Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


The Ethics of Blogging: Do Ethical Bloggers Need a Code of Conduct?

the ethics of blogging: should ethical bloggers develop a code of conduct?

When I use the term ethical blogger, what do you think of?

I use it to mean bloggers who write about ethics, and more specifically those who subscribe to and promote a conscientious consumer lifestyle.

This, admittedly, reveals a specificity in meaning that isn't apparent at all by the term itself. When I say ethical in this context, I am really only talking about a topic, not about an overarching set of values that inform the way we ethical bloggers conduct our marketing, interactions, writing, and business decisions.

But if we subscribe to an ethical consumer lifestyle and promote social justice, shouldn't we be obligated to live by a set of standards that make us stand out from the crowd of conventional bloggers? Put another way, if we claim to value holistic ethics (to paraphrase MLK, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"), shouldn't we extend that to strategy?

The online ethical community (including brands and consumers of both media and material goods) should confront this head on by asking the following questions.

Should ethical brands and bloggers use automated programs to grow their followings?

There's been some discussion recently among small groups of ethical bloggers on the topic of using automated services that like content on your behalf on Instagram.

While there's generally some discomfort around using these programs because they obscure authentic engagement, a surprisingly large amount of ethical lifestyle bloggers and brands have been and still are using this tactic to increase their Instagram followings (full disclosure: I have trialed automated tools). While some readily disclose their use of such tools, a significant number are shy or unwilling to admit it, which, to me, is telling of moral ambiguity if not outright unethical behavior.

Automated tools are not allowed according to Instagram's terms of service, but that doesn't necessarily make the practice existentially bad. The problem is that engagement doesn't mean much when robo-you is liking me and robo-me is liking you. If we are pretending to value these metrics, we need to be up front about how we're arriving at our numbers.

In any case, according to this article, if an account you're following frequently appears in the Likes > Following tab with an indication that they've interacted with 8 posts within a few seconds and if their following increases by hundreds of people every few days, chances are they're using an automation tool.

(This question is different from, "Should ethical bloggers and brands buy followers?" A significant portion of people in this space would confidently say, "no." But that doesn't mean that some larger accounts haven't purchased them, I just don't know people who've admitted they have.)

Should ethical brands and bloggers copy the aesthetic, name, logo, or concept of another business?

From pictures to post topics to entire apps, ethical businesses and bloggers have blatantly plagiarized the intellectual property of their peers. One blogger took the entire concept of a blog, including her writing team, from another blogger. One brand blatantly created the same product to solve the same problem in the ethical space, then rushed to advertise before the original company could scale.

When I mentioned the second case to a fellow blogger, she said, "that's just how the market works." And sure, she's right. But just because Capitalism allows this behavior doesn't mean it's ethical or responsible. Ethical bloggers and brands love the idea of #collaborationovercompetition, but they seem awfully determined toward individual success sometimes.

Should ethical brands and bloggers charge market rates for blog and social media posts?

A lot of bloggers now enter this space with the intention of making blogging their full time business. This isn't necessarily bad, but going into this when you're all business frames things differently than if you entered as a hobby. Conventional bloggers with high readership can make a six figure income through brand collaborations. This, again, is pure Capitalism. They make that money because brands consider bloggers to be viable marketing avenues. But is there a point where we're asking for too much money?

There are very few ethical bloggers making enough money to go full time, but that will certainly change within the next few years. My gut sense is that ethical bloggers have an obligation to make price determinations based on something more than market standards, but I don't have a very good idea of what other factors to consider, outside of ensuring that we're not bleeding ethical brands dry with our rates. Hannah at Life Style Justice has discussed this off an on within the context of fairness. As contract employees of ethical and fair trade brands, what should we consider a fair wage for ourselves?

(To clarify, I'm thinking of an upper limit, not a lower limit, to our work. I believe that bloggers who treat their blogs as a business and have proven themselves influential in the space deserve to make a living wage.)

the ethics of blogging: should ethical bloggers develop a code of conduct?

Should ethical brands and bloggers disclose partnerships according to FTC guidelines?

This isn't up for debate: the answer is yes. But I frequently see ethical bloggers (and their brand partners) obscuring partnerships. I'm sure that sometimes this is just out of ignorance (full disclosure: I'm still not sure I'm disclosing properly on Instagram), but increasingly I suspect that some do this in hopes that readers will trust them more if they don't realize they're taking part in paid partnerships.

Should ethical bloggers promote products they could never afford in real life?

If I promote a clearance event, my commission on sales is going to be pretty low. If I promote a $400 coat, I could make $40 when you purchase it through my affiliate link. The business savvy decision is to promote the coat. But is that ethical?

This is something I am not at all decided on. For myself, I try to select brand partnerships and choose products in shopping guides that are within a comfortable price range for my income level even if I'm not actually purchasing the product (full disclosure: I personally make $35,000, give or take, including my day job and freelance work).

But there are bloggers I've been following for some time who, over the years, have gone from promoting thrift shop goods to reviewing multi-hundred dollar pants, shoes, and accessories. Still fairly made and eco-conscious, of course, but representative of a totally different lifestyle and income bracket. If you can command the attention of readers in higher income brackets, your blog-based income will soar. But where does that leave everyone else? And does our promotion of near-luxury goods encourage unhealthy financial stewardship?

Should ethical bloggers promote their work as better than the work of other ethical bloggers?

This, thankfully, happens rarely, but when it does, it annoys the crap out of me.

An ethical blogger will say something like, "I'm a writer, not a blogger." "I focus on well researched posts, not fluff pieces." "I was blogging on sustainability before it was cool." "I have done this, this, and this, so I'm really practicing what I preach." "My readers trust me, just look at my page views."

The implication in any of the above cases is that some ethical bloggers are just not worth your time. It's an attempt to build rabid loyalty and discourage readers and brands from cultivating relationships with supposedly lesser bloggers and blog concepts. But readers and brands are not unintelligent. They don't need us to tell them who is in and who is out. I understand the impulse to differentiate - after all, that's a fundamental part of building a brand - but does it need to be so...mean girls?

Are ethical bloggers beholden to radical transparency?

And the final question, for now. For my own peace of mind, I tend to lean toward yes on this. The best way for me to frame my own work is to continually "confess" to the community. Blame it on my Evangelical upbringing - I love to admit my faults (you think I'm joking, but I'm not).

But I also want to entertain the idea that bloggers are not obligated to tell readers every little thing they do behind the scenes. And some readers actually feel uncomfortable with tell alls. For instance, less than half of Reader Survey respondents wanted to see monthly or quarterly Blog Transparency reports. This surprised me since it seems that the ethical blogging community is headed toward this degree of transparency, but it was helpful to know that cultivating a sense of trust over time is more important than running the numbers every few weeks.

I haven't developed concrete opinions on all topics listed here, but I'm curious to know if you've thought about this and what your opinions are. Please comment and share with anyone who can help this community work through hard questions.

It seems to me that ethical bloggers and brands of every stripe and creed have voluntarily obligated themselves to live by more rigid standards. And surely that must mean brand and business strategy. If it doesn't, it seems that ethical has begun to lose its meaning.

Related Reading:

Both photos via Unsplash

12 Handmade + Budget Friendly Wall Hangings

handmade and budget friendly weavings and macrame
This post contains affiliate links and I may make commission on purchases made through them.

When I sat down to "research" (aka, window shop) for this post, I didn't expect it to take 2 hours, but it turns out there are a lot of great weavings out there. 

I've been into weavings and wall hangings (like everyone else on the internet) for the past several months, but the passion became personal after I created my own mini weaving with a kit from Uncommon Goods. While I would love to keep up the craft, I'll need to purchase a larger loom to make more expansive pieces, so I plan to wait a few months (need to get my savings account in better order before I make a big craft purchase).

When one of the respondents to my Reader Survey asked for more Etsy features, this seemed like the perfect topic to start with. Weavings are abundant on Etsy, and almost every item featured here is handmade by small scale shop owners.

 UNDER $50handmade and budget friendly weavings and macrame

ED London, £40.00 | Ten Thousand Villages, $34.99 | Dutch Macrame, $30.65 | My Cozy Studio, $32.90

UNDER $100

handmade and budget friendly weavings and macrame

UNDER $200  handmade and budget friendly weavings and macrame

Hello Hydrangea, $150 | Sarah Harste, $198 | East Parlor, $175 | Jungle and Spritz, $152.65

Which one is your favorite?

Dressing for In-Between Seasons: Liz Alig Megan Cardigan Review

liz alig fair trade megan cardigan review
This post was sponsored by Liz Alig and I was provided an item for review. 

Ah, to live in a land where seasons often change their mind. Two weeks ago, the crisp breeze and smoky smell of fall were in the air. Today, the high is 87.

September in Charlottesville calls for in-between-seasons dressing. Cool mornings and evenings mean it's risky to head outside without a sweater, but scorching afternoons require a light touch. This former Floridian already has trouble figuring out what to wear during seasons that aren't summer, so when it comes to seasons-that-aren't-quite, I'm totally lost.

And it's more difficult than you might think to find a simple layering piece that keeps the chill of dusk out without making you break a sweat. That's why I've been pleasantly surprised by Liz Alig's Megan Cardigan...

liz alig fair trade megan cardigan reviewliz alig fair trade megan cardigan review The Megan Cardigan has a drapey silhouette through the torso and a slim cut through the arms and shoulders so it's comfortable without looking schleppy (though, you know, feminist frump is cool).

The collar detail allows you to button up the draped fabric for a visually interesting shawl effect (this unusual cut is what drew me to the Megan Cardigan). Because it appears cropped from the front, it pairs well with both mid-rise denim and tailored dresses (there are some cute pictures of it paired with a dress in the product listing).

Liz Alig has been in the fair trade apparel business for a long time, but what really makes the brand stand out is that a significant portion of their collection is made from upcycled fabric. The Megan Cardigan is made from recycled t-shirts purchased at markets. Once fabric is washed and cut, it's sewn together by employees at a Honduran NGO that offers free education to women living below the poverty line, with a goal of helping them find longterm employment to support themselves and their families.

liz alig fair trade megan cardigan review Ethical Details: Megan Cardigan ($64) - c/o Liz Alig; Top - c/o Ankura Brand; Necklace - c/o Sela Designs; Shoes - c/o Sseko Designs via MadeFAIR (no longer available)

Though I'm an advocate for better, not perfect, when it comes to profiling ethical brands, I really prefer that they pay attention to both their social justice and environmental impact. Liz Alig checks both boxes and gets extra points for upcycling.

I also want to point out that I've been wearing these Sseko Designs' loafers consistently for over 2 years now! When you actually like the things you own, you forget how long you've owned them. That's the surest sign that I'm off the fast fashion hamster wheel, and it feels better than I could have imagined.

Learn more about Liz Alig's ethical criteria here. 


Liz Alig on Social Media: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

P.S. Today's my birthday!

Fair Trade Month: 5 Steps to Shopping Fair on a Budget

5 steps to shopping fair on a budget with donegood
This post was generously sponsored by DoneGood and contains a few affiliate links.

Get ready: October is Fair Trade Month!

I love Fair Trade Month for a few reasons:
  1. It unites the ethical community as we swiftly move toward the Holiday shopping season
  2. It celebrates the good work of artisan communities all over the world
  3. It hits at the change of seasons, reminding me to reorient my shopping habits at the very moment I may be tempted to scurry off to the mall

Shopping, for me at least, is infinitely more stressful in the fall than in the spring. When I'm anticipating warmer days, I don't have to do much of anything, just buy a pair of sandals and break out the swingy dresses and skirts. But colder days are a different story. Inevitably, I put on a little weight during the carefree summer season - when you're wearing a sack dress every day, it's easy to stop worrying about how much you're eating - and then cold weather seeps in and none of my tighter fitting clothing fits anymore. 

I get depressed and beat up on myself, and it's so easy to turn to shopping to make myself feel better, which means I can very easily make irresponsible choices when it comes to what I actually need to restock. After getting to the root of that anxiety, I try to follow a couple steps to make sure I'm making the best, and most financially responsible, choices. 

1. Wait until the right time.

I wait until the first cool days of the season to go through my fall wardrobe in order to make sure that I have a tangible reminder of what the season feels like. If I go through sweaters in July, it would be easy to get rid of everything (sort of like going to the grocery store when I'm full). But if I'm already breaking out a sweater here and there, I have a clearer picture of what I'll wear moving forward. 

2. Figure out what you don't need.

Then, I try things on, check for quality issues, and try to remember how I felt about the things I own when I wore them last time. Sometimes I hold onto things that I never felt good in. I find that it's easier to send them off to the Donate pile earlier in the season rather than later, when I'm so cold all the time that wearing all the clothes at once seems like a good idea.

To get some extra cash for shopping, you may want to check out local consignment shops. I have started consigning some of my unwanted clothing and it's really paid off.

3. Figure out what you need.

Once I've done a first sort, I look for holes in my wardrobe. This year, it was dark wash skinny jeans, black pants, a red shirt (for the choral ensemble I'm in), and fall-appropriate shoes. It was easy for me to narrow it down because I'd carefully determined what worked and what didn't, and paid attention to what I actually wear instead of going the aspirational, "Instagram-worthy" route.

4. Shop old standbys first. 

Over the years, I've amassed quite a list of ethical options on my Shopping Directory and through reviews and brand profiles, so I have a good foundation for finding conscientious and fair trade goods. I visit my old standbys first, then expand my search as needed.

5 steps to shopping fair on a budget with donegood

5. Find coupon codes and more ethical options with extensions like DoneGood. 

This is where the budget part of my post comes in. A lot of my tried and true brands are partnered with Chrome extension and app, DoneGood, which means I can get deals on things I already plan on purchasing. Like I mentioned in my DoneGood intro post last month, all you have to do is download the extension, then go to a site or do a Google search and DoneGood will pop up with alternatives, coupon codes, and valuable information to help you narrow down your shopping.

For instance, I can get a discount on flats at the Root Collective, $20 off ethical black pants at Modavanti, and $20 off a red blouse and other items at Elegantees. (Some coupon codes require a minimum purchase.)

5 steps to shopping fair on a budget with donegood

In addition, if I do a web search for "jeans," DoneGood gives me a list of conscientious denim companies to scan through. This is such a lifesaver for me. Even though I might be better connected than most to ethical companies, it's a relief to have a trusted source vouch for these brands and narrow them down, sparing me hours of research. There are hundreds of brands on DoneGood, so there's no shortage of options.

In addition to supporting ethical, eco-conscious, and socially driven companies, DoneGood is itself a B-Corp, which means it is beholden to a "do no harm" mentality not only with who it supports but within its own corporate structuring.


I've found that if I plan well and am honest with myself, I can make ethical choices that don't cause significant damage to my budget. It's a learning curve, but having access to the right resources helps.

Download DONEGOOD here.

8 Conscious Books to Dive Into This Fall

ethical and conscious living book list,
This post was written by Kasi Martin and originally appeared on her blog, The Peahen.

We can’t buy our way to an ethical or sustainable world.

Regardless of what you read in ads, the news, or even on eco fashion sites like this one, consumption is not an effective vehicle for change-making, at least not by itself.  It may sound lovely, but anyone who claims their clothes are ‘changing the world’ or ’empowering’ people is exaggerating.

Look, I cover a lot of ethical and sustainable brands here and I don’t want to discredit their importance. What they do is damn admirable. They’re providing an alternative to conventional fashion, which relies on pesticides, toxic chemicals, and exploitation so that brands can peddle cheap products to meet our insatiable desire. It’s harder to do it their way, much harder. And on the other side, the women and men who are researching brands, asking questions and, most likely, stretching their wallets to choose ones that meet their standards are equally impressive.  But to say either, designing or buying, is an end-all-be-all solution is a troubling narrative.

Alden explains why in her Quartz piece, arguing for advocacy instead of consumption. Now, I don’t agree with all of it. For instance, I think if we stop buying ethical fashion outright in favor of advocacy, we’d be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think it should be BOTH ethical consumption AND advocacy, rather than EITHER ethical consumption OR advocacy. For instance, what happens when your rep just doesn’t care about environmental issues? In my case, I don’t think Ted Cruz will ever advocate for environmental regs so I rely more on my economic choices (or abstention from) to send a message.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you.


I curated this list of the best books on ethical and sustainable fashion and broke it down into four categories so there’s something for everyone. It’s short because fashion is still a niche field. It hasn’t been studied like, say, philosophy because it’s stigmatized in intellectual circles. People see it as ‘trivial’ and therefore, don’t research it. This is something I’m fighting hard to change through my writing and reporting. And I’m constantly on the hunt for new information, so if you know other books, share them in the comments.

Happy reading.

For the Polymath

Books that are good introductions to topics in ethical and sustainable fashion. These go broad but not deep for the most part.


This is the ‘ethical fashion’ book that’s cited more than Sean Spicer deflected media questions. Really. It’s a good place to start if you’re a total novice to ethical fashion. In it, Elizabeth Cline answers a fundamental question – why are clothes so cheap? And, more importantly, what is the impact of our addiction to them?


Kate Black is a seasoned writer and speaker in this field. After pumping out thousands of articles on the subject for her site (of the same name), she compiled them into this – the ultimate guide to sustainable fashion and beauty. Dive in for a quick historical overview and the good stuff – her favorite brands, designers, and tips.


Safia Minney started People Tree, one of the first fair trade brands on my shopping page to produce wearable, contemporary designs (don’t believe me? Check out their newest capsule). As a someone who pioneered this new approach and proved it could also be a lucrative business model, naturally, she’s got a lot to say on the subject. In this book, she talks about how she made Fair Trade work and argues that it’s the best for brick and mortar and e-commerce shops across the globe.

 If you like this one also check out her latest, Naked Fashion.


Greta Eagan’s ethics-driven approach in this book is balanced with practical advice. You’ll find out how to gradually transition to more ethical habits that help you create a cleaner wardrobe and beauty regime and, ultimately, cause less harm.

For the Anthropologist

Books for lovers of humanity and learning through stories. 


Forget what you thought about globalization and all the terms associated with it. White-collar, blue-collar, pink-collar. And while you’re at it, toss out your preconceived notions about gender and economics.  Carla Freeman upends many of these norms in this book, which is based on her observations of a group of women in Barbados in an emerging field in tech called ‘informatics.’ Through their newly formed habits and dress, she argues, these women are reshaping notions of formal and informal economies and first and third world production. This is a very specific case study, but if you’re a detail oriented person it’s worth it.


If staring at a picture of Angelina Jolie with refugees makes you cringe, dig into Lilie Chouliaraki’s thought piece.


Nike started using sweatshop labor to produce its clothing in the 70s but consumers didn’t take notice until the 90s. This was thanks to David O’Rourk’s prescient reporting. Still, years later, even the most well-intended companies and consumers say they want to support ethics and sustainability but are at a loss for how to do it. David came back with this book to discuss why it’s so complicated to ‘shop for good.’


Get to the root of overconsumption in Pamela Danziger’s investigation. She’ll make you think more than Marie Kondo and organize your sock drawer less. Win, win.

Get more recommendations on the original post.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

What to Buy in the Ten Thousand Villages Sale

Ten Thousand Villages sale fair trade

This post contains affiliate links

Ten Thousand Villages is offering an additional 50% off sale items in their End of Season sale, ending September 30. This is a great opportunity to purchase fair trade items at low prices. Stock up on gifts, collect some new flower pots, or treat yourself. (The additional discount is reflected in your shopping cart.)

Clockwise from top right

Geo-Earth Planter, $7.50

Succulent Embroidery Art, $2.25 each

Cold Cave Tealight Holder, $6.25

Urban Garden Planter, $6.50

Urban Peasant Alpaca Tunic, $56.25

This is one of the best deals you'll find on Alpaca

Zig-Zag Mug, $7.12

Zig-Zag Plate, $7.12

Sweltering Tropics Necklace, $4.38

The Dark Side of Development, and What You Can Do To Change It

White Savior Complex, Development, and colonialism
Today's post was written by Ashlee Uren, an international trade and environmental lawyer based in Australia. She also writes on ethical living at One Fair Day. Ashlee and I have known each other through blogger networks for a couple years, so when I started considering the colonialist implications of international development, I knew she was the specialist I needed to address this complex issue. 

As Ashlee will explain below, the concept of development historically draws upon a distinctly Western concept of progress and, as such, carries with it biases that can negatively affect the communities it purportedly intends to aid. I'm thankful for people like Ashlee, who help lead the rest of us to better, more nuanced perspectives.

Development is a word that we hear often. We rationalise all sorts of actions in its name. But what is behind the name? Are we subconsciously promoting racial inequality, overconsumption and the de-prioritization of the environment when we talk about development?

Maybe, as I recently discovered with a shock.

The concept of ‘development’ is a political construct that preserves a global hierarchy. In terms of alleviating human suffering, development can hinder, not help.

Sitting in my Masters class on Law and Development, I tried to process these words and the implications. The idea challenged the very foundations of many of my beliefs, the things I had accepted without question to be true. And I felt uncomfortable about it.

I had always been a self-proclaimed advocate for development. For almost five years, I’ve been a sustainable lifestyle blogger, primarily on ethical consumption as a means through which to address poverty and inequality.  I’ve worked for an anti-poverty not-for-profit organisation, guided mostly by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (pre 2015) and the Sustainable Development Goals after that. I’m now a government lawyer, and notice many of the policies that countries pursue are in the name of development, even developed countries. Oh and on that point, for years, I’ve faithfully used the terms ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries instead of ‘First’ and ‘Third’ World in the belief that these ascribed fewer negative images.

Digging a little deeper, I saw that each of the poverty-fighting, rights-promoting roles I’ve ever taken on is premised on the assumption that fighting poverty and ensuring equality is achieved through development – and that we therefore understand development as a positive thing.

What is development?

‘Development’ is understood as a vaguely positive thing, but when you try to home in on its specific meaning, it is elusive. As development researcher and author Wolfgang Sachs has put it, development can mean almost anything – from building skyscrapers to improving sanitation, from drilling for oil to drilling for water, from setting up software industries to setting up tree nurseries. To some, it purely means economic growth, measured in terms of GDP. Others identify ‘development’ with fighting poverty, realising rights and distributing resources to the poor and vulnerable.

As a concept, it is empty, which makes it the perfect vehicle for political objectives, taking on whichever meaning is prescribed to it in different contexts to help achieve that objective.

What type of development?

Today, the term ‘development’ is often synonymous to improving the conditions of countries and people, in particular, fighting poverty. A good example is the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the first two of which are No Poverty and Zero Hunger. Yet, the idea of development encompasses broader transformations – very particular types of transformation. Some of the other goals give us a clue. The eighth and ninth goals, for example (Decent Work and Economic Growth and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) look suspiciously like a (Western) model of transformation based on economic growth.

In this way, development is measured according to preconceptions originating in the history, standards and customs of Western culture and the condition of becoming ‘developed’ is relative to Western culture, values and standards.
White Savior Complex, Development, and colonialism
Filipino farmers photographed by a member of a medical mission

The political history of development

Using and understanding ‘development’ in this way emerged relatively recently.  Historically, the term was used primarily in a biological sense to describe the growth of living organisms. We talked about ‘development’ of plants and animals, not humans and societies. From 1759 to 1859, scientists like Wolff and Darwin started to use ‘development’ and ‘evolution’ interchangeably. By the late 1800s the term had started to make the transition from the biological to the social spheres.

But it wasn’t until 1949 when the usage of the term in a social sphere took off. On 20 January 1949, in his inaugural address, that former President of the United States Harry S. Truman delivered his Four Point Plan, outlining US foreign policy. Truman’s fourth point was to make ‘the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. In this statement, were the invention of underdevelopment and the underscoring of growth, scientific advances and industrial progress as the path by which one escapes underdevelopment.

Underdevelopment was established as something highly undesirable, characterised amongst other things, by economic life that is ‘primitive and stagnant’.

Here, we see that even if we understand development to be about fighting poverty and realising rights, at the political level, development is inextricably linked to economics. The goal of development is usually growth and not equity. Unfortunately for conscious consumers, the goal of modernity and economic growth is traditionally achieved through the cycle of industrialisation, mass production and high mass consumption – bad for the environment and sometimes bad for the producers.

We also see that the political foundations of development established a clear vertical hierarchy in the march towards modernity, with the Global North at the top and with developing states below. When Truman took the term ‘development’, historically used primarily in a biological context, and applied it to economic and social life, he linked the term to a Darwinist concept of evolution. Thus, Truman separated nation-states and their citizens into categories of superior and inferior, advanced and at a lower stage of unilinear evolution.

The political context is highly relevant here. It was after the Second World War and the status of many Western nations’ colonies was uncertain. Tensions were emerging between the capitalist free world and the Soviet Union and its bloc. Dividing the world into ‘us and them’ was at the top of many agendas.

Thus, Truman converted Western history into a ‘universal history’, or a template for achieving a necessary and inevitable destiny of becoming developed with being ‘developed’ the desirable yet unattainable goal.

Myth-busting ‘development’

We cannot un-write the history of development and its ongoing implications for the way the term is understood today and used to justify all sorts of economic interventions and social projects – both helpful and not so helpful. We can, however make changes in the way we think and speak about development. Here are some suggestions for how to start:

  • Use the terms ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ rather than ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ so you aren’t implicitly reinforcing ideas that some people are above others.
  • Support projects that involve people in writing their own ‘development’ goals and pathways – rather than following a pre-determined (Western) template of what it means to be ‘developed’ and how to get there.
  • Question projects that are justified on the basis of ‘development’, both in the Global South and Global North (Dakota Access Pipeline and Adani coal mine project, I’m looking at you). If they look like they are bad news for the environment and for people, then they probably are – and no amount of economic development can remedy that.
  • Our preoccupation with possessions is learned from years of being told that the economy is king and owning ‘things’ is the hallmark of being ‘developed’ (and therefore above others). Helped along by a multi-trillion dollar marketing industry, our belief that we must develop or evolve to an ever-more perfect state cannot help our consumer habits. But this can be unlearned. Question your need to buy more stuff! Shop your wardrobe, appreciate what you have, wait 30 days before making a purchase. Slow down.

Lastly, remember it is hard to undo decades of political and cultural adaptation, so avoid being too preoccupied with being an ‘ethical purist’, as Leah puts it. Perfect political correctness, levels of enlightenment, activist or consumer action – those are impossible goals and I advise you not to try to achieve them.

Start small instead. Small modifications in the way we think and speak, like those suggested above, can make a positive impact. As Gandhi put it, beliefs become thoughts, which become words, which become actions – and small actions taken by lots of people is what ultimately leads to change.

Thank you, Ashlee! Feel free to continue to conversation and ask questions in the comments of this post.


This article draws on a research paper submitting in partial fulfilment of a Masters of Law and Development.

  • Gustavo Esteva, ‘Development’ in Wolfgang Sachs (ed), The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power (Zed Books, 2nd ed, 2010) 6.
  • Luis Eslava, Local Space, Global Life, The Everyday Operation of International Law and Development (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
  • Sundhya Pahuja, Decolonising International Law: Development, Economics and the Politics of Universality (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  • Harry S Truman, ‘Inaugural address’ (Speech delivered at Washington, 20 January 1949).

First Photo by chrissie kremer on Unsplash | Second Photo by Zeyn Afuang on Unsplash

Shopping, and the Seduction of "Fixing" Ourselves

shopping addiction and ethical consumption
I've been fantasizing a lot lately.

I get in my car, drive to my closest Target, enter through those big glass doors, and look out over the expanse of stuff. This is my kingdom!

Aisles and aisles of glossy, new things. 

I find women's clothing and caress the fabrics: fuzzy sweaters, stretchy denim. I marvel at the selection, the colors, the trends. I try things on, finding just the right size and silhouette. I buy multiples of the things I like. Then I head over to shoes and find the perfect pair of boots to match my new outfits. 

"Ahhh," I sigh. This is what happiness feels like. 

That word, happiness, is what snaps me out of the illusion. I love shopping, but I love happiness more - though she's always playing hard-to-get. And it's probably true that the reason I shop is because it satisfies that hunger for a bit of contentment, and a bit of joy.

2017 has been hard. Trump threatening to derail common decency and democracy all in one go. Young immigrants told they're not welcome here. Women objectified. People of color killed, over and over again, by cities and states without consequence. Neo-nazis. Home grown terrorism. Trans people killed and barely any news coverage. Genocide and an international refugee crisis. American Christians showing, yet again, that oftentimes their true colors are as dark as the blackness of a black hole. Hurricanes, flooding, and earth quakes that threaten to ruin homes and livelihoods.

There's a lot to be unhappy about and, for me, the events of August 11th and 12th here in Charlottesville all but did me in.

I've gained 6 pounds. I have had more bad nights than good nights. I had to give up on a book chapter I was writing for an academic compilation because the part of my mind that is capable of deep diving into research is currently locked up without a key. On the surface, everything looks - even feels - normal, but the deep unhappiness gurgles upward, a tide that rips me back into its currents.

And so, what I really want is to go shopping, the usual way.

Aren't I entitled to this small morsel of happiness? Yes, I know it's fleeting, that the happiness I glean is at the expense of sweatshop workers scraping by, and that overconsumption puts further stress on a planet already on the brink of environmental catastrophe. But everyone else is doing it. And look at their faces and look at their clothes. They look nice. Do I look nice, in my too-short, thrifted jeans and old Everlane tshirt? I don't look nice. I look terrible. I hate my body - those 6 pounds don't sit right on my hips.

Why does this anxiety always turn inward? Do I think that if I fix myself the world will be fixed, too?

See, this is what muddles everything. Whether I'm shopping or passionately pursuing conscious consumerism, I'm still trying to fix myself in an attempt to fix everything else.  If I can just do that right and shop at that store and educate everyone I know, maybe then I'll be happy.

But here I am, 5 years into the conscious consumerism experiment, and I still don't think I've fixed much at all. Admitting that is the first relief I've felt in weeks, in months. A smile creeps its way across my face, the serious face I keep on to mask weakness.

This is me saying, "Here I am! A human being - creaturely, confused, unfixable - waking myself out of the fetal position to greet the dew-kissed grime of a new morning. 

Maybe happiness is something that settles, like laugh lines and creaky wooden floors. Maybe it's undiscoverable because it refuses to play that game. Maybe my fantasies of shopping are just the other extreme of my fantasies about changing the world, and the thing about fantasies is that they're only daydreams. Maybe I don't even want them to be true.

So I will settle here for awhile, in my old wooden chair, feeling the aches in my anxious body and saying, to God and to the sunlight and to this new day, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Why Conscious Consumers Should Wear Wool

This post was written by Alden Wicker and was originally published on EcoCult.

For a long time, like so many millennials, I was not into the idea of wool. It brought to mind itchy, heavy sweaters and uncomfortable suits. And I don’t wear suits.

But something began to change a few years ago, when I discovered the sustainable performance brand Icebreaker. This New Zealand brand makes bras, t-shirts, leggings, and all other types of athletic wear, all with merino wool. The new sustainable brand Allbirds makes their tennis shoes out of merino wool as well.

Wait, wool yoga pants and tennis shoes?

Yes. In fact, in the past few years, wool has become a favorite textile of mine. Here’s why:

1. Wool can be super soft.

Specifically merino wool, a type of wool that is super fine and soft, and can be woven into a slightly stretchy, 100% natural, soft and breathable textile.

“Merino wool is a breed of sheep that produces a softer, more fine wool. It has a very high microfiber content. The finer it is, the higher quality and the less likely it is to be itchy,” says Ashley Denisov of the L.A. brand 1×1. She uses sustainable American wool in her slow fashion brand’s sweaters.

2. Wool is a better performance textile than polyester.

“Something that is really amazing about the fiber of wool: It’s very breathable, but simultaneously insulated,” Denisov says.

It’s also the best fiber for managing body odor – way better than polyester. Polyester, as I was told by a textile scientist, does repel sweat and and the chemicals that cause B.O., but then they tend to sit on top of the fiber, stinking up all day and even clinging to the fiber after you put it in the wash. (Go smell some of your “clean” polyester sports bras and leggings. Yup.)

A natural, hollow fiber, wool absorbs and traps your sweat and B.O., then releases it completely and quickly as it dries, leaving you stink-free within the half hour. It also washes well and completely in water and simple laundry detergent. All this makes wool perfect for the sustainable gal who likes to work up a sweat, whether in a boutique fitness class or on the hiking trail.

And, of course, it’s still always perfect for sweaters. Hello, autumn!

3. Wool is not just less bad for the environment, it can be good for the environment.

Wool is a natural fiber that doesn’t shed plastic microfibers into the water the way polyester does. And it is compostable.

But even better, wool may be the key to making our fashion “climate beneficial.” That’s right, instead of producing carbon, wool (if raised correctly) actually helps sequester carbon from our atmosphere into the soil.

“Climate beneficial is a term that we’ve developed at Fibershed and the Carbon Cycle Institute to describe landscapes where grazing is occurring,” says Rebecca Burgess, executive director of Fibershed, a nonprofit that develops regional, sustainable fiber systems on behalf of independent producers. “Wild animals have been helping ecosystems for 40, 50, 60 millennia.”

About 40 million years ago, the earth went through a cooling period, which a 2016 study in the journal Soil and Water Conservation Society attributes to a preponderance of large herds moving across North America, Central Asia, and Africa. These herds would gently prune the grasses, which promotes growth, churn soil with their hooves, and fertilize it with their poop before moving on to another area, spurred on by predators. The grasslands would rest, grow, and quickly suck carbon out of the atmosphere as they built up the topsoil. “Soil is the second largest carbon pool on the planet,” Burgess says. “If you change your management of soil ever so slightly, you can have a massive effect on the atmosphere.”

That’s why organizations are so keen on spreading bison back across North America, introducing a close approximation of the extinct Auroch to Europe, and getting something like a wooly mammoth back to Siberia. Could wool-producing sheep also help?

“It’s not a given that wool will come from a natural system that is climate beneficial,” Burgess cautions. As soon as humans started throwing up fences to hem in their private property, livestock lost their benefits to the environment, overgrazing on the same patch until the grass completely disappeared. Then, humans started growing grain to feed their livestock, and putting all the waste from concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) in toxic pits. That’s where we are today for most red meat.

But if you move free-range, grazing animals around from paddock to paddock, mimicking their ancient cycle in something called “holistic management,” “biomimetic grazing,” or “adaptive grazing,” then you can claim that the wool you shear off the sheep is climate beneficial. And in a healthy system, there is actually methane-digesting bacteria in the soil. So that scary fact about cows producing the potent greenhouse gas methane? Handled. “There’s not as much off gassing in a healthy system,” Burgess says.

And there’s even more that ranchers can do. Planting willows, shrub oak, and other trees along the creek in a ranch (they way they naturally grew before ranchers cut them down) also draws down carbon. Plus, farmers can and do put windmills on their property to generate clean energy.

Finally, when you buy climate positive wool, you’re supporting a family farm. “In North America, a lot of these farms are the last holdout before a mall, a golf course, or a McMansion development comes in,” Burgess says.

4. Wool can be kind.

What about animal rights? This is where wool made in America is pretty great. Mulesing, the notorious practice of cutting the folded skin off of of the backs of merino sheep, is done to protect them from blowflies laying eggs in their skin, which can actually be fatal to the sheep. But this is only done in Australia, where blowflies are a menace. American merino wool doesn’t require that, making it an excellent choice for the conscious consumer. (Italian wool mills still source mostly from Australia, so be cautious about Italian wool.)

Plus (and this should be obvious, but it must be said) sheep are not killed for their wool. Skilled shearers carefully sheer the wool off, then let the sheep go back to doing their thing, munching on grass, growing more wool. There are nicks sometimes, of course. “When you shave your legs, sometimes you’re going to nick your legs,” Burgess points out. And if your leg was squirming around, then you would probably do so more often. “Sheep are so valuable. I have never seen a shearer ever go in and massacre a sheep. It would make no sense, economically.”

(PETA begs to differ, but I’ve repeatedly found in my research on animal fashion topics that PETA tends to exaggerate and falsify in order to get their base riled up and garner donations.)

“We can’t meet our goals to avert catastrophic climate change unless we engage in net negative emissions, which can happen in agriculture. We have farms already doing this. We have many farms excited to do it because it increases their productivity. We’ve shown that it’s possible and it can be profitable.”

Where to Buy Climate Positive Wool...

Click here to see Alden's shopping recommendations.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

The Moral Wardrobe: Gingham + Impulse Buys

ethical style eva franco and sela designs
Contains affiliate links

Over the years, I've gotten a lot better about reducing impulse buys.

I realized it was hurting me more than it was helping, and when I got the stuff home I just felt even worse about my closet than before. But when Jacqui recently featured this Made in USA skirt on her blog, I did a quick Google Search, found it for sale on Anthropologie's site, and took the plunge.

It wasn't exactly an impulse buy. A very similar vintage gingham skirt came into the thrift shop last week that I loved, but it was about two sizes too small (darn you, tiny mid-century people!). I am always on the hunt for flattering, midi skirts because anything shorter is too hard to work in. This fit the bill, and the unusual lacing at the front makes the skirt feel more modern.
  ethical style eva franco and sela designsethical style eva franco and sela designsethical style eva franco and sela designs
Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Skirt - Eva Franco via Anthropologie; Shoes - Sseko Designs (similar); Necklace - c/o Sela Designs*

Speaking of impulse buys, I bought a pair of white canvas high tops that I thought were made in the USA at the same time. Turns out they weren't. There's still a slight chance I'll keep them, though, as I think the quality makes them worthy of the #30wears hashtag.

I paired my skirt with a fair trade Sela Designs necklace made with a tagua nut embellishment (Sela Designs gave it to me). I've worn tagua jewelry before, and I'm always impressed with how sturdy and lightweight it is. The nut is sustainably harvested from palm trees in Ecuador, then cut and dyed by fairly paid artisans. Jewelry is designed and made by owner, Ashleigh, in her Wisconsin studio. Proceeds are donated to orphan and family care organizations in Ethiopia.

Let's Talk About the 'A' Word

progressive Christianity, abortion, and feminism
In my ongoing Reader Survey, several participants asked for one of two things: that I talk more about "women's issues" and that I tie in my "personal faith."

Well, I thought, what better way to do that than to open a huge can of worms by writing a post about abortion?

I would be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of the fallout (in both directions) I expect to receive from this post, but a recent - and terribly awkward - conversation on my views at the thrift shop (of all places!) made me realize that it's probably worth it to carefully and graciously discuss it.

First, some history...

I grew up in a conservative, Evangelical church tradition where "traditional gender roles" were the norm. While women could serve as pastors, most women in the congregation were subtly prodded toward more "appropriate" tasks like caregiving, coordinating pot lucks, and participating in women-centric, feelings based small groups and bible studies. By the same token, women and girls were expected to uphold particular modesty standards in the vein of of Proverbs 31 woman and "keep our bodies pure." For more on that, read my post on Modesty.

At a national youth convention I attended around age 15, teenagers were encouraged to commit ourselves to chastity in exchange for a purity ring we could replace with our wedding ring later down the road. A huge, massive, overbearing emphasis was placed on abstinence in the context of religious life and personal spirituality, particularly for women, which resulted in teenage girls feeling shame at their inability to resist the temptation of sex and its related activities; repulsion toward sex and sexual desires; and/or extreme pride that they were able to resist (I fell in the latter category).

We were told that Jesus was the only man we needed.

We were told that if we resisted that first kiss, we could stop ourselves from "going too far."

We were told to save sex for marriage.

But what we read between the lines was this: commit sexual "sin" and you will suffer great consequences at the hands of this, your religious community. 

When I was 16, one of my church friends got pregnant. 

Other youth group kids were having sex. We all knew it. But this visible sign of her impropriety did her in. She was asked told to step down from teaching the kindergarteners. She was asked commanded to publicly apologize to the congregation during a church service. Remember, she was a child herself.

And that's when I realized that getting pregnant as a young, conservative, unmarried Evangelical Christian girl was a death sentence. It was the Scarlet Letter. The whole community would turn their back on you, avert their eyes, demand an apology. 

Before then, I was staunchly pro-life. But I decided at 16 that keeping a baby wasn't worth losing everything. My church demonstrated that this, indeed, was what would happen. I didn't learn it anywhere else. 

And that's when my eyes opened and I stopped averting my eyes when those so-called "sinners" looked into my face for signs of grace.


My church, it probably goes without saying, was explicitly pro-life. Influenced by the "Religious Right," most adults I knew were practically single issue voters. They were Republicans because they were against abortion. It should be noted that in this most recent election, many of those same individuals voted Trump on the grounds that he was the pro-life candidate (you know, if you squinch up your face and plug your ears and vote with your eyes closed, but we all know Hillary wasn't/isn't pro-life, so I guess they felt stuck).

If you're politically pro-choice, you must understand that when abortion is conceived of as genocide there is no other choice but to lobby against it. 

The pro-life lobby is mostly sincere. You must trust that before we can move forward. "You knit me together in my mother's womb" - this confirmation that God knows us before we are born - compels many well intentioned Christians toward a tunnel vision perspective on abortion. If we are being handicrafted by God's own hands in our mothers' uterus, then we are valued and valuable before we open our eyes in the world.

If you're politically pro-life, you must understand that abortion by its very nature of being linked to another life - the life of a woman - cannot be wrapped up neatly into a single judgment call. 

The pro-choice lobby is mostly sincere. You must trust that before we can move forward. If God loves you so much that God handicrafted you together in your mother's uterus, then that means God loves women and girls of childbearing age, too. It means that the livelihood of the mother must not be ignored. It means that the social expectations, personal experiences, financial situations, and systemic injustices that press upon women and girls in our country and our world are contributors to the myriad choices a woman makes that lead to pregnancy, and possibly abortion.

We are slaves to patriarchy, to the crushing weight of mixed messages telling us to make ourselves more attractive to men and also live like hermits, to be hardworking and perfectly groomed, high reaching and as settled as a cat sleeping in the sun.

We are slaves to individualism, that tells us that all decisions are personal decisions, unhindered by collective forces. That my life is a book in which I'm the lead character, that if I just try hard enough I'll turn out fine.

We are slaves to meritocracy and supremacy, to the dangerous lie that racial and economic opportunities are determined by who is better, not who society is built to favor.

We are slaves to all of these things, and so it is no wonder that people get pregnant, and some have abortions.

Abortion is symptomatic of brokenness, but it is not in and of itself brokenness. 

When you're part of a religious community that stops proclaiming God's love for you the second you get pregnant, that's brokenness.

When you're unable to afford a second or third kid because you don't have access to jobs or social support, that's brokenness.

When you're trying hard to get an education and land your dream job and you know that society's disdain for working moms means you can't do it with a kid in tow, that's brokenness.

When you got pregnant because you didn't have access to adequate sex education and health resources, that's brokenness.

When you were assaulted because men are still told "boys will be boys," that's brokenness.

Until we decide to resolve, once and for all, the gross injustices that present abortion as the best or only option, I cannot abide an argument that claims outlawing abortion is a solution when it's actually the surface leak from a burst pipe rotting away the drywall from the inside out.


My faith tradition orients me toward the idea that life is sacred, and that defining the gradations of meaningful life isn't my job.

Young and old, differently abled and able-bodied, mentally ill and well, fetus and death row inmate - I believe that all are meant to be cared for, to be greeted and given a seat at the feast in God's kingdom.

So, sure, I am pro-life, if that means that everyone matters. I am pro-life if that means women matter, too. I am pro-life if it means we're going to stop systematically killing people. I am pro-life if it means that LGBTQA, people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees and even white supremacists and religious fundamentalists matter.

I am pro-life if it means that we have a responsibility to radically, unequivocally, enact love in our world until its rooted so deep in us it hurts.

If that's not what it means? Then never mind.

Related Reading:

Where to Buy Ethical Tech & Accessories

ethical tech and accessories, laptop sleeves and iphones
Contains affiliate links

Early last year, I discussed the ethics problems in the tech industry. For conscious bloggers, tech is the elephant in the room. We need access to reasonable quality smart phones, laptops, and cameras to do our work, yet there are very few ethical options available. For myself, I look for refurbished tech before buying new and, as a result both my camera and my iPhone were purchased used. It's more economical and doesn't contribute to demand for new products. Sure, I might not have the newest, fanciest gadgets, but they still work really well and I saved some money, too.

I did feel the need to purchase my laptop new this year. I'd used the last one - an HP loaded with Windows Vista - for ten years before it became so sluggish I could no longer get any work done. I went with a new Mac because it seemed my best bet was to purchase a computer that could last me another ten years rather than risk an older, refurbished model crashing on me. This, too, was a decision made with ethics - in this case, longevity - in mind, though it didn't give the same consideration to labor issues.

The important thing, like I mentioned in my recent Ethical Purity post, is to give some thought to our decisions before making them. It's an imperfect system, so we do what we can. (I recommend Newegg and B&H Photo for guaranteed quality, refurbished tech.)

That being said, it's comparably easier to find ethical tech accessories. I've rounded up a list of items you can purchase from companies that support fair labor and consideration toward sustainability...


Verry Kerry

Sustainable and eco-dyed at a family factory in India. Vegan leather and cotton. (This is the laptop case featured in the first photo of this post.)


Handcrafted leather goods, made fairly.

Discovered Marketplace

A large selection of laptop sleeves and other tech accessories made by small scale artisans.


Sleeves and bags made sustainably from old billboards.

Better Life Bags

Design-your-own bags made in the USA by women with barriers to employment.


Rickshaw Bags

USA made nylon, padded sleeves.


High quality, USA made wood tablet sleeves.

The Bird Tales

Hand knit sleeves for iPads.

Sseko Designs

Sustainable and fair leather tablet pouches.


Pela Case

Biodegradable, non-plastic, ethically made.

Indie-made iPhone cases from several brands.


Folios and cases made from old billboards.


USA made wood cases.

Genesis Fair Trade

Fair trade, hand embroidered iPhones in authentic, Yucatecan Maya designs.

Native Union

Sustainably harvested wood cases, made in USA.



Made with ethically sourced, handmade textiles.

Fair trade leather goods.

Bags made at ethical factories with transparent pricing.


Sustainable and ethically produced canvas, nylon, and leather bags.

United by Blue

Sustainable and ethically produced laptop bag.


Traceable and ethical.

Ten Thousand Villages

Fair trade work and computer bag.

ethical tech and accessories, laptop sleeves and iphones

The Moral Wardrobe: Are Mom Jeans the New Corsets?

mom jeans and everlane outfit

If you have enough patience, you will find the exact thing you want at the thrift shop.

Sure, it might take three or four years, but don't let anyone convince you it's just not available. I'm being a bit facetious, obviously, because you don't always have half a decade to find the clothing item that fills a hole in your closet. But when it comes to vintage, high waist denim, there's really no replacement for the real thing, and the online vintage market is currently pricing them around $100, so I figured it was worth it to wait patiently.

These finally showed up at the shop where I work, crumpled up on the floor of the dressing room (apparently they didn't work out for that person). I figured I might as well try them on before putting them back on the rack and, lo and behold, they fit!

mom jeans and everlane outfitmom jeans and everlane outfitmom jeans and everlane outfit
Ethical Details: Top - Everlane (similar); Jeans - thrifted; Shoes - Julia Bo*

I should qualify that last statement: they fit when I'm standing up.

The thick cotton denim and total lack of stretch means these are almost intolerable to sit in, and don't even think about eating in them. I'm trying to figure out if this is an accepted part of the mom jeans experience, or if I just have a really low tolerance for things that pinch. In any case,  I guess I'll be wearing these on days when I'm standing most of the time, and totally avoiding them when I'm going out to dinner. For $4.00, my cost-per-wear will still be quite low.

In other news, I splurged on this pair of slip on shoes for my upcoming 29th birthday. Not perfectly ethical, but they are made in a regulated family factory and made to order, so less waste is produced.

Help Me Out! Take the StyleWise Reader Survey

StyleWise Blog Reader Survey 2017

It's that time of year again...time for the StyleWise Reader Survey!

Your responses to last year's survey were illuminating, and helped me get a good sense of who you are and what you're interested in.

As a result of your answers, I offered more resources on affordable clothing, discussed vegetarianism, wrote a piece on religion and ideology, shared some guest posts on fabric sourcing and ethical investing, continued to talk about broader social justice issues (especially in light of Charlottesville), gave you some thrift shopping tips, and discussed what it's like to run a monetized blog.

In short, your responses not only helped me cater content to suit your unique needs, it gave me the courage to step outside of the status quo and share essays and resources on a variety of interrelated topics. It also exposed blind spots in my own thinking and inspired creative thinking.

So, thank you! I've embedded the survey below for you convenience. Answers aren't mandatory, but your short answers are particularly useful to me (as are the budget ones, as they help me decide what brands to work with). If you want to mention anything else, feel free to leave comments directly on this blog post.

If you're completing it from your phone or tablet, you may want to click this link instead.