Meet an Ethical Blogger: Jamillah

Today we’re introducing you to another inspiring ethical blogger, Jamillah from Made-to-Travel!

Made-to-Travel blog banner

Fair for All: Describe the focus of your blog.

Jamillah: I always say Made-to-Travel is a place for ethical shopping and happy things. :)

Why do you choose to write about these topics? What motivates you to pursue an ethical lifestyle?

I choose to write about ethical shopping because I really know it’s possible to find any wanted item ethically and I want my readers to be inspired to buy ethically for their needs for the next season and every season! So when it comes to writing ethical shopping posts I really think of what is going to be the next need for my reader, that’s usually a new trend or a seasonal item.

The other features on Made-to-Travel: Good Habits, Smile Files, DIYS, etc., are all topics I gravitate to naturally in my life but also, while I love promoting ethical shopping and all these wonderful ethical brands, I don’t want to write about retail all the time. There are so many wonderful things to share in this world and I want to do that too! So these posts nicely break that rhythm for me while still providing my readers content I really think they’ll enjoy and benefit from.

My motivation to live an ethical lifestyle really all began with thinking about my purchases a little differently. Every single thing we buy has a story and buying from brands that continue to take advantage of lax laws, developing countries, and less fortunate people helps continue that story…and I strongly believe that’s true. So I made the decision to really only purchase from places where I believe in their story. My purchases now all help continue a story of empowerment and the power of purchasing creating a better world and doing that makes me feel great. :)

Quote from Jamillah, blogger at Made-to-Travel

What makes a product or company ethical to you? When you’re making a purchase or deciding what to write about, what principles or criteria guide your decision?

First and foremost a company has to have ethical manufacturing practices for their work force, that means fair pay, working conditions, and hours. I do a lot of reading of manufacturers’ labor standards, if they’re fair trade, or if they’re not I see what 3rd party groups audit their standards, how they pick their factories, I see where a product is made, I see what people have been saying about them…and if I’m unsure about a policy I ask—so easy to just ask! I also don’t buy new leather…the only leather I buy is vintage or upcycled leather (i.e. reuse/remnants, bi-products from food industry etc.). But really the guiding principle for me is that a brand is kind to people. That will always always be priority number one.

What are your top 3 favorite ethical shopping brands or websites?

MY GAWSH—so hard this question!!! Bah! Okay I’m sorry I’m cheating and not limiting myself to 3! Sorry!

For clothing ASOS Africa is one of the first brands I featured on Made-to-Travel and is still one of my super favorites. I really love EVERYTHING KowTow makes super modern, clean, and easy. If you look at my internet history I stalk Clover Canyon in a real way, their prints are just so beautiful and everything is made in the USA—I haven’t shopped there YET, but I’m definitely saving for a special piece from them. And lastly I really really love the modern classic pieces coming from Everlane.

For shoes I am obsessed with Melissa Shoes and Cri de Couer—they both have a nice mix of trendy and classic shoe styles plus they’re cruelty free with ethical manufacturing practices!

Here are some recent posts from Made-to-Travel to check out:

For more ethical blog recommendations, check out the rest of our Meet an Ethical Blogger series or visit the Resources page.

Make it Work: Upcycling & DIY

Beyond just making new purchases ethically, over the last year or so I have become interested in the idea of only making purchases that are necessary. I’ve become much better at avoiding thrift store impulse buys, and I discovered a local store that sells donated craft supplies (shout out to Indy Upcycle!), which has piqued my interest in upcycling and other crafty DIY projects.

The last time I took a bag of stuff to the thrift store to donate it, I was overwhelmed by the immense pile of donations in the back that had yet to be processed. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of my stuff sitting in that pile for months before making it to the sales floor—I had good stuff in there! That got me thinking about how often I had donated to Goodwill recently and if there was another way I could handle items I did not want for one reason or another. That was when I started thinking about tailoring and upcycling. My goal for the immediate future is to try to work with what I already have, instead of running out to Goodwill to get something new.

Green button-down shirt tailored

The shirt post-tailoring. Note how I was too lazy to make a new bobbin with green thread and used black for some of it instead. Not pictured are all the seams I had to rip out and do over.

I recently had a green button-down shirt that I liked but was too big. It was supposed to be fitted and tailored but it had a bunch of extra fabric flopping around. I thought about donating it, but then I thought, “If this shirt fit, I would actually be fine with it. Can I make it fit?”

After a three-hour marathon sewing session (I have very little sewing knowledge, so there was lots of trial and error), I was successful! The shirt now fits (at least more than it did before) and it’s one less thing I feel the need to get rid of. I like to think Tim Gunn would be proud of how I made it work.

On the heels of this success came another challenge: Last week I got a hole in the elbow of my white cardigan. A sweater with a hole in it isn’t a great donation, so I thought it was destined for my fabric scrap pile when I had a brilliant idea: elbow patches!

I’m only halfway through the project (okay, maybe a third of the way—all I’ve done is pin one patch), but I wanted to share my progress.

Elbow patch pinned onto sweater

I did sew the hole shut before I pinned on the patch. It’s really hard to pin an oval, by the way.

Have you done any tailoring or upcycling projects lately? Have you ever saved something from the scrap heap with a crafty solution?

Thrift Store Score: All the Shirts

Last weekend I was at Goodwill picking up a picture frame and decided to browse shirts on a whim to see if I could fill either of the holes I had previously identified in my wardrobe: blouses for work and casual-yet-stylish t-shirts for the weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before in my thrift shopping tips, it’s best to have something specific in mind when thrifting.)

I must have done something to please the thrift store gods, because I found five count ‘em FIVE shirts and satisfied two wardrobe needs! Check and mate.

Photo of thrift store shirts hanging on clothes rack

I got two work blouses and three t-shirts. Picking out a shirt in the morning accounts for about 46% of my sartorial anxiety, so having these extra choices should reduce that dramatically (and enable me to part with some of the shirts I have that I don’t really like).

Julia in a purple thrift store t-shirt

The purple shirt in action! I’ve also already worn both of the work blouses. Coral and teal t-shirts: your time is coming soon.

For those of you who have jumped on board with the blog recently, here’s a recap of why thrift shopping is my absolute favorite way to buy clothing:

  • It eliminates waste. I haaaate waste, so I love the idea of diverting still-useful clothing to a new home instead of a landfill.
  • It’s economical. I got those five shirts for $22! Boom.
  • I get to try stuff on. I like looking at ethical clothing brands online and will occasionally make an online purchase, but sometimes you just need to know how something is going to fit.
  • It allows me to get some newer, on-trend styles without giving my money to brands with questionable manufacturing practices. (I realize this isn’t a perfectly ethical motivator, since the fast fashion cycle is one of the things that makes trendy items available in thrift stores, but if I’m being honest it’s still a reason I like thrifting. I would rather give those items a second life than reject them on principle.)

Have you had any good thrift finds lately? My next wardrobe holes to fill are black flats and a white cardigan, so hopefully I’ll have success stories about those soon.

Meet an Ethical Blogger: Leah

The roundup is taking a break for a while to recalibrate and make sure it’s full of the best, most useful stuff. In it’s place we’re launching a new series to introduce you to other ethical lifestyle bloggers!

Style Wise blog header

The first blogger we’re featuring in our new Meet an Ethical Blogger series is Leah from Style Wise. You may already be familiar with Style Wise since I link out to it on the regular. It’s one of my favorite reads for insightful perspective on consumer culture. I asked Leah a few questions to learn about the story of Style Wise.

Fair for All: Describe the focus of your blog.

Leah: At Style Wise, I focus primarily on featuring and wearing ethical and sustainable clothing and accessories. I occasionally write essays on consumerism in general and on broader issues in the retail sector.

Why do you choose to write about these topics?

I initially started the blog because I actively read personal style blogs and had one of my own. I had become quite disenchanted by the whole process. Though style blogs are often touted as an avenue by which fashion becomes more democratic, they also encourage rampant consumerism, which I believe is unhealthy and unsustainable. I thought it would be useful to use the same format as a typical fashion blog, but work within the specific niche of fair trade clothing. My hope was that I could appeal to the same readers that read popular fashion blogs and show them that they could dress thoughtfully without sacrificing style.

Of course, as I delved further into living mindfully myself, I realized that the issue is a lot more complicated than I initially realized. It’s not enough to just switch our spending to fair trade, organic, or secondhand options, because the fact remains that we’re still consuming too much, too quickly. I’m trying to figure out a way to appeal to the wider fashion blogging community while still tackling topics that go much deeper, that ask us to find a way to appreciate clothing without consuming like there’s no tomorrow, that ask us to take the long view in an instant gratification culture.

Photo of Leah with quote

What motivates you to pursue an ethical lifestyle?

Ultimately, my reason for pursuing an ethical lifestyle is rooted in Christianity. In a faith tradition that emphasizes self sacrifice and unconditional love for all people, I began to notice a gaping hole in the way I lived out my ethics. I took efforts to be kind to people in my community and occasionally donated to Oxfam in the midst of a crisis, but I didn’t realize that my consumer habits were perpetuating a system that dehumanizes and demoralizes thousands and thousands of people. Though I was raised Evangelical, I most identify with the Episcopal Church and appreciate its emphasis on taking action to change the systems that oppress people rather than just throwing money at the superficial problem. I strive for my ethics to be internally consistent; I still have a long way to go.

What makes a product or company ethical to you? When you’re making a purchase or deciding what to write about, what principles or criteria guide your decision?

There are a number of things to consider here. I began this journey with human rights and labor issues in mind, so my number one priority is ensuring that the company not only has a corporate social responsibility statement in place, but that it actually follows it. A lot of companies don’t have an auditing system that can actually guarantee that factory workers are being treated properly, so you can’t always trust corporate documents. Transparency is the key.

After I’ve established that people within the supply chain have a voice, I look into what the company does with its profits. While some fair trade companies are non-profits, many are standard businesses, so it’s worthwhile to pay attention to what they say about their profits. While I would prefer that the cotton farmers at the very beginning of the supply chain are also being treated fairly, it can be much harder to find information on materials sourcing. When in doubt, call or email the company and see what you can find out.

What are your top 3 favorite ethical shopping brands or websites?

  1. Sseko Designs: This is my very favorite ethical retailer. Their sandals are produced by Ugandan women through a training program that occurs between high school and college. They make money and receive additional funding from Sseko to attend college and major in their field of choice. I love this model because there’s no limit to what these women can achieve; they’re not stuck making sandals for the rest of their lives.
  2. Everlane: They make great quality classics at affordable prices, founded on a principle of radical transparency. You can read all about their factories, materials, and costs on the website.
  3. Mata Traders: This is maybe the first fair trade clothing company I heard about. The founders are friends who saw a need and worked to resolve it. Their garments are handmade by Indian women’s organizations that provide a living wage.

Thanks for having me! – Leah

Here are some recent posts from Style Wise to check out:

Over the next few months we’ll share more profiles of ethical bloggers. If you can’t wait for the next post, check out our Resources page for a list of ethical lifestyle blogs.

Ethical Brand Spotlight: Fair Trade Designs

In our first Ethical Brand Spotlight, we highlighted a company that offered fairly simple (but cute!) apparel. In this edition we’re featuring a website that could help you snazz those outfits up!

Fair Trade Designs is a curated online store featuring accessories produced by a variety of fair trade artisan groups around the world. A member of the Fair Trade Federation, Fair Trade Designs carefully vets the groups that supply its products and works with only those that uphold fair trade standards (which you can learn more about by reading our Why Fair Trade? series).

Necklace, earrings, bracelet, wallet and clutch from Fair Trade Designs

  1. ChaCha Tagua Necklace
  2. Geostack Earrings
  3. Aylin Acai Seed Bracelet
  4. Screenprinted Silk and Cotton Wallet
  5. Palm Tree Clutch

The store features jewelry, bags, scarves and other accessories, with prices ranging from $10 to over $100 depending on the item. They have many items that blend traditional methods and materials with modern style.

Purse, scarves and necklaces from Fair Trade Designs

  1. Cuero Bag
  2. Vibrante Acai Seed Necklace
  3. Parina Silk and Cotton Scarf
  4. Silver Sparks Necklace
  5. Eri Silk Scarf

Which of these items matches your style? I’m digging the Parina scarf—gorgeous!

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.