Vacation… and a Teaser

I’m on a quick family vacation right now with my dear sister (check her out if you like interior design and DIY projects). I’ll be back with a regular post later this week, but I wanted to take this random-post opportunity to foreshadow something new I have in the works.

Blurred out photo of new project

Coming soon!

It’s somewhat related to Fair for All but is also something completely different. I may be a little more hit-or-miss with regular posting as I shift some attention to this new project. It’s exciting and a little scary (for me, not anyone else, I hope) and I’m looking forward to when I can officially share it with you!

With that extremely vague teaser, have a great start to your week and try not to lie awake wondering!

The Only Thing that Has Changed the World

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead

I’ve always been a big fan of this quote. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll realize it aligns well with my belief that individual actions can create real change. This quote came to mind again today and I wondered for the first time about its origins. Who is Margaret Mead? What was the context for the quote? Is she really saying what it sounds like she’s saying?

Margaret Mead in 1948

Margaret Mead in 1948

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist the the mid-1900s. She was a controversial figure throughout much of her career for her reports about sexual behavior in various traditional cultures in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Her work helped inspire feminism, the sexual revolution and other movements in the 1960s.

According to the Institute of Intercultural Studies, which was founded by Mead in the 1940s but shuttered in 2009, there is no definitive source for the widely attributed quote: “We believe it probably came into circulation through a newspaper report of something said spontaneously and informally. We know, however, that it was firmly rooted in her professional work and that it reflected a conviction that she expressed often, in different contexts and phrasings.”

I was disappointed to learn that the quote wasn’t intentionally composed in a specific context and likely has been altered from its original phrasing. However, I was reassured to learn on the IIS website that Mead did actual research into the role of small groups in cultural change in her 1964 book Continuities in Cultural Evolution. She believed in the power of small groups not from wishful thinking but from her research.

I appreciate this quote because I know of so many small organizations and companies working to do things differently to make the world a better place. From fair trade cooperatives to neighborhood revitalization committees, each group has the power to make positive change and grow a small movement into a big one.

Margaret Mead quote

What’s your favorite quote that inspires you to change the world?

Apps & Online Tools for Ethical Shopping


As a companion to my recent Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Shopping, I wanted to share this post by Kasi Martin of The Peahen about apps and online tools to help make ethical shopping easier. Kasi is a devotee of ethical fashion and writes about brands, designers, issues and trends at the intersection of style and standards.

Ethical designers catch a lot of flak for not being fashion-forward enough. When I bring up ethical fashion to a friend or outsider I usually get a skeptical eyebrow raise. Before I make a style recommendation, I’m forced to brandish it with an ethical disclaimer. “Oh, you’re on the hunt for a new brand of denim? There’s a new organic hemp denim brand I discovered –  but you know – it’s all that hippy-dippy shit I love.”

I want to stop this justification madness. Ethical should be cool. It should generate just as much excitement for shoppers as a Zara haul…even if it’s more expensive.

Zara copies trends as they trickle down from the runway. Ethical fashion creates trends that travel up to the runway. This is ethical fashion’s redeeming quality that makes it appealing to the masses. Issues like greenwashing or human rights may be entirely off your radar  [I will eventually convert you] – but ethical fashion gives you the ability to shop according to your terms. Because trends start from the bottom, you have power to pause for a reality check and confidently say – “Hey, I’m not okay paying 300 bucks for a pair of knock-off Rockstud pumps because Valentino said they were cool three seasons ago.” Ethical fashion makes you a rebel WITH a cause.

Still, with all this power of choice in front of you, ethical brands are disparate and hard to discover. You could click on a cathy Instagam one second, and the next it’s flying off your radar into the social media abyss. What sticks? How do you find which brands are right for you?

Well, stop by here for suggestions. My ‘elsewhere’ list is a good place to start. But there are also a few online tools that will help you reign in the option overload, discover what’s new and audit what you already love.

No excuses for not buying ethically now, this is shopping empowerment at your fingertips.

For the mobile shopper

Orange Harp – A mobile app that puts artisans and brands in one place. Checkout Lovehewn jewelry. And it’s not just fashion! Buy through the platform to donate a bit extra to fight human trafficking.

Orange Harp website

Continue reading on The Peahen >>

Product Review: Fair Trade Crossbody Purse

When I attended the Fair Trade Federation conference back in the spring of 2014, one of the booths that caught my attention was Manos Zapotecas. Their bags are a gorgeous combination of native textiles and leather and immediately made me want to go on a very sophisticated hike over desert steppes. I walked past their booth again and again just to ogle them.

Recently I got in touch with Hannah Aronowitz of Manos Zapotecas to learn more about the process of making their beautiful bags, and she also lent me their Luisa crossbody purse to review.

Coral and beige fair trade crossbody purse

The Luisa purse in Adobe & Earth

Fair for All: Describe the process of making a Manos Zapotecas bag.

Hannah Aronowitz: All Manos Zapotecas bags are handmade according to time-honored traditions by Zapotec weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Our weavers are also the designers of the beautiful patterns found on all of our bags. Many are the traditional Zapotec designs while others are modern interpretations of their tribal patterns or even abstract expressions. Our Style Coordinator works closely with the weavers to discuss colors for seasonal lines and each designer gets a chance to draw up their designs on paper, and then produce a sample. We offer feedback throughout the design process and choose the best samples to be made into Manos Zapotecas bags.

Manos Zapotecas weavers use bi-peddle treadle looms and preparing the loom to weave is an intensive process unto itself. A completed woven piece is called a tapete, or woolen tapestry. Most traditionally used as rugs, Manos Zapotecas utilizes these small tapetes to make into bags.

The next step is to sew the tapetes into the shape of the bag it will become. It is then sent to a dedicated leatherworker in a nearby town who adds the leather handles and base, siding or fringe, depending on the model. The bag is returned to the weaver so they can sew in the zipper and lining and make sure the bag is in perfect condition to ship out.

This video goes through this process as explained by two of our weavers.

Julia wearing fair trade crossbody purse

How did Manos Zapotecas get connected with the artisans who produce the bags? Why did you choose to work in the Zapotec community specifically?

In 2009, Manos Zapotecas founder Shelly Tennyson was volunteering with a microfinance non-profit in the small Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. She was offering business classes to the female loan recipients, many of who were weavers. Shelley realized that no matter how exquisite the product, or how savvy their business skills, without buyers, these hardworking and skilled artisans were not being able to support themselves or their families adequately.

Three years later, Manos Zapotecas was borne out of a belief that commerce can, and should, change lives for the better. What began as a wild idea to sell Zapotec bags globally, in a village where most of the women hadn’t even left the state, has grown into a fair trade fashion brand that is run by a team of five women in the US and supports over 50 weavers in Oaxaca. The purpose of Manos Zapotecas is to perpetuate the beautiful traditions and improve the lives of the Zapotec artisans by connecting them with socially conscious consumers around the globe.

Julia wearing fair trade crossbody purse

Cropped to eliminate major RBF in this photo

Can you describe the natural dyes that are used in some of the bags?

Some weaving families still use natural dyes, the knowledge of which is passed down from generation to generation. These dyes are concocted from a variety of plant, animal and mineral sources, such as nuts and flowers, cochineal bugs and indigo. Other families prefer the more vivid colors produced by aniline dyes. For either method, the yarn is boiled with the dye, a fixative (such as lime juice) is added and then the skeins of colored yarn are hung to dry in the sun.

Where does the wool for the bags come from, and where are the metal and leather components of the bags produced? Do these producers follow humane and sustainable practices?

The 100% sheep’s wool comes from Puebla, Mexico, the leather from Leon, Mexico and the hardware from Mexico City. Because we don’t have the capability to visit these sources at the moment we don’t want to make any claims in terms of sustainability. Our weavers and tanners have built strong relationships with their suppliers, some have been working together for the last 30 years. We at MZ place high value on those current relationships and for now the artisans continue to source their own supplies.

I love that the meanings behind the traditional Zapotec designs are on the Manos Zapotecas website. Which pattern is your favorite and why?

Grecas pattern

Grecas pattern

This pattern, called grecas, mimics the mosaic fretwork that is found spectacularly preserved at the ancient Zapotec religious center of Mitla. This geometric spiral represents the life cycle, according to the Zapotec worldview. Each step represents a stage of life, beginning at birth, moving on through youth, maturity and then decay, followed by the other world. It is a powerful symbol that is often repeated in MZ bags.

Is Manos Zapotecas a member of any fair trade organizations?

Yes! We are a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, which means that we abide by a set of guiding principles which ensures that the artisans are getting the fair pay, support and safe work conditions they deserve. Making these kinds of business decisions comes second nature to a company that values the humans behind the products higher than the profits themselves. We see business as a means to improve lives, not just to line pockets.

What’s next for Manos Zapotecas?

We are very excited to launch our Fall 2015 Collection this September, which is comprised of about 25 new bags in a perfect fall palette. Also, we are looking forward to adding men’s products to our line in the coming year.

Tag on fair trade crossbody purse with name of artisan

My favorite thing about this purse was the hand-signed tag from the artisan who produced it. After watching videos about the process on the Manos Zapotecas website, I was inspired by the craft and creativity of the weavers and I’m so glad they are able to preserve their tradition. Scrolling through their online store is like perusing a gallery of abstract art.

The bag is a great size for everyday and has a convenient adjustable strap. It’s biggest downside is that there’s only one interior pocket. The lining could also be made of sturdier fabric to help the pocket hold its shape.

While I like the Adobe & Earth pattern on the bag I tried, if I was going to order a bag to keep permanently, I would choose one of the more colorful made-to-order designs like the Sunburst Sky or Dark Arrows. In my dream world I would also have the Mitla duffel bag.

Thanks to Hannah for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the Manos Zapotecas process!

Disclosure: Manos Zapotecas temporarily lent me the Luisa purse to review. All opinions are my own.

The Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Shopping

A friend recently asked me how to get started shopping ethically: How can you tell if a brand is ethical? Where do you go? What do you look for? Looking back at my own process of becoming a more ethical consumer, I came up with some basic strategies you can use to gauge the ethics of a brand and ultimately decide if you want to support them.

Beginner's Guide to Ethical Shopping infographic

1. Decide what’s important to you

Do you care primarily about workers’ rights? The environment? Both? Use your personal priorities to guide your search. No brand is perfect, so it helps to know your must-haves as well as areas you would be comfortable compromising.

When I first started changing my shopping habits, working conditions and fair wages were my primary criteria. Human rights are still my main focus, but as I continue to learn more about how the environment is intertwined with human rights, lower-impact manufacturing processes and materials are now important to me as well.

2. See what the brand says about itself

I’ve found this in many different locations on brand websites. Good places to start are the About section, the FAQ page, anything labeled “Who We Are” or “Our Story,” or specific sections about sustainability or social responsibility. If a brand doesn’t mention a commitment to ethical or sustainable practices in any of these places, it’s a good bet that those things aren’t important to them. The more detailed and transparent a brand is about its practices, the better.

Note that most big mainstream brands have a lot of social responsibility- and sustainability-related content on their websites. Some are making real, positive progress, but I recommend not taking major brands solely at their word. Run a few strategic Google searches (see #4 below) to see if their media coverage lines up with their claims.

3. Check for certifications or memberships

There are many organizations that either certify ethical brands or products, or offer membership to brands who commit to following a certain set of principles. (Here is a rundown of some of the most well-known ethical certifications.) If a brand is certified by or a member of one of these organizations, the brand may post the organization’s logo on their website. Check in the About section or footer, or the brand may have a separate page called “Partners” or something similar.

Not all ethical companies are necessarily certified by or members of an ethical organization. However, looking for memberships and certifications is a great place to start if you’re overwhelmed by researching individual brands. Most organizations have directories of their members so you can easily find out who has met their standards. Seeing one of these logos can be a quick confirmation that a brand has met a certain baseline of ethical or sustainable practices.

4. Google it

If the brand you’re looking at doesn’t have any ethical certifications or memberships, try googling it alongside a few different words to see if people are writing about the brand in a positive or negative way. Here are some ideas:

  • [brand name] sustainable (i.e. “H&M sustainable”)
  • [brand name] ethical
  • [brand name] sweatshop
  • [brand name] living wage
  • [brand name] labor
  • [brand name] workers
  • [brand name] [criteria that’s most important to you]

Look for articles that feature some investigation or analysis, rather than just press releases written by the brand itself. You may also be able to find if the brand is recommended as ethical or sustainable in a directory or shopping guide focused on those characteristics.

5. Ask for more information

If you can’t find the information you’re looking for on the brand’s website or through independent media coverage, send them an email and ask! You may not receive a response, but sometimes you will, and often the tone and depth of that response will be a clear indicator of whether the brand is truly committed to the values you care about or if they’re just using green catchphrases.

6. Give yourself time

Obviously, following all of these steps every time you need to buy something is a lot of work. Give yourself time to become familiar with certifications and what companies tend to say about themselves. Find a few brands you feel confident about and start there.

Your purchases may not be perfect at first. When I first began shopping consciously, I bought things from companies I probably wouldn’t choose to support now. Likewise, there are now companies I probably would support now that I wouldn’t have before, because I’ve been able to see their progress and commitment over time.

For an abundance of information and links about ethical shopping, check out our Resources page.

A Primer on Product Stewardship

Warning: It’s about to get a little technical up in here, but stick with me, it’s worth it.

Product stewardship is a concept I only recently became familiar with, but it kind of blew my mind. In a nutshell, this concept aims to address the question of who is responsible for the impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. According to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI):

Product stewardship is the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages, while also maximizing economic benefits. The manufacturer, or producer, of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.

Basically, product stewardship puts the onus on manufacturers to take greater responsibility for the items they are putting out into the world. To me this feels like a radically different mindset from mainstream industry, but it makes a ton of sense. Consumers don’t have the capacity to sustainably handle the end-of-life of today’s increasingly complex products, and the public sector shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning up messes that can be avoided with more intelligent product design or end-of-life planning from the manufacturers. I agree with PSI that ultimately a team effort is needed, but I appreciate the emphasis on manufacturers not being able to wash their hands of the things they produce once they’re out the door.

In fact, PSI also defines a sub-concept specifically related to manufacturer responsibility:

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the manufacturer’s responsibility for its product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the manufacturer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to manufacturers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.

Whereas product stewardship is a general philosophy, extended producer responsibility appears to be a policy-specific initiative with the goal of establishing EPR regulations for various industries.

Definition of product stewardship

The linear economy vs. the circular economy

The Product Stewardship Society frames the impact of product stewardship this way: “If the ‘linear economy’ is characterized by a ‘Take, Make, Use, Dispose’ philosophy, then the circular economy is an alternate concept, aimed at keeping products and their materials in play for longer periods of time.”

John Ortiz, a product stewardship manager at Hewlett-Packard, says the design of products in the circular economy may include “upgradeability, refurbishment, or empowering customers with service options.” This is a refreshing change from industry’s current focus on planned obsolescence and turning durable products into disposable ones.

Examples of product stewardship

End-of-life management is especially critical for products that can be hazardous when disposed of improperly. One example of product stewardship success is the paint industry, which has launched a take-back program in several states to safely handle the recycling and disposal of household paint. The pharmaceutical industry is currently under pressure to implement a more comprehensive drug take-back program to prevent the social and environmental hazards of unused or expired medications.

Various brands from Samsung to The North Face have implemented take-back programs with varying scopes/ease of access:

I feel like we’re at a revolutionary point similar to the stage in the Industrial Revolution when people began mobilizing for basic labor rights. We realized then that you can’t treat people as if they are disposable, and now we’re realizing that you ultimately can’t treat materials as if they are disposable either.

If the circular economy gains traction, it’s going to look totally different than today’s economy—imagine being able to repair products, pass them along to someone else in good condition, or turn them back in for safe disposal or reliable recycling. Instead of constantly chucking our goods to upgrade to the latest minor enhancement or trend, we can focus on enjoying the value that long-lasting products add to our lives. And for items that are truly consumable by nature, like paint or medication, we can dispose of them safely and confidently.

Do any of your favorite brands have take-back or recycling programs not listed above? Let me know about them in the comments!

Now Showing: Events!

I’m excited to announce that Fair for All is expanding out of the purely digital realm and into the real world with… drumroll please… events!

I’ve been wanting to host events for a while so I’m excited to finally have two on the schedule. Through these events I hope to spark a conversation about ethical and sustainable lifestyle choices in central Indiana.

Here’s what’s on the docket!

Film Screening: The True Cost

Film Screening: The True Cost

Tuesday, Aug. 18 from 6:30-8:30pm
Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company

Join Fair for All at Thr3e Wise Men in Broad Ripple for this free documentary screening. Enjoy dinner and/or a local brew while we watch the film, followed by a brief discussion. You’re responsible for your own food and beverage purchases, but everything you order within the party room helps cover the cost of the event, hooray! The screening will take place in the Fermenting Room and is limited to 20 attendees per our arrangement with the filmmaker.

Learn more about the film in my review or at

Want to attend? RSVP on Facebook to secure your spot!

FairSwap15 Women's Clothing Swap

FairSwap15 Women’s Clothing Swap

Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 6-8pm
New Day Craft Cider & Mead

Everyone loves the thrill of getting a new outfit, but today’s fast fashion industry has high human and environmental costs. Factory workers are exploited, water supplies are polluted, and discarded clothing fills landfills at an alarming rate.

Join us at FairSwap15 to celebrate the fun of fashion in a socially- and environmentally-conscious way. Swap your unwanted clothing and accessories for new-to-you items. Who knows, your castoffs could become someone’s new favorite outfit!

Want to attend? Registration will open soon for this free event.

I’m excited about forming a stronger connection between this blog and the local Indy community. If you’re local, come hang out! For those of you not in central Indiana, I encourage you to find or host your own clothing swap. (You can also find screenings of The True Cost on their website, but they appear to be mostly done for now.)

I’m not sure how to end this post other than saying I’M SO EXCITED a bunch of times… Hope to see you at an event soon! (!!!)