Notes on best practices and sustainability of the secondhand and thrift economy from a thrift shop manager, who happens to be me.
Written by Alice Robertson, a professional organizer and tidying consultant, for StyleWise
A note from Leah: In today's fast paced consumer economy, where items are purchased and discarded without a second thought, it's important to remember that "tidying up" can function merely as a release valve for overconsumption, personal guilt, and overwhelm. We should be careful to cultivate a type of consumption that releases us from this cycle, but in the meantime, it's good to know how to start the process of paring down for good.
It wasn’t too long ago that decluttering one’s home meant stuffing garbage cans and dragging oversized items out to the curb. Diminishing landfill space — today, 2,000 landfills hold more than 200 million tons of municipal waste — and a growing environmental consciousness have altered the way Americans dispose of waste and objects that create clutter. Eco-friendly decluttering is a deliberate, purposeful process that emphasizes recycling and finding ways to dispose of objects that can’t be simply thrown out. Protecting our environment requires everyone’s participation, so consider the following ideas for reducing, recycling and reusing.
Textiles account for a massive amount of the total material that’s sent to landfills. In 2014, more than 16 million tons of textile waste was produced, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The majority of that bulk — over 10 million tons of clothing, bedclothes, and mattresses — wound up in landfills. Old mattresses make up a considerable amount of textile wastage, despite the fact that much of the material inside a mattress is recyclable. So, contact a local recycling center to see if they have a mattress reclamation and recycling program. The American Textile Recycling Service has collection bins in communities across the US where you can leave old clothing, bedding, and other textile items instead of throwing them away. Find a drop-off location near you by calling 866-900-9308 24 hours a day.
Instead of tossing old clothing into the trash, make a trip to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a local thrift shop with a mission that aligns with your values every month to keep textile waste from overwhelming your living space (call ahead to make sure that the shop has the infrastructure to send unsaleable items to textiles recycling facilities).
Or, take advantage of the second-hand economy by taking your unwanted clothing to consignment stores, holding a garage sale, or by selling them online on Ebay, Poshmark, or Etsy. It’s a great way to make decluttering pay off (literally) and recycle items that could benefit someone else. It’s certainly better than sending more waste to the local landfill; you can learn more by clicking here.
Appliances and Electronics
Decluttering can become a hassle when it comes to disposing of oversized items such as appliances and electronics. Check with appliance retailers who sometimes offer buyback programs to encourage consumers to recycle. If that old refrigerator in the basement still works, consider donating it to a homeless shelter or an orphanage. If, like many people, your drawers are jammed full of old computer keyboards, cast-off cell phones, cracked tablets, chargers, and other debris from outmoded electronic items, be aware that most communities have recycling facilities that make it easy to declutter all that drawer space in an environmentally responsible manner (many electronics retailers also have buyback programs).
Not only has technology made our lives easier, but it can also be put to work to help Mother Nature. What you need to declutter all those old documents and photos are a computer, an internet connection, and a scanner. Once you’ve scanned everything you want to keep, simply upload it to the cloud, where it can live forever at your fingertips and readily accessible.
Digital decluttering also lets you clear out computer downloads, unsubscribe from newsletters and email lists, clear out browser extensions, and better organize your images.
Clean and Green
Another not-to-be-overlooked benefit of eco-friendly decluttering is the opportunity to give your home a thorough cleaning. In keeping with the environmentally responsible theme, use natural and non-toxic cleaning substances that won’t threaten your family or the environment. Supermarkets and hardware stores offer many green cleaning options these days so you don’t have to default to the same bleach-based products you’ve always used.
If you prefer a more homespun approach, use common household substances like baking soda, lemon juice, or vinegar to clean the bathroom, get stains out of carpeting and upholstery, and deodorize your indoor air. Some of the safer cleaning products on the market are instantly recognizable (such as Bon Ami), while others, such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, are made from natural substances and can be used to clean everything from floors and dishes to your body.
Decluttering frees you from the stress and strain of agonizing over what to do about unwanted and unneeded possessions. It’s a way of preserving the natural environment and making resources last longer. The next time you look around your house in despair, try thinking of decluttering as a freeing and self-empowering initiative and an opportunity to recycle and reuse.
Does it spark joy?
Sigh...So I've mentioned in pretty strong terms that I didn't like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It struck me as a dangerously short sighted trend meant to replace a sense of meaning in our lives with some superficial platitudes and an even more concentrated obsession with the things we consume.
But recently I sat down and watched a few episodes of the new Tidying Up with Marie Kondo series on Netflix, and two things stuck out:
Marie Kondo is an absolute delight.
The KonMari method is surprisingly subjective and forgiving.
Because the basis of Kondo's method is the questions, "does it spark joy?" there's actually quite a bit of room to keep things that aren't practical, to remain in your cozy and eccentric home instead of going full on The Minimalists. That is very comforting to me.
That being said, the KonMari method can still be dangerous from a sustainability and even mental health perspective. I worry that this second wave of tidying up will result in essentially the same outcome as the last one: lots of junk in thrift stores and seemingly no reduction in long term consumption of new goods. As a thrift shop manager, I have been carefully tracking the trend and asking customers and donors if they're watching the show. Many of them are, but the influx at my tiny local shop is nowhere near what's being reported in elsewhere.
All that to say, this system isn't perfect but, if you have some clarity of mind and are ready to downsize, it can be an effective way to frame your decisions. After I got back from living out of a backpack for ten days, I felt ready to finally clear out my overstuffed closet. Scroll down for some Before and During the #konmari process photos.
I went through the items in my fall/winter wardrobe by themselves before moving onto spring/summer, partially because it's harder to judge an out-of-season item by the joy standard when it's not currently serving a meaningful function in my closet.
Rather than adopt Kondo's vertical folded storage, I opted to keep my hanging shelves, folding my t-shirts, non-wrinkle prone blouses, and sweaters. This works just as well and makes better use my of space. In addition to clearing out five bags of clothing, I also condensed shoes, bags, and accessories. Using the joy method helped me clear out things that I like but that made me itchy, fit me poorly, or made me feel sad when I wore them. I will be donating things to a local charity shop and also selling niche items on Poshmark.
What's in my closet?
My Closet Staples
Affiliate links below
My basic fall/winter wardrobe consists of thermal long sleeve tops, cashmere and wool sweaters (I recommend thrifting these), and mid and high rise denim.
Thrifted Striped Tees
Secondhand LL Bean Cashmere
I also have a few statement pieces in my wardrobe. They don't get as much wear from day to day, but they keep me feeling excited about my clothes.
My Statement Pieces:
A secondhand nubby blazer
Tonle Zero Waste Crop Top (for layering)
It's only been three weeks since my closet clean-out, but I can say that it's made me more appreciative of the things that are true workhorses in my closet. Whereas before I was keeping things around "just in case" I needed them, now the things in my closet more accurately reflect my lifestyle and my sense of fashion. It's important for me to constantly remind myself of that and ask the "does it spark joy?" question when considering anything else I add into my closet. Otherwise, the experiment will fail.
Ethical Blogger Closet Tours:
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address,
August 16, 1967
...There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, Who owns the oil? You begin to ask the question, Who owns the iron ore? You begin to ask the question, Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water? These are questions that must be asked.
Now, don't think that you have me in a bind today. I'm not talking about communism.
What I'm saying to you this morning is that communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
If you will let me be a preacher just a little bit—One night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down in the kind of isolated approach of what he shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying. He didn't say, Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that. He didn't say, Nicodemus, you must not commit adultery. He didn't say, Nicodemus, now you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively. He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic—that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down in one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, Nicodemus, you must be born again.
He said, in other words, Your whole structure must be changed. A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them—make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.
What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, America, you must be born again!
So, I conclude by saying again today that we have a task and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality, integrated education. Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity. Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.
Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied...
This post is part of the Complexity series: posts intended to explore social justice and ethics issues with nuance, understanding, and ultimately hope. I will bring in several guest writers throughout the series, so stay tuned.
Written by Stephanie Villano and originally published on Here & There Collective. Reposted with permission.
Even if you aren’t vegan, you’ve probably noticed that veganism has been gaining a lot of momentum in the last year or so, and seems generally accepted as more of a mainstream lifestyle instead of a fad.
With so much more visibility, you’ve probably also heard the lifestyle referred to or promoted as “cruelty free.”
The unofficial mantra of the ethical vegan movement, the phrase is proudly emblazoned on vegan apparel and handbags, or hashtagged in social media posts promoting the lifestyle.
Ethical vegans abstain from consuming or using any products made from or tested on animals with the goal of willfully causing as little harm to other living beings as possible. By refusing to participate in industries that exploit and commodify animals, many ethical vegans bill their lifestyle as one that is free from cruelty.
As someone who has been keen to shed labels as of late, I would still identify as an ethical vegan if pressed to describe my philosophical beliefs - they’re by and large in line with the ethos of the movement.
But, labeling an entire lifestyle as free from cruelty is misguided
I can understand the impulse and the appeal of using the phrase "cruelty free" in the context of describing the conscious choice to eschew products made from harming animals - living a life without harming bringing intentional harm to other living beings is the very essence of living a cruelty free life, after all. And I am certainly guilty of using the term “cruelty free.” But, I’ve been trying to become more aware of when and how I use it and honestly think the movement should let the phrase go entirely.
So does context.
And I think it’s important to consider the ways in which labeling an entire lifestyle “cruelty free” as inaccurate and actually undermines the overall message - which is to live a life intentionally and consciously, with kindness.
TO MY KNOWLEDGE, THERE EXISTS NO LIFESTYLE THAT IS ENTIRELY CRUELTY FREE
CALLING VEGANISM “CRUELTY FREE” DISCOUNTS, MINIMIZES, AND EVEN ERASES FROM THE CONVERSATION THE MYRIAD OTHER ISSUES WRAPPED UP IN OUR FASHION AND FOOD SUPPLY CHAINS… PARTICULARLY AS IT PERTAINS TO HUMAN SUFFERING.
Honestly, unless you’re eating hyper local, package free, organic, in-season whole foods, making your own clothes, or buying second hand - well, your lifestyle isn’t cruelty free. (and congratulations if you’re able to live up to that standard- but I would imagine that it’s not practical or possible for the lot of us)
I realize that the focus of the ethical vegan movement is to promote the idea that animals are not ours to use or consume, but a lifestyle that is supposed to be about compassion toward all living things should consider human beings as well.
So even though your vegan meal might be absent from intentional cruelty to animals, there might be some ingredient that involved cruelty to people at some point in its supply chain.
For example, how did the bounty of fruits and vegetables get to your local grocery store?
From tropical fruits like mango and dragon fruit piled high in bins in markets in New England, to bright red tomatoes of all shapes and sizes available to shoppers in Chicago in February, we’ve grown accustomed to enjoying a veritable cornucopia of whole foods all year long.
Each and every piece of fruit and vegetable we enjoy was picked, packed, and processed by a human being. If out of season, those same fruits and vegetables were shipped many miles to reach the produce section of your local market, adding to its carbon cost.
And while we might envision idyllic family owned farms brimming with succulent fruits being happily picked by farmers, the sad truth is that the industrialized agricultural industry is rife with human rights violations and what is tantamount to modern day slavery and debt bondage.
No one knows the extent to which modern day slavery is prevalent in agricultural work, but it is certainly a known problem and the most at risk are seasonal workers who are tasked with the grueling and laborious job of harvesting, enduring long hours in harsh conditions.
If you’ve ever enjoyed fruits or vegetables out of season, there’s a good chance they came from Mexico. As the United States’ largest exporter of fresh produce, Mexico is responsible for much of the fresh fruit and vegetables we find, year-round, in our grocery stores.
In 2014 the Los Angeles Times uncovered cruel and inhumane living and working conditions endured by thousands of workers across farms in Mexico. Laborers were found crammed into dirty, rat-infested housing units, many of which lacked beds, and some which lacked functioning toilets or a reliable supply of water.
Wages were often illegally held from workers to prevent them from leaving during peak harvesting periods. There are many reports of workers who attempt to leave, but are subsequently captured and beaten.
Furthermore, as seems to be common in the agricultural industry, workers were forced to pay inflated prices for necessities at company stores, which often put them into debt. Many workers end the season with nothing to show for it because their entire pay goes to paying off their debt. The inability to save despite working long hours is part of what keeps many of these laborers in cycles of poverty. And this is just one investigation. There are countless other examples of exploitation, forced labor, child labor, and wage disputes happening all over the world, including in the United States, on farms where our fruits and vegetables are grown.
Not All Vegan Diets Are Created Equal
You might be the vegan who eats exclusively plant-based whole foods, but you also might be the vegan who subsists on Fritos, Doritos, Oreos, fast-foods, meat substitutes, and other unhealthy, heavily packaged, processed, unsustainable palm-oil laden delicacies.
We all know that plastic is a major environmental pollutant, so one can hardly call their lifestyle cruelty free if it actively contributes to our collective plastic problem.
We also know that unsustainable agricultural practices, most notably palm oil production, are destroying entire ecosystems and displacing and endangering the futures of the species who live in them. In the last twenty years, orangutan habitat has decreased by 80% in Indonesia, where much of the world’s palm oil is grown. Other species, like elephants and tigers, are also at risk.
There are ethical vegans who might take issue with all the above by raising the point that while crop farming might be exploitative to workers and destructive to the environment, it is not an inherently cruel industry. With major overhauls and proper legislation, work can be done to find solutions to these problems. And, as ethical vegans will tell you, animal agriculture is , on the other hand, inherently cruel, because there is no humane way to take the life of another living being.
And that brings me to my next point.
Calling One's Lifestyle "Cruelty Free" Can Lead to Moral Licensing
The smug self-satisfied vegan is a well worn stereotype. I think the majority of vegans would fall outside of this stereotype, but it does have its merits. Beyond the stereotype, it’s easy to imagine that one might use their so-called cruelty free lifestyle to excuse, or license, other potentially negative or harmful behaviors and actions they might choose to engage in. “I haven’t eaten meat for like 20 years so it’s okay if I occasionally use products containing unsustainable palm oil.” or “I am making better choices for animals and the planet every single day, so it’s okay if I occasionally buy clothing made from unsustainable materials.”
Also related to this is the notion that one’s “cruelty free” lifestyle is morally superior to anyone who isn’t living “cruelty free.”
This ignores the fact that not everyone has access to healthy vegan foods, and may lack the resources to regularly buy them - especially in the United States where farm subsidies aren’t offered to specialty crops- which includes most fruits and vegetables. As a result, the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables are higher in comparison to other foods like dairy, processed meats, and corn-containing products.
Regardless of how we all identify or characterize ourselves, we should never become complacent and ignore any of the consequences our choices have on a much larger scale. Calling for the end of using “cruelty free” to describe veganism might sound nit-picky. But as someone who wants to promote the benefits of veganism for all its wonderful attributes, it’s important we acknowledge its shortcomings.
Only then can we truly begin to make progress toward a more compassionate and sustainable future for everyone.
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Bear with me as I try to get back into illustrated posts.
I used to do these -
- but back then I was physically sketching them out on paper then adding color on the computer. It took forever. This one was done digitally from start to finish. There's room for improvement, for sure, but I am really happy that it seems doable. I'm hoping to doodle a lot more this year.
This is what I packed for 10 days in Florida in December. The weather hovered in the high 70s most of the time and I washed all my clothes halfway through the trip. I actually brought two other pairs of pants, but I didn't end up wearing them. The best part is that all of this fit into my trusty old Jansport backpack, which I've been using since 2004!
What I Packed for 10 Days in Florida
1 | Fair Indigo Essential Scoop Tee, 32.90
Soft and thick organic pima cotton makes this a really durable piece for travel.
2 | Everlane Cotton Crew Neck, $15
I no longer recommend the Everlane v-necks because the necklines tend to roll in the wash, but the crew necks have a stiffer neck and look new forever. I own three and will probably buy a couple more when the weather warms up.
3 | Everlane Boat Neck in Stripe, $22
This striped pattern is my very favorite. I own it in the boatneck and a crewneck and somehow it goes with everything, plus the black is soft enough to mix with navy.
4 | Everlane Pima Micro Rib Open V-neck, $28
I own practically every version of Everlane's pima rib knit collection because they are simply perfect: lightly insulating, flattering fit, and they hold up really well, too.
Durable and water repellant, this bag is a great size for travel and is flexible enough to throw into luggage if you've maxed out your personal item limit on the flight.
6 | Known Supply Custom Embroidered Tee, $28 + $10 for embroidery
Mine says my last name, but I have another one that says Do Re Me. I love how fun these are, and they're made with super soft pima cotton, too.
With two of my BFFs, Mary and Amanda, in St. Augustine
7 | Secondhand Peach Oxfords (similar)
My sister bought me these wonderful statement oxfords at a consignment store. They're made with really soft leather and were the perfect shoe for exploring St. Augustine on a moderate weather day.
8 | Melissa x Jason Wu Sandals (similar)
I bought these on clearance a few years ago. They're not super eco-friendly, but Melissa claims to be able to recycle the plastic material if you send them back in. The great thing about them is that they're completely washable and don't really show signs of wear.
9 | Everlane Day Glove Flat in Rose, $115
I decided to try to wear these in on my trip and it didn't work perfectly. I ended up with an open cut on my ankle, but they are loosening up now and hopefully will be comfortable by Virginia springtime.
10 | Molly Virginia Made Earrings, $65
I bought these with some saved up consignment credit at local shop, Darling Boutique. They are lightweight but make an impact, perfect for a trip where you're packing pretty minimally.
My go-to for comfort, I like these jeans but don't love them. I wish they had a zip front instead of the button fly, because the stretch material pulls a bit at my hips and creates minor gaping. Still, these were great for long plane and car rides.
12 | Thrifted Polka Dot Skirt
A classic, straight-cut skirt in easy to pack rayon. I wore this a lot because the weather ended up being hotter than I expected.
I have A LOT of Everlane. Whoa. I'm still waiting for that other shoe to drop that reveals they're hiding something, but I do have to say that their stuff is my absolute favorite. It's versatile, fits me well, and holds up for years and years (with a few exceptions).
Overall, I was super happy with what I packed. Everything went together without being boring. There were a few opportunities for interesting pattern mixing and color combinations and I didn't really get tired of anything!
What should I doodle next?
Before I delve into this post, let me first say that I believe very strongly that bloggers, influencers, and other creatives deserve to be compensated for their work as marketers, writers, and storytellers. I have known other bloggers to burn out because they *don't* believe that, but that isn't my story.
January is a slow time for sponsorships, which is understandable because we're all exhausted from the Holiday push. But the handful of pitches I've received from brands, though well intentioned and personable, are just not doing it for me anymore.
You would think that there would be no shortage of want on my end; it's human nature to want. I used to perk up at mention of free goods and quickly imagine the ways each new item would benefit my wardrobe.
It's always been easy for me to "make it work" stylistically, and that means I've been happy to bring new things in at a pretty frequent pace. Sure, I didn't, strictly speaking, "need" an embroidered keychain or another pair of shoes, but that's one of the perks of this job. And I thought that if I believed in the company's mission and felt the collaboration rate was fair, there was really no reason to say no.
But now I find myself wanting to say no to gifted product.
I have mentioned several times (here, instance) that the combination of receiving free product and mindlessly scrolling Instagram was doing a number on my sense of style and, in effect, the self-narration that builds my personal identity. I didn't like this new me because I wasn't having any fun.
But I deleted my brand Instagram account in November and decided not to pursue any sponsored posts in December, determined to take a much needed break to enjoy time with family and friends both in Charlottesville and back in Florida, where I grew up.
I am fresh from my Florida getaway, a physical break I thought would revive all my previous passions, but I'm still feeling off, like what I've been doing isn't what I need to be doing moving forward.
The reality is that I simply don't want free stuff anymore.
Do I want to be compensated for my dedicated brand coverage?
Do I want to work with brands in a sponsored capacity?
What I don't want, however, is to either be beholden to reviewing what the brand wants me to review without consideration for my personal taste or to be offered free product in lieu of monetary compensation.
The Psychology of Investment
I want to shift the scale from one that is purely convenience-minded to one that is authentic, and not social media "authentic" in the *increase your following on Instagram in three easy steps* kind of way.
Authenticity, to me, means two things:
I only review things I picked out
I forked over some cash for it
This might sound counterintuitive under a sponsorship model, but I think it makes sense from a psychological perspective. When you have to give something up for the thing you want, you inherently make better choices. Things that come at a cost take consideration, and the price point becomes a part of the evaluation of the item in terms of quality and worth.
In his 2015 piece on the subject of spending more on fashion purchases, Marc Bain writes:
Researchers have found that the insula—the part of the brain that registers pain—plays a role in purchase decisions. Our brain weighs the pleasure of acquiring against the pain of paying. As clothing prices decline, that pain does too, making shopping easy entertainment, disconnecting it from our actual clothing needs.
Under a free stuff model, try as you might you can't really understand what it feels like to slap down $200. I know this well, because in "real life," I am a bargain shopper who shops almost exclusively at thrift stores. The disparity between that person and blogger-Leah can be profound depending on the item and my frame of mind.
So, I'm not saying that I'm kissing sponsored posts goodbye. But what I'm suggesting (and am very curious about from a brand perspective) is whether it would be possible to create a collaboration structure that comes at a cost to both of us: sponsoring brands pay me fair market value and I am responsible for purchasing product for review. I feel the strain of investing in ethical goods but I'm still compensated for my skills.
Changing the Narrative
In addition to the psychological question of receiving free stuff, I think requiring a give and take from brands and marketers in the personal style category may actually improve the marketing relationship because the result is measured, intentional partnership.
When brands "pay" primarily in free stuff, their marketing strategy can sometimes appear like a last ditch effort rather than a labor of love.
I mean, just look around: the ethical fashion space is overflowing with the same sweater, the same wide leg pants, the same perfect bralette. While it's true that potential customers need several "touch points" with a brand or product before they decide to make a purchase, at some point they'll start ignoring the product altogether, feeling like each new review is proof not of popularity but of inauthenticity.
When the goods are flowing freely, where is the accountability? Where is the minimalism, the slow living, the sustainability?
Things have just gotten...overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that the longer we entrench ourselves in a model that places the priority on the free stuff rather than professionalizing the field, the more we ultimately hurt ourselves as bloggers, and confuse our readers in the process. It may be a profitable policy for brands now, but it's not building the kind of infrastructure befitting a truly sustainable company.
(There's also a case to be made for a totally reimagined sponsorship model that works more like traditional print media, or like a podcast. In that model, a post like this one could be sponsored by a brand and contribute to the longterm running of this blog while not being directly linked to a product review. That would be fun, too, but I'm not so sure I'll get a lot of people on board with it.)
But I digress. I'm just feeling frazzled and aimless, and wanting to get back that free form drive I had in the early days. I think I'll get there, but it's going to take continual reimagining of what's possible for this space. For now, I'm saying no to free stuff and saying yes to taking myself seriously both as a professional with marketable skills and a person in need of equilibrium.
P.S. If you're a brand who likes (or doesn't like) my suggested sponsorship model, reach out. Let's talk about it!! (My Contact Form is in the sidebar)
Bloggers, readers, and brands: what do you think of this proposed collaboration model? Would it work?
While I don't subscribe to a consumption practice that demands certifications from every brand I support, there is no question in my mind that certifications are good for the garment and consumer goods industries.
Certifying agencies set a minimum standard for a particular ethos, such as fair labor or organic textiles, then require companies to pay for regular auditing in order to receive certification status.
Of course, this strategy is not free of loopholes, and certifying agencies like Fair Trade USA have been accused of being too generous in their approval process - which led them to
in 2012 - because they let large scale brands like Starbucks take advantage of the fair trade label without fully understanding the complexities of the global fair trade coffee sourcing industry (Bruce Wydick, a journalist I really admire, wrote about
). Fair Trade USA argues that their intention was to use the standard more consistently across industries, and having heard a representative from the agency speak at the
in September, I do think they are trying.
Despite inconsistencies and disagreements within agencies and from consumers, certifying agencies, at the very least, provide a framework for understanding what we mean when we use "ethical" terminology.
And this also helps companies that aren't certified, because it means they have a set of metrics to weigh their process against.
So, certified or not, we can use the language of certifications to express what our goals are when producing and consuming goods, and that's a good place to start. (Note that I originally gathered this data for a post on garment industry certifications, so please let me know in the comments if you know of others that apply to food and other consumer industries.)
Labor Certifications (Fair Trade)
According to the World Fair Trade Organization, fair trade is:
"...a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South…”
The following certifications ensure that basic fair trade standards are being met:
Fair Trade Federation
US based, the Fair Trade Federation works to build sustainable, long term partnerships with marginalized artisan communities.
Fair Trade Certified/Fair Trade USA
“The leading independent third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in North America,” Fair Trade USA offers certification to producers of both food and textiles.
Fair Trade America
Fair Trade America is the US arm of Fair Trade International and operates under its standards. Members include food companies like Divine Chocolate and Ben & Jerry's, but they also certify cotton.
Fair For Life
Founded in Switzerland, The Fair For Life credential applies to both food and textile products, and currently boasts over 3,000 products under its certification program.
World Fair Trade Organization
Founded in 1989, WFTO is one of the world’s largest fair trade certifiers, with over 324 networked organizations across the world. All certified organizations must meet the WFTO’s
, which includes environmental stipulations.
While fair trade certifications operate under a unifying set of values regarding labor rights and sustainable empowerment, environmental certifications tend to be more specific.
As you’ll see below, these certifications deal with a particular environmental concern and, as a result, eco-friendly companies are often certified under more than one standard.
Used internationally, OEKO-TEX is a textile certification program that ensures that fabrics are safe. The organization checks for toxic dyes, banned chemicals, and other toxic substances to ensure consumer and environmental health.
The leading certifier for organic textiles, GOTS, which stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, sets a universal definition for what constitutes the category “organic” when it comes to fibers like cotton and wool. In addition, textiles companies must make a commitment to exclude toxic dyes and chemicals.
Rainforest Certified products that bear the green frog label must meet several standards that protect for biodiversity, safe pesticide use, natural resource conservation, human flourishing, and a commitment to continuing improvement.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certifies that palm oil distributed under its label is harvested sustainably and fully traceable throughout the supply chain. This certification is somewhat contentious, with critics arguing that it is actually impossible to fully trace palm oil.
There is no question that fair trade and environmental certifications are useful. But while they build trust with consumers, they don’t always tell the full story. Businesses that seek to be sustainable in the long term must weave social responsibility into every aspect of their process, from corporate environment to textile sourcing to waste reduction.
These holistic certifications see the big picture.
Cradle to Cradle
With a focus on preventative measures, Cradle to Cradle certifies that businesses have made an effort to decrease energy, water usage, and waste in their supply chain in addition to using nontoxic processes and treating workers and communities fairly.
Based in the US but open internationally, B-Corp Certification is tailored toward for-profit social enterprises that seek to meet high transparency standards along with responsible labor and environmental practices.
Can you believe it?
StyleWise turns 6 years old TODAY.
And rather than spend a lot of time reflecting - because, honestly, I've done a bit too much of that lately - I want to open up the floor to you with...
Six Questions for Readers
1 | When did you first learn about exploitation in the fashion industry? How has it changed you?
About 6.5 years ago, which is why I started this blog!
2 | What are your favorite resources (podcasts, books, influencers, blogs, etc.) for discovering industry news, ethical fashion brands, and other ethical explorations?
I follow a lot of EWC members who share links on our forums, but I like Alden at EcoCult for her investigative work.
3 | What brands and styles are you currently into? What product is on your wishlist (ethical or not)?
I have been really into Camper's funky shoes and over the top statement earrings, but nothing's on my wishlist right now.
4 | What TV shows are you currently into?
Daniel and I are rewatching Friends. And I must admit that I'm sort of into the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix (though it's making me anxious to clean everything).
5 | How do you take your coffee?
I like it with steamed oat milk. I've also been making "hot toddies" with ginger tea, honey, and bourbon whenever my sinuses or throat need some TLC.
6 | Where do you live? Where would you ideally like to live?
Charlottesville, Virginia. Long term, I think I'd like to live closer to family, so maybe in Florida? But I do love this part of the country.
To longtime readers and newbies alike: Thanks for following along! StyleWise has been and continues to be an interesting journey and I keep doing it because of people like you.
Happy New Year!
Last year, I wrote a post on my 8 Achievable Goals for the New Year as an experiment. I had not, historically, lived up to my resolutions, either because they were too daunting or somewhat inane. But I really put some thought into it last January - and made sure to frame them as "achievable" - which resulted in fulfilling almost all of them, some to a higher standard than I anticipated.
Before I launch into this year's goals, I'll briefly go over last year's objectives:
Wear one weird thing everyday.
This was part of a year-long effort to "get back" my personal style after feeling overwhelmed by sponsored products and social media "inspiration." I am so happy to say that it worked, and I feel a lot more comfortable in my clothes.
Throw more "crappy dinner parties."
This didn't happen really, but I did spend less time worrying about how clean my house was before letting people stop by, so that's something.
I didn't dance more, but I sang A LOT more.
Streamline my work schedule.
I totally failed on this one. Adding it in again this year.
Read 10+ books
Maintain a part time income through blog and freelance work.
Yes! I doubled my income over last year actually.
Learn the power of saying no to things that aren't right for me.
I learned this the hard way, saying yes to some things that epically backfired. So I think I achieved this goal?
Write something and get it published.
I wrote my e-book in a frenzy of inspiration earlier this year. I'm really proud of it and even met my financial goal for sales this year.
This year, I'm building on what I learned in 2018, but also setting some more mindful goals that help me pivot toward the life I really want to build for myself.
My 7 Achievable Goals for 2019
1 | Stay off Instagram!
I wrote a post about quitting Instagram nearly a year ago, but it took a complete breakdown to get me to do it. I wasted countless hours, money (buying into giveaways), and energy trying to maintain a platform that I never really enjoyed. This year, I want to be firm with myself about staying away from the Instagram rat race even if that means reduced sponsorship opportunities on my blog (which it most certainly will).
2 | Go on two walks a month.
An achievable goal, for sure, walking always clears my head and makes me appreciate my body.
3 | Do morning prayer every morning.
The Episcopal church follows the liturgical calendar, which means it has set Bible readings and prayers for each day. As a part of my discernment for ministry in the church, I am encouraged to maintain a daily mindfulness and prayer life. I am determined to get in the habit this year.
My sister - this is from our New York trip in June
4 | Read 5+ books on social justice, civil rights, and/or lived theology.
I feel a need to have a more robust understanding of theological and social justice frameworks. I'm planning on reading works by Walter Brueggemann, Martin Luther King Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, and Saul Alinsky, but would appreciate any suggestions, particularly books and essays written by people of color past and present who ground their work in religious practice.
5 | Boost my affiliate/passive income and make ~$500 a month on the blog.
I am a little burnt out on the blogging rat race, but think that I am well situated to maintain high affiliate sales that will help me boost my savings account. I'm not going to try to make more money than last year because that really burned me out. But I want to continue to be strategic about monetization in a way that feels authentic and manageable.
6 | Value my friendships with women.
Both IRL and online, I rely on the accountability and support of strong, intelligent women. This year, I want to be more intentional about cultivating my relationships with them, scheduling more phone calls, coffee dates, and excursions. They mean so much to me!
7 | Prioritize my mental health.
I grew up in a household where mental illness and therapy were stigmatized. I am also very stubborn when it comes to admitting I need help, so I have gone several years and endured a number of obvious mental health breaks without seeking professional help. I had been telling myself my current issues all stemmed from August 12th, 2017 in Charlottesville, but over the last few weeks of winter break I've been tracing symptoms back several years and linking them to a series of relational traumas that occurred over the last fifteen years. Even typing this out makes me nervous, because I don't want to be beholden to this goal. But I think I need to seek out regular treatment. It's time to stop feeling ashamed that I'm "weak."
Photos taken by me in 2018
Charity Update: In 2018, I donated a combined $420 to the ACLU and the Xerces Society for Pollinator Conservation
Welcome to the Complexity series: posts intended to explore social justice and ethics issues with nuance, understanding, and ultimately hope. I will bring in several guest writers throughout the series, so stay tuned.
The US political climate in the Trump age is burdensome to say the least.
Fear yields anxiety yields rage yields exhaustion.
We are traumatized, the systemically and personally vulnerable among our population especially so.
We are confused, and the President and his allies continually sow more confusion.
We feel hopeless, because every small thing we
do feels meaningless in the face of a multitude of new human rights abuses and uncertainties.
Desperation and Prophetic Imagination
I wake up most mornings feeling a weight on my chest,
trying to navigate a world that's not necessarily worse than before but with "solutions" that feel decidedly less clear-cut.
I, and I suspect many of my fellow Americans, have short circuited to the point that we've lost our sense of what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls our "prophetic imagination," the ability to see hope beyond the hazy horizon.
A few weeks ago I sat down to watch a film that had been described to me as "the story of a pastor serving a church with declining attendance." That sounds quaint compared to the reality. Instead,
, the mood becoming darker and darker as the story trudged on. The main character - yes, he was a pastor at a small church - desperately tried to cling to paradoxical hope in the face of certain disaster, but the realities of the world and his inability to find meaning led him to only two choices: commit violence against perceived enemies or commit violence against himself. The ending is surreal and confusing, but it got its point across.
I didn't know whether to weep or dig in my heels in determination and commit to find joy.
War Language and "Us-versus-Them"
But let me get back to that ending, because I think it tells us something about the way overburdened and scared people see the world. In the face of certain doom, everything is a hell scape. You either defeat or get defeated, kill or get killed. Shoot first or suffer the consequences.
Too much of the social justice rhetoric in this country is operating from a place of certain doom. But if you're dying anyway, if the whole world is about to blow up, what are you fighting for?
To contextualize this further, I am specifically speaking to a kind of purity culture or ideological fundamentalism that occurs in spaces where people don't know each other very well, particularly on social media, a decontextualized soap box that,
, turns us into our worst selves. Like "the enemy" in traditional warfare, it's easy to flatten out people so that you don't have to feel guilty about metaphorically "beating" them.
, climate journalist and (former?) Mennonite - a Pacifist Christian tradition - Kate Yoder asks the question, "Can we save the world from climate change without declaring war?" She draws on the work of linguist Deborah Tannen, who wrote a book on the subject 20 years ago. Here's the gist of her argument, taken from the article:
There’s a “pervasive warlike culture” in the U.S. that leads us to approach just about any major issue as if it were “a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern,” she wrote. It’s a deeply entrenched cultural tendency that has shaped politics, education, law, and the media.
Because much of language is metaphor - for instance, to say we must "defeat the enemy" in the context of debate is not a literal statement and operates in some ways as hyperbole - which metaphors we choose to use matters. Language, in a sense, can be
, but even that is a kind of war metaphor.
Contextualizing political, social, and moral debates within a linguistic system that heavily draws on war narratives not only reinforces a kind of violence, it also creates a false dichotomy, an "us-versus-them" format, that disguises complexity, and thus ultimately disguises and manipulates truth.
But this isn't just a problem on a philosophical level. It affects our ability to change people's minds. According to Yoder, psychologists call this an "intractable conflict," saying:
An us-versus-them narrative turns people away from logic and into the realm of emotion and values. As the conflict drags on without resolution, partisans become increasingly bewildered by the other side’s beliefs and actions.
So even if I believe in my heart of hearts that the best way to deal with someone I disagree with is a full-fledged public take-down, it is a psychological reality that I'm making the problem worse. But maybe I'm not concerned about the long game, content to sow havoc and reap discord?
Maybe some people see the take-down as a kind of necessary reckoning, but I question how often people
anticipate both the broad and deep repercussions of their debate strategies. Whether we like it or not, we - "the good guys" - are just as likely to fall prey to the emotional pull of the false dichotomy as our "enemy" (what's wild about writing this is that I cannot escape violent metaphor even as I object to it). It is more satisfying to categorize someone in one of two distinct camps - an us or a them - than to take the space to acknowledge our own biases before responding (I have to admit I have made missteps on this point, which I'm only now fully understanding).
Now We See in a Mirror Dimly
But how does war language propagate in social spaces and ideological camps? To my mind, in at least three ways:
False narratives of scarcity: the largely unfounded myth that there is not enough intellectual and empathetic "space" to go around so we must take it from others
Charismatic leaders: individuals who craft compelling and even empowering narratives that, nevertheless, aren't quite true
Predominant ideological frameworks: those powerful, invisible idea-maps that often have more to do with power and profit than with collective flourishing
Having grown up in a religious culture that bordered on fundamentalism, I am extremely sensitive to the signs of ideological manipulation and believe very strongly that even compassionate and just ideas can rot on the vine if not fostered carefully.
Because of this, a healthy skepticism is always warranted. We must ask more questions!
It is easy to think that the world as we see it is
the whole world
, but this goes back to the problem of losing our prophetic imagination. There's a way to honor people's lived experience while resisting universal truth claims that don't properly amalgamate other, potentially disparate lived experiences.
The truth is often buried deep within the data. What we know is not everything. And we will never know enough.
Keeping that in mind provides the kind of humility that allows us to hold our heads high at the same time that we unclench our fists, and this is precisely the orientation we need to work through complicated, seemingly insurmountable issues.
So, what do we do now?
Let me be clear, or as clear as I can be. People have a right to feel their feelings, and a right to speak them. People have a "right" to free speech, too. But it would be disingenuous to act as if what we're
justifies any and all actions. And beyond that, our implied or explicit roles as activists and educators requires more of us, if only because our stated goal is progress, and progress means we don't always get to while away in sackcloth and ashes. There is work to do.
And work requires crystal clarity, not getting distracted by scarcity models of self-defense, narratives that require an antagonist, infighting that sows confusion, and circular arguments that lead to an active minefield of intractable conflicts.
For those of us who have placed the mantle of educator-activist on our shoulders, our responsibility is broader and deeper than a battle cry. We are moderators, guardians, and colleagues to our students, and we have an obligation to keep the doors wide open.
Which means, above all, that we must put down our own weapons of violent language and false dichotomies. We must beat our swords into plowshares, making way for new growth, because as they say in the musical, Rent,
"the opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation."
We are cultivators of complexity, prophets of abundance.
After a month of stewing over an incident that occurred to me online (and admittedly, having to realize and begin to seek treatment for a mental health issue I had been trying to self-treat for the last year), I heard myself saying that I would get over it "if I had a chance to defend myself." I was in the middle of thinking over this piece, and I realized that
I was using war language,
because building a defense is a product of "us-versus-them" thinking.
But I don't want to do work that forces me to adopt the predominant rhetorical strategy without a second thought. I don't think we make a better world using the same ineffective methods.
I don't know what that open field of abundance looks like and I'm not sure how to get there, but there's no question in my mind that we are creating enemies because we think we have to, that we are
ourselves in a model of doom and destruction because it didn't occur to us that there was another way.
As for me, I am leaning on paradoxical hope, hope in the face of whipping winds and children's cries and smoldering cities. A hope that resists the impulse to categorize and conclude, because it knows that
is not the end game.
I hold onto a vision of equity and thriving, not because I always believe it is possible or see the path clearly in front of me, but because I know that to abandon it is to abandon everything.
So, if we disagree and things get heated, this will be my response to you: "This is not a war and you are not my enemy. How do we fix this, together?"
(I found this life-changing)
From the systems perspective, this patriarchal notion of power is both inaccurate and dysfunctional. That is because life processes are intrinsically self-organizing. Power, then, which is the ability to effect change, works from the bottom up more reliably and organically than from the top down. It is not power over, but power with; this is what systems scientists call "synergy." Life systems evolve flexibility and intelligence, not by closing off from the environment and erecting walls of defense, but by opening ever wider to the currents of matter-energy and information. It is in this interaction that life systems grow, integrating and differentiating...
We may well wonder why the old kind of power, as we see it enacted around us and indeed above us, seems so effective. Many who wield it seem to get what they want: money, fame, control over others' lives; but they achieve this at a substantial cost both to themselves and to the larger system. Domination requires strong defenses and, like a suit of armor, restricts our vision and movement. Reducing flexibility and responsiveness, it cuts us off from fuller and freer participation in life. Power over is dysfunctional to the larger system because it inhibits diversity and feedback; it obstructs systemic self-organization, fostering uniformity and entropy.
Yesterday's post was all about 2018's top performing posts in general.
Today's post is about the top performing posts written this year.
You can see that the posts that performed well this year are a little more varied in format and topic. Part of that has to do with the fact that posts that stay evergreen for years are more likely to be highly "pinnable" and answer a question in Google searches. I am always happy to see those posts performing well, but what's the fun of a blog without some personality? It's nice to see some reviews, personal style posts, and essays in the mix.
This year in blogging is such a blur. I worked on some wonderful freelance projects and sponsored posts with brands I love and have an ongoing relationship with. But the freelance life never gets easier - I think it's actually getting harder! And some days I feel like the old lady who doesn't have the advantage of being a "digital native" in a space full of incredibly savvy women.
When I'm down on myself, I try to remember that I am proud of what I've done, and it might not answer all the questions or pay all the bills, but it is enough.
StyleWise's Top 10 Posts Written in 2018
1 | 11 Ethical Brands That Are Better Than Madewell
2 | 6 Places To Buy Well Made, Ethical Basics For Women (& Men)
3 | Everlane Review: Cheeky Straight Jean
4 | Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Work Pants Review + Grab Bag Thoughts
5 | Is Everlane Ethical? Pragmatism, Scale, & Why Good On You Doesn't Tell The Full Story
6 | Inside An Ethical Wardrobe: Spring 2018
7 | Nordstrom's Surprisingly Good Sustainable Selection + My Picks
8 | Is Everlane Ethical? I Asked, They Answered
9 | 5 Places To Find Ethical Underwear (That's Not Lingerie)
10 | Gift Guide: The Ultimate List For Ethical & Sustainable Holiday Shopping
Top Ten Ethical Fashion Posts of 2018
Merry Christmas! According to the church calendar, we've still got eleven days to celebrate, so keep on eating fudge and singing carols.
Everlane's annual, post-holiday Choose What You Pay is back with over a hundred styles at reduced prices for five days. I've included my suggestions in the graphic below, mostly items made with a significant amount of natural fibers like cotton, cupro, and wool. I also included a couple leather goods despite my recent explorations on the topic because I recently broke down and bought a pair of the glove flats and realized they're exceptional quality.
Other mindful, slow, and/or ethical companies are also offering sales this time of year, which I'll be listing below and updating with new sales throughout the week.
End of Year Ethical Holiday Sales▸ Raven & Lily: 30% off select items
▸ Fair Indigo: 30% off warehouse moving sale on select items
▸ PACT Apparel: up to 60% off select items
▸ Pela Case: But one, get one 50% off plus 25% off your order with code, BD2018
▸ People Tree: additional 20% off end of season clearance through December 28
▸ Nordstrom: 50% off select items for the half-yearly sale (search by brand to find ethical brands)
▸ Swap.com: End of Year sale
▸ Tribe Alive: 30% off sitewide through December 30
▸ Elegantees: Buy one get one FREE on most items
▸ Hackwith Design House: 10% off through 1/2 with code, BoxingDay
▸ Re/Done: select styles 50% off
▸ Accompany: online sample sale
▸ The Giving Keys: extra 25% off sale for 48 hours
▸ 31Bits: extra 40% off sale section with code, BYE2018
▸ Tradlands: 15-25% off for 48 hours
▸ Accompany: 40% off everything with code, GIFTYOURSELF, through 12/30
▸ Nisolo: select styles up to 40% off
▸ Fortress of Inca: 15% off with code, EXTRA15
Vintage Blazer - thrifted (
); Pants & Top - thrifted; Boots -
; Earrings - via Darling Boutique (local)
Feeling totes profesh in this beautiful vintage LL Bean blazer I picked up at the shop where I work. It actually belonged to my priest, who was clearing out her closet last week and donated a few things in the process. I hadn't realized it until then, but we have almost the exact same build. I look forward to her bringing in more things for me to buy!
In all seriousness, I've had a hard time putting a stop on my spending over the past few months. I've mentioned this before, but I was reared to shop as a coping mechanism, so when I'm feeling anxious, it's tempting to buy something every day at work. I can always justify it as a "great deal," but it's becoming clear that I just have too much stuff. Yes, it's stuff I love, but I need to narrow my focus and try to save some money. $5.00 multiplied by ten purchases gets to be excessive.
I don't think I ever properly reviewed these
, which I finally purchased in September after wanting them for at least six years. I bought them during a 50% off promotion, which brought the price down to $200. I turned 30 in September and it felt like a nice way to usher in what feels like "real" adulthood, without the training wheels. They were made to order, so they didn't arrive until the week of Thanksgiving, but they were definitely worth the wait! Comfortable, classic construction, incredibly beautiful, and just my style.
Sorry about that. But it's becoming a bit of a tradition to overpromise and then actually post in December. Without further ado, here are the most interesting results of my survey.
What's your favorite platform for engaging with StyleWise?
What are your favorite topics typically discussed on StyleWise?
Favorite Posts & Post Topics:✹ Why I Quit Being an Ethical Purist x2
✹ "I love your essays"
✹ "Anything zero waste!"
✹ Ethical alternatives x2
✹ "I like that you’re a fellow Episcopalian and not from the PNW" (lol)
✹ Representation in Ethical Fashion: A Conversation with Tavie Meier
New Potential Topics
Obviously, I'm a bit out of my depth on some of these issues so would need to incorporate more guest bloggers. If you're a writer/researcher/student/expert in topics of food, race, or politics, feel free to get in contact. A lot of you aren't into Christianity, and I get that, but my work moving forward as I continue my process of becoming a priest in a progressive, affirming church will include a lot of broad theological questions and I'd like to bring that to the blog if it's relevant and can be made to feel inclusive.
Your Favorite Brands:Eileen Fisher, Elizabeth Suzann, Elegantees, Everlane, Power of my People, thredUP, Amour Vert, People Tree, Reformation, Nisolo, All Birds, Patagonia, Madewell, LL Bean, Bluer Denim, PACT, Thrifting
P.S. I appreciate that some of you included "non-ethical" brands. That's important information, because it's true that sometimes the best fits for us don't fit within the parameters of "ethical fashion," but are nonetheless useful and valuable to us.
How Much Do You Expect to Spend on Ethical Goods?Clothing (top, pants, dress):
✹ 51.6% said $51-100
✹ 21% said $101-150
✹ 55% said $101-150
✹ 24% said $151+
Final Comments of Note (thanks, y'all 😌)"I appreciate the thoughtfulness you bring to every post and the way you marry topics like faith and ethical shopping. Discussions about ethical fashion are interesting to me, but often feel inaccessible, because of my limited budget. I love that you talk about thrifting and second hand, which is the way that myself and a lot of other people are able to access fashion in an ethical way."
"I like to see more frequent posting. More casual outfit posts or thoughts on style that might be less time consuming to create? Also love your thoughtful personal essays too but perhaps intermixed with lighter topics." -- Breathing a sigh of relief, because this is my plan for the new year
"I'm a Buddhist, not a Christian - so the Christian essays aren't my jam. But I still enjoy giving them a read from time to time for a fresh perspective." -- I appreciate you!
"I am here only for fashion/style content." -- Point taken, but I really believe the broader theoretical discussion informs what we mean by "ethical fashion," so I find it important.
"I love how much you post about buying second hand. This is the only way I can afford a lot of items, like cashmere sweaters and leather oxfords, and I like knowing that even though they may not be directly from ethical and environmental brands I’m not creating additional waste and I’m helping support local social service organizations." -- So glad to hear this. I love secondhand and want to feature it even more.
"You have been an inspiration of mine for two years, now! Thank you for the content you create. I bring up your blog posts frequently enough that my husband teases me any time I talk about them/you by asking, "Oh, is that what your good friend Leah said?" Thank you for allowing readers such as myself a peak into your world and your mind- I believe it can do more good than you can know. Your blog has served as a safe space for me; it has helped make me feel like the internet isn't as scary of a place as I once thought four years ago, after experiencing great trauma. And I'm happy to be able to speak my mind with it again, in positive ways (like this survey, I hope!)" -- Thank you so much! This warmed my heart.
What This Means for StyleWise Moving ForwardTo be honest, I exhausted myself this year trying to be all things to all people. I am hoping to do more casual explorations within the context of personal style posts next year, as well as include more voices on topics that aren't as familiar to me. I have two guest posts lined up, one on soil science and one on cultivating accountable community, but I'd love suggestions for other specific topics. Let me know what you'd be interested in reading.
I've also become obsessed as of late with defining a broader ethic of hope and sustained community. I will be doing some reading on community organizing and social justice theology, which I hope will help me center my approach. These are desperate times, and we need to understand what it takes not just to endure, but thrive.
Contains affiliate links
Coats are expensive. Ethical coats even more so.
Which is why 80% of my coats were purchased secondhand for under $30. There's no shame in that. In fact, it's a really pragmatic choice not just because of price point, but because there is an overabundance of beautiful, natural fiber coats on the secondhand market. I picked up a couple extras this season just because they came into the shop where I work and were too good to pass up (that may be one of the reasons our point of sale software named me the best customer of 2017! Oops).
The current "ethical influencer" space is populated by looks featuring all new goods, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think it can imply that to be an "ethical person" you have to have new things. Not only is this untrue, it inadvertently locks people out of pursuing this lifestyle due to price, size, and accessibility limitations. I need to remind myself of this as much as anyone else. I am always, always tempted to buy every new, beautiful thing. But the things I love and wear often are often secondhand.
Without further ado, my 5 Beautiful, Mostly Secondhand Coats
Ethical Details: Coat - Thrifted; Scarf,
This thrifted coat by Herman Kay is just fun. The shell is a wool/nylon blend, which keeps me warm in 35-45 degree weather and the red cuffs and accents make me happy. After reading this post about the benefits of owning a silly winter coat, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Why should outerwear be as dreary as the weather?
A note: I intentionally purchase coats slightly bigger than I need so that I have ample room for sweaters and general coziness. This also gives me for flexibility when searching for items at thrift stores, because I can expand the hunt to a range of sizes.
The newest addition to the cozy coat family, this Pendleton wool coat reminded me of Everlane's new cocoon coat, except it's (presumably) much better quality. The shell is thick, 100% wool that's soft and smooth to the touch. It's actually probably two sizes too large - and the sleeves are a bit long - but I like the way it drapes as a result.
I've been meaning to put together a post on how the best way to shop for Everlane dupes is to shop vintage. I mean, this coat has almost the same lines as Everlane's coat, except it's more practical and luxurious. Plus, I only paid $30 for it.
The OG coat in the bunch, this was one of those thrift shop miracles. I went thrift shopping with my mom at Valley Thrift in Ohio (I LOVE that place) a couple years ago on the hunt for a navy toggle coat. And there it was! This one has a 100% wool shell and 90% wool lining, so it's quite warm. I would say the wool quality is inferior to the Pendleton coat, but that's to be expected.
I used Christmas money to buy this coat at a cute consignment shop in downtown Charleston, West Virginia (you should visit!). It's lighter weight than other coats in my collection, but it's flannel lined, so I find it perfect for late fall and early spring. Even though this was originally from Target, I've had it for two years and the quality is great. (I also have fond memories wearing it to the Women's March in 2017).
Last but not least, the one new item in my coat wardrobe. Everlane sent this to me for review last fall and it's a workhorse for snow days and super cold winter days since it's water resistant and extremely cozy. This year they released a recycled poly version.
What To Look For When Buying Winter Coats Secondhand
❅ Stick to naturally derived fibers like cotton, wool, and other animal fibers for greatest warmth and quality (acrylics and nylons DO NOT cut it in truly cold weather - since you're buying secondhand, you won't contribute to demand for new, animal-derived textiles) OR technical poly-fill like Primaloft.
❅ Check for moth holes, stains, tears, and other condition issues. Do a sniff test to make sure there isn't serious mold or smoke contamination.
❅ Go in with a plan. Do some online window shopping at stores you like to narrow down the cuts, colors, and styles you're attracted to.
❅ Be flexible when shopping at physical stores. Try on multiple sizes and give items that look boring on the hanger a chance. Sometimes things look magical on.
❅ Make sure you can layer sweaters and scarves under it.
❅ Create a flexible budget and stick to it.
❅ Have fun!
ACCESS MY UPDATED SHOPPING GUIDE HERE
Contains affiliate links
- All Birds | Sustainably sourced wool sneakers
- Bhava | Vegan, fashion foward shoes
- Bourgeois Boheme | High end vegan shoes
- Cardanas | Sweatshop free, simple sneakers (similar to Keds)
- Deux Mains | Simple sandals, made in Haiti
- Ethletic | Ethical sneakers from Europe
- Etiko | Fair trade sneakers (Converse look-a-likes)
- Everlane | Minimalist leather goods from Italy
- Fortress of Inca | High end, trendy leather shoes
- Mamahuhu | High quality, classic leather shoes for men and women
- Mawu Lolo | Ethically made sandals
- NICORA | Made in USA, vegan shoes
- Nisolo | Classic, minimalist leather goods
- OESH | 3-D printed sandals and shoes made in Charlottesville, VA
- Oliberte | Fair trade certified leather shoes, made in Africa
- Po-Zu | A full collection of sustainable shoes
- Root Collective | Flats and boots made with traditional textiles and leather in Guatemala
- Rothys | Washable flats made with recycled materials
- Sole Rebels | Ethical flats and sandals for men and women
- Veja | Ethical and eco-friendly sneakers
- 31 Bits | Paper Beads, simple and statement styles
- ABLE | Minimalist jewelry made in Nashville ($5 off your first purchase)
- Bario Neal Fine Jewelry | Elegant and modern
- Come Together Trading | An assortment of fair trade goods (10% off with code, STYLEWISE)
- Dunitz & Company | Intricately beaded
- Edge of Ember | Ethical luxury jewelry
- Greenheart Shop | Fair trade items from assorted brands
- Greenola Style | Beaded, fashion forward jewelry
- Hands Producing Hope | Beaded, wearable jewelry
- Hannah Naomi Jewelry | Handmade minimalist jewelry
- Happy Fox Studio | Made from reclaimed findings
- Mata Traders | Bohemian and feminine
- Mosami Jewelry | Fine jewelry in nature-inspired themes
- Sharon Z | Fine jewelry made with recycled materials
- Soko | Modern metal
- Ten Thousand Villages | Fair trade jewelry in a variety of styles
- Trunk Collective | Ethically sourced, artisan made goodsValley Rose Studio | Sustainable fine jewelry (10% off with code, VRSTYLIST-StyleWiseBlog)
- ABLE | Leather goods
- Amalou | Hand felted statement bags
- Angela Roi | Vegan bags
- Bloom & Give | Multiple styles from fair trade brands
- GUNAS | Classic, feminine, vegan
- Haushala | Pouches and weekenders made with Nepali Dhaka fabric
- JOYN | Contemporary, functional bags (leather and vegan options)
- Krochet Kids | Crochet and leather goods
- Love Mert | Handmade with upcycled leather
- Malia Designs Bags | Fair trade and repurposed
- Manos Zapotecas Bags | Handwoven, traditional textiles
- Parker Clay Bags | Leather goods
- Purse & Clutch | Themed collections
- Sapahn | Ethically sourced leather bags
- Warby Parker | One-for-One model, regulated factory
- Retrospecced | Gently used and vintage frames with prescription lenses
The Benefits of Deadstock & Recycled Fabric
Deadstock refers to fabric produced for a collection that was never used due to a flaw in the fabric or overproduction by the textile mill.
Recycled refers to fabric upcycled from garments that had a previous life.
Producing new items with deadstock or recycled fabrics can be extraordinarily sustainable for a couple of reasons. For one, the majority of water required for garment production is used to convert raw fiber into workable fabric and during the dye process. Upcycled textiles require very little water use unless the designer opts to re-dye this fabric for their collection. Not to mention that finished textiles repurposed for secondary collections are, by definition, secondhand. Making use of preexisting fabrics not only reduces required resources, it theoretically keeps fabric out of landfills by giving them a new life.
Is Deadstock Greenwashing?
I use the term theoretically because if you google "deadstock fabric," you'll see that there is some debate around the environmental efficiency of using deadstock.
One brand owner claims that most mills operating "overseas" in garment sectors like Cambodia and Bangladesh actually overproduce intentionally to appeal to different markets, which means that using something labeled deadstock from these markets is a form of greenwashing since even the apparent "overstock" was always intended to be used in garment production. But a garment industry expert interviewed for Eluxe Magazine describes a scenario in which an independent designer changed her mind about a fabric run, which left the mill responsible for selling off fabric for which they originally had a buyer. In this case, the fabric would be considered true deadstock since it was doomed to sit in a warehouse until the mill could find a buyer.
Meanwhile, my pal Whitney at Fashionista nuances the discussion by pointing out that higher end fabrics sourced by US-based brands like Reformation were probably never likely to be tossed into landfills and thus the argument that deadstock is the most sustainable option is based on a misleading narrative. That being said, it's still a good choice for smaller scale and indie brands that want to choose a more sustainable option and don't mind producing in limited runs.
It seems to me that, even if international mills are producing some overstock to be sold at bargain bin prices, deadstock isn't exactly a lucrative business when compared to first-round production. Because the fabric available in this market isn't normally traceable, you can't just order more of it to meet demand. To me, this seems to imply that we can trust that most deadstock is a true secondhand product and not a conspiracy.
There are still ecological limitations with deadstock fabric. Since it can be difficult to get accurate information on the fabric content, companies simply can't ensure that the fabric is naturally derived and biodegradable. And with companies that source vintage deadstock, you're much more likely to end up with a finished product made out of microfiber-shedding polyester.
All that to say, sourcing anything at all from the secondhand market is a GREAT idea despite its limitations. When thrifting just doesn't do it for you, turn to these brands that use deadstock or recycled fabrics for their collections.
Further clarification courtesy of Rachel Faller, founder of Tonle:
I wanted to add to this that there are really several categories of pre-consumer textile waste. Deadstock is of course a big part of this, and perhaps the most contentious as you point out - but there are also offcuts and items that fail quality control during the process of production. While deadstock is sometimes planned into the production by mills, the other two are more clearly a kind of waste and a little less easy to recycle to the average designer or factory. At tonlé, the majority of our scraps are the later two categories and we see this as being very different from deadstock. Many of our materials are also post-consumer recycled. Thanks again for bringing this up and discussing the nuances here!
9 Sustainable Fashion Brands That Use Recycled and Deadstock Fabrics
1 | Fauxgerty
Sizes XXS-XL. Sourcing primarily American made vintage deadstock, Fauxgerty makes West-coast inspired classics for women.
Featured Item: The Sasha
Sizes PS-3X. The Renew collection features new designs made from old Eileen Fisher designs plus gently used clothing, proving that brands can be committed to circularity.
Featured Item: Striped Pullover (one of a kind)
3 | Reformation
Sizes XS-XL. Using deadstock and upcycled textiles throughout its entire line, Reformation is sexy, spirited, and vintage inspired.
Featured Item: Cashmere Boxy Sweater
4 | Tonle
Sizes XS-XL. Tonle strives to have zero waste production, with many of their designs created to make use of fabric scraps left over from pattern cutting. Case in point: this jacket.
Featured Item: Palm and Wine Jacket
5 | Dorsu
Sizes XS-XL. Using factory remnants from Cambodia's garment factory, Dorsu produces a smart collection of contemporary, casual basics.
Featured Item: Slouch Pant
6 | Christy Dawn
Sizes XS-XL. The dreamiest of the bunch, Christy Dawn prioritizes vintage deadstock to produce their feminine, vintage-inspired dresses and jumpsuits. They even use recycled leather in their boots.
Featured Item: Basil Dress
7 | Neo-Thread
Sizes vary. Upcycling all the way! Modern silhouettes and embroidered clothing made from vintage and thrifted clothing.
Featured Item: Celestial Jean Bomber (one of a kind)
8 | Liz Alig
Sizes XS-XL. Using a combination of recycled materials and upcycled textiles, Liz Alig offers offbeat cotton clothing for women.
Featured Item: Dilsi Overalls
9 | Re/Done
Sizes vary. Vintage denim turned into...denim, but in a cool way. Re/Done modernizes silhouettes to bring new life to old jeans.
Featured Item: Academy Fit, size 27 (one of a kind - shop by size and style on the website)