Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Four Fair Finds | 2

My four favorite fair finds for the week...

Book Review: A Harvest of Thorns

A Harvest of Thorns ethical fashion book review

You may recall that I had the pleasure of interviewing/chatting with local author, Corban Addison, about his book on the fashion supply chain a few months ago. He gave me a copy of that book, A Harvest of Thorns, to read and I finally finished it!

I had a bit of a rough first quarter of the year - a late 20s crisis, you might say - and it was difficult for me to allow myself the mental quiet to just sit and read. Pair that with the fact that this wasn't exactly light reading - and it's 348 pages long - and I dragged my feet.

What is it about?

A Harvest of Thorns is based around the narratives of two lawyers who, at first, appear to be polar opposites. Washington DC based Cameron Alexander is a by-the-book corporate lawyer who works for Presto, one of the largest retail corporations in the world. Joshua Griswold is an out-of-work law-trained journalist who rose to fame by profiling human rights issues around the world.

What I Read This Week | 3

what i read

Essential Oils Without The Pseudoscience

guide to essential oils
This post was written by Catherine Harper and originally appeared on Walking With Cake.

As my interest in natural beauty has grown over the last several years, I’ve started using essential oils in a variety of ways.  I’ve been a perfume lover for years, but after an allergic reaction a few summers ago, I stopped using artificial scents. Essential oils initially appealed to me because I can add one single oil or a blend to unscented lotion or a carrier oil to create my own fragrance. Most of my essential oil use is for aromatherapy purposes, and I maintain a healthy dose of skepticism regarding their effectiveness, specifically when it comes to medical claims. I’ve done a bit of research and found some interesting facts, as well as a few safe, practical ways that essential oils work for me.

I have friends who sell different brands of essential oils and I’ve heard many claims about their benefits. As an ethical consumer, I prefer to dig into the details of a product before I buy it, and it’s especially important to do your own research before dabbling in essential oils. Young Living and doTERRA are the two most popular multi-level marketing brands on the market, and doTERRA was founded by former Young Living employees after an internal company disagreement. In 2014, the FDA issued a warning letter to both Young Living and doTERRA, as well as a third essential oils brand, for marketing their products as potential cures for the Ebola virus and other serious illnesses.

Celebrating Sustainers + CAUSEGEAR Bucket Bag Review

Causegear Bucket Bag review

When I interviewed Brad Jeffery, founder of ethical bag company, CAUSEGEAR, a few months ago, I ended the call with a profound sense of gratitude for the amazing, good-to-their-core people who spend their days and years trying to make the world just a little bit better.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the unsung heroes of nonprofits, community organizing, and social enterprises: the sustainers. 

Because someone can have a good idea any day of the week, but it's the people who recognize that showing up matters that contribute the greatest good. And those people never get any credit! I have volunteers at the shop I manage who've come in for an unpaid shift every week for more than 15 years! Those people deserve awards and public recognition, but the ones who get the accolades are the 20-something men with chips on their shoulders who created some sort of inane app. Those people suck compared to the badass retired women I know.

My point is that a lot of people want to change the world, but thinking big picture isn't always - or maybe ever - the key to world change. You know what changes the world? Thinking up manageable solutions, then putting in the work. If we don't develop interpersonal connections, cultural sensitivity, and attention to detail early on, we may just end up feeding our hubris instead of the people we came to "save."

Four Fair Finds | 1

ethical brands

In an effort to create more consistent content, I thought I'd start a new, simple series called Four Fair Finds. The plan is to post each Friday with 4 ethically sourced products that strike my fancy.

4 Innovative Textiles To Look Out For, by Summer Edwards

Sustainable and alternative fabrics
Fabric made from Seaweed? (Image via Unsplash)
This post was written by Summer Edwards and originally appeared on Tortoise and Lady Grey, a well-researched blog and resource for those seeking sustainable fashion and in depth information on the industry.
The following post is another in my series about sustainable textiles, this time looking at some of the textiles that we see emerging and coming to new prominence. For a better understanding of sustainable textiles more broadly, see my Guide to Sustainable Textiles
There has been a large amount of research into sustainability in textiles, and new technology and methods have seen the development of a range of new fibres and blends. One of these is Pinatex, which was outlined in my post on vegan leather alternatives. But there are many more that are emerging. Some offer huge advances in sustainability, whilst others may not be as sustainable as they are made out to be. This post will briefly explore some of these textiles.

What I Read This Week | 2

what i read this week

GlobeIn Wander Box Review: Facilitating Tranquility and Equality

GlobeIn Wander Box Review
This post is part of a paid collaboration with GlobeIn. All opinions are my own.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to road trip over to the Potomac River for a slow weekend with 5 of my closest friends and a delightful baby. We stayed over in our friend's riverside condo, spreading out on air mattresses and couches, drinking coffee and eating eggs together in the mornings, and watching classic movies. We took the golf cart for a spin around town, floated in the swimming pool for a couple of hours, and ate delicious food from local eateries, including one peculiar but surprisingly coherent French-Thai restaurant.

No internet access. No schedule. Just the river and the quiet comforts of communal living. 

I brought GlobeIn's Wander Box with me, figuring it was appropriate for the meditative wandering I was about to embark on by the river.

5 Misconceptions About Conscious Consumers

Misconceptions about Conscious Consumers

1. We're elitist

Yes, ethical fashion (often) costs more. And yes, lifestyle changes must take place in order to make more conscientious choices. And...yes, some conscious consumers are annoyingly smug. But being pretentious and ignoring privilege are not essential parts of being a conscious consumer.

Most of us who claim conscious consumerism do make sacrifices to achieve the lifestyle we strive for, foregoing throwaway purchases, saving up for more expensive ethical purchases, and thrift shopping to fill out our closets. This certainly isn't true for everyone, though, and those who promote an aspirational lifestyle on social media often fail to mention that a lot of what they promote was given to them for free, or that the glamour on the outside doesn't match the messiness and stress of real life. Conscious consumers are not inherently elitist, but we do need to be clear about who our message applies to, because if we're telling people living in poverty that they need to only buy non-GMO produce and stop shopping at fast fashion chains, then we are making a judgment call we're not qualified to make. It's just a fact that having the mental energy and financial flexibility to shop "ethically" is a privilege, so the solutions we advocate must be clear and compassionate.

Hannah discusses this issue eloquently in her post, Is Ethical Fashion Elitist, so I'll quote her here:

Middle-class to wealthy Americans consume far more resources than the rest of the world's population. Honestly, I think changing the fashion industry starts with the global 1%, because the global 1% is the problem. We're the ones consuming the majority of the cheap goods that contribute to the exploitation of people and the planet. We're the ones who can afford to pay more for an item to ensure that fair wages are paid, and don't. I'm okay with my blog and my advocacy speaking mainly to people like me because we're the ones who need to change our habits the most. 

Now, this does not mean that only people with disposable income are allowed into the conversation. To the contrary, anyone who is ready to take on the challenge or seeks ways to shop with greater purpose is welcome. There are so many economical ways to shop ethically!

Conscious consumers know that consumer choices are tied up in privilege, and choose to advocate for better, not perfect.

Related: 6 Myths About Buying Ethical Clothing | The Paradox of the Ethical Fashion Blogger

2. We're fundamentalists

Fundamentalists are people who are black and white thinkers, the ones who know that "right" is knowable and know that they are right. If you're in social justice circles, it's really easy to find your power in knowing you're right. But this is also dangerous, not only because sometimes what we think is right takes away the rights and ignores the dignity of other human beings, but because if we always think we're right, we'll never grow in essential and beautiful ways.

Conscious consumers are, by and large, not fundamentalists, at least not in my experience. We ask hard questions and judge ourselves by extremely high standards, but we're much more likely to place blame on ourselves for not being good enough than to transfer that guilt onto others. Sometimes people see our intensity and think we're going to judge them, too, but really we're just obsessive idealists who are trying to fix the world by fixing ourselves, and that's a lot of pressure.

Conscious consumers know that we don't have all the answers.

Related: Fundamentalism is an Ideology Problem, Not a Religion Problem | What I'd Say About Ethical Fashion If I Met You on the Street

3. This lifestyle is easy for us

Nope, plain and simple. Granted, things have gotten a lot easier over the 4 or so years I've been on this journey. But, at first, it was dang hard to stop shopping at H&M and Old Navy. I loved the thrill of good deals, the stress-reducing quality of mindlessly walking around the mall. I loved shopping dates with my friends where I didn't have to look for the "Made in..." designation on all of the tags before making a purchase.

Those days were ripped away from me when I determined to only buy ethically sourced items. All the carefree fun was gone. For more than a year, I still justified a fast fashion purchase here and there. Even now, I'll pick up the occasional J. Crew clearance item or over-packaged makeup. It's hard to totally opt out. It can be very isolating.

But things really aren't bad now. In fact, they're really good. If I want the thrill of the hunt, I peruse thrift shops or snoop around online stores. If I want a trendy item, I see if there's a way to upcycle what I already have, swap with a friend, or save up for an ethical purchase if I can justify it for the longterm. Being intentional has a learning curve, but it's got its perks, namely that I no longer feel hollow after a day of binge shopping. I am healthy.

Conscious consumers struggle like everyone else, but we find fulfillment in shopping smarter, not harder.

Related: 3 Ways to Follow Trends Responsibly

4. We don't care about fashion

I've actually felt this way about some of my fellow conscious consumers, so I totally get it. You think to yourself, "Well, of course they can shop minimally and cast aside trends - they don't actually care about fashion!" This is probably true for some, but it's definitely not true for me and a lot of other people I know.

As a teenager, I subscribed to Teen Vogue and spent hours on Vogue's Style website perusing Fashion Week photos. I had a favorite model (Gemma Ward) and worked on my fashion sketches frequently. I loved the whole world of fashion then and I still love the art and expression fashion can bring. It's just that I couldn't love it in the same way when I realized how exploitative the industry was and continues to be. What I've realized is that the "fashion" I thought I was wearing was actually poorly made knock-offs being fed to me by a culture that naggingly insists that we'll all be socially ostracized if we don't stay on trend. And that's not really what fashion is about.

Fashion is about freedom. It's about speaking through what we wear. The clothes I wear now share that freedom - hopefully - with the people who made it, and they speak to my desire for global and unconditional justice. My choices now are based in my taste and my ethics, and there are plenty of companies that satisfy my desire to be fashionable and conscientious.

Conscious consumers love fashion and respect the makers, because they care too much about the industry to let it be sullied by a disregard for ethics.

Related: Ethical Fashion Isn't Fun Enough?

5. We think personal habits are all it takes to change the world

I'm just as tired of seeing those "Vote with your wallet" type messages floating around as you are. It's not that it's not true that your purchase makes an impact, it's just that it doesn't tell the full story. Most conscious consumers I know try really hard to balance an inspiring and achievable message about personal agency when it comes to shopping with the reality that it takes political and social change to see lasting progress.

Science tells us that focusing on the big problems overwhelms us to the point of inaction, so how are we to advocate for progress in the fashion industry without causing a collective mental shutdown? We start with simple, personal messages like "Be the change you wish to see in the world" and ramp it up from there. When you see a conscious consumer fixating on the self, it might just be because they're overwhelmed, too, or maybe they're new at this and can't figure out the best way to make a difference. Either way, I find it best to give others the benefit of the doubt, because change really does start from within, and baby steps are still steps.

Conscious consumers try their best to provide messaging that inspires people to take action while acknowledging a complex reality.

Related: Small Wins and Why We Shouldn't Stop Trying to Be Ethical Shoppers | Partners Not Saviors: Pathways for Promise Promotes Change from Within


I realize, of course, that I'm generalizing a large and still growing community of individuals who come from diverse backgrounds and bring a lot of different perspectives to the table. This list is an effort to remedy hostilities between those who are firmly embedded in the conscious consumer community and those who do not consider themselves a part of it, but it's not only that. It's also meant to serve as a reminder that sometimes people trying to do good get so overwhelmed by their missions that they lose sight of the small interactions that can make or break movements.

We are all accountable to one another, so let's treat each other well.

5 misconceptions about conscious consumers pinterest

Sustainability & Storytelling Meet in MATTER's Organic Collection

MATTER Prints organic cotton collection
Photo of Holly Rose (Leotie Lovely) by Shane Woodward
This post is part of a 3-part sponsored collaboration with MATTER Prints.

In the fall of 2014, I discovered a beautiful, artisanal, ethical clothing line that I couldn't wait to feature on StyleWise. The company, MATTER, had created a limited collection of block printed and woven "pants to see the world in," and I was intrigued by the combination of wanderlusting storytelling, precise curation, and focus on slow fashion.

Co-founder, Renyung Ho, was happy to oblige my enthusiasm by answering a few questions over email, and one of my first Interview features was born. Back then, I could never have anticipated that we'd have a chance to work together on a series of posts two and a half years down the road. But I'm thrilled to share in their continuing story. This is the beauty of the the conscious consumer space: we're all on this path together and every so often, when the timing is right, we get to reconnect with old friends for a few miles.

MATTER's reverence for craft tradition paired with a clear understanding of style and storytelling convince me that they've got an it factor that separates them from your typical, ethics-minded company.

What they make is truly wearable art, the sorts of things you enjoy looking at as much as you enjoy wearing.

I've witnessed several ethical brands fold over the years, so I know that even solid ideas and enthusiastic founders can fail if the stars don't align. MATTER has weathered the storm because they've been thoughtful and offered something innovative; i.e. they know that slow fashion should actually be fashionable and not just ethically sourced. They know who they are, and that matters.

MATTER Prints organic cotton collection
Photo of Holly Rose by Shane Woodward.
Their new Organic Cotton Collection is the fruit of two and a half years of careful marketing, planning, and scaling. In their words:

Despite wanting to begin with organic cotton, we weren’t able to garner orders large enough as a small player to offset the production costs. Now, with how far we’ve come and how much our community has since grown, we’re at a place where we can take a step forward.

MATTER's experience with organic textiles sourcing can tell us something about the additional hurdles sustainable companies face right out of the gate. Caring about people and planet takes hard work, but it also takes money, and things aren't always going to tick every box in the beginning. The important thing is to watch for progress and seek transparency from the companies we want to support, celebrating each small win. Or, in MATTER's words:

We see sustainability as a journey of small actions; it’s about the decisions we make everyday, as individuals and businesses, that come together to collectively affect greater change. We began with the intention of pioneering change in sustainable production through thoughtful design, and we’re going back to those roots in our newest launch as we reintroduce our signature prints in a material we always intended to create with: organic cotton. 

MATTER's Organic Cotton Collection is comprised of two classic pant styles and a button back top in distinctive, traditional prints with prices ranging from $79 to $139.

MATTER Prints organic cotton collection

According to MATTER, organic cotton is more structured than its pesticide-laden counterpart - not to mention kinder to agricultural workers - and will soften nicely over time.

Shop the Organic Cotton Collection here. 


I'll be reviewing the Organic Cotton Sideswept Dhoti in a few weeks, so make sure to check back in for that. I can tell you from a preliminary try-on that the fit is great and the style, though certainly unique, feels appropriate for work and play.

Special thanks to Holly Rose of Leotie Lovely and Shane Woodward for allowing me to use your images. Holly is wearing the Classic Wideleg in Leharia Watermelon Pink.

What I Read This Week | 1

what i read this week

I try to keep up with ethical fashion news as much as possible - I even get Google Alerts for the search term, "ethical fashion" - but during the week I read a variety of articles and posts on politics, religion, and science that probably do more to shape my worldview and my perspective on this blog than the ethical fashion news ever will. That's because absorbing information isn't enough for me. I want broad, introspective, nuanced perspectives that make me think.

So, once a week, I'm going to try to post a "What I Read This Week" post full of links to things that I read and enjoyed. I think it'll be a nice way to share interesting information and it'll feel more personal to who I am and what I think about. I encourage you to leave links and start conversations in the comments, as well.

What We Can Learn From The Honey Bees

what we can learn from the honey bees
This post was written for Numi Organic Tea and originally appeared on the Numi Tea Garden blog.

Honey bees. Some people love them and others fear them, but there's no denying that they're an important part of our lives. Honey bees, after all, make a deliciously sweet elixir that humans have harvested for thousands of years. In fact, some scientists believe that our hominid ancestors may have been able to evolve larger brains due in part to their intake of calorie-packed, easily digestible honey.

Not to mention that, as pollinators, they're responsible - along with their fellow pollinating insects - for pollinating more than a hundred standard food crops and flowers, including celery, cashews, onions, potatoes, watermelon, and tangerines. Our diet would be remarkably less varied without the hard work of honey bees and their ilk.

But honey bees are beloved beyond the tasks we humans benefit from. Since childhood, I've enjoyed sitting outside and observing bees as they dart precisely from flower to flower. They're a sign of spring - of warmer, brighter days - that lift people's moods. And despite a socially engrained fear of their stingers, your chances of getting stung by these mostly docile insects is only 6 million to one, so it's safe in most cases (unless you're severely allergic) to get up close and marvel at their skill.

Sharon Z Jewelry: Simply Good Design (That's Child Labor Free)

Sharon Z child labor free recycled fine jewelry
This post was sponsored by Sharon Z Jewelry and I received product for review.

Over the past few years, I've spoken with several jewelry designers who strive for ethics in their production process and they unanimously agree on one thing: it's very difficult to trace raw materials. 

If you purchase a conventionally made jewelry item - say gold hoops or a diamond engagement ring - you can almost guarantee that child labor was involved somewhere in the production process. According to Human Rights Watch, thousands of children under the age of 17 help process raw gold in unregulated Ghanaian and other African mines, using toxic mercury to purify the gold. In Bolivia, an estimated 3,000 children - some as young as 6 - work in the silver mines (in 2013, in a very Newsies-reminiscent turn of events, some child workers were beginning to unionize). Globally, at least 1 million children work in mines, forced there by poverty and political unrest, and often receive a wage as low as $2 per day if they receive a wage at all.

Live The Give: Cut-to-Flatter Tops That Aid in Education

This post was sponsored by Live the Give and I received 2 items for review.

When I was a kid, I was really into school.

So into it, in fact, that one time, when my parents were going to let me stay home after taking me to a concert the night before, I woke up, gave my mom a lecture about the importance of attendance, and insisted that she take me in for the day even though school had started a few hours before. I think I both embarrassed and confounded her.

I was - and maybe you won't be surprised to hear this - a dedicated student and teacher's pet who spent recesses filing papers for my teachers on occasion. I couldn't help myself: I was nurtured and challenged by brilliant, thoughtful teachers who gave it their all in a system that often felt stacked against them.

I know I was lucky. Not everyone in the US has a safe, supportive, academically rigorous experience of school. When you expand that out to the world, things start to look even bleaker...

Shopping List: Ethical Crossover Slides

Ethical crossover slides sandals
This post contains affiliate links.

Last year around this time, I was on the hunt for black sandals. It ended up taking me over 6 months to find my ideal pair, The Melissa x Jason Wu studded sandals I've worn every other day this season. Maybe this year, I'll find the crossover slides I want before warm days are over?

Crossover sandals are undoubtedly the sandal of the season, at least in the circles I run in. 

They're sporty and simple, and the right shape and detail can make them suitable for a huge range of occasions. Plus, the slip-on factor means they're the thing you'll turn to on your way out the door on a busy morning. In the summertime, I live in slide style shoes, but my Birkenstocks are not the most elegant choice, so a pair of crossover slides might be just the thing I need, preferably in a neutral shade other than black since I already have black sandals.

Ancient Upcycling: A History of Kantha

What is kantha? Dignify Kantha Quilts
This post was sponsored by Dignify. Photos provided by Dignify. Shop Kantha Quilts here.

At the thrift shop where I work, we process hundreds of pounds of textiles a week by hand, sorting out the good from the bad, the clean from the stained. Inevitably, we're left with tattered t-shirts and bedspreads that will never sell as is on the secondhand market.

This breaks my heart.

No one wants to be the person who gives up on something, the one who slams down the gavel and sentences the ratty blouse and the torn jeans to the landfill. I assume that's why we end up with so much crap in the first place. The donor, whether intentionally or unintentionally, transfers the guilt onto us. We send as much as possible off to a regional charity that shreds fabric for use in carpets and other recycled goods, but we're smart enough to know that a lot of what we send them will inevitably be tossed. You see, we can't handle the guilt either. We transfer it onto them.

I spend a good amount of time scheming up ways to transform those grubby white t-shirts and holey quilts. Tie-dye? Pillow covers? But I just don't have the time to start up a second industry, so when I see that there are others putting the work into repurposing previously loved textiles, I breathe a sigh of relief. I can't do everything, but someone else can pick up my slack.

The Moral Wardrobe: Smockwalker Vintage

Smockwalker Vintage review
This post was sponsored by Smockwalker Vintage and I received an item for review.

As much as I complain about Instagram (and it is regularly), there's no doubt that it can initiate some fruitful and gratifying interactions. That's definitely true when it comes to my budding email friendship with Justina, proprietor of online vintage shop Smockwalker Vintage.

If you've been here awhile, you know that I used to sell vintage clothing, so I'm always interested in talking shop with other secondhand dealers. Justina and I bonded over the wonky and weird things we found/find when searching through piles of used goods to curate our vintage shops. We also talked a bit about the anxiety welling up in us over the current political environment. These sorts of instant connections are things I shouldn't take for granted. They're worth reflecting back on whenever I feel isolated or overwhelmed.