madeFAIR

Representation in Ethical Fashion: A Conversation with Tavie Meier

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

Ethical fashion has a racial representation problem. While we celebrate the women, predominantly women of color, who make our clothing once a year during Fashion Revolution - and maybe a couple more times around the Holidays - in almost all cases, we see white faces and white cultural expectations plastered across Instagram, in marketing campaigns, and in product photos. This dichotomy hurts people of color because it always establishes white people as saviors and people of color as mere beneficiaries of care.

The reality is far more complicated than that, which is why I reached out to several women in the ethical fashion space to ask difficult questions about representation. I'll be sharing a couple more interviews later on, but today I'd like to introduce you to Tavie Meier. Tavie and I have known each other for a couple of years, having worked together on collaborations when she owned an ethical fashion brand, MadeFAIR. I encourage you to read this interview with openness and understanding, then voice your thoughts in the comments.


StyleWise: You're a person of color working in an industry that is still fraught with a white savior complex. I think you've mentioned before that white people in this space are sometimes seemingly oblivious to the fact that your lived experience is not theirs. Can you elaborate on that dynamic and talk about the issues in the messaging and attitudes of the fair trade and ethical fashion movement?

Tavie Meier: I grew up in Littleton, Colorado and was often the token minority within my friend group. For example, I worked at a movie theater, and the staff dressed-up as James Bond characters for The World is Not Enough premiere. My manager assigned me Solitaire (Jane Seymour in yellow face). I've also been Princess Jasmine, Scary Spice, and as recently as last year, I was expected to be Missandei for a Game of Thrones party. (I wanted to be Margery Tyrell.) Costumes seem harmless, but it's illustrative of how we perceive "the other." I'm more white European than I am Chinese, Arab, or Black, yet I'm still considered “non-white” because of my skin color.

It's like a dripping faucet: the drips, themselves, aren't bad. They get more annoying as time goes on and soon you're fixing your faucet with a sledgehammer.

Fashion Revolution and #whomademyclothes is ethical fashion's dripping faucet.

It perpetuates the racial divide by showing predominately brown women as the benefactors of white women's money. It's a glamorized "White Man's Burden," believing - as a society - poor people require intervention and oversight. It strips them of their fundamental right to privacy.

Sure, sometimes US-based studios post photos of themselves for Fash Rev Week, but those instances are small businesses piggy-backing off Fash Rev's marketing reach. If I'm purchasing a piece from a small studio, I already know who the designer is.

SW: Can you speak more to your point on Fashion Revolution? Is there a way to participate without causing further harm?

TM: I worked on Dorsu's Fash Rev campaign this year, knowing the co-founders, Hanna and Kunthear, wanted to avoid the racial divide we see in the #imadeyourclothes photos that would inundate Instagram that week. The idea of the "How to be an everyday advocate" was a sort-of sequel to Hanna's past Fash Rev article on using the power you already have.  WhatFash Rev is missing is an actual call-to-action that will have measurable results beyond social media impressions, because the easiest way to get an Instagram like is to show your "generosity," and in ethical fashion's current climate, that is really just veiled racism.

SW: It is my theory that part of ethical fashion’s lack of inclusivity has to do not only with continuing white privilege, but with the fact that the fair trade movement as we think of it today was founded by white Evangelical Christians who, however inadvertently, adopted a colonialist mindset when working with artisans outside the US. This implicit/explicit framing attracts white people because we are less able to see the outlines of that problematic framework.

TM: Let me first acknowledge that I wouldn’t exist if not for Food for the Hungry, an Evangelical INGO that my dad worked for in 1980, when he met my mom in a Thai refugee camp for Khmer Rouge survivors.

Having said that, I have a well-documented dislike of charity for reasons that required a 2000-word guest post on the Note Passer.

I don’t think the act of charitable giving is bad – it’s charity structures that are cyclical and unproductive.

The reason I switched from charity to ethical fashion isn’t too different than a lot of ethical fashion founders who have rooted their mission in the New Testament. To be Christian means to be charitable, and, ultimately, they’re combining this fundamental aspect of who they are with capitalism – a cornerstone of the United States.

You know Christian-based brands because they use words like hope and peace in their names, and often quote Bible verses within a click of a landing page. Because charity imagery has historically been colonial (white spokesperson standing next to brown, malnourished person “in need”), some ethical brands may feel they need to use this to show their customers they, too, are “doing good” by making a purchase.

Using words like hope, peace, and [gag] redemption is even more problematic than colonial imagery. Many of these brands work with makers in majority Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist countries and create an association between these countries (and their majority religions) with the absence of hope and peace, in need of “redemption” by way of making purses “designed in Texas (or wherever).” I’ve seen some that make mention they work with Christian organizations, which then makes me wonder if they feel non-Christian or secular organizations are unworthy hope, peace, and redemption, which isn’t very Christian.

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

SW: Some brands say that they "have to use" conventionally attractive, white women for their marketing for things to sell. Do you think this is a legitimate claim? I know that in blogging, for instance, there is some truth to the idea that you'll be more successful if you fit certain stereotypes of attractiveness and behavior.

TM: There’s a marketing principle about how we buy things from people who look like us. It might give this claim some legitimacy, but that's about as much credit as I'm willing to give it.

Saying they "have to use conventionally attractive, white women" means one of two things:

  1. They’re only planning to sell to conventionally attractive, white women.

  2. They don’t mind selling to women of color, but they don’t want our faces and bodies representing their brands.

When ethical brands say they have to use conventionally attractive, white women, I assume they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re trying to emulate images of beauty they see in media, which indicates the types of media they choose to consume. If you’re only following white bloggers and reading news written by white journalists, then of course you’ll believe you need conventionally attractive, white women to sell products.

SW: I've been writing on ethical fashion for over 5 years now and in some ways I'm more discouraged than ever. It seems like the urge to sell-sell-sell has made people cut corners and lose some of the initial thoughtfulness I came here for. What do you think consumers should be paying attention to in order to cut through the marketing BS?

TM: The problem is brands sell what they believe people need or want, and therefore justify their unsavory methods by convincing themselves they're solving a problem or turn a blind eye for the sake of "financial autonomy for the most oppressed people in the world." Therefore, they’re acting in such a way they believe is in the best interests of their businesses. In fact, I bet some people would agree with everything I’ve said here and remain blissfully unaware they’re doing anything wrong.

As a consumer, I do a “selfie test.” I’ll go to a brand’s Instagram account and look for a couple of things:

  1. Tokenism in their editorial photos, meaning the same person of color shows up throughout the entire account.

  2. Are the people in the their “corporate” behind-the-scenes photos disproportionately white compared to the people in their “workshop” behind-the-scenes photos?

  3. Have they been tagged in loads of customer photos but only re-gram the ones of conventionally attractive, white women?

If I notice just one of these happening, then I take my money elsewhere.

I’d also like to make mention that minorities have always felt discouraged by all fashion because of cultural appropriation, sizing, or representation. There’s an equilibrium in ethical fashion, where middleclass (mostly white) women enter it as idealists then feel discouraged. On the other end of the spectrum, women of color enter it already cynical, but with the urge to make it better. For the idealists, being retweeted once will feel like failure, whereas the cynics will view one retweet as one human being listening and identifying to what they have to say.

SW: More and more, I think this movement has to become intersectional. Do you have any suggestions for how to incorporate broader social justice issues into the way we talk about and market ethical fashion?

TM: The best way to do it is to just….do it. As part of an elaborate research project for MadeFAIR (which I haven’t finished yet), I studied audience engagement of five major, ethical fashion brands to see how breaking news affects their Facebook posts. So far (this is ongoing), I found that across the board, audience engagement decreased by an average of 30% after Reuters reported on the GOP’s family separation policy. There was one exception: Eileen Fisher. The reason why theirs increased is because of this post:

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

There’s a chance they promoted this post, but then I went to Instagram and discovered the same announcement received about 5x the number of likes and comments as the posts before and after.

Now, Eileen Fisher received mixed reactions – some people were stoked about this, others were angry their favorite brand used their platform to take a political stance. As a shrewd marketer, I see a brand taking a massive marketing risk that will end up translating to increased sales because, as a consumer, I see “my money” (their profits) donated to a cause I like.

SW: You've been working in this industry for years, both as a business owner and marketer. Have you seen any progress in inclusion? Do you think certain components of the niche actually deter that progress?

TM: I see progress in established brands who, over time, have realized the importance of inclusion.

For example, Mata Traders has not only the most options for extended sizing but also a racially diverse group of models on their website. Tonle also has one of the most lifestyle-inclusive Instagram accounts (I’m 100% here for tattoos and pink hair), and it’s impossible to ignore Everlane actively embracing androgyny and showcasing bloggers from all walks of life – their website taught me the word “gamine.” Even Reformation – the poster child for coolness and leggy models – has started including plus-size women in their social media imagery. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Soko, the first brand (that I noticed, anyway) whose models have always been representative of their jewelry’s cultural roots.

These are all hugely successful, US-based brands who embrace diversity rather than seeing it as a detriment to sales.

However, many new brands seem oblivious to these examples, and that lacking awareness and research is ethical fashion’s biggest hindrance.

Maybe they're using their friends to save money (big mistake - professional models are professional for a reason), or perhaps they've never had to consider how awful it feels to buy your brown child a white Barbie. I doubt they’ve consciously ignored the void of representation, but pair their ignorance and that desire to "do good" with the US’ systematic racism, and what we see is the internalized correlation of brown people with poverty, and white people with wealth and beauty.

Thank you, Tavie!

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

Make Your Black Friday an #ethicalblackfriday

ethical black friday, MadeFAIR + Bead & Reel

What would an Ethical Black Friday look like? 


Because it seems to me that it can't just be about diverting our crazed shopping to ethical companies (Did you know that from 2006-2014, there were 7 deaths and 98 injuries that occurred as a direct result of Black Friday shopping?) Conscious consumerism means taking the time to be more thoughtful: to slow down, look up, and make the best choice we can (and improve lives instead of stampeding over them).

MadeFAIR and Bead & Reel* believe that, too, so this year they're co-hosting #ethicalblackfriday. On Black Friday, both sites will redirect to ethicalblackfriday.com, where you'll be able to purchase just one item - the handwoven, fair trade Linda Scarf - with 50% of proceeds benefiting the Dressember Foundation, which raises money for antitrafficking efforts around the world.

Read the full Press Release below:

Independently owned ethical and sustainable fashion retailers MadeFAIR and Bead & Reel are teaming up for an Ethical Black Friday initiative supporting Weavers Project and the Dressember in a joint statement addressing overconsumption, labor exploitation, and unsustainable fashion practices. 
This Black Friday, both online stores will be offering a new way to shop, shutting down for the day and redirecting to www.ethicalblackfriday.com, where conscious shoppers will have the opportunity to support fair trade practices and this year’s chosen charity—the Dressember Foundation—with the purchase of the limited edition Linda Scarf. Visitors to the site will be encouraged to spend the day investing in experiences with family, friends, or by themselves.They can join the movement by sharing said endeavorson social media with the hashtag #ethicalblackfriday. 
The Linda Scarf is handwoven and fair trade, manufactured in Cambodia by the Weavers Project. It’s 100% unbleached cotton, with charcoal stripes that were hand-dyed using actual charcoal. Half the proceeds will go to Dressember, a 501(c)3 collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to restore dignity to all women and end modern day slavery.  
Transparency is at the center of Ethical Black Friday, and a complete cost breakdown of the scarf is available so shoppersknow what their money is supporting. The price of the $50 scarf accounts for: $25 donated toDressember,$6 towards shipping, $9 profit split between the participating stores, $4 to the individual artisan who wove the scarf, and $6 to be re-invested in education, healthcare, and impact investments in Takeo Province, Cambodia.  
Last year, Ethical Black Friday sold out, offering 100 scarves that raising $2,000 for Made in a Free World. This year, the campaign has grown to include its own websiteand will have 200 scarves available until November 29th (or until they are sold out). Supporters can expect to receive their scarves on December 5th, and flat rate international shipping will be available.  
Both stores will remain closed through Cyber Monday and reopen on Fair Tuesday

While it's inevitable that we'll shop this season, even if just for simple gifts for family and friends, we can start off the shopping season with a meditation on what we need, what we want, and how our purchases affect others. I'll share a list of sales and discount codes over the weekend, but I plan to get outside as much as possible and enjoy the good things this Holiday weekend brings, like family, food, and autumn mountain views.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. See you on the other side.

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Check out more info on Ethical Black Friday here.


the ethical closet: spring closet update

ethical capsule wardrobe madefair thredup This post contains affiliate links.

Though I swore off doing a rigid capsule wardrobe last fall, I'm finding that my personal taste is narrowing in on particular colors and silhouettes that work well together anyway, and that things inadvertently look a bit capsule-y around here.

I used to find simplicity unbearable, but I'm learning that a well-cut garment that fits me correctly can be more beautiful than an unusual print or style. This season, I've updated my closet with a few things that will carry me through summer and into fall. I love knowing that what I'm buying can be worn for months and even years and still look good. Some of my pieces have become like security blankets, things I can fall back on when I'm not up to the task of putting together a complicated look.


MY PICKS THIS SPRING:

(clockwise from top left) 

1. Mata Traders Here and There Dress via MadeFAIR, $64.99
It's not spring without Mata Traders! I was thrilled when the brand introduced cotton jersey to their collection last year, but the colors didn't quite work with my complexion. I'm loving this red for spring and summer. Hand block printed, fairly made in India.

2. National Picnic Organic Cotton Skirt via MadeFAIR, $59.99
I didn't purchase this particular skirt, but the style and print are what I look for in spring skirts. I always hit up the thrift stores for vintage midi skirts and recently found a polka dot chambray one at the shop where I work. I'll be featuring National Picnic on the blog soon, so make sure to come back and learn about the brand. Organic cotton, handmade in the USA.

3. Sseko Designs' D'orsay Flat in Caramel, $89.99
I have poor circulation in my toes, which leaves them feeling cold even when the weather's warm, so I'm betting on these beautiful flats to keep my feet comfortable. The style is perfect for both casual and more formal looks, so I think I'll get a lot of use out of them. Leather sourced from small scale meat industry, fairly made in Ethiopia.

4. Everlane Micro Striped Tee, $18.00
I love Everlane's new pima tees and I can't wait for this one to arrive in the mail. I plan on pairing this subtle pattern with my printed vintage skirts. Milled and ethically made in Los Angeles.

5. Jean Jacket via thredUP, purchased with store credit
I've had this jacket since early fall, but I have a feeling I'll be wearing it all spring. As I explained here, it looks like denim, but it's actually a woven, stretch cotton, so it's super comfortable. Secondhand.

6. Teva Sandals via thredUP, purchased with store credit
These aren't an exact version of the pair I purchased, but I'm glad I took the plunge into slightly ugly footwear, because these are quite comfortable and fully adjustable for the perfect fit. Check out ebay for a better selection of secondhand Tevas. Secondhand.


What are your spring picks? I'd love to know about new ethical brands you've discovered recently, as well.


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!

the moral wardrobe: one stop shopping at Ash & Rose

sustainable clothing at ash and rosecasual ethical outfitethical moto jacket by LUR Apparelethical outfit ash and rose Ethical Details: Top - Seamly.co via Ash & Rose; Jacket - LUR Apparel via Ash & Rose; Earrings - Hannah Naomi via Ash & Rose

One of the struggles with shopping ethically is that you can't always find everything you're looking for in one place. You end up hunting around local shops and online boutiques piecing together your wardrobe and suffering the consequences in the form of high travel and shipping expenses.

Single-brand shops are great, but I like to mix things up, so I really like companies like MadeFAIR* and Ash & Rose that do a great job curating cool things with the conscious consumer in mind.

I've reviewed Ash & Rose once before, but this go round was even more successful than the last. I love this Seamly.co top in black and white stripes because it follows the curves of my body without being too tight or too loose, and the fabric is thicker and holds its shape better than most tees on the market. I'd also been looking for a knit moto jacket for awhile and Ash & Rose had put this one by LUR Apparel in their Clearance section, so it was a great time to scoop it up. LUR uses a recycled fabric blend for their apparel and Seamly.co uses remnant fabrics, so both items were both ethically and sustainably sourced.

Have you found any one stop shops for your ethical and sustainable shopping? I'd love to hear what they are!

*I received a discount on items I purchased from Ash & Rose. I was not required to write this post.

ethical sale alert: proclaiming my undying love for MadeFAIR

MadeFAIR ethical shop sale

My name is Leah and I'm a MadeFAIR addict. From the time I first heard of Tavie Meier's ethical shop, I haven't been able to get enough. Tavie is a welcome addition to the ethical consumer community, with her wealth of insight and no-nonsense approach to changing the industry for the better. I've featured her essays several times and even reviewed one of MadeFAIR's products, the Sseko Designs' Gold Loafers, when the shop first opened.

MadeFAIR is offering its first big clearance sale, with pages and pages of beautifully crafted, well curated ethical items at the lowest prices on the market.


Here are my picks:

(contains affiliate links)

1. Chanda Boat Neck Crop Top, now $28.79
2. Double Chevron Necklace, now $30.00
3. Blue Mist Nomad Bootie, now $90.99
4. Small Vegan Leather Purse in Marble, now $23.09

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Shop the entire sale here. See all of my posts featuring MadeFAIR here


October Favorites, Fair Trade Month Reflections, etc.

october style board fair trade


 This post contains affiliate links.


1. Assefa Scarf from FashionABLE // 2. .02 Tee from Zady // 3. Gotta Jet Set Jeans from ModCloth // 4. Simple Bow Earrings from MadeFAIR // 5. The Melbourne from Krochet Kids // 6. Mimosa Watch from WeWOOD // 7. The Cashmere Cardigan from Everlane // 8. Harper Chukka from Nisolo

Hey! It's Fair Trade Month! This Fair Trade Month feels a lot more low key than previous ones and I think it's because, for more and more people, every month feels like a celebration of what fair trade does for communities. It's awesome to look back over the last three or so years and see that things have progressed, and in more ways than one!

We're not only talking about fair trade more, we're starting to think about our environmental impact and broader sustainability issues. Companies are gladly providing greater transparency and even fast fashion companies know that something's gotta give in their unsustainable supply chains.

Even though the news is bleak and the ocean of injustice is impossible to swim across alone (maybe we can do it relay style?), I know we can make a difference, because I can see how far we've already come. So let's celebrate people power and look for more ways to be kind: to others, to ourselves, and to the earth and everything it sustains.

This month also marks the one year anniversary of my switch to Blogger from WordPress and my ever-so-slight re-branding. It's been great to work with so many cool brands, reviewing their carefully crafted goods, supporting their fundraising campaigns, and doing giveaways. I feel like I have a much better grip on what I want collaborations with brands to look like after several months of tweaking my media kit.

And I'm so thankful for the rapid growth in blog readers and Instagram followers Style Wise has had in the past year. The whole point, after all, is for people to read, learn, and be encouraged to take small steps toward intentional shopping and living.

Also, I have to give a shout out to the Ethical Writers Co. gang, who have supported and challenged me through this year of exploring what it means to be an ethical style blogger and have given me the confidence to seek outside writing and public speaking opportunities. Here's to many more years taking things seriously and writing my heart out.

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.
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