Capsule Wardrobe | Ethical and Secondhand Spring Closet Additions


This post contains affiliate links

I've been a bit of a shopaholic this season.

On the one hand, it's normal. I'm anxiously awaiting warm days and have this idea that buying the appropriate clothing will somehow usher spring into being. And the number of ads for clothing, in terms of traditional ads and sponsored posts on the blogs I follow, increases astronomically in the weeks leading up to spring.

But I know that some of it is just me feeling stressed out, overworked, and pressed for time. I shop because it brings temporary relief, but what I really need is a vacation.

That being said, I can at least say I'm happy with the clarity of style I've developed over the last year, and that has kept me from buying (too much) stuff I regret. Anything that hasn't worked has been due to fit rather than style.

For reference, I did one of these posts last year, and I haven't changed very much of my core spring wardrobe. There were a few items listed there, like the Modern Babos from Everlane, that I ended up returning because I couldn't find the right fit. And I donated nearly all of the cardigans/jackets listed and sold my Fortress of Inca booties (they were too big).

See my Spring 2018 wardrobe here

My goal for this season was to bring in a bit of freshness in terms of silhouette and print. One issue with implementing a smaller wardrobe is that you often end up with a lot of basics and nothing that brings in your personal spin on style. Plus, I wear a lot of my basics, like plain tees and denim, year round, so it makes sense to inject some season-specific pieces into my wardrobe to keep those items interesting.

I purchased almost all my spring items secondhand this season, making a loose list in my head of what I was looking for before heading out to shop:

*I bought the mustard duster from Back Beat Rags because I couldn't find a secondhand one made of natural fiber. The navy linen dress was an etsy indie designer purchase.

My total spend on these items, including things I bought new, was around $225, and I made a conscious effort to only spend what I made reselling things on Poshmark. I was lucky enough to find most of these items on a Baltimore thrift trip with fellow blogger, Jess, from Jess With Less.

I realize that that's a lot of stuff by minimalist standards, but I'm keeping in mind that most of these pieces will get even more use in the warmest months of June-September, so they have a long life span in my closet.

In addition to thrifted goods, I saved up some Everlane store credit and purchased:


Is Your Artisan Made Item *Really* Ethical? 5 Things to Look For

is artisan made ethical? matter prints

This piece was written by me with compensation and support from MATTER Prints

Artisan made was the buzzword that triggered my exploration of ethical consumerism.

In 2011, while undertaking a routine shelf-tidying during my shift at Hobby Lobby, a privately held "Christian" craft and home decor chain, I came across a little metal frog, the kind of random object you buy for a friend's housewarming party without considering what they're actually going to do with it.

The tag said something along the lines of "made by skilled artisans in Haiti." The price? $3.99.

Holding that little frog in my hands, I was puzzled. Here was an item being marketed as a kind of art, intricately cut and crafted by skilled hands, and yet it was nestled onto a retail shelf containing dozens of like items. And yet it was the same price as a latte at Starbucks, less expensive than a Hallmark greeting card.

It hadn't occurred to me until that moment that there must have been hundreds of other items in that store that were made by human hands. The frames in the frame shop, cut to size before shipping to my store. The decorative vinegar bottles containing bright red peppers. These invisible hands were not even given the dignity of "artisanship," and yet they touched and crafted the things that bored grandmothers bought on a whim with their 50% off coupons.

This story might tell us lots of things - for one, it woke me up to the exploitative realities of the global consumer goods industry - but today I want to focus on something too often overlooked:

Artisan-made does not mean much without context.

What the designation does tell us is that a person, or group of people, made a product, likely with minimal high-tech tools.

But the phrase is thrown around to imply that these "artisans" are known entities - people with whom the company or boutique owner may have a relationship. But, as was the case with Hobby Lobby, more often than not these nameless, faceless craftspeople are anonymous even to the ones who've categorized them as artisans and subsequently exploited that label for marketing purposes. 

The fair trade market is chock full of items designated as artisan-made, but even the best intentioned "ethical" advocates can get lazy when tracing these niche supply chains. Instead, they will tell a secondhand story passed down from middle men or co-op managers, not ever knowing how the artisan groups function, or whether they're receiving a living wage. 

I have to admit that not even *I* was committed to doing this work until a reader asked me, point blank, if I knew how a fair trade organization I had promoted was linked to their artisan producers. So when

MATTER Prints reached out with the same conversation - themselves puzzled by the way other purportedly ethical producers were using the term - I was anxious to do a deep dive. I spoke with MATTER team member, Farisia, about how they derive greater, more transparent meaning from the artisan-made distinction.

How to Tell If Your Item is Artisan-Made and Honestly Made

1 | Artisans Live and Work in Multi-Generational Craft Communities

Unlike industrialized consumer product manufacturing, which typically takes place in designated facilities outside of town centers, artisans typically live in small communities or extended families that support and uphold multi-generational craft traditions. 

To ensure authenticity, MATTER specifically partners with artisans that exhibit "skill in a craft acquired through generational transfer." This creates greater accountability between the brand/marketer and artisan because it makes it impossible for a Fortune 500 company to march into a community, half-heartedly "teach" a skill, then slap the artisan-made designation on their tags and websites.

2 | Local production is run by the same locals

Many well-intentioned fair trade business owners enter an artisan community with a plan to build something from scratch. On its surface, this is understandable. If you've been dreaming up your business from a far-removed location, it's easy to get wrapped up in an inaccurate idea of what products will be available to you, how you want them to look, and who your customer is. 

But this is inappropriate, not only because it often perpetuates Colonialist ideas of "progress," but because it takes the power out of the hands of the people who hold all the skill. Artisan co-ops, when they are thriving, are run by locals, thereby keeping the heritage and financial success of the community in the community, where it belongs. Artisanship, by definition, resists outside forces that would place the burden of aggressive Capitalism on its shoulders.

is artisan made ethical? matter prints

3 | Materials are eco-conscious and locally derived

Because craft tradition is reliant on the physical location of a community, it is impacted by the holistic needs of the community and available natural resources. 

For this reason, a majority of artisan-made products that fit the "generational transfer" designation will be made with materials indigenous to the region: things like cotton, silk, and various types of plant ingredients. Occasionally, items are also made with locally recycled materials, such as scrap metal and old tires. As demand for artisan goods has increased, and the world has modernized, more craftspeople are incorporating synthetic dyes into their goods, but traditionally dyes would have been plant-derived (you can read more about plant-based dyes here). 

4 | Imperfections are apparent, but not distracting

A handmade item cannot, and should not, look like a factory-made item. Individual artisan taste and technique will impact the final product, which is part of what makes artisan work so meaningful. 

Artisan craft, especially when it becomes available to a global marketplace via brands like Ten Thousand Villages and MATTER, is taken on as a collaborative process between the artisan, their community's tradition, designers, and merchandisers, and the final product is a testament to successful coalition-building. It is never merely a fashion statement.

5 | Artisans are artists

The artists out there will get in a fight with me for comparing craftsmanship to fine art (it's happened to me before), but I stand by this statement: artisanship was the first type of art and it's certainly the most meaningful. 

This is because artisan goods tend to be purposeful goods. They often derive from basic needs of clothing, food, and shelter, but they expand on this need. They beautify it, ritualize it, culturally embed it, and make it good.

For this reason, it is imperative that those of us who appreciate and collect artisan-made goods do so with a knowledge of which motifs are culturally and religiously sacred versus those that are intended for multi-cultural enjoyment. It is also important that we take an interest in the people behind the products. Nameless, faceless "artisans" used as a marketing angle quite literally erase the artisans themselves. 

What Now?

If you consider yourself a conscious consumer, I encourage you to explore your favorite ethical websites and see what they say about their makers. How do they write about them? Can they speak to the intricacies of the craftsmanship? Do they understand the motifs and symbols? 

A few examples of very transparent brands are MATTER and Ten Thousand Villages.

Artisans do extraordinarily time consuming, skilled, creative work, increasingly to appeal to the whims of a global market content to condone a throwaway culture. But this misses the point.

When you touch the raised embroidery on a cotton dress, examine the dotted paint patterning on a Oaxacan mythological figure, or trace your fingers across intricately woven ikat, the experience is akin to beholding a miracle. 

It's a reminder that humans are capable of more than arguing on Twitter, to more than oppression and greed. That maybe, given enough time and support, we could craft something beautiful together, too. All is not lost, and we have artisans to thank for it.

Learn more about MATTER here

P.S. I think it is very difficult for Western and white brands to use images of artisans in their marketing and brand storytelling without inadvertently turning them into objects for the public gaze. This is due to the long history of imperialism and colonialism enacted by much of Europe and the United States over the last several hundred years. I generally avoid using images of non-Western artisans on StyleWise because I am wary of creating a power dynamic in which my reader, filtering through my own framing, sees them as novelties rather than equals. I am still trying to find a way to appropriately convey artisan stories in a way that reduces that power differential and I welcome your thoughts.


does artisan made mean it's ethical and fair trade with MATTER Prints

Unsponsored Material World "Material Box" Subscription Review

material world material box fashion subscription box review

I paid for Material Box styling service out of pocket.

I wish I could say otherwise, but Facebook ads really work on me. A few weeks ago, information about Material World's "Material Box" popped up in my newsfeed and before I knew it I was sucked into it. I completed the style quiz and paid for my first styling.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of subscription boxes. For every one thing you "discover," you're likely to end up with a handful of items you don't really want. It's especially tricky with fashion-oriented subscriptions, because buying clothing online is hard enough without a middle man (or middle woman as it were) trying to decipher measurements and personal taste in order to "style" your box.

But what drew me in with Material World was the fact that, 1. all items are secondhand and, 2. all items come from designer and high-end brands. Since this is a blog about sustainable fashion, my interest in the first point is obvious. But I also liked the idea of there being a minimum quality standard in terms of textiles and sewing quality. That means I wouldn't end up with too many weirdly slouchy, polyester, itchy, overly trend-driven goods, as I expect people receive in other fashion-based subscription boxes.

How It Works

1. First, you create a style profile based around your measurements, preferred silhouettes, and favorite designers.

2. You pay a $29 styling fee and a stylist is assigned to create your box.

3. Styling is supposed to take a few days. Mine took almost a week and a half. Your stylist will pick out 10 pieces for you to preview. You may select five to be sent to your home address.

4. After a few days, your items will arrive and you have 4 days to ship what you don't want back.

5. If you choose to purchase all five items, you'll be given a 20% discount off the total. The $29 styling fee is reimbursed if you purchase at least one item. Otherwise, you're out that amount.

6. You can consign with Material World by sending designer items back in your Material Box return. Additional consigning information is on the website.

What I Received In My Material Box

material world material box fashion subscription box review

Sea NY Sweatshirt // $78.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review

Derek Lam 10 Crosby Dress // $85.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review

Joie Blouse // $60.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review

Alice + Olivia Pants // $65.00

material world material box fashion subscription box review

See by Chloe Dress // $48

I'm also wearing an Everlane Pima Tee and Flats in these photos


Far and away my favorite item is the Joie blouse. It's flattering and made of wonderfully soft silk. I also like the Derek Lam dress in terms of shape and pattern, but I don't find it that flattering. The pants are about two sizes too big, which is sort of inexplicable to me because I'm pretty sure I didn't say I wore that size in my profile. And the sweatshirt is actually really cool, but I don't like to wear white. The See by Chloe dress looks like pajamas, but the fabric is nice.

All in all, I had a fun time trying things on. The Derek Lam dress smelled like fancy perfume, likely from the previous owner, and somehow I found this to be one of the most pleasant parts of the experience. It's like I could see, touch, and smell how the other half lives. I haven't had much experience with designer goods outside the realm of ethical fashion, so I found this box to be a nice opportunity to experiment.

In the end, I decided not to make a purchase because I didn't fall in love with anything. 

But I'm not going to quit my subscription just yet. I'd like to see how things go the next time around. 

If you have any questions, ask away in the comments. 

{Shop the Material Box here}


40-Day Challenge | 5 Abundance-Minded Activities To Practice During Lent

sustainability and things to give up for lent

Lately I've stopped using the word "sustainable" as often and have started thinking in terms of

abundance. Where sustainability requires a minimum standard, abundance allows for a re-imagining of what's possible. Sure, there are limited resources and it can feel like the house is on fire, but we have the tools, in accountable community, to build more than a bunker.

A model of abundance isn't about sacrifice. It's about re-appropriation of resources we already have to better serve ourselves and our neighbors.

Thinking in terms of abundance requires that we have a healthy relationship to ourselves and our authentic needs.

The below suggestions are meant to remind us of what we have to work with already, and to give us a jumpstart on re-wiring our brains to be able to think in imaginative terms instead of through the lens of scarcity.

This is also how I'm framing Lent. I didn't come from a Christian tradition that practiced the season of Lent, so at first it felt like a meaningless exercise in self-flagellation, like we were punishing ourselves for being sinners. But now I see it as a way to reset, as an intentional period of letting go of habits that demean, inhibit, and isolate us in order to let more light in. It's fitting that this season takes place as the days lengthen into spring. By Easter, we're ready to fly out of our little chrysalises into the morning sun.

5 Abundance-Minded Activities to Practice During Lent

1 | Establish creative meal solutions that aren't meat-focused.

Beef is one of the largest agricultural contributors to climate change and deforestation globally. Raising cows is not efficient, not to mention that factory farming is inhumane. Consider giving up all beef and leather products throughout Lent.

Place only the limitations on yourself that you know you are capable of maintaining. You can go full vegetarian or continue to eat fish and poultry depending on your dietary needs.

2 | Shop secondhand, or not at all.

It's tempting to over-shop as the weather warms up in the Northern Hemisphere - I confess to doing quite a bit of pre-shopping myself. Consider either ceasing all unnecessary/fashion-related purchases or committing to buy only secondhand.

If you are looking for specific items, try Poshmark, Ebay,, or a local consignment shop.

3 | Start and maintain a daily prayer practice.

Even if you don't identify with a particular religious tradition, creating a habit around meditation, quiet time, and/or prayer has amazing health and psychological effects. Get up just a bit earlier each day to sit in silence, read a prayer from your religious tradition, or do some light stretches. Stay away from podcasts, videos, and other external voices. I'll be attending a local morning prayer service 2-3 times per week as part of my Lenten practice.

If you're interested in an Episcopal practice, you can access the Book of Common Prayer online here.

4 | Read a book that inspires ethical exploration. 

Read a memoir, guide, or work of theology that challenges and inspires you toward holistic justice. I'll be reading Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela's autobiography. There are lots of used copies available online.

I also recommend The Autobiography of Malcolm XThe Sacredness of Human Life by David Gushee, a reflection on Christianity's call for universal human dignity; and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, a bioethics perspective on death.

5 | Be intentional about your relationships.

This one is a bit amorphous compared to the other suggestions because it's not something you can track as effectively. But I have become convinced, especially over the last few months, that a weekly commitment to seeing friends - meeting for lunch, having a phone call, going on a mini-date with your partner, even taking a walk - does a world of good.

Healthy relationships have a positive impact on mental health and give us the accountability and clarity we need to make good choices. If you're having trouble making local friends, try a meet-up group, local dance gathering (we have square, contra, and swing dancing in my area), religious service, or community center. Or invite a work acquaintance out for drinks.

See my post on giving up Instagram here

A Tale of Two Cardigans: Vintage + Everlane Texture Cotton Cardigan

everlane texture cotton cardigan review and vintage sweater

It's gotten to that point in the winter where I refuse to believe it's still winter.

Even when it's in the high 30s (I'd probably have to swallow my pride and put on a coat if it was any colder than that), I defiantly leave the house with just a sweater. I am a warrior! (jk, but I hope that's obvious.)

But I can't get by on just any sweater. It needs to be a thick, close knit that doesn't let in cold breezes. It needs to be versatile and layer well. And it's nice if it adds a bit of interest rather than being purely utilitarian.

Luckily, I recently added two cardigans to my wardrobe that tick all the boxes. One is vintage, the other is new...

everlane texture cotton cardigan review and vintage sweater

Carraig Donn Vintage Wool Cardigan

Made in Ireland, the intricate knit pattern is what first attracted me to this style. This cardigan is made with thick, closely knit wool that keeps its shape, with very little drape. I can wear this in 40 degree weather without feeling cold, which is a feat of engineering. Sometimes traditional really is best.

These are pretty easy to find secondhand on Ebay, but you can also buy a new version from ethical artisan marketplace, NOVICA. For reference, I have a 34" bust and 29" waist, and I ordered a vintage medium.


everlane texture cotton cardigan review and vintage sweater

Everlane Texture Cotton Cardigan

This style has been heavily compared to the one-size-fits-all Babaa cardigan, which sells for considerably more money, and I admit that at first, I agreed with the comparison. However, as far as I can tell from photos of the Babaa cardigan (I don't own one), the drape and overall fit is quite different. For one, Everlane's version comes in multiple sizes, so if you skew smaller or larger than Babaa's "ideal" fit, you can still get a version that works for you. And the bottom band looks a bit more tailored, too.

The Texture Cotton Cardigan is cotton with a bit of (non-biodegradable) nylon, but I actually think the nylon is somewhat essential to this style because it keeps the cotton from stretching from its own weight. I could imagine needing to constantly wash and re-block it if it weren't for the structure the nylon provides.

I ordered a size small, which is my typical size for anything Everlane advertises as oversized.


P.S. I thrifted these boots!

Final Thoughts

I can't believe it took me this long to discover the practicality of a thick, blocky sweater. I am thankful that we live in a time where anything goes with fashion, and I have to say I have been really inspired by the lovely vintage sweaters my retirement-age volunteers wear in the winter. Without them, I don't know that I would have had the guts to wear so many items that don't fit within the range of "trends" for people my age.


everlane texture cotton cardigan review

When A Digital Detox Isn't Enough: 5 Things I Learned When I Gave Up Instagram

giving up instagram for lent or forever

I was an Instagram addict.

It started off innocently enough. In 2015, a friend in the budding "influencer" space suggested I make an account for my blog. Before I knew it, I had integrated the platform into my blogging business plan, started taking on sponsorships, worked to grow my following, and committed myself to posting a minimum of once per day.

I kept this up for almost three years, contemplating quitting at least once a year during that time as I could feel myself agitating under its watchful eye.

I had an Instagram-related nervous breakdown in 2017.

I tried to quit again in January of last year.

Finally, after enduring months of grief and trauma in my family life and continuing to deny PTSD symptoms that had been triggered by the events in Charlottesville in August 2017, I had five days of panic attacks brought on by Instagram. I came to work hyperventilating/weeping that Thursday morning and my volunteer sat me down and yelled at me.

"Enough is enough! Delete it now!"

I did it. And I wouldn't say I never looked back, but overall I feel that I made the right choice. Here's what I've learned about myself since I quit Instagram...

5 Things I Learned When I Gave Up Instagram

1. I don't, and shouldn't have to, get dressed for others. 

Before I finally parted ways with Instagram (just last month), I still believed that my personal style would suffer without the "accountability" of posting daily outfits. That couldn't have been further from the truth.

Not subjecting myself to outfit surveillance has actually given me a better sense of what I like and what suits me.

I get dressed for myself, and if someone in my day-to-day life likes my outfit, that's a nice perk, but it's no longer essential.

2. My life is not improved by "likes."

I thought that receiving positive engagement from Instagram was improving my sense of self worth, but it turns out it was just exacerbating anxiety and distracting me from feeling truly grateful for what I have.

Before, I would post on Instagram then obsessively open the app dozens of times per day to check for likes and comments. This made me really inefficient at work and play, and in some ways pushed me to the margins of the experiences and relationships I already had right in front of me.

I was always looking for more gratification, mostly from strangers, instead of seeking to better myself in more substantial ways.

3. We differentiate internet versus "real life" for a reason.

I often juxtapose internet interaction against "real life" - meaning embodied, tangible life - and people respond, "the internet is real life." They're not exactly wrong, but I've noticed that the way I feel and react is very different in each context.

While I've made several authentic friends through the internet, nothing beats going out for drinks with local friends, anticipating the collective breath as a member of a choir, going for a walk on a windy day, or grazing your hands against clothing in a store. There is something primally essential about valuing the bodies we occupy and moving through physical space.

I had begun to see my "real life" and my internet life as equals, but it's clear that my physical world offers more value.

4. My writing and creativity are best cultivated outside of social media.

I used to draw all the time, but when I finally picked up a stylus and started doodling again in January, it had been years since I'd last done it.

I grew up crafting: jewelry making, oil painting, collage, even songwriting. But I had dedicated all that creative energy to cultivating the perfect Instagram feed, with nothing of value to show for it in the end. Similarly, I had begun writing as a kind of reaction to the influencer niche, or to what I was seeing on social media, instead of pushing for more complexity and innovation in my subjects.

Now I see that creativity comes first through impressions in quiet moments and in long form conversations with people I admire, not through the cacophony of social media.

5. Social media is a serious addiction, with serious consequences.

The weirdest discovery after leaving Instagram, and this started even after I quit my public account and kept my personal one for a few months, is that it feels like a thick fog has lifted from my brain's cognitive functions.

I have more clarity of purpose and insight. And I'm less reactive overall. Instagram cultivates a perfect storm of self comparison, algorithm-manipulated dopamine rushes, hyper-speed pacing, and group think that pushes us - all of us - to the limits of what our brains can handle. But because we're addicted, we keep legitimizing the platform and making excuses for why we're still there.

If you feel like you "have no choice" but to stay on Instagram, you might have a legitimate addiction. Have a friend ask you some questions and see if they can help you let it go.

Admittedly, my experience may be a bit extreme. People who use Instagram primarily for its original intended purpose of documenting life spontaneously for the benefit of their friends may have a mostly positive relationship with the platform. But I know that for every person who finds it beneficial, there are likely dozens who find it harmful in some way.

It might be time to say goodbye to Instagram. If not forever, then maybe for Lent? Lent is a season of fasting practiced in many Christian traditions. It begins this Wednesday and lasts until Thursday, April 18th. During that time of "giving something up," we are encouraged to re-focus our attention and intentions on practices that bring us closer to God, truth, and wisdom. If you want to take on this practice, let me know and I can discuss it with you!


giving up instagram for lent or forever

February Fashion | 5 Ethical Closet Staples I've Been Living In

favorite fashion staples ethical and secondhand

Another installment of Monthly Favorites. This post contains affiliate links.

It's lucky I remembered that today is the last day of February, because otherwise my attempt at starting a series I can actually keep up with would have already failed!

Welcome to the second installment of Monthly Favorites. This month I decided to focus on closet staples that have been serving me well throughout the course of February. These items are things I've worn 2+ times per week over the past four weeks, and which tend to add a bit of polish and fun to my winter wardrobe basics.

I also included another book, just because I think it's fun to recommend books. I haven't actually cracked open Raising Your Emotional Intelligence yet, but I feel very much in need of, well, raising my emotional intelligence after an interpersonally challenging month.

5 Closet Staples I've Been Living In

favorite fashion staples ethical and secondhand

1 | Vintage Carraig Donn Cardigan

I spotted a cardigan just like this in the NOVICA catalog in December, but I wasn't prepared to fork over $150 for it. Out of curiosity, I hunted around on ebay until I discovered an item listed under this brand name. A quick keyword search later, I had landed on the exact style and color of cardigan I wanted for under 30 bucks. If you're on the hunt for a heavyweight wool cardigan, I definitely recommend vintage Carraig Donn. I sized up to a Medium and find that it's a great fit for me, though the older style means it's cropped more than a lot of contemporary cardigans.


2 | ABLE Marina Earrings

Lightweight with a pop of bright red, these liven up my winter neutrals, and were made ethically in Nashville.


3 | Modern Vice Jett Boots

Sure to get compliments from virtually everyone, these boots are the coveted "birthday boots" I saved up for and finally received in November. The fit is great despite the pointed toe box and the quality is impeccable. They were handmade in New York.


4 | ABLE Isabel Slouchy Moto Jeans

A welcome change from high waist jeans that tend to sit uncomfortably on my stomach when I'm seated, ABLE's slouchy denim has a low to mid-rise in front but a higher back rise, which is perfect for a "pear shaped" person like me.


5 | NICORA RBG Dress Sneakers

I'm really sad to see sustainable vegan shoe brand, NICORA, close up shop, but luckily these wonderful, vintage-inspired color block shoes are still available on final clearance. I find the upper textile super comfortable, and the toe box is wide enough to accommodate thicker wool socks on cold days.


favorite fashion staples ethical and secondhand

Why Charity Navigator Isn't One-Size-Fits-All, Especially for Social Enterprises

why the assumptions charity navigator makes about responsible financial management are misleading

Part of the Complexity Series

Charity Navigator advertises itself as the authoritative source on responsible nonprofits. By combing financial data and assigning a score for things like fundraising, administrative, and marketing costs, along with transparency standards, it ranks nonprofits in order of best to worst.

This sounds really good on its surface, and it is a useful way to compare the efficacy of large scale nonprofits. After all, if you're donating your hard earned money to a charity, you want to know that it's going to programs that support the stated goals of that charity, not to CEOs and fancy business cards.

But there's a big problem with the way that Charity Navigator calculates financial health, and it perpetuates a damaging misconception about charities at large: nonprofits receive a better score the less they spend on management, labor, and advertising costs.

While differences in industry are accounted for (food banks, for example, are thought to require less overhead than nonprofit radio, and the 1-10 scale accounts for this to some extent), you will always receive a higher score if you have less overhead than competing nonprofits.

And while this makes sense if you're comparing apples and apples (two food banks with similar outputs but drastically different overhead costs, for instance), it gets weird when you, a site user not familiar with the inner working of nonprofits in general, peruses nonprofits across categories or clicks through one of Charity Navigator's multi-category lists.

How Charity Navigator Penalizes Small Nonprofits

When the primary metric ingrained in your head is "lowest possible administrative costs," you're simply not going to see the big picture.

One reason is that, if the nonprofit in question is small enough, it's very likely that they'll be penalized by Charity Navigator for having "high" overhead costs even if they're only paying a modest salary for a single employee. I'll use myself as an example. My salary makes up almost half of annual sales at the thrift shop where I work, and this isn't because I'm making bank. In fact, I make at least $5,000 less than the average, lowest paid nonprofit worker in my area, according to a recent report by the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville.

Now, it might be a fair assessment that our charity model is, holistically, not healthy. But in many ways, we're more like a food bank - dealing in goods more than monetary funds - than a big nonprofit like the ACLU. So every dollar we bring in after expenses is donated to local agencies and we're able to completely support ourselves without outside funds. We also give away thousands of dollars in goods to low income families each quarter. According to Charity Navigator's assessment, we should be running with administrative costs making up only 3% of our budget in order to receive a perfect score. This would mean that we'd need to be almost 100% volunteer-managed, and that would be ok in the short term, but it gets really hard to create a consistent environment running on multiple, overworked volunteers.

"Administrative Costs" are People

You might be thinking, "Yeah, Leah, but your nonprofit isn't going to be listed on Charity Navigator, so why does this matter?"

It matters because this mindset that administrative and marketing costs are bad affects all nonprofits, big and small, and potentially gets in the way of raising more funds and effecting more change. 

According to an article published in 2016, changes to overtime pay requirements under the Obama administration left nonprofits scrambling because it meant they were no longer able to pressure their salaried employees into working long hours without pay. The reason? Due to oversight agencies like Charity Navigator and larger individual and corporate donors, nonprofits can't simply put more funds into overhead, and this means they actually had to reduce staff, rather than hire more employees, to make ends meet. If you're a Republican, you may be shaking your fist and saying, "Thanks Obama," but if you're at all interested in fair trade standards, you'll recognize this as a travesty. Nonprofit employees should not have been working for free in the first place.

A few years ago, I read a blog post written by a nonprofit employee about another barrier to fair pay in nonprofits (the whole site is a great resource). The author said that donors, across the board, don't want to hear that their funds are going to hire staff. Instead, they want to hear that it's benefiting a special project or going "directly to [insert person in need here]." But you can't run an organization without competent, knowledgeable, engaged staff. Not to mention that the organization is significantly more likely to mishandle funds or even fail if it has high turnover or incompetent employees.

This is all to say that an "administrative costs" line item on a transparency report is really just code for people, the people who make things happen, sign your donor letters, and write effective advertising. Insisting on the lowest possible cost puts all nonprofits at risk of grossly underpaying their employees, and that goes directly against fair trade principles.

To their credit, Charity Navigator is aware of the issue. In collaboration with GuideStar and BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the organization wrote an open letter on the "Overhead Myth" in 2014, but the public bias against overhead costs persists.

"We Don't Advertise Because We're a Nonprofit"

I hear this all the time from well-meaning fair trade agencies and social enterprises looking for some coverage on my blog. They've been convinced by the predominant rhetoric around charity - further legitimized by sites like Charity Navigator - that it would be irresponsible to monetarily promote their goods or services.

Charity Navigator penalizes organizations that dedicate a large part of their budget to advertising when, in fact, advertising is really the sole vehicle by which funds and other donations are generated.

Whether that advertising is word-of-mouth, slapped on a flyer, or paid for in a marketing campaign, it all counts. Again, comparing apples and apples, the organization that can most effectively garner funds without major advertising costs is more responsible. But it's easy, if you're not considering scale, to think that 1 million dollars, for example, is too much advertising even if the dividends are double or triple that.

Especially when you're growing a nonprofit, you need to invest heavily in both advertising and labor. As the structure stabilizes, hopefully you'll be able to build more efficiencies into the system so that your actual programs receive a higher and higher proportion of donated funds.

Nonprofit social enterprises need to understand that part of running a healthy organization is strategically investing in skilled labor and appropriate advertising mediums to ensure that the organization can thrive. That means that it's not always important to meet rigid budgeting criteria. Instead, nonprofits should be measured both individually and in comparison only to similar size, similar mission organizations. When internal structures and goals differ, as they do across every well-meaning organization, it's hard to build a one-size-fits-all assessment system.


Ultimately, this post is not meant to deter people from using Charity Navigator when deciding to whom they should donate. Because the site primarily compares large, multi-national NGOs and nonprofits that have the resources to ensure sustainability in their financial goals and budgets, the standards are, in most cases, fair.

But it would be a mistake to hold every organization to the same rigid metrics, especially if that comes at a cost to providing living wage jobs to overworked nonprofit workers or using advertising dollars to achieve exponential growth.

  • Potential donors should consider the holistic story of the organization before taking the easy way out, and remember that the long term viability of any business or nonprofit has to do with taking on the right investments, never sacrificing worker welfare for the sake of an impressive financial report.

  • Nonprofits and social enterprises who create and/or sell physical goods should consider that they're a hybrid business-charity and thus their business model must be adapted to compete in a crowded retail marketplace. Without investing in advertising, they won't be able to sustain the business for the benefit of their artisan partners. And there are few things worse than promising a marginalized community you can change their lives and then not following through.

I'm curious to hear from other nonprofit workers or social enterprise owners on this topic. Anything you would add?


why the assumptions charity navigator makes about responsible financial management are misleading

Weekend Links: How Tech Addiction is Changing Our Brains and Making Us Sad

smartphone addiction links

Well, I did it. I deleted Instagram off my phone and deleted the private account I've been halfheartedly maintaining since I deleted my public account in November. 

And I'm feeling good. I feel like I'm getting a big picture perspective back. I feel like I'm getting myself back. 

Because of this recent lifestyle change - that admittedly still feels fragile - I've been consuming studies, podcasts, and articles about social media and tech addition that steady me in my decision and (hopefully) will keep me removed from a platform that was exacerbating mental health issues for at least the past year.

And just a note on the potential "privilege" of leaving: as someone very interested in restorative justice and the necessary, hard conversations that entails, I do not believe that we can comprehensively do the work on these platforms without eventually taking these conversations and relationships offline. And the below links indicate that we simply aren't psychologically capable of tackling high stakes issues through media that preys upon the primal parts of our brains. (I would also note that it's a privilege to own the technology that supports Instagram, from a relatively new smartphone to a longterm cell phone plan.)

That's not to discount the work that regularly is done through social media, or the profound way global access to social justice communities has positively changed people's lives. 

But we need to continually assess our relationships to the devices and platforms that exist primarily as data mining and advertising tools. They aren't here to help us, so we must remain vigilant.

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain

It’s an unnerving sensation, being alone with your thoughts in the year 2019. Catherine had warned me that I might feel existential malaise when I wasn’t distracting myself with my phone. She also said paying more attention to my surroundings would make me realize how many other people used their phones to cope with boredom and anxiety.

The Machine Stops

Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases. There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media. Every minute, every second, has to be spent with one’s device clutched in one’s hand. Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently. They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.

Cal Newport Has An Answer for Digital Burnout, Ezra Klein Show Podcast

When I was a blogger, it never read as social rejection to me. Now I’ll tweet something and people attack it on social networks - 2,000 likes on how I’m an idiot - and I feel it much more as social rejection, like being bullied in elementary school…when this is moving into a context of approval and rejection, there’s a lot more danger in it.

Depression in girls linked to higher use of social media

Girls’ much-higher rate of depression than boys is closely linked to the greater time they spend on social media, and online bullying and poor sleep are the main culprits for their low mood, new research reveals.

Is Social Media Addiction A Disorder? Researchers Think The Problem Needs To Be Taken More Seriously

What was most interesting to researchers was that this link only revealed itself during the last 20 times people completed the IGT. At this point in the game, risk became much higher. The findings therefore demonstrated that excessive social media use was associated with an inability to make good decisions in high-risk situations. Those who are addicted to drugs also show signs of this kind of behaviour.

Some Online ‘Mobs’ Are Vicious. Others Are Perfectly Rational.

Like a pitchfork, Twitter is an imperfect tool. Its brevity suppresses nuance; its virtuality opens the door for insincerity; it incentivizes people with no true investment in a controversy to weigh in anyway. And the internet has primed us to demand instantaneous results: When everything we want to know or buy can be accessed with a few clicks, perhaps we expect that justice be served just as swiftly. Members of some crowds acknowledge that these conditions are less than ideal. But for disingenuous outrage trolls, the blunt instrument of outrage is an end in itself: The crude result of getting someone fired is the entire point.

My post from last year:

Why I Wish I Could Quit Instagram

The film is, above all, a critique of the way social media compels all of us - stalkers and glamorous influencers alike - to pretend we're something we're not for the sake of digital fame, or at least being liked.

Have you said goodbye to social media or your smartphone? What helped you stay away?

8 Tips for Thrift Shopping Like An Expert Without the Overwhelm

how to thrift shop without getting overwhelmed

This post was written by Betty Kary for StyleWise. As a way of creating a more robust resource, I've added my own "notes from a thrift shop manager" under Betty's tips (with her permission).

As a young student with a life-long and growing passion for fashion and a deep concern for the well-being of our planet, I fell quite naturally into thrift shopping. I just love the idea of creating unique and inexpensive outfits all the while consuming in a responsible and ethical manner. And if I may say so myself, I pull it off quite well. I guess you can say it’s because passion, motivation, and a little creativity pay off! I try to use my successes to inspire others to get into thrift shopping as well, and even though I may succeed in sparking interest, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told:

“Damn Betty, I love that sweater! You have to take me thrift shopping with you, I tried to go once but I never find anything nice like that. I just don’t know where to start.”

So for all those of you who feel the same, or even those of you who had never paid mind to it before, I put together a little “how to” guide to get you started!

1. Research local thrift stores. 

Get to know the options you have in your neighborhood, and be sure to read any available reviews. If a store is unclean or if people have had bad experiences, needless to say how important it is to know ahead of time in order to avoid any problems. 

Also, you can look into what sales some stores may be having soon, ‘cause yep, even if their prices are already super cheap, thrift stores like any other store often need to make room for “new” items coming in and therefore offer sales. For example, once every few weeks, the Value Village hosts 50% off sales, and may I just say, its damn worth it! I once got 12 great pieces for only 35 bucks.

Notes from Leah:

Don't be afraid to try a hole-in-the-wall at least once. Smaller, local shops can get passed over in favor of larger corporate stores that get more traffic if you only pay attention to Yelp reviews. When you find a shop you like, ask if they have an email newsletter or another communications method. That way sales will be delivered to you digitally!

2. Get to know the store layout. 

Once you’ve picked out a shop to check out, get to know its layout. Some stores are organized differently. On top of being divided by gender, some spots organize by type of garment, color, size, etc. If the store you’re visiting has no system of organization whatsoever (which I doubt), I suggest you turn around and walk out of there. It's likely not worth your time! 

Notes from Leah:

There's no perfect way to organize a thrift store, so don't get discouraged if you enter a shop that's organized in a way that isn't preferable to you. Use it as an opportunity to explore a wider range of sizes and styles. If you leave unhappy, at least you've gotten to know your taste a bit better!

3. Scan the racks. 

I imagine you’ve all been to TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Winners before. You know the drill: you pick a rack and pass your hand through the hangers, visually scanning for attractive colors, patterns, fabrics - anything that might tickle your fancy. I wouldn’t bother looking at every garment one by one or you’ll lose interest too quickly or end up spending hours wasting your time.

4. Check for size and imperfections. 

Once a little treasure catches your eye and you pull it off the rack, make sure you check it all up and down. You want to check if the size is appropriate for you, and to look out for imperfections. 

You’re checking for things like missing buttons, busted zippers, stains, or damaged fabric. Most of the time whatever a shop will put on the rack is in decent condition, but a few times I've fallen in love with a piece only to have my heart broken having to put it back because of wrong sizing or a flaw of some sort. In some cases though, if I really love the piece, I’ll try to see if I can fix it myself. Sometimes all it takes is a little stitch-up and its good as “new”!

Notes from Leah:

If you're looking for things like food and sweat stains, try to take the item to a window to view it in natural light. Additionally, I often find that viewing an item on a flat surface versus vertically helps illuminate condition issues better.

5. Try it on. 

You’re all big boys and girls here, you’ve been shopping before! You know it’s always safer to try on a garment before buying it, just to be sure. 

Notes from Leah:

I've learned my lesson the hard way. Always try things on, even if it costs $2. There's no sense buying something that's a poor fit.

6. Keep an open mind. 

I can’t stress this enough! In thrift shops, it’s always best to separate your mind from all the preconceived trends you’ve been force-fed by multinational corporations. When you open your mind to what you like, you’ll be able to unleash your creativity and perhaps acquaint yourself with a whole new style you had no idea you had resting within you! 

If you really do love the trends and street style going on around you, it’s also a lot of fun to pair old treasures with new items, and build trendy outfits with reused or upcycled goodies. 

Notes from Leah:

If you're having trouble honing your personal style, I suggest reading A Life Less Throwaway.

7. Don’t get discouraged. 

If you don’t find anything you like within 20 minutes or even on your first trip, don’t just give up! I’ve had shopping trips where I walked out with nothing, and others where I walked out with an overflowing basket, and trust me, the latter happens much more often!

Notes from Leah:

Sometimes we shop to ease boredom or anxiety, and that makes it easier to impulse buy things we don't really want. But it's a good idea to get comfortable with leaving a store empty-handed. Set a loose shopping list in your head (ex. black knit tee, wool cardigan) to help focus your shopping.

8. Wash thoroughly. 

This is an obvious one. Anything you buy from any store needs to be properly washed before you wear it, and even more so when it comes from a thrift store. These garments have been worn and tried on by who knows how many, and who knows where they come from. It's therefore always important to check them for bugs of any kind (in my countless experiences I have never had this problem), and to wash your new finds thoroughly as prescribed on the care label. 

Notes from Leah:

Nine times out of ten, the donor has washed their clothing before donating it, so you're not likely to get an infection from a thrifted clothing item. Still, as Betty suggests, some items were improperly stored in damp environments or are musty from years tucked away in a closet. It's always nice to freshen things before wearing them. If you notice moth holes, avoid the item unless you're prepared to treat the garment and wash it effectively.

There you go, that’s it! Now you got pretty much everything you need to know to get out there and start diggin’ for treasure! Feel free to snap a cute pic of yourself and DM to my Instagram blog. I’d be happy to feature your thrifted outfits!

Keep on keepin’ on!

- Betty Kary


how to thrift shop without getting overwhelmed

Retrospecced | A Sustainable and Charitable Glasses Home Try-On

Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker

This post is not sponsored, but Retrospecced sent try-on items free of charge, which I will be sending back after review. Since glasses are a medical item, I decided I wanted to purchase frames myself rather than request free product.

I first reached out to Retrospecced nearly two years ago, but I had purchased new glasses the year before and ultimately couldn't justify acquiring another pair just yet. 

I almost threw sustainability to the wind because I was so excited about their business model. As you probably know, there's really only one prescription glasses company marketed as "ethical," and that's Warby Parker (affiliate link). The main thing going for them is their one-for-one business model through which they donate vision care services to people in need based on their sales numbers. Charity is a good thing, but it's not always an effective long term strategy. And as I mention in this post, it can often disguise production, environmental, and labor issues in the company's supply chain. I don't know much about Warby Parker's factories, but at the very least, they're not prioritizing a more eco-friendly option.

Warby Parker (like Bonlook, where I got the pinkish glasses you'll see in three years' worth of personal style posts) produces in China using acetate, a type of plastic, in most of their frames. People need glasses - they're a medical device - and so I'm not going to tell anyone not to purchase new glasses if that's what suits their needs, but I found it puzzling that there were seemingly no alternatives in the ethical marketplace.

Why Retrospecced?

Retrospecced is the solution, at least for me. That's because they purchase used (vintage and contemporary styles) glasses from the charity, Vision Aid Overseas - who receive up to 70,000 donated glasses a week! - and offer a custom prescription service through their website. The ordering process is just like any other glasses site, but you receive a final product that is inherently more sustainable because it's secondhand.

Retrospecced explains that this arrangement works well for vision charities, because the clients they assist are in need of more than just a pair of old glasses. They need routine exams, surgery, and other comprehensive care that well-meaning donors can't provide through donated goods alone. Not to mention that cat eyes and '80s jumbo frames aren't everyone's cup of tea.

Learn more about the process here.

I'll discuss the home try-on program more below, but first, take a look at the frames I sampled, ranked from my favorite to least favorite...

Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker
Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker

About the Home Try-On Program

Because each frame at Retrospecced is a one-off, they have to be a bit more cautious about what they send out for try-ons. While companies like Warby Parker will send you five free frames to try for a week before sending back, Retrospecced's program requires that you purchase the frame for try-on, make your selection, then send them back for purchase or a full refund. When you opt into the home try-on, they also offer £5 off lenses if you decide to purchase a pair.

You can learn more here.

Price Considerations

Retrospecced is based in the UK, so there are a few added costs for US-based and other international customers. Here's the cost breakdown:

  • Frame: Most frames run £29-35 ($37-45)

  • Cost of Shipping for the Home Try-On: ~$35

  • Prescription Lenses with scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coating: £45 ($58)

  • Flat Rate Shipping: £15 ($19)

Total Without Try-On:


With Try-On:


Even with the exchange rate, Retrospecced glasses are roughly equivalent in price to Warby Parker and Bonlook, which makes them a competitive choice (and if you have eye insurance, you can submit your receipts for reimbursement). The hard thing is narrowing down your selection (I kind of want three pairs!).

I am really excited to be able to purchase high quality vintage frames with my prescription. As an international customer, the process is slightly more tedious, but I think it will be worth it to receive some upcycled glasses I love.

Retrospecced ethical, sustainable, charitable glasses home try-on warby parker

How to Find Cheap Vintage & Secondhand Dupes for Your Favorite Ethical Brands

cheap alternatives to your favorite ethical brands etsy ebay

This post contains affiliate links

If you currently like or have ever liked shopping for vintage clothing, you can see the signs everywhere...

Square toed mules, woven oxfords, overalls, prairie dresses: ethical fashion has a passionate love affair with vintage silhouettes, patterns, and colors. 

It seems that every fashion brand, "ethical" and otherwise, woke up this year and decided old is in. There's something to be said, of course, for reviving old favorites with updated elements and new materials, especially when  the brand produces thoughtfully. And it's awfully fun to see the styles I wore as a kid come back into fashion. But it starts to feel needlessly wasteful to buy much of anything new when department and direct-to-consumer stores are carrying essentially the same clothing as the local thrift shop. There are legitimate reasons to buy new, especially when it comes to sizing needs, but if you're shopping for pleasure rather than necessity, it pays to shop secondhand first.

Yes, you can shop the literal ethical fashion item you want secondhand in some cases, but I think it's worth it to broaden your horizons. Instead of thinking in terms of exact items, sometimes it's beneficial to expand your search to true vintage items.

Right now, most products I'm seeing are highly reminiscent of 90s and early 2000s styles, so always use those decade markers in your searches.

While there's plenty to be found on popular resale sites like Poshmark, I highly recommend EBAY and ETSY to find affordable vintage fashion. Head over to the site of your choice then use search terms like the ones I share below to narrow down your selection.

What's On My List?

I just bought a beautiful Irish wool sweater reminiscent of chunky knits from Babaa and L'envers and some chambray coveralls like the ones they sell at Muumuu.

Cheap Secondhand Dupes for Your Favorite Ethical Brands (and Where to Find Them)


☀ Use search terms:

 All That Jazz, Ditzy Floral, 90s Dress


☀ Use search terms:

 90s Cotton Dress, 80s Cotton Dress, Cotton Day Dress, Vintage Cotton Dress

If you like EVERLANE SHOES...

☀ Use search terms:

 Square Toe, Mules, 90s Ankle Boot, Kilty Loafers, Glove Flats

If you like EVERLANE DENIM...

☀ Use search terms:

Mom Jeans, 90s Jeans, Vintage Lee Jeans (avoid Levi's unless you want to pay an arm and a leg)

If you like WIDE LEG CROPPED DENIM (like the ones at EVERLANE and MADEWELL)...

☀ Use search terms:

 Ralph Lauren Jeans, Culottes, Gaucho Pants, 1970s Jeans, Bellbottoms, Cropped Flares

If you like WOVEN SHOES (like the ones at NISOLO SHOES)...

☀ Use search terms: 

Woven Flats, Woven Mules, Huarache Sandals


☀ Use search terms:

 Linen Crop Top, Linen Circle Skirt, Linen Full Skirt, Linen Trousers, Vintage Eileen Fisher

If you like GEOMETRIC AND ABSTRACT PRINTS (like the ones at MATTER)...

☀ Use search terms:

 1980s Dress, 1970s Dress, Mod, Retro Print, 1980s Geometric Print, Triangle Print

If you like CHRISTIE DAWN...

☀ Use search terms:

 1970s Dress, Boho Dress, Hippie Dress, Gunne Sax, 1960s Dress, Vintage Wool, 90s grunge maxi dress

If you like CHUNKY KNIT SWEATERS (like the ones at L'ENVERS and BABAA)...

☀ Use search terms:

Irish Wool Sweater, Carraig Donn Cardigan, Vintage Wool Cardigan, Vintage Cashmere Cardigan

If you like COVERALLS (like the ones at MUUMUU and BACK BEAT RAGS)...

☀ Use search terms:

Vintage Coveralls, Vintage Button Down Jumpsuit, Cotton Coveralls, Linen Coveralls

There are hundreds of ways to frame your search, so keep trying until you find the magic, one of a kind item that ticks all the boxes.


cheap alternatives to your favorite ethical brands etsy ebay

ABLE | Quality in Design, Promoting Quality of Life

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes

I received complimentary products in lieu of monetary sponsorship due to total product value. This post contains affiliate links.

Happy almost Galentine's Day!

When I saw ABLE's spring lookbook, I knew I wanted to put together a look that was appropriate for this season of love without being overly romantic. I don't think it's anti-feminist to dress up for my husband, but there's something nice about embracing a look for yourself, and putting things together that feel flattering and intentional, but maybe in a less conventional way.

It's still cold outside (well, today it's in the 60s, but when I took these photos, it was in the low 50s), so I got creative with layers to pull off this look. One thing I really love about ABLE is that their clothing and accessories don't subscribe to the typical boxy neutrals of many ethical fashion brands. Each piece has attitude, which means you can dress up your simple pieces with some snakeskin sandals or put everything together for a bit more eccentricity. These days I am embracing eccentricity, so I decided to wear everything together in this look.

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes
ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes

ABLE's Ethics 

Nashville-based ABLE has a specific goal of empowering women in the US and abroad by providing fair wage, secure, purposeful jobs. Their current line of denim, cotton separates, jewelry, and handbags are made in Mexico, Peru, Nashville, Brazil, and Ethiopia in factories that have been audited for ethics. What's more, ABLE is in the process of publishing wages (with context) for all of their production locations. You can view information about their Nashville facility here. I'm planning to do a deep dive into the reports as soon as more are published. Even though the data isn't yet complete, I'm excited about the implications of this type of transparency.

ABLE does use leather products, but raw materials are sourced from local meat industries in the region of production. I am still in a period of exploration on this topic, but Alden at EcoCult just published a couple really good discussions around the ethics of leather: here and here. My current thought on leather is that it's an ethical choice if purchased from a company that prioritizes local, meat-industry derived sourcing and a focus on quality. If it can be used for years and years, the ambiguity is reduced at point of purchase.

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes

What I'm Wearing

Isabel Slouchy Moto Denim

These were perfect right out of the box, which is more than I can say for most jeans. I ordered in my usual size 29 and they fit pretty much like they do on the model, with a lower rise and slightly slouchy fit. They are a little bit wide at the waist, which is typical for my "pear shape," but fit so well in the hip and thigh that they don't slide down, and they don't stretch out too much with wear either, though I would say if you prefer a tighter fit, you may want to size down. 

Gisela Sandal

Coming in April, these sandals are so fun! The gray is neutral enough to go with everything else in my closet, but the faux-snakeskin effect adds texture. I find these true to size, well proportioned, and comfortable, though so far I've only worn them with socks due to the weather. 

Marina Earrings

I wear a lot of statement earrings with my short hair, and these add much needed color and pattern to my winter outfits, which tend to be very neutral. They're also lightweight and comfortable for several hours of wear.


I'm also wearing a hand-me-down Eileen Fisher sweater from my friend's mom!

ABLE spring line fair trade denim, earrings, shoes

I've reviewed ABLE products in the past (the Tigist Crossbody, which I tend to bring back out in the spring, and a customized necklace), but after being able to sample more of their product line, I've decided that ABLE is becoming one of my preferred ethical brands. I find that their pieces are special and well made, and align really well with my personal sense of style.

Shop ABLE here.

When Assumptions Alienate

privilege and community

I've observed and been a part of several complex discussions on race and privilege in the last few months and there's one thing I keep coming back to.

I (we?) tend to write and speak to an audience that looks like me, sounds like me, that shares a part of my context and history.

One of the fallouts of writing a blog that is at least in part confessional is that I share webs of thoughts that are, at their root, selfish. They are about me, what I'm experiencing, and what I'm learning.

And so, as a white woman reared in an Evangelical Christian, politically conservative culture, I tend to share "aha" moments and theoretical explorations as they happen to me. I've talked about colonialism, Capitalism, privilege, Christian hypocrisy, ignorance, and humility with a framing that assumes that my reader needs to hear about those things, because, of course, *I* need to hear about those things.

But I am now recognizing that my reader can be anyone at all. And sometimes my framing, while useful for an audience that is some iteration of "me," can read as trite to someone who has not only explored these questions in greater depth but may, in fact, have been born into a reality that has forced them to absorb and answer to these negative paradigms since birth.

I apologize for assumptions that belittle those experiences.

I think it's normal, and necessary, to speak to personal experiences. And I think I have much more to offer, ideologically, to people who come from where I come from simply because I can speak from a place of intimate understanding. We have work to do, and it helps to find the people you share cultural guideposts with when you're talking about ethics, progress, and change. But that's also where echo chambers come in.

So, I'm not really asking for resources. I'm not really asking for anything at all. I'm simply exploring the psychological reality that people listen to people who look and sound like them, and I see that as a big part of the work I do here. But I never want that to come at the expense of real, intentional welcome.

If you ever want to reach out and share your thoughts and ideas, please feel free to email Injustice is systemic AND personal, and so your individual experience matters.

P.S. I just discovered Adrienne Maree Brown's writings on transformative justice last night, and I find it very useful for framing discussions around trauma and privilege in a way that leads to accountable insight. I highly recommend it.