Ethical Holiday Shopping Sources

Holiday shopping season snuck up on me more than usual this year. In the past I’ve been a proactive early shopper, but this year I feel like my mind had barely left Halloweentown when boom! It’s late November and I have exactly zero gifts!

Are you in the same boat as me? Never fear! We’ve still got a month, and there are plenty of ethical retailers with great selections of gifts for everyone on your list. Here are some resources to get you started:

Fair Trade Federation Holiday Guide 2014 cover

Fair Trade Federation Holiday Gift Guide 2014

This online catalog features gifts from a plethora of Fair Trade Federation members. Click the link button on anything that catches your eye to be taken directly to the page on the seller’s site where you can buy it.
Fair Tuesday - December 2, 2014

Fair Tuesday

Fair Tuesday is an ethical shopping movement in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday to feature fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands. Visit the Buy/Shop section of the Fair Tuesday website for a directory of participating retailers, many of whom are offering significant discount codes—I spot checked a few and saw numbers like 20% off, 25% off, 30% off… Definitely check here if you like the thrill of a deal!

SERRV fall 2014 catalog cover


One of my favorite places to look for fair trade gifts. I love their handy collections like Gifts for Him, Gift BasketsGifts Under $30 and more.

Ten Thousand Villages holiday gift finder

Ten Thousand Villages

Another fair trade site with a huge variety of gifts. Use their Gift Finder to find just the right thing for friends, teachers, coworkers, kids and more. They also have an option to filter by price point, so you can find gifts that fit your budget.

If you’re local to central Indiana or Columbus, OH, I highly recommend making Global Gifts a stop on your holiday shopping circuit. Not only is it a more pleasant shopping environment than a crowded, noisy mall (free coffee samples, anyone?), but you’re bound to find great gifts, stocking stuffers, or even holiday decorations for your own home. And all of their items are made by artisans who are treated fairly.

In this season of giving, your gift choices have the power to improve the lives of disadvantaged people around the world. You may be in the habit of making charitable donations this time of year, but you can also help end poverty by supporting fair trade. As a system that provides market access and equitable business relationships, fair trade enables artisans to earn a sustainable income to support themselves and their families, reducing dependence on charitable aid. That’s a happy holiday for everyone involved.

Meet an Ethical Blogger: Dominique

We’re continuing our Meet an Ethical Blogger series with Dominique from Let’s Be Fair! I’m proud to be a member with Dominique in the Ethical Writers Coalition. Check out that group for even more fabulous ethical bloggers!

Let's Be Fair blog header

Fair for All: Describe the focus of your blog.

Dominique: Let’s Be Fair is simply about thoughtful living. It’s being mindful about the everyday choices we make. We focus on fairly made, ethically sourced, life impacting goods that better the lives of the makers and consumers.

Why do you choose to write about these topics? What motivates you to pursue an ethical lifestyle?

I think it was Mother Theresa that said “There are no great things. Only small things with great love.” We live in a time where (whether we want to admit it or not) there is an overwhelming desire to be famous, to be known. We see people doing extraordinary things and want to be a part of something extraordinary. However, I believe the way that we can create the most change is by living each moment with integrity. Integrity happens when we align all of our choices with the values that we advertise. So if I say I value honesty, I need to strive be honest in all things, not just the easy things. If I say I value justice and love, I need to strive to live out those values in all things. So serving children in Africa is an act of love but it is not greater than serving my neighbor. Integrity doesn’t categorize, our values should be reflected across our whole lifestyle. So if I give money and time to the work of eradicating slavery, how can I then purchase products that promote slave labor and abuse? My desire to be a woman of integrity is very motivating to me. I fail a lot. I also am motivated by my passion for orphan care and ending human trafficking. Poverty is a major contributor to the global orphan and human trafficking crisis. It is also, in many ways, preventable. I believe that treating people fairly, not with ‘charity’ but simply fairly, gives families and communities more resources and more of an ability to care for the children in their communities the way they’d hope to care for them.  Finally, my husband is a major source of motivation. He’s a man of integrity. He’ll totally challenge my impulse buying and ask “oh, is there not a place we can find that ethically?” I love him for that. This is a hard lifestyle change to make without accountability.

Live each moment with integrity

What makes a product or company ethical to you? When you’re making a purchase or deciding what to write about, what principles or criteria guide your decision?

Such a good question! The first question I ask is “are people being treated with respect?” This is a hard, hard question to know the answer too. On their website, most large companies have some kind of legal “we use third party investigators to ensure there is no slave labor”…blah blah blah. That doesn’t do it for me. I need to hear that companies:

  1.  Know where their products are coming from
  2.  Know who is making the product
  3. Put forth reasonable effort to make sure that the people involved in the sourcing and making those products are being treated with respect and being paid fairly.

This might not seem like difficult criteria but unfortunately most of the big brands don’t spend any significant time or resources making sure they could answer these questions well. Whenever these brands get called out for unethical treatment of workers they always start by saying “we didn’t know.” That’s like saying a bunch of hurtful things to someone and then saying you “didn’t mean to hurt their feelings.” Just because you chose to ignore the potentially damaging results doesn’t excuse your responsibility.

After that question I look for key words such as B Certified, Direct Trade, Fair Trade Certified and Made In The USA. These distinctions don’t make them perfect but there is at least some sort of accountability and effort to doing things ethically.

The companies that get my attention the most are companies that are fully invested into the lives of their workers and their communities. There are so many incredible, hardworking artisans around the world and they don’t need a handout. They need a market! Brands that help artisans get the resources they need to run their business and then help them establish a sustainable market in which to sell those items are a major win with me.

What are your top 3 favorite ethical shopping brands or websites?

Oh gosh three?! Okay if I had an unlimited budget and if I could only shop at three stores for the rest of my life I’d pick People Tree for clothing, The Little Market for home goods and gifts and Whole Foods Markets for food and personal care. I could probably find everything else I needed second-hand somewhere.

Three brands I really admire are Parker Clay, Prosperity Candle and Alaffia. I just love their business models, professionalism and their sincerity.

Here are some recent posts from Let’s Be Fair to check out:

For more ethical blog recommendations, check out the rest of our Meet an Ethical Blogger series or visit the Resources page.

Make It Work: Elbow Patches

A few weeks ago I posted some in-progress photos of my elbow patches DIY project. I’m finally done and I’m stoked about the finished product!

Front view of elbow patches

Back view of elbow patches

I used fabric from my extra fabric stash (this was specifically from an old polo shirt) and sewed the patches on by hand. Sewing the patches on took about two hours. It was a little awkward to find a way to sew onto the sleeve without accidentally sewing the sleeve shut, but I eventually got a system down. Putting a piece of paper inside the sleeve as a barrier helped me avoid catching the other side of the sleeve.

Elbow patches closeup

If you’re thinking about trying some upcycling/DIY projects, I recommend starting your own fabric stash. Mine is composed primarily of old shirts that were unfit for donation because of stains or because I’d already cut off pieces. I’ve used extra fabric to create pillow stuffing, parts of Halloween costumes, and now these patches.

I’m excited to have my white cardigan back in commission. Because I used a neutral fabric for the patches, I think I’ll be able to wear it with most of the things I wore it with before. And now if the other sleeve develops a hole, no one will know because it’s already patched! *fist-bump-and-explode*

Have you ever saved an article of clothing with a DIY solution? And have you ever tried to take a photo of your own elbows? It’s not easy…

Ethical Brand Spotlight: Passion Lilie

Passion Lilie has been on my list of stores to check out for a while, and I finally got around to it this weekend. I like what I found!

Phoebe's Shirt and The Hepburn Skirt

Phoebe’s Shirt and The Hepburn Skirt

Passion Lilie offers women’s tops, bottoms, dresses and scarves, all of which are produced by a World Fair Trade Organization-certified artisan group in India. Their style is similar to Mata Traders: beautiful and bold block-printed fabrics, some retro influence, and simple shapes.

Felicity's Vintage Dress and Berry Arrow Dress

Felicity’s Vintage Dress and Berry Arrow Dress

I am all about these prints. Passion Lilie sources their fabric from fair trade cooperatives in India and aims to support traditional art forms like hand block printing and ikat dyeing. (Did you know the ikat process is similar to tie-dye? I didn’t!) Passion Lilie also works to reduce the environmental impact of their products by minimizing water and energy usage during production.

Passion Lilie’s collection is on the small side compared to some other brands we’ve featured, but I like that they maintain a relationship with one particular producer group and put their focus into improving that community and reviving that culture’s traditional arts. They’re a small business, but they’re creating a big impact through their commitment to their core beliefs and relationships.

Floral Ocean scarf, Fleur de Lis scarf, Pollock Purple scarf

Floral Ocean scarf, Fleur de Lis scarf, Pollock Purple scarf

As for the price point, Passion Lilie’s regular prices on clothing are a little more than I like to spend, but they do have several items on sale for about 15% off, which makes the prices easier for me to swallow. Compared to ultra-high-end ethical fashion brands like Amour Vert and British imports like People Tree, Passion Lilie’s prices are definitely within the realm of reason.

Shown above:

Which item is your favorite? I’m drawn to the Hepburn skirt as part of a cute workday outfit.

Check out the other posts in our Ethical Brand Spotlight series.

Personal Shopper: Ethical Phone Cases

This is post is by request of my dear bandmate Allison, who is helping one of her friends on a quest for a totally ethical phone cover. She specifically wants a case that can be fully traced as ethical (as opposed to a mass-produced case with a few rhinestones glued on that then gets labeled as “handmade”). I put on my Googling hat and got to work!

Not knowing anything about the actual phone in question, I chose a smattering of different sizes to show. Most of the brands/makers shown below have cases for other phone sizes as well, so definitely click through to find other options if you’re in the market.

Fair trade phone cases

Fair trade phone cases

Made by artisan groups for fair pay in good conditions.

Eco-friendly phone cases

Eco-friendly phone cases

Made in developed countries out of sustainable materials.

Handmade phone cases

Handmade phone cases

Made by individuals or small businesses in developed countries.

I’m not sure what’s up with Europe making so many dope phone cases, but I love all of the handmade ones, especially those little monsters! Which case is your favorite? How do you prefer to protect your phone?

P.S. On a phone-related note, the Fair Phone has actually been produced now! It’s only available in Europe, but I’m stoked that a company is making serious strides toward ethical phone production. Read about their current projects, from conflict-free mining to extending the smartphone’s lifecycle, on the Fair Phone roadmap.

Meet an Ethical Blogger: Jamillah

Today we’re introducing you to another inspiring ethical blogger, Jamillah from Made-to-Travel!

Made-to-Travel blog banner

Fair for All: Describe the focus of your blog.

Jamillah: I always say Made-to-Travel is a place for ethical shopping and happy things. :)

Why do you choose to write about these topics? What motivates you to pursue an ethical lifestyle?

I choose to write about ethical shopping because I really know it’s possible to find any wanted item ethically and I want my readers to be inspired to buy ethically for their needs for the next season and every season! So when it comes to writing ethical shopping posts I really think of what is going to be the next need for my reader, that’s usually a new trend or a seasonal item.

The other features on Made-to-Travel: Good Habits, Smile Files, DIYS, etc., are all topics I gravitate to naturally in my life but also, while I love promoting ethical shopping and all these wonderful ethical brands, I don’t want to write about retail all the time. There are so many wonderful things to share in this world and I want to do that too! So these posts nicely break that rhythm for me while still providing my readers content I really think they’ll enjoy and benefit from.

My motivation to live an ethical lifestyle really all began with thinking about my purchases a little differently. Every single thing we buy has a story and buying from brands that continue to take advantage of lax laws, developing countries, and less fortunate people helps continue that story…and I strongly believe that’s true. So I made the decision to really only purchase from places where I believe in their story. My purchases now all help continue a story of empowerment and the power of purchasing creating a better world and doing that makes me feel great. :)

Quote from Jamillah, blogger at Made-to-Travel

What makes a product or company ethical to you? When you’re making a purchase or deciding what to write about, what principles or criteria guide your decision?

First and foremost a company has to have ethical manufacturing practices for their work force, that means fair pay, working conditions, and hours. I do a lot of reading of manufacturers’ labor standards, if they’re fair trade, or if they’re not I see what 3rd party groups audit their standards, how they pick their factories, I see where a product is made, I see what people have been saying about them…and if I’m unsure about a policy I ask—so easy to just ask! I also don’t buy new leather…the only leather I buy is vintage or upcycled leather (i.e. reuse/remnants, bi-products from food industry etc.). But really the guiding principle for me is that a brand is kind to people. That will always always be priority number one.

What are your top 3 favorite ethical shopping brands or websites?

MY GAWSH—so hard this question!!! Bah! Okay I’m sorry I’m cheating and not limiting myself to 3! Sorry!

For clothing ASOS Africa is one of the first brands I featured on Made-to-Travel and is still one of my super favorites. I really love EVERYTHING KowTow makes super modern, clean, and easy. If you look at my internet history I stalk Clover Canyon in a real way, their prints are just so beautiful and everything is made in the USA—I haven’t shopped there YET, but I’m definitely saving for a special piece from them. And lastly I really really love the modern classic pieces coming from Everlane.

For shoes I am obsessed with Melissa Shoes and Cri de Couer—they both have a nice mix of trendy and classic shoe styles plus they’re cruelty free with ethical manufacturing practices!

Here are some recent posts from Made-to-Travel to check out:

For more ethical blog recommendations, check out the rest of our Meet an Ethical Blogger series or visit the Resources page.

Make it Work: Upcycling & DIY

Beyond just making new purchases ethically, over the last year or so I have become interested in the idea of only making purchases that are necessary. I’ve become much better at avoiding thrift store impulse buys, and I discovered a local store that sells donated craft supplies (shout out to Indy Upcycle!), which has piqued my interest in upcycling and other crafty DIY projects.

The last time I took a bag of stuff to the thrift store to donate it, I was overwhelmed by the immense pile of donations in the back that had yet to be processed. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of my stuff sitting in that pile for months before making it to the sales floor—I had good stuff in there! That got me thinking about how often I had donated to Goodwill recently and if there was another way I could handle items I did not want for one reason or another. That was when I started thinking about tailoring and upcycling. My goal for the immediate future is to try to work with what I already have, instead of running out to Goodwill to get something new.

Green button-down shirt tailored

The shirt post-tailoring. Note how I was too lazy to make a new bobbin with green thread and used black for some of it instead. Not pictured are all the seams I had to rip out and do over.

I recently had a green button-down shirt that I liked but was too big. It was supposed to be fitted and tailored but it had a bunch of extra fabric flopping around. I thought about donating it, but then I thought, “If this shirt fit, I would actually be fine with it. Can I make it fit?”

After a three-hour marathon sewing session (I have very little sewing knowledge, so there was lots of trial and error), I was successful! The shirt now fits (at least more than it did before) and it’s one less thing I feel the need to get rid of. I like to think Tim Gunn would be proud of how I made it work.

On the heels of this success came another challenge: Last week I got a hole in the elbow of my white cardigan. A sweater with a hole in it isn’t a great donation, so I thought it was destined for my fabric scrap pile when I had a brilliant idea: elbow patches!

I’m only halfway through the project (okay, maybe a third of the way—all I’ve done is pin one patch), but I wanted to share my progress.

Elbow patch pinned onto sweater

I did sew the hole shut before I pinned on the patch. It’s really hard to pin an oval, by the way.

Have you done any tailoring or upcycling projects lately? Have you ever saved something from the scrap heap with a crafty solution?

Thrift Store Score: All the Shirts

Last weekend I was at Goodwill picking up a picture frame and decided to browse shirts on a whim to see if I could fill either of the holes I had previously identified in my wardrobe: blouses for work and casual-yet-stylish t-shirts for the weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before in my thrift shopping tips, it’s best to have something specific in mind when thrifting.)

I must have done something to please the thrift store gods, because I found five count ‘em FIVE shirts and satisfied two wardrobe needs! Check and mate.

Photo of thrift store shirts hanging on clothes rack

I got two work blouses and three t-shirts. Picking out a shirt in the morning accounts for about 46% of my sartorial anxiety, so having these extra choices should reduce that dramatically (and enable me to part with some of the shirts I have that I don’t really like).

Julia in a purple thrift store t-shirt

The purple shirt in action! I’ve also already worn both of the work blouses. Coral and teal t-shirts: your time is coming soon.

For those of you who have jumped on board with the blog recently, here’s a recap of why thrift shopping is my absolute favorite way to buy clothing:

  • It eliminates waste. I haaaate waste, so I love the idea of diverting still-useful clothing to a new home instead of a landfill.
  • It’s economical. I got those five shirts for $22! Boom.
  • I get to try stuff on. I like looking at ethical clothing brands online and will occasionally make an online purchase, but sometimes you just need to know how something is going to fit.
  • It allows me to get some newer, on-trend styles without giving my money to brands with questionable manufacturing practices. (I realize this isn’t a perfectly ethical motivator, since the fast fashion cycle is one of the things that makes trendy items available in thrift stores, but if I’m being honest it’s still a reason I like thrifting. I would rather give those items a second life than reject them on principle.)

Have you had any good thrift finds lately? My next wardrobe holes to fill are black flats and a white cardigan, so hopefully I’ll have success stories about those soon.

Meet an Ethical Blogger: Leah

The roundup is taking a break for a while to recalibrate and make sure it’s full of the best, most useful stuff. In it’s place we’re launching a new series to introduce you to other ethical lifestyle bloggers!

Style Wise blog header

The first blogger we’re featuring in our new Meet an Ethical Blogger series is Leah from Style Wise. You may already be familiar with Style Wise since I link out to it on the regular. It’s one of my favorite reads for insightful perspective on consumer culture. I asked Leah a few questions to learn about the story of Style Wise.

Fair for All: Describe the focus of your blog.

Leah: At Style Wise, I focus primarily on featuring and wearing ethical and sustainable clothing and accessories. I occasionally write essays on consumerism in general and on broader issues in the retail sector.

Why do you choose to write about these topics?

I initially started the blog because I actively read personal style blogs and had one of my own. I had become quite disenchanted by the whole process. Though style blogs are often touted as an avenue by which fashion becomes more democratic, they also encourage rampant consumerism, which I believe is unhealthy and unsustainable. I thought it would be useful to use the same format as a typical fashion blog, but work within the specific niche of fair trade clothing. My hope was that I could appeal to the same readers that read popular fashion blogs and show them that they could dress thoughtfully without sacrificing style.

Of course, as I delved further into living mindfully myself, I realized that the issue is a lot more complicated than I initially realized. It’s not enough to just switch our spending to fair trade, organic, or secondhand options, because the fact remains that we’re still consuming too much, too quickly. I’m trying to figure out a way to appeal to the wider fashion blogging community while still tackling topics that go much deeper, that ask us to find a way to appreciate clothing without consuming like there’s no tomorrow, that ask us to take the long view in an instant gratification culture.

Photo of Leah with quote

What motivates you to pursue an ethical lifestyle?

Ultimately, my reason for pursuing an ethical lifestyle is rooted in Christianity. In a faith tradition that emphasizes self sacrifice and unconditional love for all people, I began to notice a gaping hole in the way I lived out my ethics. I took efforts to be kind to people in my community and occasionally donated to Oxfam in the midst of a crisis, but I didn’t realize that my consumer habits were perpetuating a system that dehumanizes and demoralizes thousands and thousands of people. Though I was raised Evangelical, I most identify with the Episcopal Church and appreciate its emphasis on taking action to change the systems that oppress people rather than just throwing money at the superficial problem. I strive for my ethics to be internally consistent; I still have a long way to go.

What makes a product or company ethical to you? When you’re making a purchase or deciding what to write about, what principles or criteria guide your decision?

There are a number of things to consider here. I began this journey with human rights and labor issues in mind, so my number one priority is ensuring that the company not only has a corporate social responsibility statement in place, but that it actually follows it. A lot of companies don’t have an auditing system that can actually guarantee that factory workers are being treated properly, so you can’t always trust corporate documents. Transparency is the key.

After I’ve established that people within the supply chain have a voice, I look into what the company does with its profits. While some fair trade companies are non-profits, many are standard businesses, so it’s worthwhile to pay attention to what they say about their profits. While I would prefer that the cotton farmers at the very beginning of the supply chain are also being treated fairly, it can be much harder to find information on materials sourcing. When in doubt, call or email the company and see what you can find out.

What are your top 3 favorite ethical shopping brands or websites?

  1. Sseko Designs: This is my very favorite ethical retailer. Their sandals are produced by Ugandan women through a training program that occurs between high school and college. They make money and receive additional funding from Sseko to attend college and major in their field of choice. I love this model because there’s no limit to what these women can achieve; they’re not stuck making sandals for the rest of their lives.
  2. Everlane: They make great quality classics at affordable prices, founded on a principle of radical transparency. You can read all about their factories, materials, and costs on the website.
  3. Mata Traders: This is maybe the first fair trade clothing company I heard about. The founders are friends who saw a need and worked to resolve it. Their garments are handmade by Indian women’s organizations that provide a living wage.

Thanks for having me! – Leah

Here are some recent posts from Style Wise to check out:

Over the next few months we’ll share more profiles of ethical bloggers. If you can’t wait for the next post, check out our Resources page for a list of ethical lifestyle blogs.

Ethical Brand Spotlight: Fair Trade Designs

In our first Ethical Brand Spotlight, we highlighted a company that offered fairly simple (but cute!) apparel. In this edition we’re featuring a website that could help you snazz those outfits up!

Fair Trade Designs is a curated online store featuring accessories produced by a variety of fair trade artisan groups around the world. A member of the Fair Trade Federation, Fair Trade Designs carefully vets the groups that supply its products and works with only those that uphold fair trade standards (which you can learn more about by reading our Why Fair Trade? series).

Necklace, earrings, bracelet, wallet and clutch from Fair Trade Designs

  1. ChaCha Tagua Necklace
  2. Geostack Earrings
  3. Aylin Acai Seed Bracelet
  4. Screenprinted Silk and Cotton Wallet
  5. Palm Tree Clutch

The store features jewelry, bags, scarves and other accessories, with prices ranging from $10 to over $100 depending on the item. They have many items that blend traditional methods and materials with modern style.

Purse, scarves and necklaces from Fair Trade Designs

  1. Cuero Bag
  2. Vibrante Acai Seed Necklace
  3. Parina Silk and Cotton Scarf
  4. Silver Sparks Necklace
  5. Eri Silk Scarf

Which of these items matches your style? I’m digging the Parina scarf—gorgeous!