If You Need It: Wool Sweaters

This I Wear | If You Need It: Wool Sweaters

It’s amazing how suddenly cooler temperatures have descended on the East Coast. My wardrobe is already transitioning to Fall and for me, this means cozy sweaters. And for most of us, cozy sweaters mean wool.

Wool is actually a pretty amazing fiber. It’s biodegradable, breathable, and a renewable resource since it grows right back on a healthy sheep.

Wool also doesn’t raise ethical flags for most people. While leather is often a byproduct of the meat industry, wool can be removed without killing the animal. Sheep and goats are sheared for their wool and then they hang around until the next shearing (though obviously living conditions can vary).

But there is one issue that I had never heard of until fairly recently, and I’m going to guess you haven’t either: mulesing. Merino sheep, specifically those raised in Australia, are prone to flystrike, when botflies burrow into the sheep’s “breech” (a nice way of saying, butt) to lay their eggs and the sheep die a slow painful death and…I won’t get into the details here. To protect the sheep from this terrible death, the farmers use the practice of mulesing in which they cut off a young sheep’s excess folds of skin around the rear. If that sounds like a nightmare-inducing lose-lose situation, it’s because it is.

PETA launched a campaign against mulesing several years ago, trying to get wool farmers to use alternative methods. Some options include breeding sheep that don’t have the folds and therefore aren’t as vulnerable to flystrike. At the very least, there is a plea for these farmers to use painkillers on the sheep during this practice. But also keep in mind that farmers don’t want their sheep to die from flystrike either – whether for ethical or financial reasons. From what I’ve learned, it’s a complex issue.

But there are ways to avoid the issue by purchasing mulesing-free wool.

First, companies can avoid sourcing merino wool from Australia, since its neighbor, New Zealand, does not practice mulesing. Ethical suppliers do exist in Australia, like NewMerino, which is based in Australia but certifies that their producers not only do not practice mulesing but also abide by other animal welfare standards. In addition, some companies, like Icebreaker, People Tree, Swedish brand Fjallraven, and even fast fashion brand Uniqlo, have publicly shared their commitment to sourcing mulesing-free wool, which makes it easy to know which sweaters are safe to buy.

In searching, I also discovered John Smedley, a UK brand founded in 1784 that has incorporated sustainability as one of its core values. The brand’s luxury merino wool sweaters are made of New Zealand merino wool to avoid mulesing and knit in the UK.

So if you’re shopping for sweaters this season, I recommend a great mulesing-free sweater from Uniqlo or John Smedley. And if you are out shopping, ask some questions if you see “merino wool” listed on the content label. I know this issue is not a happy one, but the more we ask, the more companies will make phasing out this practice a priority. And I’d like to think that happy sheep make cozier sweaters.

One important note: I recognize that I’m recommending a $30 sweater from Uniqlo in this post, which for many people may raise other questions related to ethics since it is a “fast fashion” company. But it’s also important to me to be super transparent with you, and I will say that (1) I hope this recommendation is helpful if this issue of mulesing is particularly important to you, (2) I’m offering this as a small step you can take to incorporate ethical decision-making into your clothing purchases, since 100% ethical clothing can still be difficult to find, and (3) I do occasionally buy basics from Uniqlo and they inexplicably last a very long time. That said, I welcome discussion on this!

[Images via John Smedley and Uniqlo.]

My Closet: The Lone Blue Jeans

This I Wear | The Lone Blue Jeans

I only have one pair of blue jeans that I wear regularly. There were two other pairs I had been clinging to – one very old and worn, the other fairly new but never loved – that I finally pulled out of the drawer and put in my donation pile where they are currently still sitting. (We’ll see if they stay there.) And then there was that pair that came and went.

I wear my blue jeans at least twice a week, except in the summer. And I’ve done so for the two years since I bought them for less than $35 at a charity sale where clothes were donated nearly new from movie wardrobes (thank you sister in the movie industry!). They were a pair of fancy J Brand skinny jeans and fit perfectly even though I had no real or easy way of trying them on before purchase. This pair of jeans and I have been through a lot together since we found each other – the good (our first “couples” photo) and the bad (a very rough Northeastern winter).

The tricky thing about having only one pair of blue jeans, though, is that they own you a bit too much. You’re so overly dependent on them to solve everything for you that if something happens to them, you’d be lost. Clothing should have power but not that much.

And this is the point that is sadly funny to me. I started writing this post last week, only to put on my one lovely pair of blue jeans over the weekend to find a sizable rip in the lower butt area. So this became a story of both learning how to repair ripped jeans on my own, and also a story of needing to expedite a second pair of jeans, so I can make the original pair last longer by alternating wears.

Before this rip, part of me worried that if I got a new pair, would I still love and depend on the existing one quite so much? I don’t want to foolishly give in to “new-ness”.

But after carefully ironing on an adhesive patch and then hand-sewing the ripped area for extra reinforcement (with the help of Youtube videos on “how to repair denim”), I got a good close look at my jeans and those two years of wear are showing from the seams to the color. So I have officially decided that having two pairs of blue jeans is not an extravagance; it’s just a reflection of my lifestyle and how often I wear jeans. I’m not suddenly not a minimalist if I own two pairs of blue jeans. (Thanks Kate Arends for confirming that!)

I may have also been putting off this inevitable moment because my philosophy on shopping for jeans is that you can’t just go shopping, looking for anything and just stumble on the perfect pair of jeans. You have to go jeans shopping and you can’t look at anything else. Seriously. Because buying jeans requires trying on as many as possible to find the right fit because you never know what might be the perfect rise, fade, cut, etc. No distractions from dresses or cute earrings allowed. That kind of shopping almost needs to be scheduled on your calendar. It requires commitment. It also sounds exhausting since my shopping stamina is close to non-existent.

I’m trying to make this an easy decision though, and I’ve been thinking about investing in a pair of Imogene + Willie jeans, made in Nashville and definitely made to last. One of my favorite parts about the company is they have a limited number of cuts and fabrics, so the decision is much more simple than going to a department or denim store with a million styles. Yet at $200+, they are nearly six times more expensive than the pair I wear now.

And while that’s a big difference, I’m probably going to buy a pair for two reasons. First, if you think about $200 for a pair of jeans in terms of cost per wear, it is not an unreasonable amount of money. Secondly, more and more, I feel that buying clothes from responsible and thoughtful companies, especially smaller ones, is as much an investment in their success as it is an investment in my wardrobe. I’m not just paying them for my jeans but I’m thanking them for giving people great jobs, quality jeans, and a role model of how to do business responsibly and with kindness. And it just so happens that I’d get to have a beautiful pair of jeans for expressing my gratitude. It feels like I’m paying it forward and that feels pretty good.

I’ll report back once I’ve found the lucky new pair.

What are your thoughts on denim? How do you shop for jeans? How many pairs do you have? How many pairs of those do you actually wear?

The Monthly Mend: The Myth of Dry Cleaning

This I Wear | Dry Cleaning Myths

Dry cleaning may be one of the biggest mysteries in life. You drop it off to someone whose business name changes every couple months, your clothing disappears to an unknown location for a few days, and then it comes back with a big price tag. It is perhaps just as much as mystery that once you are an adult, suddenly everything in your closet “needs” to be dry-cleaned.

I never used to question the reasoning behind those itchy care labels inside the garment. Then I found out that the biggest environmental impact of our clothing’s lifecycle is once we’ve taken our clothes home from the store and started caring for them (Water! Chemicals! Energy!). I also learned that it’s actually the law that clothing manufacturers include these, which set off my “bullshit” radar. Does “dry clean only” really mean just that? Or are clothing manufacturers just protecting themselves? Considering the cost, the scary chemicals, and now these new facts, it seems like there is an opportunity for something better here for our clothing, our health, and, yes, the environment.

The Past

Care labels didn’t exist until 1971 when they became mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in order to protect consumers and took on their current form in 1984 after said consumers reported that the labels were believed to be “incomplete, inaccurate, and inconsistent.” The rule is that the care label must include at least one (and therefore, usually only one) method of recommended care, as well as warn against any method that might damage the garment. If a customer follows the recommended method and the garment is damaged, then the manufacturer or brand is held responsible. Obviously, if you make clothing, it is in your best interest to put the absolute safest method of care so you don’t have customers requesting replacements for their damaged clothing or reporting you to the FTC. (source)

And because of these rules, a lot of garments that can be washed by hand at home or in cold water on your washer’s gentlest cycle are marked “dry clean only.” In fact, the laundry mavens behind The Laundress suggest “90% of items labeled “Dry Clean Only” are actually washable.” (source)

These labels also come with their own language. I never knew that the above symbol of a circle and cross meant “no dry cleaning”, but perhaps that’s because this symbol never actually appears on a label. Instead of silly symbols, I’d like to advocate that we just get to know our clothes a little more intimately and perhaps even get a little handsy.

The Future

If you’ve been dry cleaning everything, consider what your future dry cleaning-less life will include: money savings as you wash more things at home and less at the dry cleaner, longer clothing life since you’ll be sparing your clothes from all of those toxic chemicals, healthier life for you, laundry workers and everyone else on earth as we decrease these chemicals in our homes and environment, and hopefully some energy savings as you opt for more hand washing and air drying to keep your clothes looking new.

This is a win-win situation for all as long as you take some time to choose the right method for the garment.

Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up a long the way:
1. Don’t over-wash clothing. More washing = more wear. If a garment isn’t truly dirty, refresh it instead of washing it. Air out the garment or hang up in the bathroom during your steamy shower and that will likely be all you need to keep it fresh for a few more wears.
2. If a garment truly needs to be cleaned, read the fiber content label to decide whether it can be cleaned for at home. This chart from the experts at the Laundress details the temperature and treatment for some of the trickiest fabrics. They recommend their own specially formulated detergents but doing a little research can likely reveal some cheaper options. For example, Dr. Bronner’s is apparently a great detergent for silks.
3. Learn how to handwash. I wouldn’t start handwashing with your absolute favorite silk shirt, but start with something simple like a sweater. Here’s a great how-to from Martha herself.
4. Skip the dryer. Dryers and their hot air can be particularly abrasive on fabric and fade colors. The safest method of drying is always air-drying. For my wool sweaters that I used to dry clean, I now wash them with a gentle detergent on the “woolens” cycle in cold water and lay flat to dry to help them retain their shape.
5. Get the professional look without the chemicals. If you’ve been dry cleaning everything for the perfect finished look, consider having them washed with the rest of your clothes but professionally starched and ironed for the crispy dress shirt look or using an at-home steamer to get those wrinkles out of delicate garments (or use the steam function on your iron). I’ve heard this steamer is amazing.

Finally, there are some garments that are still too intimidating for me to wash at home, such as the fancy party dress and the fully lined winter wool coat. For these big or particularly delicate items, there are alternative to dry cleaning like liquid CO2 cleaning and wet cleaning available at “green” dry cleaners. Just make sure to ask them what “green” or “organic” means when it comes to the nitty gritty of what they’re going to do to your clothes.

This list of tips is just a start! I hope you’ll share your own tips and tricks for avoiding the dry cleaner in the comments below!

Goodbye Summer

This I Wear | Goodbye SummerPerhaps you know it’s Fall when your latest Vogue looks like they cut down an entire forest to print it, you’ve run out of vacation days, or just because you are finally ready to retire your jean shorts for the year.

Well, I know it’s Fall because my blog vacation has come to an end. It was such a lovely break for me, so thanks for hanging tight. As you can see above, my trip to Glacier National Park in Montana with Climate Ride was pretty epic. I’ve heard that they are going to host another hike next year, so if you’re interested in hiking, meeting other environmental enthusiasts, and fundraising for amazing environmental nonprofits, you can let them know by filling out this form! I imagine the next trip will fill up as soon as it is announced.

Coming back online has been slow, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I am also looking forward to trading my jean shorts and hiking gear for some cozy sweaters and coats. And since I’m in San Francisco for work this week and it is cold and grey, Fall does feel within reach!

While I was away, I kept up with my reading and I have to say that there were a lot of hardworking folks this summer, creating some amazing stuff. Here’s a few:

– I just purchased and downloaded Into Mind’s Personal Style & Perfect Wardrobe Guide. I cannot wait to work through this book as I’ve been loving Anuschka’s minimalist take on wardrobing via her Berlin-based blog for the last few months. Let me know if you’ve tried it yet or if you’ll be working through it with me!

– I still have a lot to learn about leather and this interview with the Horween Leather family on the Distance was really informative. A few really great tidbits on quality and how the leather industry works.

– If after reading the Horween article, you are craving more “heritage” brand stories, Alabama Chanin’s look into the history of the Scottish cooperative, Harris Tweed, is so good and perfect if you can’t get enough of textiles.

– Last week was an amazing week for books about women (and men) and the stories behind their clothes. Not one but TWO books – “Worn Stories” and “Women in Clothes” are now out. Read a review of both books here.

– On September 21, thousands of people will march in NYC to demand an international climate change treaty as the UN convenes to discuss the issue. I’ll be there and would love for you to join me! More info here.

Looking forward to catching up with all of you soon!

P.S. What’s on your Fall shopping list? I’ll be doing a few “if you need it” posts and would love to do a little shopping research for you. Tweet @thisiwear or email me with what you’re looking for.

Celebrating Two Years

This I Wear | Celebrating Two Years

Two posts in one week? Crazy, I know! But I thought I’d pop in for a moment and share some exciting updates.

So first things first, after mulling it over, I have decided to take a writing vacation for the month of August. Since things will be deceptively quiet here, I thought I’d share with you what I’ll be up to.

One of my hopes is that I’ll use my usual writing time to do a few site updates, especially around the pages.

TIW actually just celebrated its two-year anniversary on July 10th, which feels incredible because I am still bursting with ideas to share here. But I also know there is work to be done as both our community and I have grown – rethinking series, updating “About” pages, and doing some big picture thinking – all of which I’ve been wanting to do for awhile now but have been recently inspired to make time for.

My inspiration came in the form of Braid Creative’s Personal Branding ECourse, aimed at “creative entrepreneurs and bloggers (especially those of you who are both) who don’t entirely draw the line between work and life – and like it that way.” I was noticing a little identity crisis as my 9-5 and this blog overlap so much, which is such a blessing but at times is a source of confusion. I knew that digging into this distinction (and where I can continue the blur) would help me find better clarity for TIW. Not only did it do that, but it also gave me the courage to consider how I can share more of myself and my process here, and not just my closet.

(Your enthusiasm about posts that I have loved but was honestly terrified to share like “I’m Not a Fashion Omnivore” has also been a huge source of encouragement.)

Some of my time will also be spent training for my epic hiking and camping trip through Climate Ride to raise funding and awareness for my selected environmental nonprofits. I have just three weeks to go, and though my hike in the Catskills last weekend was great (check out that photo!), I need to get serious about training. Yet I also realize that preparing for this trip is just as much about building up courage as it is about building physical strength.

I know I’ve got a lot of learning ahead of me this month. In the meantime, go outside and enjoy the summer! I will be back in September and hopefully sharing a few surprises.

P.S. I LOVED the Braid ECourse that I mentioned above and highly recommend it for other creatives, writers, and entrepreneurs. In fact, the next course starts August 22nd! Full disclosure: if you use these referral links to sign up for the course, I will receive a commission. I promise that any money received through this will be invested back into TIW, and I will never recommend something here unless I truly believe in it.

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