book review

The Life Changing Magic of... A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button

a life less throwaway book review stylewise-blog.com
I received a copy of A Life Less Throwaway to review

My not-so-secret secret is that I really didn't like Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

For one, Kondo begins the book with a personal anecdote about her strained, isolated home life, an environment that led her to find solace in organization. This is not, in my view, a healthy way to begin a project. Secondly, I was distressed by the lack of scientifically backed claims about what makes us consume and how to stop it. It's all well and good to make a home tidier, but without knowing what leads us to become stuff addicts, we're doomed to repeat the cycle. 

And maybe most dangerous: at local thrift shops, we could actually trace the fad by the volume of donations we were receiving. Sadly, a lot of the larger thrift chains threw away overstock, so all of that perfectly useable stuff the local community was "tidying up" ended up in the landfill at the end of the purge.

I say all that to say this: Tara Button's new book, A Life Less Throwaway, is the one book you should be reading on tidying up. 

About A Life Less Throwaway

The book is an extension of Button's passion project turned business, Buy Me Once, a website that brings users' attention to products that are meant to last a lifetime. The premise of Buy Me Once and A Life Less Throwaway is that decades of planned obsolescence - a business model that intentionally reduces the lifespan of an item so that the consumer has to repurchase it prematurely - have actually fooled us into thinking that this is the way the world has to be. This is a massive waste of resources, burdens recycling and waste management systems, and reduces people to mere consumers. It is dehumanizing through and through.

Button, a former advertising writer, offers anecdotes, expertise, histories, and scientific studies to help the reader understand that she is part of a complex, deceptive consumerism machine. The only way to defeat it is to live and shop in ways that are counter-cultural.

What I Learned

In addition to the sections on the history and psychology of advertising, which I gobbled up with glee, Button offers a lot of practical advice on developing personal taste in a way that can endure decades of trend cycles. Unlike predominant capsule and minimalist wardrobe narratives, she advocates for knowing what makes our taste truly original, i.e. a classic for me might be a tweed bomber instead of a khaki trench.

But this advice doesn't just apply to clothing: it also applies to household decor, appliances, and basically anything else you can think of. Know thyself. 

Later on in the book, Button provides step-by-step instructions for building small, long-lasting wardrobes for the different contexts of your life - like work and weekend - and offers a massive directory on how to select lifetime goods, as well as how to care for those goods.

Final Thoughts

Button is a wonderful writer, with a style that is both conversational and authoritative. In fact, I read the entire book in one day. Her ideas are backed up by real world data and personal stories. And maybe most importantly, she gets that a project in changing our consumer habits must address the whole person as they live and breathe within a multi-faceted system. This is not just a fun project - this is a total transformation.

Purchase A Life Less Throwaway...


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Book Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

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

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

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

Inspired is a book about the Bible.

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

What I Love

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

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

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

What I Don't Love

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

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

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

Who Should Read It

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

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

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

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

5 Spiritual Memoirs for the Questioner

5 christian memoirs for spiritual crisis
I couldn't photograph the other books because I've lent them all out!
Contains affiliate links

Like many of you (I'm guessing), I grew up in church.

Got saved at six and baptized at ten or eleven. Attended a million Bible studies, a smattering of youth conventions, and up to three church services a week. When I started college, I learned that you could major in Religious Studies (I was lucky that Florida State had a pretty robust program, too) and I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and Religious Ethics, two areas that I felt I'd been undereducated in within the context of church.

I started attending a bordering-on-fundamentalist college ministry my sophomore year simply because my then-boyfriend-now-husband's roommate recommended it. We all went together, so at first I didn't notice the toxicity of the environment. But things started to weigh on me, namely that my education and enthusiasm for taking an "intellectual" view on the church were not welcome when they came from me, a woman. In Bible study discussion pertinent to what I was studying in school, the leader would ask the men for assistance with interpretation. When I chimed in, I was met with awkward silence.

When the church was working to hire a new college minister, they asked the women how we felt about the prospective ministers' wives, not how we felt about them. It just went on from there. It got really, really bad for me, to the point that one day I literally ran out of the service, out the church doors, and kept running until I was almost to the edge of the property. I sat down by a creek bed and cried, the mosquitos glistening in the late morning sun as they hummed around me.

That sunshine was the holiest thing I'd experienced at that church.

After that, I left church. Not just that church, but church in general. I mean, Daniel and I hunted around for another community, but I was working through trauma and unsure of what I believed, so nothing stuck. I spent something like a year and a half coming home from work and just sitting in darkness. Sometimes I would get in bed at 6:00.

I wasn't angry with God, though I'm not sure I believed in God during much of that time. But I was angry that the language and community that made God real in my life had been stripped from me by bigoted men (and their female allies), and by a history of Biblical interpretation that left no room for continuing revelation and true honoring of everyone's gifts.

The turning point was a book. Someone recommended Still by Lauren Winner, a memoir about a woman who loses faith during an identity crisis that stems from an unexpected divorce. That word, Still, felt like chaos to me in my questioning, but her words helped me realize that Stillness could also look like peace, or like expectant waiting. I learned to take God's silence as God's listening, not as abandonment. And I'm so thankful for that, because here I am 6 years later starting the process to become a priest.

It is ok if your path is hard and confusing and weird. And I would understand if you left and don't plan on coming back to this, or any, faith tradition. The pain can be unbearable. But if you're questioning and need someone else's words to bounce your scattered thoughts off of, here are my recommendations...

5 CHRISTIAN MEMOIRS FOR THE QUESTIONER

Mere Christianity

While not truly a memoir, C.S. Lewis' classic explores a lot of the practical and existential questions people have about the life of faith and the nature of God. Lewis' description of predestination versus free will in relation to time is something I come back to again and again when I'm asking the bigger questions, or exploring the nature of suffering.

Learn more here.

Searching for Sunday

Rachel Held Evans is a former Evangelical whose path closely mirrors my own. Searching for Sunday is a vulnerable exploration of what it means to find church again after trauma, and I particularly like the way she organizes her thoughts through the Sacraments. I wrote a full review of Searching for Sunday here.

Learn more here.

Leaving Church

Barbara Brown Taylor got ordained as a priest in the Episcopal church because she wanted to help wounded people. She served at a big city church and a small rural church, but after several years she found herself quietly crying in despair every Sunday. Cultivating Christian community had inadvertently left her feeling more isolated than ever before. I wouldn't recommend this book for everyone, but it was a good way for me to process some of the loose ends, particularly after I'd gotten over the initial hurdles of spiritual crisis.

Learn more here.

Dangerous Territory

Amy Peterson's memoir about being a secret missionary in Southeast Asia inspired an entire blog post, which you can read here. Peterson's naive enthusiasm for the church put her new friends in ongoing danger and deconstructed her spiritual identity, but she was eventually able to throw out the bath water without losing the baby, so to speak.

Learn more here.

Still

Lauren Winner's vulnerable story of not knowing what to believe changed my life. In 2015, I reflected on what I learned from it here, but the gist of that experience was understanding the value of liturgy and habit for sustaining periods of doubt. When you don't know why you're doing what you're doing, you can still know how to keep going. Prayers to pray, conversations to have, and questions to meditate on. I focused on social justice issues to sustain me and I credit my period of doubt for the creation of this blog.

Learn more here.

5 christian memoirs for spiritual crisis

8 Conscious Books to Dive Into This Fall

ethical and conscious living book list, stylewise-blog.com
This post was written by Kasi Martin and originally appeared on her blog, The Peahen.

We can’t buy our way to an ethical or sustainable world.

Regardless of what you read in ads, the news, or even on eco fashion sites like this one, consumption is not an effective vehicle for change-making, at least not by itself.  It may sound lovely, but anyone who claims their clothes are ‘changing the world’ or ’empowering’ people is exaggerating.

Look, I cover a lot of ethical and sustainable brands here and I don’t want to discredit their importance. What they do is damn admirable. They’re providing an alternative to conventional fashion, which relies on pesticides, toxic chemicals, and exploitation so that brands can peddle cheap products to meet our insatiable desire. It’s harder to do it their way, much harder. And on the other side, the women and men who are researching brands, asking questions and, most likely, stretching their wallets to choose ones that meet their standards are equally impressive.  But to say either, designing or buying, is an end-all-be-all solution is a troubling narrative.

Alden explains why in her Quartz piece, arguing for advocacy instead of consumption. Now, I don’t agree with all of it. For instance, I think if we stop buying ethical fashion outright in favor of advocacy, we’d be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think it should be BOTH ethical consumption AND advocacy, rather than EITHER ethical consumption OR advocacy. For instance, what happens when your rep just doesn’t care about environmental issues? In my case, I don’t think Ted Cruz will ever advocate for environmental regs so I rely more on my economic choices (or abstention from) to send a message.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you.

THESE ARE COMPLEX ISSUES THAT ARE HARD TO UNPACK, SO FIRST OFF, DON’T STRESS IT. TRY READING UP ON THE ISSUES THAT INTEREST YOU AS A FIRST STEP.

I curated this list of the best books on ethical and sustainable fashion and broke it down into four categories so there’s something for everyone. It’s short because fashion is still a niche field. It hasn’t been studied like, say, philosophy because it’s stigmatized in intellectual circles. People see it as ‘trivial’ and therefore, don’t research it. This is something I’m fighting hard to change through my writing and reporting. And I’m constantly on the hunt for new information, so if you know other books, share them in the comments.

Happy reading.

For the Polymath

Books that are good introductions to topics in ethical and sustainable fashion. These go broad but not deep for the most part.

OVERDRESSED: THE SHOCKINGLY HIGH COST OF CHEAP FASHION

This is the ‘ethical fashion’ book that’s cited more than Sean Spicer deflected media questions. Really. It’s a good place to start if you’re a total novice to ethical fashion. In it, Elizabeth Cline answers a fundamental question – why are clothes so cheap? And, more importantly, what is the impact of our addiction to them?

MAGNIFECO

Kate Black is a seasoned writer and speaker in this field. After pumping out thousands of articles on the subject for her site (of the same name), she compiled them into this – the ultimate guide to sustainable fashion and beauty. Dive in for a quick historical overview and the good stuff – her favorite brands, designers, and tips.

SLOW FASHION: AESTHETICS MEETS ETHICS

Safia Minney started People Tree, one of the first fair trade brands on my shopping page to produce wearable, contemporary designs (don’t believe me? Check out their newest capsule). As a someone who pioneered this new approach and proved it could also be a lucrative business model, naturally, she’s got a lot to say on the subject. In this book, she talks about how she made Fair Trade work and argues that it’s the best for brick and mortar and e-commerce shops across the globe.

 If you like this one also check out her latest, Naked Fashion.

WEAR NO EVIL: HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD WITH YOUR WARDROBE

Greta Eagan’s ethics-driven approach in this book is balanced with practical advice. You’ll find out how to gradually transition to more ethical habits that help you create a cleaner wardrobe and beauty regime and, ultimately, cause less harm.

For the Anthropologist

Books for lovers of humanity and learning through stories. 

HIGH TECH AND HIGH HEELS IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: WOMEN, WORK, AND PINK-COLLAR IDENTITIES IN THE CARIBBEAN

Forget what you thought about globalization and all the terms associated with it. White-collar, blue-collar, pink-collar. And while you’re at it, toss out your preconceived notions about gender and economics.  Carla Freeman upends many of these norms in this book, which is based on her observations of a group of women in Barbados in an emerging field in tech called ‘informatics.’ Through their newly formed habits and dress, she argues, these women are reshaping notions of formal and informal economies and first and third world production. This is a very specific case study, but if you’re a detail oriented person it’s worth it.

THE IRONIC SPECTATOR: SOLIDARITY IN THE AGE OF POST-HUMANITARIANISM

If staring at a picture of Angelina Jolie with refugees makes you cringe, dig into Lilie Chouliaraki’s thought piece.

SHOPPING FOR GOOD

Nike started using sweatshop labor to produce its clothing in the 70s but consumers didn’t take notice until the 90s. This was thanks to David O’Rourk’s prescient reporting. Still, years later, even the most well-intended companies and consumers say they want to support ethics and sustainability but are at a loss for how to do it. David came back with this book to discuss why it’s so complicated to ‘shop for good.’

WHY PEOPLE BUY THINGS THEY DON’T NEED

Get to the root of overconsumption in Pamela Danziger’s investigation. She’ll make you think more than Marie Kondo and organize your sock drawer less. Win, win.

Get more recommendations on the original post.


Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Book Review: A Harvest of Thorns

A Harvest of Thorns ethical fashion book review

You may recall that I had the pleasure of interviewing/chatting with local author, Corban Addison, about his book on the fashion supply chain a few months ago. He gave me a copy of that book, A Harvest of Thorns, to read and I finally finished it!

I had a bit of a rough first quarter of the year - a late 20s crisis, you might say - and it was difficult for me to allow myself the mental quiet to just sit and read. Pair that with the fact that this wasn't exactly light reading - and it's 348 pages long - and I dragged my feet.


What is it about?

A Harvest of Thorns is based around the narratives of two lawyers who, at first, appear to be polar opposites. Washington DC based Cameron Alexander is a by-the-book corporate lawyer who works for Presto, one of the largest retail corporations in the world. Joshua Griswold is an out-of-work law-trained journalist who rose to fame by profiling human rights issues around the world.



Their paths cross when a photographer covering a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh uncovers a dark secret: despite Presto's Corporate Social Responsibility Standards, they were subcontracting with them. A young teenage girl is photographed, dead in the rubble, with a pair of Presto pants tied around her face to protect her from the smoke.

Note that Dhaka is the same city that, in real life, came to international attention first in 2012 when a fire broke out, killing over 110 and again in 2013 when Rana Plaza collapsed, killing over 1,100. Addison loosely based A Harvest of Thorns on the former event. He could not have anticipated that, just a year later, the worst garment factory disaster in history would strike Dhaka.

So what did I think?

I found A Harvest of Thorns to be incredibly well researched and informative. Addison cut no corners. He exhaustively tracked down garment workers, NGO employees, factory managers, and corporate representatives to ensure that his story was accurate. The fictionalized, narrative form makes it much easier to swallow the data.

However, this is the same quality that burdens the book overall: it's so detailed that sometimes character development is compromised for the sake of getting the facts right. I struggled to connect to the main characters, though I sympathized with their moral dilemmas. They felt like people I was reading about, not people I knew. And that is a regrettable weakness.

That being said, I don't regret reading the book at all. This was hands down the most comprehensive resource on the complexity of the garment industry I've ever had access to, and that makes it a must read. You may not become fully engrossed in the individual human stories, but you'll come out of it with solid, memorable information about the garment industry and a greater appreciation for the collective human story we tell when we participate in consumer culture. And that is invaluable.

I'll leave you with an excerpt that I found particularly compelling:

Workers like you are invisible to people in the United States, and Presto and its competitors are happy to keep it that way. They don't want their customers to see you because their customers aren't all that different from you. They're just people, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers. They would never allow their kids to work in places like [you work]. The reason they buy the clothes made in those factories is because they don't see the truth. Your pain and toil and tears have been erased from the picture. All that's left is the transaction, which makes Presto money, and keep the engine of the economy humming, and gives politicians their power, and allows Presto's CEO to take home twelve million dollars a year...Imagine if Presto actually had to account to the world for its sourcing practices.
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You can buy A Harvest of Thorns here or here


You can learn more about Corban Addison and his books here.  

Book Review: Thrive by Kamea Chayne

Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth

Thrive: An environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth


I know Kamea through the Ethical Writers Coalition and I was so excited for her when she let us know she was working on publishing a book! Kamea sent me a copy of her new book, Thrive, a couple days before the official launch a few weeks ago, and I was glad I had the opportunity to spend last Monday afternoon digging into it.

Thrive is intended to be a comprehensive, holistic approach to sustainability and wellness. It's divided into easy-to-digest sections on Positive Thinking, Exercise, Nourishment, Skincare, and Ethical Fashion, so you have the option of taking it step by step or flipping through to your favorite section first. I was really impressed with this method of organizing the book - it allowed me to skim through chapter topics I already knew a lot about and take more time on chapters that contained information that was new to me.
  thrive by k. chayne book review
Kamea speaks authoritatively and directly - the book reads like one of those enjoyable, introductory college courses you sign up for just for fun - and her charts, diagrams, object lessons, and parables make information that could easily feel daunting easy to follow. I particularly like the Nourish Your Food chapter on the complicated nature of deciphering the pros and cons of organic versus genetically modified (or GMO) agriculture, as it's something that continues to be hotly debated among both consumers and scientists.

Kamea says:
As consumers, we want to support business practices that improve our health (and the health of our planet) and help us work toward sustainability. So, should be be pro- or anti-GMOs? The answer is neither - for now anyway.
She goes on to skillfully discuss what's at stake, allowing for nuance rather than making a premature decision about the best path forward:
As a start, we can push for mandatory labeling of GMO products so we can at least make informed shopping decisions. At the same time, perhaps we should refrain from being strictly pro- or anti-GMOs. Instead, we should focus first on supporting food production methods that work in harmony with nature, such as small-scale organic farming that encourages crop diversity while minimizing the use of toxic chemicals.
The Sustain Fashion chapter is top notch, as well.

The Verdict?


I would recommend this book to people who are ready to take issues around sustainability and health seriously, and want a primer that is both academic and approachable. Thrive is serious without being stuffy, well-researched without being elitist. The fact that it manages to cover a lot of ground in just under 225 pages is impressive.

Congratulations, Kamea, and well done!

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You can buy Thrive on Amazon here.