Iceland Iceland Baby

I just got back from a trip to Iceland and my brain is full of beautiful sights like these!

Valley with stream and distant mountains

Mountain in morning sunlight

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland

Julia and friend with four wheeler

My travel buddy Valerie and I agreed that four-wheeling in Iceland is the best thing we have ever done, ever.

I’ll be back next week with a normal post after I catch up and slowly ease out of my mountain dream state.

Do You Pity Shop?

This post was originally published by Alden Wicker on EcoCult. I read it and said “Yes, this is right on the money!” It’s got an excellent perspective on what it means to shop consciously. Enjoy!

Row of high heels at a vintage marketIt’s a thin, blurry line between shopping consciously, and pity shopping.

I bet if you’re reading this blog, you’ve pity shopped before. That Fair Trade bracelet that you never wear. The ill-fitting charity t-shirt. The expensive vegan handbag that fell apart after four months.

Actually, I think everyone has pity shopped, starting with the first time you bought a sorry looking cupcake at a bake sale that was raising money for a good cause. You ruined your diet, and it didn’t even taste that good, but you wanted to help out. Not a huge deal, really, that one cupcake.

But when you get into the world of sustainable and ethical consumption, pity shopping becomes a big, expensive problem. I’m an enthusiastic proponent of buying as sustainably and ethically as possible. My every purchase is carefully considered, and I spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over how to avoid buying something that is manufactured in China, or made from toxic ingredients. I also get very excited when I see a sustainable fashion item.

Buying an eco-friendly item that you don’t need or want is like smearing peanut butter on a celery stick and thinking the calories balance each other out. News flash: It still possesses calories.

It’s true that you can get a lot of things in the sustainable version, whether it’s made with natural materials, benefits artisans in a developing country, or is just pre-worn. But you can’t get everything that way.

And that is where I trip up. Over the past five years, I have found myself in possession of a whole suitcase worth of pity purchases, including unflattering clothing, poorly constructed accessories, and ineffective beauty products, just because they were sustainable in some way! I would never have paid money for it, had I not been blinded by its ethical qualities. I would have looked at it and thought, “Meh, not for me.” Instead, I plunked down my credit card and brought it home.

Then it sat in my closet, barely used, until I finally faced the truth that I’m just never going to wear it. So I regretfully take it to the consignment store or Goodwill. Even worse is when I get the eco-friendly version, decide I hate it, get rid of it, and wind up getting the conventional version after all!

Don’t be fooled: Pity purchasing is not sustainable. If you purchase a sustainable item, and then never use it, you are being wasteful. That sustainable item is not zero impact, it’s just less impact than the conventional item. It had to be transported to you somehow. Electricity was involved in its manufacture. The fabric is organic, but the zipper is not.

Feeling altruistic about buying an eco-friendly item that you don’t need or want is like smearing peanut butter on a celery stick and thinking the calories balance each other out. Yes, it’s healthier than a peanut butter fudge brownie. But it still possesses calories.

The first guideline for living sustainably is simply consuming less. Buying the sustainable version is way down on the list, after borrowing it, making it, and buying it used.

Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly support labels and brands and companies who are breaking the mold and doing things differently. Especially ones that are making products that are just as beautiful, just as durable, just as effective as their conventional counterparts. That’s what this blog is all about! And on a scale of 1 to wasteful, pity shopping is way better than impulse shopping and buying a bunch of conventional clothing that you don’t want or need.

But an important part of being sustainable is knowing yourself, your wants, your needs, and your style. It’s saying, “I love what you’re doing, but it’s not right for me.” (Which I do all the time.) It’s looking past the eco-friendly label and thinking about whether you actually will use it.

One great trick I use is to ask myself the question: “Would I buy this ‘eco-friendly’ item if I didn’t care about sustainability?” If the answer is yes, then ding! ding! ding! You have found a winner. Oftentimes, though, you’ll realize that it’s not very attractive, or well-made, or tasty. In that case, I give you permission to not buy it.

I even give you permission to buy the conventional version if:

  1. You’ve done your research
  2. You haven’t found a viable alternative, and
  3. You’re going to love it and use it for years to come.

That still counts as conscious consumerism, so don’t feel guilty about it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some eco-friendly clothing to take to the consignment store.

Have you ever pity shopped? Tell me about it in the comments! 

___

Alden Wicker is editor-in-chief of EcoCult, a blog covering sustainable and eco-friendly living in NYC and beyond.

Make It Work: Ceramic Crock

Adding a Glitter Stripe to a Ceramic Crock

At my company, we have a Christmas tradition of sending out ceramic crocks containing tubs of cheese spread as customer appreciation gifts. We ended up with some extras and being the waste-not, want-not girl that I am, I took one home. I’m still working through the cheese itself (“cheese food,” technically, according to the package), but I took a liking to the ceramic crock and wanted to see if I could transform it into something less logo’d and more reusable.

Ceramic crock and supplies

I’ve been itching to glitterize something for a couple of months, but I hadn’t picked a project yet, since I didn’t want to turn something recyclable into something unrecyclable by covering it in glitter and glue. I decided I would only glitterize something that was already unrecyclable… like a ceramic crock! I determined that a stripe of gold glitter around the circumference of the crock would be the perfect way to cover the logo. The supplies needed were minimal:

  • Glitter
  • Mod Podge
  • Foam brush
  • Masking tape
  • Newspaper

I got my glitter and Mod Podge from Indy Upcycle, a local shop that resells unwanted craft supplies. It’s one of my absolute favorite stores: not only is the concept ingenious, but it reduces waste, it allows me to do DIY projects without supporting mass production of craft supplies, the prices are dramatically lower than retail, and you’re encouraged to buy only what you need (which is why I have a film canister of Mod Podge instead of a huge jar). I highly recommend looking to see if you have a similar store in your community, and if you don’t, maybe start one, because this idea is golden!

I began by using the masking tape to mark the edges of the stripe. You could also use painter’s tape for this; I just happened to have masking tape. I wasn’t terribly precise, and the stripe turned out a little crooked as a result. If you want it to be perfectly straight, I recommend measuring. I also taped the handle so it would stay upright and out of the way.

Ceramic crock with masking tape

Next I used the foam brush to paint on a thin layer of Mod Podge. I was surprised by how little Mod Podge I needed. Then I started sprinkling on the glitter. Do this over newspaper to catch the extra glitter! Otherwise you will have a tragic (yet sparkly) mess.

Ceramic crock with Mod Podge and glitter

After the glitter was on, I waited a couple of minutes for it to set, then I peeled off the tape (except for the tape holding the handle upright). While the Mod Podge was still pliable, I used my fingernail to adjust a couple of particularly crooked parts of the stripe.

Ceramic crock with gold glitter stripe

I waited about 10 minutes then applied a topcoat of Mod Podge, again using the foam brush. The topcoat keeps the glitter from flaking off, which is especially important because I plan to use the crock around food. Nobody likes glitter in their salsa.

Mod Podge topcoat over glitter stripe

I waited a couple of hours for the Mod Podge to fully dry, then ta-daaaa!

Finished ceramic crock with gold glitter stripe

The project took about 30 minutes of active time, plus drying time. Even with the topcoat, the glitter is by no means waterproof, so I envision using it in ways that will only require me to wipe out the inside. For example, I could keep dip cool during a party by putting a few ice cubes in the bottom then the container of dip on top, or I could use it for dry snacks like nuts or candy.

I feel much better now that I’ve got some glitter in my life. Have you ever turned a logo’d promotional item into something you like and use? Does anyone else get an insatiable urge to cover things in glitter?

P.S. I’m finally getting on the Bloglovin train, so follow my blog with Bloglovin if that’s your reader of choice!

Conducting a Wardrobe Audit: Inventory

Conducting a Wardrobe Audit. Step One: Inventory

Since working on my shoe wardrobe post a couple weeks ago and having major breakthroughs about what kinds of shoes would actually suit my life, I realized I wanted to assess my wardrobe overall and have those insights about all my types of clothing. What do I have? What do I like, and what don’t I like? What should I look for when I shop to make sure I get clothes that I’ll really wear?

I’m calling this process the Wardrobe Audit. The goal is to prevent waste by learning to avoid impractical purchases in the future and by identifying opportunities to refashion items I already have instead of buying new. I’ll be breaking up the audit into several steps to keep it from being overwhelming. I decided the first step would simply be to take inventory of what I currently have. Counting each item requires that I at least glance at everything, which will help me make some initial insights and determine what to focus on next.

The first funny thing I realized is that I have more clothing storage locations than I thought. I keep clothes in my two bedroom closets, my dresser, the linen closet, and the coat closet (not to mention the clothes that are in my hamper at any given time).

Photo composite of closets and drawers

Not even all of it, you guys.

After going through each area, here are the totals I came up with:

  • Tops: 128
  • Sweaters: 30
  • Dresses: 33
  • Skirts: 22
  • Pants: 40
  • Shorts: 7
  • Pajamas: 11 bottoms, 12 shirts
  • Coats/jackets: 7
  • Socks: 58 pairs
  • Shoes: 35 pairs, plus 1 pair of slippers

I was actually surprised by my shoe number—I thought it would be higher, which makes me wonder if I’m forgetting another secret shoe storage location.

Based on the totals above and what I noticed when counting, the areas I want to focus on next are tops, sweaters, pants, and dresses. I plan to look through each segment in more detail and ask myself:

  • What items do I really like and wear regularly? Why?
  • What items don’t I like or wear regularly? Why?
  • Can I alter the items I don’t like to make them into something I do like? If not, how can I find them a new home?
  • Are there new items I can look for that will help make my overall wardrobe more cohesive and wearable? Should new items have any specific characteristics?

For example, I still have several pairs of pants that are too long and baggy or otherwise ill-fitting. I can turn them into skinny pants like I’ve done with a couple of other pairs, but there might be some pants that just don’t make sense with my other clothes (brown corduroy pants, I’m looking at you), so those I would need to sell or give away.

On the tops and sweaters front, one thing I noticed is that I have several shirts and sweaters that I hardly ever wear because they have three-quarter length sleeves. In theory I don’t mind three-quarter length sleeves, but in practice, I would much rather wear a short sleeve shirt with a long sleeve cardigan over it. (I think we all know how annoying it is to try to put on a cardigan over a three-quarter sleeve shirt… ain’t nobody got time to smooth out bunchy sleeves. And if it’s cold enough to wear a sweater, it’s cold enough that I want my whole arm to be covered. </oldlady> ) So for future shirt and sweater purchases, I should probably avoid three-quarter length sleeves, and for shirts I already have, I might be able to convert some three-quarter sleeves into short sleeves so they layer better.

Have you ever counted every item in your wardrobe? Were you surprised by the results? Do you share my scorn for three-quarter length sleeves?

Random Roundup: Inside a Sweatshop & Where Old Clothes Go

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a roundup, but I found some great links recently and had to share!

Some of you may have already heard about the Norwegian web series Sweatshop. It sends three fashion-loving Norwegians in their late teens/early twenties to Cambodia to meet garment workers, experience factory conditions, and try to survive on their wages. Each episode is only about 12 minutes long; I highly recommend watching the full series.

The journey of your old clothes graphic

Do you ever wonder, where do your old clothes go? In this multimedia article from the BBC, the journey of donated clothing is traced from start to finish, sometimes ending in a local charity shop and sometimes in secondhand clothing markets in countries like Ghana and Pakistan. The economic benefits of the secondhand clothing industry are up for debate—clothing markets flourish in developing countries (and create interesting jobs like the personal shopper profiled in the article), but they have also contributed to a decline in textile employment.

Screenshot of AIGA sustainbility video

I was recently watching videos from the AIGA Design Conference from a few years ago and came across this gem about sustainability, presented by Leyla Acaroglu. The ideas she presents aren’t limited to design-specific issues, and she brings a lot of energy to the sometimes daunting goal of reducing environmental impact. My favorite takeaway from the video is that “sustainability is an opportunity, not a problem.”

Have you watched the Sweatshop series? What were your thoughts?

A Minimal Shoe Wardrobe

I’ve been thinking a lot about shoes lately. This is not really anything new, as shoes are fabulous and I am in no way immune to their wiles. But ever since reading this post about wardrobe staples on The Note Passer, I’ve been pondering what my own essentials would be, specifically in the footwear arena. I wondered, would it be possible to have a complete shoe wardrobe with only six pairs of shoes? (I have 30+ pairs currently.)

As I attempted to meet this challenge, I came up with a few non-negotiable characteristics to make sure my selections would be versatile, comfortable, and actually fit into my life.

  • I don’t do heels, so every style had to be flat.
  • I work in an office with a fairly stringent dress code, so most of my selections had to be work-appropriate.
  • I eliminated all suede shoes because I want shoes that are worry-free in all kinds of weather, including snow and rain. Its fuzzy surface is also inherently more casual, which makes it hard to dress up.
  • I decided not to include specialty shoes like snow boots, running shoes or dancing shoes. Those are harder to find ethically-made, so my strategy there is to buy quality shoes that are made to last, or buy secondhand.

After some serious sole searching (see what I did there??), I came up with the following selections for my dream minimal shoe wardrobe.

Minimal Ethical Shoe Wardrobe

I organized my search by thinking about four specific types of shoe that I felt needed to be represented no matter what. Once I had my options for each type, it was just a matter of mixing them together to make a balanced wardrobe.

Loafers & oxfords

  1. Smoking Shoe in Noir from Nisolo
  2. Caramel Lalibella Loafer from Sseko Designs
  3. Joanie Faux Suede Flat from Beyond Skin
  4. Amanda Shoe from American Apparel

Ethical loafers and oxfords

Boots

  1. Scout Boots from Bourgeois Boheme
  2. Caramel Nomad Bootie from Sseko Designs

Ethical boots

Flats

I had extra criteria for flats: a quiet sole and a slightly pointed toe. Clicky shoes are hard to dress down, and a round toe is hard to dress up.

  1. The Classic Point in Metallic Gold from Poppy Barley
  2. Shelley Flat from Beyond Skin

Ethical flats

Sandals

  1. Rose Sandal from Beyond Skin
  2. Delicias Sandal in Pale Honey from Nisolo

Ethical sandals

Lessons learned

One key lesson I learned during my search is that camel/nude shoes are the key to being able to wear brown clothes without having a plethora of rarely worn brown shoes. This was both a revelation and a buzzkill, because I love brown shoes and have several pairs. (Remember the surprise boots?) But from a practical standpoint, you can wear camel or nude shoes with a lot more things, and they can be dressed up more readily than brown shoes can.

Black shoes are of course the most versatile, especially if you work in an office and wear a lot of black and gray professional attire. Metallics can act as a neutral in many cases as well, but I would recommend only having one or two pairs of metallic shoes and sticking to black or camel or nude for the rest.

Another takeaway was the wonder of oxfords and loafers. I don’t currently own any oxfords or loafers, but I now realize they would solve much of my morning shoe anxiety. They’re appropriate for the office but still work with casual clothes, they fill the gap between flats and boots, and you can wear them pretty much all year-round. I prefer oxfords to loafers, but unfortunately there were fewer ethical oxford options to be found.

The ability to dress a shoe up or down is important as well. To avoid having formal shoes that you rarely wear, get your everyday shoes a little more on the dressy side so they can work for more formal occasions.

I’m not looking to chuck all my existing shoes and start over, but this exercise definitely gave me some things to look for the next time I do need to buy shoes.

Have you ever tried to pare down your shoe collection? What are your must-have types of shoes?

Share Your Style Story

New York Fashion Week is February 12-19. When I hear Fashion Week I usually think “that thing they do at the end of Project Runway,” but I know it’s also a time when designers debut new collections and fashion in general is in the global spotlight.

To counteract the unsustainable aspects of the fashion industry that will be inherently celebrated this week, the Ethical Writers Coalition has launched Style Stories, a movement that highlights style that is both fashionable and sustainable. Anyone can submit a photo and story of their favorite outfit that contains an ethical component: fair trade, vintage/secondhand, locally made, eco-friendly, organic, cruelty-free, or otherwise ethically produced.

Style Stories information graphic

Ignore the February 12 deadline—you can still submit after that!

 

There are a couple different ways to participate:

  1. Submit your outfit on the Style Stories tumblr
  2. Post your outfit on Instagram using the hashtag #stylestories15

Even if you don’t have an outfit to share, definitely visit the Tumblr and peruse the gallery of photos. Not so long ago, ethical fashion had the stereotype of being hippie-ish and frumpy (or as my sister would say, “Everything has dragonflies on it.”) The Style Stories gallery shows that this is definitely not the case anymore, and there are ethical fashion options for every taste and style. Be sure to check out my submission while you’re there!

Personal Shopper: Ethical Pet Supplies

My aunt recently became the proud momma of these two beauties:

Meet River and Pond, two gorgeous Russian Blues.

Meet River and Pond, two gorgeous Russian Blues.

She came to me on the hunt for ethical pet supplies. Not being a pet owner myself, I hadn’t done a lot of previous research into pet products, but I was up for the challenge! Here are some ethically-made products I found to help you love on your feline friends. (Most of these sources also offer products for dogs.)

Collage of ethical cat supplies

1. Kitty Scratch Pole

  • Made in USA
  • Uses recyclable and refillable cardboard discs

2. Hemp Cat Collar by Purrfect Play

  • Made in Indiana, USA
  • All silver collar charms are made by fair trade artisans in Thailand

3. Teal Collar by Found My Animal

  • Made in Brooklyn, USA
  • Intended for dogs, but comes in multiple sizes and has a size chart, so you could see if their small size might fit a husky cat.

4. Catnip Stick Cat Toy from Ten Thousand Villages

  • Made by fair trade artisans in Guatemala

5. Eco-Pouncer by Honest Pet Products

  • Made in Mongolia by a fair trade cooperative
  • Made out of all natural materials
  • Company contributes to conservation of snow leopards in Mongolia
  • Company provides jobs for adults with disabilities in its Wisconsin facility

6. Cat Food Bowl Mat by Drymate (Set of 4)

  • Made in USA

7. Energy Pyramid Cat Home by Love Thy Beast

  • Made in Brooklyn, USA
  • Made of 100% recycled cardboard

How killer is that pyramid cat house? It’s like a villain’s lair. I kind of want a human-sized one. Who else loves Russian Blue cats?

Connecting Stuff You Don’t Want with People Who Want It

The other day when I arrived at work, I found a mysterious box sitting on my desk. On it, this note from my coworker Katina:

Would you like these boots? Never been worn.

Tall brown boots in shoebox

Surprise boots! I giddily tried them on and modeled them for everyone in the department. I also got the origin story from Katina—the boots originally belonged to her cousin’s coworker, who gave them to Katina’s cousin, who gave them to Katina, who gave them to me. Whew!

The convoluted journey of these boots made me think about the ways our unwanted stuff circulates. One man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure (somebody didn’t want these boots! seriously!), but sometimes the path from person-with-stuff to person-who-wants-stuff isn’t easy to find.

My typical practice has been to throw all my unwanted stuff in a bag and take it all to Goodwill. Don’t get me wrong, this is way better than throwing it in the trash. But I’ve caught glimpses of the back rooms of some thrift stores… SO MANY PILES. And have you ever been to a Goodwill outlet? It’s the stuff that didn’t sell at regular Goodwill stores, and they sell it by the POUND. Eeek. The amount of stuff we donate is overwhelming, and when you donate to a thrift store, you’re rolling the dice on whether anyone else will even want it. Oftentimes surplus donations are shipped to developing countries overseas, which on the surface appears charitable but may actually undermine local economies.

Infographic listing ways to connect unwanted stuff with people who want it

With the rise of the sharing economy, I think how we get rid of stuff is going to change a lot in the next 5-10 years, or even sooner. Companies like Lyft and Airbnb demonstrate that people are willing to make personal connections to share cars and homes. Not only are they willing to do it, it’s the cool thing to do! On a smaller scale, I think people are going to become more and more excited about the idea of making personal connections to share their unwanted stuff.

Here are a few ways to connect your unwanted items with people who will be excited to have them. Some of them are more personal than others, but they all offer an extra level of likelihood that your stuff will be used and appreciated:

  • Sell online (eBay, Amazon, Twice, thredUP, Vinted, Poshmark)
  • Exchange in an alternative marketplace like Yerdle or Bondsy
  • Swap with friends, or give to a friend
  • Give away on Freecycle
  • Sell or give away on Craigslist
  • Sell to a store that sells used items (Half Price Books, Disc Replay, etc.)
  • Consignment stores

Admittedly, all of these methods require a little more effort than dropping off a box at Goodwill. You may have to make a trip to the post office or set up an appointment to meet a buyer/recipient. However, knowing a little about where your stuff is going can be incredibly satisfying. Over the summer I gave away some screen printing supplies on Craigslist. The guy I gave them to told me the kit was for his daughter who has been learning the screen printing process and has made some prints in the past. Just hearing those few details made me really excited to give him the supplies, knowing they were going to someone who would be interested in using them.

I have also been the grateful recipient of other people’s junk. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a Facebook post asking where I could find some reclaimed wood for an art project. Within a day I got suggestions of eight different sources, none of which required me to buy wood off the shelf at a lumberyard. I ended up getting wood from two different friends who just had it lying around. It’s amazing what people will provide if you just ask! In the same way, if you just put it out there that you have X item, you never know who might be interested in it!

Indiana wall art made with reclaimed wood

My reclaimed wood art! Also featuring leftover artificial turf from a work project and old Christmas lights.

Will I still shop at and donate to Goodwill and similar stores? Of course. You can’t beat big thrift stores for convenience and variety, and some items may be too small or low-value to be worth the effort of those other channels. But this year I want to make more of an effort to connect the things I don’t want with people who will be excited and happy to have them.

Have you used any of these methods to get rid of stuff you didn’t want? Have you ever made a great connection with someone who really wanted what you were giving away?

My Favorite Ethical Pinners on Pinterest

favorite-ethical-pinners-on-pinterest

I have a confession to make: I am teetering on the brink of a Pinterest addiction. I make a conscious effort not to rely on my phone for constant distraction, but I do find myself checking Pinterest at least 3-4 times most days. Despite its drawbacks, like the fact that it helps exacerbate a culture of aspirational consumerism and feelings of inadequacy, I find it to be both entertaining and helpful for the following reasons:

  1. Even though the majority of items in my feed aren’t ethically made, pinning things I like gives me an idea of what my own personal style is. I can then look for ethical alternatives or DIY projects that would give me a similar look.
  2. There are tons of tutorials for DIY projects, including recycling/upcycling projects and basic sewing tutorials, both of which I am all about right now.
  3. It’s a great source for finding artwork and photography I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
  4. I like evening gowns, and Pinterest shows them to me!

There are a few pinners I follow in the ethical lifestyle realm who I can always count on for interesting pins. Here are some of my favorites:



Fair Trade Quilts & Crafts – This account was fully responsible for me embracing aspects of bohemian interior design. The gorgeous interiors they pin give me inspiration for creating a home full of eclectic fair trade and secondhand items.

Visit Fair Trade Federation’s profile on Pinterest.

Fair Trade Federation – The FTF uses Pinterest to showcase cool products from their members.

Mata Traders – I frequently find myself re-pinning links to high-quality blog posts about fair trade pinned by Mata Traders.

Visit Elizabeth Stilwell | The Note Passer’s profile on Pinterest.

Elizabeth Stilwell | The Note Passer – I love Elizabeth’s pins that link to blog posts about zero-waste living.

To follow me on Pinterest, hit me up here! Full disclosure: not everything I pin is ethically-made, since as I described above, I use Pinterest to figure out my style, not to make a specific shopping list. My board Fair Trade & Ethical Lifestyle is devoted to ethically-made products and related links. (And if you’re looking for some evening gown eye candy as well, my Wearables board is where it’s at.)

How do you use Pinterest? Who are some of your favorite pinners?