Style Wise | Ethical Fashion, Fair Trade, Sustainability


Swords Into Plowshares: Rising Above The War Metaphor in Social Justice Work

social justice and war language complexity stylewise-blog.comWelcome to the Complexity series: posts intended to explore social justice and ethics issues with nuance, understanding, and ultimately hope. I will bring in several guest writers throughout the series, so stay tuned.

The US political climate in the Trump age is burdensome to say the least.

Fear yields anxiety yields rage yields exhaustion.

We are traumatized, the systemically and personally vulnerable among our population especially so.

We are confused, and the President and his allies continually sow more confusion.

We feel hopeless, because every small thing we can do feels meaningless in the face of a multitude of new human rights abuses and uncertainties.

Desperation and Prophetic Imagination

I wake up most mornings feeling a weight on my chest, trying to navigate a world that's not necessarily worse than before but with "solutions" that feel decidedly less clear-cut. I, and I suspect many of my fellow Americans, have short circuited to the point that we've lost our sense of what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls our "prophetic imagination," the ability to see hope beyond the hazy horizon.

A few weeks ago I sat down to watch a film that had been described to me as "the story of a pastor serving a church with declining attendance." That sounds quaint compared to the reality. Instead, First Reformed dealt with existential dread over climate change, the mood becoming darker and darker as the story trudged on. The main character - yes, he was a pastor at a small church - desperately tried to cling to paradoxical hope in the face of certain disaster, but the realities of the world and his inability to find meaning led him to only two choices: commit violence against perceived enemies or commit violence against himself. The ending is surreal and confusing, but it got its point across.

I didn't know whether to weep or dig in my heels in determination and commit to find joy.

War Language and "Us-versus-Them"

But let me get back to that ending, because I think it tells us something about the way overburdened and scared people see the world. In the face of certain doom, everything is a hell scape. You either defeat or get defeated, kill or get killed. Shoot first or suffer the consequences.

Too much of the social justice rhetoric in this country is operating from a place of certain doom. But if you're dying anyway, if the whole world is about to blow up, what are you fighting for?

To contextualize this further, I am specifically speaking to a kind of purity culture or ideological fundamentalism that occurs in spaces where people don't know each other very well, particularly on social media, a decontextualized soap box that, by design, turns us into our worst selves. Like "the enemy" in traditional warfare, it's easy to flatten out people so that you don't have to feel guilty about metaphorically "beating" them.

In a recent Grist article entitled War of Words, climate journalist and (former?) Mennonite - a Pacifist Christian tradition - Kate Yoder asks the question, "Can we save the world from climate change without declaring war?" She draws on the work of linguist Deborah Tannen, who wrote a book on the subject 20 years ago. Here's the gist of her argument, taken from the article:

There’s a “pervasive warlike culture” in the U.S. that leads us to approach just about any major issue as if it were “a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern,” she wrote. It’s a deeply entrenched cultural tendency that has shaped politics, education, law, and the media.

Because much of language is metaphor - for instance, to say we must "defeat the enemy" in the context of debate is not a literal statement and operates in some ways as hyperbole - which metaphors we choose to use matters. Language, in a sense, can be violent, but even that is a kind of war metaphor.

Contextualizing political, social, and moral debates within a linguistic system that heavily draws on war narratives not only reinforces a kind of violence, it also creates a false dichotomy, an "us-versus-them" format, that disguises complexity, and thus ultimately disguises and manipulates truth. 

Human Psychology

But this isn't just a problem on a philosophical level. It affects our ability to change people's minds. According to Yoder, psychologists call this an "intractable conflict," saying:

An us-versus-them narrative turns people away from logic and into the realm of emotion and values. As the conflict drags on without resolution, partisans become increasingly bewildered by the other side’s beliefs and actions.

So even if I believe in my heart of hearts that the best way to deal with someone I disagree with is a full-fledged public take-down, it is a psychological reality that I'm making the problem worse. But maybe I'm not concerned about the long game, content to sow havoc and reap discord?

Maybe some people see the take-down as a kind of necessary reckoning, but I question how often people really anticipate both the broad and deep repercussions of their debate strategies. Whether we like it or not, we - "the good guys" - are just as likely to fall prey to the emotional pull of the false dichotomy as our "enemy" (what's wild about writing this is that I cannot escape violent metaphor even as I object to it). It is more satisfying to categorize someone in one of two distinct camps - an us or a them - than to take the space to acknowledge our own biases before responding (I have to admit I have made missteps on this point, which I'm only now fully understanding).

Now We See in a Mirror Dimly

But how does war language propagate in social spaces and ideological camps? To my mind, in at least three ways:

  1. False narratives of scarcity: the largely unfounded myth that there is not enough intellectual and empathetic "space" to go around so we must take it from others
  2. Charismatic leaders: individuals who craft compelling and even empowering narratives that, nevertheless, aren't quite true
  3. Predominant ideological frameworks: those powerful, invisible idea-maps that often have more to do with power and profit than with collective flourishing

Having grown up in a religious culture that bordered on fundamentalism, I am extremely sensitive to the signs of ideological manipulation and believe very strongly that even compassionate and just ideas can rot on the vine if not fostered carefully.

Because of this, a healthy skepticism is always warranted. We must ask more questions!

It is easy to think that the world as we see it is the whole world, but this goes back to the problem of losing our prophetic imagination. There's a way to honor people's lived experience while resisting universal truth claims that don't properly amalgamate other, potentially disparate lived experiences. The truth is often buried deep within the data. What we know is not everything. And we will never know enough. 

Keeping that in mind provides the kind of humility that allows us to hold our heads high at the same time that we unclench our fists, and this is precisely the orientation we need to work through complicated, seemingly insurmountable issues.

So, what do we do now?

Let me be clear, or as clear as I can be. People have a right to feel their feelings, and a right to speak them. People have a "right" to free speech, too. But it would be disingenuous to act as if what we're feeling justifies any and all actions. And beyond that, our implied or explicit roles as activists and educators requires more of us, if only because our stated goal is progress, and progress means we don't always get to while away in sackcloth and ashes. There is work to do.

And work requires crystal clarity, not getting distracted by scarcity models of self-defense, narratives that require an antagonist, infighting that sows confusion, and circular arguments that lead to an active minefield of intractable conflicts.

For those of us who have placed the mantle of educator-activist on our shoulders, our responsibility is broader and deeper than a battle cry. We are moderators, guardians, and colleagues to our students, and we have an obligation to keep the doors wide open.

Which means, above all, that we must put down our own weapons of violent language and false dichotomies. We must beat our swords into plowshares, making way for new growth, because as they say in the musical, Rent,

"the opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation." 

We are cultivators of complexity, prophets of abundance.

After a month of stewing over an incident that occurred to me online (and admittedly, having to realize and begin to seek treatment for a mental health issue I had been trying to self-treat for the last year), I heard myself saying that I would get over it "if I had a chance to defend myself." I was in the middle of thinking over this piece, and I realized that I was using war language, because building a defense is a product of "us-versus-them" thinking.

But I don't want to do work that forces me to adopt the predominant rhetorical strategy without a second thought. I don't think we make a better world using the same ineffective methods.

I don't know what that open field of abundance looks like and I'm not sure how to get there, but there's no question in my mind that we are creating enemies because we think we have to, that we are entrenching ourselves in a model of doom and destruction because it didn't occur to us that there was another way.

As for me, I am leaning on paradoxical hope, hope in the face of whipping winds and children's cries and smoldering cities. A hope that resists the impulse to categorize and conclude, because it knows that now is not the end game.

I hold onto a vision of equity and thriving, not because I always believe it is possible or see the path clearly in front of me, but because I know that to abandon it is to abandon everything.

So, if we disagree and things get heated, this will be my response to you: "This is not a war and you are not my enemy. How do we fix this, together?"

Additional Reading 

Working Through Environmental Despair by Joanna Macy (I found this life-changing)

From the systems perspective, this patriarchal notion of power is both inaccurate and dysfunctional. That is because life processes are intrinsically self-organizing. Power, then, which is the ability to effect change, works from the bottom up more reliably and organically than from the top down. It is not power over, but power with; this is what systems scientists call "synergy." Life systems evolve flexibility and intelligence, not by closing off from the environment and erecting walls of defense, but by opening ever wider to the currents of matter-energy and information. It is in this interaction that life systems grow, integrating and differentiating...

We may well wonder why the old kind of power, as we see it enacted around us and indeed above us, seems so effective. Many who wield it seem to get what they want: money, fame, control over others' lives; but they achieve this at a substantial cost both to themselves and to the larger system. Domination requires strong defenses and, like a suit of armor, restricts our vision and movement. Reducing flexibility and responsiveness, it cuts us off from fuller and freer participation in life. Power over is dysfunctional to the larger system because it inhibits diversity and feedback; it obstructs systemic self-organization, fostering uniformity and entropy.

war language intractable conflicts social justice

Year In Review | Top Ten StyleWise Posts Published This Year

top ethical fashion posts on stylewise in 2018

Yesterday's post was all about 2018's top performing posts in general.

Today's post is about the top performing posts written this year.

You can see that the posts that performed well this year are a little more varied in format and topic. Part of that has to do with the fact that posts that stay evergreen for years are more likely to be highly "pinnable" and answer a question in Google searches. I am always happy to see those posts performing well, but what's the fun of a blog without some personality? It's nice to see some reviews, personal style posts, and essays in the mix.

This year in blogging is such a blur. I worked on some wonderful freelance projects and sponsored posts with brands I love and have an ongoing relationship with. But the freelance life never gets easier - I think it's actually getting harder! And some days I feel like the old lady who doesn't have the advantage of being a "digital native" in a space full of incredibly savvy women.

When I'm down on myself, I try to remember that I am proud of what I've done, and it might not answer all the questions or pay all the bills, but it is enough.

StyleWise's Top 10 Posts Written in 2018

1 | 11 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than Madewell

2 | 6 Places To Buy Well Made, Ethical Basics For Women (& Men)

3 | Everlane Review: Cheeky Straight Jean

4 | Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Work Pants Review + Grab Bag Thoughts

5 | Is Everlane Ethical? Pragmatism, Scale, & Why Good On You Doesn't Tell The Full Story

6 | Inside An Ethical Wardrobe: Spring 2018

7 | Nordstrom's Surprisingly Good Sustainable Selection + My Picks

8 | Is Everlane Ethical? I Asked, They Answered

9 | 5 Places To Find Ethical Underwear (That's Not Lingerie)

10 | Gift Guide: The Ultimate List For Ethical & Sustainable Holiday Shopping

Year In Review | Top Ten Most Popular Ethical Fashion Posts of 2018

top ten ethical fashion posts of 2018 Just when I think that blogging is too demanding, I look over my Analytics and heave a sigh of relief. 
Though some posts are situated firmly in current events, and therefore fade into the internet black hole in a few days, a number of them continue to carry weight year after year, providing a resource for people looking for sustainable options. I love that not only because it means that these posts were worth the time to put together, but because it means that the fast paced internet world they occupy isn't so overwhelming that it can swallow them up. Some things really do last!

I mention this because, as it turns out, almost all of my top ten most viewed posts this year are from last year. That just means they're gaining traction!

P.S. If you're interested in a particular subject or format for a post, you are always free to comment or email me and let me know!

Top Ten Ethical Fashion Posts of 2018

Sale Alert: Everlane Choose What You Pay & Ethical Fashion Holiday Sales

holiday 2018 ethical sales and everlane choose what you pay
Contains affiliate links

Merry Christmas! According to the church calendar, we've still got eleven days to celebrate, so keep on eating fudge and singing carols.

Everlane's annual, post-holiday Choose What You Pay is back with over a hundred styles at reduced prices for five days. I've included my suggestions in the graphic below, mostly items made with a significant amount of natural fibers like cotton, cupro, and wool. I also included a couple leather goods despite my recent explorations on the topic because I recently broke down and bought a pair of the glove flats and realized they're exceptional quality.

Other mindful, slow, and/or ethical companies are also offering sales this time of year, which I'll be listing below and updating with new sales throughout the week.

End of Year Ethical Holiday Sales

▸ Raven & Lily: 30% off select items

▸ Fair Indigo: 30% off warehouse moving sale on select items

▸ PACT Apparel: up to 60% off select items

▸ Pela Case: But one, get one 50% off plus 25% off your order with code, BD2018

▸ People Tree: additional 20% off end of season clearance through December 28

▸ Nordstrom: 50% off select items for the half-yearly sale (search by brand to find ethical brands)

▸ End of Year sale

▸ Tribe Alive: 30% off sitewide through December 30

▸ Elegantees: Buy one get one FREE on most items

▸ Hackwith Design House: 10% off through 1/2 with code, BoxingDay

▸ Re/Done: select styles 50% off

▸ Accompany: online sample sale

▸ The Giving Keys: extra 25% off sale for 48 hours

▸ 31Bits: extra 40% off sale section with code, BYE2018

▸ Tradlands: 15-25% off for 48 hours

▸ Accompany: 40% off everything with code, GIFTYOURSELF, through 12/30

▸ Nisolo: select styles up to 40% off

▸ Fortress of Inca: 15% off with code, EXTRA15

everlane choose what pay holiday sale and ethical fashion sales

Keep {Your Personal Style} Weird

soul flower organic ethical personal style stylewise-blog.comsoul flower organic ethical personal style stylewise-blog.comsoul flower organic ethical personal style stylewise-blog.comsoul flower organic ethical personal style Ethical Details: Tunic - c/o Soul Flower (on sale); Denim - Everlane; Earrings - 31Bits; Socks - PACT; Shoes - thrifted

At the beginning of this year, I set a somewhat unusual goal: Wear one weird thing everyday.

I did this because I had been feeling that I was too swayed by the sparse, neutral minimalism of the ethical fashion movement and that, as a result, the spark had gone out of my personal style. It no longer felt fun to wear my clothes because it didn't add anything to my sense of identity.

I can come off as a very intense person. I mean, I am a sort of intense person (sorry to everyone who has had an encounter with me when I'm deep in thought - I probably involved you in an existential conversation without your consent). But I'm also a person who is easily amused, who delights in the strangeness of everyday life. I want to be able to project joyful eccentricity in my clothing so that it becomes a part of the first impressions I make, and reminds me to look for the funny and redemptive things in every circumstance.

I want to project my weirdness in exactly the right amount because I want to be seen for who I am. 

I'm happy to say that my goal has been incredibly effective. I gave myself permission to add one little eccentric touch to my otherwise basic outfits, and that allowed me to ease my way back into fun without feeling the need to totally overhaul my wardrobe. There was/is nothing wrong with my plain, basic, boxy pieces; I'm just not the type of person who wants to take "a look" all the way to its logical end. Instead, I want to mix in vintage, thrifted finds, bright pieces, and weird earrings, stirring it up until it resembles how I think of myself and who I want to be.

Personal style is deeply personal and it has very little to do with brand awareness or even "ethical" criteria. It's something you can play with, alter, and explore with very little money and just a little bit of time. But it can affect the way we go about our business in the world in subtle and profound ways.

We're all a little weird. Maybe it's time to stop hiding it.

P.S. Merry merry Christmas!!

The Moral Wardrobe: Blazer Weather

thrifted ll bean blazer thrifted style stylewise-blog.comthrifted ll bean blazer thrifted style stylewise-blog.comthrifted ll bean blazer thrifted style stylewise-blog.comthrifted ll bean blazer thrifted style
Ethical Details: Vintage Blazer - thrifted (similar); Pants & Top - thrifted; Boots - Modern Vice; Earrings - via Darling Boutique (local)

Feeling totes profesh in this beautiful vintage LL Bean blazer I picked up at the shop where I work. It actually belonged to my priest, who was clearing out her closet last week and donated a few things in the process. I hadn't realized it until then, but we have almost the exact same build. I look forward to her bringing in more things for me to buy!

In all seriousness, I've had a hard time putting a stop on my spending over the past few months. I've mentioned this before, but I was reared to shop as a coping mechanism, so when I'm feeling anxious, it's tempting to buy something every day at work. I can always justify it as a "great deal," but it's becoming clear that I just have too much stuff. Yes, it's stuff I love, but I need to narrow my focus and try to save some money. $5.00 multiplied by ten purchases gets to be excessive.

I don't think I ever properly reviewed these Modern Vice boots, which I finally purchased in September after wanting them for at least six years. I bought them during a 50% off promotion, which brought the price down to $200. I turned 30 in September and it felt like a nice way to usher in what feels like "real" adulthood, without the training wheels. They were made to order, so they didn't arrive until the week of Thanksgiving, but they were definitely worth the wait! Comfortable, classic construction, incredibly beautiful, and just my style.

StyleWise Reader Survey Results 2018

Hey! Remember when I promised I would fill you in on the results of my Reader Survey in September?

Sorry about that. But it's becoming a bit of a tradition to overpromise and then actually post in December. Without further ado, here are the most interesting results of my survey.

What's your favorite platform for engaging with StyleWise?

Much to my delight, the majority of people who took the survey prefer to engage on my blog directly rather than on social media. That makes it so much easier to follow the thread and produce longer form content.

What are your favorite topics typically discussed on StyleWise?

Y'all stayed pretty consistent from last year, preferring personal style posts, shopping guides, and essays, but zero waste was really popular this year, too. I confess I am not the best zero waster, but I am happy to explore this topic along with you.

Favorite Posts & Post Topics:

✹ Why I Quit Being an Ethical Purist x2
✹ "I love your essays"
✹ "Anything zero waste!"
Ethical alternatives x2
✹ "I like that you’re a fellow Episcopalian and not from the PNW" (lol)
✹ Representation in Ethical Fashion: A Conversation with Tavie Meier

New Potential Topics

An Interesting Note: "If you delve into food ethics, I think it would be wise to be mindful of consumer mental health surrounding the subject and its many complexities. I feel like a lot of ethics bloggers aren't informed enough in this particular area's sociological nuances, and at times this results in content that lacks in social responsibility. On that note, I have always deeply appreciated your posts relating to mental health; I feel you emphasize the importance of self-care and self-preservation and how it is possible to care for mind and body even while living in accordance to one's moral, ethical and religious principles. Speaking to striking that balance could be tremendous."

Obviously, I'm a bit out of my depth on some of these issues so would need to incorporate more guest bloggers. If you're a writer/researcher/student/expert in topics of food, race, or politics, feel free to get in contact. A lot of you aren't into Christianity, and I get that, but my work moving forward as I continue my process of becoming a priest in a progressive, affirming church will include a lot of broad theological questions and I'd like to bring that to the blog if it's relevant and can be made to feel inclusive.

Your Favorite Brands: 

Eileen Fisher, Elizabeth Suzann, Elegantees, Everlane, Power of my People, thredUP, Amour Vert, People Tree, Reformation, Nisolo, All Birds, Patagonia, Madewell, LL Bean, Bluer Denim, PACT, Thrifting

P.S. I appreciate that some of you included "non-ethical" brands. That's important information, because it's true that sometimes the best fits for us don't fit within the parameters of "ethical fashion," but are nonetheless useful and valuable to us.

How Much Do You Expect to Spend on Ethical Goods?

Clothing (top, pants, dress):
✹ 51.6% said $51-100
✹ 21% said $101-150

✹ 55% said $101-150
✹ 24% said $151+

Final Comments of Note (thanks, y'all 😌)

"I appreciate the thoughtfulness you bring to every post and the way you marry topics like faith and ethical shopping. Discussions about ethical fashion are interesting to me, but often feel inaccessible, because of my limited budget. I love that you talk about thrifting and second hand, which is the way that myself and a lot of other people are able to access fashion in an ethical way."

"I like to see more frequent posting. More casual outfit posts or thoughts on style that might be less time consuming to create? Also love your thoughtful personal essays too but perhaps intermixed with lighter topics." -- Breathing a sigh of relief, because this is my plan for the new year

"I'm a Buddhist, not a Christian - so the Christian essays aren't my jam. But I still enjoy giving them a read from time to time for a fresh perspective." -- I appreciate you!

"I am here only for fashion/style content." -- Point taken, but I really believe the broader theoretical discussion informs what we mean by "ethical fashion," so I find it important.

"I love how much you post about buying second hand. This is the only way I can afford a lot of items, like cashmere sweaters and leather oxfords, and I like knowing that even though they may not be directly from ethical and environmental brands I’m not creating additional waste and I’m helping support local social service organizations." -- So glad to hear this. I love secondhand and want to feature it even more.

"You have been an inspiration of mine for two years, now! Thank you for the content you create. I bring up your blog posts frequently enough that my husband teases me any time I talk about them/you by asking, "Oh, is that what your good friend Leah said?" Thank you for allowing readers such as myself a peak into your world and your mind- I believe it can do more good than you can know. Your blog has served as a safe space for me; it has helped make me feel like the internet isn't as scary of a place as I once thought four years ago, after experiencing great trauma. And I'm happy to be able to speak my mind with it again, in positive ways (like this survey, I hope!)" -- Thank you so much! This warmed my heart.

What This Means for StyleWise Moving Forward

To be honest, I exhausted myself this year trying to be all things to all people. I am hoping to do more casual explorations within the context of personal style posts next year, as well as include more voices on topics that aren't as familiar to me. I have two guest posts lined up, one on soil science and one on cultivating accountable community, but I'd love suggestions for other specific topics. Let me know what you'd be interested in reading.

I've also become obsessed as of late with defining a broader ethic of hope and sustained community. I will be doing some reading on community organizing and social justice theology, which I hope will help me center my approach. These are desperate times, and we need to understand what it takes not just to endure, but thrive.

My Ethical & Secondhand Coat Collection + How to Shop For Thrifted Coats

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats
Contains affiliate links

Coats are expensive. Ethical coats even more so.

Which is why 80% of my coats were purchased secondhand for under $30. There's no shame in that. In fact, it's a really pragmatic choice not just because of price point, but because there is an overabundance of beautiful, natural fiber coats on the secondhand market. I picked up a couple extras this season just because they came into the shop where I work and were too good to pass up (that may be one of the reasons our point of sale software named me the best customer of 2017! Oops).

The current "ethical influencer" space is populated by looks featuring all new goods, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think it can imply that to be an "ethical person" you have to have new things. Not only is this untrue, it inadvertently locks people out of pursuing this lifestyle due to price, size, and accessibility limitations. I need to remind myself of this as much as anyone else. I am always, always tempted to buy every new, beautiful thing. But the things I love and wear often are often secondhand.

Without further ado, my 5 Beautiful, Mostly Secondhand Coats

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats
Ethical Details: Coat - Thrifted; Scarf, Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

This thrifted coat by Herman Kay is just fun. The shell is a wool/nylon blend, which keeps me warm in 35-45 degree weather and the red cuffs and accents make me happy. After reading this post about the benefits of owning a silly winter coat, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Why should outerwear be as dreary as the weather? 

A note: I intentionally purchase coats slightly bigger than I need so that I have ample room for sweaters and general coziness. This also gives me for flexibility when searching for items at thrift stores, because I can expand the hunt to a range of sizes.

Shop Herman Kay coats on Etsy

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats
Ethical Details: Vintage Pendleton Coat - thrifted; ScarfCheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

The newest addition to the cozy coat family, this Pendleton wool coat reminded me of Everlane's new cocoon coat, except it's (presumably) much better quality. The shell is thick, 100% wool that's soft and smooth to the touch. It's actually probably two sizes too large - and the sleeves are a bit long - but I like the way it drapes as a result.

I've been meaning to put together a post on how the best way to shop for Everlane dupes is to shop vintage. I mean, this coat has almost the same lines as Everlane's coat, except it's more practical and luxurious. Plus, I only paid $30 for it.

Shop Pendleton Coats on Ebay

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats
Ethical Details: Land's End Coat - thrifted; ScarfCheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

The OG coat in the bunch, this was one of those thrift shop miracles. I went thrift shopping with my mom at Valley Thrift in Ohio (I LOVE that place) a couple years ago on the hunt for a navy toggle coat. And there it was! This one has a 100% wool shell and 90% wool lining, so it's quite warm. I would say the wool quality is inferior to the Pendleton coat, but that's to be expected. 

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats
Ethical Details: Mossimo Canvas Coat - thrifted; Scarf, Cheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

I used Christmas money to buy this coat at a cute consignment shop in downtown Charleston, West Virginia (you should visit!). It's lighter weight than other coats in my collection, but it's flannel lined, so I find it perfect for late fall and early spring. Even though this was originally from Target, I've had it for two years and the quality is great. (I also have fond memories wearing it to the Women's March in 2017).

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats
Ethical Details: Puffer - c/o Everlane (last year); ScarfCheeky Jean, & Pima Ribbed Cotton Tee - Everlane; LL Bean Boots - thrifted

Last but not least, the one new item in my coat wardrobe. Everlane sent this to me for review last fall and it's a workhorse for snow days and super cold winter days since it's water resistant and extremely cozy. This year they released a recycled poly version.

What To Look For When Buying Winter Coats Secondhand

❅ Stick to naturally derived fibers like cotton, wool, and other animal fibers for greatest warmth and quality (acrylics and nylons DO NOT cut it in truly cold weather - since you're buying secondhand, you won't contribute to demand for new, animal-derived textiles) OR technical poly-fill like Primaloft.

❅ Check for moth holes, stains, tears, and other condition issues. Do a sniff test to make sure there isn't serious mold or smoke contamination.

❅ Go in with a plan. Do some online window shopping at stores you like to narrow down the cuts, colors, and styles you're attracted to.

❅ Be flexible when shopping at physical stores. Try on multiple sizes and give items that look boring on the hanger a chance. Sometimes things look magical on. 

❅ Make sure you can layer sweaters and scarves under it.

❅  Check sites like Ebay, Etsy, Poshmark, and for options.

❅ Create a flexible budget and stick to it.

❅ Have fun!

tips for buying ethical and thrifted coats

9 Sustainable Fashion Brands That Use Recycled and Deadstock Fabrics

is deadstock ethical and 9 brands that use deadstock and recycled fabric
is deadstock ethical and 9 brands that use deadstock and recycled fabric

The Benefits of Deadstock & Recycled Fabric

Deadstock refers to fabric produced for a collection that was never used due to a flaw in the fabric or overproduction by the textile mill.

Recycled refers to fabric upcycled from garments that had a previous life.

Producing new items with deadstock or recycled fabrics can be extraordinarily sustainable for a couple of reasons. For one, the majority of water required for garment production is used to convert raw fiber into workable fabric and during the dye process. Upcycled textiles require very little water use unless the designer opts to re-dye this fabric for their collection. Not to mention that finished textiles repurposed for secondary collections are, by definition, secondhand.  Making use of preexisting fabrics not only reduces required resources, it theoretically keeps fabric out of landfills by giving them a new life.

Is Deadstock Greenwashing?

I use the term theoretically because if you google "deadstock fabric," you'll see that there is some debate around the environmental efficiency of using deadstock.

One brand owner claims that most mills operating "overseas" in garment sectors like Cambodia and Bangladesh actually overproduce intentionally to appeal to different markets, which means that using something labeled deadstock from these markets is a form of greenwashing since even the apparent "overstock" was always intended to be used in garment production. But a garment industry expert interviewed for Eluxe Magazine describes a scenario in which an independent designer changed her mind about a fabric run, which left the mill responsible for selling off fabric for which they originally had a buyer. In this case, the fabric would be considered true deadstock since it was doomed to sit in a warehouse until the mill could find a buyer.

Meanwhile, my pal Whitney at Fashionista nuances the discussion by pointing out that higher end fabrics sourced by US-based brands like Reformation were probably never likely to be tossed into landfills and thus the argument that deadstock is the most sustainable option is based on a misleading narrative. That being said, it's still a good choice for smaller scale and indie brands that want to choose a more sustainable option and don't mind producing in limited runs.

It seems to me that, even if international mills are producing some overstock to be sold at bargain bin prices, deadstock isn't exactly a lucrative business when compared to first-round production. Because the fabric available in this market isn't normally traceable, you can't just order more of it to meet demand. To me, this seems to imply that we can trust that most deadstock is a true secondhand product and not a conspiracy.

There are still ecological limitations with deadstock fabric. Since it can be difficult to get accurate information on the fabric content, companies simply can't ensure that the fabric is naturally derived and biodegradable. And with companies that source vintage deadstock, you're much more likely to end up with a finished product made out of microfiber-shedding polyester.

All that to say, sourcing anything at all from the secondhand market is a GREAT idea despite its limitations. When thrifting just doesn't do it for you, turn to these brands that use deadstock or recycled fabrics for their collections.

Further clarification courtesy of Rachel Faller, founder of Tonle
"I wanted to add to this that there are really several categories of pre-consumer textile waste. Deadstock is of course a big part of this, and perhaps the most contentious as you point out - but there are also offcuts and items that fail quality control during the process of production. While deadstock is sometimes planned into the production by mills, the other two are more clearly a kind of waste and a little less easy to recycle to the average designer or factory. At tonlé, the majority of our scraps are the later two categories and we see this as being very different from deadstock. Many of our materials are also post-consumer recycled. Thanks again for bringing this up and discussing the nuances here!"

9 Sustainable Fashion Brands That Use Recycled and Deadstock Fabrics

is deadstock ethical and 9 brands that use deadstock and recycled fabric

1 | Fauxgerty

Sizes XXS-XL. Sourcing primarily American made vintage deadstock, Fauxgerty makes West-coast inspired classics for women.

Featured Item: The Sasha


2 | Eileen Fisher Renew

Sizes PS-3X. The Renew collection features new designs made from old Eileen Fisher designs plus gently used clothing, proving that brands can be committed to circularity.

Featured Item: Striped Pullover (one of a kind)


3 | Reformation

Sizes XS-XL. Using deadstock and upcycled textiles throughout its entire line, Reformation is sexy, spirited, and vintage inspired.

Featured Item: Cashmere Boxy Sweater

is deadstock ethical and 9 brands that use deadstock and recycled fabric

4 | Tonle

Sizes XS-XL. Tonle strives to have zero waste production, with many of their designs created to make use of fabric scraps left over from pattern cutting. Case in point: this jacket.

Featured Item: Palm and Wine Jacket


5 | Dorsu

Sizes XS-XL. Using factory remnants from Cambodia's garment factory, Dorsu produces a smart collection of contemporary, casual basics.

Featured Item: Slouch Pant


6 | Christy Dawn

Sizes XS-XL. The dreamiest of the bunch, Christy Dawn prioritizes vintage deadstock to produce their feminine, vintage-inspired dresses and jumpsuits. They even use recycled leather in their boots.

Featured Item: Basil Dress

is deadstock ethical and 9 brands that use deadstock and recycled fabric

7 | Neo-Thread

Sizes vary. Upcycling all the way! Modern silhouettes and embroidered clothing made from vintage and thrifted clothing.

Featured Item: Celestial Jean Bomber (one of a kind)


8 | Liz Alig

Sizes XS-XL. Using a combination of recycled materials and upcycled textiles, Liz Alig offers offbeat cotton clothing for women.

Featured Item: Dilsi Overalls


9 | Re/Done

Sizes vary. Vintage denim turned into...denim, but in a cool way. Re/Done modernizes silhouettes to bring new life to old jeans.

Featured Item: Academy Fit, size 27 (one of a kind - shop by size and style on the website)


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is deadstock ethical and 9 brands that use deadstock and recycled fabric

The Moral Wardrobe: Fancy Pants

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Ethical Details: Pima Tee - Everlane; Coat - thrifted; Pants - vintage Pendleton; Boots - thrifted

I wore this to a very fancy bachelorette party in nearby Staunton - a lovely little mountain town - for high tea and a production of Jane Austen's Emma.

I think as an adult, it can be really hard to put yourself out there to make friends who don't share much context with you. But the bride managed to bring together a group of really lovely people, people I bonded with - even cried with - and I miss them now that we've all gone back to our lives in separate states.

It's a good reminder that a little risk, and even a little scheduled mingling, is worth the initial awkwardness.

The Moral Wardrobe: This is Me

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Ethical Details: Pima Open V-Neck - Everlane; Curduroys - Everlane (similar); Boots - Po-Zu; Earrings - c/o Sela Designs

I don't know why, but I feel so, so good in this outfit. The ballet neck, high waist, bright accents, and comfortable boots are all things that make me feel like my best, most attractive self.

I like that clothes can do that.

I've been paying attention to the way women craft their identities aesthetically: their hair styles, accessories, and makeup choices as well as their clothing. You can tell when someone really owns their look, and that undercurrent of confidence is infectious.

It really doesn't have to do with purchasing things that are in or that fit a certain model of belonging. It's much more about throwing caution to the wind - whatever that means to the specific individual - and saying, "This is me."

I love that. I want to do that more.

The Moral Wardrobe: Just Couldn't Stay Away

mata traders dress and ethical advocacy
I thought it would be wise to sit with my feelings through the entire month of December because I've been in a near-constant fragile state that has made it hard for me to engage patiently and thoughtfully with any disagreement, but after a week of zero engagement with my own blog - no writing, no photography, no backend work - I realize that I can't really stay away.

I do feel very strongly that the ethical fashion community is desperate for some rules of engagement, an underlying set of values that determine how we communicate with each other in pursuit of building a more just world. It's very tempting to always be looking outward toward the CAUSE, but movements are about coalitions, and change occurs when many voices join together and say the same thing.

Good advocacy is like a high functioning choir: different voice parts, different people. Young and old, rich and poor, a diversity of ethnicities, races, cultural ties, and backgrounds. When you sing in a choir, you aren't listening to your own voice as intently as you're listening to the ones around you. You aren't adapting the piece to suit your needs - it's always about the collective, driven toward a single goal: beauty, gravitas, meaning.

A culture that has bought the lie of scarcity - that there is not enough to go around - cannot function as a coalition or as a choir, because we are always pitted against each other in competition for what's left, whether that's social media followers, safety, power, or physical resources. And so, much of the rhetoric becomes about taking rather than creating.

mata traders dress and ethical advocacy stylewise-blog.commata traders dress and ethical advocacy
The reality is that we have the tools to live abundantly, but it requires a total rethinking of current theoretical models. It might even require that we leave the "like culture" of Instagram and Twitter behind in order to rehabilitate our minds. I refuse to believe any jargon-filled rhetorical models that claim a type of violence is required to bring about an abundant world. I seek reconciliation, not vengeance. And so we are accountable to one another and we have hard conversations, but we never stop believing that reconciliation is possible. Even when there's no hope. Especially when all we see is darkness.

mata traders dress and ethical advocacy
Ethical Details: Dress - c/o Mata Traders; Leggings - PACT; Boots - Modern Vice

I welcome your thoughts and framing as I work through this.