• Fashion,  green,  shopping,  style

    Ethical fashion: where do I shop now?

    Earlier this week I talked about ethical consumerism and calculating your “slavery footprint” (you can read that post here). Today I wanted to talk a bit more specifically about ethical fashion, cheap chic chains, and some steps you can take to balance high fashion with ethical shopping habits.

    In her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline points out that “cheap chic” retailers now churn out massive amounts of clothing at incredibly low price points, with Americans buying on average a new garment each week…but at what cost? She goes on to make the case that cheap chic fashion is damaging the economy, the environment, and the lives of the countless sweatshop workers who are employed to produce these goods. It’s hard to argue against her: roughly 900 thousand tons of clothing go into landfills each year, mostly from cheaply made garments that are purchased at cheap chic chains or outlet malls, worn a few times, and then discarded for something else. The workers who make these garments work for long hours in dangerous conditions are paid mere dollars a week for their work.

    With the April collapse of the Bangaldesh garment factory that killed over 1100 people, the spotlight is being shown more fiercely than ever on the link between cheap clothing and the dangerous working conditions in third-world factories. The collapse was the worst in the history of the garment industry and the death toll is roughly eight times that of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City in 1911.

    What’s really sobering about all of the back-and-forth that has followed the disaster is this figure released by the Workers’ Rights Consortium:

    We have a general cost estimate for the renovations, upgrades and retrofitting of buildings that is needed across the industry in Bangladesh to make the factories safe. The figure is $3 billion. That translates to about 8 cents per garment at factory price. 

    The WRC goes on to lay out some different ways that $3 billion figure could be spread out and absorbed by consumers rather than retailers, and even at the high end, they estimate that most pieces of clothing would be marked up about thirty cents to absorb the bill. Try to wrap your head around that number for a moment, because I can’t. If you knew thirty cents per garment would guarantee better and safer working conditions for someone–including proper fire exits, better emergency alarms, and the closure of unsafe factory structures–wouldn’t you willingly pay it?

    What happens now?

    Public pressure on major retailers to change their production practices has led to the creation of a new legal accord aimed at providing Bangladeshi workers with a safer working environment. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh requires a five-year commitment to conduct independent safety inspections of factories and requires retailers to pay up to $500,000 per year toward safety improvements in those factories.

    However, there’s been a lot of resistance to the accord. While some brands have willingly jumped on board, others have refused, including:

    • Walmart 
    • Target
    • Macy’s
    • JC Penney
    • Sears
    • Gap
    • Kohl’s
    • VF Corp. (owns The North Face, Wrangler and Vans)
    • Carter’s (owns Oshkosh B’Gosh)
    • Nordstrom
    • American Eagle Outfitters
    • The Children’s Place
    • Foot Locker 
    • Cato Fashions

    Some retailers (such as Walmart) have said they will work on their own initiatives to create a safer working environment for these factory workers, but what their plans are exactly remains to be seen.

    Quantity vs. quality

    I think we all need to reexamine the definition of “affordable” clothing. It’s true that I can go to a cheap chic chain with $100 in my pocket and leave with several new dresses, but that doesn’t mean those $25 dresses are any more “affordable” than a single $100 dress from a different store. It just means that I have to be more selective and only buy one new piece instead of an armful. That difference is what drives so many consumers into the arms of cheap retailers, but if you know what’s gone into the production of a piece, doesn’t it make you want to shop elsewhere–even if you emerge with just a few garments, instead of a whole new wardrobe?

    Quality is something else to consider. While more expensive clothing is not always made of a higher quality–there are exceptions–by and large, investing in pieces that will last for several seasons is not only worth the extra cash, it’s a great way to keep from wasting money on items you’ll only wear once before throwing them in the trash. We’ve all bought jeans or shoes that broke down so quickly there wasn’t even anything left to donate to the thrift store! Why waste your money on those items?

    In my opinion, a short spending ban could help wean you from the habit of dropping into the mall each weekend for a new blouse or skirt. Personally, while I used to frequent some of the fourteen stores listed above, I’m making it my choice to step away from purchasing their garments in the future. There are lots of places where I can shop for new clothes and crossing a few stores off of my list is not going to kill me. Going forward, I’m going to plan my clothing budget more carefully so I can buy a few new pieces each season that I’ll really love, instead of buying a ton of cheaply made items at the mall.

    Where do I shop now?

    The intersection of ethical consumerism and affordable fashion is a small one and it takes some work to find it, but it does exist. The best way to find ethically produced clothing is to dig through company websites and read the labels on the garments themselves. Look for items that were made in the U.S.A. If the company imports lots of their garments, read up on company practices involving overseas workers.

    H&M, Mango and Calvin Klein are all signees of the new Bangladesh accord. On the Overdressed website, Elizabeth Cline points out that you can search “made in USA” on NeimanMarcus.com and Nordstrom.com to find domestically produced clothing at a range of price points; I also tried this on one of my favorite sites, Lulus.com, so it’s worth trying on different e-tail sites to see what you get. You can also find a full list of Cline’s recommend retailers here.

    Some of my other favorite new sites to browse: EcoFabulous (highlights ethical and eco-friendly consumerism) and the e-tail sites Etrican, Fashion Conscience, One Mango Tree, People Tree and Shopanthropic (find the links below). While I don’t have the budget to go bananas on these sites the way I can in Walmart or Target, I think I’d rather save up for one or two nice pieces anyway and enjoy my splurge!

    More eco- and ethical fashion options

    • I’m going to be putting together a wishlist of clothing picks next week so you can see some of the items I’ve got my eye on!
    • Thrifting is huge right now thanks to that ubiquitous Macklemore song. Upcycling clothing is not only wallet-friendly and eco-friendly, most thrift shops are run with the goal of funding local charities (like a homeless shelter or the local humane society). Even consignment shops are worth a dig, though the items there may cost more. The less new items you buy, the less you feed into the supply and demand cycle that keeps cheap chic retailers pumping out these cheap garments. So much win! I’ll be writing a post on thrifting later this month.
    • If you’ve got some basic sewing skills, sewing your own clothes or refashioning options from the thrift store is an awesome way to beef up your wardrobe! I’ll be posting more on refashioning later in the month, including some tips to make it less scary.

    More resources

  • Beauty,  Fashion,  food,  green,  style,  vegan,  vegetarian

    Ethical consumerism: calculating your “slavery footprint”

    Have you ever calculated your “slavery footprint”? When we use the term “slavery”, most Americans tend to think of something from a school textbook about the Civil War era. Sadly, slavery is alive and well in the modern world, and it’s lurking in places you might not think to look for it.

    Take, for example, the clothes you wear. Do you know where they came from and how they were made? There’s a very good chance they were manufactured in a third-world sweatshop from cotton or leather harvested by workers who are paid a ridiculously low wage for their work (and may even be children pulled out of school to go to work). Or how about your food: that cup of coffee you enjoy each morning may be the result of slave labor to pick and process the beans on a farm in Brazil.

    While slavery is technically illegal across the globe, that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent; the SumAll Foundation, which analyzes data and create reports for charities and social justice, estimated this year that there are over 27 million slaves in the world today. (In other words, there are more slaves in the world today than there were in 1860, when the estimated slave count stood at 25 million.) As profiled by The New York Times in March, a snappy infographic breaks down the numbers of the modern slave trade, pointing out that first-world consumerism is a driving force behind much of the modern slave trade.

    Calculating your “slavery footprint”

    While the numbers are troubling, it’s been hard to grasp the impact of modern slavery on the average American household until now. Made In A Free World, which works to engage consumers with an end goal of eliminating slavery, launched an interactive website called My Slavery Footprint, which offers users a way to input personal data and find out just how large their “slavery footprint” is in connection to what they buy, eat, wear, and use on a daily basis. The questionnaire covers topics like food, clothing, consumer electronics, and sporting goods.

    The goal of the site isn’t to make you feel bad, but it probably will. After clicking through the questionnaire, the site calculated that a total of 53 slaves from countries like Brazil, China and Pakistan contributed to my daily lifestyle. 53? I’m not sure I interact with a total of 53 people on a daily basis. That’s a staggering number, and one that elicits a little pitter-patter of shame when I realize how terrible my consumer spending habits truly are.

    Or are they?

    Here’s the trouble with these types of questionnaires: while they’re a great place to start, they rarely capture the whole picture. There are a few reasons why I take issue with the My Slavery Footprint stats. For starters, some of the data presented on the site seems faulty. In a piece for Forbes.com published in January, Tim Worstall argues that the site doesn’t have all of their technical facts straight regarding the reserves and mining of coltan, an ore from which tantalum is extracted to make capacitors for electronics.

    While it’s true that coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo contributes heavily to world supply and that human rights abuses there are off the charts, it’s also true that a huge chunk of the world’s mined tantalum production in 2009 came from Australia (12.1%), Brazil (26.9%) and parts of Africa excluding the DRC (44.3%)–a fact My Slavery Footprint neglects to mention. Once you start stretching the stats, it hurts your overall cause. (To be completely fair, Worstall also cites Canada as a leading producer ahead of the DRC, but in 2009 that country produced just 3.7% of the earth’s mined tantalum, compared to the DRC’s 13%.) (Numbers courtesy of the 2009 minerals yearbook from the United States Geological Survey)

    Second, there’s the rather vague way My Slavery Footprint actually collects your data. For example, when the site asks about your wardrobe, it asks only for the number of items of clothing you own broke down by tops, pants, jackets, shoes, and so forth. Since the site doesn’t ask for further information, such as the country of origin or the materials used, a large wardrobe results in a larger slavery footprint. Basically, the site doesn’t differentiate between a pair of Nikes and a pair of Toms, so someone who buys ethically crafted clothing made from organic fair trade cotton gets the same score as someone who buys leather goods or lots of mass-produced items from factories in China. 

    Third, upcycling is left completely out of the loop, so if you’re getting your clothes, electronics or sporting goods second-hand (which many of us do, particularly in this economy), there’s no way to calculate a reduced footprint based on secondhand purchases versus new consumer goods. And if owning a bike contributes to a higher score via owning a piece of sporting equipment, there’s also no reduction in score for using said bike in place of a car to run daily errands, which theoretically would use higher amounts of items like rubber, certain metals and petroleum.

    The site sort of kind of admits that your results are largely based on “assumptions”, when it shows you the five responses that most affected your overall footprint. But it’s still pretty vague. For example, my result shows that marking “body wash” as an item in my medicine cabinet contributed to a higher slavery score. But there’s nothing to say what brands I’m buying, how they were sourced, or where they were produced–all crucial pieces of information for a more well-rounded score.

    How to put those numbers to good use

    An essential part of data collection and processing involves making sense of the numbers. While I don’t think that My Slavery Footprint necessarily does a very good job of calculating your score, and I wish that the site employed more specific questions, it’s a great start to understanding the connection between consumerism and modern slavery. And if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into the factoids behind the numbers, you can find some really easy ways to shrink your footprint.

    For example, if you’re a fashionista, consider upcycling new fashions from thrift stores and shopping through retailers who are making strides toward a more ethical supply chain. (I’m going to be posting more about both of those topics later in the month.)

    If food contributes highly to your score, look for more fair-trade and ethically sourced items. For example, if you’re a hard-core chocolate addict, purchase bars made from fair-trade cocoa beans. My husband just bought me a big stack of bars from Theo Chocolate for our anniversary, and on top of using fair trade cocoa I saw that one of the bars helps support World Bicycle Relief, an organization that supplies locally assembled bicycles to students, entrepreneurs and health care workers in rural Africa. Talk about a cool way to multitask your ethical impact, huh?

    I’m going to have more detailed posts throughout the month of June about ethical fashion, upcycling, and how you can alter your shopping habits for a greener (and more socially conscious) footprint. So be sure to check back later to see those posts!

    More resources

  • Beauty,  blogs,  Fashion,  style

    Fave posts this month! May 2013

    Hey lovelies! I hope you’ve all had a lovely May! I thought it was high time to return to doing an occasional roundup of blog posts and articles I’ve loved recently, so you guys can find some fun new beauty reviews, fashion posts, recipes, reads, whatever–maybe you’ll even find some cool new bloggers to follow in the process. :) Since it’s been just about forever since I did one of these posts I’ve got a roundup of links from the whole month of May, but hopefully in the future I’ll do these posts more often!

    In no particular order, here are some posts I really liked this month!

    On my recipe radar: this sparkling berry limeade from Beauty & Truth (wouldn’t this be a perfect summer patio beverage?) and a recipe for vegan almond butter cups from FitSugar. Since deciding to give up milk chocolate I’ve really missed Reeses Cups; I really do prefer dark chocolate, but that particular candy bar has always been a big weak spot for me! I’ll definitely be trying this recipe to make my own at home.

    Also for those interested in the cruelty-free lifestyle: you might be interested in joining Bleat, a new social media site geared towards vegetarians and vegans. Find out more about Bleat courtesy of The Glambulance. And if organic beauty is a big deal to you, then you need to read Sugarpuffish‘s post on picking truly organic skincare. With all of the confusing labels out there saying things like “natural” “organic” and “green”, it’s important to know how to weed through the fakers to find the truly pure and natural products.

    Wants some outfit inspiration? The Serena Saga posts some of the most awesome outfits ever, and this bright skirt and top combo is no exception. (She’s one of my favorite fashion bloggers!) C Michelle Styles posted this great mashup of neon, sequins, and cream (another great fashion blogger to follow, especially if you’re on a budget). And Andystyle has the cutest draped skirt here–I like that she paired it with an equally drapey top but kept things defined with the belt and ladylike pumps! Finally, Beauty By Arielle has me itching to go thrifting again with this pretty haul of prints and colors from Plato’s Closet.

    If you want some cool new nail art ideas, check out this cute and easy marbling idea (using plastic wrap instead of water!) courtesy of Pretty Making. Or, if you’re into stamping, check out this tone on tone matte mani from RainySunRayNails–it’s such a pretty twist on traditional matte manicures!

    I’ve had the itch to rearrange and redecorate in my home lately, so I got some fun design inspiration with these peeks into the homes of artist Anahata Katkin and musician Florence Welch from Bohemian Treehouse. Also in the home department: it was super-fun scrolling through the linkups for “My Dream Home” via Random Thursday, but I think the best of all was Katrin’s tower library (Land of Candy Canes). I’ve decided to just go be the ghost that lives up there and watches over all of the books, because how awesome would that be?

    Beauty By Arielle pretty much summed up all of my frustrations with BB creams in this video. I’m giving her huge bonus points for referencing Grumpy Cat along the way! Pretty Squared picked out seven of their favorite drugstore blushes for summer and I’m psyched to see that five are cruelty-free options–and all so pretty, too! Beauty Redfined By Pang posts tons and tons of great reviews and swatches all the time, but one post that really caught my eye this month was her roundup of emerald green makeup. I love this color but finding true shades in the drugstore can be tricky, so I appreciated the picks and swatches from brands like Nyx and Milani.

    If you want some non-beauty or fashion-related reading, Green Eyed Monster has been doing the same two Blog Every Day in May challenges that I’ve been struggling through completing–so if you’ve been having fun reading up on those topics, go check out her posts too! If you’re a cat lover or just love funny pet videos, you must watch this cat video as recommended by You’re Meaghan Me Crazy–it’s so true to life!

    Finally, Dancing Branflakes is one of my favorite blogs that doesn’t focus specifically on style–you’ll find a variety of posts here on dance, beauty, fashion, food, decorating, relationships, and more, but also lots of inspirational posts and some that are just pure pretty photography. This series of photos from a trail in Virgina is so pretty, and the accompanying story is pretty sweet, too.

  • blogs,  Fashion,  spring,  style,  summer

    Random Thursday: Spring Apparel

    I don’t know that the hell is going on with Blogger today, but it let me upload all of one photo before it pooped out. This would be annoying but admittedly not such a big deal if I hadn’t spent an hour taking and editing photos today to show off my spring wardrobe. Grrrrrrr…I wound up switching into Internet Explorer to upload the rest of the photos to the post, saving it, then switching back to Mozilla to finish writing it up. Apparently I’m not the only one having this problem, and I hope Google fixes it soon!

    Anyway, let’s get into the clothes! Hands-down, my favorite thing to wear when the weather warms up is a maxi dress. The print dress on the left is one of my favorite pieces of clothing ever (like EVAH).

    Maxi dresses rock for so many reasons:

    • They don’t require a lot of effort.
    • They keep you cool on super-hot days, but if you go in a chilly restaurant or movie theater you don’t have a ton of skin exposed and freezing.
    • They look great on everyone. I don’t care what height or weight you are, you can rock a maxi dress.
    • You can skip shaving your legs for a day. (Lazy girl here.)

    I wear lots of floral print skirts and dresses in the warmer months. If I’m going casual I add sneakers and a moto jacket, or I might wear boots. Spring in the northwest isn’t always warm and dry enough for sandals, so I have lots and lots of cute boots and sneakers on hand to wear with my skirts and dresses!

    Spring also means that it’s warm enough to dress up and show some skin after a winter of being bundled under layers and layers of clothing. I like to wear lots of light, bright colors and the highest heels and wedges I can find!

    Lots of people seem to think it’s odd that I wear such high heels. I’m 5’8″ but I still wear five or six inch heels if they’re at all comfortable enough to walk in. Is that weird? I’ve been informed that those shoes are for “short people”. I say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

    When I want to go more casual, I usually just grab shorts or skinnies, a t-shirt, and my Chucks. These sneakers go with EVERYTHING in my closet and are probably my favorite pair of shoes, period. I really want to buy more pairs in different colors this summer. It’s important to carry a light jacket or hoodie with me because you don’t know when it will get chilly or start raining–the Northwest is not known for steady weather patterns.

    When I’m really feeling lazy, I revert to my natural all-black uniform, but with a t-shirt and these gauchos that I made in high school. It’s like wearing pajamas, but for some reason it looks better. You can also see on the right how I wear my hair when I’m feeling lazy: in a loose twist. Simple and easy.

    I can’t let you leave without a peek at my favorite spring shoes. As I said, spring means the end of ice and rain so I get to break out my favorite heels. I also love wearing ankle boots (lower left corner). When I want to wear something flat I have a ton of sneakers, sandals and ballet flats to choose from. The studded gladiators, cheetah print flats and my Chucks are always my favorites!

    Oh, and scarves. I wear lots of different scarves year-round but these four are my favorite for spring: turquoise, pink, and two floral prints.

    So what are your favorite pieces of clothing for spring? If you linked up for Random Thursday let me know so I can see your spring fashion show!

  • blogs,  challenge,  Fashion,  shopping,  style

    30 Day Shop My Closet Challenge: Day 24

    It was nearly 70 degrees here today! Perfect for letting the cats outside to sun themselves all day, and for breaking out my favorite spring/summer dress ever. This one is so comfy and I love the turquoise color.

    This was actually sold in the swimwear section at Walmart for $15 as a beach coverup, but with a belt, studded sandals and nice earrings, it looks good enough to wear for a date. I added a thin sweater because it’s not quite warm enough to be running around in a strapless dress quite yet!

    Now it’s your turn to show us how you’re shopping your closet this month! Use the widget below to link up your posts and remember to use the hashtag #30dayclosetshop across your social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to show off your style!

    Please follow your cohosts (Mandy and Martha) and visit a couple of other bloggers via the linkup to leave a comment! “I don’t like comments” said no blogger ever! :P