded products to our customers.*

I love that I had the chance to review this chambray Lilia Dress right after Victoria Road's Medallion Tunic, because it's given me a great sense of the way that textile craft traditions vary by region and culture, while reinforcing the fact that this type of art is fundamentally a part of who we are as humans. You can find ornate, beautiful needlework all over the world and I'm glad that fair trade companies are making it possible for consumers to see, touch, and wear garments with such rich history and tradition.

The Lilia Dress is magical. I say that because although it looks like a sack dress on the hanger, it drapes so nicely on my frame, subtly defining my waist as it falls. The asymmetrical hem adds a sort of sporty touch and the length is versatile. You may not be able to tell in the photos (it's easier to see in the last photo in this post), but the white embroidery is actually 3-dimensional, and I like that the floral and leaf pattern is quite big for this type of design.

made in Italy wedges abrazo style mexican embroidered dress
Ethical Details: Lilia Dress - c/o Abrazo Style; Shoes - made in Italy; Hat - old

I paired the dress with a pair of cork heels I found locally and an old hat I always bring back out in the summertime.

abrazo style mexican embroidered dress
The Lilia Dress is $86.00 and comes in 4 colors.

I'm hosting a giveaway with Abrazo Style on the blog tomorrow! Make sure to come back for a chance to win a $100 Gift Card!


Shop Abrazo Style here.

Follow along: Facebook // Instagram // Twitter // Pinterest

*Photo and caption provided by Abrazo Style

Wanting to Say Something, Anything at All

orlando massacre reflection ethical blogger

Particularly as someone who encourages activism, I think it's important that I say something when terrible, heartbreaking, unthinkable violence occurs. And I think it's important to talk about loving and caring for the marginalized, no matter who they are, no matter what they look like or believe or stand for.

But I also think we put a lot of pressure on people to say the right thing at the right time or risk being called a hypocrite. And I don't always think it's good for us during grieving and processing and ranting to share every little thing on the internet.

Grief and activism and lobbying and policy change and love shouldn't branding strategies. 

It's really hard to find the right words and right tweets and the right pictures to share when you're caught up in confusion, fear, rage. Whatever.

Let's let people grieve in person. There's a lot that isn't said online, and that's ok.

Of course, we have to ask what policies, politicians, words, beliefs, and behaviors contribute to unspeakable violence, but maybe that's best done on the ground sometimes. Just because we aren't tweeting a mile a minute doesn't mean we aren't doing something.

Today - and every day - is hard when your eyes are opened to the horrors of the world. It's really really hard to be joyful, or proud, or feel at ease. Let's honor each other in the varied ways we process and work for change.

Let's hold each other for a little while and let that healing of human touch give us the strength to work for justice and reason. You can't fight hate with hate. You can't fight trolls by trolling. Love is the only thing that works.

I'm praying for all of us today, but especially the LGBTQ community, Muslims, the citizens of Orlando, and the Latino community.

Drumroll please...Reader Survey Results

StyleWise Reader Survey Results

As I mentioned earlier this week, I was thrilled with the Reader Survey results. You guys were thorough in filling out your answers and provided lots of good feedback, both on general housekeeping stuff like social media and blog reader info and with the more detailed stuff about what types of posts you enjoy and what you'd like to see more of.

I initially thought that the reader survey would simply be a way for me to get a read on what your expectations are for products, pricing, and collaborations - and that was helpful - but so was everything else. I'm always curious to know what the results are of these sorts of things, so I thought I'd share an overview with you all.

What post or topic introduced you to StyleWise?

Ethical fashion, my guest post on Rachel Held Evans' blog (Rachel was awesome for having me), and personal style were your top responses.

What are your favorite topics that I cover?

StyleWise Reader Survey Results
Your top picks were personal style, brand features, and introspective essays (which is great since that's what I prefer to cover).

What would you like to see more of or read more about?

Notable responses include:
I like your essays! Our minds are of a similar vein, and I like your way of being angry graciously.
The inherent tensions that exist in buying ethically (vs. the real life needs of people to work for the larger not ethical brands).
Navigating ethical purchases, budget constraints and personal style.
Climate Change.

How much do you generally spend or expect to spend on a new piece of clothing?

StyleWise Reader Survey Results
 The majority of you expect to spend $26-100 on a new piece of clothing. 56% of you expect to spend $26-50 on a jewelry item and 44% spend $101-150 on new shoes.

These numbers are very helpful to me because they allow me to work with brands that make sense and they provide the hard data I need to know we're a good match. Perhaps not coincidentally, I tend to set those ranges for myself when considering new ethical items, as well, so I don't need to make too many adjustments.

What ethical or sustainable topic would you like to learn more about?

New brands, minimalism, hard data on the effects of buying sustainable goods, fabric sourcing and textile ethics, intimates, sneakers, social justice, and ethical investing were some of your requests.

Also, thanks so much for your kind responses at the end of the survey. I feel very loved. The two responses that stood out to me in the Anything Else? category were already addressed in my post about thrift shopping and this week's post on The Paradox of the Ethical Fashion Blogger.

What now?

I'll continue to refer to the data and responses I received as I write posts and work with brands and organizations.

The survey is still open, so feel free to submit your responses if you haven't already.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond and let me know if you have any questions!

The Moral Wardrobe: Victoria Road's Medallion Split Collar Tunic

victoria road ethical medallion tunic review

As a part of our collaboration, Victoria Road sent me the soft-as-silk Medallion Split Collar Tunic to review. This is probably the highest quality thing in my closet. It's made of fine, woven 100% cotton with subtle champagne-toned embroidery along the neckline and hem, and I just feel so elegant in it.

Elegant is not normally the way I describe myself, so it's a real pleasure to feel so put together in something that's also easy to put on and easy to wear. I wore it for a half day at work - where my volunteers oohed and awwed over it - then to run errands around town and, though it's crinkled slightly from movement and prolonged sitting, it still looks great. The fabric is lightweight and breathable, too, so it's offering some nice aeration for the sudden humidity that's taken hold of Virginia in the last couple of days.

victoria road ethical medallion split collar tunic reviewvictoria road ethical medallion split collar tunic review
Ethical Details: Medallion Split Collar Tunic - c/o Victoria Road; Shorts - old; Earrings - Hannah Naomi; Shoes - Sseko Designs via MadeFAIR

I've got a few summer weddings to attend, and I'd been looking for a blouse that was a bit more formal than my standard Everlane t-shirt to wear tucked into skirts. I think this tunic will pair well with a nice, black flouncy skirt since the neckline makes such a statement, and the fabric lays so well it feels dressy without the need for much bedazzling.

victoria road ethical medallion split collar tunic reviewethical style blog victoria road tunic

The Medallion Split Collar tunic was made ethically at Victoria Road's private factory in Lahore, Pakistan. It retails for $97.00, a small investment, but it's something that is timeless enough to wear forever and ever. Plus, it's forgiving shape means it will continue to be wearable even if I gain or lose a few pounds. The cotton fabric is also washable.

I would say this item runs true to size. I'm wearing a Small here.

New! I'm going to try to remember to tell you about the way items I feature on StyleWise were packaged...

This item came in a 100% recycled packing envelope printed with water based inks. The blouse was wrapped in a plastic liner.

Do you have anything by Victoria Road? If so, what item? 

I would love to know what you think. Also, make sure to read the interview with the founders of Victoria Road here.


Get 20% off sitewide until July 10 with code, VRWise!

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The Paradox of the "Ethical" Fashion Blogger

ethical fashion blogger

After reading 49 well-crafted, thoughtful responses from you, my readers, in my recent Reader Survey, I'm struck by how attentive and supportive this community is. And it really is a community - even if we don't always get to meet each other or have a long chat online - because we're learning from each other, encouraging one another, and calling each other out with respect in order to make the whole community better. I was particularly struck by the comment below, and think it's worthwhile to devote a post to it:

I know that you write an ethical blog, but something that I struggle with re: both your and other ethical fashion blogs is the amount of free/discounted products that you receive from brands. While I think it's awesome (we get to see what it looks like on an actual human!) I also struggle with the fact that you're still amassing more clothing/products when you preach not purchasing/attaining new things when there's so much out there that's used already. This is something I think about a lot and something that I've never seen a single blogger address—it's the elephant in the room...

Firstly, this question is super legit, and even in an anonymous format, I think it takes guts to just come right out and say it. Women especially are socialized to avoid conflict at the risk of missing out on important conversations, so I'm glad we're here having an important conversation. It's not the first time I've seen this concern in the ethical blogosphere, either, but I don't think anyone has answered it satisfactorily.

So let me break it down a little bit:

the amount of free/discounted products that you receive from brands

Every blogger approaches this question of a minimal lifestyle versus consumption differently, but rest assured we are thinking (and talking to each other!) about it. Some blogs are very clearly shopping blogs, while others (like mine) are a bit of a hodgepodge of topics and formats under the umbrella of ethical style and living. While it's undeniably true that a big part of making thoughtful clothing purchases is simply making fewer clothing purchases, there's a question of what the end goal of an ethical style blog should be.

Are we role models for a lifestyle, or style and shopping directories? Is what we do supposed to be an exact version of what you would do? Should we be embarrassed of our mistakes, or push forward to greater progress?

Change must happen collectively. 

If we're going to question the amount of stuff ethical bloggers receive, we might also need to question why we ethical bloggers think it's a good idea to have a fashion blog at all. After all, existing in the modern world is full of ecological and ethical compromises. But, while I believe that the pinnacle of ethical living on an individual level would be throwing out the computer, stopping shopping, finding a homestead, and living off the land, that's neither practical nor particularly human. Community is important, and the potential impact I can have on the world is arguably much greater when I stay planted in the modern society I find myself in, and when I determine to reach out to like-minded people across the world through this beautiful invention called the internet, even if that means that my personal carbon footprint is greater.

I'm not always right.

I also feel uncomfortable with being held up as a perfect model of what it means to live ethically. I'm a self described recovering shopaholic. A big part of why I became interested in ethical fashion is because I was really burnt out with meaningless consumption, but that doesn't mean it's easy for me to stop accumulating stuff. I share a fair bit of my personal struggle on StyleWise because I want you to know that I am with you, not above you or ahead of you. That means I'm not always right. That means I over consume. And sometimes that means I work with brands I shouldn't have worked with.

It's hard to say no to free things. 

When a company emails you and says, "Hey! We like you and want to give you a free thing," it is very hard to say no, especially in the beginning when receiving free stuff feels like a way of legitimizing the blog project you spend entirely too much time on without any compensation. Now, that's no excuse for taking whatever comes my way, but I just want you to know that it's not easy to say no. I've worked with a couple of brands I wish I'd said no to when I realized that neither the style nor the quality of the product I received measured up to what I wanted for myself or for my blog. Those brands are notably not listed on my Resources page, but I felt stuck when it came to writing posts about them.

That was an important lesson: Think carefully about the repercussions of collaboration. 

I also want to note that I have received 6 articles of clothing and a couple accessories to date this year (that's just over 1 item per month), so it's not as if I personally am swimming in expensive free stuff. In fact, I've probably purchased more than double that amount of clothing and accessories - some thrifted, some from fair trade stores - in the same amount of time. It might be fair to say that I am consuming too much, but I don't think it's fair to say that I am doing too many collaborations. I realize that the person who left this response wasn't just talking to me, but I still feel like it's worth mentioning.

style blogger sponsored contentThere are some ethical bloggers who review products on a near daily basis and, while I have no interest in pursuing that for StyleWise, I think their train of thought is that the more brands they can promote, the better. There's some logic to that since bloggers - and particularly ethical ones - have proven to be great resources when I'm trying to find that perfect gift or accessory or whatever, but I would have to let them answer this question to make a judgment call there. I know it can be difficult when a blog reads as "Do what I say, not what I do," but I think one possible solution is simply more transparency about the blogger's individual mission. More conversations like this one.

Transparency, as in most things, is the key.

All that to say that I don't think that doing reviews and the occasional sponsored post is inherently wrong.

And I know that you all can probably tell when I'm wearing something that is sort of off for me, even if I like it. It's probably taken me longer than it's taken readers to get a sense of my personal style. But I think having a very strong sense of that is what helps reviews flow naturally into the stream of other content.

I'm working to develop a sense of my "uniform" so that I will only choose brands and products that fill a need in my closet, and suit my personal taste. 

Promoting Secondhand and Innovation: preach not purchasing/attaining new things when there's so much out there that's used already.

So, yes...and no. To my memory, I don't think I've personally advocated permanently fasting from buying new items. And that's mostly because 1. it's impractical and 2. I think new designers and brands with an ethical premise need to exist if only to influence the larger market toward business practices that are better for everyone.

I am totally pro-secondhand shopping. You could say it's even a part of my job as a thrift shop manager. But I also think that personal style is a way of cultivating identity and reinforcing social ties and values, and I think there's both an aesthetic and something-approaching-spiritual component to fashion that we often undervalue. Wearing clothes that fit, that are of good quality, that feel like me has a tangible effect on my productivity and ability to effectively and confidently interact with my surroundings. Being able to cobble together a wardrobe of new and old items is important to me, because it helps me be the best me in the world.

The fact of the matter is that it's time consuming - and sometimes impossible - to find exactly what you need on the secondhand market. I am at a thrift shop 5 times a week and even I haven't managed to find a pair of jeans that fit me correctly at the thrift store.

This is just a hunch, but I bet that thrift shopping is a heck of a lot more fun for people who don't fall below the poverty line, too. It would be inappropriate for me to advocate for low-income people to only buy secondhand when, for them, it represents just one more way in which their choices have been limited and their interests undercut and ignored. When you don't have the choice to buy what suits you, picking the discards from other people's closets doesn't do much for your sense of self worth.

It's complicated, and that's ok.

We need innovative, thoughtful designers to create models for a better way of doing business. It's dangerous to advocate against new design when that means we're silencing the creatives and business owners who could make the system better. We're not going to eliminate the fashion industry, and it's going to be a very long time before we can imagine a world without fast fashion, so we must find ways to achieve incremental change within it. I also value the place of new design in culture, and would hate to discourage people from using their creativity in ways that can be good, even if that means that more resources are used initially.

We need truly sustainable business models, not the erasure of new businesses.

To sum up (or perhaps just answer the question more directly):

I think it's possible to be an ethical fashion blogger who reviews products. But let me make my personal standards clear:

  • I will only work with brands I really like and believe in. 
  • I will review products that fill a gap in my closet and are true to my personal style. 
  • I will turn down products that don't make sense for me or StyleWise. 
  • I will choose products in a price range that fits within my personal budget.
  • I will do my best to show you items I received for review in multiple contexts, worn or used multiple times. 
  • I will never become a shopping blog that features solely sponsored content or brand collaborations.
  • I will always disclose when I receive product for free and if a post is sponsored. 
  • My Media Kit will remain accessible to all. 
  • I will work directly with no more than one brand per week (or 4 brands per month), on average.
  • I will continue to share my weaknesses and mistakes. 

I hope that you will share your life with me the way I commit to share it with you. Regular human to regular human. 

More than a Brand: an Interview with the Founders of Victoria Road

victoria road ethical clothing interview

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the founders of Pakistan and New York based ethical clothing company, Victoria Road, for a conversation over Skype. Victoria Road specializes in stunning, modern Pakistani clothing design. Most of their pieces incorporate traditional embroidery and handwork, and everything is impeccably edited for the contemporary consumer.

Outside of the occasional chat with the leadership team of the Ethical Blogger Network, I rarely get the chance to have a face-to-face with people who are just as passionate about sustainable manufacturing as I am (I'm sure a lot of my volunteers at the shop tune me out immediately whenever I start ranting about worker rights and textiles processing pollution), so I naturally thought everything we discussed in our hour long conversation was absolutely fascinating. That being said, I didn't think most of you would want to read for the next 30 minutes, so I've saved the best parts of our conversation for this post. If you'd like to read the extended interview, you can check it out here.

Thanks to Victoria Road for sponsoring this post.


Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself, Shannon.

Shannon: I’m a lawyer. I still practice law. At my last job, I spent a lot of time in emerging markets, so I have a lot of experience working in Africa and South Asia. In 2010, I started working in Pakistan.

I knew all of the bad things that were reported on CNN [about Pakistan], but I didn’t learn about the positives of the country until I started looking into it. My first trip was in July of 2010 – I traveled to Pakistan and stopped in Karachi on the way. I spent 2 days in Karachi – it was the time of the floods, which were devastating to the country – so I didn’t get to explore as much as I’d hoped to, but something in that visit clicked with me. The people were really, really warm – they embraced me as a foreigner.

Every negative stereotype I had heard was completely turned upside down. 

I found myself back about 6 weeks after that and I got to understand what was happening in the country on multiple levels, and I got into the fashion scene.

I was looking at your website and I appreciate the fact that it's focusing on artisans. It paints a picture that very much feels like an equal representation of people. Many social enterprises and fair trade companies seem to put the western audience on a pedestal and separate themselves from those “poor people over there." They’ll even take the photos from above the person, which makes them look small! I think that may be one of the biggest problems right now in the ethical space.

Megan: I’ve thought a lot about that when putting together and writing stuff for the site and I don’t even have Shannon’s perspective because I’m not there on the ground. But everything I write and try to portray, I try to think, if they were reading it about themselves, would they like it, the way I’ve written about them? Or would they be offended? I’m really sensitive about that, and I think a lot about that pedestal issue and I don’t want to come off saying, “Oh look! They had nothing and we’ve given them everything.” No!

Shannon: They start with a lot, we just want to help them build with it.

victoria road ethical kids clothes

...I constantly keep it in the back of my mind that generally I don’t know better; it’s usually the people who are doing the work that know better. 

It’s so important for me to listen, to just be quiet, and the thing that enables us to do that – and I think where we feel really strongly – is having local people work with local people.

You work with a lot of Pakistani designers, right? How do you find them and how do you work with them, and what’s that process like?

Shannon: Pakistan is a huge bubble. It’s a country of 180 million people and pretty much everybody that’s within a certain demographic is somehow connected to somebody else, whether through the university systems or others. And social media is just rampant in the country, so most people that are in the fashion space are fairly well connected and know each other. When I first started working in the design space, I was introduced to one of the leading designers in the country. He was interested in expanding more into the west. Just by virtue of getting to know him, I got to know most of the top tier designers in the country.

We’ve tried recently to shift away from working with the more prominent designers because we’ve found that some of the more emerging designers are more interesting and more fun to work with. We like to keep it well rounded. Deepak Perwani, who is one of the first designers I worked with, is like a brother, so he’ll always be a part of our company. He’s also just a great, great supporter. There’s also a huge amount of talent coming out of the design schools.

Where our role comes in working with the designers is simply helping with the shapes, the silhouette, and the fit. And then with editing, we say, “That’s great, except nobody [in the west] would actually wear that.” It’s over the top! Great to wear while you’re there, but in Charlottesville, you might stand out.

Changing course a little bit, a lot of sustainable or fair trade companies focus on women’s empowerment and you mentioned briefly [in the full interview] that it’s not so important to you that there’s a specific gendered goal. Can you speak more to that point?

Shannon: I’m a huge proponent of employing women, without a doubt. I believe wholeheartedly in all of the data that’s been put out and I completely believe that if you can empower women, you can change ecosystems much faster. It’s shown that they invest in their children; all of the data points are there, and I believe that there’s no doubt that that’s the way to fix a lot of problems, and particularly to alleviate poverty.

Realistically speaking, it’s very difficult for us to employ women at this point in time just because of our size, so we have been trying to hire a female HR/Manager that can bring in a female work force. In some cases, depending on where we hire from, we’ll need to have a divided workspace. A lot of husbands and fathers won’t let their women come in and work in a space that’s co-ed. There was a husband and wife team we used to work with that worked in a co-ed working space. Just logistically, since we just set the factory up in January, we’re still trying to figure out how to make that work. But it’s an absolute priority of mine.

I do believe that economic development, while it may be fostered more efficiently by women - I still think that providing jobs for men who then can support their families is key. 

At the end of the day, I think it’s about getting money so that people can eat and educate their children and have access to healthcare. I think of our 6 workers now, 3 of them have children, and they show up on time and they work hard because they’re providing for a family. They say they’re working “so they can provide for my children, provide for my family.”

There are a couple places where we have more immediate goals. Particularly for handwork and hand beading, we’re targeting specifically to hire women Adda artisans [the people who work on the traditional wooden Adda frames to do beading and hand embroidery]. There’s a lot of women who work in that space and they’re used to working in a mixed gender space, and so, as we bring Adda workers in house, we’re looking into bringing in as many women as possible. I’m also looking at hiring women in management positions.

…At the end of the day, I have a preference for women, but I’m going to hire the person who is the right person for the job, because that’s where we are in the business and I think that truly there’s a role for everybody.

victoria road linden dress
Last question: Megan and I were talking about that panel in NYC [put on by JUST and Acumen] that Alden from Ecocult and Maxine Bedat from ZADY participated in, particularly the question of what the right direction is for the future of the fashion industry in terms of advocating more for big businesses like H&M to go the sustainability route – which is sort of an oxymoron in some ways – or pushing for smaller scale, transparent, ethical designers. Perhaps it's some combination of these things?

Shannon: I think is has to be a combination of both. I thought Alden’s article on the interaction with the H&M director of sustainability was important. I think when you look at change, in many cases it’s driven by where the money comes from. And if you have thought leaders that also have both financial capital and consumer power behind them, and they’re willing to make change, even if it’s going to be slow and even if it’s going to be incremental, I think we absolutely have to promote that.

Now, will it affect my buying decisions? Maybe not as much. But I’m not as restricted as some people are. I can afford to spend more on a purchase. But I think there are a lot of people that might feel that they want to buy something, so if they have an option at H&M that at least is going in the right direction – or not going in the wrong direction maybe is the right way to look at it – if they’re trying, then I would say that’s positive.

Where I get disgusted is the greenwashing, where it’s truly just a marketing campaign and there’s nothing more behind it. I find that repulsive and think that those people should be called out and not supported.

I think that supply chain transparency is absolutely the way of the future for people who care about these issues and I think that it will make more people care. 

I think that it’s a generational thing and I believe that your generation is going to lead the change on this, because your priorities are different in many cases.

But I also do believe, yes, it’s going to cost more, but it’s a bit of a balance. I think that one of the things we all need to do is try to bring the cost of ethical fashion down and I think as it becomes more mainstream, that will inevitably happen. Fashion’s just gotten too cheap. There’s got to be some sort of middle ground. But anyone who is willing to truly commit to it, I’ll support them.

Megan: H&M’s not going anywhere. These giants are here to stay, so if they are taking the initiative to try and do things better, then thank goodness. Because I don’t think we can bring them down. I’d rather make change the other way and because they’re so huge, anything good they do will have a larger incremental effect than what we do.

I look at it from [the standpoint of] status quo, and is it better or worse? I don’t see a world without H&Ms or Targets. But as this [topic] is getting so much press and your generation is taking this so seriously, your voices are being heard at high levels at these corporations.

It’s going to take time, but hopefully they can start doing better and little brands like us will give other alternatives.

I’d like to see a world in which consumers have good alternatives to be able to shop ethically, whether it’s us or them or a combination.

If you're interested in reading more of the original interview, click here.


I'll be reviewing an item from Victoria Road next week, so stay tuned!

Shop Victoria Road here. 

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