The Moral Wardrobe: Clothing Anniversaries + a New It Bag

Amalou Wool Felted Handbag review
I was compensated by Amalou and provided a bag in exchange for styling and an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. 

While fast fashion may finally be in decline, it's alive and well in the blogging industry. How many conventional bloggers do you see wearing and re-wearing the same clothes over months and years?

It's all a part of the job, and I can understand that bloggers and readers want fresh content, not to mention that it's easier to encourage an affiliate sale when the item is still in stock. But it's obviously unsustainable, and not just from an environmental point of view. In my own experience, it's mentally taxing and disorienting to constantly feel a need to feature new items. It takes away the joy and creativity of getting dressed in a way that feels like you. It's ok to be attached to things that help us feel like our best selves.

Amalou Wool Felted Handbag review
Ethical Details: Top - United by Blue; Jeans - #30wears; Shoes - Frye; Ring - thrifted; Handbag - c/o Amalou

I have happily owned this United by Blue shirt for just over a year now, and I always feel good about myself when I'm wearing it. The shoes, too, are about a year old. A year isn't a marker of longevity by any means, but it still feels significant to me, because it means I chose wisely.

I'm not the most confident person when it comes to shopping and I can be very fickle about the things I do end up purchasing. I once read in a shopping book that I'm a "perfectionist shopper," that I am always looking for the best version of the thing I already own. That can make for tedious and unwanted purchases. So it's good to know that I made a few great decisions this time last year.

Amalou Wool Felted Handbag reviewAmalou Wool Felted Handbag review
I'm also featuring this work-of-art handbag from Amalou. 

It might seem strange to start a review of a new item talking about the value of old items, but bear with me. The reason I think it's relevant is because this is the sort of bag you don't ever get rid of. It's artisanal in every sense of the word: handmade using traditional techniques, but more than that. The bag is crafted out of one, solid piece of wool felt, hand formed by father-son team Abdullah and Mohammed in Morocco.

It's a bag that demands comment, but isn't so out there that it can't be used every day. For me, it's the thing I plan to use when I want to stand out. I'm going to bring it to a wedding this coming weekend, because I already have friends who want to see it in real life after reading last week's post on Amalou.
  Amalou Wool Felted Handbag review
The Amalou Bag retails for $120, putting it right in that comfort level for most readers who took my Reader Survey. It's a price point that allows for fair compensation, and judging by the quality, I think it's fair on the consumer end, too.

I always want to be honest about what I actually wear over time, and I know some of you would appreciate more outfit repeats. I work full time outside my house now, so it's hard for me to take photos frequently, but I hope this post is helpful. I also want to mention that most of my base clothing, like denim and t-shirts, are frequently repeated throughout my styled posts.


Follow Amalou on Instagram.

From Herd to Hand: A Story of Sheep Herding and Wool Felting in Morocco, with Amalou

Amalou brand story - the history and story of morocco's wool and felting industries
I was compensated by Amalou for my time researching and writing this post.

When it comes to ethics, things are not so cut and dried, especially when you start to create value hierarchies that combine attention to people, planet, and animals.

Nothing makes this more clear than Alden Wicker's recent long form piece on the complexity of arguing from a position of animal ethics. In that piece, and the piece I shared on wool a few weeks ago, Alden points out that many surface-level solutions - such as avoiding the silk industry in favor of materials like rayon - can actually be more devastating than the original "problem." The same is true of vegan leathers, as Emily Folk explained on this blog two weeks ago, and even, according to Alden's research, of fur alternatives.

How do we absorb this information without throwing up our hands? 

In some cases, it's easier than we think, at least when it comes to wool.

Sheep have been raised for their wool for as many as 11,000 years. The industry has historically sustained communities and empires, though it has declined considerably since synthetic fibers took hold of the marketplace in the mid twentieth century.

While a baseline level of animal care must be met to ensure that individual farms and larger, country-wide industries can sustain themselves, exploitation is rampant due the rise of fast fashion and factory farming in the last 15 years. Still, untreated and organic wool is a smart ecological choice, and it can be ethical in regards to animal treatment when attention is given to the process, so we're left at a crossroads.

From a psychological standpoint, it's no wonder that we struggle to prevent large scale problems and identify solutions: humans lack a capacity to comprehend the massive scale of modern operations.

Rather, we are people compelled by stories. 

That's why I find it increasingly necessary to engage with artisans and their work - this is something we can hold onto.
Over the last several weeks, I've been in conversation with Ellie at new ethical handbag company, Amalou, to create a narrative around human and animal care as it can be. This is the story of Amalou, and of the process from sheep and herder to wool and maker, across the world and into our hands and homes...

Amalou is based in Morocco, a country nestled within a region where sheep and wool have been the primary industries for centuries

Nomadic herders journey with their flocks across vast swaths of countryside, navigating an internal map for watering holes and rest stops. As Ellie expressed, sheep herding is by its nature a very different experience in Morocco than it is in America and other countries known for wool. In the words of Richard Grant, writing for The Telegraph, "the animals [are] regarded as individuals, easily recognised by their markings and personality traits."

The work sounds romantic to my Western ears, but it is arduous - hot, with long stretches without water - and requires the skill of years of experience to navigate the terrain and prepare for each new stretch of barren land, not to mention an attunement to the needs of each animal.

When shearing season begins, families and even whole communities work together to shear the herds, then sell the raw wool in local markets, or souks. Some artisans will buy it to turn into carpets or yarn.

Amalou brand story - the history and story of morocco's wool and felting industries
Felters Abdullah and Mohammed at work
In the case of Amalou, wool is purchased to be felted. Wool felt is the oldest known textile, not surprising considering how long humans have lived alongside sheep.

But think about that for a second: when you touch a piece of wool felt, you're connecting to thousands of years of human craft and culture.

The process is low tech, but labor intensive: hot water is added to layers of unprocessed wool, then the wool is pressed continuously until the fibers start to hook and tangle together.

Since Ellie works directly with the felters, she can describe their process firsthand:

Once dyed, the wool is turned over to the felters as large bags of loose, dyed wool. From there the felters prep and comb the wool to remove thorns and other debris that might remain. Once the wool is clean the felting process begins. As you'll see when the bag arrives, each bag is actually made out of a single pice of felted wool with no seams. This means they work out the size and shape of the finished item in their mind before they even begin the work, a feat that frankly boggles my mind. Using nothing but water, wool and an all natural black soap they felt the wool into shaping using their hands. To do this, they add water and soap to the fluffy wool and rub it with their hands until it felts. This is an hours long process and over those hours, you see the bag begin to take shape.

Amalou's primary felters, father-son team Mohammed and Abdullah, are in this business because they love it, and it's a natural fit due to the availability of high quality wool. Mohammed learned how to felt from his own father more than 20 years ago and they continue to work in a simple workshop, occasionally enlisting help from a friend when they're backed up on orders.
This narrative, one that takes into account the hands and hard work of each animal and person in the process, is something we can digest.

And because it's manageable, we can make a judgement call: we can call it good.

Photo Credit: Layli Samimi for Amalou
I am not so naive as to think that all industry can, or even should, go back to the good ol' days, where handcrafted wasn't a marketing designation so much as it was simply the way things were done. I know that sometimes these processes feel easy and pure when written out on a fresh sheet of paper, but they can often be the only means of survival in a world of scarcity and crisis. We must be careful as far-removed consumers to not romanticize (or exoticize) "foreign" handicrafts.

That being said, exploring the inner workings of smaller scale, integrated industries like that of wool in Morocco underscores how important manageability is when it comes to building ethical and sustainable companies. We often can't know what happens at every step in the global supply chain, but when the co-industries of raw goods and finished products literally and figuratively gather together in open air markets, it's easy to see the people and processes behind our products.

And because we can see what's happening, we can understand our tiny part in a big world full of reverence for history - and for those loved ones who taught it to us - and with an eye toward sustaining our futures for the good of all who dwell on the planet, from Moroccan sheep herders to felters to American bloggers.

Learn more about Amalou here.

I'll be featuring an Amalou bag next week, in case you're interested in learning more about the product.