Stories While Away

This I Wear | Stories While Away

If the media keeps telling us that our attention spans are getting shorter, it is certainly not paying attention to all the people who are telling stories just as well as your grandpa ever did way before the internet existed. As I’m off this week for a craft beer- and hiking-filled vacation in the Great Northwest (Portland!), I thought I’d turn over storytelling duties to others who are doing it pretty damn well.

Here are some stories I’m really enjoying:

01. The Alabama Chanin Journal is a treasure trove of stories of the artists, makers, and community that inspire Natalie and her team. It would be an understatement to say that Natalie herself is just a thought leader in sustainable fashion as she is truly a role model of how to put sustainability (and people) first in the making of things in the modern world. Read on for their latest journal series on personal heirlooms as they invite family and friends to share the things they hold dear.

02. Online ethical fashion retailer Zady only began in 2013, but it has already become a go-to source for beautifully designed and ethically made clothing and accessories for men and women. But as much as I’ve admired their product offerings, it wasn’t until I recently met co-founder Maxine that I really started to understand the care in which they select the products they carry and the disruption they hope to create in the fashion industry. In addition to giving us a great place to shop, their “Features” section is filled with great articles, including this recent article on the history of fabric dye.

03. New Zealander Emma Vitz writes about her adventures in conscious consumerism on her blog, This Kind Choice. I’m in love with the honesty and thoughtfulness of her writing, and I identify so much with her struggles to build a wardrobe that feels true to herself and her values. A favorite post for me is her own story of connecting with her clothes, so I was really excited to contribute to the series with one of my own stories too. She wants to hear your story too, so please reach out to her if you’d like to share your story.

I hope you all enjoy these stories, and hopefully I will come back from Portland with my own to tell. See you then!

If You Need It: Organic Unmentionables

This I Wear | Organic Unmentionables

Photos via (left) PACT and (right) Hanky Panky. See below for links!

Yes, I said unmentionables. You were not expecting me to set you straight on what you’re wearing underneath your clothes today. But what better way to start building a sustainable wardrobe than stripping down to the basics?

A few weeks ago, I discovered that Hanky Panky, my favorite brand of pricey and in-demand women’s intimates, was now producing a “Cotton with a Conscience” line. And since this organic line is sold at the same price point as their conventional cotton line, this was one easy switch! I already knew that unlike the Gap Body intimates I’ve been buying for years, Hanky Panky’s pairs will last forever, which is both impressive and totally justifies the cost. So not only are these skivvies made to last, but they’re newly organic, incredibly comfortable, and, as always, made in America. It’s a great step forward for the company, and I hope they’ll share more about this conversion with their customers soon!

There are also quite a few options for the gents: PACT’s fair trade organic cotton boxer briefs win the day for style, but Pants to Poverty’s options are a close second. Both brands have women’s lines too.

As long as we’re getting down to the basics, we should also answer the very basic but often misunderstood question of why we should choose organic clothing. The argument for organic food is straightforward enough: when we spray pesticides on the food we grow, those chemicals enter our bodies when we eat conventionally-produced food. Eating organic food means keeping those pesticides out of our bodies.

The argument for organic fiber gets messier, but we can keep it simple. It is often debated, but at this point fairly accepted, that when we wear conventional fibers, pesticides are not seeping into our bodies through our skin. However, our health as well as the health of the farming communities, the environment, and wildlife can be directly impacted by pesticides that enter our air, water, and even our food. When we use pesticides, we introduce them to our ecosystems. From there, according to all laws of nature, they don’t just disappear – they have to go somewhere. Unfortunately, that “somewhere” can still be in our communities, since the US is the third largest cotton producing country in the world, and conventional cotton requires more insecticides than any other crop (read more here). And just when you thought you weren’t eating this conventional cotton, the truth is that cotton by-products do find their way into our diets from the cottonseed fed to cattle to the cottonseed oil used in processed foods. So at the end of the day, choosing organic cotton and other organic fibers means we’re taking a big step to keep ourselves and our communities pesticide-free, so we can all be a whole lot safer.

There are many more reasons to advocate for organic fiber, but we’ll keep it basic like our skivvies today. In the meantime, if you want more, read up on how PACT does a whole lot more than just use organic cotton and then check out TextileExchange’s quick fact sheet on organic cotton. And if you have a great organic cotton resource, I hope you’ll share.

Factory Geeks

This I Wear | Factory Geeks
Photos of Everlane’s Cashmere (top) & Silk Shirt (bottom) Factories via Everlane.com

Gleaming machines. Skilled workers laboring over handmade goods with perfectly placed beads of sweat and interesting tattoos. Or men and women hunched over machines wearing masks over their noses and mouths. What images do you see when you hear the word “factory”? And when did we all become curious about what the inside of factories look like?

Whether it’s a small family-run or artisan operation or the large scale and precise factories we’ve come to associate with China, factories big and small are capturing our attention.

I have two theories to perhaps explain the sudden interest in factories.

The first is that we are genuinely interested and concerned in how our garments came to exist and who touched them along the way. Tragedies like last year’s Rana Plaza Factory collapse in Bangladesh brought factory conditions to our attention, and now we want to know the working conditions of the people who make our clothes. In other cases, perceived transparency turned out to be assumed transparency, and consumers have demanded more information in return, as in the case of Everlane and their #KnowYourFactories campaign that followed consumer confusion over where Everlane’s products were made. We want to see inside of factories, because we as global citizens and consumers are starting to question the impact of the journey of our clothing.

The second theory is that we are just naturally curious beings who want to know how things are made and can’t resist seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together. Evidence includes the popularity of the TV show “How It’s Made” and the incredible numbers of tumblr accounts focused on visual after visual of factories (the most extreme example may be “F**k Yeah Made in USA”). The allure is out of sheer curiosity rather than concern.

Regardless of whether either theory is right, exposure means we have opportunities to question our assumptions about what a factory looks like. If this trend continues, I hope that exposure and curiosity will soon turn into demand for greater transparency in production for the safety and health of workers but also to bring us closer to the skill and resources that go into the things we own.

Is this new to you? Get sucked in with the rest of us with these intriguing videos and photo stories:

L.L.Bean “Bean Boots” – Made in Maine

The Making Of A Watch from Shinola on Vimeo.

And you must also check out The American Edit’s tour of Faribault Woolen Mills!

Please share your favorite factory stories and videos in the comments section!

A Few Links: Mending

This I Wear | A few links: Mending

It has been a long winter. And while I’ve been hibernating, I’ve been collecting ideas for posts. But as Spring and all of its newness and fresh ideas flood in, I realized it’s been awhile since I’ve given a good solid shout-out to those people and companies that have been inspiring me and teaching me a thing or two. And I’m still really feeling the mending vibe.

My favorites? Three solid sources, all teaching me how to take care of my clothes a little better. Enjoy!

01. nudie jeans believes all of us can be our own tailor. Check out their how-to video on repairing your jeans. (more on repair here)

02. Dominique Browning’s “Slow Love Life” article on the necessity of having a sewing kit. (If you don’t have one yet, Martha circa-1997 has you covered on what to stock in your own kit.)

03. Kristin Glenn of Seamly.co with 13 ways to make your clothes last longer.

What are your favorite mending tips and resources?

 

My Closet: The Bamboo Scarf

This I Wear | My Closet: Bamboo Scarf

As a college student, I worked in a beautiful boutique in Washington, D.C. And as a college student, I was rarely able to afford the beautiful things we sold, even with an employee discount. Each item I bought usually was preceded by longing stares for weeks with crossed fingers in hopes that a customer wouldn’t buy the last one before my next pay day.

This scarf dates back to my time spent in the shop. I was still in my early stages of finding my passion for environmental issues, and anything that was labeled “eco” was an instant point of obsession. Not only was this scarf promoted as a “green” product, since bamboo grows quickly with no fertilizers or pesticides, but it had the luxurious shine and feel of silk. So I bought it, and I loved it.

During the following year as I researched alternative textile fibers for my thesis, I found that it is true that bamboo does quickly replenish itself and grow without the need for chemicals. However, I also discovered that the process of converting bamboo into a textile fiber was filled with chemicals to make it into what we know as rayon or viscose (Note: Rayon/Viscose can be made from a number of wood-based fibers). Could the good outweigh the bad in this case?

Actually, no. According to Patagonia’s fantastic guide to bamboo, “The solvent used for this process is carbon disulfide, a toxic chemical that is a known human reproductive hazard. It can endanger factory workers and pollute the environment via air emissions and wastewater. The recovery of this solvent in most viscose factories is around 50%, which means that the other half goes into the environment.” My scarf might have been made all the way in Nepal, but I certainly don’t want the Nepalese drinking water contaminated with these chemicals.

It quickly became clear that my scarf and a lot of the bamboo textiles appearing on the market at the time were by-products of green-washing. Or, at my more optimistic moments, I perhaps attributed it to just a long chain of unintentional ignorance that made its way down the chain to me, the consumer. But mostly I just felt swindled. How could I have so blindly trusted this fabric that had seemed almost too good to be true? This scarf was an imposter.

Yet I continue to keep this scarf around. It serves as a reminder that I have to keep asking questions. It reminds me that there are a lot of things that we just don’t know yet – as businesses, scientists, shoppers and just plain human beings. Luckily, we’re getting better information all the time, especially when we pursue it. And if this scarf did go through all those scary chemicals to become the silky fabric that keeps me warm, I have a responsibility to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t cause any more trouble than it already has.

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