Fall Favorites & Summer Sales

If you know me in real life, you know that I have been a grumpy bear since the weather turned cooler. Overcast skies and cold temperatures (i.e. anything below 60 degrees) are NOT my jam, but I’ve found a silver lining: My favorite fair trade companies are all coming out with their fall collections. If it’s going to be Gloom Central outside, at least there are pretty things to look at online!

Here are my favorite items from some recent fair trade fall collections:

Collage of favorite fall items

  1. Alma Cardigan in Grey – People Tree
  2. Organic Tulip Skirt – Fair Indigo
  3. Alise Dress in Peach – Liz Alig
  4. Indigo Ends Scarf – SERRV
  5. Biltmore Blouse in Green – Mata Traders
  6. Lalina Rustic Brown Pullup – Oliberte
  7. Plum Ikat Shirtdress – SERRV

The cardigan and the tulip skirt would be such a cozy combination, and the brown boots would look great with the shirtdress.

The change of the seasons is also the time to take advantage of sales on outgoing summer items. This is my favorite way to score items from pricier brands. Check out the sale pages for some of the brands featured above—you’re bound to find a deal on something that will work perfectly well in fall with the right sweater or leggings.

How do you feel about fall? I feel like I’m definitely in the minority cursing its arrival. I’ll be fine with it come October, but expect me to continue scowling at the thermometer for the next two weeks…

Ethical Brand Spotlight: Synergy Organic Clothing

In our new Ethical Brand Spotlight series, we highlight brands and stores offering items that are ethical as well as stylish, practical and affordable.

Synergy Organic Clothing is a new shop to me (I found it linked on Style Wise), but I am already enthralled by its potential to fill out my wardrobe. Synergy offers dresses, skirts, pants, tops, yoga wear, and outerwear made with organic cotton and low-impact dyes. (Did you know that textile dyeing and treatment causes 17-20% of industrial water pollution? Low-impact dyes help reduce that!)

Dress and skirt from Synergy Organic Clothing

Helena Dress in Citron, Maggie Pocket Skirt in Pebble

All of Synergy’s garments are made under fair trade standards by a group of 150+ women in Nepal. Workers receive a living wage, can work from home, and are not exposed to any hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing process.

Jacket, tunic and plus size dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

Moto Jacket in Earth, Melissa Tie Dress in Purple Orchid, Breeze Tunic in Seafoam

One great thing that Synergy offers that I haven’t seen on many ethical shopping websites is a plus size collection. With a wide variety of versatile, flattering styles, this collection fills a major hole in the ethical apparel landscape.

Synergy is a little more expensive than I usually go for everyday clothes (though let’s be real, I usually shop at Goodwill where nothing is more than $6). They offer a Sale section, but the discounts there are not as deep as I would have hoped. However, Synergy offers many timeless, versatile styles that could have a long life in your wardrobe, bringing the cost-per-wear to a very reasonable level.

Shown above:

I’m really grooving on the cute little outfit with the Maggie Pocket Skirt, but I would honestly wear any of these items, plus a whole bunch more that I didn’t even put into the post. Which one is your favorite?

Everyday Silver Necklace

Necklaces are my favorite item of jewelry by far, and I’ve recently developed a fetish for simple, delicate designs. A few months ago I bought the simplest, tiniest gold necklace on Etsy, and I wear it constantly. I decided I wanted a silver equivalent as well and perused my local fair trade shop for options.

The necklace I ended up getting (the Cubed Necklace in Silver from Ten Thousand Villages, purchased at Global Gifts) is not nearly as minimalistic in design as my gold necklace, but it’s equally neutral (though it does actually sparkle quite a bit, which I didn’t expect for a necklace made of matte cubes). It’s adjustable in length, making it even more versatile.

Close-up of Julia wearing cubed silver necklace

Even though I’m happy with this necklace and have already worn it a bunch, part of me still wants a more delicate silver necklace, for when the surprising bling of the cube necklace is a little much. I found some other ethical silver necklace options for your inspiration, and my potential shopping list:

Montage of simple silver necklaces

  1. Tiny Dot Sterling Silver Moissanite Pendant Necklace (Etsy) – Handmade in Tennessee with recycled silver and lab-created moissanite
  2. Silver Infinity Necklace (One World Fair Trade) – Handmade by fair trade artisans in Indonesia
  3. Silver Little Pebble Accent Necklace (Etsy) – Handmade in the U.S. with recycled silver
  4. Flat and Round Silver Necklace (Mira Fair Trade) – No specific artisan info is available for this product, but Mira Fair Trade is a Fair Trade Federation member and is a Green American Gold Certified Business
  5. Encircled Necklace (Ten Thousand Villages) – Handmade by fair trade artisans in Peru
  6. Fine Silver Dainty Disc Necklace (Etsy) – Handmade in Wisconsin with recycled silver

I’m drawn to number 3—it’s a completely odd little charm, and if you click through to the listing, you’ll see how super-tiny it is! Number 1 is pretty great too. What’s your favorite?

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?