Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Empty Claims & Empty Bellies: Why All Natural Isn't Always Better, with Dr. Epstein-Levi

why all natural isn't always better with dr. epstein-levi
This post was written by my friend, Dr. Rebecca Epstein-Levi, a professor and writer working at the intersection of religion and bioethics. If there's one thing the ethical blogging niche needs, it's more experts, so I'm thankful that Rebecca agreed to write this piece for StyleWise.

Nature has no preference for good things over bad things; its mills turn out any kind of grist indifferently.
-John Dewey, Experience and Nature

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
-Kranzberg’s first law of technology

Busting the "Natural is Better" Myth

It’s nearly a truism these days that in social spaces centered around sustainability or health, it’s impossible to spit without hitting some version of the belief that “natural is better.” Labels like “natural,” “organic,” “chemical-free,”(1) and “non-GMO” indicate a product is claiming a specific kind of moral rectitude.

This is a claim that also transcends conventional left-right political categories. Organic and natural foods, anti-GMO activism, anti-vaccine claims, and devotion to natural childbirth (to name a handful of specific manifestations of the claim) have found ready acceptance among survivalists, Christian homesteaders, and adherents to Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy movements just as they have among hippies, back-to-the-landers, and “granola parents.

On strictly factual grounds, the belief in the fundamental superiority of “natural” products on health and sustainability grounds is misleading, even harmful. Examples abound of “natural” entities, substances and processes whose effects on the human body range from unpleasant to deadly—try arsenic, cholera, and the venom of the cone snail for just a few.

Similarly, just because something has been been created or modified by humans does not mean it is harmful. There is, for example, no good evidence that food from genetically modified crops is harmful to human health (2). As for sustainability, evidence is mixed in such a way to cast significant doubt on the “naturalness” of a farming or manufacturing process as the most important variable (3). Far more important are the ways a given technology is used, and on what. (Consider, for example, Leah’s recent post about how lab-grown diamonds are far more sustainable than mined diamonds—a clear example of how a process of synthetic manufacture has far fewer human and environmental costs than a “natural” one). 
why all natural isn't always better with dr. epstein-levi

A Case Study: Genetically Engineered Crops

Take the case of genetically engineered (GE) crops. One might claim—and, incidentally, I would agree—that growing field upon field of trademarked Roundup-Ready maize is problematic on moral, ecological, and social justice grounds. But the reasons that practice is problematic have little to do with the fact that the maize is genetically engineered as such, and much to do with the corporate control, monocropping, and exploitative labor practices that such a scenario engenders.

On moral and cultural grounds, however, it is worth asking just what labels like “natural” and so on are standing in for. Again, let’s take the case of GE crops. When we recoil at the idea of a crop having been specifically engineered for a particular trait, and at that engineering having been done in a lab rather than over generations of selective breeding, what baneful associations do we have with that process? And, conversely, what salutary associations do we have with the breeding of crops in a more conventional manner?

I suspect that we have two sets of associations with genetic engineering. First, I suspect that genetic engineering makes it impossible to deny the manipulated and processed nature of nearly everything we put in or on our bodies. Few to none of our major food crops much resemble their nearest wild ancestors—heirloom variety maize and maize with bacterial genes spliced in have far more in common with each other, both genetically and morphologically, than either does with maize’s nearest wild ancestor, a nearly inedible grass called teosinte. But engineered crops let their history of manipulation all hang out, whereas our wholesome narrative about conventionally bred varieties allows us to obscure their history of extensive modification behind a veneer of simple God-givenness.

Second, the particular sort of manipulation that we call “synthetic”—here, laboratory transgenesis and gene editing—calls to mind the sort of ivory tower decision-making that has excluded actual farm workers and consumers from the conversation. The soil is simple and democratic, according to this narrative, while the lab is corporate and hierarchal. And certainly the conduct of biotech giants like Monsanto does nothing to contradict that notion.

Moral Agency

In short, the first association reminds us of the extent to which our world is shaped by our moral choices; the second reminds us of the extent to which systems restrict our moral agency. Thus, they’re related—and thinking about them together can help us navigate both. For if something is processed or manipulated in some way, it means someone made a choice—a moral choice—about its production. And to realize that everything we consume was produced and chosen at some level, rather than being merely given—this is discomfiting

But it also means that we can choose to produce and manipulate in ways that support sustainability and social justice.

We can support policy that favors open-source gene editing, manipulating a broad variety of crops for things like drought and pest resistance or biofortification, consulting with local users on which modifications make sense for their needs, and sharing the technologies with those users. And we can support responsible, accessible science journalism and education that enables consumers to make wise choices and to participate in conversations about research priorities.

Distinguishing between superficial appeals to nature and genuine concerns about sustainability, justice, or health, then, requires cultivating particular sets of interpretive skills. One set involves the ability to read health and environmental claims critically. Equally important, however, is the ability to read moral claims critically. Ask yourself—when a product advertises that it is “natural,” “chemical-free,” or similar, what more specific moral claims is that label standing in for?

Own the extent to which your moral choices condition your world. Realize the limits of your moral influence. And then, do your best to choose wisely.

About the Author:
Dr. Rebecca J. Epstein-Levi is the Friedman Postdoctoral Fellow in Jewish Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She is a practical ethicist who examines questions of sexual, biomedical, and environmental ethics through a Jewish lens. In her copious free time, she enjoys horseback riding, cooking overly complicated meals, and sharpening her ever-growing collection of kitchen knives. She lives with her wife, Sarah, and her cat, Faintly Macabre. 

why all natural isn't always better with dr. epstein-levi

(1) This one, incidentally, is physically impossible unless you can eat or wear pure energy, in which case, more power to you.
(2) See Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health, Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. National Academies Press 2004, accessed July 16, 2015; American Medical Association, “Labeling of Bioengineered Foods,”
(3) In general, consensus seems to be that GE varieties can give greater yields and reduce pesticide usage. Herbicide usage tends to increase with the adoption of herbicide-tolerant GE crops; however, such crops also allow the more widespread use of relatively less toxic herbicides. See Kl├╝mper and Quaim 2014, “A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops.” PLOSOne 9(2014):11, accessed July 16, 2015, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111629; Fernandez-Cornejo, et al, 2014 “Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States” USDA Economic Research Service Report 162, accessed July 16, 2015

Gettin' Around: Reframe Your Life Podcast, Writing Workshop, & E-Book Sale

ethical lifestyle blogger Leah Wise
While I've slowed down a bit on blogging over the last month, I've been busy with cool projects in the ethical fashion space...
ethical blogger podcast reframe your life with leah wise

First up: My Podcast Debut

The lovely and thoughtful Sandy Reynolds of podcast, Reframe Your Life, interviewed me last month for an episode on spirituality, progressive Christianity, ethical fashion, and being an influencer in this niche. I really enjoyed the pace and scope of the conversation and would love for you to give it a listen and tell me what you think! I'm always happy to respond to questions and continue the conversation. 

This was a really good opportunity for me to share a fuller picture of who I am, and I'm just glad it's out there in the world.

ethical blogging workshop ethical writers and creatives webinar

Upcoming Workshop

Join me, Jen Panaro of Honestly Modern, and Kate Hall of Ethically Kate to learn how to create a compelling, effective blog post. From essays to research articles to shopping guides, we'll share our processes, SEO strategies, and candid tips. 

August 13, 4:00-7:00 pm EST (with the option to receive the recording if you can't make that time)

how to be an ethical lifestyle blogger discount code

My E-Book, which includes lots of information on starting and maintaining your own ethical lifestyle blog, as well as working with ethical brands and organizations, is $10 off during the month of August, which brings the price down to $15.

Use code BACKTOBLOG or

In other news, I just made it to 10K followers on Instagram!

Thank you so much for your continued support. I've been working on lots of new posts for the coming weeks and am excited that the busy fall season is almost here.

Inside an Ethical Wardrobe: Summer 2018

ethical fair and sustainable capsule wardrobe summer 2018
Contains affiliate links

My summer wardrobe is, admittedly, about double the size it needs to be, at about 50 pieces not counting shoes. But that's because I can't bear to part with the vintage dresses, the cropped blouses, and the swingy beach cover ups. I may never wear them, but give me the right occasion and they'll suddenly become the most practical things I own.

I've made my peace with this. I am not a minimalist. Clothing holds nostalgic, romantic, and aesthetic value for me beyond its practicality. I hold onto things gleaned from the thrift shop after a volunteer has died. I keep graphic tees because I like reading the graphics. I store away shoes I wore when I first met Daniel. This, for me, is not materialism. This is a material culture that references shared humanity and reminds me of love and loss. Things are a beautiful part of life.

Maybe I should write a whole essay on this? For now, I'll just share with you the things I've worn over and over (and over) again in the high heat of summer. I still have and wear a lot of the pieces I featured last summer, but some of them, due to poor fit and my fluctuating weight, were donated.

This is what I'm living in this summer...

ethical fair and sustainable capsule wardrobe summer 2018
Old J Crew Tissue Tee, OESH Shoes | Thrifted Tank Top, Tonle Cropped Pants, Deux Main Sandals | Hackwith Design Jacket, Thrifted Kick Flares, Nisolo Huaraches

Everlane V-necks and Crew Necks

I bought my first Everlane tee in 2014 and only just last month did I retire it to my pajama drawer. They last and last, and the fit is perfect for me (though I often size up in the crew neck for a looser fit through the body).


Everlane Linen Tee

The drapiness of lightweight linen is super flattering, and I love the muted green/taupe color.


Old J Crew Tissue Tees

Light, breathable tees that flatter even though they have a high crew neck cut.

ethical fair and sustainable capsule wardrobe summer 2018
Everlane Striped Tee, Thrifted Wide Leg Crops & Silver Sandals | Thrifted Tank, Everlane Pants; Deux Mains Sandals | Everlane Tee, Thrifted Denim | MATTER Prints Top, Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Pants, Secondhand TEVAs

Elizabeth Suzann Linen Clyde Pants

The surprise winner of my closet. The perfect weight for summer and the big pockets are helpful at work.


Everlane Easy Chino

Admittedly, I bought these because I had some store credit to burn through, but the weight and style is perfect for very hot weather. These and the Clydes are the only pants I'm willing to wear in full sun.


Thrifted Wide Leg Cropped Jeans

Groovy Ralph Laurens circa 2003 or so.


Thrifted & Cropped Kick Flare Jeans

Never underestimate the power of scissors. They turned a pair of awkwardly short jeans into cool high waters.

ethical fair and sustainable capsule wardrobe summer 2018
Abrazo Style Dress | Vintage Dress from Low Vintage (local) | Everlane Linen Tee, Vintage Skirt, TEVAs

Thrifted '90s Dresses

I can't resist those perfect '90s floral prints, the soft rayon and cotton fabrics, or the v-cut waist seams.


Abrazo Style Dress

I've had this dress for two years and the lightweight chambray and beautiful, three dimensional hand embroidery keeps me coming back.

Secondhand Gingham Sundress (not shown)

An impulse buy after my photoshoot with Darling Boutique, the cost per wear on this dress I paid 20-something for is well into single digits.

ethical fair and sustainable capsule wardrobe summer 2018
Thrifted Birkenstocks | Deux Mains Sandals | Thrifted TEVA Flatforms | Thrifted TEVA Premier Sandals

Thrifted Birkenstocks

These came into the shop where I work and had barely been worn. I LOVE them because they have the soft footbed and I wear them 3+ times a week.


Secondhand TEVA Universal Premier Sandals

So comfy and perfect, these compete with the Birkenstocks for most wears.


Secondhand TEVA Flatform Sandals

LOVE these. I've been pinning pictures of TEVA flatforms for at least a year and have wanted a pair of flatforms for almost a decade. I finally found my perfect pair, secondhand of course.


Thrifted Silver Sandals

Another thrift shop find, these are by Mephisto and are quite supportive, not to mention shiny.


Deux Mains Slide Sandals

I bought these last summer and still wear them all the time, especially when I'm hanging out in the backyard in the evening.


Wardrobe Thoughts

This has been a really easy season for me, getting-dressed wise. Daria's Wonder Wardrobe course helped me push past some of my fears around cohesive wardrobe building/capsuling and make smarter choices. That freed me up to finally buy things I've wanted for years and years but thought would be "impractical," like the TEVA flatforms I've worn almost every day since I got them a couple weeks ago.

I've also decided to do a little less hand-wringing over making the perfect choice, because there are no perfect choices. I'm trying to stay true to my values and my personal style with a strong emphasis on lightening the mental load. Surprisingly, this has probably made me a more sustainable shopper because I'm making fewer purchases overall and often choosing secondhand.


As you can see, a significant portion of my everyday wardrobe was thrifted or purchased secondhand from a consignment shop or online retailer. If you want to hear my reasons for that, check out this post.

Never underestimate the power of secondhand shopping. If you're not near a good thrift or consignment shop, I recommend these online retailers:

Enter specific search terms to find exactly what you're looking for.

See other Inside an Ethical Wardrobe posts here

5 Companies That Make Going Zero Waste Fashionable & Accessible

where to buy zero waste products storage and clothing
A KeepCup
Sponsored. Contains affiliate links.

It's still #PlasticFreeJuly and, admittedly, I haven't been paying enough attention. I had good intentions, but about one day in, I looked at the carryout container I brought home from a local restaurant, noted its plastic appearance, and slapped my hand to my forehead in shame. Oof!

If you've been paying any attention to what is cleverly being termed "Plastic Strawgate," you may also be thinking about plastic use in your everyday life. With England and other countries planning to ban straws and multinational companies like Starbucks finding workarounds (plastic lids??), plastic is all anyone in the sustainable fashion community seems to be talking about. And while that's a good thing, it can also be shaming and unproductive.

Pollution is a systemic issue, after all, and we've been fed the lie that our waste is being neatly sorted and recycled, so who can blame us for being confused? And then we've got the issue with straws, which we use, more often than not, because they're handed to us outright or put directly into our drinks. Saying no is not a long term strategy, because it's not an individual problem - it's a collective one. That means that we need to question everything from the marketing to the suppliers to the infrastructure, and dedicate more effort to long term change than we currently are.

Nevertheless, it's much easier to make small, concerted changes when we are armed with the tools to do so. When it comes to straws, use them if you need them for medical reasons. Otherwise, say goodbye. When it comes to coffee cups and saran wrap and takeout containers - or even clothing - a little bit of forethought goes a long way. Invest in things that last if you can and lay off the guilt trip if it's not financially or structurally within your means to do so. We in the conscious community have your back.


For zero waste storage & supplies...

1 | EarthHero

On its way to becoming my #1 one-stop-shop for sustainable goods, EarthHero offers a huge, carefully curated selection of goods meant to make zero waste easier, from BeesWrap to food containers to skincare to clothing.


For zero waste clothing...

2 | Tonle

Using factory remnants and employing rigorous zero waste processes to ensure that every last scrap is used in their designs, Tonle makes fashionable, artisanal clothing for women that is anything but ordinary.

My Favorites: See my review here


For accessories...

3 | Purse for the People

Using specialized software, Purse for the People offers custom, made-to-order woven basket bags with minimal waste. Additionally, the bags are created using traditional artisan techniques that honor the cultures of the people who make them.

My Favorites: the Aspen


For eating on the go...

4 | ECOLunchBox

With a strong emphasis on zero waste for families, ECO Lunch Box sells bento boxes, lunch bags, flatware sets, and more to ensure you can go zero waste when eating outside the house.

My Favorites: Eco Tableware Trio

For bespoke fashion...

5| Zero Waste Daniel

Fabric scraps never looked so good. Zero Waste Daniel makes one-of-a-kind garments with fabric leftover from New York City's garment industry through a zero waste process.

My Favorites: Grey Fitted T-Shirt


For the market...

BONUS | Eco-Bags

Specializing in canvas shopping totes and string bags for produce, Eco-Bags is your one stop shop for bags that will last. I've only just recently come to understand the wonders of a well made canvas bag, and I have to say they're so much better than those flimsy polyester grocery totes they sell in the grocery store checkout line.

My Favorites: Buyerarchy of Needs Bag, Produce Bags


where to buy zero waste products storage and clothing

Note that when it comes to buying "zero waste" storage products, these items are likely not produced using zero waste practices. Rather, they ensure that, in the long term, you will become less reliant on single use plastic and other non-biodegradable or wasteful disposables. It's important not to over-consume zero waste products because they still create waste during production. Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.

My Picks in the Everlane Choose What You Pay Sale

everlane choose what you pay summer 2018
This post contains affiliate links

Everlane's Choose What You Pay Sale started something like a month ago, but it's ok to be a little late to the game. June is not exactly prime time for adding things to your closet, but late July is, at least in my view.

I woke up this morning thinking I was going back to school soon. There's a chill in the air thanks to a cold front that blew in last night, and you can feel the calm-before-the-storm anticipation of fall. Never mind that I haven't gone back to school in eight years.

Since shopping more intentionally, I have begun to embrace off-season shopping. If you know what you like, why not buy the sweater in July?

Everlane Choose What You Pay Picks

Cotton Striped Tee Dress, $25

I have this and its the perfect weekend lounge dress that's still suitable for grabbing lunch or walking around town.

Splitneck Jean Dress, $60

This would look great over leggings or black jeans in the fall.

Silk Sleeveless Square Shirt, $55

A classic silhouette to tie at the waist or tuck into a skirt.

Cashmere Crop Mockneck Sweater, $60

I have this one, too, and it is so fashion-y. Looks great with mid and high rise denim, or swinging over a vintage dress.

Cashmere Crew, $65

Available in color-block, too, the cashmere crew is one of Everlane's earliest pieces and the fit is classic and streamlined. I own this in pink and dappled gray.

Wool-Cashmere Square Crew, $69

If you want a truly warm sweater that air can't squeeze through in the winter, the wool-cashmere is for you. I have an earlier version of this sweater and its often the only sweater I bring with me when I travel in the winter.
everlane choose what you pay 2018 my 6 picks

The Moral Wardrobe: Inclusive, Sustainable Swimwear

ethical and ecofriendly swimwear alyned together review ethical and ecofriendly swimwear alyned together review stylewise-blog.comethical and ecofriendly swimwear alyned together review stylewise-blog.comethical and ecofriendly swimwear alyned together review
Ethical Details: Swimsuit - c/o Alyned Together; Raw Hem Jacket - c/o Hackwith Design; Sandals - c/o OESH (old)

Growing up in Florida, I wasn't really shy about showing some skin. Everyone wore short shorts and string bikinis, and it didn't strike me as unusual. But I attended a church with strictly enforced modesty standards (and my mom was an enforcer to be reckoned with herself - love you, mother), so I often ended up wearing tankinis or covering up with a t-shirt.

While I really believe people should wear whatever they want (as cliche as it may be, those "all bodies are bikini bodies" memes still make me happy), I feel more comfortable these days with fuller coverage, maybe because of my background but also because of the way I carry weight on my body. So I'm happy that vintage cuts are in.

This swimsuit is from Alyned Together, a company that believes in size inclusivity (they carry sizes XS-3X), sustainability (they use recycled poly in their collection and use nontoxic dyes), and industry change (they produce in industry-leading factories with the hopes of building relationships with the owners and managers to move them toward better sustainability standards).

Increasingly, I feel compelled to give highest priority to companies who understand that every body is different and know how to celebrate it. Sustainability and body positivity are natural partners because they both have an end goal of creating a more abundant, healthier world.

A note on sizing: I'm wearing a small in the top and a medium in the bottom with a 34" bust, 29" waist, and 39" hips. I probably could have gone one size down in the bottoms to get a tighter fit at the waist, but for my proportionally larger thighs, the medium is more comfortable.

Ethical Lab-Grown Diamonds: the Best Option for Eco-Friendly Jewelry

Sponsored and written by MiaDonna Diamonds with my editorial approval
MiaDonna ethical lab-grown diamonds

The Best Option for Eco-Friendly Jewelry

In recent years, consumers have begun to understand the devastating effects of diamond mining. On top of the damage to individuals and economies in mining communities, this practice has serious environmental consequences. Approximately 150 million carats of diamonds are mined annually, displacing massive amounts of soil and irreversibly damaging ecosystems all the while.

Thanks to the today’s technology, however, we no longer need to rely on these harmful practices to enjoy beautiful jewelry. Now, we have eco-friendly, sustainable lab-grown diamonds.

Lab-grown diamonds are, in fact, real diamonds. You may have heard of lab-created diamonds or man made diamonds, and all of these terms refer to the same thing. Modern technology is capable of mimicking the natural diamond-growing process in just six to ten weeks within a lab. This process results in lab-created diamonds that are physically, chemically, and optically identical to their Earth-mined counterparts.

What’s more, these diamonds are incredibly eco-friendly. While Earth-mined diamonds result in soil displacement, create excessive carbon emissions, and use massive quantities of water (approximately 126 gallons for every 1-carat diamond mined!), lab-grown diamonds minimize these damaging effects. At 18.5 liters per carat, relatively minimal water is used in the creation of man-made diamonds. The amount of land disturbed with this process is far less than with Earth-mined diamonds, as well.

MiaDonna is a leading retailer within this growing industry, offering the highest quality and most ethical diamonds at an unbeatable value. Every diamond created by MiaDonna is Type IIa, meaning all of the retailer’s diamonds are the purest, hardest, and most brilliant of their kind. This grading is one that only 2% of Earth-mined diamonds achieve! These quality lab-grown diamonds cost up to 40% less than those that are Earth-mined, making MiaDonna jewelry not only a quality eco-friendly alternative, but also an affordable one.

These rings are simply beautiful. MiaDonna offers all of the most popular shapes of diamonds, and the rings themselves come in virtually any style you might want, whether that be vintage, antique, halo, solitaire, two-tone, modern, or diamond accented. If you have something else in mind, MiaDonna even offers custom design services, so you can have the exact design you’re looking for handcrafted from scratch.
MiaDonna ethical lab-grown diamonds

Changing the Narrative for the Conflict-Diamond Industry

Another aspect that sets MiaDonna apart is the retailer’s commitment to assisting communities and individuals affected by the active conflict-diamond industry. In doing so, they set the bar high for others within the diamond industry.

Every MiaDonna lab-created diamond is guaranteed to be free of conflict and sourced exclusively from labs in first world countries. Yet MiaDonna goes even further than just ensuring their diamonds are conflict-free; feel free to read all about the additional work they do as a system with their foundation The Greener Diamond. Funded solely by the purchases of MiaDonna jewelry and run entirely by volunteers, every cent of the charity’s funding goes directly to The Greener Diamond’s projects.

This charity empowers mining communities through agricultural training to ensure that individuals can earn a living in a safe way by growing their own food rather than mining for diamonds. In this way, The Greener Diamond helps people formerly involved in diamond mining develop new skills and become self-sustainable. Every purchase of an eco-friendly MiaDonna product then directly contributes to restoring the lives and land in sub-Saharan Africa, so consumers can be proud of the purchase they make.

Myth Vs. Fact: Is Online Shopping More Polluting Than Shopping In-Store?

is online shopping more polluting than shopping in store plastic free july
It's Plastic Free July, so I'm planning to post a few pieces on environmental topics. This post was written by Jen Panaro and originally appeared on Honestly Modern.
Is online or in-store shopping better for the environment? As with most things, it depends, but here’s what the data tell us and how you can determine what makes the most sense for you.

I heard the doorbell ring and glanced out my window to see a delivery truck sitting in front of the house. As I headed downstairs to grab my package, I realized the delivery person I saw out the window wasn’t the one who had just rang my doorbell. I had two delivery trucks in front of the house at the same time. Even though no one else was home, I felt a little embarrassed.

I’m really not a shopaholic. I rarely buy something for the sake of getting something new. I almost always have a more intentional purpose for my purchases.

Recently, I’ve been receiving a lot of deliveries for a variety of reasons. We’re moving into a new house this week and have two guests rooms, a home office and a play room that we’ve never had before. I’ve ordered sheets, mattresses, beds, a desk, a desk chair, and more online. While I recognize we may not “need” all these additional rooms, they certainly will be used regularly and aren’t being furnished to sit and collect dust.

With a recent move to a new climate, we needed more summer clothes, all of which I purchased from a few of my favorite sustainable brands (and all ordered online). The boys grow like weeds, so I buy their clothes secondhand from one of my favorite secondhand clothing site, thredup.

Check Out More Secondhand Shops I Like

I even order a lot of everyday things online like diapers from Amazon, dinner from HelloFresh and craft supplies for specific projects. Needless-to-say, the delivery trucks are familiar with our address.

With two delivery trucks sitting in front of my house at the same time that day, I couldn’t help but wonder how my primarily-online shopping habits impacted the environment.

Was I feeding a carbon emissions problem by making nearly all my purchases online and leading delivery trucks to my house on a daily (sometimes twice daily) basis?

Spoiler Alert: For me, probably not. Generally though, the jury is still out.

Here’s what the research says.

How Much Marginal Driving Really Happens?

Whether shopping online or from brick-and-mortar stores, large tractor trailers deliver the goods to our community from the manufacturer or distributor. Either the UPS and FedEx trucks drive packages to their distribution centers or Target delivers items to their local stores. These trips are likely fairly similar, so I suspect we don’t see a significant difference in the first leg of the journey.

After this checkpoint, a lot of variables enter into the equation. The remaining research isn’t conclusive, but we can get some directional support about our own habits with the conclusions derived from a host of studies.

Researching Purchases Online Helps

For those of us who research purchases and shop almost exclusively online, online shopping leaves a significantly smaller carbon footprint than traditional in-store shopping despite the delivery trucks and packaging. One paper from MIT in 2013 suggested a shopper who purchases exclusively online leaves half the carbon footprint of a traditional in-store shopper. Unlike traditional shoppers, online shoppers don’t drive from store to store to compare alternatives before deciding, and this generates most of the environmental benefit.

After deciding on a final purchase, traditional shoppers may link together a few errands to make one trip more efficient. Studies suggest, however, that we aren’t very good at this. Delivery companies like UPS and FedEx, on the other hand, put forth major investment of time and resources to determine the most efficient routes for delivery of goods (far more efficient and effective than a typical individual’s efforts to combine a few errands here and there). These combined considerations give another edge to online shoppers.

Where You Live Matters...

Read the rest on Honestly Modern

The Moral Wardrobe: Blinded by the Bright

tamga designs dress ethical yellow dress stylewise-blog.comtamga designs dress ethical yellow dress tamga designs dress ethical yellow dress tamga designs dress ethical yellow dress
Ethical Details: Dress - Tamga Designs; Tank Top - ancient; Shoes - Nisolo Huarache

Open back dresses are flattering, but who besides travel bloggers and beach bums has a context to where them? I repeated this question to myself for about a year before deciding to throw practicality to the wind and buy the dress anyway. 

I had a bright yellow dress in college that I wore constantly even after my friend's roommate told me it was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen. Yellow, especially yards of it, is such a cheerful and satisfying thing to wear that it didn't really bother me that some random guy thought it was gross. I eventually grew out of that dress and donated it to a thrift shop, but I never forgot how I felt wearing it. 

This Tamga Designs dress was just what I wanted except that darn open back. But I decided it would work perfectly well with a tank top or t-shirt on normal days. And maybe someday when I go on a tropical vacation, I'll get a chance to wear it as intended. 

In case you hadn't noticed, I never alter the way I wear clothes to portray them more elegantly on the blog. So the bra straps are showing and that's ok.

Walk the Walk: What Thomas Jefferson Can Teach Us About The Dangers of Moral Licensing

moral licensing in the conscious consumer movement and thomas jefferson
Scare quotes ("") are used in this essay to indicate language that is euphemistic. In a slave-slaveholder relationship, the enslaved person has no choice and thus language that implies choice is imperfect and doesn't tell the full story.

"Sally Hemings died in Charlottesville, Virginia. No one knows where she is buried."

Around these parts, it is a well known fact that Thomas Jefferson had a longterm "affair" with Sally Hemings, a woman he owned as a slave from the time she was an infant (around 1773) until his death on July 4, 1826.

Hemings was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, who died from childbirth complications. Jefferson began a sexual relationship with Hemings when she was 14 or 15. They had four children who survived into adulthood, all of whom were eventually freed as adults and three of whom passed into white society. Only one child, Madison, remained in black society after leaving Jefferson's plantation, and he is the best source of information about his mother, Sally, and life on the plantation.

According to Madison, Jefferson knew that he and his siblings were his biological children but gave them only nominal special treatment as youngsters, insisting on training them in trades at around age 14. His "relationship" with Sally Hemings endured for at least 40 years - and he is not thought to have had any children with other enslaved women - and yet she was never freed.

And yet we don't even know where she is buried. Meanwhile, Jefferson's white heirs still own and control the cemetery where Jefferson is buried.

Thomas Jefferson, you may recall, wrote these powerful words in The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

He also wrote extensively throughout his life on the sin of slavery, "calling it 'moral depravity' and a 'hideous blot,'" according to historians at Monticello. And yet he owned over 600 enslaved people throughout his lifetime, only freeing his own biological children and a couple of their relatives.  In a similar vein, he believed that people of African heritage were innately inferior and could not flourish together in community, that slavery was perhaps a "necessary evil" to avoid a race war.

But hey, this is a fashion blog.

Why am I talking about Thomas Jefferson?

Thomas Jefferson is one of the best examples we have of someone who can speak eloquently about valuable and righteous ideals while promoting and perpetuating entrenched injustice. 

He is an American hero who never managed to tear down the structure he insisted he loathed, who, in reality, benefited immensely from owning other human beings and never even made amends at a personal level for the system he publicly decried. A man who kept his own children as slaves for 20 years and never freed a woman he clearly had affection for.

Thomas Jefferson is a hypocrite's hypocrite.

And we in the social justice community better take note, because we are at risk of joining him.

Jefferson likely fell prey to a common psychological tick called moral licensing. According to researchers, a series of studies on the subject of moral behavior reveal a consistent conclusion:

Past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid.

In Jefferson's case, there were lots of things to feel good about. Drafting one of our nation's most important documents, acting as the ambassador to France, being the President, inventing lots of cool stuff, and believing that slavery was bad. If I were in his position, I too would believe I was pretty dope.

That's because moral confidence not only allows us to lower our guards against moral ambiguity or depravity, it can actually justify immorality.
moral licensing in the conscious consumer movement and thomas jefferson

Moral Licensing in the Conscious Consumer Movement

I have had the grave misfortune of watching many moral scandals unfold in the ethical fashion community over the years. From companies lying about where their products are made to bloggers buying followers, from startups treating unpaid interns as wage-slaves to influencers promoting shady brands. 

Most recently, I've been watching (and sometimes commenting on) a situation where the influencer, a very popular Instagrammer, developed a pyramid scheme under the guise of community-building and then refused to engage well with legitimate critique, instead circling the wagons and rewarding those who backed down over those who stood firm.

This is moral licensing at work...

  • Sometimes we think that helping poor people over there means it's ok to abuse unpaid interns right here. 
  • Sometimes we think that promoting ethical goods means it's ok to exploit salespeople through pyramid schemes.
  • Sometimes we think that raising funds for disaster relief warrants marketing that objectifies the recipients. 
  • Sometimes we believe that good intentions are good enough.
  • Sometimes we believe the lie that the ends justifies the means.

And sometimes, oftentimes, we are wrong. 

Talking about ethical fashion is really just a way to talk about systems. Systems like slavery, indentured servitude, the patriarchy, and Capitalism. Or systems like farms, factories, and corporations, that are at risk of unethical business practices even when they appear neutral. 

And we can shout on and on about how much we hate these systems that bring suffering and death and darkness. We can call it "moral depravity" and a "hideous blot." 

And yet. 

And yet, we can keep benefiting from the structures and systems that have allowed this suffering in the first place: exploitative marketing, profit manipulation, individualism, and ego. We can use these systems instead of overturning them. (Imagine! It's as if Jesus simply started selling fair trade jewelry at the temple instead of turning over the tables in a rage.)

But what if we're being called to something more revolutionary than the status quo?

And what if real change requires imagination and humility, and vulnerability that makes us look like the complex and strange human beings we are? 

In case it wasn't clear, we are all guilty of moral licensing. We have all done a good job at work then justified an impulse buy, or cut corners on a project because we "deserved" more than we received. We have all landed flat on our backs trying to navigate a slippery slope. 

What now?

It is not our responsibility to become super humans, but it is our job to know what we're capable of, to name it and do what we can to walk the talk. It is very easy to sit behind our screens and claim good deeds while secretly advocating - even if not explicitly - for systems that run at odds to our stated morals. And it's also easy to claim that because someone has consented to an imperfect system - like Sally Hemings did when she, at one point, left freedom in France to come back the Virginia with Jefferson - that they own the problem now. 

But we cannot be people of deflection. If we claim community-mindedness - if we claim a movement with the word "ethical" in the label - then we are responsible for picking up the slack and carrying more than our fair share when our sister is incapable of carrying her own load. 

After all, an abundant world isn't one in which everything is fair. It's one in which everyone is flourishing. We must become people of sacrifice, of truth-telling, of radical love or we will be no better than a complicated man who died nearly 200 years ago. Surely we've progressed since then?

We are not called to continue the legacy of the dead. We are called to a revolution. 

I'm ready. Are you?

Oh yeah, and happy 4th.

Read other Fourth of July posts here and here.
moral licensing in the conscious consumer movement and thomas jefferson

6 American Made, Sustainable Brands Owned by Badass Women

6 made in use ethical brands made by women
Hackwith Design House gave me a Raw Hem Smock Jacket free of charge and this post contains two affiliate links

As a part of my effort to re-center my shopping habits around quality pieces, I've been exploring more indie-made, American brands. When pressed by a very smart friend recently about what system I think is most sustainable, I said, without hesitation, that locally made is the best option. It's something I need to intellectually explore past that initial statement, but it certainly made me reconsider my pro-globalization standpoint a bit.

I was fortunate enough to snag a good deal at the end of last year: a pants grab bag from Nashville-based Elizabeth Suzann containing both Clyde Pants and the Clyde Skirt in linen. More recently, Hackwith Design sent me the Raw Hem Smock Jacket I'm wearing, and I have to say that, although these brands are certainly pricier than my budget typically allows, I LOVE wearing them. So much so that I'm considering reframing my budget to allow for fewer, better goods from American designers.

But the appeal of woman-owned, close-to-home companies is multi-fold: I appreciate a fit and design perspective from women who know how it is to live and work as a woman; the smaller scale of the business means greater transparency and a better understanding of cost and labor breakdowns; and the process of purchasing feels more intimate, as many of these brands make limited edition or sewn-to-order clothing.
6 made in use ethical brands made by women
Plus, I think seeing women in my peer group and within my culture and country live out their dreams is really inspiring. There's a lot not to love about the US, but that makes the good things even more important to celebrate. I'm blown away by the talent of the artisans below.


1. Elizabeth Suzann

Made in small batches in Nashville, Elizabeth Suzann's namesake is a 28 year old (I think?) ingenue with an unstoppable work ethic and a mission to make high quality goods with total transparency. Items are made with natural fabrics and clothing is typically made to order. Read my Clyde Pants review here. Sizes XXS-XL.

2. Hackwith Design House

Made in St. Paul, Minnesota, Hackwith specializes in simple, modern clothing produced in small batches. Their core collection and seasonal collections are produced thoughtfully, and many products are made to order. I'm wearing the Raw Finish Smock Jacket ($265) in this post. Sizes XS-XL and Plus Sizes 14-28.

3. Only Child

Made in Oakland, California, Only Child is run by a small team and specializes in minimalist pieces in fashion forward, figure flattering silhouettes. Everything is made to order with natural textiles. I'm partial to the Luzon Tie Front Top in Linen (gimme all the linen!). Sizes XS-XL.

6 made in use ethical brands made by women
Ethical Details: Tee - thrifted; Raw Finish Smock Jacket - c/o Hackwith Design; Jeans - thrifted; Huarache Sandals - Nisolo; Earrings - Hannah Naomi

4. Neo Thread

Based in New Mexico, NeoThread is run by upcycling extraordinaire, Sarah Holley. Neo Thread specializes in detailing, altering, and embroidering used and vintage goods. Everything is one of a kind. I reviewed a tee by Neo Thread here. Sizes XS-XL with many items free size.

5. Pyne & Smith Clothiers

Made in Southern California, Pyne & Smith is run by British transplant, Joanna McCartney. Specializing in dresses, all pieces are made with flax linen that was grown and spun in Europe before being produced in an ethical factory in California. I reviewed a Pyne & Smith dress here. Sizes XS-XXL with some customization available.

6. National Picnic

Made in Philadelphia by Betsy Cook and a small team of sewers, National Picnic specializes in dresses, tops, and skirts made in limited edition prints and organic cotton and hemp. The most playful of the handmade bunch (besides Neo Thread), National Picnic's clothes are cut in classic silhouettes with special details. See my reviews here. Sizes XS-3X.

Do you have any American made favorites? 
american made woman owned ethical brands

Is Eshakti Ethical? How Custom Clothing Fights Fast Fashion

is eshakti ethical - how custom clothing fights fast fashion
I received a free item from Eshakti with no requirements regarding editorial direction.

In 2014, when I was just a baby ethical blogger, Eshakti reached out to me and offered one of their custom dresses for review. I asked them to send me information on their production standards first, and they promptly responded with information that struck me as transparent and reasonable, so I agreed to the collaboration. You can read that post here.

I featured a vintage-inspired cotton dress with custom-length sleeves. It's a dress I still wear today to weddings and other special events, and I always get compliments on it. I've gained about 6 pounds since I originally received it, but the high quality, woven cotton still fits me like a glove, and I've "grown into" the sleeves as my arms have expanded (ah, aging).

Eshakti reached out to me again recently, and again I asked them for production standards. They directed me to this, publicly available on their site:

eShakti upholds the labor laws of India in letter and spirit. We have a minimum age requirement of 18 and exceed the minimum wage amount by 70%. We comply with all applicable laws and regulations relating to benefits.

What You Should Know About India's Labor Laws

India just introduced a national minimum wage with other guaranteed rights and benefits in the fall of 2017, though it is unclear to what extent this policy has been implemented. According to Labour Behind the Label's 2015 analysis, India's minimum wage is about 4x less than a living wage, but the new minimum wage standard would be about half the calculated living wage. Compare this to the US, where the average state minimum wage is around $7.20/hour and the calculated living wage for a family is closer to $15.00/hour. I make that comparison simply to point out that pay disparities are  not just an issue in "foreign" countries.
is eshakti ethical - how custom clothing fights fast fashion
Now, if you remember my interview with CAUSEGEAR owner, Brad Jeffery, Indian employees in his model requested 5x the national minimum wage to make ends meet. So Eshakti makes no claims to operate as a visionary business model. But if you look at the minimum requirements of the Fair Trade Federation, you'll also see that there is no single equation or standard for determining a fair wage. This varies by company and location, as well as what product is being made. As my friend Hannah has pointed out, there are dozens of branded fair trade companies that barely meet the requirements. This is perhaps more troubling than a company that makes no claims of social good.

All that to say that, all things considered, Eshakti is not operating under a sweatshop model. And thanks to changing labor laws and improvements in their system, they are actually offering a more consistent wage than they were the last time I wrote about them. They've also taken a very forthright approach in discussing their standards.
is eshakti ethical - how custom clothing fights fast fashion

Eshakti's Approach: Custom & Made-to-Order

I am by no means suggesting that Eshakti's production standards are a beacon of ethics. But I decided to talk about them again for one simple reason: they are providing a service badly needed in today's fast fashion, ready-to-wear industry.

Custom Clothing

Over the years, I've received numerous requests to feature plus size clothing, but it's actually really difficult to find a variety of brands that offer expanded sizing and also understand that clothing isn't one size fits all in terms of proportions. There are some brands, like Eileen Fisher and Elizabeth Suzann, that offer plus size lines but their clothes are single genre - they tend to be muted and drapey - and that's simply not everyone's cup of tea.

Eshakti is unique because:
  1. All clothing is made-to-order
  2. They offer clothing in sizes 0-36
  3. Clothing styles are diverse, and tend to be brighter and more tailored than other made-to-order brands
  4. You can pay a small upcharge to customize your clothing based on your dimensions and specific silhouette preferences
In 2014, I opted to change the sleeve length of my dress. But this time around I thought I'd put Eshakti to the test and send them my measurements for a totally custom garment. Even though I can squeeze into a lot of "standard size" clothing, my upper body is normally a full size smaller than my lower body, which makes getting the right fit on dresses particularly difficult. 

For instance, if I would have purchased a dress like this in standard sizing, I would have likely had gapping at the bust (they don't make '50s style dresses for small busted ladies) and some tightness as the waist transitions to the hip. Because I could put in precise sizing, instead I received a dress that fits correctly at every portion, and that means I didn't waste time and money - or material - purchasing a garment that doesn't really suit me. (This dress is 100% cotton, lined, has a side zipper, and costs $89.95 with a $9.95 upcharge for customization.)
is eshakti ethical - how custom clothing fights fast fashion

Why Custom, Made-to-Order Makes Sense

Indie companies like Elizabeth Suzann and Not Perfect Linen make all or most of their products to order, but they don't offer comprehensive customization.

Any made-to-order garment is going to offer these advantages:
  1. Less fabric waste
  2. No overstock
  3. Potential to change hem length before fabric is cut
But when you add in custom sizing, you provide additional benefits:
  1. The item fits as intended, so does not need to be tailored, meaning even less fabric waste
  2. The consumer is less likely to over-buy in an attempt to find the right fit
  3. People with proportions well outside the "industry standard" (in a variety of iterations) can purchase clothing that fits the first time
  4. A closet of custom goods increases long term wardrobe satisfaction and should contribute to reduced overall consumption
There was a time before massive industrialization when garments were always cut to individual proportions. Yes, per-item clothing was more expensive, but it also meant that people didn't have to feel like they were "wrong" if they didn't fit in standard sizes. Today's ready-to-wear, cheap, disposable fashion industry has managed to wreck the environment, dehumanize its workers, and contribute to mental health issues by misleading consumers to believe that they need more things in order to feel like they matter, and then adding salt to the wound by refusing to ensure that those things actually fit. 

Is Eshakti the answer? 

Time will tell. They have a lot they could improve upon, and I know I'd be willing to pay 1.5x if not double their current prices if they could ensure that their employees were being paid a living wage. 

But they are offering a service, and a model, that I wish other companies would emulate. Custom, made-to-order clothing is more environmentally responsible and honors the dignity of all people regardless of their size.

If you shop with them, I recommend choosing natural textiles, like cotton, over synthetics.

What do you think? 
is eshakti ethical - how custom clothing fights fast fashion