Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability

SUSTAINABLE STYLE & ETHICAL LIVING

Zero Waste Fashion Is Possible: A Celebration of Tonle

SponsoredTonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.comTonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.comTonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com
Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Pants - Srey Pov Trousers - Krama c/o Tonle; Sandals - Deux Mains

It's been my unofficial policy on StyleWise to request only one or two products for review when I take on sponsored collaborations. It's not that I don't want lots of shiny new things, it's just that my closet could quickly spiral out of control if I acquired dozens of things each month. But I have to say, I am SO glad Rachel at Tonle sent me three varied products to try, because it gave me a sense of the way Tonle's zero waste pieces function as stand-alones and as part of a collection.

And I've gotta say I am really feeling myself in these pieces. They embody the balance of form and function I look for, and the purposeful silhouettes help create a fit that feels custom.

The Srey Pov Trousers

Made of a lightweight cotton, the limited edition Srey Pov trousers feature flared legs and a drawstring waist with elastic at the back. The front drawstring can be adjusted for the correct fit, then left tied when you're ready to remove them since the back stretches, which helps create a custom fit. I'm wearing the trousers in a size medium, which fits my butt perfectly without pulling.
Tonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.comTonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.comTonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com
Ethical Details: Dress - Pich Wrap Dress - Navy Diamonds c/o Tonle; Sandals and Necklace - thrifted

Why I'm a Tonle Super Fan

Tonle is a fair trade, zero waste fashion brand based in Cambodia.
  • They produce their entire collection out of remnant materials from larger factories
  • They strategically cut patterns to reduce waste
  • They sew scraps into "yarn" to produce woven clothing
  • Remaining scraps that are too small for yarn are combined with paper and natural glue to make hang tags
  • Employees are honored and paid fairly
  • Natural dyes are used on all textiles dyed in-house
  • Orders are shipped in 100% recycled packaging
  • Tonle uses local models and women of color in their advertising and product photos

Every. single. thing. has been accounted for in Tonle's business model. And their clothes are statement-making without being unwearable or unflattering.

The Pich Wrap Dress

Made with a stretch cotton that's both durable and soft, the Pich Wrap Dress has a vintage-inspired neckline and a customizable fit thanks to the wrap silhouette. I'm wearing a size small and the fit is just right.
Tonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.comTonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com Tonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com
Ethical Details: Top - Srey Crop Top - Granite c/o Tonle; Jeans - Everlane Cheeky Straight Jean; Sandals - thrifted

The Srey Crop Top

One of Tonle's signature woven pieces, the crop top has a wide, asymmetrical fit and is made with handwoven fabric scrap "yarn," which makes the piece feel much more like wearable art than mere clothing. It's classy and classic in spite of how off-kilter it's origin may be, and I feel really beautiful in it.

Final Thoughts

Tonle sets the standard for functional, fashion-forward clothing that is authentically sustainable, ethical, and eco-friendly. You don't need a Master's Degree to get what they're all about - it's clear as day. This is the type of transparency and thoughtfulness that leads to industry change, because it doesn't require explaining, finagling, or excuses. It is good, plain and simple. 

How refreshing to know - really know - that something is good. No fake news, no slick marketing. Just good.

Shop Tonle here. 

Tonle zero waste ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com

Everlane Review: Easy Chino

Everlane Easy Chino Review with pictures stylewise-blog.comEverlane Easy Chino Review with pictures stylewise-blog.comEverlane Easy Chino Review with pictures stylewise-blog.com
Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Pants - Everlane Easy Chino in Ochre (waitlisted in this color, but there are other colors still available); Sandals - Deux Mains

I bought the Everlane Easy Chino after seeing how much Elaine at Temporary-House Wifey liked them. Though, for the most part, I've ceased using my referral link, I still occasionally get shop credit when people click through old reviews and make their first purchase, so I had some credit to use up.

My opinion on Everlane's ethicality hasn't changed since I originally discovered them, but I think the ethical fashion movement as a whole has developed firmer policies about what makes something sustainable. That's a good thing, but the fact remains that Everlane has really allowed me to transform my closet into something timeless and high quality. I pair my Everlane core pieces with artisan goods and lots of thrifted finds for something that feels totally me. I am so happy with my wardrobe right now and that contributes to my ability to stay the course when it comes to reducing overall consumption.

That being said, I have decided to only purchase Everlane's cotton pieces in order to at least reduce my dependence on synthetics, which don't biodegrade and often leech into water sources. I also had the opportunity to visit their Prince Street store in NYC last week and I didn't really like the feel of their Go-Weave; it just feels like woven polyester, which, of course, is all it is.

First Impressions

So, I knew going into this purchase that the Easy Chinos were a barely updated version of elasticized pants elderly women wear. And props to them: they are comfortable and appropriate to wear outside the house. I do find it a bit silly to buy new things that look like things you could buy at the thrift store, but these are nice because they're 100% cotton, whereas most of this style marketed to the older crowd are made of polyester. The front crease is also really old-school and I probably won't make an effort to re-crease them after washing.

Fit & Quality

For me, these fit true to size, but I know that varies depending on body type. I bought my usual 6 and the fit is spot-on. Some have said that the Easy Chinos are too bulky at the front and don't lay flat, but after looking at the way the models on the site wear them, I've determined that they aren't supposed to fit at the smallest part of the waist, but rather slouch a bit at mid-rise.

These are super comfy and the fabric quality is superb - a soft but structured woven cotton. The elastic at the waist is also sewn in, so it won't get bent out of shape when washing.

Grade: A
Size Purchased: 6
My Measurements: 29" waist, 39" hips
True to size? Yes

The ochre color is on backorder with an October release date, but these are still available in other colors.

Shop the Everlane Easy Chino here. 

Everlane easy chino in ochre review with pictures stylewise-blog.com

6 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than J Crew

6 ethical brands that are better than j crew stylewise-blog.com
One of my "hobbies" is to catch up on J. Crew business news on fashionista.com.

I'm not sure why I find it so gripping - maybe it's because J. Crew is a real fixture among academics, and most of my peer-aged friends are either graduate students or professors. J. Crew, if you were wondering, has actually been in decline for the last several years. A combination of design mistakes (mostly former creative director Jenna Lyons' fault) and declining fabric and production quality has contributed to turning away dedicated fans of the brand.

But there really is a need for J. Crew's products: reasonable quality, business-y goods with an eye toward contemporary cuts, colors, and styles.

The problem is that J. Crew produces most of its goods in sweatshops in some of the world's poorest countries. Paired with increasing quality issues (their cashmere, for instance, simply does not hold up), it's no longer a viable choice for discerning consumers, whether their primary interest is labor ethics or simply long-lasting goods.
6 ethical brands that are better than j crew
Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Ode to Sunday, People Tree, Everlane, Grammar NYC, Maven Women, Language of the Birds

Here are some alternatives...

Brands were selected based on design similarities, commitment to ethical labor, and eco-friendly practices. Contains affiliate links.

1. Maven Women

Dedicated to women's rights, restorative justice, and fair trade principles. Makes business-appropriate attire. Sizes XS-XL.

My Pick: Amira Dress

2. Grammar NYC

Home of fashion-forward, crisp white shirts designed sustainably and ethically.

My Pick: The Conjunction Shirt

3. Ode to Sunday

Classic, work appropriate tops, pants, and dresses in linen and other natural fibers. Sizes XS-XL.

My Pick: Hanna Pants

4. Language of the Birds

A little more out-there than other brands in this list, Language of the Birds nevertheless creates some classic shift dresses in muted patterns suitable for an academic or creative work environment.

My Pick: Westbeth Paper Bag Dress

5. Everlane

Destined to make this list. Dozens of business appropriate blouses, blazer, and pants produced with relative transparency. Look for natural fibers for a more sustainable choice.

My Pick: Italian GoWeave Blazer

6. People Tree

Fair trade, organic cotton separates with classic lines and wearable colorways.

My Pick: Trisha Top
6 ethical brands that are better than j crew stylewise-blog.com

Stay tuned for a Brands That Are Better post on Madewell, coming in the next couple months!

See other brands that are better posts here.

I Don't Think Conscious Consumerism Has Made Me a Better Person

depression, anthony bourdain, conscious consumerism stylewise-blog.com

Simplify. Consider. Research. Shop with Intention

These are buzzwords in the ethical fashion niche. And they are said with authenticity and heart.

But they are also crazy-making. People often use these words in tandem with an idea that removing things from their life and being more thoughtful in their purchasing will make them better friends and partners, better activists and citizens.

Clearing out the intellectual and physical clutter of a life ruled by consumerism is seen almost as a passive act - something that is done on our behalf - rather than as the real, complicated, headache-inducing, isolating habitual practice that it is.

Since I started down the path of conscious consumerism, I've become more thoughtful, yes, but that thoughtfulness has not transferred to the way I treat the ones closest to me, or the way I greet people I meet on the street.

That thoughtfulness, in fact, has often led me deeper and deeper into myself, less able to see the world around me or enjoy the grandeur and surprise of life.

I was more deeply affected by Anthony Bourdain's death than I expected. I've cried over it every day since it happened. In him - or in his public persona at least - I saw something of a kindred spirit. I saw a kind but conflicted man, a man who thought things through and gave people chances, who grappled with his mistakes but still found a way to eek out some joy through the weight of what he'd experienced. And then he decided it was enough, or too much. I don't know.

And I am not suicidal, or even chronically depressed in a serious way. But his life and death, and my reflection on those things, has made me reconsider whether this aggressive, oppressive, agitated path I'm on to change the world one person at a time - this quest to "be a good person" - has made me, in actuality, a worse person.

I have been operating under an assumption that the only way to care is to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. If that makes me unhappy, so what: happiness is not a primary goal of mine. 

But that weight, that intensity, can be infectious. It can, and has, made others around me fear my intensity, feel burdened by it even. And then I consider the people in my life who walk with a literal bounce in their step, who come in singing their greetings, and always see silver linings.

In my ego-trip quest to be virtuous, I saw these people as the ones who didn't care enough, because if they did, they wouldn't be so happy. But now I think that their absolute insistence on visible joy is one of the most courageous ways to live. Their joy is infectious and their company is buoying when I am sinking in feelings of near-absolute hopelessness - this hopelessness I have convinced myself is somehow the way to perform virtue in the public square.

But willful sadness is not a virtue. 

That is not to say that it isn't normal, appropriate, or reasonable. But I had convinced myself that, happiness not being the end goal of a life well-lived, sadness - because it is opposite - is.

It isn't. It isn't. It's not.

My restrictions and deep feelings and tight containment have not furthered the goals of the conscious consumerism movement, and they have not made me more patient or kind. They have done the opposite. I have been trying to virtue-signal out of desperate self-consciousness by remaining in a state of perpetual melancholy. But now I am seeing the prison I've made and I am angry that I ever put myself in there in the first place.

We don't need to perform virtue in ways that hurt our spirits.

Author and environmentalist Barbara Kingsolver once said that "hope is a moral imperative." I have been living by that mantra because I really believe it, but I recognize now that by framing it as an imperative, it makes it feel like obligation rather than leaning in. It makes it seem inflexible.

So I am taking a new route now. I am taking the route that gives me permission to hope, encourages joy, without insisting and tightening its grip.

You have permission to say thank you to the birds and the sunset, to your generous spouse and your attentive mother. You have permission to lay down your heavy load and settle into some soft cushions.
depression conscious consumerism stylewise-blog.com

NYC Summer Sister Trip: What I'm Packing

NYC Summer Packing List with Ethical Items stylewise-blog.com
Three very exciting things are happening soon:
  • My sister and I are going on our very first sisters-only vacation.
  • We're going to see my sister's work at a gallery in NYC. 
  • We're staying with fellow Ethical Writer, Faye, of Sustaining Life!

This trip is basically all I've been thinking about for the last month, so I thought I would put together a "What I'm Packing" post. 

I've been to NYC a few times and it seems there's always some kind of wardrobe malfunction. The first time, I only packed canvas shoes for a December trip and was way too cold. Last summer, I packed my normally very comfortable Melissa sandals and they didn't cut it on the grimy sidewalks of the city. And, for some reason, I thought it would be smart to bring a tote bag with me on my long trek from Harlem to Brooklyn. By the end of the day, I could no longer feel my shoulder. 

So I am being exceedingly strategic this time around, and here are my top notes-to-self:
  • Pack a lightweight shawl or jacket
  • Bring a versatile, lightweight crossbody bag
  • Pack a portable iPhone charger
  • Bring sunglasses!

I'll be in New York a total of 4 days and this is what I'm packing...
NYC Summer Packing List with Ethical Items stylewise-blog.com
List contains affiliate links

ONE PIECE

TOPS

Secondhand Gray Striped Tee (similar style from Thought)

EXTRAS

Encircled Chrysalis Cardigan and/or Upcycled Army Jacket
Portable Charger
Sunscreen
Prescription Sunglasses
Metal Water Bottle

I'm still having mixed feelings about what shoes to bring, but my objective is to pack as light as possible because I'm only bringing a backpack, and because I'm very likely to buy some cute vintage clothes while I'm there.

That being said, because the weather still seems to be wavering between spring and summer, I thought I'd be safest packing layering tees to go under the dress and jumpsuit in colors that I can mix and match. It gives me a small amount of variety so I still feel like I have some control over what I wear each day.

NYC Summer Packing List with Ethical Items stylewise-blog.com

Super Simple Upcycle: Cropped Army Jacket

upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative stylewise-blog.com
Product shots from Nordstrom & Nordstrom Rack: One | Two | Three
This post contains affiliate links

I've been eyeing all the wonderful denim jackets out this season, most of them inspired by classic Levi's and the vintage denim trend.

But I simply haven't worn my jean jackets when I've owned them in the past because I'm not into the Canadian Tuxedo thing and the only other items they pair with are dresses and skirts. But that doesn't work either, because they're normally not cropped enough to lay well over high waist silhouettes.

After my Nordstrom shopping post, I fell down the rabbit hole looking for a casual cropped denim jacket when I came across this Madewell Army Jacket.

And that gave me an idea: Why not find a secondhand, lightweight army green shirt and crop it, leaving the hem raw?

It's a hybrid of all the other jackets I was looking at, and it would ensure that I would have a piece that I could pair with jeans, skirts, and dresses, because both the color and silhouette would be just right. I found an amazing secondhand, slightly oversized army green blouse on ebay for $5.00 (including shipping & handling!), then simply cut it to fit.

Upcycled Cropped Army Jacket

upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative stylewise-blog.com
What You'll Need:
  • Secondhand Army Green Jacket or Blouse in Lightweight Cotton (slightly oversized is preferable). Try Ebay, Swap.com, Poshmark, and Etsy for secondhand and vintage options.
  • Straight pins, chalk, or pencil for marking
  • Scissors
upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative stylewise-blog.com
Outfit Details: Earrings - 31 Bits; Jacket - Secondhand via Ebay; Jeans - thrifted; Tee - Everlane

To Make:
  1. Put the jacket or blouse on and button it up to ensure the hemline is even all the way around your body.
  2. Find your desired crop point and mark it in several places with straight pins (or with a pencil or chalk).
  3. Take the item off, re-button it, and lay on a flat surface. Finish marking your line about a half inch lower than your original markings to ensure you don't accidentally over-crop your jacket (fabric may roll or fray after cutting). 
  4. With the item still laying flat, cut straight across. 
  5. Put your jacket or blouse back on and see how it fits. Adjust if needed.
  6. Throw in the dryer to fray the hem.

Hooray for an absurdly simple, very inexpensive DIY.
upcycled DIY cropped army jacket secondhand #haulternative stylewise-blog.com

Counter-Culture, Consumption, and a Secondhand Solution with Darling Boutique

Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand stylewise-blog.com
Photos by Tristan Williams for Darling Boutique and StyleWise.

Do you ever have one of those weeks where the same conversation shows up in various contexts, like it's following you so you can learn something from it?

That happened to me last week.

In the 5+ years I've been writing about ethical fashion, I wish I could tell you the best path forward is clear to me now. I mean, I've read hundreds of articles, I religiously follow dozens of ethical blogs, and I've even had the opportunity to do some public speaking on the topic. But despite all of these experiences that could or should have cemented a set of ideals for me, I find myself even more confused about how to really "do the right thing."

That's because the industry is big and the world is huge and the problems are both massive and always changing. New political regimes and trade deals change the rules of the game everyday. The more I've learned, the more I understand how little I know.

That complicated conversation I kept having with thrift shop customers and friends and readers always ended with the same answer: maybe the very best thing we can do, right now, is opt out a little bit by choosing secondhand.
  Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand stylewise-blog.comDarling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand stylewise-blog.com
And for me, right now, knowing what I know and being situated as I am at a thrift store 4 or 5 days a week, that answer makes sense.

Of course the fashion industry has a right and maybe even an obligation to its workers to keep creating new things, and I find great meaning in being able to support brands that prioritize ethical labor and sustainable practices. But I think we have, over time, placed too much weight on the moral value of buying new things from ethical dealers as if our consumption is necessary to change the world. Even if that is true in our consumer culture, I honestly don't believe it should be true.

What we're witnessing right now in the ethical consumer space is a dangerous conflation of shopping with virtue, and once we allow that idea to warp our orientation toward consumption more generally, I think we only find ourselves in an, at best, morally ambiguous and, at worst, utterly disastrous brave new world where all moral decisions are navigated through the lens of consumption, corporate structures, private industry, and Capitalism. In other words, we bow to the manipulative whims of the marketplace and its industry leaders' compulsions. But paradigm-shifting moral structures come from a place of counter-culture. They must, or we will lose ourselves.

Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand stylewise-blog.com
That got a lot heavier than I intended when I started writing, but truly, it is serious. It's so easy to get caught up in the story brands feed us instead of engaging in comparatively harder work of writing our own narratives.

But let me get back to the intended topic of this post: Darling Boutique. 

Located on a side street of the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Darling is a carefully curated consignment boutique that also sells lots of beautiful goods from local artisans. Owner, Linnea White (we share initials and a birth year), and I have become fast friends over the last few months of me stopping in. Admittedly, I mostly stop in for "shop talk" because it's refreshing and necessary to have a peer to share work woes, advice, and news with. Since we both run small secondhand shops, we have a lot to talk about.

Linnea is also invested in ethical fashion and sees the shop as an extension of that mission. She invited me to help style some Darling pieces for a shoot with shop photographer, Tristan Williams, and we thought it would be fun to show how shopping ethically through secondhand purchases can result in creative, bright, offbeat style that runs counter to the current neutral-minimalist aesthetic. There is room for everyone in this movement.

Darling Boutique Charlottesville counterculture, consumption, and secondhand stylewise-blog.com
We framed the shoot around two key pieces: a throwback Mata Traders dress and a quirky Guatemalan wrap skirt with little people dancing across the bottom hem (I wish they were more visible in the pictures!).

I decided to style the Mata Traders dress against the grain: rather than playing up its boho accents, I went '60s mod with a collared shirt, big button earrings (which I ended up purchasing because I LOVE them), and Kate Spade daisy sandals. We tried to be more authentic with the skirt, styling it with a peach tank top, huaraches, and whispy earrings.
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At the end of the day, we are all responsible for making our own decisions, and we really can't hold other people accountable for how we decide to prioritize ethical credentials. But secondhand makes a lot of sense! It's abundant; readily available at consignment shops, thrift stores, swaps, and online marketplaces; and helps us refuse to buy into the idea that all purchases must be overtly entwined in our moral decision making. Secondhand shopping is smart and eco-friendly, yes, but it is, above all, pragmatic.

And in a world of virtue signaling, snake-oil sales pitches, and other unverifiable facts, I am all for pragmatic solutions.

Learn more about Darling here.

grünBAG: A Little Green Bag With a Big Green Impact

grunBAG makes eco-friendly ethical water proof bags stylewise-blog.com
This post was sponsored by grünBAG and I received an item for review. Opinions and editorial direction are my own.

Later this month I'm headed to NYC for a mini-adventure with my sister. She is a talented fine art photographer specializing in creating miniature worlds with scale figures and unconventional materials and her work is currently on display at a gallery in Yonkers.

I always get anxious about particular things when I'm traveling, especially when I'm going to a place I'm relatively unfamiliar with. And when I'm visiting a bigger city and know I'll be doing a lot of walking and not have access to a "home base" during much of the day, I try to bring a purse or bag that I know will be sturdy and practical without weighing me down.

My collaboration with grünBAG was scheduled months before I knew I'd be heading up to New York. But past Leah was looking out for near-future Leah because I selected a bag for review that I think will be perfect for travel...

grunBAG makes eco-friendly ethical water proof bags stylewise-blog.comgrunBAG makes eco-friendly ethical water proof bags stylewise-blog.com

About grünBAG 

Based and produced in Denmark, grünBAG specializes in making street ready backpacks and purses out of recycled lifeboats, banners, sails, and industrial tarps used in the trucking industry. These outdoor textiles are usually comprised of a cotton canvas or sturdy woven polyester that has been weather coated to make it water proof, making them well suited for re-use in utilitarian bags. The straps are produced with recycled nylon. Denmark's labor standards are high (though they are not codified as precisely as they are in the US, the minimum wage is anywhere from $11-20 USD), which means grünBAG employees are being compensated well for their work.

grunBAG makes eco-friendly ethical water proof bags stylewise-blog.comgrunBAG makes eco-friendly ethical water proof bags stylewise-blog.com
Ethical Details: Cardigan - c/o Liz Alig; T-shirt - old J. Crew; Jeans - Everlane Cheeky Straight; Sandals - thrifted Birkenstock; Earrings - locally made; Bag - grünBAG Small A-Bag

My Review

The style I'm using here is the Small A-Bag in Green. It has a top zipper with a fold-over detail that provides extra room in the main compartment, which I'm hoping will prove to be an asset should I need to stow away a purchase while out and about in the city. The purse is virtually weightless on its own, which is great, and the adjustable crossbody strap makes it easy to go hands-free.

The one downside is that there aren't very many organizational pockets. There is one interior pocket that will hold a phone or some cash. My purse things are fairly streamlined, but I'll have to use this a bit more to see if the lack of pockets hinders the overall user experience. The A-Bag costs about $79 USD.

Overall, I'm very impressed with the eco-friendliness of this bag, and I love the rich green color and how lightweight it is. I'll let you know how it fares on the streets of New York.

Shop grünBAG here

eco-friendly vegan ethical bag grunbag stylewise-blog.com

P.S. If you're wondering why there's dirt on my ankle in one of these photos, it's because I slipped and fell right before shooting. Luckily, the ground was damp and cushion-y and I didn't end up having any injuries.