Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Giveaway: Win a Pair of Fair Trade Mawu Lolo Sandals

Mawu Lolo sandals review and giveaway - free ethical sandals
This post is sponsored by Mawu Lolo Sandals.

Mawu Lolo sent me a pair of their fair trade, Ghanaian made Suborsubor Sandals in March. It was still too cold in Charlottesville to wear them, so I took them with me to Florida for a couple of shoots. I liked them then, but I couldn't have anticipated how much I'd wear them throughout the summer.

The answer: a lot. Once or twice a week, mixed into my rotation of other summer favorites.  I wear sandals every day when the weather is warm and I need shoes that are comfortable enough for several hours of standing. The Suborsubor footbed is fairly simple, but it's thick and padded enough to keep my feet comfortable for several hours, and I've found these surprisingly good for walking, as well.

The best part is that Mawu Lolo prices extremely fairly, ensuring that artisans are paid a living wage and customers are able to afford their products. Their items range in price from $34.99 to $59.99.

How to Shop Ethically at Urban Outfitters + Alternatives

how to shop ethically at urban outfitters plus ethical fashion alternatives
Post contains affiliate links

So far in my "Brands that Are Better..." series, I've covered power players Old Navy, Forever 21, ModCloth, and Free People. I have ideas in the works for Anthropologie and Madewell, but those will take some time and research, so I went the easy route today and decided to cover Urban Outfitters.

Urban Outfitters is easy not because there are hundreds of ethical companies with similar aesthetics, but because they have their own in-house line comprised of upcycled clothing. 

The Urban Renewal Collection is comprised of original vintage, upcycled and reworked vintage, and domestically produced items made with deadstock fabrics. As some of you know, I am a huge proponent of incorporating vintage and upcycled garments into one's wardrobe.  The prints of the 60s and 70s, the silhouettes of the 80s, the girl power of the 90s - no matter which direction you go, when combined with contemporary favorites, you end up with a style that is all your own.

Urban Outfitters has an aesthetic advantage over other popular fashion companies, because their items have always fallen a bit on the vintage, grunge side of the spectrum. This has allowed them the freedom to dream up upcycled goods that revel in their originality and imperfection. I know this won't be everyone's style, but maybe you've got a little room in your heart for experimentation this coming season?

Here are some of my favorites from the Urban Renewal Collection:

Review: MATTER Sideswept Dhoti in Organic Cotton

MATTER Sideswept Dhoti Review, ethical fashion
This post was sponsored by MATTER Prints and I received a pair of Sideswept Dhoti pants to review.

I'm a Florida girl at heart and maybe I always will be. I live for long, hot, humid summer days. As I type this post, I'm sitting in my backyard enjoying 93 degree temps and drinking hot tea.

Summer means there's no need for formality, no need for constricting layers and multiple wool socks. I feel free because I don't have to cocoon myself in so much fabric. My toes get to stretch out in sandals, my shoulders can make full rotations without my pesky wool coat getting in the way. At the same time, these lethargic days make me nostalgic for all those other sunny days growing up: sleeping in then taking a dip in a cool pool, bike rides and walks through woods, family trips with my sister and I playing "news anchor and weatherman" in the back seat (my parents were always the witnesses and the foreign correspondents).

MATTER and I are a good match, because there's something special about the freedom of their clothing, linked to the past but not tethered there, intentional but never fussy, made with outdoor exploration in mind.

GlobeIn Refresh Box Review: Summer Essentials in 1 Box

This post is part of a paid collaboration with GlobeIn and I received a Refresh Box to review. All opinions are my own.

While I've enjoyed every box I've received from GlobeIn through our three-part collaboration (one, two), the Refresh Box might be the one that really gets me

For one, it comes with a handmade straw hat that has a drawstring tie you can tighten around your chin or wear around your neck, which means it'll stay put and I won't constantly be asking Daniel where my hat went off to (I frequently lose things). It also includes a box of Numi Organic Tea and you may have noticed that I'm a Numi ambassador, writing a few posts a month for their blog. The woven wrap has the multi-use qualities I look for, and the Moroccan Tea glass rounds out the box perfectly.

GlobeIn fair trade Refresh Box review, subscription box

The funny thing about finding products that seamlessly fit into your life is that you don't always have much to say about them other than, "Yes!" So I'll give you some details about the items and how they were made:

Tea Glass, Made in Morocco:
Funnily enough, I was just over at a friend's house and she had this exact glass design! Handblown and hand painted, this glass was sourced from a female-run co-op. At my friend's house, we used this as a whisky glass, but I've also drunk pomegranate tea at the Afghani restaurant out of a similar one. The size is great for small servings and after dinner drinks.

Moroccan Mint Tea, Sourced from North Africa:
Numi Tea is one of the most conscientious tea companies out there. Not only have they managed to scale to an international level (their teas are readily available in most cities in the US), they have a particular interest in helping their tea communities sustain and innovate. You can read my in depth interview with their staff here.
  GlobeIn fair trade Refresh Box review, subscription boxGlobeIn fair trade Refresh Box review, subscription box

Kikoi Blanket, Made in Kenya: 
Made with multiple uses in mind, this woven wrap was made in an ecofriendly factory and works as a throw, blanket, towel, and sarong. I've been taking lots of weekend trips, and I imagine this will work well to keep me warm in cold train cars and airplanes, and I can use it as a spare shower or beach towel once I arrive at my destination.

Sun Hat, Made in Mexico: 
Made from dried palm leaves, this hat serves as natural SPF (I'm allergic to many sunscreen formulations, so hats are a godsend for me). Made in Oaxaca, where artisans are paid double their usual price for this item.

My box also came with a $25 coupon from YSTR Clothing. You can read my reviews of YSTR here and here.

You can read more details about the box here.
  GlobeIn fair trade Refresh Box review, subscription box

The GlobeIn Refresh Box, like all Artisan Boxes, is $60 and, in my opinion, well worth the price. You can buy a box individually or subscribe to GlobeIn's subscription program.

GlobeIn's boxes would make great gifts, but I can also see them being useful to people just getting on the conscious consumerism wagon. They're a good way to explore the variety and quality of ethically made products, and many of their boxes serve a specific purpose. I also like the Lunch Box and the Eco-to-Go box.

P.S. Thanks to some very good luck, I'm going to end up featuring both GlobeIn and MATTER Prints during the week they've partnered up for an Instagram giveaway. You can enter here.


Get $10 off your first 3-month GlobeIn Artisan Box Subscription with code, STYLEWISE.

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2 Summer Dresses: Pyne & Smith Clothiers + Everlane

The weather in Charlottesville has been in the high 90s for the last several weeks and it's all people can talk about. Because we're in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we're subject to some strange weather patterns, and from year to year the temperature in late July can vary considerably. This year is one of the hot ones.

It seemed like a good time to (finally) photograph and review a couple summer dresses that readers have asked about: the Indigo Striped V-Neck from Pyne & Smith Clothiers and the Everlane Striped Tee Dress.


blogging, transparency, questions

Sending a few quick questions out there...

Would you all appreciate monthly/quarterly financial statements regarding my blog?

What other transparency-related things would you like to see?

What's one challenge you're experiencing that's discouraging you from achieving your sustainability goals?

What's something you'd like to know about me?

What's something you'd like me to know about you?

And finally, is there a conscious consumerism/sustainable living/social justice/religious topic you are interested in learning more about?


Answer in the comments and I'll respond soon! 

Interview: Talking Dignity + Autonomy with Songa Designs

Songs Designs fair trade Unity Sarong, made in Africa

Let's be honest: interviews with ethical brands can sometimes feel a bit repetitive.

Person concerned with social justice starts a business to provide fair wage jobs to disenfranchised people. Lovely? Yes. Original? Not exactly.

But I have had the very good fortune of interviewing people who are not afraid to get into the nitty gritty details of what this work entails, to be honest about the internal and external issues of working in an industry that wants to do good but doesn't always have the resources to make the most effective business decisions.

Today's interview with Sarah Sternberg of Rwanda-based Songa Designs provides the kind of detailed, anecdotal information I can add to my mental library to form a clearer picture of the industry and its challenges as a whole. Thanks for your time, Sarah.
  Songs Designs fair trade Unity Sarong, made in Africa

StyleWise: How did you get into this business?

Sarah: I was doing volunteer work. [The plan was to volunteer in Rwanda for] 2 weeks in 2008. The recession hit and I had been laid off from my job. I had gotten my MBA but no one was hiring. A friend of mine had recommended an organization in Rwanda. So I did that, but it snowballed, and I ended up running a nonprofit for 15 months from the time I landed.

SW: Why start a social enterprise instead of continuing to work in the nonprofit sector?

SS: One of the reasons [my business partner and designer] Ellie and I started Songa was because, in the nonprofit world we worked in, the women did not have a seat at the table, so to speak. We thought there should be more independence for these women. It meant a lot for me to give these women an opportunity to be true businesswomen.

I also didn’t want to stay in the nonprofit side of things, because the products are sold with a lot of stories that tend to be dehumanizing. Because the women don’t have access to the stories being published, they can’t own their own stories. I’ve developed relationships with these women and I would never want to exploit them. It’s just not what I stand for. The pain of the genocide will always be there, but they don’t always want to be reminded of it. They want to build a new life.

Really, what you’re looking at is a craft, and she’s insanely talented, and she’s able to sell her work to the world. It’s not a pity purchase!

We want our messaging to artisans to be: “We’re working with you because you guys are good weavers. The work we put out there should be showing the craft.” They like working with us because we work with them as talented weavers.

I’m not bashing nonprofits, of course - there’s a role for sure - but our area of expertise is not in building wells. Our mission is empowering women with their existing talents.

SW: How do you handle marketing sensitively since you're working with what many would consider to be a marginalized population?

SS: I want the women to be proud of what they’re making, and they are. This is passed down from generation to generation. They want to share that with the world, but in a dignified way. We don’t share sob stories. We don’t feel that those are valuable or respectful.

Songs Designs fair trade Unity Sarong, made in Africa

SW: You work with a co-op model. How do you select co-ops? What values do you look for first?

SS: When I was heading the nonprofit, I was introduced to a number of cooperatives. Each co-op has their own area of expertise (for example, banana leaf or cow horn). During my time running the nonprofit, I was able to work with these women. So it was a perfect, smooth transition when I went to start Songa, because we already knew each other.

The way we chose which cooperatives to work with? They had to be registered with the Rwandan government, have a certain level of expertise, and be able to provide the type of materials we wanted to specialize in.

(The Rwandan government has laid out the way businesses may work with cooperatives. It’s in the cooperative's favor, because they’re independent. They can only take on so much business from an individual business, in order to ensure that if that business folds, they aren't completely dependent on it for their own success.)

SW: Is it difficult for you and your artisans to set a fair wage? I know that wages set by the country are often inadequate, but how do you decide what's fair?

SS: There’s no complication really, because the best economists in the world are at the bottom of the pyramid. Women budget for their families, so they know what a living wage is. We have data around what artisans ask for in the city versus rural area, and we can gather information to make sure both sides are being fair.

If the designs are difficult, we pay more. If the designs aren’t in season or not readily available, we pay more. But because there is mutual trust, the negotiations are very quick.

Songs Designs fair trade Unity Sarong, made in Africa

SW: In this post, I'm wearing a limited edition Unity Sarong designed in collaboration with another social enterprise, Mrembo Africa. How did the collaboration with Mrembo Africa come about?

SS: We did a photoshoot with Modeliste Magazine in January. We flew out to Rwanda together and I got to know the editor in chief. Her mom lives in Africa and is one of the founders of Mrembo, which is based in Kenya. Their speciality is hand dying fabric.

I would love to do more collaborations moving forward, particularly because we don’t have fabric makers in our network right now. They do a lot of work for hotels and Airbnbs in Kenya. This is one of their introductions to the international market, so that was one way we could bring value to them.

TL;DR: Social enterprise models have the potential to offer greater autonomy for artisans, as long as the messaging is non-exploitative and the terms are fair. Songa Designs works with artisans who have a seat at the table and protection from the Rwandan government, making items that speak to their heritage and skill. 


About the Unity Sarong: "Hand-dyed by skilled Kenyan artisans over the course of two hours, each detailed sarong showcases the beauty of artisan groups from different backgrounds combining their talents. Each sarong comes with a beautifully woven sisal leaf sarong buckle woven by Songa artisans. The limited edition artisan sarongs will be available for purchase through August 31, 2017." Sarongs cost $38 and are available in two sizes and two colors: Fuschia and Cobalt (I'm wearing the small Cobalt sarong as a scarf in these images).

Purchase the Unity Sarong here. 

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Everlane Review: Wide Leg Crop Pant

everlane wide leg crop pant review

I mean, look at 'em. They're pretty perfect.

The Everlane Wide Leg Crop Pants fit perfectly out of the package. No adjustments needed. I don't have much else to say on that front other than that I'm still in shock they worked out so well. I already have a pair of wide leg crops courtesy of the thrift store, but they're such a comfy and flattering fit (well, besides the fact that my butt looks huge) that I thought I'd use some Everlane  store credit* to purchase this pair.

Review: Soul Flower's Evocative New Flow Collection

affordable and ethical yoga clothing and exercise gear, soul flower affordable and ethical yoga clothing and exercise gear, soul flower This post was monetarily supported by Soul Flower and I received items for review. All opinions are my own.

When I hear the word flow I envision a spring fed stream - its water chiming over rocks - set low in a forest with glimmers of sunlight peeking in through the canopy above. 

This image encapsulates peace for me. That fissure where cool, clear water comes up from a dark, hidden underground, reminding me that the unknown doesn't need to be feared, that the earth is verdant and God called it good, that I'm another tiny mammal set in a big world, overjoyed at a watering hole and plants that provide good food and sunlight that warms my rattled bones. Flow is the paradoxically majestic and simple fact of being alive, and feeling that alive-ness in your core.

Soul Flower's new Flow collection is fittingly named. I wore two pieces from the collection at a weekend retreat nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and they felt right at home.

Four Fair Finds | 3

ethical gorpcore fashion

This week, it's all about Gorpcore, the art of perpetually dressing like you're about to go on a hike. Coined by The Cut, as far as I can tell, it's named after a trail mix blend featuring "good old raisins and peanuts," and is viewed as the next phase of Normcore, the art of perpetually dressing like a normal human being.

Charlottesvillians have been dressing this way since long before I moved here, so I'm really excited to say that I live in a place that was at the forefront of a fashion trend. Hooray for mountain towns! I love the eccentricity and downright absurdity of fashion, and really, I love dressing like I'm perpetually going on a hike, so this works well for me. All but the first item are things I own (and am wearing today).

What I Read This Week | 4

I've had a couple whirlwind weeks, with family visiting two weekends ago and a 5 day trip to NYC last week (I met some fellow ethical bloggers!). Trying to catch up on regular blog stuff, but the good thing about train rides is that you have plenty of time to read. Here's what I read this week...

Ethical Fashion

Why I Think Ethical Fashion is a Privileged White Girl Thing - You don't have to agree with all of her points to get something out of this one

Rwanda will proceed with the ban on used clothes despite threats by the United States

Relationships + Self Formation

The Golden Age of Bailing

Future Self (podcast) - explores what can happen if your idea of your future self is too rigid

Can one person make a difference?

Why I Don't Feature Ethical Men's Fashion

men's ethical fashion
via Unsplash

You want the short answer or the long answer?

The short answer is that I have yet to find an ethical retailer that makes clothes my husband fits in. 

The long answer is that I'm frustrated. Daniel, despite his good intentions and desire to shop ethically, literally can't.

That's because ethical retailers like Everlane, Krochet Kids, Thought, and more either don't carry men's clothing past XL or they only carry "slim fit" and "athletic" silhouettes, as if all men spend a lot of time drinking Muscle Milk and beefing up their pecs at the gym while managing to keep their wastes taut and trim.

Advocacy, Mission, and Social Justice Tribalism

Photo via Unsplash

I've considered myself a social justice advocate for a long time, but, unsurprisingly to those who follow me here, my "main cause" for the last 4-5 years has been supply chain ethics in the fashion industry. Exploitation, indentured servitude, rape, exposure to dangerous work environments, and outright slavery occur every single day in the global manufacturing industry. They must be brought to light because they are fundamental human rights issues that cannot be tolerated if we claim to seek justice and peace.

Of course, the question for me and thousands of others living in places like the US is, "What can I actually do?" Physical separation from the point of exploitation, lack of education around global politics and trade, and limited individual power seemingly make us ill suited for this type of advocacy. Do we need to get in there, starting our own NGOs and social enterprises and traveling to crisis points to learn the full story?

I believe anecdotal evidence and personal experience matter. But I don't think it's practical, environmentally friendly, or culturally sensitive to keep sending over a whole bunch of spirit-filled white ladies to Cambodia, Uganda, or Bangladesh. So we do what we can from over here. We're missionaries to the lost souls of fast fashion right where we're planted, hopefully helping people understand connection, complicity, and corruption in a way that is accessible, in a way that helps them consider their consumer choices and political frameworks in order to advocate more effectively for change.

Ethical Sale Alert: 4th of July

ethical sales