conscious consumer

What I'm Adding to My Ethical Wardrobe This Fall

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

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

Uh...nothing.

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



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

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

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

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

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

EWC Zero Waste Challenge: Introduction + Days 1-2

zero waste challenge with the ethical writers coalition
Graphic by Elizabeth Stilwell

After a lively conversation about how difficult it is to go zero waste without losing friends and being mean to service workers (this may be an exaggeration, but it's awfully hard to say no to paper and plastic items when you're not totally in control of your shopping and eating), me and a handful of other members of the Ethical Writers Coalition decided to take on a 2 week long Zero Waste Challenge.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Baseline is not sending anything to the landfill.
  2. As long as you can (responsibly) recycle it or compost it, it doesn't count as waste.
  3. You have to verify that the items you put in your recycling or compost bins are actually recyclable.
  4. You must document how much waste you produce and why, honestly.
  5. Waste produced on your behalf at restaurants and other public places counts as your waste, too.

For the first couple of days, instead of actively going zero waste, I decided to carefully monitor my normal habits at home. Since I'd already purchased food and kitchen implements that produce waste, I used what I had. For simplicity's sake, I'll just be listing the waste I produced.

Saturday

  • Coffee filter
  • Pre-packaged spinach bag
  • Plastic produce bag containing cucumber
  • Plastic wrap and styrofoam tray from mini red potatoes packaging
  • Cotton ball 
  • Toilet paper
  • 3 paper towels
  • Pre-packaged snack cake plastic
  • 3 pieces of chocolate wrapped in foil (recyclable, but I forgot to put them in recycling bin)
  • Onion skin (compostable, but I didn't compost it)

Sunday

  • Coffee filter
  • Pre-packaged lasagna with plastic wrap and soiled cardboard (not recyclable)
  • Banana peel (compostable, but I didn't compost it)
  • Tea bag (compostable, but didn't compost it)
  • Napkins used at restaurant
  • Cotton ball
  • Toilet paper
  • 2 paper towels

What I learned so far:

The saddest thing on this list are the items I could have composted or recycled that I just didn't think about. My local farmer's market has a communal compost bin, but I'm afraid they'll be closing up for the fall pretty soon, so I'll need to examine better ways to compost (plus, I hardly ever make it to the farmer's market - Saturdays are for sleeping in!).

I should also note that I chose potatoes wrapped in plastic over the alternative because they were the only mini russet potatoes available and they looked fresher than the unpackaged, full sized variety. I really need to get myself some reusable produce bags, though (I'm going to do that today!).

I just ordered a pour-over coffee kit with a reusable filter with birthday money from my mother-in-law (thanks, Kathy!), so that will take care of my coffee filter usage longterm (I'm excited about finding daily rituals to force me out of bed when the mornings are dark, so I'm also thinking this pour-over switch will help with my mental health through the winter months).

I never use straws anymore, so I avoided that issue altogether when I ate out Sunday night.

Shopping List:

  • Reusable Cotton Balls (I have pads, but they don't absorb toner very well)
  • Reusable Produce Bags
  • Composting setup

I'll post again in a few days!


If you'd like to participate in this challenge with the Ethical Writers Coalition, just make sure to tag us (#ethicalwritersco and @ethicalwriters + #ewczerowastechallenge) on social media!


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See why I'm trying to go Zero Waste here.

Making the Case for a Vacation from Conscious Consumerism

Making the Case for a Vacation from Conscious Consumerism
Crashing waves near Point Dume

As a rule, when I travel, I don't network. 


There are hundreds of brilliant, inspiring women (and some men) who write on conscious consumerism around the country who I would love to meet someday, but when I go on vacation, I don't make plans with them.

I travel to visit with friends and family. I often stay at their houses, work with their schedules, and ride in their cars. I have limited vacation time provided through work, so I don't often get more than a long weekend when I visit loved ones, and it's just not worth it to me to carve out a space for friendly networking, no matter how beneficial or fulfilling it might be.

I also travel to get some perspective on my day-to-day. I spend nearly all of my spare time (and some of my work time) talking about consumer ethics, manufacturing, and sustainability. I write and photograph for this blog. I pitch articles and tinker with html and obsessively check Google Analytics. And, while I find it immensely gratifying, I also tend to get tunnel vision fairly quickly and it's hard to get a sense of what matters most.

Physically leaving my environment and visiting with people who know me outside of that context helps me better gauge my long term goals and better understand my role within the world I occupy.

Making the Case for a Vacation from Conscious Consumerism
Daniel and me at a dusty outlook over the city


Sometimes, the best thing I can do for myself is not be a "conscious consumer" for awhile. 


Now, that's not to say that I shouldn't be mindful of the things I purchase on trips, throwing my moral convictions to the wind. It's to say that I strive when I'm away to remember that I'm a person, first and foremost. It's healthy for me to separate the "consumer" part from the "conscious" part for a few days, to practice being considerate of others and myself without that being attached to want.

On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I explored desert landscapes, people watched at Venice Beach, admired modern architecture, ate cuisines not available to me in Charlottesville, watched the grandest ocean sunset I've ever seen, climbed to the top of Point Dume, chatted with the locals, binge watched all of Stranger Things with friends, and took lots of naps. I helped with the dishes and chopped the vegetables for dinner. I set the table and took twilight walks.

And I felt like I was able to get real clarity on what I want for myself and what I need in both a career and in a life. I was challenged by the task of living in someone else's home for a week and learned how to compromise and work through impatience, which reminded me that this task of just being with people harmoniously is something hard and worth accomplishing.

Taking a pause from conscious consumerism to practice self care
The sunset in Malibu


I think a lot of us conscious consumers and ethical bloggers think that if we can reach some secular humanist version of enlightenment and make ourselves perfect, that will have a ripple effect and the world will be forever better. 


But I think that's a lie. If I become a vegan who makes all my own clothes out of hemp I've grown and hand dyed with herbs, if I live on a homestead and sing to the animals and paint with all the colors of the wind, I might find some personal gratification. But that's just a drop in the bucket. The world is vast and it's not my job to change it by myself.

I believe I have a responsibility to act with intention in small and big ways. I believe that my choices matter. But if I burn out, what good am I to anyone? If I forsake intimate relationships for networking visits, if I visit a fair trade store instead of climbing a mountain to see the sea lions play in the water below, if I am nice on the internet and mean to my husband because I'm too tired to practice kindness, am I really succeeding at bettering myself in the end?

Some days, being a person is hard enough.

My advice to myself and to you is to be as patient and kind as you can be to yourself and others. Take a break from your personal brand and watch a sunset. Sometimes in the clutter of war, sweatshop tragedies, and political turmoil, I forget that life is actually still worth living. I forget why I'm fighting or what I'm fighting for.

But after time away, I remember that I'm fighting for my and everyone's right to laugh raucously with friends and binge watch Netflix and get soaked by the cold waves of the Pacific Ocean. 


I'm fighting for a right to live, and live well.


Additional Reading:

the moral wardrobe: an epic ten thousand villages review + giveaway

ten thousand villages outfitten thousand villages giveaway
When Ten Thousand Villages reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in a collaboration, I was delighted. Ten Thousand Villages holds a special place in my heart as one of the first fair trade shops I ever visited, long before I even knew what fair trade was. They're also credited with inventing the fair trade model as we know it back in the late 1940s when Edna Ruth Byler came back from a trip to Puerto Rico determined to expand the market for artisans there.

Ten Thousand Villages works with hundreds of artisan partners around the world with a mission to empower women, build relationships, preserve cultural arts, sustain livelihoods, and show dignity. In my experience buying from Ten Thousand Villages for several years, the products are well made, with attention given to detail and consistency. Plus, they make great gifts and their Christmas ornaments are lovely.
  ten thousand villages outfitEthical Details: Top and Skirt - thrifted; Shoes - Sseko Designs c/o MadeFAIR; Necklace and Earrings - c/o Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages sent me the Honeycomb Blossom Necklace and Earring Set made by Tara Projects in India. The pendant pieces are made from dyed bone sourced as a byproduct from animals that have either died of natural causes or are killed for food production. My position on material sourced from animals is that it must be a byproduct of a preexisting industry so that as much of the animal is used as possible, so I'm glad to hear that. The bone makes these delicate and super lightweight, so sensitive ears will have no issue wearing the earrings. I also appreciate the unexpected way the tri-flower necklace pendant is attached to the chain. It feels very contemporary.

ten thousand villages outfit
The spring-time exuberance of this set inspired me to get out and take photos on one of those perfect, breezy, warm-in-the-sun, cool-in-the-shade early spring days. And now that the Northern Hemisphere is hurdling toward warmer weather, I'm excited to be giving away not one, but THREE Honeycomb Blossom Necklace and Earring sets. Details below.
  ten thousand villages charlottesville
I'm honored to not only be working with Ten Thousand Villages Corporate, but to be collaborating with my local Ten Thousand Villages store (Sallie and her team are the bomb!) to offer two ways to enter the giveaway.

Option 1: Enter to win one set at the Charlottesville Store. 


You'll have an opportunity to win one Honeycomb Blossom Necklace and Earring Set when you enter at the Charlottesville Ten Thousand Villages on the Downtown Mall. The contest will run for one week at that location, so check the store for details.

The address is:
105 W Main St
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Option 2: Enter to win a set for you and a set for a friend on my Instagram account (@stylewiseblog).


Head over to my instagram account for the opportunity to win 2 necklace and earring sets, one for you and one for a friend you tag in the comments. 

This contest will run for one week. The Charlottesville store will designate its own entry period and rules, and information can be found in store. The Instagram contest, in collaboration with Ten Thousand Villages Corporate, will run until Thursday, April 21st at 11:59 pm EST. Winners will be selected randomly.

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the moral wardrobe: tried and true

bonlook selfie glasses and ethical outfithannah naomi bar earrings manos zapotecas purse fair trade made in mexico ethical outfit native american textile bag
Ethical Details: Top - SkunkFunk via Ash & Rose; Purse - Manos Zapotecas; Cardigan - thrifted (similar here); Shoes - old; Earrings - Hannah Naomi

Today I want to talk about the work horses of my wardrobe. Though I rarely photograph it, this thrifted cashmere cardigan has gotten me through weeks of cold weather and even a midday nap or two. It's cozy and lightweight, so it's a great layering piece. 

I deliberated for months over the perfect glasses and finally settled on the Selfie frames in Rose Sepia from BonLook. BonLook's manufacturing structure is comparable to Warby Parker, but they don't have a charitable branding strategy. That's alright, though, because I decided to donate to the presidential campaign of my choice in tandem with my glasses purchase. Sometimes I get so caught up in buying ethical things that I forget I can always donate cash to causes I care about. Don't forget to vote in the primaries!

These Converse All Stars have been in my wardrobe now for 11 years! They've seen me through three moves, heartbreak, high school, college, and beyond. I don't wear them often, but I'm reconsidering now that sneakers have made a comeback. 

The earrings and top are relatively new, but I love anything that's simple-with-a-twist. The top is made of sustainable bamboo viscose, which is both soft and sturdy, and the earrings are by Hannah Naomi, one of my favorite jewelry designers.

The thing about conscious consumption is that you get to have a connection with physical objects, not in an unhealthy way, but in a way that makes you thankful for the warmth and comfort a well-loved object can provide.

new in: Sseko Designs' spring collection 2016

sseko designs spring 2016

I always look forward to seeing how Sseko Designs' creatively reinterprets its original versatile ribbon sandal each season. They did not disappoint.

The Spring '16 collection launched today and I'm digging the new stitched leather soles on their ribbon sandals, the accent updates, and the brand new designs in their collection, like these cool, gold slip on sandals.

My favorites, pictured above, are:

(clockwise from top left, affiliate links included)

It's so inspiring to watch ethical companies I love thrive and improve over time. Sseko Designs deserves their success. They've worked hard to ensure that their business improves not just the lives of the young women they employ, but the local economy, as well. Their employees go on to get degrees, start their own businesses, and serve as mentors for new hires. 

the moral wardrobe: second tries

jean jacket thrifted outfitalpaca sweater modern ethical jewelry from madefairethical outfit
Ethical Details: Sweater - NOVICA; Jacket - thredup*; Boots - secondhand via ebay; Necklace - MadeFAIR*

Sometimes I photograph an outfit only to realize upon reviewing the photos that I hate it. I switched out my sweater and jacket and ended up with something that felt much more me. I have a tendency as a shopper to buy multiples of the same thing until I find the perfect version of it and occasionally I wonder what that says about me. Am I striving for perfection? Is that healthy? Do I need the thing at all if I can't seem to make it work?

In the case of this "jean" jacket, I'm happy I took a second chance. I love the look of denim jackets, but I can't stand to feel constricted in the shoulders, so this knit one from thredup was a much better fit.

I guess my point is that anything is better than nothing, but if there's a better way, a better opportunity, than why not strive for that? (In case you wondered, I'm not really talking about clothing anymore.)

On another note, this sweater is an Alpaca/Wool blend and it's awesome!

giveaway: Win $100 to MadeFAIR!

This post contains an affiliate link.

My excitement over new ethical boutique, MadeFAIR, still hasn't worn off and I've been wearing the heck out of my gold loafers, so my eyes are bulging out like a hyped up rodent over today's giveaway (I know this visual is weird and not particularly flattering to me, but I'm typing this while gazing lovingly at my pet rats, so the simile came easily).

Founder, Tavie, is offering a $100.00 gift card to MadeFAIR to be used at the winner's discretion. Just use the entry form below to enter and make sure to check out my giveaway announcement post on instagram for additional ways to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Open to international readers. Contest will run from Tuesday, September 8 to Tuesday, September 15 at 11:59 pm EST. Additional entry available on instagram. This contest is not affiliated with instagram. 

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Get 15% off at MadeFAIR anytime using the code, STYLEWISE15.
Visit MadeFAIR on facebook, instagram, and twitter


Small Wins: Why We Shouldn't Stop Trying to Shop Ethically

Why We Should Be Ethical Shoppers
This is a response to Michael Hobbes' article, The Myth of the Ethical Shopper, published July 15, 2015.

Michael Hobbes wrote an article for Huffington Post Highline a few weeks ago that shook the conscious consumer community. In The Myth of the Ethical Shopper, Hobbes outlines the myriad ways buying our way to a better world has failed us. It's well researched, and it's true. Imposing regulations on foreign companies without real oversight or local social change has little long term effect on the well being of factory workers.

If you've been following the movement for awhile, you've probably heard an outline of his argument before, but I encourage you to read it - it's an impressive amount of research. The primary point of the piece is this:

Listening to consumer advocacy campaigns, you’d think our only influence on the developing world was at the cash register. But our real leverage is with our policies, not our purchases...We are not going to shop ourselves into a better world.

In his followup, published last week on the Huffington Post blog, Hobbes responds to commenters who maintain that they are ethical shoppers - by virtue of buying American made or locally sourced items - regardless of what Hobbes has to say about it:

Let me be super clear about this, in words I might have minced in the piece itself: that is impossible. And pretending it's not is exactly what keeps sweatshops from being solved.

Responding to Hobbes is no easy feat, because he's absolutely right. We're spending too much time making shopping lists and not enough time doing the boring, excruciating work of lobbying for better systems. But it's not enough to write a convincing argument that we all suck at being good people. In fact, that's maybe the worst thing we can do. 

In 1984, psychologist Karl E. Weick published a study entitled Small Wins, which explains why large scale social problems are rarely resolved by simply proliferating social sciences research on relevant topics. The reason we fail to remedy social problems, he discovered, has everything to do with how problems are defined in the first place. He found that:

The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded and arousal is raised to dysfunctionally high levels. People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.

Basically, if you're inundated with information about how terrible everything is, your brain is wired to shut down. This may be the reason The True Cost movie hasn't been as well reviewed as one would hope. There are simply too many reasons to give up hope. There are too many problems.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is low arousal, which can occur if you think too much about an issue until it becomes "depersonalized."

Whether one is too aroused or not aroused enough, Weick concludes that the solution is to break down large problems into small, manageable steps. The "small wins" system works, because:

Small wins often originate as solutions that single out and define as problems those specific, limited conditions for which they can serve as the complete remedy...Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win."

Breaking up a big problem into bite-sized pieces makes it possible to digest the whole thing over time. As we solve one thing, we get the confidence to keep moving forward.

All this to say that Hobbes' failure is not in his research but in his approach. It's one thing for an "insider" like myself to read an article like this, process it, and reorient myself toward a better way of doing ethics. It's another thing entirely to release it into the hands of the general public. If you're teeter-tottering on the edge of making more conscientious choices, even a little poke in the center of your chest can send you backward. The global manufacturing industry is corrupt - it's a Big Social Problem - but it cannot be remedied by just hollering about how big and terrible the problem is. You can't very well gain followers by telling everyone they'll never measure up.

Hobbes probably knows this, but his failure to mention it and his unwillingness to see the negative repercussions of his rhetorical strategy warrants a kind-hearted calling out. It may be true that we will never change the world through shopping, but it's just as true that we will never resolve serious social issues until we can learn how to break them down into smaller problems with concrete solutions.

In his followup blog post, Hobbes briefly mentions his "fair-tradey friends" who respond to his critiques with "it's better than nothing." He scoffs at this, saying that if we're going to do something, we should make it something that really counts, like donating money to pro-union NGOs. He pretends for the sake of argument that buying fair trade and donating to NGOs are mutually exclusive ways of being. But the reality is that there are lots of ways we can do better, and be better. And if I stop buying stuff from Ten Thousand Villages so I can really fix the world by donating money to an organization, I might not be in a better place than where I started. Things are more complicated than that.

Voltaire is credited with popularizing the saying: 
The perfect is the enemy of the good.


It's certainly true for the conscientious consumer movement that waiting for the best keeps us from working toward the good. It's easy to fixate on the huge, giant, impossible problems in the world and decide that they're un-fixable. And, you know, maybe they are. But we have a responsibility to do something and it could very well start with buying something from a fair trade shop instead of the local Wal*Mart. We need some nice gateway drugs into the movement. We need some smooth, solid stones marking the pathway to justice.

So, keep finding ways to shop, and live, ethically; you'll get better over time. Let your ethics trickle through every aspect of your life. Don't stop until the work is done. It isn't easy, but know that each step forward is a small win.

What else can we do about all this?

Brands and Bloggers: Stop pretending that buying stuff will fix anything. As the fair trade movement becomes trendy, we have to make sure that we're being honest about the type of impact a purchase will have, and the limits of the fair trade model.

Conscious Consumers: Try to detach your identity from the Capitalist system and see what you can see. You can't curate your way to joy and wholeness.

Skeptics: Consider that your choices have a domino effect and that, whether or not you have the tools to change the world, you can change something. What else do you have to live for?

And let's all consider donating to NGOs and organizations that empower people to lobby for themselves and improve their communities. Check out The Note Passer's Resources page for links to international labor organizations.

an ethical outfit: anytime, anywhere

ethicaloutfit



I've been waiting for Everlane's breton stripe tee to be made available for what feels like forever. I bought a J. Crew striped top 3 years ago and it's really starting to show wear, so I'm so happy to have found an ethical and well made replacement. 

This outfit is my comfort zone: basics with simple jewelry and patterned bag. I'd be happy wearing it anywhere. 

The duster-style cardigan is currently on clearance at Nomads for $24.37 USD, if you're interested.

the moral wardrobe: people tree

Ethical Details: Top - People Tree fair trade; Flats - old

I took advantage of the good exchange rate between pounds and US dollars to buy this cheetah print top by People Tree. People Tree is one of my very favorite ethical brands, but I often can't afford it, so I wait patiently for sales and obsessively check exchange rate trends to find the best time to shop. 

I've always been on the fence about cheetah print, but this one is understated. It makes me feel cooler than I am, like I could just get on my motorcycle and ride into the sunset.

the moral wardrobe: where I came from

Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Cardigan - thrifted; Dress - old; Leggings - old; Purse - Manos Zapotecas

When I first started this blog, I eased into things. Rather than go straight to fair trade, I looked up Corporate Social Responsibility standards for the companies I already liked. But, after doing more research, I began to realize that merely placing standards on top of a broken fast fashion system isn't ultimately sustainable. I could no longer justify shopping at old standbys like H&M and Old Navy.

So, I made my decision and I cut ties, but I still had a whole bunch of sweatshop stuff in my closet. For months, I felt uncomfortable that so many components of my every day outfits were unethical and I strove to find ethical replacements to present to you in my outfit posts. But I realize now that that's also unethical. The fact of the matter is that I have stuff that was produced by people in unhealthy environments who didn't receive a living wage. But it would be a greater injustice to throw it all away and get stuff that makes me feel better about myself. I should honor them by cherishing what I have and I should honor the environment by using these perfectly good things until they turn to tatters.

My wardrobe is my journey. Maybe it's good to remember where I came from.

chocolate for valentine's day

equal exchange
image source: Equal Exchange

I'm not really sure why bloggers write weeks of Valentine's Day content considering that the holiday is really just a blip on the holiday schedule. That being said, I think now is maybe the best time to talk about my favorite fair trade food: chocolate.

While fair trade fashion is my first passion, I truly believe that it can't end there. I want to tread lightly in every aspect of my lifestyle and I'm looking to make fair trade and environmentally sustainable items my first choice in every category. I think it's really easy for self described "conscious consumers" to draw lines around our pet project for the sake of our own sanity - it's hard to make better choices all the time from Day One - but we have to remember that environmental and social sustainability are both necessary if we intend to build thriving, considerate communities.

Without further ado, I'll get off my soapbox and present you with my favorite fair trade and sustainable chocolate products:

Equal Exchange


This company was love at first sight (well, taste) for me. Equal Exchange believes in small scale farms and collective ownership; every employee is a part owner. Relying on small, locally run co-ops allows the company to make accurate judgments as to the condition and fairness of work and wages and it also discourages wide scale destruction of native landscapes. I worked at a coffee shop that used Equal Exchange coffee and a representative came to give us steamed milk training (which I loved!). It was great to be able to talk to an employee and get a better sense of the work environment.


equal



Divine Chocolate


This is my second favorite chocolate company. Divine also operates under a co-op structure, with the Ghanaian farmers owning shares in the larger company. They were the first fair trade chocolate bar that attempted to compete in the non-specialty chocolate market and, by all accounts, they've been pretty successful.

n



If you're hunting for the perfect chocolate-y recipes, I suggest:

Or...

Buy some fair trade chocolate hearts at 20% off.

I hope you feel loved this Valentine's Day. And if you're looking for a meaningful movie suggestion, I recommend Take This Waltz.

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Read more ethical Valentine's Day posts:


Valentine's Day - All the Romance Without the Consumerism
by Hannah at Life + Style + Justice