Eco-Friendly Bedding: Shopping for a Flame-Retardant-Free Mattress

Close-up of mattress quilting

I’ve been vaguely intending to get a new mattress for a couple of years. My old one was somewhere between 20 and 25 years old, first having served as a guest bed for a few years, then as my bed since I was about 10. She was trusty and sturdy but starting to get saggy. After moving into the house I decided it was finally time to do the upgrade from full to queen and treat myself to a more supportive night’s sleep.

Obviously for such a large purchase I wanted to make an ethical and sustainable choice, but I wasn’t totally sure what that meant for a mattress. The three factors I pondered were:

  • The presence of flame-retardant chemicals (I wanted a mattress without them)
  • Use of sustainable/renewable materials
  • How and where the mattress is made

Another caveat for my buying process was that I wanted to be able try out the mattress in the store before ordering. This requirement ruled out the many eco-friendly mattress brands available online. (If you’re less squeamish about picking a mattress without trying it, The Good Trade has an excellent rundown of sustainable online brands). My final requirement was staying within a budget of about $1,200 for a queen-sized mattress and box spring.

The mattress I ended up choosing is the Celebrity Soft Top from Holder Mattress:

Celebrity mattress from Holder Mattress

Ignore the bad lighting and focus on the pillowy quilted goodness.

Celebrity mattress label

Celebrity: No longer just *NSYNC’s mediocre final album.

If you haven’t heard of Holder Mattress, that’s because to my knowledge it isn’t a nationally-distributed brand. When I first heard about the company a few years ago, what intrigued me was that Holder has its factory and headquarters in Kokomo, Ind., about an hour north of Indianapolis. In terms of getting a locally-made mattress, you can’t get much closer than that.

Since mattresses are so large and heavy, I like that these finished products aren’t shipped all over the place before reaching their final destinations. Holder has a showroom in Kokomo and another in Carmel, which is the one I visited. I tried out one of the floor models, and then they made my mattress to order and delivered it to my house. Each mattress is handmade, and in addition to the minimal-shipping factor, I liked supporting a fairly small and family-owned business.

As with food, I assume the transportation footprint of a mattress is relatively small compared to the footprint of its production overall, so I don’t wave the local flag as a huge and definitive sustainability win. Rather, I consider it a positive factor that combines certain environmental and community benefits. Following my purchase, I learned that there are in fact many mattress brands that manufacture within the U.S. Holder still seems to be the closest to Indianapolis, but if you live elsewhere you likely have other local mattress options.

The other factor on which Holder Mattress won me over was the fact they don’t use flame-retardant chemicals in any of their mattresses. Why did I want to avoid flame-retardant chemicals? First of all, it’s not 1960; I don’t smoke in bed (or at all). Second, as our guest blogger Travis Nagle briefly touched on in his post about eco-friendly furniture, flame retardants have been questioned as ineffective precautions that are also linked to a variety of health problems. A new study out this month finds an association between certain flame retardant chemicals and thyroid cancer.

One of my early furniture-buying regrets is that I let the salesperson who sold me my sofa talk me into a stain-resistant chemical coating. I hate to think what invisible chemicals it’s been off-gassing for the last five years. I definitely wanted to avoid any unnecessarily chemicals in a mattress that I plan to sleep on every night for the next 10–20 years.

The sustainable characteristic I didn’t really get with this mattress was the use of natural materials. The Celebrity is one of Holder’s lowest models, so it contains less-expensive materials such as polyurethane padding and polyester fabric. I initially felt strongly about getting a petroleum-free mattress—people used to make mattresses before we turned liquid dinosaurs into fabric and foam; why can’t we now? But ultimately, cost is what deterred me from pursuing a more natural mattress. In its higher-end lines, Holder does produce mattresses using wool fabric and latex foam, but their most natural option was $3,600 for a queen set—three times my budget. Depending on the brand, queen sets using latex foam appear to start around $2,000 and go up from there.

I’m about 80% satisfied with the mattress choice I made, but If I were to do this process again, there are a couple of things I would do differently:

  1. Attempt to find a latex foam mattress to try in-store. One reason I was hesitant to order a natural mattress from an online brand is the fact that I haven’t encountered a latex foam mattress in person before. I don’t know if I would even like what it feels like to lay on one. However, this type of mattress is becoming more popular. I could have tried one in-store (such as the high-end Holder version), and then perhaps felt more secure ordering a less-expensive latex mattress brand online.
  2. Do more research about the benefits of natural materials in mattresses. Once I found a flame-retardant-free mattress I could try out in a store and that was within my budget, I didn’t really pursue any further research into natural materials. In hindsight, I wish I would have done more research about both the individual and systemic benefits of using renewable materials in mattresses, and used that information to decide how much I was willing to spend on it.

Responsibly Disposing of Old Mattresses

Another reason I initially wanted a mattress made of natural materials was to give consideration to the eventual end of the mattress’s useful life. When a mattress is no longer supportive or comfortable to sleep on, what can be done with it? Most mattresses today end up in a landfill, and my thought was that a mattress made of natural materials may be easier to recycle. However, after some light Googling, I’m not immediately finding any programs that claim latex mattresses are any easier to recycle than conventional mattresses. Latex mattresses are indeed recyclable, and so are the majority of components in a traditional mattress. The tricky part is actually finding a facility that will pick up and recycle your mattress.

The challenge of responsible mattress disposal is also one of the reasons I was hesitant to try an online-only mattress brand. Most of these brands offer some version of the “try for 100 nights” plan where you can return the mattress if you end up not liking it. However, I think “return” is a misleading word in these programs, because once a mattress has been in use for 3+ months, the company can’t turn around and re-sell it to someone else. I discussed this briefly with my salesperson at the Holder showroom. Holder also has a try-and-return program, and the salesperson said the company used to be able to reuse the inner components of a returned mattress, but now if a mattress is returned they throw the whole thing away. I’m not sure if this is due to a specific law, concerns about bedbugs, or both, but the fact remains that at a minimum, a significant portion (if not all) of a mattress goes to waste if you decide to return it after trying it.

After being unable to find a local charity that accepts mattress donations, I decided to keep my old mattress and box spring as a combination of lounge seating and a guest bed in my basement (which I affectionately refer to as “the tacky den”). After I set it up I actually got giddy about how awesome it is. Behold the majesty:

Mattress seating in basement den

*cue angelic choir*

I threw my old college bedding on it, and boom! A relaxing and decadent seating area only enhanced by its wood paneling backdrop. The height is perfect for seating but not too awkwardly low for a bed. My roommates John Cena and Frodo approve.

If you aren’t blessed with a room free-spirited enough to have a mattress couch, I did come across 1-800-GOT-JUNK in my research, a company that will pick up old mattresses and purportedly recycle them if possible. You can also check out this directory of mattress recycling locations; however, the facility in Indiana no longer appears to be in operation.

Stay tuned for part two of this post, in which I delight in the eco-friendly features of my new queen bedding.

Have you purchased an eco-friendly mattress, online or otherwise? What brand did you go with, and how did it work out?

Upstream or Downstream: How to Solve Microfiber Pollution

Large school of fish near coral reef

I’m far from a serious student of the philosophy of ethics, but I did pick up one principle a few years ago in passing that has stuck with me. The principle is from Immanuel Kant, and in simplified terms it states that an act is only moral if you would wish all other people to behave the same way (for it to become a “universal law,” in Kant’s words). I don’t apply this to every action in my daily life, but when I’m making a new decision I do often think about what the collective effects would be if everyone in XYZ group did the same thing I did. This is how I formed my general philosophy about waste—just me throwing away one bottle instead of recycling it isn’t a big deal, but if that’s what everyone did, we would have millions more bottles in the landfill. It’s also this philosophy that reminds me that our individual actions make a collective difference.

This week I was checking out a new campaign from the Story of Stuff Project, and I was intrigued by their philosophical approach, which seemed to turn mine on its ear but also made a lot of sense. The campaign is called the Story of Microfibers, and it aims to address the issue of microscopic plastic pollution from synthetic fabrics in oceans and other bodies of water. Here’s their video that provides a general overview of the issue:

While reading their page of proposed solutions to the microfiber crisis, I was caught by this explanation of their approach. After listing several consumer-end solutions like washing machine filters or mesh laundry bags, author Michael O’Heaney states:

…these interventions require universal adoption to work… As our founder Annie Leonard puts it, when it’s hard to figure out how to fix a problem on your own, or the fix is onerous or expensive, that should serve as a sort of metal detector for flaws in the system; it should encourage us to look further upstream for a solution.”

Basically, he’s saying that if the solution to a problem requires the universal adoption of a certain behavior by consumers, that typically indicates the presence of a flaw at a higher level of the system. To me, this makes a lot of sense and addresses the inherent flaw in my default moral structure, which is the fact that my action may be beneficial if multiplied by a hundred or a thousand or a million people, but in all likelihood the majority of other people are likely not willing or able to make the same choice.

For the Story of Stuff, this philosophy led them all the way upstream to clothing manufacturers. Their recommended action is for consumers to call upon apparel companies to invest in research and development for new fabric technologies that will prevent the release of microfibers into the environment.

In the long term, I think this is a fantastic solution. I’m a huge supporter of companies being held responsible for the environmental impacts of their products. However, as an avid secondhand shopper with a tendency to keep my clothes for as long as possible, I’m resistant to the idea of buying an all-new wardrobe made of microfiber-free fabric. (Kant urges me to think of the implications if everyone did this universally!) Plus, it could be years before these new technologies are developed, tested and released into the marketplace. We would be remiss to dismiss the solutions aimed at addressing the microfiber pollution caused by clothing already in circulation. (Side note: Someone please keep #RemissToDismiss in your back pocket as the hashtag for some future social justice campaign.)

These are the consumer-based solutions discussed on the Story of Stuff page:

  • Wear and wash synthetic fabrics less often
  • Choose clothing made of natural fibers like cotton, linen or hemp
  • Use a laundry accessory designed to minimize microfiber pollution, such as the Guppy Friend, soon to be available at Patagonia (I also found another microfiber catcher in development from the Rozalia Project)
  • Install a washing machine filter to capture microfibers (such as this one)

In my research I found surprisingly little information about opportunities to support ocean cleanup efforts to reduce the amount of plastic already in the water system. For now the conversation seems to be focused heavily on prevention.

I appreciate the Story of Stuff Project’s strategy for spotting red flags for systemic flaws, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see me apply that line of thought to more topics in the future. But as I sit here in my cozy fleece jacket made of recycled bottles that will surely release hundreds of thousands of fibers the next time I wash it, unsure of the timeline of technological advancement in fabrics, some degree of consumer-based solution seems necessary to me alongside high-level systemic change. While consumer solutions may have a comparatively low adoption rate and not fully stem the tide of microfiber pollution, they can be a stepping stone that reduces pollution while we wait for more comprehensive industry action.

My final pondering about the microfibers issue is where it will end up ranking in priority with other critical apparel industry improvements, such as ensuring safety and living wages for factory workers. I haven’t seen these issues addressed jointly yet, but hopefully manufacturers will realize the need to take responsibility for the impacts of their products at both the start and end of the lifecycle, and not ignore one in favor of the other.

The Benefits of Eco-Friendly Furniture

Eco-friendly sofa with accent pillows

Pel Sofa by Stem

One of my goals for furnishing my house is to buy as few brand-new items as possible. I enjoy giving old items new life and the treasure hunt aspect of finding just the right thing in an unexpected place. However, secondhand furniture isn’t practical for every situation, which is why it’s important for manufacturers to start producing furniture in a more environmentally-friendly way. Travis Nagle is the co-founder of Stem, a furniture company that does just that. Stem specializes in high-quality furniture made from natural materials and no toxic glues or varnishes. Travis wrote the following post describing why the materials that go into our furniture matter for our health and the planet. — Julia


The idea of eco-friendly furniture has been around for a long time, though it hasn’t always been identified as such—think back to the days before particleboard and synthetic fillers. Big industry and economic pressures advanced society in many positive ways, but also created an atmosphere where a lot of home products are designed and built solely to maximize efficiency and profits. So where does that leave consumers today? For the most part, there has been a trend over the past 25 years towards building overseas, using lower quality materials, and prioritizing volume. On the other had, there are a handful of companies like the brand I founded called Stem that take the opposite approach: furniture built in the US using eco-friendly materials. While this can mean a higher price point, the pieces last a lifetime and help create a healthier home. Let’s take a look at some key benefits of eco-friendly materials.

No Unnecessary Toxins Added to Materials

For many years it was required by law to add fire retardants to upholstered goods like sofas and sectionals. After some hard fought battles, California finally revised their state law so that they are no longer required, which has led more manufacturers to produce furniture without them. This is great news because fire retardants, while actually not doing that much to add a level of safety, have been linked to a variety of health issues. Many companies have removed fire retardants, but you can confirm with each product you shop for by asking the manufacturer or referring to the label.

In addition, many companies layer stain repellants on top of fabrics. While these can help in the short term, they may also lead to serious health issues with consistent exposure. In short, it’s best to get your furniture free of the standard stain repellent products in the market. If you do, choose a fabric that is more forgiving or even a slipcover for the cushions to protect them from stains.

Modern eco-friendly chair next to window

Rondi Chair by Stem

Building Without Harsh Chemicals

A lot of furniture looks great in terms of style, but it’s hard to know what they are finished with. Eco brands typically will use 100% natural wood versus plywood. In addition to solid wood being better quality and more durable, plywood can contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. In terms of the outside of the pieces, eco-friendly sofas use clear coats, paints and glues that are all low- or zero-VOC. These final layers of material can potentially impact the air in your home and some may even be carcinogenic.

Natural Materials

A big part of furniture building that has gone out of fashion is focusing on natural materials like cotton, wool, and solid wood. These materials will not only offer a product with less toxins but also are biodegradable. It can be difficult to find materials that are certified organic, but there definitely are some fabrics out there that comply. In addition, some brands like Stem offer eco-friendly furniture that is made of 100% natural materials from the inside out including natural latex and jute instead of poly-based options.

Sustainable Resources

In addition to being better for your home, non-toxic furniture is also better for the environment. To be sustainable, solid wood should be from either FSC or SFI certified sources. The main focus here is on how the wood is harvested and replenished with use, and treating the forests for long term viability. There are also some great products out there that utilize reclaimed wood, many times taken from torn down buildings or old discarded lumber. Extending the lifespan of the natural resources does a lot for the environment. In addition, some synthetic materials are also repurposed like fabrics that are made from recycled materials. The longer the lifespan of a material for any type of product, the better off we all are.

Since the market is still relatively young for these type of products, the prices are sometimes higher than conventional furniture. As the demand grows the materials and practices should be more readily available, and hopefully all companies will do their best to incorporate sustainable and healthy practices. Until then, it might be worth taking a little extra time to ask brands about their products so you can make sure you get a quality item and know what you’re bringing into your home.


Thanks again to Travis Nagle of Stem! Want to check out some other eco-friendly furniture options? Our friends at The Good Trade have an additional list of 14 sustainable furniture brands.

The Three Blessings of the Swap Gods

Woman browsing dresses at clothing swap

In case you missed the very brief plug at the end of my last post, we’re having another clothing swap soon! If you’re on the fence about joining us, let Bethany convince you with her tales of three blessings from the clothing swap gods. – Julia

The Match Made In Heaven

“I’m wearing your pants!”

Amanda never fails to text me this statement and it never fails to make me smile. She picked up a pair of gray pants that I had brought to the first clothing swap. These pants were nice gray jeans, something that I really liked, but they just fit me strangely and I could never quite make them look right on me. I reluctantly brought them to the swap thinking that I would take them home after if no one took them.

Sisterhood of the traveling pants

Amanda modeling the sisterhood of the traveling pants

Fortunately, the swap gods had different plans in mind. Amanda snagged them quickly and went to try them on. She came out of the bathroom wearing this pair of pants that looked like they were made for her. These pants that I struggled to make work because I loved them so much looked exactly how I wanted them to when Amanda put them on, and it was wonderful! The only thing better than getting a match made in heaven is being able to provide one for someone else, so don’t hesitate to sacrifice those items on the cusp to the swap gods – they have a match in mind!

The Impulsive Grab

Towards the end of the swap, the items left on the table are often plain t-shirts or basic clothing that doesn’t have a lot of obvious pizzazz to it. A few times, I’ve impulsively picked up a plain shirt at the end thinking “well, it can’t hurt anything, if it doesn’t work I’ll just bring it to the next swap.” Somehow, those impulse grabs from the discards always end up being the items that I wear the most. One of them was a plain black t-shirt that is thin and long, and I wear it constantly. Another last minute grab was a tank top with a bold fern and red flower pattern on it – not something that I usually gravitate towards. However, it turned out to fit me perfectly and is an item that I’m really looking forward to wearing this summer. Trust the impulses that the swap gods send!

The Gift Of The Story

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I bought it at such and such a store”
– conversation ends –

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I got it at the Fair for All Clothing Swap!”
“What’s a clothing swap?”
– conversation flows, friendship is made, everything is lovely and wonderful –

Okay, maybe a bit exaggerated – but one of the biggest blessings bestowed by the swap gods is the story that your new favorite shirt has. There’s something special about having a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, and it’s really fun to tell people where you got your eco-friendly new duds.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about the three blessings of the swap gods, and that you’ll come experience them in person on Wednesday, March 15th, from 6 pm – 8 pm at New Day Craft. Click here for more info and to RSVP!

~ Bethany

Don’t Buy Stuff: The Reduction Approach to Ethical Shopping

Less is more quote on a card on a white table

Long time no see! As you can see from my recent posts, I’ve been hustling hard on the green events front. For a change of pace from sustainable party tips, here’s Bethany with the latest update on her year-long ethical shopping journey. — Julia


Well, I’m seven months into my experiment of a year of only purchasing clothing from ethical sources—certified fair trade shops, items that are made in the US, or thrift shops. The plan was to write a blog post a month about my journey, but that hasn’t happened because I’ve been stuck on what to write about. I’ve found that I’ve stopped purchasing clothing and don’t shop nearly as much as I used to (not that I was ever a big shopper, but it definitely dropped from 2-3 times a month to 1-2 times every few months).

Part of it is laziness. It’s time consuming to do the research and find certified fair trade shops that I feel good about buying from. Even when I find a company that looks good, I find myself questioning it—what if they’re just really good at looking like they’re ethical? What if this is just a way for them to charge me $60 for a top? How do I actually know if this company is what they say they are?

The other part is the expense. Most of the pricing that I’ve seen for fair trade clothing is 10-20% higher than the fast fashion items that I used to buy. I’m not saying that’s wrong—I definitely agree that one should pay more for ethically produced items—but I also just changed jobs and am watching my bank account closely.

Because of that, reduction has been my mantra. I’ve been reducing both the number of items in my closet and the number of items that I purchase. I’ve also been reducing the amount of meat that I eat. That may seem like an odd pairing to go with clothing, but I’ve found that wanting to be more responsible in one area of my life has lead me to examine other areas of my life as well. The meat industry has a lot of the same supply chain issues that the fashion industry has—pollution and environmental devastation as well as ethical issues that with factory farming and the way animals are treated. There’s also a parallel for me with how difficult it is to actually know—how do you know for sure where your clothing is coming from and that it has been produced in an ethical way? How do you know for sure that the cow that this steak came from was treated humanely or that the farmer that raised it doesn’t dump waste in such a way that it pollutes water sources?

It feels impossible to me to actually know for sure if the items I’m consuming are produced in a way that treats people and animals ethically and does as little environmental damage as possible. So I’m reducing and simply trying to consume less of items that I know usually have ethical and environmental issues in their production (like fast fashion and fast food).

It’s hard to write interesting things about ethical shopping when your approach is “don’t buy stuff.” But sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Get Ready for SpringSwap16

It’s time for the next Fair for All style swap! SpringSwap16 is your opportunity to clean out your closet and swap unwanted items for new-to-you fashion.

This will be our third clothing swap event, and I’m so excited to have built up a community of people who enjoy getting new clothes in this fun, personal and environmentally-friendly way.

SpringSwap16 promo graphic

SpringSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 • New Day Craft Mead & Cider

See full details & sign up >>

Some scenes from our last swap:

Women browsing tables of clothing

Woman peruses jewelry table

Rack of women's clothing

As always, the style swap is a free event. And like at our last swap, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on in the front room at the same time, where you can get a chair massage and a glass of mead or cider for just $10. (Be sure to arrive early if you want a massage; slots fill up fast.)

We hope to see you on May 4!

How to Get Rid of Clothing Swap Leftovers

We hosted our most recent style swap on January 20, and the boxes of leftover clothes and accessories have been hanging out in my living room ever since.

Two boxes overflowing with clothes

Hi, guys.

Dealing with the leftovers is a minor inconvenience, but I actually appreciate that the swaps have given me an opportunity to experiment with different ways of connecting stuff with people who actually want it. Here’s what I’ve tried so far with this latest batch:

Consignment/Resale

At the swap, I announced that I might try selling some of the leftovers and donating the proceeds to Dress for Success. A few weeks ago I took what I considered the best of the leftovers to two consignment/resale shops, Plato’s Closet and Simply Chic. Unfortunately, neither store purchased any of the items, saying the items weren’t recent enough or weren’t in styles that sell well.

Facebook Sale Groups

After trying the resale shops, I posted four of what I considered the most appealing items in a local Facebook sale group, listing each item for a dollar. One item sold (a skirt from H&M), but the others didn’t. Given the fact that people weren’t jumping on what I thought was good stuff, I didn’t continue posting the rest.

Screenshot of Facebook sale group post

Nobody wanted these dope shoes!

I would like to continue experimenting with what works best for these groups—is there an optimal time of day to post? There are multiple sale groups for my neighborhood—does women’s fashion sell better in one group than another? Is it better to post a “closet cleanout” style post with lots of pictures and numbered items, or post one item at a time? I’m hesitant to post lots of items at once, because you still have to communicate with each buyer individually regarding pickup, which could become time-consuming if a lot of items sell.

ThredUP

My best friend is an avid devotee of ThredUP, an online resale shop for women’s and kids’ fashion. She raves about the experience from the consumer side and suggested I try out the selling side to see what it’s like. Despite the fact that the local consignment stores didn’t accept any of my items, I browsed ThredUP and saw several items similar to the items I had tried to sell, and most items I entered into the site’s Payout Estimator were marked as “Accepted.” A few items even had surprisingly high estimated payouts:

  • Etcetera dress pants – estimated payout of $18.80 to $22.80 (this has to be some kind of glitch)
  • Paper Denim & Cloth jeans – estimated payout of $8.88
  • J. Crew khakis – estimated payout of $5.13

I ended up sending in about 24 items, filling one of ThredUP’s cleanout bags. The mix included two pairs of shoes, several pairs of dress pants, tops, sweaters, and a couple of dresses. The submission process was super easy—the free shipping label comes already attached to the cleanout bag, so you don’t even have to worry about sticking it on.

Full ThredUP bag

Say hi to Frodo in the background!

Yesterday I received an email from ThredUP announcing they have received my bag and it is scheduled to be processed on April 24. The site says they accept less than 40% of what they receive, so I know not to expect them to take everything, but I’m interested to see how close the estimated payouts come to the actual, especially on the big ticket items listed above. For the items they don’t accept, they connect with textile recyclers, which I’m totally in favor of and wish I had more direct access to as a consumer.

Donate

Some of the swap leftovers weren’t on-trend enough or in good enough condition to submit to ThredUP, so I’m planning to take those items to Thrifty Threads this weekend. I like to support this particular thrift store with swap leftovers since their proceeds support the Julian Center, a local women’s shelter. I know they would probably prefer to have the good stuff than the dregs, so I hope they’re set up to sell unwanted items to textile recyclers or other resellers—this is something that’s been in the back of my mind to research.

What have your experiences with clothing resale been like? I’m hoping ThredUP is more accepting than the local stores since they cater to national trends, which are sometimes slower to reach Indiana. (I don’t think people here know that wide-leg dress pants are a thing again!) Have you ever used ThredUP, either as a buyer or seller? How about a Facebook sale group?

How Green is Fabric Made from Recycled Bottles?

Back of person in winter coat made of performance fabric

The following post was written by Alden Wicker and originally appeared on EcoCult, a guide to sustainable and eco-friendly living in NYC and beyond.

You might have noticed something popping up in the sustainable or eco-friendly fashion world: fabric made from recycled PET bottles.

This actually isn’t new. Patagonia has been recycling bottles into its fleece since the early 90s. What is new is the range of textiles we can make from recycled bottles as technology has improved. There are colorful printed yoga pants, technical cold-weather gear, and even blended textiles like denim.

Some of my sustainable friends have questioned how truly sustainable anything made with plastic can be. And there is merit in our collective striving toward a plastic-free wardrobe. After all, plastic is made from petroleum, so it’s natural to decide to go for a 100% organic cotton garment instead of one made with plastic, recycled or not. Also, the problem of polyester microfibers in the oceans is a scary one.

But the fact is, polyester – which is what recycled bottle yarn is – has become indispensable to the modern wardrobes. It’s how you get stretch. For example, Pact underwear creates its super-soft undies with organic cotton and 5% elastane, a polyester-polyurethane copolymer. If you wanted to forgo these synthetic textiles completely, you would have to resort to cotton bloomers that are gathered about the legs the old fashioned way. Sexy. You would also have to forgo athliesure as an entire category, or any performance gear at all. Have fun snowboarding that mountain in a wool fisherman’s sweater or heavy shearling coat. You could probably get away with wearing nothing but vintage jeans (let’s hope they never go out of style), but you would also have to get used to some pretty gnarly vintage bras as well, if you can’t do stretch. Basically, you would have to dress like a 19th century hippie.

Continue reading on EcoCult >>

A Box Full of Joy

Sometimes it seems like you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a new subscription box brand. (Is this an expression other people use or is my family just morbid?) I’m usually not that into the subscription box format because I’m so particular about the ethics of the products and companies I support. However, I recently connected with Julie Overby, the co-founder of bonJOY, a brand that bills itself as a “little box of good.” I was excited to learn that their product sourcing criteria are as stringent as mine—and in fact go further by seeking out brands that specifically support women and combat human trafficking. I was immediately enamored with the company’s mission and Julie’s infectiously joyful spirit, so I asked her to share some background about bonJOY and what makes it different from other boxes.

Past bonJOY boxes

Past bonJOY boxes

Fair for All: Subscription boxes are a big trend right now. What’s the appeal?

Julie Overby: I think it’s the surprise factor! You choose a subscription box brand that’s a fit with your lifestyle, and leave it to them to curate a selection of items you might never otherwise discover and voila, it arrives on your doorstep. It’s a bit of Christmas morning all throughout the year!

Why did you start bonJOY?

Esther & I met while volunteering at a safe house for trafficking survivors, and eventually started discovering and sending each other these products we found from brands that had a heart for survivors too. We found that the subscription box concept worked beautifully as a way of sharing our finds with the world and building support for these amazing brands and the organizations they work with. In light of a such a dark and evil wrong (trafficking) in the world, we wanted to highlight the joy and restoration that these anti-trafficking organizations are making possible for women who have survived such a horrific thing.

What makes bonJOY different from other subscription boxes?

The very specific cause focus. There are other (wonderful!) fair trade and cause-related boxes out there, but to my knowledge, we’re the only one that focuses specifically on a) brands making a positive impact for women, b) disadvantaged or at-risk women, and c) trafficking-specific causes. We don’t promote an amazing value because we’re actually paying our partners their full wholesale rates for their products  we want to make sure each box creates the maximum impact. (Many other boxes get products for free or at a greatly reduced cost.) More things you might not guess about us here!

Why the focus on human trafficking?

It’s something both of us are passionate about, but we’re not lawyers, doctors, or ex-SEALs, so we’re not out there busting down doors and saving these girls. It’s kind of beautiful how it worked out, but we’re able to take our abilities and interests and support the people doing just that through building business for these brands. As awareness about the issue grows (and it’s grown a LOT in the past five years), people are looking more and more for ways that they can respond and join in the fight, and we think this is one way to do just that. Plus, I’m crazy about being able to tell a story with my purchases  I love having things in my home and closet that I can’t help but talk about. Some of the pieces we feature are even signed by the women who made them, which I think is so awe-inspiring.

bonjoy-box-label

What criteria do products have to meet to be included in a bonJOY box?

They’ve got to be made ethically, number one. We also want them to be creating some kind of positive impact, whether that’s a donation to an organization somewhere or creating employment for survivors trying to get back on their feet. For consumable products like beauty and candles, that sort of thing, we also do the research to make sure ingredients are pure and good for you and the earth. Bonus points when a product is eco-friendly.

Tell me about your joy philosophy. (I’m kind of in love with it.)

We think of joy as a weapon against the darkness. When these survivors light up the world by smiling with abandon… wow. Talk about inspiration. As humans and consumers, we want to fight for pervasive joy  in the way we live and interact, in the products we use, in the causes we support. It’s simple, but it can be a challenge. Joy is easy to chase though  it doesn’t lie. :-) You can read more about our perspective and our core values in this blog post.

What’s your favorite item that has been included in a bonJOY box?

Oh boy, so many! Soap from the Hope Soap Project (loooove their bars), facial wipes from Rooted Beauty (so perfect for travelling and so affordable — actually, Target just picked them up!), and this simple yet gorgeous necklace from Purpose Jewelry (hand-signed by a survivor and everyday kind of wearable). You can see everything we’ve featured before here.

What’s next for bonJOY?

Well, we just launched a new subscription option, so instead of just shipping quarterly like we did last year, we’ve added a monthly box on top of that. It’s $35/month + free shipping, and I think it’s a great deal if you love discovery and want to join us in creating consistent impact. We’re also partnering with four key anti-trafficking organizations this year to give $1 from each box and inviting subscribers to add a donation on top of that. A21 is our first Give-Back Partner. Really excited about that one and looking forward to seeing the kind of impact we can make together. Beyond that, we’re looking at some really exciting collaborations and themed boxes later in the year, so stay tuned! We’ve got lots of ideas, just need the time and womanpower to bring them to life. :-)

–––––––––––

If you decide to order a box of ethical awesomeness from bonJOY, use coupon code FAIRFORALL to get $2 off.

Find out more about bonJOY at bonjoybox.com or on social media; they’re @bonjoybox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Introducing Bethany, our new contributor!

I’m thrilled that my good friend Bethany Daugherty is joining the Fair for All team as a contributor! She will be sharing periodic updates as she goes on a mission to buy only ethically-made or secondhand clothing this year. Here’s Bethany’s introduction to her quest in her own words. — Julia


Three years ago, I texted a number off of a really sketchy looking flyer that was posted on a bulletin board at the college I was about to graduate from. The flyer was very vague and plain, and said “Looking for a bass player for a bluegrass band. Text Kevin at 317-XXX-XXXX.”

I had just stolen a string bass, and was looking for more opportunities to learn how to play it. Okay, okay, I didn’t really steal it…I actually borrowed it from my mom and then never gave it back (thanks Mom!). I texted the number. This Kevin character texted back, and it was all set up for me to attend the first rehearsal at his house. All I could think was “I’m probably going to get murdered and killed.” Then I got another text asking if I had any food allergies. Murderers don’t care about food allergies! Little did I know that texting a random person from a sketchy flyer would turn out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And guess who was also a part of this band?

Group photo of Juvin: The One-Man Band

Bethany (left) with her quasi-stolen bass and the band

That’s right, none other than the lovely Julia Spangler! Over the past three years, we have become good friends, and I started reading this blog. When she screened “The True Cost,” I attended, and it was really eye-opening for me. Over the past six or seven months, I’ve had a Dr. Seuss quote stuck in my head:

Even though you can’t hear them or see them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

It really reminds me of the issues that were presented in that film. I can’t hear or see or know the people who are at the other end of the goods that I consume, but I can’t pretend they don’t exist.

In 2016, I’m tackling the sartorial issue head first—I am choosing to take responsibility for every dollar I spend, and committing to not purchase any new items of clothing unless they are fair trade. I’ll be relying on thrift shops, clothing swaps, and fair trade retail…and making do with the clothing I already own! You can look forward to upcoming blog posts throughout the year about my progress, what I learn through this process, and various DIY posts as I spruce up the clothing I own.

Bethany browsing tables of clothing

Bethany swappin’ it up at FairSwap15

I’m pretty new to all of this, and I’m still learning all the ins and outs on my quest to take responsibility for my own wallet. I still make mistakes, and I still occasionally buy something that I’m not entirely sure where it came from. Some of the challenges I’m anticipating are finding work-appropriate pants (that fit correctly and are not giant bell bottoms), blue jeans, undergarments, exercise clothing, and shoes. I’m only one month into this challenge, and it already sometimes feels overwhelming, but at the end of the day it helps me sleep at night to know that I’m doing what I can to treat those invisible and silent people with respect.