Thoughts on Embracing Responsibility

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Those who have known me since I was a kid know that I’ve always been unusually conscientious. The story I tell to illustrate this point is when I was about eight, I was playing at a friend’s house and we decided to do some prank phone calls. We called some random number and made incoherent jokes about refrigerators running—or maybe we just giggled and hung up, I’m not sure. What I do remember is that this occurred right when caller ID and *69 were becoming a thing. The guy called back and told us to stop bothering him, and I was mortified.

This having taken place at my friend’s house, I went home and my parents were none the wiser. However, I couldn’t sleep, lying in bed wracked with guilt, so in the middle of the night I got up, went into my parents’ room, confessed, and grounded myself.

I suppose it’s not surprising that a kid with that intense of a conscience grew up to become invested in issues like human trafficking and economic justice. But what I’m only recently realizing is that my aggressive personal Jiminy Cricket has a counterpart that’s helped shape my lifestyle and worldview—a sense of power and responsibility.

What has kept me from curling into a ball of anxiety from my conscience is the fact that I’ve always believed I can do something about it. My eight-year-old self solved the problem by doling out my own discipline. Today, when I feel a sense of moral urgency or concern about a social or environmental issue, I just decide to do what I can about it.

I can choose fair trade chocolate over conventional brands. I can put off replacing those shoes that only show a few signs of wear. I can choose packaging-free food, secondhand clothes, slavery-free gifts. I can say “no” to things I don’t really need.

Will my actions alone change the world? No. But the beauty of lifestyle changes is that you’re not alone—it’s about being part of a community of people seeking change, who are willing to incorporate pieces of that change into their everyday lives. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is only cliché to people who aren’t actually doing it. Once you’ve started, it’s just common sense.

Our responsibility to each other is something to embrace, not avoid. All of us on this planet are connected to one another. My actions and your actions have ramifications for those around us and for thousands of people across the globe who we’ll never meet. Instead of that truth freaking you out, let it excite you, because that means you have the power to make life better, in varying degrees, for those people you’re connected to.

That’s what I want this blog to be about. It’s bigger than ethical shopping or tips for reducing waste, though that’s part of it. It’s about a belief that together our choices build a better world, and everyone has the power to participate.

Be the change you wish to see in the world

The Search for Ethical Swimwear

Guys, I had every intention of writing a “Top 5 Ethical Swimwear Picks” post with the latest and greatest ethical swimsuit brands. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve shopped for a new swimsuit, and with the expansion the ethical fashion scene has undergone in the last few years, I figured there would surely be plenty of new options to investigate and at least one that worked for my style and budget.

Alas, the swimwear arena appears to be lagging behind the rest of the ethical fashion industry—in fact, the ethical swimwear industry may even be shrinking. I contacted Faerie’s Dance, an online store that carries several sustainable swimwear styles, and they informed me that all three of their swimwear suppliers have gone out of business in the last two years.

There are still some options out there, despite there not being as many as I’d hoped. Here are some of my favorites that I found:

Faherty graphic weave bikini

Graphic Weave Bikini from Faherty (top, bottom)

  • Made in the USA
  • Eco-friendly fabric is a blend of recycled polyester from plastic bottles and Lycra

Latte Drops Reversible Bikini from FINCH

String Theory Reversible Bikini from FINCH (top, bottom)

  • FINCH maintains close relationships with their factories in China and Indonesia. Based in Shanghai, they are able to visit their local suppliers frequently.
  • Do not impose rush deadlines on suppliers or force a “race to the bottom” for costs
  • FINCH aims to design a timeless product that can be worn for many years. They repeat their core prints year after year, which reduces pressure on suppliers and allows consumers to replace one half of a bikini instead of both pieces, if only one is worn out.
  • Fabric is made from certified 87% Repreve brand recycled PET (post-consumer use bottles) and 13% Spandex

Black and white bikini from Fables by Barrie

Yvette Swim Bra and Amelia Bikini Bottom from Fables by Barrie

  • Made in San Diego, CA
  • From their about page: “We take pride in being most definitely sweatshop-free.”

Mathilde one-piece swimsuit from LUZ

Mathilde One-Piece from LUZ

  • Fabrics is 93% GOTS-certified organic cotton and 7% elastane
  • Products are made in accordance with fair trade principles (fair salary, up-front payment, realistic and defined work schedule, long-term business relationship)

If you noticed a trend in my color choices (except for Mathilde—it’s navy!), I looked primarily for black designs so I could match them with the plain black bikini bottoms I already have.

For more ethical swimwear options, check out these posts:

Suit Yourself – Ethical Swimwear – Birds of a Thread
2015 Sustainable Swimwear Guide – Ecohabitude
Ethical and Adorable Swimwear  – Purse & Clutch
Guide to Ethical Swimwear – The Note Passer

Has anyone ever tried a cotton swimsuit before? The designs and colors in the entire LUZ collection are gorgeous. They make me almost want to roll the dice and try one…

Greatest Hits: Volume 1

Sometimes you feel like writing a blog post, sometimes you feel like revamping your blog’s whole layout. This weekend was the latter for me, so ta-da! If after you’ve bathed your eyes in the refreshing new layout you still want to take in some actual content, I thought this would be a good time to share some of my favorite posts from the last several months, in case you’ve missed them:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to occasionally read through my old diaries from middle school, and I was always shocked to realize how much the same person I was then as I am now. My personality and writing style and things I was concerned about… It’s weird to feel like you’ve grown but you’re the same person at the same time. Anyway, that’s how I felt comparing the Carrying Less post to my recent post Why I’m Not a Minimalist. It’s cool to go back a whole year and see the philosophical threads that carry through.

How do you feel when you look back on older things you’ve written?

Product Review: Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

For as long as I can remember, my mom and aunts have had a big vendetta against the color coral. “It’s not even a real color,” they would say, scoffing at any coral-colored garments on the rack at Nordstrom (our frequent shopping destination in my childhood). It’s taken me years to overcome their anti-coral propaganda, but I’ve been fully embracing the color lately and let me tell you, it feels good.

I recently received the Karina dress from Synergy Organic Clothing to try out, and I was drawn to it first for its coral and reddish-purplish stripes. It’s like if Beetlejuice was a skater girl from a tropical climate, which I mean as a compliment.

Front view of Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

The swingy skirt and scooped back also appealed to me, and as always, I went for sleeves and a not-too-short length in case I want to try to wear it to work. The cotton fabric is wicked comfortable.

Back view of Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

The dress fit perfectly out of the box except for the straps that cross the scooped back. If I was slouching, the straps were about right, but if I stood up straight, they were kind of loose and droopy. I like to err on the side of good posture (which I attempt to have occasionally), so I shortened the straps a little with a few quick stitches and now they fit whether I’m slouching or not.

Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

The one thing I wish this dress had was pockets. I keep putting my hands on my hips expecting pockets to be there and I’m disappointed every time. However, I love the real-world-helpful description of the dress on the Synergy website. How many online stores have notes like “Scoop neck in front and back, high enough that you can still wear a bra”? Thank you for knowing what I actually care about!

Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

Socializing at my imaginary barbecue!

In terms of ethics, this dress is firing on all cylinders. The fabric is 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton dyed with low-impact dyes (meaning it meets certain requirements in regard to toxicity and biodegradability), and the dress is sewn in a fair trade operation in Nepal. Synergy is also a Green America Certified Gold business. Learn more about Synergy’s ethics.

I’m looking forward to wearing this dress to cookouts and swing dances and for general frolicking. Does your family hate on a particular color? Can you even imagine not liking coral? (I can’t anymore.)

P.S. Synergy is currently running a summer sale: Get 20% off your clothing order with code summer20.

Disclosure: Synergy Organic Clothing provided this dress for free for me to review. All opinions are my own.

Why I’m Not a Minimalist

Why I'm Not a Minimalist

Photo credit: Feans

I once dated a guy who was a minimalist. His apartment had some basic furnishings, bare walls, a shelf of some books and DVDs, and not much else. (Actually, looking back I’m realizing that none of my boyfriends have owned a lot of stuff, which might say something psychologically interesting about me.) The first time he came to my apartment, the first words out of his mouth were, “You have a lot of stuff!”

This was after I had already begun consciously not accumulating new stuff, so needless to say I was rather affronted. After further thought, though, I decided that having a lot of stuff isn’t inherently something to be ashamed of.

Minimalism is a buzzword these days, and as a theory it has a lot of merit. In practice, though, most people aren’t starting from zero, so attaining lofty minimalist benchmarks (like having a super-small wardrobe) is unrealistic. If you’ve already accumulated a lot of possessions, to purge all those items just so you can be “minimal” epitomizes a wastefulness that to me seems at odds with the entire philosophy of minimalism.

The main reason I’m not a minimalist is the realization that just because it’s not my problem anymore doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Minimalism espouses the mental and emotional benefits of living with less. I agree that removing clutter and excess can have very positive effects… on the person losing the clutter. However, you can’t ignore the fact that whatever you get rid of continues to exist, whether in a thrift store, a secondhand market in a developing country, or a landfill. (There’s a good chance your stuff will travel through all three.)

Mindless purging can be just as harmful as mindless accumulation, as it enables further consumption and injects more items into the waste stream. Finding someone who wants what you don’t is a more sustainable solution than throwing all of your unwanted items in a box for someone else to deal with.

Honestly, that approach takes more time and effort, which is another reason I still have some things I don’t really need or want anymore. But I’m fine with that, because I know they’re causing me less of a problem than they might cause somewhere else.

What’s your take on minimalism? Do you also accidentally date only minimalists?

Find Pretty Much Anything Ethically with These Directories

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Once upon a time, the Fair for All Guide was the Fair for All Shopping Guide, and it was our dream to create an all-encompassing directory of ethical products and brands and to be a one-stop shop for anyone who wanted to make any kind of ethical purchase.

Our plan ended up being a little bigger than our britches, and we retired our directory in 2014. However, there are many other blogs and websites that feature ethical shopping directories, which we share on our Resources page. We recently added the following new directories to the list—check them out to help you find what you’re looking for!

Note that each directory is maintained according to its owner’s ethical criteria, which may differ from Fair for All’s. Be sure to look at the ethics of any specific company before purchasing.

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EcoCult Shopping Guide

Includes several categories like clothing, jewelry, accessories, lingerie, men’s, beauty, and home.

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Shop Conscious

Shop Conscious focuses on fashion brands and enables you to filter by a plethora of conscious factors including Handmade, Fair Trade, Empowering Women, Recycled Materials, Made in the USA, Vegan and more.

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Top 10 List of Fashionable Fair Trade Companies

Looking for some chic wearables? This top ten list (actually featuring twelve items!) is for you.

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Global Stewards Directory of Online Fair Trade Shops

Lists fair trade websites only. Categories include the usual plus some more obscure ones like toys/hobbies/entertainment, seasonal items, food, and flowers.

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One of a Kind Sustainability Where to Shop Directory

Focuses on environmental sustainability rather than human rights, but several brands cover both bases. Includes categories for clothing, shoes, accessories, beauty and home, plus helpful notes about the product style or ethics/sustainability of each link.

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Fair Fashion Finds

This Tumblr shares sales, discounts and deals from ethical shopping websites.

With the addition of these links, our Resources page is becoming a kind of mega Frankendirectory, which is pretty wicked if you ask me. If you have a favorite ethical shopping directory that isn’t listed, tell us about it and we’ll add it to the monster!

The True Cost of Fashion

East Asian factory workers, a South Asian shoe sweatshop

I recently learned about a new documentary that sheds light on the hidden flaws of the fashion industry. The True Cost explores the fashion supply chain from the cotton fields of India to factories in Cambodia and Bangladesh and exposes how the bargains we see on store racks are made possible by unsafe working conditions, rampant pesticide use and other negative factors. The film aims to answer the question, “Who really pays the price for our clothing?”

The True Cost focuses on establishing the fact that the fashion industry is deeply flawed and in need of major reform. According to a review by the LA Times, director Andrew Morgan says his intent was “to overwhelm the viewer with just how enormous the issue is.” I’m definitely a solution-focused person, so to an extent it bothers me that the film focuses so heavily on the problem, but in terms of educating the general public I think that’s where you have to start. (Plus it would be hard for a film to include solutions for a lot of different scenarios and consumers. That’s what blogs are for!)

I have yet to see the movie in full, but I plan to and would love to share the experience with other interested folks. Indianapolis locals: Would you be interested in attending a screening of this movie? I’ve never hosted a film screening before but I think this film could provoke great discussion, perhaps with an accompanying panel. If you or someone you know would be interested in such an event, let me know in the comments!

Everyone else, check out the True Cost website for a list of global screenings. You can also purchase the film on DVD or for digital streaming.

Have you seen The True Cost? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

6 Myths About Buying Ethical Clothing

The post below was originally published by Leah on Style Wise. It may challenge some of your viewpoints about ethical shopping, but it’s ultimately meant to empower you. You have more options for making a difference than you might think!

6 Myths About Buying Ethical Clothing

Far and away the most common negative comment I get on ethical fashion articles I’ve written for other sites is some variation of:

“Good for you for having enough money to buy expensive clothes. Some of us can’t afford to buy a closet full of ethical clothing and it’s classist for you to even mention it. Have you no pity on poor people in your own country? And have you considered the fact that people in foreign countries will lose their jobs if we stop buying from sweatshops? Better to have a lousy job than no job at all.”

Some of them are considerably less harsh and some are too horrific to repeat here, but it’s clear to me that the biggest deterrence to acquiring an ethical wardrobe is money. So let me clarify a few things.

Firstly, I absolutely do care about the plight of the poor in my own country. It’s despicable that, despite our national wealth, more than 45 million people live below the poverty line. And we’ve got a few social safety nets, but we haven’t really figured out how to help people get a leg up long term, and it’s only getting worse. And it’s just a matter of fact that low cost, sweatshop-sourced clothing may be the best financial option for a lot of people. If you live paycheck to paycheck and have trouble putting clothes on your back and the backs of your children, please know that I not only feel for you, but I think you need to make the best choice for your family, even if that means making the ethics of your clothing choices less of a priority, or not a priority at all. You are welcome to this conversation, of course, but you may have other things to worry about.

But I also know for a fact that a lot of you can afford to consider your purchases. You’re the ones I’m talking to (and I get the sense that, by and large, you’re also the ones making the most excuses). Reality check: I manage a local thrift shop and my husband is a grad student. We aren’t exactly making it rain over here. But we do benefit a lot from the knowledge that, if something were to happen to us, our parents would be able to step in to support us. We have a social network that makes us feel secure and that helps us make long term financial decisions we couldn’t make if we were going it completely alone. We also don’t have children to support, so our income stretches a bit further.

I am aware of my relative privilege, but I suspect there are a lot of you in my position who don’t realize that it is possible to change your spending habits without breaking the bank. If you can overcome a few prevalent myths, you’ll be on your way to making better choices in no time.

Myth 1: It’s a given that I will buy at least a dozen new items every season.

For many of us, it would be a financial disaster to buy more than a handful of fair trade clothing items every 6 months. But, if you’ve already built a basic wardrobe, you don’t need to buy more than a couple new things a year. Magazines and 5 week trend cycles make us feel obligated to keep up with every new fad on the market, but it isn’t necessary or even fulfilling. You may have to buy less if you’re purchasing from more ethical brands, but that probably won’t hurt you in the long run. Plus, in my own experience, fair trade and domestically produced items from small brands hold up better than fast fashion items anyway, so you won’t need to replace your staples as often.

Myth 2: I can’t dress well with secondhand items.

My go-to advice for people considering their purchases for the first time is to start with thrift shopping. The sticker shock of fair trade and sustainable items will wear off eventually, but in the meantime, try secondhand on for size. A lot of people insist that they can’t get high quality items at thrift shops, but I suspect they don’t regularly visit them. The thrift market is booming and it’s surprisingly easy to find something you like that’s in great condition.

And yes, thrift shopping is a more ethical option, even if you’re buying conventional brands there. Why? Because you’re not contributing to demand for new items and you’re ensuring that things don’t end up in the landfill so quickly. Additionally, money spent at thrift shops supports local charities.

Myth 3: My specific circumstances (size, profession, location) prevent me from buying from ethical retailers.

I feel you on this one. The ethical market is still growing and it’s not always easy – or possible – to find things that fit well or suit your lifestyle. To you, I’d suggest a few options:

  1. Buy from online consignment stores like thredUP and Twice. You may be able to find a greater variety of sizes and styles from secondhand sites online.
  2. Search ebay’s pre-owned section for brands you like.
  3. Buy well. If you can’t find ethical or secondhand options, try to buy things that will last. You’ll save money over time and you won’t contribute as heavily to demand for sweatshop goods. I do this with shoes, because it’s difficult to find well-made, comfortable shoes on the ethical market (though there are a growing number of companies filling the void).

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