Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


The Moral Wardrobe: The $2.99 Plaid Dress

thrifted, ethical outfit with plaid dressthrifted, ethical outfit with plaid dressthrifted Pyne and Smith Clothiers look-a-likethrifted Pyne and Smith Clothiers look-a-like
Ethical Details: Dress - thrifted; Jacket - secondhand via Thredup; Shoes - Frye

I'd been eyeing a plaid linen dress from Pyne & Smith Clothiers over the last several weeks, but I couldn't justify buying a summer-weight dress in October, especially one that costs over $100. Then, on Saturday, I dropped Daniel off at a friend's house and decided to stop by Salvation Army for a look around before heading home. 

I hit the jackpot! Not only did I find this dress in an all-season plaid with adorable front pockets, I found high waist, acid wash jeans that fit me like a glove and two longer length vintage skirts that will be great for winter. I even got a groovy, '60s inspired chair to add to my library for $14.99. It was thrilling. 

I normally don't have this much luck at thrift shops, but I've found that it's worth it to stop in every once in awhile with a mental list of the silhouettes and colors I'm looking for just in case. The trick is to always try things on and check very carefully for stains before purchasing. 

I'm continually amused by the fact that I go thrift shopping on my days off from thrift shop management. Just can't get enough. 

#ConsciousLiving: Snapshots and Thoughts from our Kentucky-Ohio Roadtrip

Clifton Gorge in Ohio

Last week, Daniel and I drove 7 hours to Nazareth, Kentucky to attend the annual Kentucky Council of Churches conference at the Sisters of Charity Convent and Retreat Center. You may be thinking: "Why would two Virginians go to a conference tailored to Kentuckians?" Well, I've sort of been keeping a secret for the last year.

I was asked to give back-to-back workshops on Conscious Consumerism! This year's theme was Justice and, while most of the sessions were, quite appropriately, on racial justice and reconciliation, they wanted to include a section on "lifestyle justice," as well. I tailored my talk around a uniquely Christian perspective on what it means to consume ethically, making sure to prioritize empathy, prayer, and meditation. While it matters what we consume, it also matters why we're consuming, and how that dependency on consumption affects us emotionally and spiritually. Right action is good, but it's better if it stems from a change of heart. I used this quote by Doug Frank (read the whole interview - it's great) in the presentation to drive home that point:
If you’ve got a rage for the good, as I did, then shifting your focus from personal morality to social morality doesn’t make you any less of a narrow-minded legalist. Instead of trying to be good enough by not dancing, drinking, lying, or cheating, you’re trying to be good enough according to the standards of social progressivism. It’s still a very tiring treadmill.
Clifton Gorge in Ohio
Daniel and my parents hiking at Clifton Gorge
Speaker on Ethical Consumerism and Fair Trade, Leah Wise
Looking totes profesh at the conference

I identify very strongly with the tiring treadmill of trying to be enough. It's become a huge goal of mine to do the right things out of a deeper calling than just "How do I make people think I'm good? How do I convince myself I'm good?" I believe that, for those raised with a Christian world view in particular, it's vital that we confront that insecurity before we can really make healthy choices. So, while the talk included particular definitions, models, and ethical companies, it was really about taking a hard inward look and growing from there. If anyone wants a copy of the slideshow, I can send it over. Just email me or leave your email in the comments. I don't think the whole thing was recorded, so you'll miss all my antics. Sorry about that. 

wildflowers, Clifton Gorge in Ohio
Wildflowers at Clifton Gorge
Stillhouse at Heaven Hill
The Stillhouse at Heaven Hill
Bubbling Bourbon, Maker's Mark
Yeasty pre-bourbon
We realized a few days before our trip that were would be right in the middle of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, so we spent a day and a half after the conference ended touring distilleries. I'm not a huge fan of bourbon - though I certainly like it more after several tastings - but I LOVE learning. Bourbon is a truly American product with a long, humorous, sometimes harrowing history, and our tour guides at Heaven Hill, Maker's Mark, and Bulleit were extremely knowledgeable. I liked the dark, quiet, spookiness of the stillhouses, too. If you ever want to know about the history of bourbon, I am happy to talk your ear off, but I'll leave you with just one fun fact for now:

For bourbon to be classified as bourbon by the US government, it must be aged in a new, charred oak barrel. While this might seem wasteful at first, the barrel actually gets to take a lively journey around the world, adding warmth and spice to several other aged liquors. After 6-20 years of aging bourbon, barrels are sent to Scotland and used for scotch. Once the aging process is complete there, they're sent to Mexico to age tequila. And finally, nearly 80 years later (if all goes as planned), they'll be sent to the Tropics to age rum. What a life!

the tree with the lights in it, louisville, kentucky
"The Tree with the Lights in it" in Louisville, KY
An explanation of the above caption and my final scattered thought for this post, a quote from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

The Moral Wardrobe: Menswear-Inspired with Ethos Collection's Versatile LBD

Ethos Collection Little Black Dress, fair trade and sustainable
This post was sponsored by Ethos Collection and I received product for review. All opinions are my own.

A few months ago, I received an email from a reader who had recently discovered that we lived in the same town. She asked if we could meet up just to chat about shared interests, including community organizing, progressive Christianity, and, of course, ethical fashion. She mentioned in passing that her cousin was starting an ethical boutique and - long story short - here we are today. I've enjoyed being able to give some initial feedback on the brand over the last few months and I'm happy to be able to feature Ethos Collection today.

Sara, founder of Ethos Collection, is determined to get it right when it comes to curating ethical brands. And in a market that's increasingly crowded with a whole bunch of stuff - some good, some bad, some ugly - claiming to be "ethical," I find the clean layout and aesthetic extremely refreshing, especially as I continue to work on decluttering my house, my office, and my stylistic point of view this season. Ethos Collection is also the only domestic boutique that carries People Tree, which means Americans now (finally) have access to VAT free, hassle free fair trade goods from the hugely influential brand.

Ethos Collection Little Black Dress, fair trade and sustainable
I'm particularly interested in adding pieces to my wardrobe that are truly versatile, not just in terms of the setting I can appropriately wear them in, but in terms of styling. The Luxe Tank Dress from Indigenous felt like the perfect base for lots of outfits, dressed up with tights, worn by itself when the weather's warm, layered over various t-shirts and blouses like a pinafore, and, as shown here, worn over jeans as a tunic.

I went for a menswear-inspired look here by wearing the dress over denim with a pair of oxfords. I've admired the menswear look for a long time, but I shied away from it when my hair was short because I didn't want to look too masculine, as ridiculous as that may sound. I'm enjoying experimenting with it now that I have a bit more confidence that I can balance the feminine and masculine elements. I paired the dress with a thrifted top that I dip-dyed with indigo.

Frye Tracy Oxfords in GrayEthos Collection Little Black Dress, fair trade and sustainable
Ethical Details: Luxe Tank Dress (worn as tunic) - c/o Ethos Collection; Turtleneck - thrifted and indigo dip-dyed; Jeans - old, redyed with indigo; Shoes - Frye

The Luxe Tank Dress is made of silky soft, low-impact dyed organic cotton and produced under fair trade conditions in Peru. The fabric is medium weight, which means it holds its shape and provides a more flattering fit than thinner cotton, and the wide v-neck provides the right look for layering without being too low cut to be worn alone.

Since I'm participating in Dressember this year, I'll be road testing the Luxe Tank Dress more in December and highlighting my outfits on Instagram as often as possible. I'll let you know how it holds up!


Shop Ethos Collection here. 

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National Picnic's American-Made Dress Makes Total Transparency Possible

National Picnic Kickstarter: American Made Dress Project

Betsy, designer, head seamstress, and owner of American-made clothing brand, National Picnic, is one of those people who, through her honesty, thoughtfulness, and gumption about the work that she pursues, makes you aspire to the same traits in your own life and work. 

I own the popular sundress from National Picnic's summer collection and can attest to the quality and design of her garments, so I'm thrilled that she's decided to make her best selling item, a sweatshirt-weight dress for cooler months, out of American-sourced fabric from North Carolina and expand her production into American factories located in Pennsylvania. I like the versatility of the design, too, and plan on getting one in the near future. 

From the press release:

Designer Betsy Cook sews most of the clothing for her small-batch clothing brand, National Picnic. She recently began selling dresses made from sweatshirt fabric and found herself making them as fast possible, to keep up with customer demand. The storm of interest caused her to quickly launch The American-Made Dress Project, a Kickstarter campaign that scales up production of the dresses and sharpens the focus on the company's domestic identity. 
"Keeping the dress as American-made as possible keeps my customers happy," Cook says. "Fans of my brand care about where their clothing comes from and how it is made, so my business's growth should be growth they can feel good about." The dress is made from organic cotton and recycled poly fabric, giving it sustainability appeal that also resonates with her customers. 
The sweatshirt fleece comes from a company that mills in North Carolina, using organic cotton sources in Texas. A contractor in Allentown, Pennsylvania is a potential factory to help with the sewing. These vendors both require minimum size orders to work with them. Their minimums helped determine the goal of the campaign: approximately 100 dresses sold through pledges on Kickstarter. 100 dresses is not a limit, the project has the ability to scale with demand. 
"With the involvement of these additional vendors, this particular dress has the potential to keep more fashion industry dollars circulating around American businesses than if I took production overseas, and it generates more work for people in several regions of the United States," Cook says. "Besides all that, it's a ridiculously comfortable dress that many women already love wearing."

With only one week left to go, Betsy needs your help to successfully complete her kickstarter.


National Picnic Kickstarter: American Made Dress Project

Get your own American Made Dress by supporting the campaign.

I was not compensated to write this post! I just believe in the project.

The Moral Wardrobe: Abrazo Style Catalina Wrap

Abrazo Style Catalina Wrap, ethically produced
This post was sponsored by Abrazo Style and I was provided an item for review.

I'm in the middle of reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I highly recommend it) and the main character, an immigrant to the US from Nigeria, points out that Americans use the word "excited" excessively. Well, I guess I'm playing into my cultural roots today because I'm awfully excited to be participating in another Abrazo Style collaboration.

I featured one of Abrazo Style's summer styles, the Lilia Dress, in June and proceeded to wear it over and over again to near constant compliments from coworkers, customers, and friends. All Abrazo Style designs are conceived of and created with the indigenous artisan communities of Oaxaca and Chiapas in Mexico. Artisans receive fair wages and access to a broader market, but it's also a good way to preserve hand embroidery traditions, which are at risk of being lost due to shifts in the market and lifestyle changes over the last several years.

Abrazo Style Catalina Wrap, ethically producedAbrazo Style Catalina Wrap, made in Mexico
Ethical Details: Catalina Wrap - c/o Abrazo Style; Top - Everlane; Jeans - old, re-dyed with indigo; Shoes - Etiko; Ring - artisan made

The Catalina Wrap Abrazo Style sent for review is one of those items I forget I really need until cold weather comes around again. It's the perfect added layering piece in both early fall, thrown on over a long sleeve top, and into the winter, layered between a sweater and coat. 

The wrap is "based on a traditional over-garment from Latin America called a 'ruana'. Two shawls are sewn together in back, leaving the front section open for wrapping in a multitude of ways." So far, I've worn the shawl in both ways shown in these photos and have received, yet again and unsurprisingly, near endless compliments. The quality and textural intricacy of Abrazo Style pieces are hard to see in their full glory in flat, digital images, but they're beautiful up close and in person. 

abrazo style artisan made catalina wrap

See the Catalina Wrap styled in two more ways by checking out sister features on The Peahen and Life Style Justice today. 

The Best Way to Get Rid of Unwanted Things (Spoiler: It's Not Goodwill)

This post was written by Hannah Theisen and originally appeared on Life Style Justice.
Alternatives to Donating to Goodwill

Any aspiring minimalist or zero-waste living enthusiast will eventually run into the ethical issues with getting rid of stuff. Most of us who are on this lifestyle path haven't been minimalists or conscious consumers from birth, so how do we dispose of all the stuff we've accumulated that we don't want or need without contributing toward the environmental stress that's being placed on our planet by our massive amounts of cast off goods...

I generally don't support big thrift shops.

Only about 20% of what gets donated to those Goodwill-type stores is actually put out for sale. 

The rest is sorted and either sent to landfill or shipped overseas- and the crazy surplus of cheap American fashion in developing companies has ruined many countries' own textile/clothing industries and contributed to the lack of sustainable work. Kind of like how TOMS dumps shoes in "poor" communities and brings ruin to local shoemakers, or how we dump excess crops from the US into Haiti and put local farmers out of business. In addition, the financials and "charitable giving" of these big-box thrift stores are somewhat sketchy. Goodwill, for example, pays top executives millions per year while paying workers as little as 22 cents an hour.

Since I've been trying to avoid simply hauling bags of my no-longer-wanted stuff to a donation site at Goodwill or Salvation Army, I've had to get a bit more creative (and alot slower) as I downsize my belongings. Here are some ways that I've been able to get rid of my old "junk" in a more sustainable way:

Art Supplies: 

Many non profits and art organizations accept donations of used art supplies. I was able to recently get rid of a bunch of old card stock, half-used acrylic paints, brushes, and more by donating it to a local group that teaches free art classes to youth.


Free The Girls collects used bras to donate to a social enterprise in Mozambique where women repair and remake the undergarments and sell them in the local market. I've donated to Free The Girls several times... and will most likely continue to do so because I haven't found a better alternative and I believe very strongly in providing jobs for women leaving the sex trafficking industry. However, I am going to be honest and say that I don't love the organizations messaging and the general rescue-y vibe. In addition, I know that donating used goods to be sold in overseas markets can be quite detrimental to the local economy and apparel industry. However, I still believe that donating used bras to be refurbished and worn again is a better alternative than throwing them in the landfill. You can mail bras to Free the Girls, or see if there is a local drop off center near you. I drop mine off at a local midwifery office!


When getting rid of clothing, I go by a certain formula:
  1. Sell
  2. Give Away
  3. Repurpose
  4. Donate
  5. Trash or compost

First, I always try to sell my lightly used clothing. Not because I need to get money from my old stuff, but because my philosophy is that people place more value on stuff when it's not free, and think more carefully about whether they want something or not. For example, when I go to a clothing swap and am faced with piles of free clothes, I am far more likely to pick up something that I don't really need/won't end up wearing a lot! (Leah recommends selling on ebay or poshmark.)

Second, I'll give away anything that my friends or family want. Thankfully I have two sisters who wear similar sizes! Sometimes this step is first, if I'm getting rid of a piece that I know a certain friend would like or fit into well.

Third, I try to repurpose. If an item isn't sellable or easy to give away, most likely it's a bit ratty. I tear old cotton tees into rags, make headbands from old shirts, and have even made cloth napkins from some of Andrew's old button downs.

Fourth is donation. This, of course, is only for things in good condition, and only as a last resort if I haven't been able to give them away, sell them, or repurpose them. When I do donate, I donate to a small local thrift and vintage shop rather than Goodwill.

Fifth is Trash. Thankfully I don't have to use this option very often, but occasionally some of Andrew's work shirts will be so torn up, filled with holes, and covered with glue that they aren't salvageable for any purpose. Anything that's 100% natural fiber gets composted, a few things do find their way to the trash can...


Read more tips at Life Style Justice.

Warm Woolen Things: Sustainable + Ethical Wool and Alpaca Clothing

This post was written by Summer Edwards and originally appeared on Tortoise and Lady Grey.

For warmth in the colder months, nothing beats the warmth of wool, and it is also a good sustainable textile to include in your wardrobe. Not all wool is made equal though, on the sustainability stakes nor on the ethics.

Generally, if the wool comes from small artisanal farms, traditional farming methods, or certified organic farms, these are the best ways to ensure that your wool stacks up the best on ethical and sustainability scales. 

Alpaca is generally more sustainable than wool, and more likely to be ethically raised than wool from sheep. But there are many wool options that are genuinely ethical and sustainable.

Of course, if you are vegan, you may prefer not to wear wool at all. But I have a vegan friend who keeps rescued battery hens among many other things on her farm, and she also knits with wool she combs from her cashmere goats. There are ways to choose wool that is cruelty-free too. For a full understanding of the considerations in relation to wool, you can read the textile review of ethics and sustainability of wool, or check out the Guide to Sustainable Textiles.

Here in Australia we are in our second month of Spring, yet the cold has come back so fiercely that there is even snow on the mountains surrounding Canberra. Considering that this happens only occasionally in Winter, this says lot about the wild weather that is happening. (Year-by-year the effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced.) So I am still thinking about winter woollies, even though we should be heading into summer. In the northern hemisphere, now is a good time to assess your wardrobe and plan ahead for winter.

If you are in need of some new winter warmth for your wardrobe, here are some of my favourite options, along with a few other woolen goodies that I’ve found:

Ethical and Sustainable Wool Fall Shopping List
  1. Zig-zag Clutch by People Tree, Fair-trade certified and made with wool and handsewn glass beading. On sale too!
  2. Wool & The Gang DIY Grey Snood Kit, this is one for the slow fashion DIY enthusiasts. But it is also a perfect beginner project, if you want to give slow fashion DIY a try. The kit comes with chunky wool, which is quick to knit, as well as the knitting needles that you need for the project and all instructions. Perfect project to learn to knit with. Other kits by Wool & The Gang can be found on ASOS
  3. Wool Coat by Zady the perfect winter essential for colder climates. Timeless style that will last, in my favourite neutral colour- black. An investment that will probably give you 20 years of wear.
  4. ASOS Made in Kenya Hooded Throw on Coat is made by the SOKO Kenya factory. Based in the Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya, it provides ethical, sustainable jobs in one of Kenya’s poorest districts. This provides sustainable livelihoods in an area where poverty drives high rates of wildlife poaching and prostitution. Other Made in Kenya goods can be found on ASOS
  5. Beth Jumper in Grey by People Tree, handknitted and Fair-trade certified. On sale too!
  6. Aida Cardigan in Red by People Tree, hand-knitted and fair-trade certified
  7. Turtle Neck Sweater by Zady, another winter essential that is worth the investment
  8. Men’s Alapaca Sweater by Zady, great winter officewear for the men in your life, made with beautiful Alpaca wool from Peru, the natural habitat of alapacas where this textile has been used for thousands of years. The colour is also natural, so no dying involved at all. And the wool is spun in a facility in Peru which is powered by solar panels
  9. Esme Wool Cream Jumper by People Tree, Fairtrade-certified and hand-knitted from a wool and banana fibre blend. On sale too!
  10. Wool & the Gang DIY Pompom Beanie Kit another one for the slow fashion DIY enthusiasts and beginners alike. The kit comes with wool, wooden knitting needles and instructions. Perfect project to learn to knit with. Other kits by Wool & The Gang can be found on ASOS
  11. Lightweight Alpaca Sweater by Zady, made with lovely sustainable Alpaca wool rom Peru, the natural habitat of alapacas where this textile has been used for thousands of years. The colour is also natural, so no dying involved at all. And the wool is spun in a facility in Peru which is powered by solar panels
  12. Hand-knitted Bear Hat by People Tree, fair-trade certified. Another much like the panda mittens. I wouldn’t wear it myself, but my little ones would probably enjoy it if I did. Perhaps one for the dress up box. On sale too!
  13. Hand-knitted panda mittens by People Tree, fair-trade certified. Cuteness overload. They certainly aren’t for everyone, but they would make a great gift for little ones in your life. On sale too!

Check out Summer's Guide to Sustainable Textiles!

The Discerning Consumer: 5 Ethical Credentials To Prioritize

5 Ethical Credential to Prioritize for the Conscious Consumer

This is sort of a follow up to my What Is Ethical? post, so I'd recommend brushing up on terms if you're not too familiar with the jargon of the conscious consumer movement. I would make a small change to the original list when it comes to defining sustainable. I previously grouped Eco, Organic, and Sustainable into the same category, albeit with a bit of nuance, but now I tend to think of sustainability in a much broader sense. 

A sustainable business should incorporate practices that are good for the earth, good for all people involved (farmer to consumer), and good for long term profitability and appropriate (not exploitative) growth. 

This piece includes some affiliate links. 

In many ways, this post is meant to illuminate where my ethical efforts are headed, and what I've considered and processed over the last several months. I realize that sometimes my point of view will shift on a particular facet of the conscious consumerism experience, but because it's either articulated in private conversation or simply gets stuck in my head, there's the occasional gap in the narrative on StyleWise, which leads to questions and confusion. 

That being said, you may have noticed that I've become a little bit of an eco-crunchy-hippie, particularly in the last year. Reading the literature on climate change and understanding how interconnected ecological issues are with human welfare has pushed me toward a perspective that gives environmental sustainability near if not equal weight with labor rights. Ensuring worker welfare is tied up in reducing chemical dyes and processes, eliminating harmful pesticides, and making sure the ecosystem that supports those workers survives the onslaught of abuse mass production hurls at it daily.

I think it's hard for a lot of us, maybe particularly those of us who were brought up with human-centric religious and social values, to feel very much when we talk about ecological degradation, and that lack of empathy can hold us back from seeing that this really does matter and that we have a responsibility to be good and gracious stewards of the earth and its resources. 

But, enough philosophizing! This post is actually about my hierarchy of values and how I decide what makes the cut when I'm hankering for a new item to add to my closet or home. The key is remembering that no company is perfect, so progress and apparent interest in improving their supply chain sometimes matters more than having a certification. 

For simplicity's sake, I'm not going to talk about secondhand shopping, because that's an option that exists almost as a secondary market with its own criteria. For more on that, read my personal thrift shopping rules here.

1. Overall Sustainability

Obviously, companies that take a measured, holistic approach to ethical business are my top pick. That means that they take the long view, ensuring worker welfare; creating innovative initiatives that build lasting infrastructure; treating all workers as equal partners in long term growth; creating high quality, marketable designs; and using and/or developing environmentally sustainable processes, textiles, and everything in between. 

Numi Tea does this extraordinarily well, as do Tonle and ZADY, though Eileen Fisher may represent the pinnacle of this responsible, thoughtful business model.

2. Fair Trade Labor Practices

People should not be treated like slaves. Other than the fact that it should inherently be something we're opposed to, it's also bad business practice. Downtrodden people have a hard time innovating. Overworked people have a hard time building lives for themselves and their children that will improve local infrastructure and lift communities and countries out of corruption and poverty. We may not be able to sway leaders in countries where the most dangerous sweatshops are housed, but we can say we aren't okay with allowing some people to get virtually no share of the prosperity good business should bring about. 

Krochet Kids, Elegantees, Mata Traders, Equal Exchange, and Ten Thousand Villages are exemplars of the fair trade movement.

3. Dedication to Environmentally Sound Practices

Just because it's fair doesn't mean it has our ecosystems' best interests in mind. Nearly all commercial dyes used in the clothing industry are toxic, so even if factories are properly ventilated, there's the question of how byproducts are disposed of. Somewhere down the line, someone or something gets hurt. I applaud those companies that have switched over to organic cotton, but cotton is a thirsty crop and, in some ways, that makes it inefficient. Companies that use safely processed bamboo and eucalyptus fibers, repurposed textiles, and factory remnants offer a better alternative. Even better when they use recycled packaging and renewable energy at their factories.

Amour Vert, Naja, Dorsu, and PACT are great examples of this point of view.

4. Made locally or benefits local culture and economy

Sometimes you just want to celebrate local artists! I've eased up a bit on my scrutinizing gaze when it comes to local artisan work and products from local, small scale boutiques. While perfect production standards are an important goal, I think that the key to getting more people on board with conscious consumerism is letting them see the quality of artisan products up close, so supporting small businesses that allow that to happen is key. Items from small scale designers and craftspeople were likely crafted with what we'd consider fair labor practices, but materials sourcing is often murky. Occasionally, local designers will outsource some of their production, but the great thing is that you can actually have a conversation with them about it and figure out why.

Local businesses I love are OESH; Savvy Rest; C'Ville Arts Gallery; and Rock, Paper, Scissors.

5. Messaging with the potential to lead industry change

This bullet point is really about Everlane. Everlane has transparent pricing and used to be pretty good about letting you into their factory practices. I think they've lost some of that accessibility as they've scaled. They also don't share a lot about their textiles or raw materials sourcing. But because of their incredible success, they've encouraged a lot more companies and consumers to consider and start to dismantle the fast fashion industry. Because of companies like Everlane, people are beginning to demand quality products sold with pricing transparency. In many ways, it's given some amount of power back to the people. As long as we keep asking questions, we're on our way to growing the ranks.

I should also mention TOMS and Warby Parker as companies that start the conversation without fully committing to sustainability. Maybe we can work together to push them toward it.


Though this list was written in hierarchical order, I prioritize progress over perfection. Sometimes good design wins the day over the best ethical credentials. Sometimes a company is so innovative in one way that I believe they deserve support, even if they aren't completely with it in every way. And I believe that it's up to the individual consumer to create their own set of standards within the broader umbrella of conscious consumerism.

Conversations with people who don't quite agree with me is what has led me to my current list. It's broadened my view on some points and hyper-focused it on others.

I'm curious to know what you prioritize, and what companies you hold up as industry standards. 

EWC Zero Waste Challenge: Paying Attention Counts for Something

zero waste challenge

This week of the Zero Waste Challenge was harder and easier at the same time. I know that doesn't make sense, but here's why. On the one hand, there were some unavoidable trash moments because I attended both an open house through my work and a launch party for new business, Hem and Haw. Where finger food is, you'll almost inevitably find disposable plates and cups and obviously I wanted to eat, drink, and be merry, so I used a couple of cups and a paper plate.

On the other hand, I think I've come up with a long term strategy for reducing my waste.

It's called paying attention

I'll totally overwhelm myself if I cut everything out at once, but several of you have suggested some easy alternatives to things I wasn't sure I could let go of:

  • I currently use cotton balls to apply toner at night. This week, I opted to tear them in half to reduce waste. As soon as I'm out, I'll switch to a crochet ball variety that can we washed and re-used (I previously purchased cotton pads for this purpose, but they weren't absorbent enough). I'll either purchase from an etsy seller or beg my mom to make some for me. 
  • There are some produce items and food that don't really need to be sealed shut in the refrigerator. As Teresa suggested, I will dedicate a plate or container to half-used onions and cover leftovers with a ceramic plate instead of wrapping everything in plastic wrap. I think I'll also try to stock up/save wide mouth jars, as Eimear suggested, to store bulk items and leftovers.
  • At home and at work, I use too many paper towels. As Rebekah suggested, I'll grab some unsellable donations from the shop to cut into rags for cleaning and make sure to put a towel in the bathroom at work for employees to dry their hands off with. 

Did I manage to stay abreast of any of these zero waste innovations this week? No, unfortunately. When things get busy, I start to forget that I'm supposed to be reducing personal waste. I've decided to be gracious with myself but move forward with achievable goals. 

I didn't keep a proper tally of my waste this week, but it's fair to say I used several paper towels, toilet paper, and a few cotton balls. Additionally, there was one unavoidable straw and napkin at a restaurant, a couple of plastic cups, and a cardboard frozen dinner carton.

The good news is that I triumphantly avoided a disposable cup at the coffee shop this morning! I had to catch the barista quick before he made my cafe au lait.

What I've Learned:

Generally, I've approached this challenge the way I approach food. I eat mostly vegetarian/pescatarian at home, but I won't put on a dramatic monologue and refuse "unacceptable" food when it's offered to me at parties and people's homes. In the same way, if a server puts a straw in my drink, I'm not going to throw a tantrum. 

I make the choice when I have the choice to make, but I don't want to harass people or shame them. Ultimately, reducing waste must be a collective, systematic goal. We need to change our food and manufacturing systems, prioritize local and bulk options to reduce packaging, and make the long term effects of trash more apparent. Honestly, we should probably live closer to landfills. It would help to see that it doesn't just go away after we've tossed it.

Additional Reading/Viewing:

Check out the triumphs and struggles of other members of the Ethical Writers Coalition on their blogs:

An Ethical Home: Go Eco In Your Sleep with Savvy Rest's Kapok Pillow

At some point down the rabbit hole of sustainable living, you start asking all sorts of questions you'd never thought to ask before.

Like, is my pillow eco-friendly?

I'm pretty sure that my previous pillow - one I pulled out of my linen closet months ago after the last one went lumpy - is not only not eco-friendly, but probably not even healthy after years of being dragged around through moves and stored in musty closets. In fact, the pillow industry at large recommends replacing - or at least washing - your pillow every 6 months to avoid skin reactions like acne from dirt and oil and allergies from mites and dust. After 1 year of use, the weight of your pillow might be made up of 10-15% dust mite waste (which is super disgusting to think about). Working at a thrift shop, I deal with mild allergic reactions from dust and mold brought in with donated goods every day, so I really don't want to exacerbate the problem at home.

All that being said, it was about time to consider a pillow that's not just fluffy and new, but also made of materials that are less likely to cause an allergic response over time.

Enter Savvy Rest. 

Savvy Rest is a Charlottesville-based sustainable, organic bedding company specializing in mattresses, toppers, and pillows (They also make a range of bed frames. Read Natalie from Sustainably Chic's review here). I love that they're a local business and I've learned a lot about sleep and comfort by reading through their product listings on their website. Plus, they've got an impressive array of certifications including B-Corp, Cradle to Cradle, Confidence in Textiles, and GreenGuard. And they're employee owned! And they plant trees and donate pillows to local domestic violence shelters (the fact that they donate to domestic violence shelters make me tear up a little, because I've become friends with a couple of women through my work at the thrift shop who have fled abusive situations and entered those shelters. I'm glad this community has a web of resources and businesses helping them get back on their feet).

Making a comfortable, quality, ethical, and organic item isn't easy, and it takes skill and money to make it happen. The organic Kapok pillow they provided for review is $109.00, which is more than I would normally think to pay for a pillow, but I believe Savvy Rest when they say that they place well-being over profits. It's filled with cotton-like plant fiber from the Kapok tree (I don't know why, but something about sleeping on tree fiber makes me really happy) and you can unzip the case to customize the firmness. The pillow itself is covered in an additional flannel cover for extra comfort and hygiene.

But what about comfort?

I really should hug my bedding more often. I love it so much. 

After a few tweaks to firmness by removing one gallon-bag full of kapok fiber, the pillow is near perfect. It feels like a slightly denser down pillow and conforms nicely to my head and neck. I've been sleeping on it for almost two weeks and have had less neck pain than usual.

If I could make one suggestion to Savvy Rest, it would be to make several different firmness options from the get-go and alter the price point accordingly. I took so much fiber out of my pillow that I could practically make another pillow, and that seems like a waste (Savvy Rest does suggest composting your leftovers if you don't really want to make yourself a throw pillow).

If you're local, you can visit the Savvy Rest showroom at 4414 Ivy Rd, Charlottesville.


Shop Savvy Rest online. 

An Ethical Home: Y'abal Organic Black and White Rug Review

A rare glimpse inside my apartment...

When you live in a basement apartment, it can be difficult to achieve that glowy, all white look so popular these days. I love a good sunshine-y room myself, but I'm quite fond of our little cave, full of quirks like wood paneling and multi-height ceilings. Plus, our bedroom is in the old garage, which means we have an exposed brick wall on one side and a huge window where the garage door used to be. Not bad at all.

Still, I rarely shoot indoors because outdoor light is much more flattering, but Y'abal's handmade wool rug demanded a glimpse into its (and, let's be honest, my) natural habitat.

My new Black and White Wool Rug, which was graciously gifted to me by Y'abal, is simple at first glance, but its origin story is pretty incredible. All of Y'abal's rugs and blankets are made by a single family who:
...shears the sheep, cards the wool by hand, spins the wool into yarn with a hand-crank wood wheel, makes their own dyes with plants from their land, weaves the designs on the foot-loom, and then in the case of the blankets, hand brushes each blanket with homemade combs. 
It must be incredibly satisfying to see something this labor intensive through from start to finish, and the in-house processing means that the end product is about as perfect as it can be. The rug is soft yet sturdy, with a simple look that won't go out of style. Allison, my contact at Y'abal, told me that this particular rug is comprised only of natural sheep's-wool colors, so lots of varieties of sheep shared their wool to create a black, white, and gray striped design.

I like having a soft rug by the bed because it provides a nice tactile and visual touch to the room. It's perfect for bare feet.

This rug is the 32x54" version, which costs $74.00. It's a really good price, especially for a fairly made rug, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone in the market for a new rug. If you have wood floors, you'll likely need to get a grippy pad so it won't slip around, but it stays put on carpet without any issues.

Y'abal shares the work of Guatemalan artisans from various indigenous cultures and traditions, offering fair wages, sustainable infrastructure development, and social programs as part of their business model. They sell a variety of accessories and home goods, including bags, scarves, and even a yoga mat carrier.


Shop Y'abal here.

The Moral Wardrobe: MORE Clothing's Avalon Tank, Styled Two Ways

Thanks to MORE Clothing for sponsoring this post and providing an item for review. All opinions are my own. 

Jeremiah of MORE Clothing reached out way back in July to tell me about his new-ish ethical clothing store, but it got lost in my inbox until I found it while searching for a different email. And I'm glad I did, because I'm really excited about their curated collection for men and women who love casual, classic clothing that won't go out of style 6 months down the road.

MORE carries several brands I've heard of - like Krochet Kids and Mata Traders - and some that are completely new to me. The Avalon Tank I'm wearing here is by a company called United by Blue, which specializes in ethically sourced, casual, outdoorsy wear in eco-friendly fibers. This tank is 100% tencel, made from eucalyptus fibers. Plus, with every item sold, United by Blue pledges to remove a pound of trash from waterways.

I loooove this rust color. I think having henna-red hair has helped me experiment with warmer tones in my wardrobe.

Ethical Details: Avalon Tank - c/o MORE Clothing; Denim - secondhand via Poshmark; Shoes - Oliberte via ebay

I'm trying to show more versatility on the blog this season by photographing items I own in several ways. The Avalon Tank is a great place to start.

When the long hem is half-tucked into jeans, it makes for a casual, comfortable silhouette. I paired it with Oliberte boots in this first look. I would wear this to work with a cardigan or maybe on a hike at a local park. The weather is just now getting into the 60s during the day, so tank tops are still a good option when the sun's shining.

Additional Details: Blazer and Boots - thrifted

This is my business casual look, aka #girlboss, aka #womanbossbecauseimagrownwomandamnit, aka #justabosswhyisbeingabossgendered.

It'd be perfect for attending a talk at UVa or leading a conference session where comfort is still a priority (and comfort is always a priority). I like the dramatic length difference between the cropped blazer and long hem tank.

MORE Clothing is working to partner with International Justice Mission, an organization committed to ending sex and labor trafficking. I'll be talking a lot more about trafficking in December since I'm joining a Dressember team this year, but I'm glad that people are getting the word out about the realities of forced labor and modern day slavery.


Get 30% off your purchase at MORE Clothing with code, STYLEWISE.

Follow MORE Clothing: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

EWC Zero Waste Challenge: All the Gory Details of My Repeated Failures

An Update On My Zero Waste Efforts
This stock photo really spoke to me because I had the privilege of waiting for a small herd of deer to cross my path on the way to work earlier this week. 

If you didn't catch my introduction to this challenge earlier in the week, please read this post before proceeding.

To say this week's Zero Waste efforts did not go well would be an understatement. Even one of my concerted attempts to make life more zero waste resulted in more waste.

Let's start from where I left off:


I don't work on Mondays, so to some extent I could control my day - and the waste I produced - a little bit better. I made Risotto using arborio rice and mushrooms covered in plastic for lunch, and covered half of my remaining onion with plastic wrap (I know, I know. There's really no excuse for still using plastic wrap, but I always convince myself that it's better than all the water waste that would result from using a storage container. I don't think that's true, probably, but given this article, could it maybe be true?).

Later in the day, I went out to dinner with friends and used a paper napkin.

Today's Waste:
  1. Coffee Filter (compostable, but I didn't compost it)
  2. Packaging on virtually all lunch recipe items
  3. Paper napkin
  4. 2-3 Paper Towels (half sheets)
  5. Cotton Ball
  6. Toilet Paper (but it was post-consumer recycled if that helps)


The dreaded grocery day, which puts a real strain on my efforts to go zero waste. 

But before we get there...I received my pour-over coffee maker with reusable filter Monday, so I was able to go filter-free Tuesday morning and my coffee tasted great, too (I bought this coffee maker if anyone's interested). Bad news is that I ate a granola bar for breakfast and it was covered in plastic. 

On Tuesdays, one of my sweet volunteers brings us bagels from the local bagel shop (shout out to Bodo's!) and my bagel was covered in wax paper. I threw it in the shop's single stream trash can, so who knows what will become of it. At work, I also tend to use a lot of paper towels to wipe off grubby donations and surfaces. 

Because we're lazy (and traffic in C-ville is insane during rush hour), Daniel and I decided to go to the closest grocery store instead of Whole Foods, so it was difficult to totally void packaging. I bought more mini potatoes covered in packaging, plus chopped carrots and a pre-made salad (I factored in a lot of details on the salad, including how much more packaging I would have created if I'd bought a full bottle of dressing and a full bag of cheese to go with my unpackaged romaine). I also got a package of Goldfish, which is technically paper with foil inside, so it might be recyclable. Will have to check before I toss it. 

I also sent a package in a plastic mailer, so there's that.

Today's Waste:
  1. Granola Bar packaging
  2. Bagel Wrapper (?)
  3. Several Paper Towels (half sheets)
  4. Toilet Paper
  5. Cotton Ball
  6. Plastic wrapping on a myriad of produce items from grocery store
  7. Plastic mailer


Wednesday was super busy at work, so I can't remember much else. Oh! I made Red Beans and Rice with sausage for dinner, so that generated some waste. Fortunately, the can is recyclable and the brown rice I use comes in a cardboard container, but the sausage was wrapped in plastic and I covered the leftovers in plastic wrap (I know, I know).

Today's Waste:
  1. Granola Bar
  2. 3-4 Paper Towels (used at work)
  3. Toilet Paper
  4. Cotton Ball
  5. Plastic covering Amy's Frozen Lunch
  6. Plastic packaging on Andouille sausage
  7. Plastic Wrap


After I wrote my last post on this subject, I had the brilliant idea of purchasing reusable produce bags to make grocery shopping easier. They arrived in a large box surrounded by plastic bubble wrap (which is weird since they're made of mesh), which was sort of a *headdesk* moment for me. Had to throw the bubble wrap away, but at least I may start making progress at the grocery store.

I had leftover beans and rice for lunch, so no additional waste! I ate some tuna for dinner and the can was recyclable (as is the mayo container). 

Daniel and I headed to Trader Joe's for a couple of things and I bought a refrigerated cinnamon roll kit in one of those biscuit cartons that pops when you press on it. Theoretically, the whole thing should have been recyclable because it's cardboard, but there was a big piece of plastic packaging holding the small, plastic-sealed container of frosting inside the tube, so that's another headdesk for the day.

Also, got some packages in the mail. A couple were wrapped in plastic mailers.

Today's Waste:
  1. Banana Peel (compostable, but I didn't compost it)
  2. 3-4 Paper Towels (half sheets)
  3. Plastic from Cinnamon Rolls
  4. Toilet Paper
  5. Cotton Ball
  6. Floss
  7. Plastic mailers


Our lawn guy gave me free lunch in a styrofoam container (people give me a lot of food at the thrift shop; it's incredible). I made some potato soup for dinner and wrapped my leftover onion in plastic wrap. 

Today's Waste:
  1. Styrofoam Container
  2. 3-4 Paper Towels (half sheets)
  3. Plastic Wrap
  4. Toilet Paper
  5. Cotton Ball

What I've Learned So Far:

Well, that's 32 trash bullet points listed for 5 days. I know I can easily get that number down if I just strategize a little better.
  • I'm not going to quit toilet paper anytime soon, but I think I'll try to seek out post-consumer recycled options for the long term.
  • Gotta find better cotton ball and paper towel options.
  • Do a better job of weighing convenience versus reducing waste for produce and other grocery items.

For what it's worth, my husband already thinks I'm a crunchy hippie and I've barely skimmed the surface of this whole zero waste thing. You have to start somewhere. 


Check out the triumphs and struggles of other members of the Ethical Writers Coalition on their blogs:

Treat 'Em Right: Tips for Caring for Your Clothes

This piece was written by Francesca Willow and originally appeared on Ethical Unicorn
how to care for your clothes: iron temperatures, washing, drying, etc.

A key part of creating an ethical wardrobe is how and where you buy your clothes. The other is caring for what you already have. Fast fashion asks you to add to your wardrobe, not knowing how to care for your clothes means you need to. Today I’m going to be sharing with you a comprehensive list of the best tips, tricks and ideas for making your clothes last longer, giving your closet longevity and that ethical edge. You don’t need to feel guilty for past fast fashion purchases, just make them worth their while as part of your new ethical lifestyle. This is a bit of a mega post as I’ve collected advice from all across the internet, but I’ve split it into sections to help ya out!


– Your clothes come with tags for a reason, and following those instructions properly can make your clothes go much further. If you have specific things you want to avoid (you have no time for hand washing for example) then make these tags part of your shopping routine going forward; you’re better off spending your money on clothes you know you can care for properly instead of ignoring care instructions and ruining them.

– Don’t wash your jeans. This is something that surprisingly few people know about, but it’s been discussed by many a publication AND the CEO of Levi’s, so you should probably listen. Now this applies to good quality denim jeans rather than hybrid fabric mixes, but if you’ve invested in a really good (raw) pair of jeans you want to leave them for at least 6 months before washing them. Spot clean them, hang them outside on a sunny/windy day or turn them inside out and shake, as washing them will break down the denim fibres and can cause shrinkage and damage.

-When it is time to clean go for natural products and specialist when needed; bleach and regular detergents contain harsh chemicals that are not the best for your clothes or you. For those aforementioned jeans or delicates such as cashmere go for Mr Black or Tangent GC (Mr Black also have a denim care spray for those months of not washing!). For regular laundry look for brands such as The Simply Co (USA) or Bio-D (UK). Bio-D have their own eco-friendly, chlorine free ‘bleach’ if you need some whitening too.

– Don’t dry clean. Dry cleaning is toxic, you can read my post on eco-friendly dry cleaners here, or you can wash some dry clean items at home.

Some other general laundry tips:
  • Wash dark clothes inside-out to hold their colour.
  • Wash metal separately. Buttons and zips can become hot in the dryer, which can lead to scorching and melting on your other clothes. Wash clothing with metal components separately and never with delicate clothes.
  • Wash your clothes less. The washing process is pretty tough on clothes, unless they’re visibly dirty you don’t need to wash your clothes after every time you wear them. See if you can extend washing to every other wear, or even few wears.


– Check your settings. The heat from dryers can scorch clothes and cause shrinking and fading. A lot of dryers let you change temperature, timing and dryness. If you can, try lowering the heat so your clothes still come out a little damp. If not, dry for a little less time then hang your clothes to avoid shrinking. If you can and have the time, go fully for hang drying (in London this is basically a given anyway because who has a dryer here).


– Too much heat can ruin fabrics, as well as causing accidental burning or yellowing. Go for a heat level that suits your fabric. Most irons have different levels for fabrics on their heat dial, but as a general rule:

  • Linen: 230° C/446° F
  • Cotton: 204° C/400° F
  • Viscose/Rayon: 190° C/374° F
  • Wool: 148° C/298° F
  • Acrylic: 135° C/275° F
  • Polyester: 148° C/298° F
  • Silk: 148° C/298° F
  • Acetate: 143° C/290° F
  • Lycra/Spandex: 135° C/275° F
  • Nylon: 135° C/275° F


– Fold heavy jumpers on shelves. Hanging heavier items such as wool can stretch them as they hang, stack them folded on a shelf to save space and keep their shape.

– Do up your buttons and zips. This stops items catching on each other while they’re store together, fasten up to help your items keep their shape and to avoid damaging your other clothes.

– Don’t overpack your wardrobe. Squishing everything together can result in wrinkling and fading fabrics, try and give your clothes some breathing room.

– Store in cool, dry places. Try and avoid humidity or moisture when you store clothes in order to avoid mould.

– Rotate your clothes. By rotating in your wardrobe you avoid wearing and washing certain clothes more than others. Put clean clothes to the back so the next items you grab will have been there longer. Eventually you’ll get back to the beginning, but your clothes will have had a little more space between wears/washes.


Read even more tips on Ethical Unicorn.