Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Writing As Moral Work: A Conversation with Author, Corban Addison

Corban Addison A Harvest of Thorns

Last Monday, I sat down with Corban Addison, bestselling author and fellow Charlottesvillian, for a chat about the research he conducted for his most recent book, A Harvest of Thorns, a fictionalized account of a garment factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the fallout for a global brand whose clothes were in it at the time.

The day was unseasonably warm, so we grabbed a table on the patio of a favorite local coffee shop and spent a couple hours weaving in and out of related topics. I'd originally anticipated recording a formal interview to turn into a transcript for StyleWise, but it felt right to let the conversation move with the breeze, to allow for the type of organic storytelling that Corban tries to capture in his fictional narratives.

On the State of the Fast Fashion Industry

In his research, Corban discovered that for the majority of garment workers, per-item costs would only have to take a hit of 2-4% to provide adequate wages. This is an amount that could easily be absorbed by corporations, most of which have a profit margin of around 70%, but even passing it onto the consumer would have a negligible effect in the long run.

Garment Work is Skilled Labor

Corban had the opportunity to visit several garment factories during his research. He was astounded by how quickly and skillfully the seamstresses worked. Garment work takes extreme attention to detail, excellent hand-eye coordination, and knowledge of machinery and yet, we call this type of work unskilled. It's time we change the language to value the artisans of mass production.

A Bangladeshi Garment Worker and Labor Rights Activist Speaks Out

Corban was able to attend an event in Sri Lanka last fall that brought together activists and major brands to discuss corporate social responsibility. A Bangladeshi garment worker and labor activist spoke up during the Question & Answer portion of the event requesting to send this message to Westerners:

Tell people in America not to stop buying Bangladeshi clothing. Speak up for workers' rights and demand that your corporations use safe factories, but know that we need the jobs - we need the production orders. 

Corban says that there are examples of factories in Bangladesh that are up to code (Nike uses state-of-the-art factory, Young One), but that many companies aren't using them because they're more expensive.

We must understand that it costs something to not abuse people, but that it doesn't cost as much as we may think.

Target May Be Leading the Way to a More Ethical Industry

Corban knows a few people at Target and he's excited about their plans. Target has already partnered with fair trade companies like PACT to release limited edition fair trade lines. A growing number of household and cosmetic products come from small, ethical brands and brand collaborations. And now, they're looking to find ways to release ethically sourced items on a larger scale.

He and I agreed that it will take a big box store like Target to prove the market for ethically branded goods, but if they commit to making that change, the whole industry could shift overnight. And what's great about this is that they wouldn't have to dramatically increase prices to deliver as long as they're savvy about scaling.

Target, and companies like it, must think in terms of a future customer who cares about ethics and sustainability if they wish to maintain or better their market share. It's simply good business.

Mutual Trust Doesn't Require Friendship

Through the course of writing 5 books (his next novel is about Syrian refugees), Corban has had the opportunity to sit down with dozens of people and hear their stories. He says that once you have access to a person, it doesn't take much to build trust. All you have to do is remain open and listen.

As a result of this posture, Corban has been able to create complex, realistic characters for his novels. He's spoken to female Somali refugees in Minneapolis about Female Genital Mutilation over dinner and a refugee turned aid worker in Greece who abandoned his chance of reuniting with family to care for strangers. The refugee thanked him for asking him to share his story - he found it cathartic to be able to give voice to his experience.

Corban has talked with people across racial, cultural, and religious divides with mutual vulnerability and kindness, and he insists it's because, at their core, people want to be heard and respected. Building a bridge is as easy and holding out your hand.

When You Know People, You Aren't Afraid of Them Anymore

When I attended Barbara Kingsolver's Earth Day talk last year, she expressed that she writes fiction because it's the best way to change someone's mind. Corban agrees.

He told me that writing fiction allows him to create an artificial universe where people can interact with each other in humane, deeply personal ways, establishing mutual respect. This allows his readers - who may have virtually no experience of the cultural and religious context of his characters - to catch a glimpse of their humanity and be changed by it.

Corban writes Muslim characters frequently because he hopes that through his work readers, many of whom have never interacted with a Muslims, will come to understand that Muslims are people just like they are.

Writing as a Catalyst for Change

Corban says the most gratifying thing about being a writer is when people wake up to the realities of injustice and ask what they can do to change it. He writes to connect at every level, from research to book signings. I admire that willingness to stay engaged.

Star Struck

Livia Firth gave Corban an enthusiastic blurb for A Harvest of Thorns, calling it a “must read” and promising that “you’ll never be able to look at your clothes the same way again.”

Also, through friends, Corban passed a copy of the book along to Emma Watson! Emma, we’re waiting on your book review.


My conversation with Corban proved to me, once again, that all justice issues are connected. If you talk about garment manufacturing, you have to talk about politics. If you talk about refugees, you have to talk about trafficking, and then you find yourself back at manufacturing. When you talk about bias and fear and religion, you boil it down to human stories and then it all just melds into a quilt of simultaneously individual and universal narratives.

You open your eyes, you unclench your fists, and you listen. That's where the seeds of transformation are planted and watered.

Corban Addison A Harvest of Thorns, a book about Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing

I'll be reviewing the book as soon as I get my hands on it. You can order it here and we can do a book club!

A Few New Blog Features

site navigation and blog improvements

You probably noticed that I updated my blog layout a couple months ago. I'm really happy with the flexibility, feature options, and clean layout.

I was able to add a few things to the site to make it more navigable and I wanted to make sure you noticed them.

1. Drop-Down Topics Menu

If you hover your mouse over Topics in the top menu of the blog, you'll see a drop-down list with blog post categories to choose from. I'm still working on tagging all my posts appropriately, but now it should be much easier to read posts by format.

2. Drop-Down Shopping Directory

Search ethical shops and brands by category using the Shopping Directory list in the top menu of the blog.

3. What Is Ethical? Terms + Definitions Page

I adapted my original What is Ethical? post to create a page with pertinent definitions for your perusal. Ethical bloggers often use the basic terms of our field in different ways, so it's helpful to know how I'm interpreting words like "ethical" and "susainable."

4. Search

Click on the magnifying glass located on the far right of the top menu to search by keyword or topic.

5. Media Kit

My Media Kit now has a dedicated page, accessible through the Work With Me tab in the top menu. Readers and brands alike are welcome to peruse it.

6. Privacy and Affiliate Linking Policies

Read the fine print here or scroll down to the very bottom of the site and click the link to redirect to the page.


Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for improving the site!

Love Justly Wrap Skirt: A Little Mod, A Lotta Fair

Love Justly and Dsenyo Fair Trade Skirt Review
This post was sponsored by Love Justly and I received an item for review.

It's Spring! 

Just kidding. Charlottesville is having a difficult time with winter this year. Last weekend, highs were in the 60s and 70s. As much as I appreciate a good bare-legged day, I worry that this weather that teeter-totters between hot and cold is a sign of climate change, an omen of strange and irreversible weather patterns that will become even less predictable as the years pass. The poor daffodils can't decide whether to bloom or die of frost bite.

Love Justly and Dsenyo Fair Trade Skirt Review Ethical Details: Top - Everlane; Dsenyo Knee-Length Wrap Skirt - c/o Love Justly; Boots - Po-zu; Moon Phases Necklace - c/o Ember Boutique

Still, I'm relieved the weather was warm for a few hours because it meant I could style this Dsenyo Wrap Skirt from Love Justly the way I'd imagined instead of having to cover up.

I was drawn to this print because it feels very mod, and the flare of the skirt reinforces the vintage design. Styled with high boots and simple accessories, I think I've found the balance between honoring the vintage motif and keeping the look current and wearable. Plus, the skirt is one size fits most, so I can wear it a little lower on my hips for more of a drop-waist effect and keep on wearing it if my weight fluctuates.
  Love Justly and Dsenyo Fair Trade Skirt Review

Dsenyo (the word is derived from the Spanish word Diseño, which means "design") works with fair trade artisan co-ops to produce their line of clothing made with traditional textiles. The Wrap Skirt was produced at the Vipambi Women's Group in Malawi. As members of the Fair Trade Federation, they are beholden to rigorous fair trade standards, and offer 3-4 times the minimum wage, or the equivalent of a teacher's salary in Malawi. Additionally, they offer free skills training that participants can take with them if they want to broaden their workload or develop their own businesses.

Dsenyo is committed to environmental sustainability, as well, using low impact dyes and natural materials, and composting and recycling whenever possible. Read more here.

Love Justly offers this and other products from Dsenyo at a reduced price as a part of their outlet business model. You can get the Wrap Skirt in your choice of 2 colors for $24.99.


Shop Love Justly

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I Was a Climate Change Denier: Why I Changed My Mind

Climate Change and Christianity, Partnership with UNDP
Ice Caves like this one could be gone in 5-10 years due to global warming.
This article is part of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ethical Writers Coalition.

In the 12th grade, my Economics teacher, who also happened to be the women's track coach, decided to work on tallying track scores instead of filling us in on the wonders of microeconomics (You will not be surprised to hear that very few of us passed the AP Econ exam that year).

Like all overworked or borderline disinterested instructors, he popped in a movie for us to watch. But this wasn't your run-of-the-mill classroom film.

This was An Inconvenient Truth.

You may be thinking this was the aha moment for me. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. I distinctly remember laughing as the animated polar bear fell off her animated, melting glacier. "Absurd!" I thought, and not just because the anthropomorphized polar bear cartoon was frowning at me as she fell into the icy water. I was so smug in my knowledge that global warming was not happening - and bolstered by the other students at my southern, largely conservative school - that it was easy to overlook the science and find something to ridicule.

Let me give you some background.

I grew up in a Christian community that believed in Young Earth Creationism. In this model of the universe, God literally created the earth and all that is in it about 6,000 years ago, Noah's Ark miraculously held every variety of earth's creatures as it rose above the global flood, and - I kid you not - the Loch Ness Monster was proof positive that dinosaurs coexisted with humans. As a kid, I was fascinated by that last point, and I still have trouble letting go of such a whimsical idea! Doesn't everyone want to ride a dinosaur?

For one to hold the ideas of Young Earth Creationism as true, one must create a partition between some forms of "obvious" practical science, like gravity and the flu, from other forms of science, namely the ones that tell us something about the long game. We were wary of evolution, carbon dating, and climate change (read more about the tenets of Young Earth Creationism here). To us, they represented the ills of secularism, a world that searched in the wrong places for meaning when it could easily just open the Bible and read the "plain truth."

The problem with this, I know now, is that the "plain truth" of the Bible (this reading is called Biblical Literalism) isn't so plain once you've actually read it. When I majored in Religious Studies in college, I learned to apply literary and historical criticism to the Biblical texts. I parsed out genres; learned Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; and compared the religious texts of neighboring civilizations.

Contrary to my parents' fears, I did not lose faith. But it changed dramatically. Over time, the humanity of writers' and Biblical characters became more apparent. And humans, as we all know, are inherently nuanced and often hypocritical. It became clear to me that the Bible, like all texts, required interpretation.

Eventually, I realized that science could be reconciled with religious belief. Climate scientists and evolutionary biologists weren't out to get me after all.

I was finally able to tear down the shoddily built wall between Christianity and Science, and it allowed me to appreciate both in new ways. 

It was a long road, but it was ultimately my Religious Studies program that allowed the world to expand for me, to embrace the work of scientists who work tirelessly toward a better world. Their end goal is not all that different from the broader message of my faith tradition: to be good stewards and to leave the world habitable for future generations.

This is what we know about climate change (also called Global Warming), according to the United Nations Development Programme:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity mainly include carbon dioxide and methane. They form a "shield", which blocks a certain amount of solar radiation and causes global warming. 
  • Human activity has caused the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to increase. 
  • Since 1990 global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by almost 50%. 
  • Fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas – that power our cars, heating/air conditioning, cooking and lights are the main cause for greenhouse gas emissions. Each day we spew 110 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 
  • From 1880-2012 the planet's surface temperature has increased an average of 0.85 °C [1.5 °F]. 
  • Global warming itself is accelerating. During the past year, measurements taken across the globe during various periods have reported abnormally high temperatures. The year 2016 is the hottest on record, with average temperatures nudging towards 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 
  • Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise and surpass 3°C (and more in some areas of the world) in the 21st century.

Climate change must matter to us because rapidly rising global temperatures wreak havoc on ecosystems and agricultural industries. Melting snow caps cause ocean levels to rise, eroding inhabited land (Miami is already preparing for the worst); erratic weather destroys people and communities; and rising temperatures will soon make growing food impossible in some regions of the world. Additionally, climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest countries, where temperatures tend to be higher and the landscape more difficult to til.

This is more than ecological destruction: this is profound injustice. 

Climate change must matter to me and you, to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and Secular Humanists alike, because it affects all of us. And if we are people who claim a moral stance, it's high time we consider what we can do to slow the effect of global warming before it's too late. 

The United Nations Development Programme has committed itself to fighting climate change at a global level. It supports countries in their efforts to transition to renewable energy, protect forested land, and prepare for the and future effects of climate change. 

But what can we do?

First and foremost, we can support policies and politicians who make climate change remediation a priority. We can encourage investment in renewable energy sources at the local, state, and household level. 

On a personal scale, we can commit to living low-waste lifestyles, recycling, using public transit when possible (and lobbying for better public transit options), using less water and utilities, and eating less meat

And we can be messengers of the cause in big and small ways to our circles of influence. 

If you come from a background like mine, I encourage you to find ways to engage with your faith community about science in a constructive and positive way. Help people realize that this fight needs all of us, and that there's no reason to fear science, or the intentions of climate scientists who are simply doing their jobs. 

Delaying the effects of climate change will be hard - it will be inconvenient - but I have no doubt that climate change, in an age of alternative facts, is a truth we must defend. Now that I am empowered with that knowledge, I refuse to turn back.


For tools, news, and resources, visit the UNDP website.

Ember Boutique: Nature and Nostalgia + A Giveaway

Ember Boutique Ethical and Sustainable Cold Shoulder Top
This post was sponsored by Ember Boutique and I was offered products for review.

As much as I love my basics, a departure from plain t-shirts feels really good, particularly when it's a shoulder-baring top and the weather is unseasonably warm. 

When spring blows in, I become almost unbearably nostalgic for all the spring seasons that have come before. I feel hopeful, ready to start fresh, and suddenly confident that I can be exactly who I want to be.

It's funny how slight changes in climate or location can shift your perspective. It reminds me that we're animals after all, tied to our environment no matter how much we try to partition it off. It's important, I think, that we continually remind ourselves of that and extend it out to its logical end. If we are inextricably connected to "the wild," how can we continue to pollute and degrade the natural world and the people in it through our lifestyle habits? The false dichotomy between "civilization" and "nature" allows us to push corruption to the side, but ignoring it doesn't make it go away.
  Ember Boutique Ethical and Sustainable Cold Shoulder TopEmber Boutique Ethical and Sustainable Cold Shoulder Top

Ember Boutique gets it. 

Owner, Jamie, curates pieces that put the planet and people first because she recognizes their mutuality. Ember Boutique blends pieces from established brands, artisans, and boutique companies with secondhand finds. It's a mix I'm particularly fond of, not just because it's very much my personal wardrobe philosophy, but because I actually thought about opening a similar store a few years back.

But Ember goes beyond being a responsible company. Their mission encourages women to trust their gut and appreciate the stunning but often overlooked beauty of the world:

The Ember woman has a joyful curiosity of the world around her. Fashion isn't a rigid set of rules and trends to apply to herself on a seasonal basis. She relies on her intuition in all facets of her life, which naturally carries over into what she chooses to wear every day. These decisions are influenced by the outline of trees against the sky, the sound of a brush on canvas, and the way different fabrics respond to her own movements. She recognizes the cyclical nature of life, and knows that even a garment has a life span. From concept to creation to purchase and wear, each piece she chooses is infused with the spirit of the earth and hands that made it. She lives with intention, compassion, and fearless self expression.
  Ember Boutique Fair Trade Giveaway Ethical Details: Organic Cold Shoulder Floral Top - c/o Ember Boutique; Denim - old; Pouch - c/o Love Mert; Sandals - Melissa via Bead & Reel; Moon Phases Necklace - c/o Ember Boutique

Ember's Organic Cold Shoulder Top was made out of sustainable tencel and organic cotton in California. I like it because it achieves the off the shoulder look that continues to be a popular - not to mention universally flattering - silhouette, but with a bit of extra support thanks to spaghetti straps. It also looks great layered over a black turtleneck or crew neck tee if you need to adjust for weather or dress code.

Jamie also sent the Farrah B. Moon Phases necklace, hand carved on an adjustable chain. I have worn it 5 days in a row because it's simple while also feeling special, and the bronze tone goes with everything.


Enter to Win the Organic Cold Shoulder Floral Top!

Win this top in the size of your choice (a $58 value), courtesy of Ember Boutique. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

+ Get an extra entry on Instagram

Contest ends at 11:59 pm EST on 3/1/17. Must be 18 years old or older to enter. Open to US readers only.


Shop Ember Boutique

Follow Along: Instagram 

Busting Natural Beauty Myths with Kerrie Pierce

Makeup developer and small business owner, Kerrie, and I live in the same town, but I'd never met her until she commented on my recent post about my beauty routine. The conversation that developed there was highly informative, and I asked Kerrie if she would allow me to interview her for the blog. 

A lot of us in the eco community trust small product lines to make safe, natural products, but Kerrie told me that some of the products I currently use - and some of the ones recommended by readers - were potentially dangerous after prolonged exposure. Today, she's here to break down some of the myths surrounding both natural beauty and the beauty industry at large so that we can be informed, smart consumers. 

Hello! My name is Kerrie and I am the owner and maker behind Kitsune's Closet

The idea of giving lip balm for gifts one year got me started on this path, and after a lot of experiments and research, here I am. I sell my products at Darling Boutique in Charlottesville, Live Trendy or Die in Lynchburg, and on my website, I make my products as natural as possible, trying to keep my formulas simple and gentle, yet effective.

Kitsune's Closet also features my hand bags and accessories, some featuring upcycled fabrics and many fabrics for the comic book/fantasy/sci-fi inclined. I also love to spin, knit and bake, and collecting (and wearing) vintage clothes and sewing from vintage patterns.

StyleWise: When it comes to beauty, I'm familiar with the Dirty Dozen - ingredients such as parabens, petrolatum, and formaldehyde - that natural brands leave out of their product lines. But what are some of the most common harmful ingredients found in all natural products? 

Kerrie Pierce: After the "Dirty Dozen" I don't really believe there are other major or minor common toxic/harmful ingredients in natural products. I think there are ingredients that can cause people irritation depending on the sensitivity of their skin, but that can come from a natural ingredient like shea butter, or a synthetic ingredient like SLS. Sodium Laurel Sulfate is an ingredient that often gets called dangerous or toxic on blogs, but really is a synthetic organic compound that is used as a surfactant (a compound that lowers surface tension for cleaning purposes) and has been tested extensively for safety. All surfactants can be irritants however, and it can be more of an irritant than other related compounds.

Many natural companies use SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) as an alternative as it seems to be less of an irritant than SLS. Here is where research and personal choice comes into play. Being aware of what can irritate your skin can help you make personal choices, however, simply because something irritates your skin, doesn't mean that it is harmful or toxic, it is just not the best product for you.

You have to keep in mind even natural ingredients can be toxic in large enough doses: we need water, but too much can kill you. We need our breathable air to have roughly 21% oxygen; 100% oxygen can be toxic.

If you want to be technical, everything is a chemical, and not all chemicals are bad. 

When you read a label and see a long, hard to pronounce chemical, look it up it the Cosmetic Ingredient Review and learn about what it is and how it works. Many ingredients used in cosmetics and body care can be derived from natural ingredients like coconut and sugar, but to be effective undergo some form of processing.

SW: Many people equate the "all natural" label with something healthy or inherently good, but in reality, it's not a regulated term. How are companies allowed to include harmful ingredients and still label them in a way that makes them seem eco-friendly and health conscious? 

KP: Again, I don't believe companies are allowed to include purposely harmful ingredients.  When further testing and research have shown ingredients to be unsafe, certain preservatives, colorants and solvents have been pulled and are no longer permitted for use. We have ingredients like the "Dirty Dozen" that many people including myself like to avoid, because why use them when there are more natural alternatives and preliminary studies have shown there is the potential for them to be harmful? (Further research may add them at some point to the above mentioned ingredients.)

So I would like to steer this question more to the point that it isn't that companies are allowed to use harmful ingredients and label them in a way that makes them seem eco-friendly and health conscious, but that often companies, in an effort to seem more natural and eco-friendly, don't follow proper procedure in labeling and are not transparent about their ingredients and smaller companies in an attempt to be all natural may do more harm than good.

For example, some brands say they use no artificial colors, but technically iron oxides used in cosmetics are synthetics. Iron oxides are produced in labs for safety reasons since naturally produced varieties often contain impurities like arsenic, mercury and cadmium. There is no reason not to be transparent about that!

Micas are also commonly used in natural cosmetics, and some only contain oxides and some are a mix of oxides and dyes. Again, these colorants are produced in labs and rigorously tested for safety.  Where this can be potentially unsafe is when companies misuse colorants either by amount in the product or in an inappropriate product. Some colorants can be used in all products, some may not be used in lipstick, and some may not be used around the eyes. I have seen natural cosmetic companies do this and it could be out of ignorance or a feeling of disregard for the FDA; it's hard to say.

This is why it is important for customers to educate themselves.  

SW: You mentioned in your original comments that all natural brands often make the mistake of leaving out preservatives and other synthetics that add to the long term efficacy of the product. Can you go into more detail about the types of preservatives and other ingredients that actually make beauty products safer? 

KP: Preservatives absolutely make body care and cosmetics safer. Broad spectrum preservatives help keep molds, fungi and bacteria from taking over your product and potentially making you sick or giving you an infection. There have been cases where consumers have been effected and products have been pulled.

Some natural cosmetics companies will give you the idea regular products are heavily laden with preservatives, but from what I've learned since making my own products, that is false. Broad spectrum preservatives are very powerful, and for example, in a 100g (about 4oz) recipe for, say, a lotion, the preservative (depending on which you choose) will be 1 gram or less.

On the other hand, some of the more "natural" preservatives like Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, in order to be effective, you must use much more, upwards of 4% of your ingredient total in your recipe and many supply companies recommend a co-preservative for maximum safety. It also is only good at Ph levels between 4-6 so you must test your formula to make sure it is suitable.

Some companies will argue that Grapefruit Seed Extract is a preservative, but it is not. It is an antioxidant, and often times when a company attempts to use it as a preservative it is the preservatives that are in the product itself (to preserve the extract) that is sort of preserving the product, but that is not safe, nor reliable, and oft times the preservative used in the extract has the undesirable elements you are trying to avoid!

SW: When shopping for cosmetics, what are the red flags I should look out for?

Look beyond the buzzwords and alarmist hype. 

Go beyond all the claims of what are not in the product and look at what is. On body care and cosmetic labels, the ingredients list goes in order from greatest to least in the product. Ingredients also generally must be listed by their botanical and INCI name (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) and as I've mentioned those names can sound "scary" and unrecognizable. Look them up and then you can start to breakdown the label and recognize what makes up the product.

Generally lotions are water, oils, emulsifiers, thickeners and a preservative. Depending on what kind of lotion or cream, there may also be extracts, fragrance, etc.

One thing I would like to see be more transparent is the labeling "fragrance" or "parfume". Companies are allowed to use that term and it can be a composition of many ingredients, including preservatives.  Make sure colorants listed are approved for the use are being used properly (ultramarine and chromium oxide green are big no-nos in lipstick), see if they are transparent about what preservative they are using and be skeptical if they say they aren't.

Learning what cosmetic ingredients are, learning to break down a label and decide if it is a product you want to use or try gives you great power as a consumer. 

Also, consider price. As with many other things we shop for, marketing makes up a huge part of the final cost of a product and does not necessarily mean a better product.

SW: What are your favorite safe, hypoallergenic brands to use? 

KP: I do make many of my own products now for my husband and myself, but for commercial brands I have enjoyed:

SW: You mentioned that you make your own product line and sell locally. What are your favorite ingredients to work with? What are your favorite products to make? 

KP: Honestly, it's hard to pick a favorite! I do like working with oils and butters - so many combinations possible for lip balms and uses in lotions and creams. I also really love making nail polish and lipstick: with my background in art and painting, I love mixing up new colors!

SW: What resources and blogs do you recommend for those interested in doing more research and/or making their own products? 

KP: One blog I highly recommend is Swift Crafty Monkey. She talks a lot about cosmetic chemistry, formulating, safety and the myriad of ingredients available.  I recommend and for supplies and great information and formulas.

EcoCert, Cosmos-standard, Cosmetic Ingredient Review, EEC Cosmetic Directives, IFRA, and the Journal of the American College of Toxicology are all solid science-based resources for learning about cosmetic ingredients. In general, I try to avoid alarmist websites, because they don't always use the best research and studies for their conclusions.

Lastly today, I want to dispel a myth that just won't seem to die. 

I'm sure most have heard the myth that an average woman eats six pounds (or more) of lipstick over her lifetime.

The idea, therefore, is that using lipsticks with dye is bad because dyes contain lots of lead (also not true) and eating all that lipstick will kill you. This is just ridiculous. Let's break this down logically:

A lipstick bullet that goes in the tube weighs about 3 grams. There are 28 grams in an ounce, and 16 oz in a pound. That right there is about 149 lipsticks. Six pounds would be 896 lipsticks. You would have to use every single lipstick including scooping out the cup at the bottom, apply it upwards of 30 times a day and lick all of it off without getting any of it on a coffee or tea cup, on anyone when you kiss them, or wipe any of it off.

How many of us buy more than 10 lipsticks a year and use every bit down to the nub and never get it on anything and apply it upwards of 30 times a day?

There is not a single medical case of lead poisoning through lipstick. 

Lead based paint and air, soil and water contamination are the leading causes of lead poisoning. Check out this link for an expanded breakdown on lipstick usage.


Thanks, Kerrie! 

Everlane Review: Soft Cotton Square Cardigan

Everlane Soft Cotton Square Cardigan Review, size XS

I recently purchased the Everlane Soft Cotton Square Cardigan as part of my spring update.

I previously owned two black cardigans, both thrifted, but one was too formal for my wardrobe and the other had a hole in the back that was irreparable due to the open weave design. I liked the idea of a cropped, slightly oversized cardigan to wear with skirts and higher waisted jeans (at this point, pretty much all of my jeans are mid or high rise).

Everlane Soft Cotton Square Cardigan Review, size XSEverlane Soft Cotton Square Cardigan Review, size XS
Ethical Details: Sweater - Everlane; Top - via Ash & Rose; Denim - vintage, thrifted; Necklace - c/o Ember Boutique; Shoes - purchased in AustinEverlane Soft Cotton Square Cardigan Review, size XS

The Verdict

Color: Washed Black
Size: XS

I purchased this for both the silhouette and the fabric. The thick cotton is durable and more suitable for transitional spring weather than my cashmere collection. I'm satisfied with the washed black color, sleeve length, and overall silhouette.

As expected, this item is quite oversized. I'd guessed that looking at the model, so I ordered an XS, a size down from my usual size (I also get an XS in the U-Necks). The Cotton Square Cardigan is just as expected, so I'm happy.


Shop Everlane here.

Deciphering My Style: Spring 2017

ethical and capsule closet - spring update,

I've never been particularly good at nailing down what I like in specific terms.

And that's been a problem for me as I've embraced a more expensive, ethical market. I can't just buy all the things and see what works. I need to be smart and curate aggressively.

To help me narrow it down before I start shopping for a new season, I decided to break my preferences down by both what I like and what I don't like. Here are my lists...

Things To Avoid:

  • Prep and boho (a nod here and there, but not a whole look)
  • Strapless, wide leg, billowy silhouettes
  • Denim on denim
  • Heels
  • Low-cut and high-cut blouses and tops
  • Ankle-wrap shoes and sandals
  • Polyester and other synthetic fabrics

Things To Look For:

  • Stripes and bright solids
  • Mid-rise and high-rise denim
  • High rise pencil pants
  • Straight-cut and midi skirts
  • Straight-cut dresses
  • Tunics
  • U-necks and V-necks
  • Distressed-look denim
  • Simple, modern footwear
  • Organic and natural fabrics

I am getting considerably better at being honest with myself about what I'll actually wear versus what looks good but just isn't me. While I love some of the contemporary, oversized, androgynous cuts of designers like Elizabeth Suzann and Everlane, it's important that I find the right balance between timeless and of-the-moment.

Here's what I'll be looking for this spring: 

As with all of my shopping lists, I probably won't purchase all items listed, but I'll use specific products as a reference point as I shop around. This post contains affiliate links.

The "Needs"

ethical and capsule closet - spring update,

The Helpful Additions

ethical and capsule closet - spring update,

Just for Fun

ethical and capsule closet - spring update,

Rest Easy: An Eco + Ethical Bedroom

Sustainable and Ethical Mattress and Bedding Guide,
This list contains affiliate links.

After 4 years of blogging, it's easy for me to talk about ethical clothes and accessories. But as I try to extend the sustainable ethos outward to other areas of my life, I find that I'm often overwhelmed. As my husband knows, I'm a B-grade Googler at best (he is much better with keywords), so it can take a long time to find what I need at a price I can afford.

This is especially true for beds and bedding. 

Not only are the current sustainable options hard to track down, they can create major sticker shock. Think about it: even conventional sheets and mattresses are investment pieces (I have friends who just spent $2,000 on a new mattress). Items made with fair labor and better quality materials are bound to cost more, on average.

That being said, it's worth seeking out better options, and the prices aren't always as high as you'd expect. There's actually a lot of overlap in price points between conventional and ethical brands because mainstream companies insist on profit margins as high as 70%. Ethical companies can often get away with lower prices because they recognize the difference between sustainable and exploitative margins.

I recently chatted with a representative at Avocado Green Mattress, a company that produces eco, sustainable, and ethical mattresses and pillows, and realized that I'm not the only one who lacks a resource to the best ethical options.

So, without further ado, my picks for sustainable, ethical bedding and accessories...

All prices based on Queen size.

Sustainable, ethical Avocado Green Mattress

Avocado Green Mattress, $1,399

  • 100% natural latex, organic cotton, and sustainable wool
  • Contributes to International Justice Mission
  • 100-day sleep trial
  • 10 year warranty
  • Get $100 off with code, Stylewise100, through February 28th.

Savvy Rest Tranquility Mattress, $2,499

  • Natural latex and GOTS-certified cotton
  • Can be customized on each side according to individual preferences
  • Can be created in custom sizes for antique beds
  • Charlottesville-based company


Avocado Green Pillow, $89

  • Natural Kapok fiber fill
  • Organic cotton cover
  • Medium density

Sustainable Bed Pillow, Savvy Rest
Savvy Rest Organic Kapok Pillow, $109

  • Natural Kapok fiber fill
  • Cotton flannel cover
  • Charlottesville-based company


Coyuchi Jersey Sheets, $178

  • Organic Cotton
  • Ethical labor standards

Native Organic Sheets, $180

  • Low-impact dyes
  • Organic cotton grown in USA
  • Ethical labor standards

Fair Trade Kantha QuiltCOVERLETS

Anchal Project Gradient Kantha Quilt, $375

  • Fair trade
  • Made from upcycled saris
  • Indigo-dyed

Serrv Kantha Quilt, $210

  • Fair trade
  • Made from upcycled saris


American Nomad Natural Kantha Cushion, $40

  • Fair trade - helps at-risk women
  • Made from recycled saris

Greenheart Shop Silk Blockprint Pillow, $40

  • Hand loomed
  • Fair trade

Manos Zapotecas Legacy Lumbar Pillow Cover, $89

  • Natural, undyed wool
  • Hand woven
  • Fair trade

Fair Trade Rug

Yabal Wool Rug, $74-152

  • 100% wool
  • Plant-based dye
  • Fair trade
  • Handmade

Ten Thousand Villages Dhurrie Woven Rug, $89.99

  • Natural jute and wool
  • Fair trade

Make sure to click around the websites mentioned for other color, size, and pattern options. I chose based on my personal preferences!


Get $100 off an Avocado Green Mattress with code, Stylewise100, through February 28th.

On "Activism" Burnout, and What I'm Doing to Resist It

Activism Burnout and Longterm Change,

In the days and weeks following the Women's March, I was about as close to "woke" as I've ever been. 

I was bearing witness, I was donating, I was reading and tweeting and posting.

And then...I broke down. I started weeping one night right before bed, mumbling incoherent concerns to Daniel. I realized I couldn't handle it. I had totally overloaded my system, convincing myself that things would only improve if I ran myself ragged.

But I was becoming unable to function with kindness and attentiveness, and that flew in the face of everything I believe about small-scale world change.

So I took a break. I read a book and watched endless episodes of Scrubs.

And I kept writing blog posts. 

I've mentioned more than once that justice must extend outward from our individual interests or we're doing it wrong. I still believe that, but now that I've reached a state of mental equilibrium, I realize how important it is to also do the converse of that statement - to keep focusing on the pet cause even when the world is in chaos.

That's because the ethical practice that's already become habit is a good reminder of what must happen if we're to jump into broader world change.

Empathy, science has shown, is unsustainable and wildly inconsistent. 

The visceral pain I felt about immigrants, refugees, women, people of color, children - heck! - everyone affected or soon to be affected by the current administration's sick political game was borne of good intentions, but it was not what was needed.

What I needed was the clear eyes and full heart I have fostered when it comes to talking about the fashion industry. I've spent years developing the skills, knowledge, and point of view to take each new devastating piece of information and place it within the proper context so that I can re-calibrate my current set of moral principles. I can recognize injustice immediately, but I no longer shut down. I keep working.

Longtime organizers and activists know that this is the only way to achieve longterm change.

And on that note, the other reason I can't abandon my pet cause is because it teaches me about the importance of taking the long view.

The marches, protests, and phone calls are necessary now because so much is at stake now and, frankly, because we have the collective momentum to sustain a movement. But we can't let short term crises distract us from long term goals.

I heard a story about a Pakistani student at UVa who doesn't understand the mass hysteria. He recalled going home to drone strikes throughout the Obama administration, too. What we're seeing in the US is a breakdown of what white Americans believed about ourselves; we are not seeing God unseated and the Devil taking his place. The Devil was always here.

So, yes, what's happening is pressing, terrible, often nearly unbelievable. But we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever stop this work. No matter how "good" the president is, there will always be corruption.

We must all become activists, and never stop as long as we live. 

I can't do that through irrational weeping. I have to extend what I know from this space to other categories of injustice.

So I continue this work not only because I believe my voice matters, and that the brands I promote can make a difference, but because it's showing me over and over again what sustainable activism looks like.

I'm going to a huddle tonight to talk over next steps at a local level. That sounds like something I can do with a clear head. Slowly but surely, I am becoming who I need to be.


P.S. I recently read an article on the importance of honoring the world's complexity if we wish to be moral writers. It's tempting to go for click-bait, to simplify for the sake of clarity or "good vibes" or whatever, but the article insists that we have an obligation to try our hardest to represent reality, even when it's difficult. I have taken this to heart, and plan on doing my best to allow for (accurate) ambiguity and discussion even when it would be easier to make a sweeping claim. I fear I will always be a melancholy writer, but that's okay.

Fibre Athletics: Ethical Activewear for Every Lifestyle

This post was sponsored by Fibre Athletics and I was provided an item for review.

For Athletes and Non-Athletes alike...

It seems to me that there's a false dichotomy between those who "exercise" and those who do not. Sure, you have people who get up to run 6 miles at 5 am and those who prefer to sleep in, but by categorizing certain people as the "type who exercise," I think we run the risk of discounting the physical labor of those who don't exercise as a hobby.

This may be verging into heavy territory, but some people don't have the means, the time, or the energy to lace up their running shoes, put on their exercise gear, and get going. Case in point: I used to work a 40 hour/week manual labor job. The company implemented a policy whereby you could get a discount on your health insurance if you walked around the complex during lunchtime. The customer service folks, who spent the day in chairs, were gung-ho about it and went on their merry way. Those of us who'd already been standing in one place or running around the warehouse for 5 hours, however, needed the lunch break to rest.

We were exercising the whole time, but our labor didn't count when it mattered.
Ethical Details: Everywhere Jacket - c/o Fibre Athletics; Denim - old, redyed; Sneakers - AllBirds

My point is that we should recognize and celebrate movement, no matter what it looks like, whether it's scheduled or not. It can look different for each of us and that's ok.

Fibre Athletics offers versatile athletic apparel that a range of "athletes" can take advantage of. Take, for instance, the product description for the Everywhere Jacket:

WHEN TO WEAR IT : Biking the streets, cozying up on the plane ride, being a boss, hitting up yoga, walking the dog, happy hour at the local spot, morning hikes, movies in the park…or on the couch, late night jogs, traversing new cities, and perusing the internet at your favorite café.

The crew at Fibre Athletics gets that clothes should be inclusive and versatile. This generous ethos expands to their production standards, as well. They have specific commitments to fair trade labor standards, upcycled and sustainable textile sourcing, low impact dyes, and innovative design. Learn more here.

The Everywhere Jacket was made from start to finish in the US using US-grown and milled cotton fleece. Currently, you can order it in sizes Small to Extra Large, though do note that sizing runs slightly small (I have a 34" bust and wear a Medium). Given its impeccable design (the contoured seams are beautiful), partially adjustable hood, and fabric quality, the $180.00 price tag is well worth it (worth saving up for).

In addition to high production standards, Fibre Athletics supports a few key nonprofits: The Eden Projects, which provides job training and plants trees in deforested regions, and CARA, which assists homeless and impoverished individuals in job preparation and retention.

I'm so happy to be able to support domestic companies that are deeply committed to ethics at every step of their supply chain.


Fibre Athletics is currently offering a sale! Take more than $40 off the Everywhere Jacket for a limited time.

Shop the Sale here. 

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Back to Basics: An Ethical Capsule Wardrobe (Updated)

fair trade capsule wardrobe -
When it comes to basic wardrobe builders, we're not all going to have exactly the same list. The dress-inclined may need dresses, cropped sweaters, and tights, while the jeans-lover may prefer classic tees and boyfriend cardigans.

That being said, I think we can agree that most women want a dozen or so key pieces in their wardrobe to mix and match with the signature items that makes one's style truly personal. I searched through the archives and realized I'd never really offered a concise list of basics, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to provide some options today.

Think of this as an ethical capsule wardrobe that can serve as the jumping-off point to developing your personal style within the ethical marketplace. 

You don't need to hurry to replace the conventional items in your closet that you can still get some wear out of, but when you're ready, I hope this list will be helpful.

List completely revamped for ease of shopping on 1/10/18. Includes affiliate links.

An Ethical Capsule Wardrobe: 18 20 Essential Pieces


1. The Tee

American Giant

2. The LBD

Maven Women
Victoria Road

3. The Jacket

Eileen Fisher
Ode to Sunday

4. The Jeans

Levi's Waterless

5. The Statement Skirt

People Tree
Ash & Rose
Mata Traders

6. The Blazer

People Tree
Mm. Lafleur
Connecticut Country Clothing

7. The Drapey Cardigan

Soul Flower
Synergy Organic Clothing

8. The Sandals

Nicora (vegan)

9. The Sneakers

All Birds
Saola (vegan)
OESH (made in Charlottesville!)
Adidas Parley Collection (made with ocean plastic)

10. The Versatile Flats

The Root Collective
Fortress of Inca
Nicora (vegan)

11. The Boots

Fortress of Inca
LL Bean (made in Maine varieties)
Bhava (vegan)

12. The Cotton Undies

PACT Apparel
Organic Basics

13. The Leggings

14. The Party Dress

Victoria Road
Passion Lilie
EcoVibe Apparel
PERI the Label

15. The Black Pants

Brass Clothing
Mm. Lafleur

16. The Socks

PACT Apparel
Maggie's Organics

17. The Hoodie

Fibre Athletics
American Giant
EcoVibe Apparel

18. The Button Down

The Fable
Eileen Fisher
Tradlands ($25 off with this link)

19. The Cold Weather Coat

United By Blue

20. Classic Jewelry

Hannah Naomi
Thicket (15% off through 9/9/18 with code, STYLEWISE)

ethical capsule wardrobe -

Suggestions or questions? Let me know in the comments.

A note on selection: I judged items by ethical labor standards, transparency, and eco-friendly advances while prioritizing fit, quality, and versatility. Many of these items are things I own myself.

Love Mert: Carry Your Heart on Your Pouch

Love Mert Love Pouch - made in USA, ethical valentines day gift
This post was sponsored by Love Mert and I received an item for review. 

Love is in the air...

I was a shy kid who didn't date, at all really. I gave out the obligatory Valentine's Day cards in elementary school and daydreamed about the boys I liked professing their love for me through middle school. That never happened, so by high school I was sort of burnt out on Valentine's Day. Without the romance, it's just an awkward, brooding, excruciating 24 hours.

Junior year, I decided to make a change. I wrapped up little chocolates in colorful tissue paper pouches and gave them to friends and classmates. I put them in the choir cubbies, too. I started singing with the "Singing Valentines," delivering Doo-wop love songs to kids in the middle of their classes. I started spreading the love, and it made Valentine's Day feel like something joyous and generous for the first time.
  Love Mert Love Pouch - made in USA, ethical valentines day giftLove Mert Love Pouch - made in USA, ethical valentines day gift

It would be easy, and valid, to say that Valentine's Day is just a commercial holiday, a way to sell overpriced candy and flowers to suckers who can't see through manipulative advertising. But by turning it into a broad celebration of love in all its forms, I think it can be a powerful reminder that #lovetrumpshate.

Love Mert designer, Melissa, is spreading the love this season with her collection of Love pouches and purses made from salvaged and vintage materials in the USA. 

The Love Mert collection combines artistry and attention to detail with responsible sourcing, so base materials are local, upcycled, or deadstock. As a lover of secondhand and vintage fashion, I appreciate how well the mission of Love Mert aligns with my own. The Love Mert collection is comprised of creative new designs by an American designer, but also utilizes forgotten materials. It's sustainable in every way because it ties the secondhand market to the artisan market. Plus, by using upcycled leather, the end consumer can rest assured that their purchase did not contribute to animal cruelty. Learn more about Melissa's inspiration and design here.
  Love Mert Love Pouch - made in USA, ethical valentines day gift
Ethical Details: Hat - Vintage via Low in Charlottesville; Sweater - Everlane; Jeans - old, redyed; Boots - Po-Zu; Necklace - Hands Producing Hope; Love Pouch in Brushed Gold/Gold - c/o Love MertLove Mert Love Pouch - made in USA, ethical valentines day gift

I paired the Love Pouch in Brushed Gold/Gold with a seed necklace by Hands Producing Hope and a lovely little 1960s hat I picked up at a local vintage store. I don't dress up very often these days, but I think that the hot pink sweater paired with vintage-inspired accessories makes for a Valentine's Day appropriate look without all the fuss.

The Love Mert pouch comes in several colors and retails for $32.00. If you're looking for a purse instead, Melissa makes Love Bags, too! You can see all the colors by going to the Handbags category of the site.

Do you celebrate Valentine's Day (or Galentines Day)? What are your traditions?


Shop Love Mert

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