News Roundup: August 2014

Welcome to the August roundup! I’m jazzed to share a couple of new ethical shopping directories with you, plus a handful of informative and inspiring articles.

New finds

These two helpful guides have been added to our Resources page.

Overdressed Shopping Directory

The book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion has been very influential in the ethical lifestyle arena (though I still have yet to read it… fail!). This month I learned that there is a shopping directory affiliated with the book that has recommendations for sustainable clothing, shoes and accessories.

Sample find: the No. 105 Utility Tote from Artifact Bag Co. (Handmade in Omaha, NE)

No. 105 Utility Tote from Artifact Bag Co. - Navy & brown

Eco Fashion World Guide

This shopping guide can be filtered by various eco criteria such as Fair Trade Certified, ethically produced, recycled and more.

Sample find: the Classic Cardigan from SPUN (Made in USA out of 100% organic cotton)

Classic cardigan from SPUN - teal

This month’s reading

One family’s mantra & how it has shaped them – This article isn’t about ethical consumerism specifically, but it is a great illustration of how simply believing you can “do hard things” helps you overcome challenges. Great inspiration to keep in mind when making ethical choices seems impossible. (Let Why Lead)

How to make an ethical choice when shopping for clothes – Loved the simplicity of this article: down-to-earth and practical. (Treehugger)

Plastics Recycling: You’re Doing it Wrong. And So is Everybody Else! – Do you sort your plastic recycling by the little numbers on the bottom? I do, and apparently that is totally incorrect. (To everyone I have taught how to recycle: my bad.) This article explain what the numbers actually mean and offers tips for sorting your recycling more effectively. (Triple Pundit)

How2Recycle – If the above article leaves you confused about how to recycle, check out products that carry this helpful label. I would love it if all products had this!

7 Reasons Why Organic Cotton is Better for You and the Earth (Modavanti)

New UK guidelines set to boost ethical sourcing of jewellery (Channel NewsAsia)

Have you found any good resources or articles this month? Share them in the comments!

Why Fair Trade? Environmental Efforts

Post title over outdoor scene of blue sky, greenery and dirt road

In our series Why Fair Trade?, we aim to illustrate the main reasons why supporting fair trade is important to us. Today Laura explains the environmental benefits of choosing fair trade.

I see so much beauty on this earth, and I want it to flourish. People are beautiful, too, so I want us to experience this beauty for generations to come. Fair trade calls for environmental efforts that will improve the lives of workers in both the short- and long-term, and that has an equal standing with other ethical principles that benefit workers.

In my young adult years, I went on an organic food kick that, to this day, I still practice as often as possible. I also do the usual eco-friendly things like recycling and purchasing post-consumer paper goods, used books, and reusable/biodegradable items. So when I first started looking into fair trade, I was gratified to find out that most companies and labeling organizations include environmental stewardship criteria for businesses. Far beyond the simple measures we can all try at home, some examples of environmental practices that fair trade companies may follow are:

  • No GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms)
  • Specific toxic chemicals not used
  • Waste management through reuse and recycling
  • Water and energy conservation
  • Reduced greenhouse gases
  • Organic or reduced pesticide use

My aunt, who owns a small eco press in British Columbia, shared with me her thoughts on sustainability and fair trade. She wrote to me in an email, “The best a company can do, in my opinion, is constantly question both the environmental and economic impact that they are making by offering their product to consumers. Not only question but constantly make strides to improve their footprint.” Fair trade companies, along with my aunt’s press, aim to do their best to keep the impact on the environment low in whatever means possible.

One of my favorite tea companies—for both quality of tea and quality of ethical standards—Choice Organic Teas, explains in their “Why Organic?” section that they seek organic sourcing for benefits like improved soil fertility, better for wildlife, and safer for humans. They say, “How could we be anything other than organic?” because the alternative has negative effects on nature and people.

The Fair Trade Federation’s principle states, “Fair Trade seeks to offer current generations the ability to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Well said.

We care about the health of the people who work to grow and make our products. As much as we hope they have access to medical treatment and good safety measures on the job, we also don’t want them to be exposed to toxins either directly or indirectly. We don’t want them to be harmed by chemicals, or have their clean water wasted or polluted, or lose farmland that can no longer be cultivated. Practicing environmental stewardship is a critical issue, one that these small businesses are admirably attempting to put into place and improve upon over time.

Ethical Shoes with Free Return Shipping

I’ve talked before about my love of free return shipping. For me it’s the key to a satisfying online shopping experience, especially for shoes. I’ll sometimes roll the dice on a shirt or dress without free return shipping, but never with shoes, since there’s a 70% chance I’ll have to send them back due to fit.

In the ethical shopping landscape, it can sometimes be hard to find free return shipping, as many retailers are small, independent companies. However, I’ve found several ethical shoe options that ARE available with free return or exchange shipping! From cute flats to rugged boots, these brands offer a wide variety of styles that you can order and try on without worry.

Ethical shoes with free return shipping - shoe images

1. Oliberte – This brand is the only shoe manufacturer Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA. They offer rugged leather styles for both men and women. NOTE: Order through Zappos for free exchanges and returns. The Oliberte website only offers free exchanges.

2. Munro American – This made-in-USA brand skews more conservative in style, making them a great option for the office or for the more traditionally-minded fashionista. Order through Zappos for free exchanges and returns; the Munro American website offers neither.

3. American Apparel – A trendier made-in-USA option, with styles for both men and women. American Apparel offers free return shipping for all returnable items. NOTE: Sale items are not returnable.

4. Modavanti – This ethical storefront carries many different brands that are required to meet a minimum sustainability threshold. Exchanges and returns are free if you sign up for an account (also free).

5. The Root Collective – Each pair of flats from The Root Collective is handmade in Guatemala. Exchanges due to fit are free, but returns are not.

I have not personally worn shoes from any of these companies (though I did order and free-return a pair of shoes from American Apparel last year), as I tend to get most of my shoes at the thrift store. That’s another great ethical option with no shipping woes!

Have you tried any of the brands above? Do you know of any other ethical shoe brands with free return shipping?

Liz Alig: Indianapolis Fair Trade Fashion

Liz Alig logo and dress

Sometimes I feel like I’m pretty on top of the fair trade game. Then I find out something like this: There’s a fair trade fashion line that is designed in Indianapolis that I knew nothing about! Mind = blown. Liz Alig is a clothing company committed to fashion-forward designs and ethical manufacturing practices.

I got in touch with founder Elizabeth Roney and she kindly answered my questions about how Liz Alig got started and what its mission and products are all about.

Tell us the story of how you started Liz Alig.

The starting of Liz Alig did not really happen overnight. I had the opportunity to visit several factories in developing countries where I first put a face behind the people who make our clothes.  This got me interested in fair trade and eco fashion, but as a designer I had trouble finding clothing that I wanted to wear that was made ethically. So, I decided to experiment recycling fabric (because fair trade fabric was hard to find) and designing my own very small line of dresses.

Isabella dress from Liz Alig

Describe your design process. Are your designs influenced by the upcycled fabrics you use? By the capabilities of your producer groups?

Some of the items I design are inspired by the fabrics and other times the design idea comes first, but absolutely the capabilities of the producer groups we work with come into play. The fabrics, machines, and skills of the groups we work come into play in every area of the design process. For example some groups do not have access to zippers so we have to get creative with other forms of closures.

What’s one of your favorite pieces from your most recent collection, and why?

I love the ikat plaid fabric that is woven in Guatemala. Our Fall 2014 collection has some crop pants in this fabric. Look for the Andrea Pants this Fall!

Maggie shorts from Liz Alig

I loved reading the stories of your global partners. How do you manage your relationships with all of these groups and measure the positive impact you have on them?

The groups that we choose to work with each have their own social impact engrained in their mission. We could not do what we do without these groups, because we can not have a separate facility in all these locations. We manage our relationship mainly by email, but sometimes we visit the organization to help train them on new designs or techniques. Our orders help to sustain these groups as well as give them advanced training.

Chinna skirt from Liz Alig

How do people in Indiana usually react when you explain your business model? Have you encountered any fair trade skeptics, or are people generally supportive?

Most people are very supportive. There has been a growing interest for eco-based and giving back companies, this helps with the initial understanding of the idea. There is a little bit of a learning curve in understanding fair trade and what this means and why it is important.

Are you a member of any fair trade organizations or certifications?

Member of the Fair Trade Federation.

Pieced leggings from Liz Alig

What’s next for Liz Alig?

We are having conversations with a few big box retailers, which is exciting!  Also, we are considering expanding into an accessories market.

Liz Alig products are available on their website and at boutiques across the country. I’m excited to track down some of their stuff! (I love the teal skirt shown above. Pockets for the win!)

News Roundup: July 2014

I thought I’d start this month’s roundup by sharing some new ethical online retailers I stumbled across recently:

Product images from new stores this month

  • Amani – Clothing and accessories made with beautiful, uniquely patterned fabrics, plus other handcrafted goods.
  • Gifts with Humanity – Accessories, home decor and more. This is an olive wood bowl with bone inlay.
  • Faire Collection – Jewelry and accessories. I love their hats!
  • GreenCupboards – Filter by the various “eco-traits” to find ethically-made and sustainable products. Tons of baby stuff if you’re in that season of life!

And here’s what I’ve been reading this month:

Where Does Discarded Clothing Go? – This article by Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The High Cost of Fast Fashion, sheds light on for-profit textile recycling businesses and how they can help alleviate the problem of textile waste in landfills. (The Atlantic)

Mata Girl in the World: Jenny – Preview Mata Traders’ fall collection and read an interview with Jenny Gootman, Director of Social Consciousness and Innovation at West Elm. (Mata Traders)

Effortless Sustainable Style by Amour Vert – My favorite part of this blog post isn’t the clothes (though they are lovely)… it’s that Summer describes how to care for silk garments without dry cleaning them! Major question of my life: answered. (Tortoise & Lady Grey)

Is Fairtrade the only ethical act in town? – This article highlights businesses that are going beyond the requirements of fair trade certification to benefit producers even further. (Money Market UK)

Textile Review: Bamboo – How sustainable is bamboo fabric? Maybe not as sustainable as fashion retailers would like us to think. Summer describes the bamboo fabric production process and its impact on the environment. (Tortoise & Lady Grey)

Ministers warn UK retailers to do more on human rights and ethical products – British government officials admonish retailers to take bigger steps toward ethical practices, following an exposé about slave labor in the shrimp industry. (The Guardian)

Ethical consumerism delivering ‘profitable growth’, says market research – Fair trade and organic goods are no longer considered niche products and represent a “major area of profitable growth.” (Blue & Green Tomorrow)

A Chic Shopping Shift – Jason Keehn, founder and CEO of Accompany, argues that the key to wider adoption of ethical shopping is more retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, who carry only fairly-made goods, so that consumers will easily know where to go. (Huffington Post)

How Much Are You Wearing + Promoting Better Products Or Just Promoting Consumption? – I came across this blog recently and enjoyed reading a lot of the previous posts. This particular post raises a great question about the line between promoting better choices and promoting unnecessary consumption. (This Kind Choice)

My life is forever changed now that I know how to wash silk without dry cleaning it. Let me know if you find any earth-shattering tidbits in the links above!

Carrying Less

Carrying Less header image with minimalist shelf

Since the beginning of this year I’ve been meditating on the idea of living with less, and for the last few months I’ve been working on what I call “the purge”—a conscious effort to reduce my possessions by donating, giving things to family and friends, and recycling.

Having too much stuff is a first world problem in the extreme, and I still have more possessions than probably 95% of people in the world. But now that I’ve made visible progress, I realize that for me, getting rid of things is less about living with less than it is about carrying less.

There are two kinds of things worth having: things that are truly useful, and things that have personal or emotional significance. I tend to overdo it when assessing both traits in items. I hold onto a lot of things “just in case” they become useful in the future (I kept two burnt-out lightbulbs on my kitchen counter for several months. Why??), and I also like to keep things to document my life. I call the latter category my “archives,” which I half-jokingly maintain for the benefit of my future biographer. I recently realized that every time I add something new to the archives, it diminishes the significance of everything else I’ve kept. There’s no point in keeping an archive of personally meaningful ephemera if the stockpile becomes so large you never peruse any of it.

My strategy now is to keep only the truly useful or meaningful items, take photos of the rest and then discard it by donating or recycling. Going through my stuff is giving me the chance not only to reduce the quantity of physical items I have, but also to reflect, pay those items their emotional due, and move on. As long as I have a record that I once had whatever artifact, it’s less important for me to actually carry it through life.

"How to get rid of stuff" infographic

From an ethical shopping standpoint, reducing your possessions to your most loved and useful items can make you more conscious of your shopping behavior. If every new thing you buy is more conspicuous in your home, you may consider each purchase more carefully. My current possessions are the result of 20-odd years of unconscious accumulation. My goal is to accumulate dramatically less over the rest of my life, and for each item I acquire to have real value.

The purge has been way more time-consuming than I thought it would be, so I still have a long way to go. But I figure it’s definitely easier to go through my stuff now than it would be to do it in another five or ten years. I’m sure my future biographer will thank me.

Are you a minimalist, a hoarder, or somewhere in between? Have you ever conducted your own purge of stuff? How did it go?

Thrift Store Score

A few weeks ago I was running errands in the Glendale area of Indianapolis and saw a billboard for a new store called Vintage Vogue just around the corner. I can rarely resist the urge to explore anything labeled “vintage,” so I immediately went to check it out:

Vintage Vogue exterior sign

Before I went in, I pulled up their website to check that they were open and see if they were truly a vintage store, as opposed to a boutique that sells 90% new stuff (which is an irritating trend I’ve seen lately—boutiques trying to bill themselves as vintage when they’re not). I was surprised to find that this particular shop wasn’t truly vintage, either, but not in a shady way—it’s actually a new concept from Goodwill. You could call it “Goodwill: Just the Good Stuff.”

Sales floor of Vintage Vogue store

The shop sells used clothing such as what you’d find at a regular Goodwill, plus accessories and a handful of home decor items, but it’s filtered to include only the more fashionable and high-quality items. As you can see, the store itself is designed like a boutique, in contrast to the bare-bones look of other Goodwill locations. The items are at a slightly higher price point than regular Goodwill, but that didn’t bother me, since I saved time by not having to sift through a lot of out-of-fashion or poor-quality items.

Sales floor of Vintage Vogue store

Following my thrift store shopping guidelines, I looked for a couple of specific items: versatile shirts I could wear to work and on the weekend, and black skinny pants. I found a White House Black Market shirt for $9 and black Forever 21 jeans for $7.50.

Photos of Julia in thrifted outfit

The top right photo is my “Yesssss I found what I wanted!” victory pose.

One concern that occurred to me as I shopped was whether this kind of store takes good items away from regular Goodwill stores. People who can’t afford the higher prices at Vintage Vogue should still have the opportunity to find high-quality items. My thought was that Goodwill’s donation volume is probably so high that pulling items for these stores wouldn’t make a huge difference in the overall selection. The Vintage Vogue website seems to confirm that assumption:

Vintage Vogue merchandise comes from select central Indiana Goodwill stores. These stores hand-pick a small portion of their upscale and vintage donations to send to Vintage Vogue. Special items and boutique merchandise can still be found at any of the more than 50 Goodwill locations in central Indiana.

It looks like Vintage Vogue is just a central Indiana concept right now, with this store in Indianapolis and another one in Bloomington. If you’re in the area and are looking for a gateway into shopping secondhand, I recommend checking it out!

Have you had any good thrift store finds lately? What are your favorite thrifting spots?

Safe and Ethical Baby Gifts

I am entering a new phase of my life. As the age of Everyone I Know Is Getting Married winds down, the age of Everyone I Know Is Having Babies is picking up. When I realized I knew three super-pregnant women at the same time, as well as three women with young’ns under the age of three, it occurred to me that a post about safe and ethical baby items could be useful!

College of safe and ethical baby gifts

1. Green 3 Apparel Doggies Organic Baby Playsuit – Made of organic cotton in USA (Fair Indigo)

2. Green Toys Twist Teether – Made of recycled food-safe plastic in USA (Made in USA Forever). I love Green Toys—their toys are safe and eco-friendly, and they have toys for older kids too, not just babies. When I have kids I want all of their toys to be Green Toys! Made in USA Forever carries a ton of them.

3. Scrappy Bib – Made of recycled cotton fabric scraps (which I think are organic) in Bali (Greenheart Shop)

4. Green 3 Apparel Recycled USA-Made Monkey Throw (Green) – Made of 75% pre-consumer recycled cotton and 25% acrylic in USA (Fair Indigo)

5. Penguin Booties – Made of sheep’s wool by artisans in Kyrgyzstan (Uncommon Goods)

6. Organic Stuffed Owl – Made of organic fleece in USA (Stuffington Bear Factory)

With products for babies, safety is obviously a top concern. The great thing about many ethical producers is that they focus on the safety of their products as well as the safety of their workers, especially for baby items. No worries about baby gumming on lead-based paint! I would particularly recommend organic cotton products for babies; check out this blog post from Modavanti for information about why organic cotton is so important.

Are you also surrounded by glowing pregnant goddesses? Do you wish they made adult-size penguin booties? (I do!)

Why Fair Trade? No Forced or Child Labor

Over the last few months I’ve been sharing some of the reasons why I support fair trade. One principle of fair trade that is very important to me is the prohibition of forced and child labor.

Millions of people worldwide are forced to work against their will and without proper pay. This is called human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery. Trafficking is present in a variety of sectors: agriculture, manufacturing, domestic servitude, the sex industry. Some estimates put the number of enslaved people worldwide at 30 million.

One of the first avenues through which I learned about human trafficking was International Justice Mission. Their accounts of entire families being enslaved in brick kilns for years have stuck with me since I first heard them.

It boggles me that any form of slavery still exists today. I think a lot of people are unaware of human trafficking, and if they are aware, they assume that businesses make sure they don’t have slaves working for them. However, most businesses do not do the rigorous monitoring that is required to identify and eliminate forced labor from their supply chains.

Fair trade does what we assume all businesses do.

This is another case where fair trade is doing what we would expect all businesses to do. In fair trade, all workers are working voluntarily and are being paid fairly. Beyond that, fair trade stipulates that workers should be free from physical and verbal abuse, harassment and discrimination. (My reference point for fair trade standards is the Fair Trade Federation’s principles. Other certifications have similar standards that may be phrased differently.)

Fair trade also puts a special emphasis on the rights of children. While many children worldwide work to help support their families, fair trade requires that children’s work not interfere with their safety, education or need to play. Fair trade producers must disclose when children are involved in production and must adhere to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Having been part of an anti-trafficking organization for several years, I’ve heard many accounts from former trafficking victims about the hopelessness they felt while being trafficked. Fair trade offers an alternative of hope—a way to provide for one’s family in an environment of safety and respect. Fair trade doesn’t just prohibit slavery; it provides economic opportunities so people are less at-risk for becoming enslaved.

To learn more about human trafficking, I recommend checking out International Justice Mission and the Not For Sale Campaign.

News Roundup: June 2014

Conestoga wagon with post title

Circle the wagons, it’s roundup time! To be honest, I didn’t spend a ton of time reading this month. I was too busy trying to get outside as much as possible! However, the stuff I did read was top-notch quality. Check out the links below!

You Don’t Have to Feel It —This post blew my face off with truth. It explores our motivations for doing good, and how emotion can’t be the only motivator we have. (Style Wise)

Dov Charney: the man who put the sleaze factor into American Apparel — American Apparel founder and CEO Dov Charney was ousted this month in relation to alleged misconduct (he’s a notorious creeper, to say the least). I love the manufacturing ethics of American Apparel but have always felt weird supporting them because of their over-sexualized photography and Charney’s grossness. Hopefully his removal means the brand can move in a less offensive direction. (The Guardian)

Benefit Corporations Look Beyond The Profit Motive — Basic overview of the concept of “benefit corporations” (commonly known as B Corporations). The quote below addresses what I think is one of the keys for social enterprise to really take off. Profit isn’t everything! (NPR)

There are legal protections when a state signs on: A shareholder can’t sue a benefit corporation for valuing the environment as much as profit.
Benefit Corporations Look Beyond The Profit Motive

Greenpeace Reviews Major Food Retailers for Sustainable Seafood Purchasing — One of the best and easiest-to-understand articles I’ve seen about sustainable seafood. (Triple Pundit)

2014 Trafficking in Persons Report — This annual report ranks countries into tiers based on their efforts toward combating human trafficking. (U.S. State Department)

Reader Request: Ethical Jeans — In my post of pants recommendations for Sarah, I noted that ethical high-end jeans being pretty widely available. And what do you know, Jamillah coincidentally just wrote a post with ethical jeans recommendations! (Made to Travel)

Host a Clothing Swap! — Dominique shares helpful step-by-step instructions for organizing a clothing swap with friends—a great way to give old clothes a new home! (Let’s Be Fair)

Top 3 Resale Sites — Elizabeth reviews her favorite apparel resale sites with helpful notes on return policies and how to sell. (The Note Passer)

Did you read the Style Wise link at the top? Go do that now. Then have a great week!