blogging business

StyleWise is 6 Years Old! | 6 Questions

oldest ethical fashion blog

Can you believe it?

StyleWise turns 6 years old TODAY. 

And rather than spend a lot of time reflecting - because, honestly, I've done a bit too much of that lately - I want to open up the floor to you with...

Six Questions for Readers

1 | When did you first learn about exploitation in the fashion industry? How has it changed you?

My Answer:

About 6.5 years ago, which is why I started this blog!

2 | What are your favorite resources (podcasts, books, influencers, blogs, etc.) for discovering industry news, ethical fashion brands, and other ethical explorations?

My Answer:

I follow a lot of EWC members who share links on our forums, but I like Alden at EcoCult for her investigative work.

3 | What brands and styles are you currently into? What product is on your wishlist (ethical or not)?

My Answer:

I have been really into Camper's funky shoes and over the top statement earrings, but nothing's on my wishlist right now.

4 | What TV shows are you currently into?

My Answer:

Daniel and I are rewatching Friends. And I must admit that I'm sort of into the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix (though it's making me anxious to clean everything).

 5 | How do you take your coffee?

My Answer:

I like it with steamed oat milk. I've also been making "hot toddies" with ginger tea, honey, and bourbon whenever my sinuses or throat need some TLC.

6 | Where do you live? Where would you ideally like to live?

My Answer:

Charlottesville, Virginia. Long term, I think I'd like to live closer to family, so maybe in Florida? But I do love this part of the country.

To longtime readers and newbies alike: Thanks for following along! StyleWise has been and continues to be an interesting journey and I keep doing it because of people like you. 

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

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

First up: My Podcast Debut

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

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

ethical blogging workshop ethical writers and creatives webinar

Upcoming Workshop

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

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

how to be an ethical lifestyle blogger discount code

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

Use code BACKTOBLOG or

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

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

I Don't Think Conscious Consumerism Has Made Me a Better Person

depression, anthony bourdain, conscious consumerism

Simplify. Consider. Research. Shop with Intention

These are buzzwords in the ethical fashion niche. And they are said with authenticity and heart.

But they are also crazy-making. People often use these words in tandem with an idea that removing things from their life and being more thoughtful in their purchasing will make them better friends and partners, better activists and citizens.

Clearing out the intellectual and physical clutter of a life ruled by consumerism is seen almost as a passive act - something that is done on our behalf - rather than as the real, complicated, headache-inducing, isolating habitual practice that it is.

Since I started down the path of conscious consumerism, I've become more thoughtful, yes, but that thoughtfulness has not transferred to the way I treat the ones closest to me, or the way I greet people I meet on the street.

That thoughtfulness, in fact, has often led me deeper and deeper into myself, less able to see the world around me or enjoy the grandeur and surprise of life.

I was more deeply affected by Anthony Bourdain's death than I expected. I've cried over it every day since it happened. In him - or in his public persona at least - I saw something of a kindred spirit. I saw a kind but conflicted man, a man who thought things through and gave people chances, who grappled with his mistakes but still found a way to eek out some joy through the weight of what he'd experienced. And then he decided it was enough, or too much. I don't know.

And I am not suicidal, or even chronically depressed in a serious way. But his life and death, and my reflection on those things, has made me reconsider whether this aggressive, oppressive, agitated path I'm on to change the world one person at a time - this quest to "be a good person" - has made me, in actuality, a worse person.

I have been operating under an assumption that the only way to care is to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. If that makes me unhappy, so what: happiness is not a primary goal of mine. 

But that weight, that intensity, can be infectious. It can, and has, made others around me fear my intensity, feel burdened by it even. And then I consider the people in my life who walk with a literal bounce in their step, who come in singing their greetings, and always see silver linings.

In my ego-trip quest to be virtuous, I saw these people as the ones who didn't care enough, because if they did, they wouldn't be so happy. But now I think that their absolute insistence on visible joy is one of the most courageous ways to live. Their joy is infectious and their company is buoying when I am sinking in feelings of near-absolute hopelessness - this hopelessness I have convinced myself is somehow the way to perform virtue in the public square.

But willful sadness is not a virtue. 

That is not to say that it isn't normal, appropriate, or reasonable. But I had convinced myself that, happiness not being the end goal of a life well-lived, sadness - because it is opposite - is.

It isn't. It isn't. It's not.

My restrictions and deep feelings and tight containment have not furthered the goals of the conscious consumerism movement, and they have not made me more patient or kind. They have done the opposite. I have been trying to virtue-signal out of desperate self-consciousness by remaining in a state of perpetual melancholy. But now I am seeing the prison I've made and I am angry that I ever put myself in there in the first place.

We don't need to perform virtue in ways that hurt our spirits.

Author and environmentalist Barbara Kingsolver once said that "hope is a moral imperative." I have been living by that mantra because I really believe it, but I recognize now that by framing it as an imperative, it makes it feel like obligation rather than leaning in. It makes it seem inflexible.

So I am taking a new route now. I am taking the route that gives me permission to hope, encourages joy, without insisting and tightening its grip.

You have permission to say thank you to the birds and the sunset, to your generous spouse and your attentive mother. You have permission to lay down your heavy load and settle into some soft cushions.

depression conscious consumerism

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

why bloggers should get paid for their work
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

How to Be An Ethical Lifestyle Blogger: My E-Book is Here!

guide to ethical lifestyle blogging - how to become an ethical lifestyle bloggers

I'm excited to announce that after many, many hours of hard work, my first E-Book is now available for purchase.

Ethical Lifestyle Blogging: A Comprehensive Guide for Experts & Beginners

In January I had the opportunity to do some consultancy work for an ethical trade organization. 93 (fun and informative!) powerpoint slides later, I was ready to share my knowledge on everything from blog posts to monetization to social media best practices. It was an illuminating experience for me, as this was the first opportunity I'd given myself to write down what I've learned as an ethical blogger and freelancer over the last five and a half years.

That experience gave me the encouragement I needed to put my head down and write a conversational but informative guide on ethical lifestyle blogging. 10,400 words later, I'm pleased with the guide and ready to share it with the world.

guide to ethical lifestyle blogging - how to become an ethical lifestyle bloggers

Why I Wrote My E-Book

The ethical and sustainable fashion sector is growing by leaps and bounds, and that means that a new crew of influencers are cropping up to fill an ever growing need for transparent conversations and ethical brand discovery. I've learned a lot by trial and error over the last several years and I wanted to be able to spare up-and-comers the frustration of those experiences by offering a comprehensive guide to this niche.

In addition to serving the ethical fashion blogging community, I believe that this guide serves as a great tool for brands who want to work with sustainable influencers and bloggers, as it does a deep dive into the industry from our perspective and helps brands frame their pitches and form better relationships with bloggers from the get-go.

(And, let's be honest, it's also kind of fun to snoop around and see how bloggers manage their businesses. I am not shy about sharing my methods, so if you're simply curious, you might benefit from my guide, too.)

What You'll Learn

Real Life Advice:

I've done my best to share lessons I've learned, anecdotes from both blogging and my experience as the General Manager of a thrift shop, and the trial and error that has helped me build a viable business and community out of my blog. 

Analytics & Financials Tracking:

I suggest processes and programs that will help you track your analytics and financial goals over the short and long term so you can understand your blog business with total confidence.


My Monetization chapters on affiliate linking and working directly with brands through paid partnerships will help you figure out what strategy or combination of strategies will work best for you, and are also pertinent to brands and individuals looking to work with bloggers and influencers in this niche. 

Content Planning & Creation:

I'll walk you through how to create a blog site and content that will bring readers back, and keep you from burning out.


I’ve been blogging for years on various topics, but never have I come across such a succinct and power-packed blogger’s how-to guide. Leah’s book provided information for new and seasoned bloggers alike; I honestly learned more about the business side of blogging by reading the Ethical Lifestyle Blogging Guide than I have anywhere else. The tips are actionable and to-the-point. I have a hearty to-do list as a follow up, and I’m excited to implement what I learned. I would recommend Leah’s guide to ANY lifestyle blogger looking to take their efforts seriously. - Jen, Honey Rule

The writing and sections flow really well into each other, making it an uncomplicated and helpful read. I wish I'd read it before I'd started. Even now two years in I've made a super long list of things to do from reading this guide - Fran, Ethical Unicorn

The business of blogging takes work, skill, time, and patience, but the payoff is worth it as long as you have reasonable expectations and know how to negotiate your way through brand collaborations, difficult conversations, and potential burnout. I believe my guide serves as an essential resource for any blogger, brand, or influencer looking to take their work seriously and make a difference in the world of sustainability and ethical fashion.

I want to extend a hearty thank you to readers, friends, family, and fellow bloggers who have supported me and helped me build the skills and confidence to keep this blog running, and write this e-book. I hope to write another guide on social media and post more about photo editing and graphic making in the near future.

If you have any questions, please email me at

Disordered Eating and Consumption in the Intentional Living Movement

disordered eating and consuming in intentional living community
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or medical doctor. Ideas expressed here are based on my personal research, firsthand accounts from friends and acquaintances, and personal observations. Please seek out a professional if you have questions.

I recently read an article about the connection between partaking in a "clean eating"-type diet and having an eating disorder (most often orthorexia). The claim in the article - and a tendency I've actually seen occur in the intentional living community - is that rigid lifestyle habits both encourage and disguise disordered eating. Diets that use the language of health and wellness legitimize obsessive and restrictive tendencies that can result in life threatening self harm.

This is serious, and we - bloggers, writers, and practitioners in spaces that intersect with intentional living - should be sensitive to this and do our best to spot potential extremes before they cause irreparable harm to our sisters and brothers.

Eating disorders are not caused by surface-level issues (i.e., they're often not about food per se), and they're also not generally caused by one thing. Rather, a confluence of genetics, lifestyle habits, psychosomatic issues, and trauma lead to developing the harmful habits and compulsions associated with eating disorders. From a psychological perspective, eating disorders often develop in an attempt to regain control.

And this is what makes them so dangerous: in their earliest stages, they can appear to be positive forms of self regulation.

I worry, because I'm starting to see the warning signs typically associated with eating disorders in the minimalist and intentional living community when it comes to wardrobe curation and consumer habits. In fact, if I go down the list of psychological and social risk factors on the National Eating Disorders Association website, I can spot them in a few bloggers and influencers I follow...

  • Perfectionism
  • Body image dissatisfaction
  • Personal history of an anxiety disorder
  • Behavioral inflexibility
  • Teasing or bullying
  • Limited social networks

Of course, I'm not interested in diagnosing particular individuals, and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to do it either. But I finally sat down to write this post (even though I knew it was a really sensitive topic) because I want people I know and respect to ask themselves if their consumer and lifestyle habits feel nourishing, or if they are struggling beneath the surface of their carefully curated lives. 

Endless closet purging and curation - and conversely, "binge" shopping and incessant returns - aren't likely to result in major physical health problems. But they are potentially a sign of an anxiety disorder that can diminish quality of life and lead to other forms of self harm if left unchecked.

In this community, we are encouraged to think about what we buy and why we buy it, and sometimes that process can become obsessive. We are rewarded for intensive analysis of what we wear and held up as moral exemplars for what we cut out of our lives. In short, we get positive feedback for doing things that look pretty extreme from an outsider's perspective. In my Ethical Purity post, I speak to this in more detail. 

But we need to ask ourselves if our endless quest to eliminate or perfect is in some ways a quest to diminish ourselves - or that nagging feeling that something is off - either mentally, physically, or relationally. 

Does this process of self-curation satisfy a need to control a life that feels anything but secure?

In most treatment programs for eating disorders, patients are given a dietary regimen that requires moderation. They are asked to confront - for their own survival - foods that they have previously rejected due to a judgment call about its nutritive value. They are essentially encouraged not to diet, because even a "healthy" diet requires restrictions that can contribute to a relapse. 

Ask yourself what it would feel like to stop your clothing diet, to end the restrictions and ease up on the morality claims. Does it feel overwhelming? Does it make you feel out of control?

If so, it may be time for you to ask for help.

If you are struggling with a potential eating disorder, learn more on the National Eating Disorders Association website

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, learn more at

If you are currently experiencing thoughts of self harm or suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately.

Know this: you are not alone. And easing up on your restrictions will not make you a bad person. A fair and just world must include you.
eating disorders and anxiety in minimalist living

Blog Housekeeping: Logo, Guides, & Patreon

ethical blog
It's been a long while since I did a Housekeeping post around here. 

I've been stir crazy, and there's nothing like doing a little spring cleaning to release some of that anxious energy. So I've updated a few things and added a few features:

1. New Logo Design and Illustrated Portrait by Tolly Dolly Posh

I've been following Tolly's work, primarily through her ethical fashion blog, for the last couple of years, so when she announced that she was looking to build her portfolio and take on new clients, I was immediately on board! Tolly created my new StyleWise logo and did the illustrated portrait in my sidebar. It was a really positive collaborative process and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend her if you're looking for similar work.

A note on the logo: Tolly and I worked together to brainstorm some visual symbols that represent both me and StyleWise and I'm pleased with the result. The glasses are based on the glasses I wear, but can also represent the researched, thoughtful intent of the blog. The bee hearkens to my childhood nickname, Leah Bee, but also represents the sustainability aspect.

2. I'm on Patreon

Patreon is a platform that allows readers to make a monthly pledge to support the work of content creators they follow and enjoy. As a part of my long term strategy, I would love to rely less on specific sponsored content and more on crowdsourced funding that helps me dedicate time to research, blog-related projects and travel, and events. Even $5 a month helps a lot!

You can learn more and/or make a pledge here.

3. Updated and Alphabetized Shopping Directory

I alphabetized the Clothing and Accessories pages of my shopping directory over the weekend and added a convenient landing page here.

If you have suggestions for shops, brands, or categories, let me know.

4. I'm Making a Guide!

I've been wanting to do this for a long time, but I'm (hopefully) going to get it done in the next couple months. I'm putting together an Ethical Blogging Strategy digital guide with an add-on option for Skype consulting. If you're looking to build an ethical marketing company or blog, this will be a comprehensive resource to work through your story, set up a Media Kit, and make a financial plan.

The plan right now is to offer the guide at around $15 a pop with half-hour consultations starting at around $30. Let me know if this is something you're interested in and make suggestions for topics to cover in the comments. Leave your email address and I'll add you to my newsletter.

Why I Wish I Could Quit Instagram

Why I Wish I Could Quit Instagram - Ingrid Goes West
At the end of last year, I watched Ingrid Goes West.

Starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid Goes West is about an emotionally dysfunctional woman named Ingrid who upends her whole life to befriend an influencer named Taylor, who she "met" through Instagram.

If you spend a lot of time in the world of social media and influencer marketing, many scenes will feel painfully familiar to you. Ingrid slouching on her couch barely watching a TV show while she double taps photos on her feed. Ingrid hesitating over liking a food pic as she stares in disgust at her messy meatball sub. Ingrid taking a big bite out of a meal she ordered on an influencer's recommendation only to spit it out. Ingrid and Taylor posing under a gas station sign, asking the poor mechanic to "get closer to the ground" and frame the shot just so.

The film is, above all, a critique of the way social media compels all of us - stalkers and glamorous influencers alike - to pretend we're something we're not for the sake of digital fame, or at least being liked. 

It dwells on the banality of obsession, and on the ways we sacrifice authentic relationship for an aspirational life. On the way Instagram in particular encourages us to scroll and refresh over and over again, even when we no longer derive pleasure from the platform.

I laughed one of those ugly, knowing laughs through much of Ingrid Goes West, to the utter confusion of my husband, who doesn't use Instagram. I didn't like the way that laugh sounded.

And sure, I'm not a stalker. I know better than to spend an inheritance on chasing down a carefree, glamorous life that doesn't actually exist.

But I am constantly pulled back to scrolling and self comparison by a platform that I don't really find that interesting.

And that's why I wish I could quit Instagram.

I have continued to use Instagram half-heartedly since my nervous breakdown early last year because I've felt obligated to use it as an extension of my blog. But I don't like that feeling of obligation, and I don't like reinforcing an idea that we are required to use these tools that often do more harm than good.

For some reason, even in spite of the data that Instagram is horrible for sales and click-through, brands and influencers alike feel that it's the end all be all of fashion marketing. I understand that for some of the early adopters of the platform, Instagram has been the key to their success. But for those of us who were unfortunate enough to get there after numerous algorithm changes and more than 600 million users had signed on, it feels like playing a game we'll inevitably lose.

When I get on Instagram now, in fact, the whole thing feels like a game. Bloggers, brands, and influencers who have been told they must have an Instagram presence are following set "rules" to increase engagement, from liking relevant hashtags to commenting "meaningfully" on other accounts. And there seems to be an unspoken rule that we're not allowed to complain publicly about how soul sucking it feels to create metrics around "meaningful engagement." There's fear built into the system.

I don't think Instagram was built for this, which is why it's failing us now. In order to function as an organic social network it would need to be isolated to real life community groups and family networks, or at least toward smaller affinity groups.

So we're all desperately clinging to this platform that was never intended for monetization, finding awkward workarounds and praying for the day we hit 10K. 

I don't think there's anything wrong with employing social media as a tool for building a business or a movement. But Instagram is not really the answer. I can think of one social media tool that's helped me more than anything else and that's Pinterest. Twitter is fine for talking to people and sharing links, but any actual growth I've experienced on this platform - my actual blog where real conversations happen - has been through Pinterest.

And beyond that, the real key to my success has been writing things that matter (to me, at the very least, but hopefully to you, too). You can have the best graphics and lifestyle shots, but if they redirect to half-hearted content, how can it possibly make you feel good? A couple years ago, people told me I couldn't grow my blog without having a considerable Instagram following. Well, my Instagram following is still relatively small but I've managed to grow to 25,000 page views over the last year, and I'm proud of that growth even if it's slow by industry standards.

To be clear, I'm not saying that there aren't social media geniuses out there who have harnessed the power of Instagram and other networks to profile their amazing blog content, I'm just saying that it isn't really working for me, and I doubt it's working for most of my fellow bloggers in the way they'd hoped it would.

So I'm sitting here for now, awaiting the day the Instagram bubble bursts - if it hasn't already - so I can sign off and get back to what I actually want to do. 

The Ethics of Blogging: Do Ethical Bloggers Need a Code of Conduct?

the ethics of blogging: should ethical bloggers develop a code of conduct?

When I use the term ethical blogger, what do you think of?

I use it to mean bloggers who write about ethics, and more specifically those who subscribe to and promote a conscientious consumer lifestyle.

This, admittedly, reveals a specificity in meaning that isn't apparent at all by the term itself. When I say ethical in this context, I am really only talking about a topic, not about an overarching set of values that inform the way we ethical bloggers conduct our marketing, interactions, writing, and business decisions.

But if we subscribe to an ethical consumer lifestyle and promote social justice, shouldn't we be obligated to live by a set of standards that make us stand out from the crowd of conventional bloggers? Put another way, if we claim to value holistic ethics (to paraphrase MLK, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"), shouldn't we extend that to strategy?

The online ethical community (including brands and consumers of both media and material goods) should confront this head on by asking the following questions.

Should ethical brands and bloggers use automated programs to grow their followings?

There's been some discussion recently among small groups of ethical bloggers on the topic of using automated services that like content on your behalf on Instagram.

While there's generally some discomfort around using these programs because they obscure authentic engagement, a surprisingly large amount of ethical lifestyle bloggers and brands have been and still are using this tactic to increase their Instagram followings (full disclosure: I have trialed automated tools). While some readily disclose their use of such tools, a significant number are shy or unwilling to admit it, which, to me, is telling of moral ambiguity if not outright unethical behavior.

Automated tools are not allowed according to Instagram's terms of service, but that doesn't necessarily make the practice existentially bad. The problem is that engagement doesn't mean much when robo-you is liking me and robo-me is liking you. If we are pretending to value these metrics, we need to be up front about how we're arriving at our numbers.

In any case, according to this article, if an account you're following frequently appears in the Likes > Following tab with an indication that they've interacted with 8 posts within a few seconds and if their following increases by hundreds of people every few days, chances are they're using an automation tool.

(This question is different from, "Should ethical bloggers and brands buy followers?" A significant portion of people in this space would confidently say, "no." But that doesn't mean that some larger accounts haven't purchased them, I just don't know people who've admitted they have.)

Should ethical brands and bloggers copy the aesthetic, name, logo, or concept of another business?

From pictures to post topics to entire apps, ethical businesses and bloggers have blatantly plagiarized the intellectual property of their peers. One blogger took the entire concept of a blog, including her writing team, from another blogger. One brand blatantly created the same product to solve the same problem in the ethical space, then rushed to advertise before the original company could scale.

When I mentioned the second case to a fellow blogger, she said, "that's just how the market works." And sure, she's right. But just because Capitalism allows this behavior doesn't mean it's ethical or responsible. Ethical bloggers and brands love the idea of #collaborationovercompetition, but they seem awfully determined toward individual success sometimes.

Should ethical brands and bloggers charge market rates for blog and social media posts?

A lot of bloggers now enter this space with the intention of making blogging their full time business. This isn't necessarily bad, but going into this when you're all business frames things differently than if you entered as a hobby. Conventional bloggers with high readership can make a six figure income through brand collaborations. This, again, is pure Capitalism. They make that money because brands consider bloggers to be viable marketing avenues. But is there a point where we're asking for too much money?

There are very few ethical bloggers making enough money to go full time, but that will certainly change within the next few years. My gut sense is that ethical bloggers have an obligation to make price determinations based on something more than market standards, but I don't have a very good idea of what other factors to consider, outside of ensuring that we're not bleeding ethical brands dry with our rates. Hannah at Life Style Justice has discussed this off an on within the context of fairness. As contract employees of ethical and fair trade brands, what should we consider a fair wage for ourselves?

(To clarify, I'm thinking of an upper limit, not a lower limit, to our work. I believe that bloggers who treat their blogs as a business and have proven themselves influential in the space deserve to make a living wage.)

the ethics of blogging: should ethical bloggers develop a code of conduct?

Should ethical brands and bloggers disclose partnerships according to FTC guidelines?

This isn't up for debate: the answer is yes. But I frequently see ethical bloggers (and their brand partners) obscuring partnerships. I'm sure that sometimes this is just out of ignorance (full disclosure: I'm still not sure I'm disclosing properly on Instagram), but increasingly I suspect that some do this in hopes that readers will trust them more if they don't realize they're taking part in paid partnerships.

Should ethical bloggers promote products they could never afford in real life?

If I promote a clearance event, my commission on sales is going to be pretty low. If I promote a $400 coat, I could make $40 when you purchase it through my affiliate link. The business savvy decision is to promote the coat. But is that ethical?

This is something I am not at all decided on. For myself, I try to select brand partnerships and choose products in shopping guides that are within a comfortable price range for my income level even if I'm not actually purchasing the product (full disclosure: I personally make $35,000, give or take, including my day job and freelance work).

But there are bloggers I've been following for some time who, over the years, have gone from promoting thrift shop goods to reviewing multi-hundred dollar pants, shoes, and accessories. Still fairly made and eco-conscious, of course, but representative of a totally different lifestyle and income bracket. If you can command the attention of readers in higher income brackets, your blog-based income will soar. But where does that leave everyone else? And does our promotion of near-luxury goods encourage unhealthy financial stewardship?

Should ethical bloggers promote their work as better than the work of other ethical bloggers?

This, thankfully, happens rarely, but when it does, it annoys the crap out of me.

An ethical blogger will say something like, "I'm a writer, not a blogger." "I focus on well researched posts, not fluff pieces." "I was blogging on sustainability before it was cool." "I have done this, this, and this, so I'm really practicing what I preach." "My readers trust me, just look at my page views."

The implication in any of the above cases is that some ethical bloggers are just not worth your time. It's an attempt to build rabid loyalty and discourage readers and brands from cultivating relationships with supposedly lesser bloggers and blog concepts. But readers and brands are not unintelligent. They don't need us to tell them who is in and who is out. I understand the impulse to differentiate - after all, that's a fundamental part of building a brand - but does it need to be so...mean girls?

Are ethical bloggers beholden to radical transparency?

And the final question, for now. For my own peace of mind, I tend to lean toward yes on this. The best way for me to frame my own work is to continually "confess" to the community. Blame it on my Evangelical upbringing - I love to admit my faults (you think I'm joking, but I'm not).

But I also want to entertain the idea that bloggers are not obligated to tell readers every little thing they do behind the scenes. And some readers actually feel uncomfortable with tell alls. For instance, less than half of Reader Survey respondents wanted to see monthly or quarterly Blog Transparency reports. This surprised me since it seems that the ethical blogging community is headed toward this degree of transparency, but it was helpful to know that cultivating a sense of trust over time is more important than running the numbers every few weeks.

I haven't developed concrete opinions on all topics listed here, but I'm curious to know if you've thought about this and what your opinions are. Please comment and share with anyone who can help this community work through hard questions.

It seems to me that ethical bloggers and brands of every stripe and creed have voluntarily obligated themselves to live by more rigid standards. And surely that must mean brand and business strategy. If it doesn't, it seems that ethical has begun to lose its meaning.

Related Reading:

Both photos via Unsplash

Help Me Out! Take the StyleWise Reader Survey

StyleWise Blog Reader Survey 2017

It's that time of year again...time for the StyleWise Reader Survey!

Your responses to last year's survey were illuminating, and helped me get a good sense of who you are and what you're interested in.

As a result of your answers, I offered more resources on affordable clothing, discussed vegetarianism, wrote a piece on religion and ideology, shared some guest posts on fabric sourcing and ethical investing, continued to talk about broader social justice issues (especially in light of Charlottesville), gave you some thrift shopping tips, and discussed what it's like to run a monetized blog.

In short, your responses not only helped me cater content to suit your unique needs, it gave me the courage to step outside of the status quo and share essays and resources on a variety of interrelated topics. It also exposed blind spots in my own thinking and inspired creative thinking.

So, thank you! I've embedded the survey below for you convenience. Answers aren't mandatory, but your short answers are particularly useful to me (as are the budget ones, as they help me decide what brands to work with). If you want to mention anything else, feel free to leave comments directly on this blog post.

If you're completing it from your phone or tablet, you may want to click this link instead.


10 Ethical + Slow Living Bloggers You Need To Follow

Back in the day, being an ethical blogger was kind of lonely. 

I "met" a few fellow conscious consumers through Wordpress, but for the most part, I felt like I was talking to myself. Not so any longer. There are hundreds of slow living, conscious, vegan, eco, and ethical bloggers out there, and I like to think I've heard of most of them. I also follow quite a few of them. It's really helpful to hear about new ethical brands and get fresh perspectives on this work, to step outside of the echo chamber that is my overactive mind, and see what others have to say about the state of the fashion industry, blogging, and mindful living.

Here's my in-exhaustive list of ethical and slow living bloggers that provide great insight and high quality content on everything ethical, thoughtful, and slow. Though there are several others I could name, these are the ones I turn to based on their originality, aesthetic, post frequency, and usefulness.

Leotie Lovely

Holly is one of my dearest ethical blogger friends. Her in depth analysis, attention to detail, and stunning photos (shot by her husband) make her blog and Instagram worth a look.


Alden's day job is as a journalist, primarily writing on sustainability and women's issues. Her professional background means she brings a no nonsense, well researched approach to this niche, which is incredibly important.

Life Style Justice

Hannah is the first ethical blogger I met in real life! Her passion for social justice led her to the Philippines, where she and her husband assist with social enterprise, A Beautiful Refuge. Her perspective "on the ground" challenges me and keeps me from becoming apathetic.

Tortoise & Lady Grey

Summer's focus is on sustainable textiles, and she does an incredible amount of work to ensure that the posts she shares are accurate and will move the industry forward.

Simply Liv & Co

I just discovered Olivia's blog. Her perspective as a young mother with a deeply rooted call to pursue ethics and authenticity are inspiring to me.

A Day Pack

Also a new discovery for me, Emily and her husband share ethical brands in a cheerful way, and their Instagram feed showcases bright, beautiful photography.

Sustainably Chic

A veteran in the sustainable fashion world, Natalie features ethical, eco, and sustainable brands with a relatable voice and spot-on photography.

Grechen's Closet

I appreciate Grechen's stream-of-consciousness posting style and her focus on chatting about shopping and finding what works for her.

Selva Beat

The Selva Beat team focuses on creative, helpful approaches to living a vegan, palm oil free life without being preachy. I'm obsessed with their '90s zine aesthetic.

Seasons + Salt

Andrea's another longtime read. She focuses on capsule-ish dressing and prioritizes a lot of ethical, indie-made brands, with weekly outfit check-ins.

Self Objectification and Personal Brand

blogging and developing a personal brand critique
Image via Unsplash

I have a confession to make: for the last 3-4 months, I've been having emotional breakdowns - I mean, full fledged weeping fests - like clockwork about every two weeks.

The culprit? Social media.

When I started this blog, I hadn't really considered a future that would include monetization or brand collaborations. It's not that I had ruled these things out. I just hadn't thought about blogging as a business that required clear branding, consistent marketing, and creative direction. I was in it because it seemed like a useful way to build connections with other people in my niche, and I have an obsessive need to write every day, so it was the perfect hobby.

Four years ago - even two years ago - I had the luxury of all but ignoring social media outlets like Twitter and Instagram. I had a small but insightful reader base and just enough opportunities for thoughtful back and forth. I didn't get on Instagram until 2015. I didn't own a smart phone until last year. And still, my blog moved forward thanks to in-person connections and one very good opportunity to guest post on Rachel Held Evans' blog. 

But things are different now. According to most advice on the subject, it is imperative that bloggers have a presence on social media, and particularly on Instagram, home of the instant gratification, eternally scrolling photo feed. To be honest, I have struggled. I don't intuitively get Instagram, I don't like hashtags, I don't like typing on a tiny smartphone keyboard. Not to mention that the "shadow ban" that may or may not actually exist is setting me on edge. While many bloggers and influencers joyfully recount the ways that Instagram has led them to new friendships and authentic connections - and this has been true for me to a small extent - they don't often discuss the draining demands of creating and maintaining a personal brand. 

But that's the dark, ever present reality of blogging in 2017.

What is a Personal Brand?

At its most basic, personal branding is the process of turning your distinct attributes into a compelling, consistent brand for the purpose of promoting your work.

Writers, academics, influencers, and even regular people are now encouraged to use traditional branding strategies on themselves - which could include photography, color stories, fonts, graphics, and taglines - in an effort to stand out amid the clatter of other users on social media. Chances are, you're currently following dozens of social media users who have reached you primarily because their messaging and visuals are consistent. 

I encourage you to scroll through some of the feeds you follow and notice the precise curation and voice. Then, ask yourself if you feel like you really know these aspirational figures in your digital life.

Because chances are, even the most sincere of the bunch read just a little bit like sophisticated Artificial Intelligence robots wearing nice clothes. 

This is not an insult to who these people actually are. It's a testament to the effectiveness of their personal brand. They're able to attract a large following because they represent themselves as consumable products. They're just doing what all the industry "experts" told them to do. 

And this is why I've been having breakdowns every few weeks. 

Personal branding by definition is objectification, the commodification of people.

It renders complex, embodied people into oversimplified characters in a virtual reality. When I post on Instagram, I very rarely feel as though people are seeing who I am at my core, and so the the responses ring hollow despite the commenters' best intentions (this is by no means a reflection of the people who engage with me). The more I fall down the rabbit hole, the more isolated I become. 

I am not alone in this. According to a recent NPR interview:

Being engaged in excessive social comparison decreased one's happiness. So it's not that you think that others are happier than you are, but you need to prove yourself to yourself over and over again, and these social comparison engagement makes you less happy.

I've been working so hard to get to that magical 5,000 followers mark employing all the personal branding tricks in the book, but the self-othering work required to achieve something roughly equivalent to racking up play money in the Game of Life is preposterous. Have I signed up for a race that's actually a hamster wheel?

I think most of us would agree that objectification is wrong, that it leads to moral ambiguity around people and personhood, resulting in harassment, othering, and abuse. So why aren't we more worried about objectification when we're doing it to ourselves? 

Today I'm committing to a mantra that grounds me in reality:

I demand to be seen, so I will not erase myself. I demand to be heard, so I will not censor myself. I demand to be recognized as fully human, because I know that if I can't do that for myself, it becomes harder to recognize humanity in others. 

Personal branding may be a requirement of success in an increasingly individualized, online world. But for my own mental health - and to retain a sense of my embodied reality - I recognize the need to take a step back and assert that I am more, that I am a whole person. 

I am not a brand, and neither are you. Don't let social media erase the you that can actually make a difference. Only messy, smelly, real people have the power to change the world.