combat boots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the moral wardrobe: FashionABLE's new customizABLE line

personal style post dusty rose sweaterfashionable customizable horizon necklace
This post contains affiliate links.

I recently purchased* the Horizon Necklace from FashionABLE's new CustomizABLE line. The launch couldn't have come at a better time with the Holiday season on the horizon. The line - along with all of FashionABLE's offerings - is ethically sourced and ethically produced in Nashville, Tennessee.

personal style space dyed cardiganj crew warehouse sale sweater
Ethical Details: Top - J. Crew Warehouse sale; Cardigan - thrifted; Boots & Jeans - past season; Necklace - FashionABLE

The interface is really convenient and you get to see a sample of the finished product before making your purchase, though I should note that the sample image for this particular piece shows 4 beads on each side and I only received 3. I kind of like this version better, but that's something to keep in mind since it costs an extra $5.00. The stamping option, however, is free, so take advantage of it if you can think of a meaningful word or name to add.



I chose to add the word Wise to my pendant because it's my last name and a trait I aspire to. I didn't realize until I was wearing it around my neck while reading an article on The Toast about changing your last name when you get married (well, more about making fun of the idea of women changing their names when they get married) how "traditional' I may come across for having chosen "my husband's" last name as a focal point of the piece. I've gotten a lot of flak for "bowing to the patriarchy" and changing my name when I got married and I've struggled to adequately express why it doesn't make me the very worst feminist. Because I'm a loud and proud feminist and I don't mind that I changed my name. It doesn't make me feel inferior. It doesn't destroy years of feminist work, contrary to the gut reaction of many I've encountered. This isn't a make or break thing.

thrifted outfit

Yes, I made a choice that aligns itself with the patriarchy. But not every decision is political. We have to live in a world with fluid and ever evolving gender norms, expectations, and definitions and we can't possibly all navigate them the same way. So fellow feminists: I'm terribly sorry if you feel like I've shunned our great movement, but I'm not going to take it back. And it's not your business to tell me I made a mistake.

End rant.

Thanks for reading and check out FashionABLE's CustomizABLE Line!


*FashionABLE provided a discount code in exchange for a review.

the moral wardrobe: all the stripes that we can see

multi stripe casual dress
fall outfit inspiration
ethical personal style
striped dress
Ethical Details: Dress - secondhand via consignment shop; Earrings - Mata Traders; Cardigan - old

My car was due for a safety inspection last week and it just so happens that the garage I go to is across the street from a shopping center, so I dropped off the car and walked over to see what I could see. I'd been in local consignment shop, Rethreads, before and hadn't really seen anything I liked, but this time around, I struck gold. This dress is everything a stripes-lover could ever want, plus I've been on a black and white kick for several weeks now (to the point that the volunteers at work are remarking on it), so I snatched it up. They have great prices and a reasonable consignment structure, giving back either 50% of the sale price in store credit or 25% in cash to the original owner.

When the weather gets cold and dreary, I try to make sure I'm wearing something that makes me happy. As a result, my cold weather wardrobe is a lot more varied than my summer one. That and afternoon tea are the only ways I get through winter here. Fortunately, it's not that cold yet, but we haven't seen the sun here in about 5 days. Suffice it to say there was no lunar eclipse viewing party at our house this weekend. 

the moral wardrobe: a blustery day

j crew camel sweater
j crew camel sweater
j crew camel sweater
Ethical Details: Sweater - secondhand via ebay; Skirt - thrifted; Earrings - Ten Thousand Villages; Socks - SmartWool

Winnie the Pooh: Happy "Winds-day", Piglet.
Piglet: [being blown away] Well... it isn't... very happy... f-for me.
Winnie the Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?
Piglet: That's what I'm asking myself, where?
[he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]
Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!
Winnie the Pooh: [grabbing Piglet's scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?

A volunteer at the shop died on Monday. I didn't know her well, but she was a part of the thrift shop family, so it's been a hard week for everyone. You never get used to death. You never get used to seeing someone alive and animated, getting into their car, saying "See you next week," and then never seeing them again.

the moral wardrobe: winter gingham

Ethical Details: Sweater - thrifted; Skirt - thrifted; Socks - Smart Wool; Earrings - handmade, gift from parents

There's nothing like an ear cuff to push a sort of '90s outfit over the edge. Also, this sweater was originally from Express and is most def circa 1999. 

I'm back to work this week after a two week hiatus. I enjoyed the days of sleeping until noon and online shopping in my pajamas (and visiting my family, of course), but I'm happy to be back.

On a sadder note, my childhood cat was put to sleep yesterday evening. She was suffering from an inoperable tumor in her bladder. I'm sad, but my parents, who cared for her for all 16 years of her life, are having an especially difficult time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers this week. 

the moral wardrobe: migraine weather

gap moto jacket
black and white outfit personal style
madden girl combat boots
thrifted outfit
Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Skort - thrifted; Leggings - uber old; Socks - SmartWool

I was inspired by my thrift post to put together a thrifted outfit. With a little more thought, I could have easily gone full thrift, but, you know, I was getting dressed midday after a morning of blogging and it was surprisingly warm outside and I just needed to move forward with the day. 

I got this skort early on in college and am sort of horrified that I used to wear it without leggings underneath, as it's awfully short. Black and white pattern mixing is one of my favorite ways to make an outfit more interesting, but I also wanted to add some color with my jean jacket. 

The light in these photos is pretty crazy! Winter light has arrived, the kind that's so clear and white-bright it threatens to give you a migraine if you stay outside too long. I narrowly averted one this afternoon.

Do you have an old item in your closet that you'd second guess wearing now?

the moral wardrobe: dappled

vintage sunflower dress personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
vintage sunflower dress personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
vintage sunflower dress personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
ethical and fair trade outfit idea with sunflower dress on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
Ethical Details: Dress - vintage; Cardigan - old

90s dresses have the miraculous quality of making you feel awesome and comfortable at the same time. 

On a personal level, this week has been quite successful. The thrift shop's annual toy sale is this weekend and I was freaking out a bit about the pre-sale workload, but I think everything will be ready! On a public level, this week has been challenging, but important. I struggle to know how to talk about racism and prejudice in my own country, but I know that staying out of it isn't right. We're screwed up. I'm screwed up. It's a matter of fact that people of color in this country are treated implicitly and explicitly as less than human all the freaking time. It's horrifying that so little has changed since slavery. It's devastating that black men keep dying. The reason is easy to discover: racism. But the solution will take a lot of work. It's up to all of us to be willing to engage with the issues and with the real people behind them and to stop excusing ourselves or opting out. It's up to us to hear people out and to make our voices heard. If you're white, it's important that you get involved, but don't get in the way. If you're black, know that I'm with you and I really want to support you and fight with you in a productive way, so please feel free to step in and let me know the best way to approach this. 

the moral wardrobe: black friday

everlane ryan pocket tee with vintage skirt personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
everlane ryan pocket tee with vintage skirt personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
SAD winter time outfit post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
Ethical Details: Top - Everlane*; Skirt - vintage (thrifted!); Leggings - old

After two terrible winters, I'm convinced I have seasonal affective disorder. And I don't say that flippantly, like someone saying they're "sooo OCD." The depression was numbing by the end of last winter; I was so deeply absorbed in the sadness that I'd forgotten my potential for joy. But as soon as the sun started shining and the days grew longer, I found myself laughing raucously, skipping, enjoying life again. It was a happy time, but I never forgot that feeling of sadness-for-no-reason and I never stopped worrying about the winter to come. Well, that winter is here and I'm desperately trying to hold onto the happiness, but I'm already getting restless. I'm already grimacing at myself in the mirror and sleeping in too late. 

Speaking of grimacing, please just don't do Black Friday. The good deals at big box stores, for the most part, are right in retailers' profit margin comfort zones. Sure, you may get an item at the lowest price you'll find it all season, but you're really just succumbing to retail theater. Let's stick it to the man and shop Fair Tuesday instead. 

*Everlane is using today's profits to build a better recreation space for on-site workers at their China factory. Items aren't reduced, but you can do a bit more good if you shop there today.