Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability

SUSTAINABLE STYLE & ETHICAL LIVING

Ethical Style Notes: How I Plan My *Flexible* Capsule

ethical capsule wardrobe - how to plan a two season capsule
Contains affiliate links 

Read about my flexible capsule here.

Thinking about what I'll wear in warmer weather is, all things considered, a fairly healthy coping mechanism for enduring these final days of winter.

There are a few silhouettes and colors I've been drawn to since last summer that I'm hoping to add to or revive in my warm weather wardrobe this year. I've made a few purchases already, and there are plenty of things from last year that I will continue to wear, but I need to think about updating some of my basic tees, as the Everlane ones I've had for several years are beginning to show too much wear. Since the cotton tends to be thin to begin with, I'm thinking of trying tees from American Giant or Fair Indigo this year.

I'm also A LOT more focused on buying as much as possible on the secondhand market, so some of the items I plan to purchase, while not ethically produced, will be sourced secondhand so as not to contribute to further demand for new products. I've come to terms with the fact that some secondhand, conventional-brand items are more likely to suit my needs than sub-par swaps produced "ethically."

I use Pinterest to find and save outfit inspiration, so I've embedded my Spring/Summer Wardrobe Inspiration Pinterest board below. Interestingly, this board represents years of pinning, but the themes stay almost the same.

Predominant Themes for Spring & Summer Personal Style:

Colors: Burnt Orange, Green, Blue, Mustard Yellow

Silhouettes: Full Midi Skirts, Crew neck tees, '90s Dresses, Cropped jeans

Patterns: Stripes, Gingham, Small Floral

Sandals: Black and Taupe woven and minimalist styles

What I've Purchased So Far:

I'm basically done shopping for the upcoming season. I bought a couple of '90s dresses, a pair of suede gladiator sandals, Teva black classics, an orange midi skirt, and couple of striped tees secondhand. I also purchased a pair of Everlane slide sandals in green with shop credits and black Huarache sandals from Nisolo (I'm really sticking to my colors and patterns here!). I already have lots of basic tees and three pairs of cropped jeans. 

What I Plan To Purchase:

I cannot get enough of burnt orange these days. I think I'll purchase one new item in this color and thrift a midi skirt (I have one coming from People Tree, too, which I'll feature soon).

For the committed minimalists, this may sound like a lot, but what I realized last season is that a lot of my wardrobe - but particularly shoes - were things I purchased because they were on sale and not because they suited my style or my comfort needs. This is my second shopping season of radical honesty with myself about what I'll wear and what I want to say with my clothes, so I should be able to ease up by next season. 

Items mentioned in this post:
ethical capsule wardrobe - how to plan a two season capsule

Photos by Allef Vinicius and Henri Pham on Unsplash

Nearly 5 Years After Rana Plaza, Has Anything Changed?

Rana Plaza Monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh Hannah Theisen Life Style Justice
Rana Plaza Monument | Photo credit: Hannah Theisen for Life Style Justice
This piece was written by Hannah Theisen and was originally published on her blog, Life Style Justice.
 ---
In June 2017, I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, and to the site of the Rana Plaza tragedy. The trip was entirely on my own, with no agenda other than to learn. These are the thoughts and stories that have emerged as I’ve processed that trip. 

Bangladesh ended up being my favorite country visited in 2017. Landing in Dhaka, I noticed that there was quite a lack of tourists- at least tourists that I could identify as European or American- and I spent the next few days wondering why! Dhaka’s traffic may be intense, but the city makes up for it in unique architecture, fascinating (if a bit tragic) history, amazing food, and a thriving academic scene bringing art and life into the city (college students are quite politically active, and the student population has sustained many casualties throughout Bangladesh’s history as a result). Andrew and I met up with a new friend and walked through museums, sculpture gardens, a lithograph studio in a college art department, and more. People were kind, getting around was fairly easy, and I found myself wishing within the first day that I’d set aside more time to explore the country.

While in Bangladesh, I wanted to know more about the current state of the country’s $28 billion dollar garment industry (did you know that only China does more business in this area than Bangladesh?). With several years gone by since the world’s eyes were opened to the plight of workers through the Rana Plaza tragedy, I was hoping to hear good news. I reached out to Fashion Revolution Bangladesh, who connected me to Asif, a FashRev member in Dhaka who happened to work with SNV, an organization focused on many projects around the world, including bettering the situation of women working in Bangladesh clothing factories.

Asif graciously answered my many questions, and helped me put the pieces together of what factory environments look like currently. I was happy to learn that due to the tireless work of local advocates, most Bangladeshi factories are improving the benefits offered to employees. Out of the 4000+ documented factories in the country, 2300 are now complying with government regulations for health and safety, providing basic healthcare funding and education for workers, and even opening up to the outside influence of local non-profits and worker’s rights groups. SNV is specifically working on a program for female garment workers to help them gain access to medical care, reproductive health services, and training on how to advocate for themselves.

I learned that big brands like H&M won’t work with factories that haven’t signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety (read it here), A very useful legally binding document between brands and factories ensuring safe facilities in the wake of Rana Plaza. Since this accord’s inception, inspectors have flagged more than 118,500 hazards (mostly fire and electrical) in nearly 2000 participating factories working for 200+ brands (source).
Fair trade factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh Hannah Theisen Life Style Justice
Workers in a small, ethically run fair trade workshop in Dhaka | Photo credit: Hannah Theisen for Life Style Justice
Encouraging, in a way, I guess, but also the bare minimum. It seems as though big brands have done just enough to get reporters and consumers off their backs, and have mostly avoided responsibility for the suffering caused by Rana Plaza.If you exclude Rana Plaza and other mass killings, 2017 was the deadliest year yet to be a garment worker in Bangladesh. Wages are still very, very low (hovering at just over $80 per month) and haven’t been increased to a livable wage. “That’s next,” Asif told me, after current initiatives for basic safety and benefits are successful. Most of the work that is being done right now is simply to enforce and encourage compliance with building safety measures and basic benefits that the factories already should have been implementing. Any extras, higher wages… that will need to come with time. Bangladesh’s labor secretary has proposed a wage increase to $150 per month in 2019, which would nearly double the current salary.

Armed with this new information, I still wanted to walk around and talk to the people around the area where Rana Plaza’s ruins and many still-functioning factories are located. I’ve always felt that the news coverage of what happened at Rana Plaza was a bit limited and controlled.

I guess, also, that visiting Rana Plaza was also a sort of a pilgrimage for me… A very tangible reminder of why I hold the values I do when it comes to my purchasing habits and my life work.

Rana Plaza Monument

To get to the site of the Rana Plaza collapse, we needed to travel to Savar, a short drive outside of Dhaka city proper. On our drive we passed lots of high-rise housing, built to accommodate garment workers, factories, and training facilities. Walking down the street to view the Rana Plaza monument, I noticed that the drainage gutters alongside the road were running red- dyes from nearby factories were being flushed out and making their way into the soil, and eventually, I’d assume, whatever unfortunate body of water was nearest.

The monument itself is small and simply constructed from cement. I was told that no one (government or brands or advocacy organizations) stepped up after the Rana Plaza disaster to create a monument, so workers and their friends and family members pooled money to erect it. The government doesn’t want it there (for obvious reasons), but there it stands on the side of the road. The space where the Rana Plaza building once stood is still vacant. Our local friend who accompanied us told us that a few student groups have come up with ideas to build a resource center for garment workers on the site, but no one has stepped up to the plate to fund such a project.

There’s a plaque on the monument that, translated, reads:

Protest - Preclusion
Martyr Alter

24th April 2013 witnessed one of the most bizarre worker killings in the history of the garments industry of Bangladesh with the collapse of Rana Plaza building. Although the building was declared unsafe on 23rd April, the greedy building and garments owners forced the workers to come to work by physically assaulting them and threatening them of dismissal on 24th April. After the building collapsed few of the trapped workers were rescued by the relentless efforts of the civilians. Civilians were evacuated from the rescue operation on 29th April and rescue began using heavy equipment. During this period the government started covering up by hiding dead bodies. According to the official statement the number of dead bodies and survivors recovered during the rescue operation was 1,130 and 2,438 respectively. However according to the locals and survivors, the actual number of workers was much higher. This alter stands here in protest against the planned killing of countless workers and coverup of their bodies, and also as a symbol of unity among the working class.

Sculptor : Antu Modak
Assistant Sculptor : Rakib Anwar
Temporary Alter Built : 24th May, 2013
Permanent Martyr Alter Built : 2nd August, 2013

Read the rest at Life Style Justice

New Spring Denim from Everlane & ABLE

ethical spring light wash denim and cropped denim everlane ABLE
This post contains affiliate links

Ah, fresh spring denim.

Sunny days, daffodils, and mild weather put me in the mood for cropped fits and light washes. Everlane and ABLE are my go-tos for ethically made, thoughtfully designed denim if I really *need* to buy a new pair, and they've both released new styles just in time for spring.

This season's cut-off styles are really perfect for DIYs, so don't rule out the too-short pair at the thrift shop or the flares hiding in the back of your closet. If you're looking to make your own pair of kick flares, I highly recommend buying a pair of secondhand LL Bean True Shape Jeans off of ebay and cutting them to your desired length. I've done this with two pairs and find the silhouette and rise perfect for achieving the style of the moment.

If that doesn't work for you, here are my picks for spring denim from Everlane and ABLE...
ethical spring light wash denim and cropped denim everlane ABLE

ABLE Seam Jean in Sandra Wash, $158

Made in a fair trade factory. Raw hem, mid-rise.

Everlane Kick Crop Jean in Light Blue Wash, $78

Made in a low waste, sustainable factory. Raw hem, high rise.

ABLE High Rise in Ileana Wash, $148

Made in a fair trade factory. High rise.

It can be difficult to strike a healthy balance between embracing seasonal trends and maintaining a lean, sustainable closet. I try to make sure that the style really suits my body type before taking the plunge, because that ensures I'll wear it for longer. 

Have you heard of other ethical denim launches?

What Sustainable Bloggers Eat: A Week of Easy Vegetarian Dinners

easy vegetarian dinners - what sustainable bloggers eat
The members of the Ethical Writers & Creatives are sharing "what sustainable bloggers eat" today. Get the other links at the bottom of this post.

I am a lazy meal preparer.

It's not that I don't like to cook, but most days I'm only cooking for myself (my husband and I tend to be on different meal schedules) with limited time for prep due to evening meetings and choir rehearsals.

Over the years, I've managed to work out a pattern of meals that fill me up at minimal cost with minimal time spent. Especially if you're someone who's looking to transition away from as much meat, I thought a peek into my typical meal schedule might be helpful.

Full disclosure: My diet is not completely meat free, but I never cook meat at home and typically only eat it once per week. I have significantly reduced my meat consumption due both to the clear environmental link between grazing livestock and climate change/rainforest deforestation and animal ethics. I deeply respect vegetarians and vegans, but I also grapple with the fact that human evolution was heavily influenced by the consumption of animal products (things like honey, eggs, and meat) and the daily paradoxes of ethics and behavior evident in human culture. There's also some evidence that, in terms of global food security, a diet that contains a small amount of meat is more efficient. But I digress. Here are my easy peasy recipes for vegetarian dinners.

Monday:

Red Beans and Rice

What You'll Need:
  • 1 Cup Minute Brown Rice
  • 1 Can Dark Red Kidney Beans
  • 1/2 Red Onion
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • Celery Flakes or a Palmful of Diced Celery
  • Dry Spices: Thyme, Pepper, Salted Creole Spice. Parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

To Make:
  1. Add olive oil to a 10" frying pan and heat on medium-high.
  2. Dice onion and garlic and add to pan. Cook for 3 minutes or until onion starts to soften.
  3. Drain 1 can of red beans, but leave about 1/4 of the liquid. Add to pan.
  4. Add celery, spices, and cajun seasoning to taste (cajun seasoning already contains salt, so make sure to add it before adding more salt).
  5. Stir and cook for about a minute. Add Minute Rice, stir, then add hot water until it just covers the mixture.
  6. Cover the pan, set heat to low, and let simmer for 10 minutes or until rice is thoroughly cooked.

Tuesday/Wednesday:

Flat Bread Pizzas

What You'll Need:
  • 1 Pack Whole Wheat Flat Bread (the thick, pita kind, not the wrap kind)
Toppings!
  • Arugala
  • Diced mushrooms
  • Red onion
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Feta Cheese
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

To Make:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place two flatbreads on a baking sheet. Add toppings, then drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until flatbread is crisp in the bottom.

Thursday:

Mushrooms over Mashed Potatoes

What You'll Need:
  • Cremini (Baby Portobello) Mushrooms
  • Thyme
  • Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Lemon Juice or Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Margarine or Butter
  • 1/4 Red Onion

To Make:
  1. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil on medium high heat.
  2. Dice onion and garlic. Add to pan and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Rinse and dry mushrooms. Dice (or buy pre-diced) and add to the pan with thyme leaves, salt, and pepper.
  4. Stir and cover. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 additional minute.

For the Potatoes:
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Butter or Margarine
  • Splash of Almond Milk or Whole Milk
  • Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder

Friday: 

Go out to eat! You deserve it!

In case you're wondering, for breakfast I normally eat Greek yogurt with muesli or a banana. For lunch, I eat leftovers or Amy's Frozen Meals (I know, the single use plastics are a problem. Working to stop depending on them).

Staple Items (affiliate links): 
I also recommend Good Housekeeping's Vegetarian Meals Cookbook from 2010. You can purchase a used one here.

What Other Sustainable Bloggers Eat:

That '70s Style: EcoVibe's Groovy Ecofriendly Goods

EcoVibe ethical and ecofriendly clothing review
This post was sponsored by EcoVibe Apparel and I received items for review. Opinions and styling are my own.

You know, I thought I would hate bell sleeves when they reentered the sartorial space a few months ago. 

But I actually love them, and not only because they look cool. I don't like long sleeve shirts because it annoys me when things touch my wrists, so I'm always pushing up my sleeves. But bell sleeves are great because their wide profile "bells" away from the wrist and naturally falls toward the elbow if you're trying to reach something. Much lass hassle than you'd expect.

EcoVibe ethical and ecofriendly clothing review This is the new Jacquelyn Tencel Bell Sleeve Top in Grey from ethical, affordable US-based brand, EcoVibe. Based in Portland, Oregon, EcoVibe is woman and minority owned by a husband and wife team who source both original and ethical brand goods for their physical and online store.

I've featured EcoVibe in several shopping roundups because I appreciate their focus on accessible, affordable goods that meet eco and ethical criteria. Their styles are also on trend without being avant garde, so they're a good "gateway" into shopping ethically. EcoVibe prioritizes fabrics that are renewable and produced with a low impact, such as Modal, Bamboo, Recycled Polyester, and Cork, but some of their items are made with Rayon. More information on materials can be found here.

I chose to review a top made from Tencel because it's one of the world's most sustainable fabrics and the manufacturing process is closed loop and eco-friendly, as well. Tencel is produced from eucalyptus that is grown specifically for textiles processing and the end product is sturdy, soft, and wrinkle resistant, which means that it will hold up to repeated wear while still being comfortable. It has a very similar feel to rayon.

My Review of the Jacquelyn Top

I like the Jacquelyn Top because it has a more conservative cut and fit, which makes it suitable for basically any occasion, but the exaggerated bell sleeves make it fun. The tunic length means that it pairs just as well with leggings as it does with jeans. The bell sleeves don't lay well under more form fitting sweaters, though, so this is more of a mild to warm weather piece. The Jacquelyn Top retails for $68.00.

Grade: A
Size: Small
My Measurements: 34" bust, 28" waist
  EcoVibe ethical and ecofriendly clothing reviewEcoVibe ethical and ecofriendly clothing review
EcoVibe also sent this stunning Natural Cork Clutch from brand, Cork Nature.

Cork Nature bags are produced ethically in Portugal. Cork is a wonder material because it's water resistant, stain resistant, long wearing, and easy to shape with very minimal processing. Cork trees can only be harvested for materials every 9-12 years and the tree itself lives up to 200 years, which makes cork a highly renewable resource. Co-owner Dre at EcoVibe told me that these are ideal for Portland's rainy climate, so they make sure to keep them in stock at both of their brick and mortar stores.

My Review of the Natural Cork Clutch

The clutch comes with a detachable strap for more versatility. Nine times of of ten, I'll use the strap so I can go hands free. The size is just right for a small wallet, phone, lip balm, and a few other small items, and the beautifully textured cork makes it feel like a statement piece even though the color is neutral. The clutch is a bit of an investment at $116, but it should hold up to long term wear, which makes cost-per-wear quite reasonable.

EcoVibe ethical and ecofriendly clothing review
Ethical Details: Bell Sleeve Top - c/o EcoVibe Apparel; Earrings - old via AlmostDone on Etsy; Shoes - Swap.com; Jeans - #30wears; Cork Clutch - c/o EcoVibe Apparel

As my lifestyle rarely calls for anything dressy, I have grown to appreciate small details that lend a sense of intentionality to my outfits. Both the Jacquelyn Top and the Cork Clutch fit the bill, and I look forward to wearing and using them for a long time.

Shop EcoVibe here

EcoVibe on Social Media: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest

Why Intersectionality Matters In Ethical & Environmental Movements

intersectionality and environmental and ethical activism
This piece was written by Francesca Willow and was originally published on Ethical Unicorn.

Well, this week has certainly seen some interesting developments in the environmental community.

Here’s a brief TLDR if you missed the online drama in the zero waste world: Package Free Shop, a zero waste shop run by Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers, stated on Instagram that anyone can go zero waste. Some followers questioned this assertion politely, and were promptly blocked and had their comments deleted. Now I’m not usually one to weigh in on things such as this, but I did feel like I wanted to write something about this as it symbolises a much larger issue that I believe we need to maintain awareness of and sensitivity to. Intersectionality.

You may have never heard this term before, and if you have you’ve probably heard it in relation to the feminist movement. Well today let’s take a closer look at what intersectionality actually is, why it’s important, and why it’s vital that the environmental movement is intersectional (and yes, we’ll be returning to the Package Free Insta-drama in this discussion).

What is intersectionality?

While the theory of intersectionality was officially created in 1989, the concept has existed since at least the 1800s, and its core idea it pretty simple. Intersectionality argues that there are multiple aspects to humanity including race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, body type and many more, and these aspects don’t exist separately from each other. They are inextricably linked, meaning that individuals whose identities overlap with a number of these minority classes will face many more threats of discrimination in their life. For example, I experience oppression because I’m a woman, but I also don’t experience many other forms of oppression because I’m privileged in other areas of my life. I’m white, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied and pretty middle class, which means there are a whole ton of ways that my life and experiences are much easier than those of many others.

Essentially, it can be simplified down to the following: everyone has multiple, overlapping aspects of their identities, and all of these connect together to shape how we experience the world and are treated within it. For many, this means that multiple forms of discrimination intersect, and we have to address all of them to create true change.

Seems pretty easy right, where’s the problem?

Well, we start getting issues as soon as we disregard complex thinking. To be honest, often the people at the forefront of justice movements tend to be a variation of me – white, able bodied, cisgender etc – because it’s easier for us to get our voices heard in society. Yes I may have had some barriers as a woman, but I also have more access to technology, finances, education and societal acceptance that have made it much easier for me to have a voice than say, a disabled woman of colour. This doesn’t invalidate my personal struggle in any way, but simply recognises that there are certain elements that are more accessible to me than others. But if the majority of people fronting a movement, whatever it may be, are in a similar spot to me, it’s also very easy to disregard all the other elements that are at play for everyone else. Because I’ve never been personally affected by certain considerations, it would be incredibly easy for it to never even occur to me to think about trans people, older people, disabled people, queer people or immigrants (to name a few), when I’m talking about justice and progress in the world.

Why white feminism sucks

And this is where we often end up with white feminism. Check out this video, which breaks down the concept simply and easily:


So if you’re white and a feminist, that isn’t a bad thing, not all white people are white feminists. We do, however, have a problem when someone’s activism ignores intersectionality. Often times this is unintentional (because, hello, we live in a society created to favour the privileged) but, if we don’t identify it and work to change our activism, we do serious damage. Not only do huge numbers of people feel completely excluded from activist movements, but these movements strive for goals that only help white, cis and straight people. Activists may think they’re moving towards important social change, but they’re really only creating progress for a very small, very limited number of people.

If your activism isn’t intersectional, you aren’t actually doing good in the world. You’re just helping those who already hold privilege.

Why white environmentalism is also a problem...

Lent: What I'm Giving Up & How You Can Join Me

what i'm giving up for lent
Lent is here! (Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day!)

Last year I gave up makeup and found the experience really helpful. There are several products I never added back into my routine because I realized that I could live happily while wearing less makeup. So many of my grooming habits were/are holdovers from the insecurities and bad advice of my teenage years. It felt nice to take back control.

Traditionally, the purpose of giving something is up is to make more room for God and spiritual practice. Some people choose to take something on - like meditation, prayer, or a gratitude practice - instead of giving something up. But I find that the major "sin" in my life, the thing that gets me off track and makes me feel spiritually unwell, is taking on more than I can or should, which adds a lot of anxiety and self doubt into my life that overcrowds my mental space, making it nearly impossible to feel grateful.

I've been reflecting on this a lot lately, on how adding more and more responsibilities into our limited schedules takes away our capacity to cultivate and nourish meaningful conversations and relationships. Until last weekend, I hadn't called my parents in a month. And I find that when I'm busy I'm less able to listen well to the needs of my friends, coworkers, and customers. Busy-ness is a not a virtue.

Basically what I'm saying is that I really need to give something up, and never look back.

What I'm Giving Up For Lent

This year I've decided to give up checking my phone. Originally, I was going to give up Instagram, but I realized that the main issue is my emotional. habitual attachment to checking my email, twitter, facebook, and Instagram from my smartphone when I'm out and about or sitting on the couch. I plan to delete most of these platforms from my phone and practice self control whenever the urge strikes to run through the list of things to check.

I will be on Instagram sparingly to let people know about new posts, as I've made a few commitments to companies during the season that require social media shares. Plus, I recognize that Instagram provides an easier platform for commenting if you're checking my blog from your phone. That being said, scrolling endlessly and checking for notifications every 20 minutes will not be allowed.

If I'm successful, I think this practice will help me get back a lot of wasted hours, calm my mind, and help me focus better. I want my mind to be less distracted so I can pay attention to all the little things that make up a full life.

How to Participate in Lent

If you're interested in giving something up for Lent, it's simple! Do some soul searching about your everyday vices that make you feel spiritually unwell and commit to making a change. Daniel is giving up meat and gluttony. I know other people who go on shopping fasts.

The important thing is not to frame it around self-improvement but to see what you're doing through the lens of the big picture, whether that's wholeness with God or a better understanding of your role in the big, wide world. Lent is about inward reflection, but it's also about directing what you learn outward. Don't stay in your head.

Historically, Lent lasts for about 40 days and excludes Sundays (because Sundays are considered "mini Easters."). It's up to you if you want to fast on Sundays, as well. I find it easier to maintain the habit if I totally abstain, but you can still make your Sundays celebratory as a reminder of the reconciliation and redemption that awaits us all.

Lent ends, on Good Friday, March 30th.

Are you giving anything up this year?
what i'm giving up for lent

Photo by Ruslan Valeev on Unsplash (There are so many pretty church photos on Unsplash it took my a half hour to choose one)

6 Steps To Authentic Style for Conscious Consumers

6 steps to authentic style for conscious consumers
Contains affiliate links (That isn't me, but it's something I would wear)

I have to admit something to you all, because 2018 thus far has been one of confession:

I have been bored - like falling asleep bored - with my wardrobe for the past year. 

This may sound harsh or unfair or privileged, and it probably is. After all, I am a fashion blogger, which means I get free clothes and accessories and "everything I could ever want" for free (that's in quotes because it's what my husband tells me).

But the thing about fashion blogging is that a lot of the things you get for free, particularly when you're just so happy to be working with brands at all, are not precisely what you would have picked out for yourself. I'm being honest when I tell you that everything I've reviewed in the last couple of years is something I like and would wear. I mean, I DO wear them. But receiving some of these things for free has meant that I haven't been able to shop like a normal person does - it means that I've restricted myself to certain brands and certain styles in a way that's shrunk a bit of the creativity that initially delighted me about pursuing personal style.

It means, in some ways, that my style has become a bit less personal. 

And I don't like that feeling. I am a firm believer that fashion should be fun and that it can be a healthy extension of our identities. Of course, that can go too far, especially when the only way we can think of to have fun is to buy into fast fashion culture. But even in the wake of new and exciting ethical brands cropping up everywhere, conscious consumerism can come off as a bit too restrictive in terms of style. Pair that with growing concerns that companies are not as ethical as they seem and it's a recipe for wardrobe burnout.

So I've been pondering how to keep the "personal" in personal style when seemingly everyone in this niche has boiled down their wardrobe to a handful of Everlane and a sprinkling of Nisolo and a dash of Reformation. I mean, I like those brands, but how do I add one last splash of Leah into the mix?

For me, it's been about this:

Just go for it!

Instead of buying two Everlane sweaters, save up for the kooky one from Solo Six

Instead of getting the bland wool coat, get the vintage one with shoulder pads from the thrift shop. 

Instead of buying that Reformation jumpsuit, get the '90s grunge one from ebay.

And by all means, wear what you're attracted to regardless of trends. I used to be worried that people would judge me for the weirder things I wear, but I've found that (almost) everyone is attracted to gutsiness and authenticity. When you're revealing who you are - whether through your clothes or your personality - every day can feel meaningful.

My Tips for Sustainable, Personal Style:

  1. Create a moodboard or Pinterest board: with personal style notes, preferred styles, and specific products. See mine for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter.
  2. Fill out your wardrobe with thrifted, vintage, and higher priced pieces that speak to who you are instead of what is in. I've been finding great vintage pieces at swap.com, ebay, and local thrift shops.
  3. Turn to Everlane and other basics brands for the foundation of your wardrobe, not the special pieces.
  4. Consider your lifestyle, fabric preferences, and real closet needs before making a purchase.
  5. Spend a little here so you can spend a lot there: set overarching budgets, not piece by piece ones.
  6. Remember that classics are only classics if you'll wear them. 

For myself, I've committed to producing fewer brand spotlight posts per month in order to give myself more flexibility when it comes to my closet. 2017 taught me a lot about what I want and how to work most effectively with brands and I can already see the fruit of that education. I'm ready to quit it with the bandwagoning and the keeping up with the Joneses and just do what I want.

It is possible to shop sustainably and stay true to you. In fact, the ONLY way to shop sustainably is to stay true to you. Otherwise, you're adding needless filler to your wardrobe that you'll inevitably get rid of when the next season comes around.
6 steps to authentic style for conscious consumers

Photo by Eli DeFaria on Unsplash

The Moral Wardrobe: Te Amo

solo six te amo crew sweater review
If there's one thing I beat myself up for (ha! Imagine there being only one thing), it's that I let my Spanish language skills lapse.

As a Floridian, it was a no brainer to take Spanish classes. And although it was particularly useful to be able to make some Spanglish small talk there, it's pretty important anywhere in the States. At my day job, we have a large Spanish-speaking customer base (and Farsi-speaking, too) and I don't feel like I'm offering the type of service they deserve, though it can be mutually amusing to mime and point to one another.

Now I'm just on a guilt trip with myself for not making it a priority to pick it back up (and learn some retail-related vocabulary), but the guilt trip isn't the point of this post. Rather, the point of this post is highlighting this amazing sweater from conscientious fashion brand, Solo Six...
solo six te amo crew sweater reviewsolo six te amo crew sweater review
I've been eyeing this sweater for months and months, so finally I reached out to see if there was a way we could collaborate. Solo Six sent me a sweater in exchange for some photographs. 

I recently had the opportunity to database hundreds of Central and South American textiles for a shop customer who is moving out of the country.

Through the hours-long process, she told me the meaning and ritual significance of each symbol, pattern, and color combination. 

It drove home how important it is to learn about and respect cultural heritage. In this case, the weaving traditions of the Maya and other indigenous groups are inextricably linked to religion, worldview, and the practices of daily life. When we wear or use these motifs without understanding their weight, we dishonor people, plain and simple.

This is why I really appreciate the concept behind the Te Amo crew. The design is a nod to souvenir bags sold at local markets, which often include a similar multicolor design and tassels at the bottom. I love that it riffs on this cultural exchange, on the way that weavers intentionally secularize their sacred, intricate designs to attract an American market - and continue to protect their heritage in the meantime. To me, this is one of the better ways to live out cultural appreciation rather than appropriation (for more on that, read Ethical Unicorn's recent post on the topic).

The Te Amo Crew Sweater is made sustainably and ethically in Bolivia out of 100% baby alpaca (alpacas are not harmed in the process), which gives it a soft, luxurious feel and makes it both breathable and warm.
  solo six te amo crew sweater review
Ethical Details: Sweater - c/o Solo Six; Denim - #30wears; Boots - old; Earrings - Often Wander

Tip: you can get the Solo Six Sweater for a tiny bit less money if you're a new customer at Garmentory and click through this link (you'll get a $20 store credit and I will, too).

Is Social Good Marketing Just Another Form of Greenwashing?

social good marketing is greenwashing
Recently I've been dealing with a really unpleasant situation regarding a company that reached out to me for collaboration.

Their marketing looked good: they produce eco-friendly accessories in the USA through a program that empowers marginalized women.

What's not to like about that? After all, the US has strict labor laws that ensure that people are being paid, at the very least, 7 or 8 dollars an hour.

But as the narrative unfolded, I learned something that didn't sit well with me: these accessories were made in a women's prison.

I spoke at length with the owner of the company*, who assured me that the women were being paid a competitive wage, were free to choose not to work, and provided positive feedback about their experience in the program.

This all sounded great, but I wasn't sure what it meant to receive a competitive wage. I reached out to the factory manager, who informed me that, while the women technically receive a base wage of $8.00 an hour, due to prison politics and budgeting regulations, their take home pay is only $1.50 an hour. The rest of their wages go to paying off court fees and toward room and board at the prison (note that prisoners outside of this factory program are not responsible for room and board costs).

There are a few things to unpack here:
  • The women report that they're satisfied with their jobs. However, this is their best opportunity for paid labor within the prison walls, so they don't have a lot to compare it to.
  • The women's wages may help pay off some of their debts, but the room and board fees don't make sense since the majority of prisoners are not responsible for these costs.
  • Companies who contract with the prison program are responsible for paying the base wage, but a lot of that wage ends up going to the prison, not the employees.
  • As this article from last fall points out, prisoners are disproportionately people of color jailed for minor drug offenses. Prison labor, even if it offers some benefit to prisoners, looks an awful lot like institutionalized slavery or, at the very least, legal indentured servitude.

Ultimately, I chose not to partner with the brand. The US Prison System is a blight on our society, and doesn't live up to our purported "American values." To benefit from the labor of prisoners who do not receive a living wage, while it may offer them an opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise, ultimately buoys up a corrupt system. In my mind, it would be much better to work with previously incarcerated individuals to offer job training and support, similar to what Bee Love does (Read my post about beelove here.)

But this opens up a much bigger question, and this is what's been eating me up for last few weeks:

How do you know that an ethically branded company is being honest with you?

After all, the majority of companies that market themselves as eco-friendly, social good brands don't have an independent certification to prove it. In most cases, you can't physically go visit their factories. You are relying on the truthfulness and knowledge of the brand owner or customer service representative.

Let me be blunt: ethical is a marketing angle.

And marketing by its nature exists to fool us into thinking that consumption is good for us, that it's a positive force. I am very fearful that this "ethical-washing" has - or will soon become - so abundant that it's impossible to tell which claims are verifiable. It's already a problem. Without consistent, centralized certifications and uniform definitions for the jargon in this space, it's increasingly difficult to separate the truly forward thinking, ethical companies from the ones who are simply jumping on the bandwagon.

Yes, the dedicated few of us who spend most of our spare time thinking about and shopping from "ethical" companies might consider doing what I did in this case: contacting the owner and following up with other people in the supply chain. But I don't think we can, or should, expect the everyday consumer to do this work. It's rather time consuming and you have to prepare the right questions in advance.

And then there's the issue of confusing the administration of basic human rights with actual progress. In the case of the accessories company, the claims aren't exactly wrong. They do technically pay a decent wage (though not a living wage) through a program that has the potential to empower women.


But why do we think we're heroes for treating people like human beings?

We are too quick to think that small actions born of good intentions are inherently impactful. But this isn't always true.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Shopping in a way that does no harm is not a radical act. It is baseline. It is the bare minimum. It is basic human decency.

Saying something is fine and saying something is ethical are different things. We have this tendency to think that moving the bar from obviously exploitative to basically ok is a great moral act, and that we deserve to reward ourselves for "disrupting" the industry. But what we should be hoping for is to move the ticker from basically ok to human flourishing.

Abundant Imagination

I'm not saying that progress has to happen in a day. But we need to start operating from a place of abundant imagination, from a mindset that the change that needs to come may not have been conceived of yet.

We need to trust that we are capable of more.

This is different than asking for absolute perfection. We don't need to be holding people, agencies, and brands to rigid, impossible standards. Rather, we need to be pushing them to ask hard questions about their supply chain; to envision what sustainable infrastructure looks like in the unique contexts of culture, country, and industry; and to be collaborative and creative in their thinking. This may mean that individual supply chains and corporate structures will look different, and that's ok. But that doesn't excuse them from maintaining universal standards of human and environmental rights.

Better than nothing simply doesn't cut it anymore.

Related Posts: 

*I chose to withhold the name of the company because I believe they are good people who are legitimately trying to create a beneficial brand. While I don't feel comfortable with their business model, I do not believe they deserve a public calling-out at this time.