Essays

Forgive Me, I am Grieving

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When I am helplessly sad, you may not notice.

Because when the anxieties and dramas of life are manageable, believe me, I will tell you. There's a reason one of my nicknames growing up was Leah Whiner.

But when things feel out of control - when I am grieving - I become stoic. You will see me laughing, but you will not see my tears, because I've buried them deep in my chest where they carve a deep gorge.

Eventually I will break.

This week was the breaking point. The tears unloosed, I am ready to speak.

In early August, my Grandma Rosie died suddenly. Three weeks later my Grandma Howell died, too. I barely made it to Grandma Rosie's funeral because the men in the family insisted on rushing things. I couldn't make it to Grandma Howell's funeral because the men in the family ignored the pleas of my mother to delay it. Around the same time, my dad got a job in Florida and my parents began the process of selling their house in Ohio and moving back down. My grandpa, now a widower, moved  in with my parents. That's a lot for one month.

Then the Kavanaugh hearings began.

My brittle and fractured spirit wasn't prepared for the torrent of rage, grief, and fear stirred up as I read hundreds of #whyididn'treport stories, reflected on my first experience of sexual harassment (light assault? What could I have done differently?), relived the grief and trauma of rapes experienced by loved ones, and remembered all the times I had to fight, hard, to prove that I mattered as a woman.

This, while the Christian community I grew up in called Christine Blasey Ford a liar, suggested she was just confused (how patronizing!), or mocked her tears.

As I've spoken about before, I grew up in a politically conservative household influenced by the Religious Right, which attached things like abortion and the free market (?) to our religious education. Despite this, I also learned about a God who used his male privilege not to harm but to lift up the voices of women. A God who was self sacrificial to a fault, who both loved and was himself (Trinitarian theology is weird, ok?) a regular human being who wept over his coming execution and gave himself up to the state anyway. 

This is a radical, counter-cultural, frankly horrifying story, and I was reminded again and again as a young kid and teenager that this person-God Jesus was the one to emulate.

If you follow Jesus, I'm pretty sure you end up dead.

And while I struggle with the severity of the narrative, I have never thought that the Gospel narrative is telling us anything otherwise. Christianity is about humility and sacrifice, it is about seeing the Kingdom of God as an imaginative, wide-open space where everything we thought we knew is just a blip of what is true. It flips everything on its head: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The poor and the orphan and the widow are the heads of the table.

So why are Christians hell-bent on establishing a kingdom of death?

I don't know, though I have theories. But the past few weeks have made it difficult to believe that my time isn't being wasted insisting that the "pharisees" and hypocrites in the wider Christian community just need a little grace.

And I know I have to give it anyway, but I don't want to. So I grieve. I grieve for not being as kind as I want to be. I grieve for the ways my own family members have betrayed the very values they taught me. I grieve for a world that can't and won't believe women, who would sooner give "vulnerable men" body cameras and weapons to defend themselves from "lying women" than find a way to protect women.

I grieve, too, because my Grandma Rosie tried to kill herself once and if you ask her sons and husband about it, they can't tell you anything because they never asked why.

Book Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

book review Inspired by Rachel Held Evans stylewise-blog.com
Just a heads up if you're usually here for ethical fashion content, today I'm sharing a book review for progressive Christian author Rachel Held Evans' newest book, Inspired, which will be available for purchase next week. As I continue to work through the discernment process to become a priest in the Episcopal Church, I am consciously trying to bring faith topics into my writing on this blog. I promise to never attempt to convert you.  I received an advance reader copy of Inspired from the publisher. 

Rachel Held Evans and I go way back. I mean, we don't exactly know each other, at least not in real life, but reading her blog during my months and years of spiritual crisis was such a balm to my spirit. As I read her stories of doubt, pain, and exclusion within the context of her conservative, Evangelical church upbringing, I continuously whispered, "me too," sometimes - ok, often - through tears. Her words emboldened me to claim my own experiences of spiritual trauma as legitimate, and to seriously work through my doubt and pain in a way that was productive, and ultimately restored my relationship with God and with the church (though a very different one than the one I grew up in).

I've read all but her very first book: A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Searching for Sunday, and now, Inspired. And I can trace the ebb and flow of Rachel's own religious life and her orientation toward God and people of faith in her writing. In Inspired, I sense Rachel's newfound comfort in an inclusive and affirming religious community. Whereas before the pain was raw and the path dimly lit, in Inspired you can see that she knows who she is, and that quiet confidence allows grace to flow through her writing in a way I haven't perceived before.
book review Inspired by Rachel Held Evans stylewise-blog.com

Inspired is a book about the Bible.

It is written for both current and recovering biblical literalists - or those who believe that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are the inerrant and factual words of God - and for progressive Christians and spiritual questioners who struggle to understand why they should even read the Bible. That's a hard audience to unify within a single book, but I appreciate Evans' quest to do so because it is in many ways the gap I'm trying to close in my own social circles, between family members who have remained in my former religious tradition and my current church community, who often laugh nervously because they've never even attempted to read the Bible.

What I Love

What I love about Inspired is its balance of research and memoir-style storytelling, authentic appreciation and valid critique. Evans clearly spent a lot of time seeking out voices that both cherish and find room for questioning within the scriptures. She is careful to remind the reader that the Bible is important and worth taking another look at in spite of its inconsistencies, historical inaccuracies, and problematic narratives.

She wants the reader - and the wider church - to appreciate the grand narrative of God's love and to truly understand why each story is told the way it is. And importantly, she doesn't shy away from the glaring ethical issues certain narratives and teachings illuminate. She allows for discomfort, which to my mind is the best if not only way to authentically engage with the scriptures.

I also think Inspired is effective. Despite some of my misgivings about the format or particular arguments, Evans' careful consideration and conversational tone make Inspired the type of book you want to share with your religious community, your mom, your roommate, or your coworker. It is the right tone for study groups and coffee dates, and beyond what it offers immediately, it allows for new, less encumbered conversations about the Bible.

What I Don't Love

For one, I don't think this book is really for me. As a Religious Studies grad who focused on the Hebrew Bible, I had to learn to deconstruct then truly love the Bible without the aid of Evans' book, and frankly, my personal experience helped me reconcile it with my own life - and the way it was used as a weapon against me - more than a book ever could.

That's obviously not Evans' fault, but it is what it is. For me, learning to love the Bible had a lot more to do with learning to love the flawed, eccentric humans who lived, narrated, and wrote about it, and to see something of myself in them. So while historical and cultural context and genre studies contributed to my overall understanding of how to read the texts, it was ultimately the grace of shared humanity with ancient Hebrews and first century Christians that led me back.

I also had to work on developing patience when it came to the "creative writing" chapters, where Evans creatively retells Bible stories in the vein of Jewish Midrash in an attempt to help the reader see ancient stories with fresh eyes. I appreciate why she did it, but I don't know if this is really her forte (Sorry, Rachel!).

Who Should Read It

Get this book if you're skeptical about the Bible, if you're trying to loosen the pull of biblical literalism without losing your faith, or if you're curious about what the Bible may offer beyond what you get at church. Evans has a knack for bringing people in and keeping them in conversation, and I hope that Inspired will give people the freedom and good theology to learn to love the Bible in all its messy, weird, holy chaos.

Inspired will be available at all major book stores in early June.

Preorder on Barnes & Noble here. (Some signed copies available)
Preorder on Amazon here.

If you have any questions or would like other book suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!

The Business of Blogging: Why Fair Trade Rhetoric Must Include Bloggers

why bloggers should get paid for their work stylewise-blog.com
The fair trade system was created to address the root causes of global poverty and income inequality by advocating on behalf of marginalized workers - mostly women - and creating economic infrastructure to aid in long term, sustainable employment.

Because the fair trade system as we know it grew out of Western, mostly white, charity models, it continues to create and reinforce, despite its best efforts, a power differential where Westerners are assumed to be the kindly, financially secure philanthropists and artisans, primarily located in "the Global South" are assumed to be the destitute, poor beneficiaries.

This means that promoters of fair trade here in the States and in Europe are often seen more as fundraisers than business people. We are expected to evangelize the fair trade cause out of the pure goodness of our hearts, using the language and structures of nonprofit charity models even when we're, in actuality, promoting for-profit social enterprises.

These root assumptions also disguise growing income inequality and continued sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression in "the West," - not to mention diminishing economic opportunities for Millennials - by lumping in all Americans as financially secure when, in reality, many of us are far from it.

Look, I recognize my privilege. I am thankful that I can subsist on the income from my day job and freelance work, and that my husband receives a stipend while working to complete his doctorate. I'm not claiming that I'm impoverished.

But my current job cannot financially support a healthcare plan for its employees and the ACA marketplace premiums are higher in Charlottesville than anywhere else in the country, so I am very aware of how close I hover to financial disaster if a health scare plagues my household. Lack of comprehensive healthcare makes it difficult for us to plan for the future (like, can we even afford to have children?) and an inability to save means we can't partake in the traditional wealth-building exercise of home ownership.

My wage at the shop, after calculating inflation, is nearly identical to the previous manager's starting wage in 1992, and we can't raise our product prices along with inflation because fast fashion brands like Walmart and Forever 21 are now the thrift shop's biggest competition.

I say this to point out that, though my economic situation may be better than that of an artisan in Peru, I don't fit the mold of the kindly, rich benefactor. And I don't think I should be required to work for free.

The rhetoric of the fair trade and ethical fashion movement is screwed up. And I'm not talking about the principles laid out on behalf of artisans. I'm talking about the way it treats the business owners, social media managers, customer service representatives, fulfillment workers, freelance marketers, and bloggers who hold up the system from right here in the States as if we're living on a Carnegie family inheritance while bootstrapping a social-good business when, in reality, we're broke or headed toward it swiftly.

The social enterprise model is relatively new, popularized by TOMS shoes in the mid aughts. Blogging, too, is a new industry. So it's understandable that this uncharted territory is difficult to navigate. But I, and my fellow bloggers over at the EWC, feel it's necessary to address a growing problem in the field of ethical fashion marketing and blogging:

No one wants to pay us. 

Due to stigma around blogging as a business or sexism because of the culturally gendered topics we discuss or a perception that our labor is not-for-profit, we often get feedback that we should work for free, that our sponsorship fees are too high, or that free product is compensation enough for what we do.

This may have been true five years ago. But as blogging has grown to become a legitimate business, and as companies have seen real benefits from influencer marketing strategies, it's become clear that serious, effective bloggers are a key part of business, not a gaggle of sea gulls fighting for free product that you occasionally toss bread to.

This flippant attitude toward serious, effective bloggers (because not all bloggers are serious or effective) is particularly problematic in the ethical fashion industry because of all of those claims about fairness and women's empowerment. Yes, people in immediate need deserve our attention and we should make amends for the horrors of colonialism that set so many in the Global South up for failure in the first place.

But women (and men, but mostly women) in this industry are making wages they cannot live on, even when their compatriots in traditional blogging are making six figure incomes, and it's because we have allowed ethical companies for too long to make an argument that goes, "If you really cared about poor people, you would support my for profit business for free."

This is, simply stated, not fair. 

If you think we are valuable enough to email about a collaboration, then why aren't we valuable enough to be compensated?

(And if it's simply a matter of budget, I get it. I run a retail store. But if that's the case, then it may be best to hold out for the collaborators you best align with instead of casting your net too wide.)

My argument, of course, does not apply to bloggers and influencers who routinely take advantage of brands, who hawk products they don't use or barely tried, or who regularly cold-call companies asking for product without prioritizing a relationship or an effective collaboration strategy.

But there are a lot of us who are professionals, who know our readers, who have our strategies down pat. And if you want us to work with you, we simply ask that you treat us as valuable members of your business.

We simply ask that you apply fair trade principles to the way you work with all employees - whether contracted or full time.

We ask for humanity and we ask for a fair wage. 

P.S. I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of particular monetization strategies or their ethics in this post. I do delve into that more deeply in my new e-book, which you can purchase here

Related Posts from EWC Members:
why bloggers should get paid for their work stylewise-blog.com

What a $15 Pair of Boots Taught Me About Ethical Fashion

ethical fashion and pleather boots
Three years ago, I had just discovered that I likely had Raynaud's Syndrome, a chronic issue that affects circulation in the hands and feet, particularly in cold weather. My boots were all too small to comfortably fit thick wool socks, so I embarked on that now familiar, ultimately futile quest to find the perfect pair of ethically sourced black combat boots with a large enough toe box to encourage proper circulation.

I searched high and low on the ethical market, and even stalked Ebay and Thredup for secondhand versions. But I had absolutely no luck (At the time, I could not have justified a $200 or $300 shoe purchase, so that limited my options).

Finally, I stopped into a Ross and found a pair of faux leather, Steve Madden boots. They were the last pair remaining and the only style that even remotely met my specifications. And, they were $14.99. Desperate from searching for several months with no luck, I slapped down my credit card and took them home.

Now, these boots didn't appear to meet ANY of my ethical shopping standards. Fair trade? Nope. Eco-friendly? Nope. Timeless? Nope. High quality? Meh. 

But despite those early misgivings, these boots have lasted in my closet like no other pair of boots I've owned before.

The toe box is perfectly roomy without looking clunky. The quilting on the sides makes them feel special. They're surprisingly comfortable, and have molded to my feet over time. And the fake, non-permeable leather means they hold up really well in rough weather, like rain and snow. If I'm traveling during a mild or cold season, they're the only pair of shoes I need.
ethical fashion and pleather boots
As much as I'd like to make this experience fit the narrative that ethical is always, unequivocally "better," that just wouldn't be honest. 

What I've learned from wearing and loving my cheap pleather boots is that intention matters just as much as the final purchase. I did my work to find something better, but ultimately it was the cheap pair that did the trick. I've worn them consistently for over three years and they're holding up really well. And, perhaps more importantly, I actually want to wear them. They feel like me.

If I were only concerned with labor standards, it would be hard to justify even an occasional "unethical" purchase. But the fact of the matter is that fast fashion culture does more than lead to human exploitation: its emphasis on more is more overburdens our resources, contributing to deforestation, water pollution, and climate change. There's something to be said for buying things we actually like and making them last instead of restricting and further restricting our shopping options to the point of burnout.

If I buy better but I'm still constantly buying, what am I hoping will happen? 

Because, sure, I want companies like H&M - or Steve Madden - to convert to ethical labor standards, but without reducing total production, this is only a short term fix. Not to mention that any attempts I make to buy better will feel utterly meaningless if I don't like what I bought. I've always understood that buying fewer things is a sustainable option, but I'm beginning to think that it's the option I should really be prioritizing above all else.

I'm also learning that things that look like mistakes can be reconciled when we understand that the end game is a total transformation of a multi-faceted web of issues in the fashion industry, not just a quick rebranding.

I'm not suggesting that we should all give up on finding the best alternatives. In fact, I wouldn't be likely to buy this pair of boots today, simply because I've cultivated a habit of looking for fabrics and production standards that better respect people and planet. But I don't think it's worth being embarrassed about. Shame plays a limited role in positive change. Instead, I will choose to celebrate the way these boots have served me, and the way they make me feel.

The problem of fast fashion is a problem of undervaluing what we have. The antidote is gratefulness. So I am grateful for the people who made this and other things I own, whether they work in a sweatshop or at a well regulated factory. Change must come, but never at the cost of forgetting that.

Update 3/26/18: Sadly, my beloved boots bit the dust a couple days ago when I realized that both soles were coming unglued and the faux leather had torn at the pressure points near the sole damage. I will be seeking out a much higher quality pair for the next cold season.

My 8 Achievable Goals for the New Year

achievable new year's resolutions ethical fashion blog
Happy New Year!

I don't like to rush right into the new year with too much enthusiasm because it's nice to keep savoring the warmth of the Holidays for as long as possible. But life moves on whether I like it or not, so I thought it best to start the year off with this year's personal and professional goals. I like setting goals that I know will make me happier, and that also don't take a HUGE amount of effort to achieve. That way I can end the year feeling proud for small steps taken. 

Wear one weird thing every day.

I like simple style just fine, but what I really like is wearing my striped tees and jeans with something a little "off." Big earrings, a funky vintage skirt or jacket, clunky shoes. I want to have more fun, and for me that doesn't take a lot: just one weird thing every day.

Throw more "crappy dinner parties."

Daniel and I have gotten out of the habit of having people over because we can never get our act together enough to make an impressive meal or clear all the clutter of the week off the table. In 2018, I want to cultivate casual community, and an environment where everyone understands that things don't have to be perfect to be good.
achievable new year's resolutions ethical fashion blog

Dance more.

I have come to terms with the fact that I don't have time to take a dance class with everything else in my schedule, but I would still like to find ways to dance more.

Streamline my work schedule.

Instead of working 50+ hours a week (and scrolling social media for another 10), I want to create a distinct schedule for freelance work so that I'm not always on call. Right now, my plan is to photograph for the blog on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons and write Monday and Thursday, with each individual task taking no more than 2 hours at a time.

Read 10+ books.

I read all the time, but I don't read a lot of books anymore. But I realized while dealing with the stress of August neo-Nazi events here in Charlottesville that the best remedy was getting out of the "hot take" culture and reading a full length novel or memoir. And I can process things with a lot more perspective if I immerse myself in a narrative that's not my own.
achievable new year's resolutions ethical fashion blog

Maintain a part time income through blog and freelance work (without overworking!).

Similar to last year, I want to continue to maintain and grow this space. I plan to take on less freelance work and focus mostly on blog writing and photography. I think if I can be strategic about what I post and who I work with, I can curate collaborations better without losing income. I'm very excited to have a plan!

Learn the power of saying no to things that aren't right for me.

It's really easy to guilt me into doing things. I may act stubborn, but I also have a strong sense of duty and that can overshadow the need to make tactful and useful decisions regarding my commitments. I want to cultivate discernment, not only in my vocation, but in every aspect of my life so that I can give my best to select things instead of overwhelming myself with everything.

Write something and get it published.

I'm willing to be gracious with myself on this one because I know that life happens and it's hard to commit to a long term project. But I'd love to work on a guide, book, or poetry collection and get to the point of being able to publish it (even if it's self publishing).
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I would love to hear what your main goals are, especially the less traditional ones. Feel free to comment or email me at stylewiseblog@gmail.com

Photos by me, taken in 2017.

You can read 2017's goals here and see if I achieved them here.

Year In Review: What I Achieved in 2017

2017 has been one heck of a year...
  • The Women's March, Trump, and neo-Nazis in my tiny town.
  • Health dilemmas and panic attacks. 
  • Getting a tattoo!
  • Traveling to Florida to see my friends and New York to meet Ethical Writers & Creatives members.
  • Joining a women's ensemble and singing in a beautiful wedding. 
  • Working with lots of cool brands.
  • Going full time at work.
  • Quiet moments and coffee dates with friends.
  • Celebrating 7 years of marriage.
  • Turning 29.

This year has been hard, but it's helped me understand that you can find a groundedness deep inside yourself when everything around you is falling apart. I feel better in my own skin - maybe more realistic - and I'm starting to live more unapologetically. It's been a growing year, and I am thankful for that. 

Before I make new resolutions, I want to go back over 2017's Goals with you all and let you know where I am.

GOALS FOR 2017

Small Ones
Rekindle my love for creative movement.

While I didn't start up dance classes, I did join a women's vocal ensemble, and that's been really lovely. I've made new friends, gained a ton of confidence in my vocal ability, and found a refuge in the form of weekly rehearsals.

Take photography more seriously.

I did ok on this! I remembered to bring my camera with me more often, which is why I decided to buy a new (refurbished) one. My old Canon Rebel XS was just too clunky. I upgraded to a gently used Fuji XT10 Mirrorless and it's been very helpful for both blog photography (the portrait settings are really helpful when you're using a remote) and lifestyle/portraits. I was also commissioned to do two portrait sessions.

Give up coffee, at least for awhile.

I tried this for a few months, but ultimately went back to having about 10 ounces of coffee in the mornings. Still an overall reduction in caffeine.

Eat all vegetarian except for on special occasions.

This failed, because my nutrition got way off balance and I became chronically ill at the beginning of the year. I still eat vegetarian at home and for lunches, but I will eat meat on occasion. This is a small step forward that is meaningful for me, and I learned a lot about animal ethics and my own personal needs through the experiment.

Big Ones
Make a part time income on freelance writing and ethical brand collaborations.

This one was a big success for me! I was able to make about $500 a month between blogging and freelance work this year, which meant I was able to build my savings account for the first time in years! Becoming more confident as a freelancer also helped me leverage a move to full time at work.

Take a leap of faith and get the chops to go where I feel called.

Drumroll please...So, I'm in the beginning processes of becoming a priest/pastor in the Episcopal church. Things are very early stage and I will be exploring my sense of calling over the next year or so before moving onto the next step, but it feels good to be making moves toward something I've been feeling called to for years and years.

P.S. I also fulfilled two resolutions from 2014: get a tattoo and publish an article (I've published several articles since then, but this one was really important to me)
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A lot of life happened this year, and some of the goals I made no longer felt important as time went on. But I'm satisfied with where I am professionally and, if I try to live one day at a time, I'm fine on a personal level, too.

I'll share my new year's Blogging Goals tomorrow!

Fair Trade's Legacy: People & the Power of Collaboration

Genesis Fair Trade - Why fair trade matters
The Awajun Necklace, made with seeds from Peru
I was compensated for my time writing and photographing for this post by Genesis Fair Trade

The community organizing group I was involved in a few years ago often reminded its members that the collective is what empowers organizations and citizens.

They use the term, People Power

Individuals can strive for justice, but our voices are amplified and mobilized toward systemic change when we find our voices, together. When we proclaim our value, in unison. This is, perhaps, why I like singing in choirs so much. It's both a metaphorical and literal example of what happens when people come together, set aside their egos, and work toward a singular goal.

This is also why I find the stories of grassroots organizations and fair trade co-ops so compelling. They are proof of hope. They are examples of how to value people both inside and outside organizational structures in order to bring about progress.

And this is why Fair Trade Month, which occurs every October, feels like a holiday to me. It's a time when hardworking fair trade artisans and institutions not only get to highlight their individual organizations, but come together to celebrate the broader values of justice, quality of life, and thriving that hold them together.

Fair trade organizations share core values, but each one is structured slightly differently. For the sake of clarity, today I want to talk about the way one particular fair trade company is run: Genesis Fair Trade.
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Genesis Fair Trade - Why fair trade matters

Genesis Fair Trade works with several artisan co-ops in Central and South America and across the world. These co-ops are self regulated, but contract with Genesis Fair Trade at a fair trade wage to provide scarves, ponchos, toys, jewelry, and even cell phone cases. The backpack featured in this post was produced by Guatemalan artisans using local materials.

Guatemalans, particularly indigenous Maya, have been marginalized for hundreds of years due to colonialism. The Guatemalan Civil War, which occurred between 1960 and 1996, brought the injustice to a head when former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt committed genocide on the Maya, leading to displacement, starvation, and severe human rights violations. It should be noted that the US backed the initial coup d'etat that led to civil war. We are, as always, complicit.

To be honest, when I came across that bit of history, I was shocked almost to tears. To write about the work of the Maya, work that I literally carry on my back, knowing that my own people had a hand in the injustices that led to genocide, feels heavy. Yet this is why we must share.

Fair trade is more than offering a helping hand. It's, maybe, one small act toward reconciliation and redemption. One small step toward People Power. 

Today, Genesis Fair Trade, in addition to offering fair prices, assists with education, water supply, and health care in the communities where it operates. This network of community organizations ensures that the most vulnerable in Guatemala, and elsewhere, can begin to thrive again.

The Maya and other marginalized communities stood up to injustice, and they suffered greatly for it (historians estimate that 200,000 civilians were killed by the government during the conflict). Nevertheless, they persisted. Knowing their history and sharing in their future is one way we can work toward a better future, together. We do not exoticize them. We see them as equal partners in building the world we want for ourselves.
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Genesis Fair Trade - Why fair trade matters
Del Sol Al Mar Clutch from Mexico
Here's the other thing about fair trade: it is one step closer to solving the problem of poverty.

As I've written about before, charity isn't a solution to social ills, it's merely a stop-gap. While the work of charities is incredibly important - hey! I even work for one - the nonprofit sector can also be shortsighted when it comes to long term, infrastructural change (watch Poverty, Inc.). Ensuring that talented people can maintain living wage employment and care for their loved ones means that no one needs to swoop in and "save" anyone. When everyone has what they need in the first place, we eliminate the need for charitable work that, despite its best efforts, often creates uncomfortable power dynamics between the savior and those that supposedly need saving. We leave our mutual integrity intact.

Genesis Fair Trade likes to think of this as the new way to give back. There will always be crisis and poverty that requires monetary and physical mobilization, but effective fair trade models honor our shared humanity by ensuring that everyone can contribute in a way that honors who they are and what they do - and have a life of abundance.

Americans would do well to consider what that would look like in our own lives.

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing more products from Genesis Fair Trade in a Gift Guide for Travelers. Later down the road, I'll post a full review of the backpack.

Shop Genesis Fair Trade

Genesis Fair Trade on Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram

Nostalgia & Knockoffs: The Ethical and Spiritual Crisis of Trend-Driven Homes

ethical and spiritual crisis of trendy homes - GlobeIn
My living room
A friend and I were chatting recently about the changing world of home design. 

When we were growing up, we remember most homes being full of a mixture of old family furniture, mismatched picture frames, and trusty dinnerware. Things were saved up for in young adulthood and early marriage, then used for the duration of the kids' childhoods. Outdated kitchens were a fact of life, not something to be ashamed of. Some homes were more eclectic than others, sure, but generally, things felt balanced and lived in.

That's not true any longer. I suspect the culprit is actually three things:
  1. the rise of image-based social media like Instagram
  2. the popularity of home design shows like Property Brothers and Fixer Upper
  3. the Marie Kondo minimalism craze
Meticulously curated consumerism has entered the way we dress our homes. Where once we gladly accepted hand-me-downs from parents and uncles, now we insist on new. Where once we set aside our savings for vacations or retirement, now we save up for wood floored kitchens (which, by the way, is a terrible idea because wood shouldn't get wet).

ethical and spiritual crisis of trendy homes - GlobeIn
Little details
My friend lives in a home some people would consider old fashioned. Her living room is filled with hearty wood furniture and decidedly un-modern chairs. A classic red rug covers the floor. She received most of her housewares from an aunt and uncle who, despite their best efforts, couldn't get their own children to take their hand-me-downs.

We talked about the sadness of this, that children no longer value tangible connections to their predecessors, that they feel social pressure to buy new, because their home is now inextricably linked to their identity, an identity that is no longer proud of family ties but always seeks and strives for individual recognition.

But when we insist on curating our homes through an individualistic rather than a traditional, collectivist process, we inadvertently sanitize the nostalgia and homey-ness right out of it. My friend's home is the center of our friend group. It is where we get together for birthdays and band practice, for Easter lunch and grad student get-togethers and going away parties. This is a place that feels like home to so many because the physical space isn't an obstacle or a fashion statement. Rather, it serves its purpose with grace and abundant hospitality, much like its inhabitants.

This is what home is, a place to settle in. A refuge from the showing-off culture we enter into every day when we leave our front doors. This is a place of rest.

ethical and spiritual crisis of trendy homes - GlobeIn
Old and new plants   ethical and spiritual crisis of trendy homes - GlobeIn
I want to foster a space that feels like that, and that feels welcoming to everyone who enters. 

That means being intentional, but not aggressively so. It means welcoming in family heirlooms and secondhand finds, and being content with these things even as trends change. Over the course of years, Daniel and I have scavenged for things we love: a student woodworking project we use as a TV stand, a green velvet couch we purchased form a waitress at our favorite college restaurant, Goodwill end tables, Grandma's wicker chest, my childhood bedroom set, and my mom's blue and cream dinnerware. We've added our sisters' artwork to the walls, mixed in with art from travels and fair trade trinkets. The end result is that every piece recalls a happy memory and the love of our friends and family. Everything is imbued with meaning.

This is my thought: things aren't bad, but we can misuse and abuse our relationship to things. So fill your space with mementos and sturdy end tables and childhood photos. Live in a place where the struggle and joys of your ancestors and friends permeate the air.


Argan oil and coasters provided by GlobeIn.

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.
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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.
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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.

amalou
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.

Shopping, and the Seduction of "Fixing" Ourselves

shopping addiction and ethical consumption
I've been fantasizing a lot lately.

I get in my car, drive to my closest Target, enter through those big glass doors, and look out over the expanse of stuff. This is my kingdom!

Aisles and aisles of glossy, new things. 

I find women's clothing and caress the fabrics: fuzzy sweaters, stretchy denim. I marvel at the selection, the colors, the trends. I try things on, finding just the right size and silhouette. I buy multiples of the things I like. Then I head over to shoes and find the perfect pair of boots to match my new outfits. 

"Ahhh," I sigh. This is what happiness feels like. 

That word, happiness, is what snaps me out of the illusion. I love shopping, but I love happiness more - though she's always playing hard-to-get. And it's probably true that the reason I shop is because it satisfies that hunger for a bit of contentment, and a bit of joy.

2017 has been hard. Trump threatening to derail common decency and democracy all in one go. Young immigrants told they're not welcome here. Women objectified. People of color killed, over and over again, by cities and states without consequence. Neo-nazis. Home grown terrorism. Trans people killed and barely any news coverage. Genocide and an international refugee crisis. American Christians showing, yet again, that oftentimes their true colors are as dark as the blackness of a black hole. Hurricanes, flooding, and earth quakes that threaten to ruin homes and livelihoods.

There's a lot to be unhappy about and, for me, the events of August 11th and 12th here in Charlottesville all but did me in.

I've gained 6 pounds. I have had more bad nights than good nights. I had to give up on a book chapter I was writing for an academic compilation because the part of my mind that is capable of deep diving into research is currently locked up without a key. On the surface, everything looks - even feels - normal, but the deep unhappiness gurgles upward, a tide that rips me back into its currents.

And so, what I really want is to go shopping, the usual way.

Aren't I entitled to this small morsel of happiness? Yes, I know it's fleeting, that the happiness I glean is at the expense of sweatshop workers scraping by, and that overconsumption puts further stress on a planet already on the brink of environmental catastrophe. But everyone else is doing it. And look at their faces and look at their clothes. They look nice. Do I look nice, in my too-short, thrifted jeans and old Everlane tshirt? I don't look nice. I look terrible. I hate my body - those 6 pounds don't sit right on my hips.

Why does this anxiety always turn inward? Do I think that if I fix myself the world will be fixed, too?

See, this is what muddles everything. Whether I'm shopping or passionately pursuing conscious consumerism, I'm still trying to fix myself in an attempt to fix everything else.  If I can just do that right and shop at that store and educate everyone I know, maybe then I'll be happy.

But here I am, 5 years into the conscious consumerism experiment, and I still don't think I've fixed much at all. Admitting that is the first relief I've felt in weeks, in months. A smile creeps its way across my face, the serious face I keep on to mask weakness.

This is me saying, "Here I am! A human being - creaturely, confused, unfixable - waking myself out of the fetal position to greet the dew-kissed grime of a new morning. 

Maybe happiness is something that settles, like laugh lines and creaky wooden floors. Maybe it's undiscoverable because it refuses to play that game. Maybe my fantasies of shopping are just the other extreme of my fantasies about changing the world, and the thing about fantasies is that they're only daydreams. Maybe I don't even want them to be true.

So I will settle here for awhile, in my old wooden chair, feeling the aches in my anxious body and saying, to God and to the sunlight and to this new day, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

What I'm Adding to My Ethical Wardrobe This Fall

building an ethical, minimalist wardrobe
Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

Before I'm inundated with fall promotional emails, I thought I'd take a moment to honestly reflect on what I "need" for the upcoming season.

Uh...nothing.

You read that right. I've been doing this ethical fashion thing for almost 5 years and I can finally, confidently say that I have all the wardrobe building blocks I want in my life.



It's not that I needed to transition my whole wardrobe over to "ethical" items in order for it to feel complete. It's that my time on the fast fashion hamster wheel had so effectively discombobulated my sense of self that I wasn't really sure what I, 1. liked to wear and 2. would actually wear. Through lots of trial and error, I've arrived at a place - at least for now - that feels like home. It doesn't hurt that there seems to be an increasing freedom around what silhouettes and styles are in at any given moment. I've been able to confidently keep things for years and years, both because the sustainable purchases I've made are better quality in general and because the styles just work for my life.

Now, once those emails arrive, I might be tempted, which is part of the reason I'm recording this publicly right now. No matter how long I'm at this, I'm always itching for shiny and new. It's human nature.

I should also mention that I will be reviewing a few clothing items in August that I plan on incorporating into my fall wardrobe: a cardigan, a dress, and a kimono-style robe. These pieces are practical for me, because they allow me to add interest to my daily uniform of Everlane tees. Each piece is versatile and can be worn a few different ways.

I love fresh fashion seasons even if I'm not shopping because the magazine spreads and style blogs are brimming with inspirational content. I'm looking forward to sharing outfits made of old things that still feel vibrant and interesting.

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Are you tempted by sales and new arrivals? Are you adding anything to your wardrobe in the upcoming season?

On Body Image + Personal Modesty

on christianity, purity culture and personal modesty
I wrote this piece 4 years ago for my friend's blog on womanhood and rediscovered it recently via Facebook Memories. It still holds true, and I think it's pertinent as we look toward another fashion season. 

I was steeped good and long in American evangelical culture, though not one that held too tightly to ideals of traditional gender spheres. As a result, I was both encouraged to join the worship team and participate in co-ed theological discussions and discouraged from flaunting my sexuality (along lines of thought very specific to Protestant Christian tradition).

I was told that the boys in youth group would lust after me and sin in their hearts if I didn’t wear a shirt over my swimsuit on beach excursions. I was told to be mindful of cleavage and short skirts and too much makeup. Obsessed as a child (and still) with ideals of fairness and personal responsibility, this didn’t sit well with me. In my view, the boys were given a free pass to lust. I asked a youth leader once if boys would cover up, too, so as not to cause women to stumble. I was immediately dismissed with a laugh and the subject was never brought up again.



But the notion of blaming the inactive party for the thoughts and behaviors of the aggressor is simply nonsensical. The person to blame is the person who did the thing, whether that thing is something as seemingly innocent as adolescent lust or as devastating as sexual assault.

So I come to the traditional modesty discussion, as an adult, with a fair amount of cynicism and, I hope, with a helpful dose of moderation and practicality. I believe that men and women must take equal ownership over their bodies and their thoughts. If I walk out in public naked, that’s no excuse for rape. On the other hand, I recognize that I live in a society with specific modesty codes that apply not only to sexual expectations but to daily interactions, and that it’s within my best interest as a member of my social system to, say, wear a suit to an interview and save the swimsuit for the beach.

Modesty is inevitably political, and from that broad perspective I think people should dress as they please (within a reasonable distance from their society’s expectations) and not be harassed for it.

But modesty is also personal. For instance, I never worried much about showing too much cleavage because I’m an almost-A cup. When other girls took comfort in the appearance of fuller figured celebrities and lauded Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, I was busy taking solace in the appearance of thin, pale super models, who more closely resembled my body type and weren’t bullied for it. At 16, I was 5’5” and 96 pounds; I ate but couldn’t put on weight. People, my doctor included, thought I was anorexic. My body image issues weren’t talked about because I, apparently, fit the socially accepted standard of beauty (no one told the boys that).

Teen Vogue was a beacon of confidence for me, and I delved happily into the world of high fashion. Twelve years later and I’m still enamored by fashion spreads, new novelty prints, and the season’s best shoes. I didn’t realize at 16 that this thing I clung to for comfort and body acceptance would have such a hold on me.

When I get dressed in the morning, or when I buy a new garment, I can see how I adapted and combined my experiences to suit my needs. I like to cover my shoulders because people tell me they’re bony. I flaunt my clavicles because I think they’re pretty. I won’t wear a skirt higher than mid-thigh because it just feels inappropriate. There are some things you carry for so long they become a part of you. I’d like to feel so comfortable in my body that I can wear anything and feel confident. But I think it’s ok that I’ve reached these compromises with myself and with the modesty/sexuality obsessed culture that exists both within and outside of the church.

Through fashion, and even through the modesty culture I grew up within, I’ve come to appreciate my body both as flesh and blood and as art. When blogging, I like the distance a self portrait can provide, the harsh objectivity. I can look at myself through the lens of a photographer interested in imperfection, angles, and shadows. It’s easier, too, when I know I contribute more than just my appearance to the world – when I can write, hug, listen, laugh, work – and know that these things are acknowledged, that these things make a considerable difference.

But I’d still like to think that God doesn’t just think I have potential on the inside. I’d like to think he thinks I look pretty awesome, too.

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More than 5 years of fashion blogging has been healing for me, because it's helped me see my body in new ways, to experiment with silhouette and style and to embrace my flaws. This sounds counter intuitive in a niche that can also cultivate unhealthy comparison and competition, but for the most part, I find this space freeing. And the community of thoughtful women (and occasionally men) I've found here has helped me believe in my abilities and challenge my assumptions. I believe I'm better for it. Thank you. 

What We Can Learn From The Honey Bees

what we can learn from the honey bees
This post was written for Numi Organic Tea and originally appeared on the Numi Tea Garden blog.

Honey bees. Some people love them and others fear them, but there's no denying that they're an important part of our lives. Honey bees, after all, make a deliciously sweet elixir that humans have harvested for thousands of years. In fact, some scientists believe that our hominid ancestors may have been able to evolve larger brains due in part to their intake of calorie-packed, easily digestible honey.

Not to mention that, as pollinators, they're responsible - along with their fellow pollinating insects - for pollinating more than a hundred standard food crops and flowers, including celery, cashews, onions, potatoes, watermelon, and tangerines. Our diet would be remarkably less varied without the hard work of honey bees and their ilk.

But honey bees are beloved beyond the tasks we humans benefit from. Since childhood, I've enjoyed sitting outside and observing bees as they dart precisely from flower to flower. They're a sign of spring - of warmer, brighter days - that lift people's moods. And despite a socially engrained fear of their stingers, your chances of getting stung by these mostly docile insects is only 6 million to one, so it's safe in most cases (unless you're severely allergic) to get up close and marvel at their skill.



The multifold function and pleasure of living alongside bees also shows itself in symbols. Hindus, and ancient Egyptians and Celts associated the bee with love, royalty, and hidden wisdom. And in the Biblical text, the freed Hebrew slaves refer to the promised land as "Land of Milk and Honey," i.e. a land of plenty.

So, when I suggest that we can learn something from the bees, I follow in a long line of people enraptured by these industrious insects.

What We Can Learn from The Honey Bees

1. No [bee] is an island

Bees are fully imbued with the skill to go about their tasks in relative independence, but they know it's best to work in a team. Bees switch jobs throughout their lifetime, as needed, to ensure that the hive runs efficiently. Before they become foragers in the last 2-3 weeks of their lives, they tend to the hive, working as nursemaids, caretakers, cleaners, honeycomb builders, nectar ripeners, pollen packers, and hive repairers. When they are older, they will begin the public work of collecting water, pollen, nectar, and propolis (the thick wax that holds the hive together), then working with the house bees to appropriately store and utilize their goods.

2. Always give 100%

The relationship between honey bees is not a 50/50 partnership or a competition. If a job needs to be done, any available bee will jump on it. This makes their community both incredibly efficient and harmonious in a way rarely seen in human society.

In some cases, if the Queen becomes ill or dies, a worker bee will even lay eggs to protect the genetic legacy of the colony. Though she cannot fertilize the egg, a male drone will be created through the process of parthenogenesis. The colony will still die out - after all, it needs female worker bees to thrive - but the drones may go out and mate with other colonies' Queens, and this means that the health of the larger bee community is maintained even as the local hive dies.

3. Leave a legacy

Did you know that bees and flowers communicate with one another? Researchers at the University of Bristol found that not only could bees "read" the negative charge of plants, the bees' relative positive charge (acquired while flying through the air) reacted with the electrical field of the plants and changed their charge for several minutes after they concluded their nectar and pollen collecting. Bees flying by effected plants would then be able to avoid them until the flower regenerated its resources.

In the words of Professor Daniel Robert: "the last thing a flower wants is to attract a bee and then fail to provide nectar; a lesson in honest advertising since bees are good learners and would soon lose interest in such unrewarding flower."

4. Have each other's back

If a bee is itchy, another bee won't hesitate to jump on her back and find the source, according to Jacqueline Freeman, author of Song of Increase. And a worker bee in need of grooming will dance to signal her need for assistance until a fellow worker comes to her aid.

In addition to basic maintenance, worker bees do not hesitate to share information about the best plants using a "waggle dance" to give precise directions. Bees, through complex and patient communication, work together to ensure that their colony thrives.


Honey bees provide a model for precise, compassionate community that can be achieved only through attentiveness, communication, and hard work. Though it can be difficult when our communities and work places don't seem fair, if we absorb these lessons as individuals, we can foster them in others, and maybe someday soon we'll figure out that dynamic and peaceful community is as simple as learning from the honey bees.

Wrapped in Nature: Clothing Is An Agricultural Product, by Mary Kingsley

Cotton Plant in Fall

This piece was written by Mary Kingsley of forthcoming sustainable brand, Lady Farmer. Images provided by Lady Farmer. I met Mary and her daughter, Emma, at an event they hosted here in Charlottesville and they're the real deal - they even run a farm in Maryland! Read more about the brand in the footer of this post or on lady-farmer.com

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Here’s a question. Where do your clothes come from? 


The first thing you might think of is the retailer: LL Bean, TJ Maxx, Target, etc. But before that, before they land in the store, where do your clothes come from?

This might stump a few, but many people have a sense that our clothing nowadays is produced overseas, so you might be thinking China, Vietnam or Bangladesh. But before that, before they are actually sewn together, where do your clothes come from?

Before it’s all sewn together, clothing is made of some kind of material, and unless it’s something completely synthetic, that material is going to be fabric from some kind of plant such as cotton, flax or hemp. So going back that far, where do your clothes come from? 

Your clothes come from seeds placed in the ground with the intention of creating the raw material for a textile, almost certainly on a farm somewhere.

Clothing is essentially an agricultural product.

Agriculture, of course, is commonly associated with food production. In that industry we’ve recently experienced a huge increase in consumer concern with sourcing, as evidenced by the boom in organic foods, the proliferation of neighborhood farm markets and the rise of demand for local produce, meat and dairy. After decades of non-transparency in our food system and the resulting epidemic of metabolic problems, allergies, diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, certain cancers, and more, consumers are exercising their right to question the health effects of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in food production, and the environmental consequences of certain industrial farming practices.

There’s a movement towards fresher, simpler, healthier, maybe not-always-so-quick-and-convenient food, real food. Slow food. People are caring about what they put in their bodies. They are asking where their food comes from, what’s done to it, what’s added to it and how far it travels before it lands on our plates.

Hemp and Organic Cotton Fabric to be used in Lady Farmer goods

Likewise, consumers are beginning to care what they put ON their bodies and can begin asking not only where their clothes come from, but how the materials are cultivated, and how the process affects the product itself, the producers and manufacturers, and certainly the environment.  

They are waking up to the fact that current practices in apparel manufacturing present significant health hazards. Our skin is our largest body organ and absorbs the toxic chemicals being used not only in the growing of the textiles but in the processing, treating, and dyeing of garments. For instance, your brightly colored clothing accessories might well contain dangerous amounts of lead. And many of the chemicals used in the dying of fabrics can cause cancer and/or be disruptive to normal hormonal functioning.

All of those cozy fleece jackets and the ubiquitous yoga pants? Turns out they’re full of microscopic plastic bits that are showing up in our seafood! Watch out for the hazardous chemicals in your outdoor gear that “can cause adverse impacts...on the reproductive system and immune systems.” As for sleepwear for your child, beware those containing the “flame retardant,” shown to cause hyperactivity and reduced IQ.

The issues and concerns in the apparel industry are closely parallel to the problems in the food system. Yet because most textile farming and apparel production now takes place overseas, the health, environmental and human rights problems have been largely out of sight and therefore easily ignored by an unconscious consumer base. Cheap, easily affordable and accessible clothing supplied by retailers heavily invested in feeding this widespread consumer frenzy has created a juggernaut of addictive buying and toxic waste.

The average American creates 65 pounds of textile waste every year, creating an annual 10.5 million tons of clothing in landfills. Most components of these textiles are full of toxic chemicals and never break down.

Brown fabric dyed with black walnuts

When we think of clothing as an agricultural product - a result of soil and rain, sunshine, and microbes - we begin to understand it as one of our essential needs, an expression of the natural world. With this framing and perspective, we can become informed and use our power as consumers to shape the future.

The understanding of clothing as a basic human need affecting us every moment as we live and breathe, something that has its beginning as seed and is nourished by our own shared environment, this grounds us in our elemental connection with the earth, the bearer and sustainer of all life as we know it.

When we begin to care about these things is when we begin to care about our choices and recognize their power. It is at this juncture that true change can occur.  

Everyone eats and everyone needs clothes, but when these basic human needs come at the cost of our own well being, then something has to change. We believe that with this understanding, consumers will embrace “slow fashion” in much the same way as they have “slow-food,” and in doing so will rediscover something that goes well beyond what they’re eating or wearing.

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Lady Farmer

Founded in 2016, Lady Farmer was formed in response to the growing movement of women who identify with nature and its cycles, simple comforts, tradition and sustainability. Our community of women is invested in real change - in themselves, their families, their communities - in a way that is accessible on a daily basis, from what they plant to what they eat to what they wear. We want to make our ladies’ lives simpler and strengthen our connections to each other and the earth. Any woman interested in the intersection of her own well-being and that of the planet will find a place here.

What I'd Say About Ethical Fashion if I Met You on the Street

ethical fashion and generosity

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who I hadn't seen in awhile and she said something regarding my blog that has stuck with me:

"Maybe it would be a good idea for you to move somewhere where people are less concerned with being intellectual so you can know what it's like in the real world." 


I'd taken this to mean that my approach on this blog can seem inaccessible, even judgmental, to those living outside of my specific social circle. To give you some context, I had just been complaining about the Type-A, aggressively driven culture of UVa and Charlottesville, how it exhausts me while also pushing me to strive for more. In many ways, it's a great thing to be surrounded by people who are obsessed with going after their dreams. But it inadvertently creates a culture of judgment and misplaced expectation because it assumes that anyone who isn't doggedly pursuing something "important" (it's easier to tell what's not important than what is important around these parts) is lazy, or maybe not very smart. And those things, in this context, are very bad words.

When I first moved here, I had no idea what I wanted to "do with my life" (now, I think we're fooling ourselves if we assume that there is only one thing we're "supposed" to do). When people asked me, "So, what do you do?" I couldn't give a satisfactory answer. "I'm a barista" or "I work at a screen printing company" were not adequate in the eyes of these driven, high-minded people. I'd get a blank stare and then a follow up, "Oh, but what do you want to do?" I wanted to yell "That's not what matters! I matter! See me for who I am, now."


I fear that maybe I can come off as a "What do you do?" person. 


As blogging became more central to my life, I started to get more respect and fewer blank stares. "I write on ethical fashion" or "I collaborate with social good companies" sounds like a real thing, believe it or not, and the academics among me could relate it to the type of work they do. On the one hand, it's nice to have a project that forms part of my identity. But it also makes me prone to becoming the type of person who values people only for their labor and not for their being.

And maybe sometimes, it makes me seem like the type of person who would judge you for not living according to my standards.

So, let me be clear...


If I met you on the street, I would not tell you that you are bad, or not good enough. 


If you asked me "what I do," I would tell you my spiel, "I write on ethical fashion and manage a thrift shop," but I wouldn't then expect you to engage in any particular way with that information.

If I met you in the store or at church or at a university event, I would not try to guilt you into embracing my lifestyle, or pretend that I had it right. Don't get me wrong: I love to talk about ethical fashion with people who seem genuinely interested. It gives this project some validation in the real world. But I don't ever want to give the impression that because I am living a certain way that I expect you to do the same.

In the tiny room that is this blog, the conversation is different, sometimes more intense.

But you - the reader who keeps coming back - are having this conversation by choice. You entered this space of your own volition. 


If you're a woman stopping into the thrift shop while your brother's getting his weekly transfusion at UVa Hospital or a volunteer hoping for a little camaraderie during the week or a fellow parishioner at a weekly dinner, you didn't ask me to talk to you about this. I respect that and I honor you.

I believe that people have the responsibility to live according to high moral standards and encourage others to do the same. But accountability comes as relationships mature, not in the beginning.

So if I meet you on the street and I'm not living up to the standard of inclusion and hospitality that I strive for, you have permission to tell me so.

And I'll try my best to not ask you what you do, but what you enjoy and how you spend your days. You matter so much more than the work that you do can ever let on. I've sorry if you've ever been told otherwise.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the church calendar.

Lent is a 40-day season of fasting, repentance, and inward glancing in preparation for the pinnacle event of the Christian faith: Christ's sacrificial death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter.

During last Sunday's sermon, my church's new priest reminded us that Christianity is not just another religion about being good and doing the right thing. In our faith tradition, God literally became human, living for more than 30 years in human flesh without special privileges.

This intimate God-human relationship reminds us, too, that, if we are made in God's image, humans can reveal God to us. We can be overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, we can see Christ suffering again in the eyes of the refugees, we can see glimpses of the human story fully revealed in the faces of the dying who don't fear death.

One year ago, my friend and coworker Margaret passed away. The last time I saw her was Ash Wednesday. And she told me she had asked the nurse what it felt like to die and she wasn't afraid.

In that frail woman strapped to an oxygen tank, I saw courage like I'd never seen before. I saw the face of Christ. And maybe that's why I marvel even while I weep, how a human can become so much like God, overcoming suffering like that.

So, I hold onto this faith - and this tradition - because the answer to suffering is that God suffers, too. If we are children and sisters and partners with God, we will see our pain reflected back in the eyes of God, and those eyes may belong to a child or a stranger, or an old woman who accidentally changed our life.

God with us.

Writing As Moral Work: A Conversation with Author, Corban Addison

Corban Addison A Harvest of Thorns

Last Monday, I sat down with Corban Addison, bestselling author and fellow Charlottesvillian, for a chat about the research he conducted for his most recent book, A Harvest of Thorns, a fictionalized account of a garment factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the fallout for a global brand whose clothes were in it at the time.

The day was unseasonably warm, so we grabbed a table on the patio of a favorite local coffee shop and spent a couple hours weaving in and out of related topics. I'd originally anticipated recording a formal interview to turn into a transcript for StyleWise, but it felt right to let the conversation move with the breeze, to allow for the type of organic storytelling that Corban tries to capture in his fictional narratives.

On the State of the Fast Fashion Industry

In his research, Corban discovered that for the majority of garment workers, per-item costs would only have to take a hit of 2-4% to provide adequate wages. This is an amount that could easily be absorbed by corporations, most of which have a profit margin of around 70%, but even passing it onto the consumer would have a negligible effect in the long run.

Garment Work is Skilled Labor

Corban had the opportunity to visit several garment factories during his research. He was astounded by how quickly and skillfully the seamstresses worked. Garment work takes extreme attention to detail, excellent hand-eye coordination, and knowledge of machinery and yet, we call this type of work unskilled. It's time we change the language to value the artisans of mass production.

A Bangladeshi Garment Worker and Labor Rights Activist Speaks Out

Corban was able to attend an event in Sri Lanka last fall that brought together activists and major brands to discuss corporate social responsibility. A Bangladeshi garment worker and labor activist spoke up during the Question & Answer portion of the event requesting to send this message to Westerners:

Tell people in America not to stop buying Bangladeshi clothing. Speak up for workers' rights and demand that your corporations use safe factories, but know that we need the jobs - we need the production orders. 

Corban says that there are examples of factories in Bangladesh that are up to code (Nike uses state-of-the-art factory, Young One), but that many companies aren't using them because they're more expensive.

We must understand that it costs something to not abuse people, but that it doesn't cost as much as we may think.

Target May Be Leading the Way to a More Ethical Industry

Corban knows a few people at Target and he's excited about their plans. Target has already partnered with fair trade companies like PACT to release limited edition fair trade lines. A growing number of household and cosmetic products come from small, ethical brands and brand collaborations. And now, they're looking to find ways to release ethically sourced items on a larger scale.

He and I agreed that it will take a big box store like Target to prove the market for ethically branded goods, but if they commit to making that change, the whole industry could shift overnight. And what's great about this is that they wouldn't have to dramatically increase prices to deliver as long as they're savvy about scaling.

Target, and companies like it, must think in terms of a future customer who cares about ethics and sustainability if they wish to maintain or better their market share. It's simply good business.

Mutual Trust Doesn't Require Friendship

Through the course of writing 5 books (his next novel is about Syrian refugees), Corban has had the opportunity to sit down with dozens of people and hear their stories. He says that once you have access to a person, it doesn't take much to build trust. All you have to do is remain open and listen.

As a result of this posture, Corban has been able to create complex, realistic characters for his novels. He's spoken to female Somali refugees in Minneapolis about Female Genital Mutilation over dinner and a refugee turned aid worker in Greece who abandoned his chance of reuniting with family to care for strangers. The refugee thanked him for asking him to share his story - he found it cathartic to be able to give voice to his experience.

Corban has talked with people across racial, cultural, and religious divides with mutual vulnerability and kindness, and he insists it's because, at their core, people want to be heard and respected. Building a bridge is as easy and holding out your hand.

When You Know People, You Aren't Afraid of Them Anymore

When I attended Barbara Kingsolver's Earth Day talk last year, she expressed that she writes fiction because it's the best way to change someone's mind. Corban agrees.

He told me that writing fiction allows him to create an artificial universe where people can interact with each other in humane, deeply personal ways, establishing mutual respect. This allows his readers - who may have virtually no experience of the cultural and religious context of his characters - to catch a glimpse of their humanity and be changed by it.

Corban writes Muslim characters frequently because he hopes that through his work readers, many of whom have never interacted with a Muslims, will come to understand that Muslims are people just like they are.

Writing as a Catalyst for Change

Corban says the most gratifying thing about being a writer is when people wake up to the realities of injustice and ask what they can do to change it. He writes to connect at every level, from research to book signings. I admire that willingness to stay engaged.

Star Struck

Livia Firth gave Corban an enthusiastic blurb for A Harvest of Thorns, calling it a “must read” and promising that “you’ll never be able to look at your clothes the same way again.”

Also, through friends, Corban passed a copy of the book along to Emma Watson! Emma, we’re waiting on your book review.

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My conversation with Corban proved to me, once again, that all justice issues are connected. If you talk about garment manufacturing, you have to talk about politics. If you talk about refugees, you have to talk about trafficking, and then you find yourself back at manufacturing. When you talk about bias and fear and religion, you boil it down to human stories and then it all just melds into a quilt of simultaneously individual and universal narratives.

You open your eyes, you unclench your fists, and you listen. That's where the seeds of transformation are planted and watered.


Corban Addison A Harvest of Thorns, a book about Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing

I'll be reviewing the book as soon as I get my hands on it. You can order it here and we can do a book club!

I Was a Climate Change Denier: Why I Changed My Mind

Climate Change and Christianity, Partnership with UNDP
Ice Caves like this one could be gone in 5-10 years due to global warming.
This article is part of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ethical Writers Coalition.

In the 12th grade, my Economics teacher, who also happened to be the women's track coach, decided to work on tallying track scores instead of filling us in on the wonders of microeconomics (You will not be surprised to hear that very few of us passed the AP Econ exam that year).

Like all overworked or borderline disinterested instructors, he popped in a movie for us to watch. But this wasn't your run-of-the-mill classroom film.

This was An Inconvenient Truth.


You may be thinking this was the aha moment for me. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. I distinctly remember laughing as the animated polar bear fell off her animated, melting glacier. "Absurd!" I thought, and not just because the anthropomorphized polar bear cartoon was frowning at me as she fell into the icy water. I was so smug in my knowledge that global warming was not happening - and bolstered by the other students at my southern, largely conservative school - that it was easy to overlook the science and find something to ridicule.


Let me give you some background.


I grew up in a Christian community that believed in Young Earth Creationism. In this model of the universe, God literally created the earth and all that is in it about 6,000 years ago, Noah's Ark miraculously held every variety of earth's creatures as it rose above the global flood, and - I kid you not - the Loch Ness Monster was proof positive that dinosaurs coexisted with humans. As a kid, I was fascinated by that last point, and I still have trouble letting go of such a whimsical idea! Doesn't everyone want to ride a dinosaur?

For one to hold the ideas of Young Earth Creationism as true, one must create a partition between some forms of "obvious" practical science, like gravity and the flu, from other forms of science, namely the ones that tell us something about the long game. We were wary of evolution, carbon dating, and climate change (read more about the tenets of Young Earth Creationism here). To us, they represented the ills of secularism, a world that searched in the wrong places for meaning when it could easily just open the Bible and read the "plain truth."

The problem with this, I know now, is that the "plain truth" of the Bible (this reading is called Biblical Literalism) isn't so plain once you've actually read it. When I majored in Religious Studies in college, I learned to apply literary and historical criticism to the Biblical texts. I parsed out genres; learned Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; and compared the religious texts of neighboring civilizations.

Contrary to my parents' fears, I did not lose faith. But it changed dramatically. Over time, the humanity of writers' and Biblical characters became more apparent. And humans, as we all know, are inherently nuanced and often hypocritical. It became clear to me that the Bible, like all texts, required interpretation.

Eventually, I realized that science could be reconciled with religious belief. Climate scientists and evolutionary biologists weren't out to get me after all.

I was finally able to tear down the shoddily built wall between Christianity and Science, and it allowed me to appreciate both in new ways. 


It was a long road, but it was ultimately my Religious Studies program that allowed the world to expand for me, to embrace the work of scientists who work tirelessly toward a better world. Their end goal is not all that different from the broader message of my faith tradition: to be good stewards and to leave the world habitable for future generations.

This is what we know about climate change (also called Global Warming), according to the United Nations Development Programme:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity mainly include carbon dioxide and methane. They form a "shield", which blocks a certain amount of solar radiation and causes global warming. 
  • Human activity has caused the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to increase. 
  • Since 1990 global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by almost 50%. 
  • Fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas – that power our cars, heating/air conditioning, cooking and lights are the main cause for greenhouse gas emissions. Each day we spew 110 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 
  • From 1880-2012 the planet's surface temperature has increased an average of 0.85 °C [1.5 °F]. 
  • Global warming itself is accelerating. During the past year, measurements taken across the globe during various periods have reported abnormally high temperatures. The year 2016 is the hottest on record, with average temperatures nudging towards 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 
  • Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise and surpass 3°C (and more in some areas of the world) in the 21st century.

Climate change must matter to us because rapidly rising global temperatures wreak havoc on ecosystems and agricultural industries. Melting snow caps cause ocean levels to rise, eroding inhabited land (Miami is already preparing for the worst); erratic weather destroys people and communities; and rising temperatures will soon make growing food impossible in some regions of the world. Additionally, climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest countries, where temperatures tend to be higher and the landscape more difficult to til.

This is more than ecological destruction: this is profound injustice. 


Climate change must matter to me and you, to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and Secular Humanists alike, because it affects all of us. And if we are people who claim a moral stance, it's high time we consider what we can do to slow the effect of global warming before it's too late. 

The United Nations Development Programme has committed itself to fighting climate change at a global level. It supports countries in their efforts to transition to renewable energy, protect forested land, and prepare for the and future effects of climate change. 


But what can we do?


First and foremost, we can support policies and politicians who make climate change remediation a priority. We can encourage investment in renewable energy sources at the local, state, and household level. 

On a personal scale, we can commit to living low-waste lifestyles, recycling, using public transit when possible (and lobbying for better public transit options), using less water and utilities, and eating less meat

And we can be messengers of the cause in big and small ways to our circles of influence. 


If you come from a background like mine, I encourage you to find ways to engage with your faith community about science in a constructive and positive way. Help people realize that this fight needs all of us, and that there's no reason to fear science, or the intentions of climate scientists who are simply doing their jobs. 

Delaying the effects of climate change will be hard - it will be inconvenient - but I have no doubt that climate change, in an age of alternative facts, is a truth we must defend. Now that I am empowered with that knowledge, I refuse to turn back.

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For tools, news, and resources, visit the UNDP website.

On "Activism" Burnout, and What I'm Doing to Resist It

Activism Burnout and Longterm Change, stylewise-blog.com

In the days and weeks following the Women's March, I was about as close to "woke" as I've ever been. 


I was bearing witness, I was donating, I was reading and tweeting and posting.

And then...I broke down. I started weeping one night right before bed, mumbling incoherent concerns to Daniel. I realized I couldn't handle it. I had totally overloaded my system, convincing myself that things would only improve if I ran myself ragged.

But I was becoming unable to function with kindness and attentiveness, and that flew in the face of everything I believe about small-scale world change.

So I took a break. I read a book and watched endless episodes of Scrubs.


And I kept writing blog posts. 


I've mentioned more than once that justice must extend outward from our individual interests or we're doing it wrong. I still believe that, but now that I've reached a state of mental equilibrium, I realize how important it is to also do the converse of that statement - to keep focusing on the pet cause even when the world is in chaos.

That's because the ethical practice that's already become habit is a good reminder of what must happen if we're to jump into broader world change.

Empathy, science has shown, is unsustainable and wildly inconsistent. 


The visceral pain I felt about immigrants, refugees, women, people of color, children - heck! - everyone affected or soon to be affected by the current administration's sick political game was borne of good intentions, but it was not what was needed.

What I needed was the clear eyes and full heart I have fostered when it comes to talking about the fashion industry. I've spent years developing the skills, knowledge, and point of view to take each new devastating piece of information and place it within the proper context so that I can re-calibrate my current set of moral principles. I can recognize injustice immediately, but I no longer shut down. I keep working.

Longtime organizers and activists know that this is the only way to achieve longterm change.

And on that note, the other reason I can't abandon my pet cause is because it teaches me about the importance of taking the long view.


The marches, protests, and phone calls are necessary now because so much is at stake now and, frankly, because we have the collective momentum to sustain a movement. But we can't let short term crises distract us from long term goals.

I heard a story about a Pakistani student at UVa who doesn't understand the mass hysteria. He recalled going home to drone strikes throughout the Obama administration, too. What we're seeing in the US is a breakdown of what white Americans believed about ourselves; we are not seeing God unseated and the Devil taking his place. The Devil was always here.

So, yes, what's happening is pressing, terrible, often nearly unbelievable. But we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever stop this work. No matter how "good" the president is, there will always be corruption.

We must all become activists, and never stop as long as we live. 


I can't do that through irrational weeping. I have to extend what I know from this space to other categories of injustice.

So I continue this work not only because I believe my voice matters, and that the brands I promote can make a difference, but because it's showing me over and over again what sustainable activism looks like.

I'm going to a huddle tonight to talk over next steps at a local level. That sounds like something I can do with a clear head. Slowly but surely, I am becoming who I need to be.

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P.S. I recently read an article on the importance of honoring the world's complexity if we wish to be moral writers. It's tempting to go for click-bait, to simplify for the sake of clarity or "good vibes" or whatever, but the article insists that we have an obligation to try our hardest to represent reality, even when it's difficult. I have taken this to heart, and plan on doing my best to allow for (accurate) ambiguity and discussion even when it would be easier to make a sweeping claim. I fear I will always be a melancholy writer, but that's okay.