Eco-Friendly Bedding: Organic Sheets & Mattress Protector

Organic Sheets & Mattress Protector

Check out part one to learn about my quest for a flame-retardant-free mattress.

Having recently upgraded my mattress from a full size to a queen, I found myself in need of new sheets. Like shopping for a mattress, this was new territory for me; the sheets I had been using were nearly as old as the mattress itself.

I looked exclusively for fair trade, organic cotton sheets. My primary reason for preferring organic cotton is that the growing process is less chemically-intensive, and therefore hopefully safer for farm workers. As far as I know there haven’t been any studies about the long-term health effects of organic cotton farming to definitively prove it’s safer, but there have been multiple studies linking pesticide exposure to negative health effects, and conventional cotton is one of the most world’s most chemical-intensive crops.

Sol Organix sheets on mattress

I found this sheet set offered by Sol Organix, and it turned out to be the least expensive organic and fair trade option I came across—other brands can be upwards of $200 for a queen set. Sol’s sheets are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which prohibits the use of various toxic inputs and sets social criteria for the entire production chain. The cotton used by Sol Organix is also certified by Fair Trade USA, indicating that the cotton was produced in accordance with fair trade principles including fair prices and credit, safe working conditions, and the absence of forced or child labor.

(One aspect of Sol Organix sheets I would have liked to see more clearly addressed on their website is the working conditions and wages for the workers who actually produce the sheets. Their website claims that the company believes in “total transparency, from farm to factory to fabric,” but they don’t provide much information about anything after the farm stage. However, social criteria for manufacturing can be found starting on page 28 of the GOTS documentation and is actually much more robust than I expected.)

Upon receiving the sheets in the mail, I was delighted by their packaging: instead of coming in a plastic zipper bag, the Sol Organix sheets came in a reusable fabric bag complete with a long strap, side pocket, and button flap.

Cotton bag used as Sol Organix sheets packaging

Granted, the bag is made of the same fabric as the sheets, so it’s not terribly sturdy, but props to Sol Organix for being super-intentional about the reusability of their packaging. I’ve actually already used the bag twice, once as a laundry sack for dirty clothes on a weekend trip and once to keep a fancy scarf segregated from dirty shoes that were sharing the same luggage. Versatile!

The sheets are incredibly soft and I love the ivory color. One minor downside is that the fitted sheet is designed to accommodate a very deep mattress, up to 17 inches. My mattress is only about 11–12 inches deep, but after washing there actually wasn’t that much excess sheet to deal with, and it all tucks away nicely under the mattress.

In addition to the sheets, I decided to cover my mattress with a waterproof mattress protector. Using a mattress protector was recommended by Holder, the company I bought my mattress from, and until then I didn’t even know waterproof mattress covers existed, other than full-on plastic sheets for children. However, in the mattress shopping process I read a lot about the dust mites and allergens and mold that can accumulate in mattresses over time. Since I intend my mattress to be a 20-year investment, I want to protect it and keep it as clean as possible. I had a brief ethical crisis about using a product that adheres polyurethane to fabric, which I assume negates any recyclability either of those materials might have had on their own, but ultimately I decided that using a small amount of eventual-trash-plastic was worth it to extend the life of a product with a much larger environment footprint (the mattress).

Naturepedic mattress protector in box

I went with Naturepedic’s organic waterproof mattress protector. As with the mattress, the major selling point for me was the absence of flame-retardant chemicals. I’m happy with it so far—it didn’t change the feel of my mattress, and I haven’t noticed it make the bed dramatically warmer (causing a bed to “sleep hot” is apparently a flaw of many mattress protectors, I learned in the shopping process).

As for the rest of my bedding, the fair trade Guatemalan quilt that I’ve written about previously was in fact queen-sized, so it still works with the new mattress just fine:

Bed with Guatemalan fair trade quilt

Have you gone organic with any of your bedding? What are your favorite sources? What’s the best reusable packing you’ve encountered, for bedding or any other type of product?

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?

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.

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.

Upcoming Events in January: Trunk Show and Style Swap

January looms before us as a barren wasteland of post-holiday gloom. But fear not! I have two free events coming up that are sure to break up your winter doldrums.

Slow Fashion Trunk Show promo poster

Slow Fashion Trunk Show

Thursday, Jan. 7 from 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Outpost (Circle Centre Mall, 2nd floor, across from H&M)

Elizabeth Roney from Liz Alig, Sara Baldwin-Schatz from Lux & Ivy, and I are teaming up for an evening of fair trade fashion, secondhand style, and sustainable strategies. Elizabeth and Sara will offer great slow fashion items from their brands, and I’ll speak on the differences between slow fashion and fast fashion, with time for Q&A from all three of us. It’s also a great chance to see the Outpost pop-up shop before it closes!

Women browsing clothes at FairSwap15

WinterSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 6–8 p.m.
New Day Craft

FairSwap15 was such a big hit last September that we’re bringing it back in January! Collect any wearable holiday gifts that weren’t quite your style, plus any other unwanted clothing, shoes and accessories you have, and bring them to WinterSwap16. This swap will be bigger and better than the last with more items allowed per person. Plus, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on at the same time! Sign up and get the full details. Spots are limited!

Check out photos and details from past events on the Events page. Happy holidays and I’ll see you in January!

Product Review: Fair Trade Crossbody Purse

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

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

Coral and beige fair trade crossbody purse

The Luisa purse in Adobe & Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia wearing fair trade crossbody purse

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

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

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

Julia wearing fair trade crossbody purse

Cropped to eliminate major RBF in this photo

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

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

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

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

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

Grecas pattern

Grecas pattern

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

Is Manos Zapotecas a member of any fair trade organizations?

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

What’s next for Manos Zapotecas?

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

Tag on fair trade crossbody purse with name of artisan

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Shopping

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

Beginner's Guide to Ethical Shopping infographic

1. Decide what’s important to you

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

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

2. See what the brand says about itself

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

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

3. Check for certifications or memberships

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

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

4. Google it

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

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

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

5. Ask for more information

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

6. Give yourself time

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

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

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

The Search for Ethical Swimwear

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

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

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

Faherty graphic weave bikini

Graphic Weave Bikini from Faherty (top, bottom)

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

Latte Drops Reversible Bikini from FINCH

String Theory Reversible Bikini from FINCH (top, bottom)

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

Black and white bikini from Fables by Barrie

Yvette Swim Bra and Amelia Bikini Bottom from Fables by Barrie

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

Mathilde one-piece swimsuit from LUZ

Mathilde One-Piece from LUZ

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

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

For more ethical swimwear options, check out these posts:

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

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

Product Review: Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

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

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

Front view of Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

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

Back view of Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

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

Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

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

Karina Dress from Synergy Organic Clothing

Socializing at my imaginary barbecue!

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

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

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

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

Find Pretty Much Anything Ethically with These Directories

Ethical Shopping Directories header

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

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

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

EcoCult screenshot

EcoCult Shopping Guide

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

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Shop Conscious

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

Top 10 Fashionable Fair Trade sites screenshot

Top 10 List of Fashionable Fair Trade Companies

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

Global Stewards screenshot

Global Stewards Directory of Online Fair Trade Shops

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

One of a Kind Sustainability screenshot

One of a Kind Sustainability Where to Shop Directory

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

Fair Fashion Finds screenshot

Fair Fashion Finds

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

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