Is Your Artisan Made Item *Really* Ethical? 5 Things to Look For

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This piece was written by me with compensation and support from MATTER Prints

Artisan made was the buzzword that triggered my exploration of ethical consumerism.

In 2011, while undertaking a routine shelf-tidying during my shift at Hobby Lobby, a privately held "Christian" craft and home decor chain, I came across a little metal frog, the kind of random object you buy for a friend's housewarming party without considering what they're actually going to do with it.

The tag said something along the lines of "made by skilled artisans in Haiti." The price? $3.99.

Holding that little frog in my hands, I was puzzled. Here was an item being marketed as a kind of art, intricately cut and crafted by skilled hands, and yet it was nestled onto a retail shelf containing dozens of like items. And yet it was the same price as a latte at Starbucks, less expensive than a Hallmark greeting card.

It hadn't occurred to me until that moment that there must have been hundreds of other items in that store that were made by human hands. The frames in the frame shop, cut to size before shipping to my store. The decorative vinegar bottles containing bright red peppers. These invisible hands were not even given the dignity of "artisanship," and yet they touched and crafted the things that bored grandmothers bought on a whim with their 50% off coupons.

This story might tell us lots of things - for one, it woke me up to the exploitative realities of the global consumer goods industry - but today I want to focus on something too often overlooked:

Artisan-made does not mean much without context.

What the designation does tell us is that a person, or group of people, made a product, likely with minimal high-tech tools.

But the phrase is thrown around to imply that these "artisans" are known entities - people with whom the company or boutique owner may have a relationship. But, as was the case with Hobby Lobby, more often than not these nameless, faceless craftspeople are anonymous even to the ones who've categorized them as artisans and subsequently exploited that label for marketing purposes. 

The fair trade market is chock full of items designated as artisan-made, but even the best intentioned "ethical" advocates can get lazy when tracing these niche supply chains. Instead, they will tell a secondhand story passed down from middle men or co-op managers, not ever knowing how the artisan groups function, or whether they're receiving a living wage. 

I have to admit that not even *I* was committed to doing this work until a reader asked me, point blank, if I knew how a fair trade organization I had promoted was linked to their artisan producers. So when

MATTER Prints reached out with the same conversation - themselves puzzled by the way other purportedly ethical producers were using the term - I was anxious to do a deep dive. I spoke with MATTER team member, Farisia, about how they derive greater, more transparent meaning from the artisan-made distinction.

How to Tell If Your Item is Artisan-Made and Honestly Made

1 | Artisans Live and Work in Multi-Generational Craft Communities

Unlike industrialized consumer product manufacturing, which typically takes place in designated facilities outside of town centers, artisans typically live in small communities or extended families that support and uphold multi-generational craft traditions. 

To ensure authenticity, MATTER specifically partners with artisans that exhibit "skill in a craft acquired through generational transfer." This creates greater accountability between the brand/marketer and artisan because it makes it impossible for a Fortune 500 company to march into a community, half-heartedly "teach" a skill, then slap the artisan-made designation on their tags and websites.

2 | Local production is run by the same locals

Many well-intentioned fair trade business owners enter an artisan community with a plan to build something from scratch. On its surface, this is understandable. If you've been dreaming up your business from a far-removed location, it's easy to get wrapped up in an inaccurate idea of what products will be available to you, how you want them to look, and who your customer is. 

But this is inappropriate, not only because it often perpetuates Colonialist ideas of "progress," but because it takes the power out of the hands of the people who hold all the skill. Artisan co-ops, when they are thriving, are run by locals, thereby keeping the heritage and financial success of the community in the community, where it belongs. Artisanship, by definition, resists outside forces that would place the burden of aggressive Capitalism on its shoulders.

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3 | Materials are eco-conscious and locally derived

Because craft tradition is reliant on the physical location of a community, it is impacted by the holistic needs of the community and available natural resources. 

For this reason, a majority of artisan-made products that fit the "generational transfer" designation will be made with materials indigenous to the region: things like cotton, silk, and various types of plant ingredients. Occasionally, items are also made with locally recycled materials, such as scrap metal and old tires. As demand for artisan goods has increased, and the world has modernized, more craftspeople are incorporating synthetic dyes into their goods, but traditionally dyes would have been plant-derived (you can read more about plant-based dyes here). 

4 | Imperfections are apparent, but not distracting

A handmade item cannot, and should not, look like a factory-made item. Individual artisan taste and technique will impact the final product, which is part of what makes artisan work so meaningful. 

Artisan craft, especially when it becomes available to a global marketplace via brands like Ten Thousand Villages and MATTER, is taken on as a collaborative process between the artisan, their community's tradition, designers, and merchandisers, and the final product is a testament to successful coalition-building. It is never merely a fashion statement.

5 | Artisans are artists

The artists out there will get in a fight with me for comparing craftsmanship to fine art (it's happened to me before), but I stand by this statement: artisanship was the first type of art and it's certainly the most meaningful. 

This is because artisan goods tend to be purposeful goods. They often derive from basic needs of clothing, food, and shelter, but they expand on this need. They beautify it, ritualize it, culturally embed it, and make it good.

For this reason, it is imperative that those of us who appreciate and collect artisan-made goods do so with a knowledge of which motifs are culturally and religiously sacred versus those that are intended for multi-cultural enjoyment. It is also important that we take an interest in the people behind the products. Nameless, faceless "artisans" used as a marketing angle quite literally erase the artisans themselves. 

What Now?

If you consider yourself a conscious consumer, I encourage you to explore your favorite ethical websites and see what they say about their makers. How do they write about them? Can they speak to the intricacies of the craftsmanship? Do they understand the motifs and symbols? 

A few examples of very transparent brands are MATTER and Ten Thousand Villages.

Artisans do extraordinarily time consuming, skilled, creative work, increasingly to appeal to the whims of a global market content to condone a throwaway culture. But this misses the point.

When you touch the raised embroidery on a cotton dress, examine the dotted paint patterning on a Oaxacan mythological figure, or trace your fingers across intricately woven ikat, the experience is akin to beholding a miracle. 

It's a reminder that humans are capable of more than arguing on Twitter, to more than oppression and greed. That maybe, given enough time and support, we could craft something beautiful together, too. All is not lost, and we have artisans to thank for it.

Learn more about MATTER here

P.S. I think it is very difficult for Western and white brands to use images of artisans in their marketing and brand storytelling without inadvertently turning them into objects for the public gaze. This is due to the long history of imperialism and colonialism enacted by much of Europe and the United States over the last several hundred years. I generally avoid using images of non-Western artisans on StyleWise because I am wary of creating a power dynamic in which my reader, filtering through my own framing, sees them as novelties rather than equals. I am still trying to find a way to appropriately convey artisan stories in a way that reduces that power differential and I welcome your thoughts.


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Unsponsored Material World "Material Box" Subscription Review

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I paid for Material Box styling service out of pocket.

I wish I could say otherwise, but Facebook ads really work on me. A few weeks ago, information about Material World's "Material Box" popped up in my newsfeed and before I knew it I was sucked into it. I completed the style quiz and paid for my first styling.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of subscription boxes. For every one thing you "discover," you're likely to end up with a handful of items you don't really want. It's especially tricky with fashion-oriented subscriptions, because buying clothing online is hard enough without a middle man (or middle woman as it were) trying to decipher measurements and personal taste in order to "style" your box.

But what drew me in with Material World was the fact that, 1. all items are secondhand and, 2. all items come from designer and high-end brands. Since this is a blog about sustainable fashion, my interest in the first point is obvious. But I also liked the idea of there being a minimum quality standard in terms of textiles and sewing quality. That means I wouldn't end up with too many weirdly slouchy, polyester, itchy, overly trend-driven goods, as I expect people receive in other fashion-based subscription boxes.

How It Works

1. First, you create a style profile based around your measurements, preferred silhouettes, and favorite designers.

2. You pay a $29 styling fee and a stylist is assigned to create your box.

3. Styling is supposed to take a few days. Mine took almost a week and a half. Your stylist will pick out 10 pieces for you to preview. You may select five to be sent to your home address.

4. After a few days, your items will arrive and you have 4 days to ship what you don't want back.

5. If you choose to purchase all five items, you'll be given a 20% discount off the total. The $29 styling fee is reimbursed if you purchase at least one item. Otherwise, you're out that amount.

6. You can consign with Material World by sending designer items back in your Material Box return. Additional consigning information is on the website.

What I Received In My Material Box

material world material box fashion subscription box review stylewise-blog.com

Sea NY Sweatshirt // $78.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review stylewise-blog.com

Derek Lam 10 Crosby Dress // $85.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review stylewise-blog.com

Joie Blouse // $60.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review stylewise-blog.com

Alice + Olivia Pants // $65.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review stylewise-blog.com

See by Chloe Dress // $48

I'm also wearing an Everlane Pima Tee and Flats in these photos


Far and away my favorite item is the Joie blouse. It's flattering and made of wonderfully soft silk. I also like the Derek Lam dress in terms of shape and pattern, but I don't find it that flattering. The pants are about two sizes too big, which is sort of inexplicable to me because I'm pretty sure I didn't say I wore that size in my profile. And the sweatshirt is actually really cool, but I don't like to wear white. The See by Chloe dress looks like pajamas, but the fabric is nice.

All in all, I had a fun time trying things on. The Derek Lam dress smelled like fancy perfume, likely from the previous owner, and somehow I found this to be one of the most pleasant parts of the experience. It's like I could see, touch, and smell how the other half lives. I haven't had much experience with designer goods outside the realm of ethical fashion, so I found this box to be a nice opportunity to experiment.

In the end, I decided not to make a purchase because I didn't fall in love with anything. 

But I'm not going to quit my subscription just yet. I'd like to see how things go the next time around. 

If you have any questions, ask away in the comments. 

{Shop the Material Box here}


40-Day Challenge | 5 Abundance-Minded Activities To Practice During Lent

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Lately I've stopped using the word "sustainable" as often and have started thinking in terms of

abundance. Where sustainability requires a minimum standard, abundance allows for a re-imagining of what's possible. Sure, there are limited resources and it can feel like the house is on fire, but we have the tools, in accountable community, to build more than a bunker.

A model of abundance isn't about sacrifice. It's about re-appropriation of resources we already have to better serve ourselves and our neighbors.

Thinking in terms of abundance requires that we have a healthy relationship to ourselves and our authentic needs.

The below suggestions are meant to remind us of what we have to work with already, and to give us a jumpstart on re-wiring our brains to be able to think in imaginative terms instead of through the lens of scarcity.

This is also how I'm framing Lent. I didn't come from a Christian tradition that practiced the season of Lent, so at first it felt like a meaningless exercise in self-flagellation, like we were punishing ourselves for being sinners. But now I see it as a way to reset, as an intentional period of letting go of habits that demean, inhibit, and isolate us in order to let more light in. It's fitting that this season takes place as the days lengthen into spring. By Easter, we're ready to fly out of our little chrysalises into the morning sun.

5 Abundance-Minded Activities to Practice During Lent

1 | Establish creative meal solutions that aren't meat-focused.

Beef is one of the largest agricultural contributors to climate change and deforestation globally. Raising cows is not efficient, not to mention that factory farming is inhumane. Consider giving up all beef and leather products throughout Lent.

Place only the limitations on yourself that you know you are capable of maintaining. You can go full vegetarian or continue to eat fish and poultry depending on your dietary needs.

2 | Shop secondhand, or not at all.

It's tempting to over-shop as the weather warms up in the Northern Hemisphere - I confess to doing quite a bit of pre-shopping myself. Consider either ceasing all unnecessary/fashion-related purchases or committing to buy only secondhand.

If you are looking for specific items, try Poshmark, Ebay, Swap.com, or a local consignment shop.

3 | Start and maintain a daily prayer practice.

Even if you don't identify with a particular religious tradition, creating a habit around meditation, quiet time, and/or prayer has amazing health and psychological effects. Get up just a bit earlier each day to sit in silence, read a prayer from your religious tradition, or do some light stretches. Stay away from podcasts, videos, and other external voices. I'll be attending a local morning prayer service 2-3 times per week as part of my Lenten practice.

If you're interested in an Episcopal practice, you can access the Book of Common Prayer online here.

4 | Read a book that inspires ethical exploration. 

Read a memoir, guide, or work of theology that challenges and inspires you toward holistic justice. I'll be reading Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela's autobiography. There are lots of used copies available online.

I also recommend The Autobiography of Malcolm XThe Sacredness of Human Life by David Gushee, a reflection on Christianity's call for universal human dignity; and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, a bioethics perspective on death.

5 | Be intentional about your relationships.

This one is a bit amorphous compared to the other suggestions because it's not something you can track as effectively. But I have become convinced, especially over the last few months, that a weekly commitment to seeing friends - meeting for lunch, having a phone call, going on a mini-date with your partner, even taking a walk - does a world of good.

Healthy relationships have a positive impact on mental health and give us the accountability and clarity we need to make good choices. If you're having trouble making local friends, try a meet-up group, local dance gathering (we have square, contra, and swing dancing in my area), religious service, or community center. Or invite a work acquaintance out for drinks.

See my post on giving up Instagram here

February Fashion | 5 Ethical Closet Staples I've Been Living In

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Another installment of Monthly Favorites. This post contains affiliate links.

It's lucky I remembered that today is the last day of February, because otherwise my attempt at starting a series I can actually keep up with would have already failed!

Welcome to the second installment of Monthly Favorites. This month I decided to focus on closet staples that have been serving me well throughout the course of February. These items are things I've worn 2+ times per week over the past four weeks, and which tend to add a bit of polish and fun to my winter wardrobe basics.

I also included another book, just because I think it's fun to recommend books. I haven't actually cracked open Raising Your Emotional Intelligence yet, but I feel very much in need of, well, raising my emotional intelligence after an interpersonally challenging month.

5 Closet Staples I've Been Living In

favorite fashion staples ethical and secondhand stylewise-blog.com

1 | Vintage Carraig Donn Cardigan

I spotted a cardigan just like this in the NOVICA catalog in December, but I wasn't prepared to fork over $150 for it. Out of curiosity, I hunted around on ebay until I discovered an item listed under this brand name. A quick keyword search later, I had landed on the exact style and color of cardigan I wanted for under 30 bucks. If you're on the hunt for a heavyweight wool cardigan, I definitely recommend vintage Carraig Donn. I sized up to a Medium and find that it's a great fit for me, though the older style means it's cropped more than a lot of contemporary cardigans.


2 | ABLE Marina Earrings

Lightweight with a pop of bright red, these liven up my winter neutrals, and were made ethically in Nashville.


3 | Modern Vice Jett Boots

Sure to get compliments from virtually everyone, these boots are the coveted "birthday boots" I saved up for and finally received in November. The fit is great despite the pointed toe box and the quality is impeccable. They were handmade in New York.


4 | ABLE Isabel Slouchy Moto Jeans

A welcome change from high waist jeans that tend to sit uncomfortably on my stomach when I'm seated, ABLE's slouchy denim has a low to mid-rise in front but a higher back rise, which is perfect for a "pear shaped" person like me.


5 | NICORA RBG Dress Sneakers

I'm really sad to see sustainable vegan shoe brand, NICORA, close up shop, but luckily these wonderful, vintage-inspired color block shoes are still available on final clearance. I find the upper textile super comfortable, and the toe box is wide enough to accommodate thicker wool socks on cold days.


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Why Charity Navigator Isn't One-Size-Fits-All, Especially for Social Enterprises

why the assumptions charity navigator makes about responsible financial management are misleading stylewise-blog.com

Part of the Complexity Series

Charity Navigator advertises itself as the authoritative source on responsible nonprofits. By combing financial data and assigning a score for things like fundraising, administrative, and marketing costs, along with transparency standards, it ranks nonprofits in order of best to worst.

This sounds really good on its surface, and it is a useful way to compare the efficacy of large scale nonprofits. After all, if you're donating your hard earned money to a charity, you want to know that it's going to programs that support the stated goals of that charity, not to CEOs and fancy business cards.

But there's a big problem with the way that Charity Navigator calculates financial health, and it perpetuates a damaging misconception about charities at large: nonprofits receive a better score the less they spend on management, labor, and advertising costs.

While differences in industry are accounted for (food banks, for example, are thought to require less overhead than nonprofit radio, and the 1-10 scale accounts for this to some extent), you will always receive a higher score if you have less overhead than competing nonprofits.

And while this makes sense if you're comparing apples and apples (two food banks with similar outputs but drastically different overhead costs, for instance), it gets weird when you, a site user not familiar with the inner working of nonprofits in general, peruses nonprofits across categories or clicks through one of Charity Navigator's multi-category lists.

How Charity Navigator Penalizes Small Nonprofits

When the primary metric ingrained in your head is "lowest possible administrative costs," you're simply not going to see the big picture.

One reason is that, if the nonprofit in question is small enough, it's very likely that they'll be penalized by Charity Navigator for having "high" overhead costs even if they're only paying a modest salary for a single employee. I'll use myself as an example. My salary makes up almost half of annual sales at the thrift shop where I work, and this isn't because I'm making bank. In fact, I make at least $5,000 less than the average, lowest paid nonprofit worker in my area, according to a recent report by the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville.

Now, it might be a fair assessment that our charity model is, holistically, not healthy. But in many ways, we're more like a food bank - dealing in goods more than monetary funds - than a big nonprofit like the ACLU. So every dollar we bring in after expenses is donated to local agencies and we're able to completely support ourselves without outside funds. We also give away thousands of dollars in goods to low income families each quarter. According to Charity Navigator's assessment, we should be running with administrative costs making up only 3% of our budget in order to receive a perfect score. This would mean that we'd need to be almost 100% volunteer-managed, and that would be ok in the short term, but it gets really hard to create a consistent environment running on multiple, overworked volunteers.

"Administrative Costs" are People

You might be thinking, "Yeah, Leah, but your nonprofit isn't going to be listed on Charity Navigator, so why does this matter?"

It matters because this mindset that administrative and marketing costs are bad affects all nonprofits, big and small, and potentially gets in the way of raising more funds and effecting more change. 

According to an article published in 2016, changes to overtime pay requirements under the Obama administration left nonprofits scrambling because it meant they were no longer able to pressure their salaried employees into working long hours without pay. The reason? Due to oversight agencies like Charity Navigator and larger individual and corporate donors, nonprofits can't simply put more funds into overhead, and this means they actually had to reduce staff, rather than hire more employees, to make ends meet. If you're a Republican, you may be shaking your fist and saying, "Thanks Obama," but if you're at all interested in fair trade standards, you'll recognize this as a travesty. Nonprofit employees should not have been working for free in the first place.

A few years ago, I read a blog post written by a nonprofit employee about another barrier to fair pay in nonprofits (the whole site is a great resource). The author said that donors, across the board, don't want to hear that their funds are going to hire staff. Instead, they want to hear that it's benefiting a special project or going "directly to [insert person in need here]." But you can't run an organization without competent, knowledgeable, engaged staff. Not to mention that the organization is significantly more likely to mishandle funds or even fail if it has high turnover or incompetent employees.

This is all to say that an "administrative costs" line item on a transparency report is really just code for people, the people who make things happen, sign your donor letters, and write effective advertising. Insisting on the lowest possible cost puts all nonprofits at risk of grossly underpaying their employees, and that goes directly against fair trade principles.

To their credit, Charity Navigator is aware of the issue. In collaboration with GuideStar and BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the organization wrote an open letter on the "Overhead Myth" in 2014, but the public bias against overhead costs persists.

"We Don't Advertise Because We're a Nonprofit"

I hear this all the time from well-meaning fair trade agencies and social enterprises looking for some coverage on my blog. They've been convinced by the predominant rhetoric around charity - further legitimized by sites like Charity Navigator - that it would be irresponsible to monetarily promote their goods or services.

Charity Navigator penalizes organizations that dedicate a large part of their budget to advertising when, in fact, advertising is really the sole vehicle by which funds and other donations are generated.

Whether that advertising is word-of-mouth, slapped on a flyer, or paid for in a marketing campaign, it all counts. Again, comparing apples and apples, the organization that can most effectively garner funds without major advertising costs is more responsible. But it's easy, if you're not considering scale, to think that 1 million dollars, for example, is too much advertising even if the dividends are double or triple that.

Especially when you're growing a nonprofit, you need to invest heavily in both advertising and labor. As the structure stabilizes, hopefully you'll be able to build more efficiencies into the system so that your actual programs receive a higher and higher proportion of donated funds.

Nonprofit social enterprises need to understand that part of running a healthy organization is strategically investing in skilled labor and appropriate advertising mediums to ensure that the organization can thrive. That means that it's not always important to meet rigid budgeting criteria. Instead, nonprofits should be measured both individually and in comparison only to similar size, similar mission organizations. When internal structures and goals differ, as they do across every well-meaning organization, it's hard to build a one-size-fits-all assessment system.


Ultimately, this post is not meant to deter people from using Charity Navigator when deciding to whom they should donate. Because the site primarily compares large, multi-national NGOs and nonprofits that have the resources to ensure sustainability in their financial goals and budgets, the standards are, in most cases, fair.

But it would be a mistake to hold every organization to the same rigid metrics, especially if that comes at a cost to providing living wage jobs to overworked nonprofit workers or using advertising dollars to achieve exponential growth.

  • Potential donors should consider the holistic story of the organization before taking the easy way out, and remember that the long term viability of any business or nonprofit has to do with taking on the right investments, never sacrificing worker welfare for the sake of an impressive financial report.

  • Nonprofits and social enterprises who create and/or sell physical goods should consider that they're a hybrid business-charity and thus their business model must be adapted to compete in a crowded retail marketplace. Without investing in advertising, they won't be able to sustain the business for the benefit of their artisan partners. And there are few things worse than promising a marginalized community you can change their lives and then not following through.

I'm curious to hear from other nonprofit workers or social enterprise owners on this topic. Anything you would add?


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Retrospecced | A Sustainable and Charitable Glasses Home Try-On

Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com

This post is not sponsored, but Retrospecced sent try-on items free of charge, which I will be sending back after review. Since glasses are a medical item, I decided I wanted to purchase frames myself rather than request free product.

I first reached out to Retrospecced nearly two years ago, but I had purchased new glasses the year before and ultimately couldn't justify acquiring another pair just yet. 

I almost threw sustainability to the wind because I was so excited about their business model. As you probably know, there's really only one prescription glasses company marketed as "ethical," and that's Warby Parker (affiliate link). The main thing going for them is their one-for-one business model through which they donate vision care services to people in need based on their sales numbers. Charity is a good thing, but it's not always an effective long term strategy. And as I mention in this post, it can often disguise production, environmental, and labor issues in the company's supply chain. I don't know much about Warby Parker's factories, but at the very least, they're not prioritizing a more eco-friendly option.

Warby Parker (like Bonlook, where I got the pinkish glasses you'll see in three years' worth of personal style posts) produces in China using acetate, a type of plastic, in most of their frames. People need glasses - they're a medical device - and so I'm not going to tell anyone not to purchase new glasses if that's what suits their needs, but I found it puzzling that there were seemingly no alternatives in the ethical marketplace.

Why Retrospecced?

Retrospecced is the solution, at least for me. That's because they purchase used (vintage and contemporary styles) glasses from the charity, Vision Aid Overseas - who receive up to 70,000 donated glasses a week! - and offer a custom prescription service through their website. The ordering process is just like any other glasses site, but you receive a final product that is inherently more sustainable because it's secondhand.

Retrospecced explains that this arrangement works well for vision charities, because the clients they assist are in need of more than just a pair of old glasses. They need routine exams, surgery, and other comprehensive care that well-meaning donors can't provide through donated goods alone. Not to mention that cat eyes and '80s jumbo frames aren't everyone's cup of tea.

Learn more about the process here.

I'll discuss the home try-on program more below, but first, take a look at the frames I sampled, ranked from my favorite to least favorite...

Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com

About the Home Try-On Program

Because each frame at Retrospecced is a one-off, they have to be a bit more cautious about what they send out for try-ons. While companies like Warby Parker will send you five free frames to try for a week before sending back, Retrospecced's program requires that you purchase the frame for try-on, make your selection, then send them back for purchase or a full refund. When you opt into the home try-on, they also offer £5 off lenses if you decide to purchase a pair.

You can learn more here.

Price Considerations

Retrospecced is based in the UK, so there are a few added costs for US-based and other international customers. Here's the cost breakdown:

  • Frame: Most frames run £29-35 ($37-45)

  • Cost of Shipping for the Home Try-On: ~$35

  • Prescription Lenses with scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coating: £45 ($58)

  • Flat Rate Shipping: £15 ($19)

Total Without Try-On:


With Try-On:


Even with the exchange rate, Retrospecced glasses are roughly equivalent in price to Warby Parker and Bonlook, which makes them a competitive choice (and if you have eye insurance, you can submit your receipts for reimbursement). The hard thing is narrowing down your selection (I kind of want three pairs!).

I am really excited to be able to purchase high quality vintage frames with my prescription. As an international customer, the process is slightly more tedious, but I think it will be worth it to receive some upcycled glasses I love.

Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker stylewise-blog.com

How to Find Cheap Vintage & Secondhand Dupes for Your Favorite Ethical Brands

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This post contains affiliate links

If you currently like or have ever liked shopping for vintage clothing, you can see the signs everywhere...

Square toed mules, woven oxfords, overalls, prairie dresses: ethical fashion has a passionate love affair with vintage silhouettes, patterns, and colors. 

It seems that every fashion brand, "ethical" and otherwise, woke up this year and decided old is in. There's something to be said, of course, for reviving old favorites with updated elements and new materials, especially when  the brand produces thoughtfully. And it's awfully fun to see the styles I wore as a kid come back into fashion. But it starts to feel needlessly wasteful to buy much of anything new when department and direct-to-consumer stores are carrying essentially the same clothing as the local thrift shop. There are legitimate reasons to buy new, especially when it comes to sizing needs, but if you're shopping for pleasure rather than necessity, it pays to shop secondhand first.

Yes, you can shop the literal ethical fashion item you want secondhand in some cases, but I think it's worth it to broaden your horizons. Instead of thinking in terms of exact items, sometimes it's beneficial to expand your search to true vintage items.

Right now, most products I'm seeing are highly reminiscent of 90s and early 2000s styles, so always use those decade markers in your searches.

While there's plenty to be found on popular resale sites like Poshmark, I highly recommend EBAY and ETSY to find affordable vintage fashion. Head over to the site of your choice then use search terms like the ones I share below to narrow down your selection.

What's On My List?

I just bought a beautiful Irish wool sweater reminiscent of chunky knits from Babaa and L'envers and some chambray coveralls like the ones they sell at Muumuu.

Cheap Secondhand Dupes for Your Favorite Ethical Brands (and Where to Find Them)


☀ Use search terms:

 All That Jazz, Ditzy Floral, 90s Dress


☀ Use search terms:

 90s Cotton Dress, 80s Cotton Dress, Cotton Day Dress, Vintage Cotton Dress

If you like EVERLANE SHOES...

☀ Use search terms:

 Square Toe, Mules, 90s Ankle Boot, Kilty Loafers, Glove Flats

If you like EVERLANE DENIM...

☀ Use search terms:

Mom Jeans, 90s Jeans, Vintage Lee Jeans (avoid Levi's unless you want to pay an arm and a leg)

If you like WIDE LEG CROPPED DENIM (like the ones at EVERLANE and MADEWELL)...

☀ Use search terms:

 Ralph Lauren Jeans, Culottes, Gaucho Pants, 1970s Jeans, Bellbottoms, Cropped Flares

If you like WOVEN SHOES (like the ones at NISOLO SHOES)...

☀ Use search terms: 

Woven Flats, Woven Mules, Huarache Sandals


☀ Use search terms:

 Linen Crop Top, Linen Circle Skirt, Linen Full Skirt, Linen Trousers, Vintage Eileen Fisher

If you like GEOMETRIC AND ABSTRACT PRINTS (like the ones at MATTER)...

☀ Use search terms:

 1980s Dress, 1970s Dress, Mod, Retro Print, 1980s Geometric Print, Triangle Print

If you like CHRISTIE DAWN...

☀ Use search terms:

 1970s Dress, Boho Dress, Hippie Dress, Gunne Sax, 1960s Dress, Vintage Wool, 90s grunge maxi dress

If you like CHUNKY KNIT SWEATERS (like the ones at L'ENVERS and BABAA)...

☀ Use search terms:

Irish Wool Sweater, Carraig Donn Cardigan, Vintage Wool Cardigan, Vintage Cashmere Cardigan

If you like COVERALLS (like the ones at MUUMUU and BACK BEAT RAGS)...

☀ Use search terms:

Vintage Coveralls, Vintage Button Down Jumpsuit, Cotton Coveralls, Linen Coveralls

There are hundreds of ways to frame your search, so keep trying until you find the magic, one of a kind item that ticks all the boxes.


cheap alternatives to your favorite ethical brands etsy ebay stylewise-blog.com

ABLE | Quality in Design, Promoting Quality of Life

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes stylewise-blog.com

I received complimentary products in lieu of monetary sponsorship due to total product value. This post contains affiliate links.

Happy almost Galentine's Day!

When I saw ABLE's spring lookbook, I knew I wanted to put together a look that was appropriate for this season of love without being overly romantic. I don't think it's anti-feminist to dress up for my husband, but there's something nice about embracing a look for yourself, and putting things together that feel flattering and intentional, but maybe in a less conventional way.

It's still cold outside (well, today it's in the 60s, but when I took these photos, it was in the low 50s), so I got creative with layers to pull off this look. One thing I really love about ABLE is that their clothing and accessories don't subscribe to the typical boxy neutrals of many ethical fashion brands. Each piece has attitude, which means you can dress up your simple pieces with some snakeskin sandals or put everything together for a bit more eccentricity. These days I am embracing eccentricity, so I decided to wear everything together in this look.

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes stylewise-blog.com
ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes stylewise-blog.com

ABLE's Ethics 

Nashville-based ABLE has a specific goal of empowering women in the US and abroad by providing fair wage, secure, purposeful jobs. Their current line of denim, cotton separates, jewelry, and handbags are made in Mexico, Peru, Nashville, Brazil, and Ethiopia in factories that have been audited for ethics. What's more, ABLE is in the process of publishing wages (with context) for all of their production locations. You can view information about their Nashville facility here. I'm planning to do a deep dive into the reports as soon as more are published. Even though the data isn't yet complete, I'm excited about the implications of this type of transparency.

ABLE does use leather products, but raw materials are sourced from local meat industries in the region of production. I am still in a period of exploration on this topic, but Alden at EcoCult just published a couple really good discussions around the ethics of leather: here and here. My current thought on leather is that it's an ethical choice if purchased from a company that prioritizes local, meat-industry derived sourcing and a focus on quality. If it can be used for years and years, the ambiguity is reduced at point of purchase.

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes stylewise-blog.com

What I'm Wearing

Isabel Slouchy Moto Denim

These were perfect right out of the box, which is more than I can say for most jeans. I ordered in my usual size 29 and they fit pretty much like they do on the model, with a lower rise and slightly slouchy fit. They are a little bit wide at the waist, which is typical for my "pear shape," but fit so well in the hip and thigh that they don't slide down, and they don't stretch out too much with wear either, though I would say if you prefer a tighter fit, you may want to size down. 

Gisela Sandal

Coming in April, these sandals are so fun! The gray is neutral enough to go with everything else in my closet, but the faux-snakeskin effect adds texture. I find these true to size, well proportioned, and comfortable, though so far I've only worn them with socks due to the weather. 

Marina Earrings

I wear a lot of statement earrings with my short hair, and these add much needed color and pattern to my winter outfits, which tend to be very neutral. They're also lightweight and comfortable for several hours of wear.


I'm also wearing a hand-me-down Eileen Fisher sweater from my friend's mom!

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes stylewise-blog.com

I've reviewed ABLE products in the past (the Tigist Crossbody, which I tend to bring back out in the spring, and a customized necklace), but after being able to sample more of their product line, I've decided that ABLE is becoming one of my preferred ethical brands. I find that their pieces are special and well made, and align really well with my personal sense of style.

Shop ABLE here.

11 of the Best Ethical & Sustainable Fashion Brands With Items Under $50

ethical and sustainable brands companies with clothing under $50 stylewise-blog.com

Ethical fashion, it should be said, isn't ultimately about the best way to make cheap clothing with relatively responsible, humane working conditions. In the long run, it's about psychologically and financially reorienting social structures to create slower paced, less resource intensive, less mentally taxing consumerism.

That being said, it is very easy for those of us working in the ethical fashion industry, especially those of us who "influence," to lose some perspective on what constitutes affordability for people who, either do to chronic income limitations or culturally ingrained ideas about "fair" price points (I fell into both categories), have difficulty with initial buy-in. In reality, the number one way to be an "ethical consumer" is to simply stop shopping so much. But that is tied up in a lot of personal needs and decisions, and I'm not here to tell you what's best for you and your loved ones.

While I've finally gotten to a point of knowing what suits me on the ethical market well enough to "splurge" on items that cost over $100, it took a very long time to feel comfortable doing so, and to reorient my budget enough to be able to. So today I'm sharing 11 brands and businesses that routinely carry responsibly, ethically made clothing that costs less than $50. You may not be able to fill out your whole wardrobe with these items, but you can at least rely on them for building blocks.

There has been a real sea change in the way ethical influencers approach consumerism in the last year, as more and more of us, particularly those of us with white and historic financial privilege, have been forced to confront entrenched, systemic and policy-driven issues that create massive access and income inequality. There is no doubt that real change occurs at the policy level driven by better coalition building at the individual and community level, but I continue to believe that small changes do something, even if the sum of those changes is more about fostering a change of heart. Changed hearts are the key to sustaining equitable societies!

Companies/items were chosen based on their commitment to fair and improving labor conditions and use of natural and/or organic fibers. This post contains affiliate links.

11 Ethical & Sustainable Fashion Companies With Items Under $5

ethical and sustainable brands companies with clothing under $50 stylewise-blog.com

J. Crew and Madewell Just Launched Fair Trade Certified Collections

fair trade denim at madewell and j crew stylewise-blog.com


I just received an email from Fair Trade USA notifying me that J.Crew and Madewell have officially joined the Fair Trade Certified family, with 30+ styles receiving the certification agency's stamp of approval.

From the press release:

For every piece, a premium is paid into a Community Development Fund run by the people who make the clothes, helping them improve their lives in countless ways. With future plans to continue to grow their Fair Trade USA program, J.Crew and Madewell aspire to offer one of the largest Fair Trade Certified apparel assortments in the coming years. Look for the Fair Trade Certified seal on your next pair of jeans!

I had read an article on Fashionista several months ago that indicated this was a short term priority for the brands, but with the recent ousting of the "new" CEO and a lot of internal strife over continuously disappointing sales, I had just assumed this would be one of the first things they dropped the ball on. I am relieved and excited to see that that's not the case.

Ethical Credentials

J. Crew and Madewell (they have the same parent company) are producing at Saitex, now a Fair Trade Certified factory (!), the same clean denim factory Everlane uses for their denim manufacturing.

They're participating in Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program, which uses old denim in home insulation.

Garments are dyed with old shrimp shells to save water and reduce the need for toxic chemicals during the dye process.

What does this say about fair trade as a marketing angle?

The fact that J. Crew/Madewell chose to move forward with expensive and time consuming Fair Trade certification in the midst of financial struggle is a good indication that execs see this as a good marketing move.

That's ultimately a good thing, because it means that a. consumers are interested enough in fair labor that even big companies are taking notice and b. this may serve as a proof of concept for other massive brands. Let's hope the launch is successful and that demand for fair trade products from  conventional companies remains steady enough to bring real change to the industry at large.

Possible Drawbacks

Of course, whenever a well known company like J. Crew Inc. creates a capsule collection of "ethical" or "green" items, I am suspicious of greenwashing. After all, while the items in the fair trade collection are required to meet minimum standards for ethics, the thousands of additional products available in stores and on their websites aren't beholden to really any standard at all.

Creating an ethos around ethics may encourage consumers to divert more of their dollars to products in their line-up that aren't Fair Trade Certified, especially since sales associates are typically encouraged to upsell in groups of three (my sister used to work at Wet Seal - it's a thing). Put simply, doing one thing right can make the whole company look good, even when only minimal effort has been made to improve supply chain issues.

All that to say, I am cautiously optimistic about this move and hope that it will convince J.Crew/Madewell to certify more of their products in the near future.

Learn more here: J. Crew | Madewell

Winter Wellness: 8 Conscious Goods & Activities For Mental and Physical Health

8 ethical goods for winter wellness and self care stylewise-blog.com

Sponsored. I selected & purchased products for this post with a combination of store credit and cold, hard cash.

Willkommen to my brand new monthly series, Monthly Favorites.

Each month I choose a theme and select products and activities that align with it. I am really excited about this format because, 1. flatlays are fun, 2. it provides a sense of order to my recommendations, and 3. it's a way to feature brands and products I like in a more manageable format.

January's theme is Winter Wellness. As you may remember, I have seasonal affective disorder and a circulation condition that makes my feet and hands particularly vulnerable to frostbite, so this very cold month of the year is difficult for me. I like to be very intentional about my mental and physical self-care habits to make things more manageable.

Here are the routines, products, and activities that help me find balance...

My 8 Ethical Winter Wellness Picks

8 ethical goods for winter wellness and self care stylewise-blog.com
8 ethical goods for winter wellness and self care stylewise-blog.com

1 | Godai Soaps Sky and Earth Multi-Use Bars

Using minimal, non-irritating ingredients and RSPO-certified palm oil, these soaps are intended to be used for face, hair, and body. I use them mostly as a body soap, but it's nice to know that in a pinch, I could pack just one item in my toiletry bag instead of three.


2 | SW Basics Oil Serum

I've rhapsodized about this product a few times, but it's my very favorite facial oil. I add a few drops to my sensitive skin lotion at night for extra moisture.


(10% off with code, STYLEWISE2019)

3 | Ten Thousand Villages Guiding Star Earrings

A mental health indulgence more than anything, I like the message behind these earrings. I'm in a period of transition in terms of planning for my future and it's been important to remember that I can trust my instincts, and succeed if I'm willing to put in the work.


4 | Desert Essence Lavender Body Lotion

I used to love Thistle Farms' Lavender lotion, but when they changed the formulation, I was left without a nice, thick body lotion option for winter. Desert Essence was the perfect replacement. I slather it on my hands and feet before going to bed.


(10% off with code, STYLEWISE2019)

8 ethical goods for winter wellness and self care stylewise-blog.com

5 | Any book by Carl Hiaasen

I discovered Hiaasen novels at a bookstore last winter and have been hooked ever since. Full of absurdity and dark humor, his books are often on themes of human failing and ecological devastation in Florida. But somehow you always feel hopeful afterwards! A rare educational combination.


6 | Weaving Kit

I made this tiny weaving using a kit from Uncommon Goods (no longer available) awhile ago, but I wanted to recommend DIY kits again because I think they're a great way to find a meditative moment. This took me a looong time, but I did it while watching The Office, so it was fun!


7 | Tablet Stylus

I had been wanting to get back into drawing and this seemed like an easy way to do it. I bought a pen that's compatible with my second generation iPad, so it's not state of the art. Still, I've gotten a lot of use out of it (pro tip: to avoid "smearing" your iPad app from contact with your hand, wear fingerless gloves on your drawing hand).


8 | A Nostalgic Scarf

I threw this in here because it was given to me by a friend who moved to Australia a couple days ago. I already miss her and her family a lot, and I cherish this little piece of our friendship.



8 ethical goods for winter wellness and self care stylewise-blog.com

I KonMaried My Conscious Closet | A Closet Tour

marie kondo conscious closet tour stylewise-blog.com ethical blogger

Does it spark joy?

Sigh...So I've mentioned in pretty strong terms that I didn't like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It struck me as a dangerously short sighted trend meant to replace a sense of meaning in our lives with some superficial platitudes and an even more concentrated obsession with the things we consume.

But recently I sat down and watched a few episodes of the new Tidying Up with Marie Kondo series on Netflix, and two things stuck out:

  1. Marie Kondo is an absolute delight.

  2. The KonMari method is surprisingly subjective and forgiving.

Because the basis of Kondo's method is the questions, "does it spark joy?" there's actually quite a bit of room to keep things that aren't practical, to remain in your cozy and eccentric home instead of going full on The Minimalists. That is very comforting to me. 

That being said, the KonMari method can still be dangerous from a sustainability and even mental health perspective. I worry that this second wave of tidying up will result in essentially the same outcome as the last one: lots of junk in thrift stores and seemingly no reduction in long term consumption of new goods. As a thrift shop manager, I have been carefully tracking the trend and asking customers and donors if they're watching the show. Many of them are, but the influx at my tiny local shop is nowhere near what's being reported in elsewhere. 

All that to say, this system isn't perfect but, if you have some clarity of mind and are ready to downsize, it can be an effective way to frame your decisions. After I got back from living out of a backpack for ten days, I felt ready to finally clear out my overstuffed closet. Scroll down for some Before and During the #konmari process photos.


marie kondo conscious closet tour stylewise-blog.com ethical blogger


I went through the items in my fall/winter wardrobe by themselves before moving onto spring/summer, partially because it's harder to judge an out-of-season item by the joy standard when it's not currently serving a meaningful function in my closet.

marie kondo conscious closet tour stylewise-blog.com ethical blogger
marie kondo conscious closet tour stylewise-blog.com ethical blogger


Rather than adopt Kondo's vertical folded storage, I opted to keep my hanging shelves, folding my t-shirts, non-wrinkle prone blouses, and sweaters. This works just as well and makes better use my of space. In addition to clearing out five bags of clothing, I also condensed shoes, bags, and accessories. Using the joy method helped me clear out things that I like but that made me itchy, fit me poorly, or made me feel sad when I wore them. I will be donating things to a local charity shop and also selling niche items on Poshmark. 

You can shop my closet on Poshmark here.

marie kondo conscious closet tour stylewise-blog.com ethical blogger
marie kondo conscious closet tour stylewise-blog.com ethical blogger

What's in my closet?

My Closet Staples 

Affiliate links below

My basic fall/winter wardrobe consists of thermal long sleeve tops, cashmere and wool sweaters (I recommend thrifting these), and mid and high rise denim.

In terms of shoes, I alternate between Po-Zu hiking boots, Po-Zu vegan sneaker boots, and my Modern Vice Jett boots in the winter.

I recommend:

My Favorites

I also have a few statement pieces in my wardrobe. They don't get as much wear from day to day, but they keep me feeling excited about my clothes.

My Statement Pieces:

It's only been three weeks since my closet clean-out, but I can say that it's made me more appreciative of the things that are true workhorses in my closet. Whereas before I was keeping things around "just in case" I needed them, now the things in my closet more accurately reflect my lifestyle and my sense of fashion. It's important for me to constantly remind myself of that and ask the "does it spark joy?" question when considering anything else I add into my closet. Otherwise, the experiment will fail.

Ethical Blogger Closet Tours: 

Check out World Threads Traveler's Closet Tour Here // Check out Honestly Modern's Closet Tour here


Illustrated | What I Packed for 10 Days in Florida

illustrated outfit ethical packing list for florida stylewise-blog.com

This post contains affiliate links

Bear with me as I try to get back into illustrated posts.

I used to do these -

like 5 years ago

- but back then I was physically sketching them out on paper then adding color on the computer. It took forever. This one was done digitally from start to finish. There's room for improvement, for sure, but I am really happy that it seems doable. I'm hoping to doodle a lot more this year.

This is what I packed for 10 days in Florida in December. The weather hovered in the high 70s most of the time and I washed all my clothes halfway through the trip. I actually brought two other pairs of pants, but I didn't end up wearing them. The best part is that all of this fit into my trusty old Jansport backpack, which I've been using since 2004!

What I Packed for 10 Days in Florida

1 | Fair Indigo Essential Scoop Tee, 32.90

Soft and thick organic pima cotton makes this a really durable piece for travel.

2 | Everlane Cotton Crew Neck, $15 

I no longer recommend the Everlane v-necks because the necklines tend to roll in the wash, but the crew necks have a stiffer neck and look new forever. I own three and will probably buy a couple more when the weather warms up.

3 | Everlane Boat Neck in Stripe, $22

This striped pattern is my very favorite. I own it in the boatneck and a crewneck and somehow it goes with everything, plus the black is soft enough to mix with navy.

4 | Everlane Pima Micro Rib Open V-neck, $28

I own practically every version of Everlane's pima rib knit collection because they are simply perfect: lightly insulating, flattering fit, and they hold up really well, too.

5 | Malia Designs Recycled Cement Crossbody Bag, $38

Durable and water repellant, this bag is a great size for travel and is flexible enough to throw into luggage if you've maxed out your personal item limit on the flight.

6 | Known Supply Custom Embroidered Tee, $28 + $10 for embroidery

Mine says my last name, but I have another one that says Do Re Me. I love how fun these are, and they're made with super soft pima cotton, too.

With two of my BFFs, Mary and Amanda, in St. Augustine

7 | Secondhand Peach Oxfords (similar)

My sister bought me these wonderful statement oxfords at a consignment store. They're made with really soft leather and were the perfect shoe for exploring St. Augustine on a moderate weather day.

8 | Melissa x Jason Wu Sandals (similar)

I bought these on clearance a few years ago. They're not super eco-friendly, but Melissa claims to be able to recycle the plastic material if you send them back in. The great thing about them is that they're completely washable and don't really show signs of wear.

9 | Everlane Day Glove Flat in Rose, $115

I decided to try to wear these in on my trip and it didn't work perfectly. I ended up with an open cut on my ankle, but they are loosening up now and hopefully will be comfortable by Virginia springtime.

10 | Molly Virginia Made Earrings, $65

I bought these with some saved up consignment credit at local shop, Darling Boutique. They are lightweight but make an impact, perfect for a trip where you're packing pretty minimally.

11 | Everlane Authentic Stretch Cigarette Jean in Mid Blue, $78

My go-to for comfort, I like these jeans but don't love them. I wish they had a zip front instead of the button fly, because the stretch material pulls a bit at my hips and creates minor gaping. Still, these were great for long plane and car rides.

12 | Thrifted Polka Dot Skirt

A classic, straight-cut skirt in easy to pack rayon. I wore this a lot because the weather ended up being hotter than I expected.

Final Thoughts

I have A LOT of Everlane. Whoa. I'm still waiting for that other shoe to drop that reveals they're hiding something, but I do have to say that their stuff is my absolute favorite. It's versatile, fits me well, and holds up for years and years (with a few exceptions).

Overall, I was super happy with what I packed. Everything went together without being boring. There were a few opportunities for interesting pattern mixing and color combinations and I didn't really get tired of anything!

What should I doodle next?


A Quick Guide to Ethical and Environmental Certifications

A Quick Guide to Ethical and Environmental Certifications stylewise-blog.com

While I don't subscribe to a consumption practice that demands certifications from every brand I support, there is no question in my mind that certifications are good for the garment and consumer goods industries.

Certifying agencies set a minimum standard for a particular ethos, such as fair labor or organic textiles, then require companies to pay for regular auditing in order to receive certification status. 

Of course, this strategy is not free of loopholes, and certifying agencies like Fair Trade USA have been accused of being too generous in their approval process - which led them to

part ways with Fair Trade International

in 2012 - because they let large scale brands like Starbucks take advantage of the fair trade label without fully understanding the complexities of the global fair trade coffee sourcing industry (Bruce Wydick, a journalist I really admire, wrote about

fair trade coffee here

). Fair Trade USA argues that their intention was to use the standard more consistently across industries, and having heard a representative from the agency speak at the

Sustainable Fashion Conference I attended

in September, I do think they are trying.

Despite inconsistencies and disagreements within agencies and from consumers, certifying agencies, at the very least, provide a framework for understanding what we mean when we use "ethical" terminology.

And this also helps companies that aren't certified, because it means they have a set of metrics to weigh their process against.

So, certified or not, we can use the language of certifications to express what our goals are when producing and consuming goods, and that's a good place to start. (Note that I originally gathered this data for a post on garment industry certifications, so please let me know in the comments if you know of others that apply to food and other consumer industries.)

Labor Certifications (Fair Trade)

According to the World Fair Trade Organization, fair trade is:

"...a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South…”

The following certifications ensure that basic fair trade standards are being met:

Fair Trade Federation

US based, the Fair Trade Federation works to build sustainable, long term partnerships with marginalized artisan communities.

Learn more here


Fair Trade Certified/Fair Trade USA

“The leading independent third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in North America,” Fair Trade USA offers certification to producers of both food and textiles.

Learn more here


Fair Trade America

Fair Trade America is the US arm of Fair Trade International and operates under its standards. Members include food companies like Divine Chocolate and Ben & Jerry's, but they also certify cotton.

Learn more here


Fair For Life

Founded in Switzerland, The Fair For Life credential applies to both food and textile products, and currently boasts over 3,000 products under its certification program.

Learn more here


World Fair Trade Organization

Founded in 1989, WFTO is one of the world’s largest fair trade certifiers, with over 324 networked organizations across the world. All certified organizations must meet the WFTO’s

Ten Principles of Fair Trade

, which includes environmental stipulations.

Learn more here


Environmental Certifications

While fair trade certifications operate under a unifying set of values regarding labor rights and sustainable empowerment, environmental certifications tend to be more specific.

As you’ll see below, these certifications deal with a particular environmental concern and, as a result, eco-friendly companies are often certified under more than one standard.


Used internationally, OEKO-TEX is a textile certification program that ensures that fabrics are safe. The organization checks for toxic dyes, banned chemicals, and other toxic substances to ensure consumer and environmental health.

Learn more here



The leading certifier for organic textiles, GOTS, which stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, sets a universal definition for what constitutes the category “organic” when it comes to fibers like cotton and wool. In addition, textiles companies must make a commitment to exclude toxic dyes and chemicals.

Learn more here


Rainforest Alliance 

Rainforest Certified products that bear the green frog label must meet several standards that protect for biodiversity, safe pesticide use, natural resource conservation, human flourishing, and a commitment to continuing improvement. 

Learn more here



The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certifies that palm oil distributed under its label is harvested sustainably and fully traceable throughout the supply chain. This certification is somewhat contentious, with critics arguing that it is actually impossible to fully trace palm oil.

Learn more here


Holistic Certifications

There is no question that fair trade and environmental certifications are useful. But while they build trust with consumers, they don’t always tell the full story. Businesses that seek to be sustainable in the long term must weave social responsibility into every aspect of their process, from corporate environment to textile sourcing to waste reduction.

These holistic certifications see the big picture.

Cradle to Cradle

With a focus on preventative measures, Cradle to Cradle certifies that businesses have made an effort to decrease energy, water usage, and waste in their supply chain in addition to using nontoxic processes and treating workers and communities fairly.

Learn more here



Based in the US but open internationally, B-Corp Certification is tailored toward for-profit social enterprises that seek to meet high transparency standards along with responsible labor and environmental practices.

Learn more here



A Quick Guide to Ethical and Environmental Certifications stylewise-blog.com

My 7 Achievable Goals for the New Year

7 achievable ethical and intentional living goals stylewise-blog.com image by Leah Wise

Happy New Year!

Last year, I wrote a post on my 8 Achievable Goals for the New Year as an experiment. I had not, historically, lived up to my resolutions, either because they were too daunting or somewhat inane. But I really put some thought into it last January - and made sure to frame them as "achievable" - which resulted in fulfilling almost all of them, some to a higher standard than I anticipated.

Before I launch into this year's goals, I'll briefly go over last year's objectives:

Wear one weird thing everyday. 

This was part of a year-long effort to "get back" my personal style after feeling overwhelmed by sponsored products and social media "inspiration." I am so happy to say that it worked, and I feel a lot more comfortable in my clothes.

Throw more "crappy dinner parties."

This didn't happen really, but I did spend less time worrying about how clean my house was before letting people stop by, so that's something.

Dance more. 

I didn't dance more, but I sang A LOT more.

Streamline my work schedule. 

I totally failed on this one. Adding it in again this year.

Read 10+ books


Maintain a part time income through blog and freelance work.

Yes! I doubled my income over last year actually.

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

I learned this the hard way, saying yes to some things that epically backfired. So I think I achieved this goal?

Write something and get it published. 

I wrote my e-book in a frenzy of inspiration earlier this year. I'm really proud of it and even met my financial goal for sales this year.

This year, I'm building on what I learned in 2018, but also setting some more mindful goals that help me pivot toward the life I really want to build for myself.

7 achievable ethical and intentional living goals stylewise-blog.com image by Leah Wise

My 7 Achievable Goals for 2019

1 | Stay off Instagram!

I wrote a post about quitting Instagram nearly a year ago, but it took a complete breakdown to get me to do it. I wasted countless hours, money (buying into giveaways), and energy trying to maintain a platform that I never really enjoyed. This year, I want to be firm with myself about staying away from the Instagram rat race even if that means reduced sponsorship opportunities on my blog (which it most certainly will).

2 | Go on two walks a month. 

An achievable goal, for sure, walking always clears my head and makes me appreciate my body.

3 | Do morning prayer every morning.

The Episcopal church follows the liturgical calendar, which means it has set Bible readings and prayers for each day. As a part of my discernment for ministry in the church, I am encouraged to maintain a daily mindfulness and prayer life. I am determined to get in the habit this year.

7 achievable ethical and intentional living goals stylewise-blog.com image by Leah Wise

My sister - this is from our New York trip in June

4 | Read 5+ books on social justice, civil rights, and/or lived theology. 

I feel a need to have a more robust understanding of theological and social justice frameworks. I'm planning on reading works by Walter Brueggemann, Martin Luther King Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, and Saul Alinsky, but would appreciate any suggestions, particularly books and essays written by people of color past and present who ground their work in religious practice.

5 | Boost my affiliate/passive income and make ~$500 a month on the blog. 

I am a little burnt out on the blogging rat race, but think that I am well situated to maintain high affiliate sales that will help me boost my savings account. I'm not going to try to make more money than last year because that really burned me out. But I want to continue to be strategic about monetization in a way that feels authentic and manageable.

6 | Value my friendships with women. 

Both IRL and online, I rely on the accountability and support of strong, intelligent women. This year, I want to be more intentional about cultivating my relationships with them, scheduling more phone calls, coffee dates, and excursions. They mean so much to me!

7 | Prioritize my mental health. 

I grew up in a household where mental illness and therapy were stigmatized. I am also very stubborn when it comes to admitting I need help, so I have gone several years and endured a number of obvious mental health breaks without seeking professional help. I had been telling myself my current issues all stemmed from August 12th, 2017 in Charlottesville, but over the last few weeks of winter break I've been tracing symptoms back several years and linking them to a series of relational traumas that occurred over the last fifteen years. Even typing this out makes me nervous, because I don't want to be beholden to this goal. But I think I need to seek out regular treatment. It's time to stop feeling ashamed that I'm "weak."

7 achievable ethical and intentional living goals stylewise-blog.com image by Leah Wise

Photos taken by me in 2018

Charity Update: In 2018, I donated a combined $420 to the ACLU and the Xerces Society for Pollinator Conservation

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

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Welcome to the Complexity series: posts intended to explore social justice and ethics issues with nuance, understanding, and ultimately hope. I will bring in several guest writers throughout the series, so stay tuned.


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

Fear yields anxiety yields rage yields exhaustion.

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

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

We feel hopeless, because every small thing we


do feels meaningless in the face of a multitude of new human rights abuses and uncertainties.

Desperation and Prophetic Imagination

I wake up most mornings feeling a weight on my chest,

trying to navigate a world that's not necessarily worse than before but with "solutions" that feel decidedly less clear-cut.

I, and I suspect many of my fellow Americans, have short circuited to the point that we've lost our sense of what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls our "prophetic imagination," the ability to see hope beyond the hazy horizon.

A few weeks ago I sat down to watch a film that had been described to me as "the story of a pastor serving a church with declining attendance." That sounds quaint compared to the reality. Instead,

First Reformed

dealt with existential dread over climate change

, the mood becoming darker and darker as the story trudged on. The main character - yes, he was a pastor at a small church - desperately tried to cling to paradoxical hope in the face of certain disaster, but the realities of the world and his inability to find meaning led him to only two choices: commit violence against perceived enemies or commit violence against himself. The ending is surreal and confusing, but it got its point across.

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

War Language and "Us-versus-Them"

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

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

To contextualize this further, I am specifically speaking to a kind of purity culture or ideological fundamentalism that occurs in spaces where people don't know each other very well, particularly on social media, a decontextualized soap box that,

by design

, turns us into our worst selves. Like "the enemy" in traditional warfare, it's easy to flatten out people so that you don't have to feel guilty about metaphorically "beating" them.

In a recent Grist article entitled

War of Words

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

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

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


, but even that is a kind of war metaphor.

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

Human Psychology

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

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

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

Maybe some people see the take-down as a kind of necessary reckoning, but I question how often people


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

Now We See in a Mirror Dimly

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

  1. False narratives of scarcity: the largely unfounded myth that there is not enough intellectual and empathetic "space" to go around so we must take it from others

  2. Charismatic leaders: individuals who craft compelling and even empowering narratives that, nevertheless, aren't quite true

  3. Predominant ideological frameworks: those powerful, invisible idea-maps that often have more to do with power and profit than with collective flourishing

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

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

It is easy to think that the world as we see it is

the whole world

, but this goes back to the problem of losing our prophetic imagination. There's a way to honor people's lived experience while resisting universal truth claims that don't properly amalgamate other, potentially disparate lived experiences.

The truth is often buried deep within the data. What we know is not everything. And we will never know enough. 

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

So, what do we do now?

Let me be clear, or as clear as I can be. People have a right to feel their feelings, and a right to speak them. People have a "right" to free speech, too. But it would be disingenuous to act as if what we're


justifies any and all actions. And beyond that, our implied or explicit roles as activists and educators requires more of us, if only because our stated goal is progress, and progress means we don't always get to while away in sackcloth and ashes. There is work to do.

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

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

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

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

We are cultivators of complexity, prophets of abundance.

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

I was using war language,

 because building a defense is a product of "us-versus-them" thinking.

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

I don't know what that open field of abundance looks like and I'm not sure how to get there, but there's no question in my mind that we are creating enemies because we think we have to, that we are


ourselves in a model of doom and destruction because it didn't occur to us that there was another way.

As for me, I am leaning on paradoxical hope, hope in the face of whipping winds and children's cries and smoldering cities. A hope that resists the impulse to categorize and conclude, because it knows that


is not the end game.

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

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

Additional Reading 

Working Through Environmental Despair by Joanna Macy

 (I found this life-changing)

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

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

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Year In Review | Top Ten StyleWise Posts Published This Year

top ethical fashion posts on stylewise in 2018 stylewise-blog.com

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

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

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

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

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

StyleWise's Top 10 Posts Written in 2018

1 | 11 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than Madewell

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

3 | Everlane Review: Cheeky Straight Jean

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

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

6 | Inside An Ethical Wardrobe: Spring 2018

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

8 | Is Everlane Ethical? I Asked, They Answered

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

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