conscious consumerism

#ConsciousLiving: Snapshots and Thoughts from our Kentucky-Ohio Roadtrip

Clifton Gorge in Ohio

Last week, Daniel and I drove 7 hours to Nazareth, Kentucky to attend the annual Kentucky Council of Churches conference at the Sisters of Charity Convent and Retreat Center. You may be thinking: "Why would two Virginians go to a conference tailored to Kentuckians?" Well, I've sort of been keeping a secret for the last year.

I was asked to give back-to-back workshops on Conscious Consumerism! This year's theme was Justice and, while most of the sessions were, quite appropriately, on racial justice and reconciliation, they wanted to include a section on "lifestyle justice," as well. I tailored my talk around a uniquely Christian perspective on what it means to consume ethically, making sure to prioritize empathy, prayer, and meditation. While it matters what we consume, it also matters why we're consuming, and how that dependency on consumption affects us emotionally and spiritually. Right action is good, but it's better if it stems from a change of heart. I used this quote by Doug Frank (read the whole interview - it's great) in the presentation to drive home that point:
If you’ve got a rage for the good, as I did, then shifting your focus from personal morality to social morality doesn’t make you any less of a narrow-minded legalist. Instead of trying to be good enough by not dancing, drinking, lying, or cheating, you’re trying to be good enough according to the standards of social progressivism. It’s still a very tiring treadmill.
Clifton Gorge in Ohio
Daniel and my parents hiking at Clifton Gorge
Speaker on Ethical Consumerism and Fair Trade, Leah Wise
Looking totes profesh at the conference

I identify very strongly with the tiring treadmill of trying to be enough. It's become a huge goal of mine to do the right things out of a deeper calling than just "How do I make people think I'm good? How do I convince myself I'm good?" I believe that, for those raised with a Christian world view in particular, it's vital that we confront that insecurity before we can really make healthy choices. So, while the talk included particular definitions, models, and ethical companies, it was really about taking a hard inward look and growing from there. If anyone wants a copy of the slideshow, I can send it over. Just email me or leave your email in the comments. I don't think the whole thing was recorded, so you'll miss all my antics. Sorry about that. 

wildflowers, Clifton Gorge in Ohio
Wildflowers at Clifton Gorge
Stillhouse at Heaven Hill
The Stillhouse at Heaven Hill
Bubbling Bourbon, Maker's Mark
Yeasty pre-bourbon
We realized a few days before our trip that were would be right in the middle of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, so we spent a day and a half after the conference ended touring distilleries. I'm not a huge fan of bourbon - though I certainly like it more after several tastings - but I LOVE learning. Bourbon is a truly American product with a long, humorous, sometimes harrowing history, and our tour guides at Heaven Hill, Maker's Mark, and Bulleit were extremely knowledgeable. I liked the dark, quiet, spookiness of the stillhouses, too. If you ever want to know about the history of bourbon, I am happy to talk your ear off, but I'll leave you with just one fun fact for now:

For bourbon to be classified as bourbon by the US government, it must be aged in a new, charred oak barrel. While this might seem wasteful at first, the barrel actually gets to take a lively journey around the world, adding warmth and spice to several other aged liquors. After 6-20 years of aging bourbon, barrels are sent to Scotland and used for scotch. Once the aging process is complete there, they're sent to Mexico to age tequila. And finally, nearly 80 years later (if all goes as planned), they'll be sent to the Tropics to age rum. What a life!

the tree with the lights in it, louisville, kentucky
"The Tree with the Lights in it" in Louisville, KY
An explanation of the above caption and my final scattered thought for this post, a quote from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

The Discerning Consumer: 5 Ethical Credentials To Prioritize

5 Ethical Credential to Prioritize for the Conscious Consumer

This is sort of a follow up to my What Is Ethical? post, so I'd recommend brushing up on terms if you're not too familiar with the jargon of the conscious consumer movement. I would make a small change to the original list when it comes to defining sustainable. I previously grouped Eco, Organic, and Sustainable into the same category, albeit with a bit of nuance, but now I tend to think of sustainability in a much broader sense. 

A sustainable business should incorporate practices that are good for the earth, good for all people involved (farmer to consumer), and good for long term profitability and appropriate (not exploitative) growth. 

This piece includes some affiliate links. 

In many ways, this post is meant to illuminate where my ethical efforts are headed, and what I've considered and processed over the last several months. I realize that sometimes my point of view will shift on a particular facet of the conscious consumerism experience, but because it's either articulated in private conversation or simply gets stuck in my head, there's the occasional gap in the narrative on StyleWise, which leads to questions and confusion. 

That being said, you may have noticed that I've become a little bit of an eco-crunchy-hippie, particularly in the last year. Reading the literature on climate change and understanding how interconnected ecological issues are with human welfare has pushed me toward a perspective that gives environmental sustainability near if not equal weight with labor rights. Ensuring worker welfare is tied up in reducing chemical dyes and processes, eliminating harmful pesticides, and making sure the ecosystem that supports those workers survives the onslaught of abuse mass production hurls at it daily.

I think it's hard for a lot of us, maybe particularly those of us who were brought up with human-centric religious and social values, to feel very much when we talk about ecological degradation, and that lack of empathy can hold us back from seeing that this really does matter and that we have a responsibility to be good and gracious stewards of the earth and its resources. 

But, enough philosophizing! This post is actually about my hierarchy of values and how I decide what makes the cut when I'm hankering for a new item to add to my closet or home. The key is remembering that no company is perfect, so progress and apparent interest in improving their supply chain sometimes matters more than having a certification. 

For simplicity's sake, I'm not going to talk about secondhand shopping, because that's an option that exists almost as a secondary market with its own criteria. For more on that, read my personal thrift shopping rules here.

1. Overall Sustainability

Obviously, companies that take a measured, holistic approach to ethical business are my top pick. That means that they take the long view, ensuring worker welfare; creating innovative initiatives that build lasting infrastructure; treating all workers as equal partners in long term growth; creating high quality, marketable designs; and using and/or developing environmentally sustainable processes, textiles, and everything in between. 

Numi Tea does this extraordinarily well, as do Tonle and ZADY, though Eileen Fisher may represent the pinnacle of this responsible, thoughtful business model.

2. Fair Trade Labor Practices

People should not be treated like slaves. Other than the fact that it should inherently be something we're opposed to, it's also bad business practice. Downtrodden people have a hard time innovating. Overworked people have a hard time building lives for themselves and their children that will improve local infrastructure and lift communities and countries out of corruption and poverty. We may not be able to sway leaders in countries where the most dangerous sweatshops are housed, but we can say we aren't okay with allowing some people to get virtually no share of the prosperity good business should bring about. 

Krochet Kids, Elegantees, Mata Traders, Equal Exchange, and Ten Thousand Villages are exemplars of the fair trade movement.

3. Dedication to Environmentally Sound Practices

Just because it's fair doesn't mean it has our ecosystems' best interests in mind. Nearly all commercial dyes used in the clothing industry are toxic, so even if factories are properly ventilated, there's the question of how byproducts are disposed of. Somewhere down the line, someone or something gets hurt. I applaud those companies that have switched over to organic cotton, but cotton is a thirsty crop and, in some ways, that makes it inefficient. Companies that use safely processed bamboo and eucalyptus fibers, repurposed textiles, and factory remnants offer a better alternative. Even better when they use recycled packaging and renewable energy at their factories.

Amour Vert, Naja, Dorsu, and PACT are great examples of this point of view.

4. Made locally or benefits local culture and economy

Sometimes you just want to celebrate local artists! I've eased up a bit on my scrutinizing gaze when it comes to local artisan work and products from local, small scale boutiques. While perfect production standards are an important goal, I think that the key to getting more people on board with conscious consumerism is letting them see the quality of artisan products up close, so supporting small businesses that allow that to happen is key. Items from small scale designers and craftspeople were likely crafted with what we'd consider fair labor practices, but materials sourcing is often murky. Occasionally, local designers will outsource some of their production, but the great thing is that you can actually have a conversation with them about it and figure out why.

Local businesses I love are OESH; Savvy Rest; C'Ville Arts Gallery; and Rock, Paper, Scissors.

5. Messaging with the potential to lead industry change

This bullet point is really about Everlane. Everlane has transparent pricing and used to be pretty good about letting you into their factory practices. I think they've lost some of that accessibility as they've scaled. They also don't share a lot about their textiles or raw materials sourcing. But because of their incredible success, they've encouraged a lot more companies and consumers to consider and start to dismantle the fast fashion industry. Because of companies like Everlane, people are beginning to demand quality products sold with pricing transparency. In many ways, it's given some amount of power back to the people. As long as we keep asking questions, we're on our way to growing the ranks.

I should also mention TOMS and Warby Parker as companies that start the conversation without fully committing to sustainability. Maybe we can work together to push them toward it.


Though this list was written in hierarchical order, I prioritize progress over perfection. Sometimes good design wins the day over the best ethical credentials. Sometimes a company is so innovative in one way that I believe they deserve support, even if they aren't completely with it in every way. And I believe that it's up to the individual consumer to create their own set of standards within the broader umbrella of conscious consumerism.

Conversations with people who don't quite agree with me is what has led me to my current list. It's broadened my view on some points and hyper-focused it on others.

I'm curious to know what you prioritize, and what companies you hold up as industry standards. 

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StyleWise ethical style blog reader survey

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The incentive? More content that is meaningful and relevant to you in your ethical journey.

spotlight: Global Goods Partners Wishlist

Many thanks to Global Goods for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own. 

global goods partners wishlist

Global Goods is a well established fair trade accessories brand (and a member of the Fair Trade Federation!) with a mission to alleviate poverty and promote justice in the global south. As its name implies, Global Goods' partnerships are widespread, extending to 20 countries, from Namibia to Bolivia to Afghanistan and dozens of places in between. It's a central marketplace for independently run co-ops, which ensures that each artisan group can operate according to its specific needs and talents. This is the beauty of the fair trade system: it is meant to be small scale, which means any problems that arise are easy to spot and can be addressed quickly and correctly. That's something a giant corporation simply can't do.

From the looks of their product offerings, Global Goods' curators gravitate toward a lot of the things I love, like super saturated jewel tones, statement jewelry, and richly textured bags. I've highlighted a handful of my favorite things here (clockwise from top left):

I also thought it would be fun to accessorize an outfit I already own with Global Goods items. I would wear this to a grad student get together or a casual weekend dinner out with Daniel.
global goods fair trade outfit
Ethical Details: Skirt - eshakti; Lapis Drop Earrings via Global Goods; Ikat Crossbody Bag via Global Goods; Shoes - Sseko Designs

Global Goods items are beautiful things meant to be treasured. I like to invest once a year or so in a nice, fairly sourced bag that will get me through several seasons in style. It's nice to carry something with me everyday that reminds me of the commitment I've made to tread lightly. What I'm really trying to say is that the Ikat Crossbody purse is the bomb. Their smaller trinkets and accessories would make nice gifts, too. 

What items are on your wishlist this fall?

(I'm still trying to sort out exactly what I want my fall wardrobe to look like. This capsule wardrobe thing is hard for an indecisive person!)


Shop Global Goods Partners here. Follow on facebook, instagram, and twitter

the moral wardrobe: evening light

shadow filigree
ash and rose lattice top
sseko designs sandals
evening light
Ethical Details: Top - Ash & Rose; Cardigan -; Sandals - Sseko Designs; Earrings - Mata Traders

Ah, warm evening light. I love the glow of early evening and the shadow filigree it creates on every surface. 

I've really overbooked myself over the past couple weeks and the madness doesn't end until May, so I've been struggling to keep up with everything and maintain sanity. I've resorted to using my planner again; I hope jotting things down will keep me from waking up in a panic over meetings and appointments several times a night.


P.S. Don't forget to enter the Ecouture giveaway!

the moral wardrobe: snow no

Ethical Details: Cardigan -; Top - Everlane; Jeans - thrifted; Boots - thrifted; Gloves - American Apparel; Scarf - thrifted (a looong time ago)

Pardon any weird facial expressions in these photos - I was desperately trying to avoid snow blindness. We got at least 6-7 inches of snow last Thursday. I took a walk down the street to take in the pristine view, but I tired quickly trudging through the snow and had to circle back within a few minutes. You can see the photos I took on my walk here

I finally bought the Wrapped Cardigan a couple weeks ago and I don't regret it at all! I haven't experimented with any styles, but I love how long and cozy it is, like being in a blanket (Daniel likes to call my obsessive blanket wearing a Leah Burrito). 

Oh! Welcome to all of you who found me through Rachel Held Evans' blog. You can learn more about me or find my favorite ethical retailers by clicking on the About and Resources tabs at the top of the page. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at

the moral wardrobe: frolicking in snow

snow photos
people tree tunic
style wise ethical style blog
thrifted suede coat
Ethical Details: Coat - thrifted; Tunic - People Tree; Leggings - old; Gloves - American Apparel; Vest - thrifted; Boots - thrifted

Another snow day. You know, it's nice to be able to take midday outfit pictures since I'm off work, but it's unsettling to miss so many days. Weather makes a big impact on sales, so I'd like to ask the winter to deal with us more gently. Make it warm, please.

I don't love playing in snow, but forcing myself to act a bit peppier lifted my spirits. My red rain boots are turning out to be the best $3.50 ever spent at the thrift store. In retrospect, I wish I'd spent even more time outside and less time obsessing over the black/blue, white/gold dress controversy. I can't even bring myself to link that for you because I never want to think about it again.

the moral wardrobe: the biggest parka

Ethical Details: Parka - thrifted; Sweater - old; Jeans - Levi's*; Boots - thrifted; Earrings - Mata Traders

Best. Coat. Ever. I love being swaddled in pockets of faux goose down. 

The thrift shop determines snow days by county school closures, so I've been off all week. I went in today anyway and tinkered around for a bit, but I have lots of laundry and packing to do at home because we're headed to Florida on Friday! There's really no better time to flee south.

In other news, I updated the Resources page to include a few more shops, so check it out. And if you're looking for a specific item, feel free to email me at

*Levi's is taking steps to improve working conditions at their factories. Though not quite there yet, they're doing more than most global brands. I bought these more than a year ago and I wouldn't put them on an ethical brands list yet, but it's a step forward, at least.

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.