Category: Inside Story

Supporting Sewing through Kiva…

This I Wear | Support Sewing Through Kiva

Sewing skills have largely been lost in the United States as manufacturers moved overseas. We hear that over and over, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that so many people (many, if not most of them women) around the world still rely on sewing as a primary means of income, whether through their own business or through work in a factory setting.

A finished garment is a mystery to many of us. It’s hard to understand all the work and skill it takes to make something when all we see is the finished product. But a really good seamstress knows exactly what went into the garment. She’s both a surgeon and a visionary.

When I was little and shopping with my mom for clothes, I would get so upset whenever I picked up something I liked, and she would say “but I could make that for you.” Now as an adult, as I see my mom’s wheels turning as she imagines how to go about creating something she’s seen or has only imagined, I’m in awe. I feel the same sense of awe (but perhaps also jealousy) for my sister who always says “yes” when I send her a photo and ask if she can make whatever it is for me.

There may not seem to be anything romantic or creative about sitting at a sewing machine in a factory, but I believe there is something bigger that the ability to sew opens up for individuals who have the skill. A world of possibilities opens to creating anything, bringing something unimagined to life, making something with your own hands (and sometimes a machine) that you can be proud of, and knowing that you have a skill that can always open doors and provide for you.

So when I discovered that Kiva’s micro-lending platform allows lenders to support women around the world who are building their own sewing businesses, I was pretty excited. I think I may have had lots of misconceptions about Kiva, but I’m realizing that there really is something for everyone. Even if you’re not inspired by encouraging sewing, it’s easy to explore the site and connect with someone who needs a loan to take their livelihood to the next level as they work to support themselves and their families.

Since I had already decided this week is a “want free” week for me, I’m spending my money instead on supporting Rosa from Colombia as she seeks a $425 loan for sewing supplies in her workshop where she already employs other women. There’s something simultaneously tough and kind about her when I look at her photo, so I went with my gut and supported her campaign. Maybe with your help, we can get her loan up to 100% funded. (Support her here!)

This is the first loan I’ve made through Kiva, and what’s really exciting about it is the 98% repayment rate means that I can loan the money right back out to another loan seeker once this one is repaid, so the creativity, passion and empowerment can keep flowing.

[All photos via Kiva.org]

Now What?

Perhaps on Sunday evening or early this week, you watched John Oliver’s segment that shared the scary cycle of fast fashion companies getting in trouble for human rights violations and the rest of us quickly forgiving and forgetting.

It is a full 17 minutes, but I hope you’ll forget about the fact that our attention spans have disappeared and stick it out for the full video.

Why? Because we have to recognize this as a significant moment. No, we didn’t do enough after the Rana Plaza factory collapse and the subsequent factory fires that led to the creation of Fashion Revolution Day whose anniversary was April 24. Just like we didn’t do enough after all the tragedies since the early 1990s caused by the pursuit of ever cheaper clothing that John highlights in this feature. But it is a significant moment when an extremely popular tv show that is only 30 minutes long gives more than half of the show over to reminding us how we (this means you and me) are letting this pattern continue.

I will say that Gap, which is the company in focus for majority of the video, is not the worst offender. Who is? Every store you’ve ever been in where you’ve exclaimed “I can’t believe how cheap this is.” Sometimes that is Gap, but it’s also Forever21, H&M, Zara, Target, Walmart, American Eagle Outfitters, Old Navy, Topshop, Kohl’s, Joe Fresh, and so many more.

Many of these companies are in reputable industry organizations and have CSR departments and compliance teams. Some of them have really innovative programs for trying to improve on environmental issues. But at the end of the day, a $5 t-shirt and a $20 blouse need to cause us to raise our eyebrows and ask ourselves “but how?”.

The next step is action, but today, I hope you’ll take some time to watch the video,  notice the patterns, see the cycle, and decide whether you want to do something about it.

 

 

Ayurveda: Seeking Balance and Beauty

This I Wear | Ayurveda: Seeking Balance and Beauty

Balance may be a myth, but the stress we’re putting on our bodies is real.

Last year, I shared the beginning of my switch to natural beauty products with you. The switch was motivated by a desire to incorporate my values around sustainability and health into what I put on my skin. Yet it also coincided with my own search to find new daily self-care rituals for myself, especially at the end of a long workday. And that latter part is because I’ve realized that I have been putting myself under so much stress, that the stress is starting to show up as very real physical health issues.

From the unusual pain in my neck that I’ve had since last August to the feeling of being unable to go any further as I’m rushing the six blocks to the subway in the morning, my health issues have been seemingly inexplicable. My doctor tells me I’m perfectly healthy. And admittedly, every time I go to a doctor and tell her what’s wrong, I follow up any description of the problem with “but I think it is just stress related.”

Well, at this point, most choices I’m making about how I live my life are “stress related.”

Before doing a total life overall, I’ve started to get curious about what balance means for me right now.

Ayurveda, an ancient system of healing founded in India, offers a totally different perspective on balance. Ayurveda is about “learning how intimately your body and mind are connected, knowing what will make them work in harmony, and doing what you can to create that harmony.”* It sees balance not as an end goal – you cannot achieve it once and then always have it – but instead as a constant process of listening to our bodies and responding to its needs through the activities we choose to do, the food we choose to eat, and the lifestyle we choose to lead. Balance, in Ayurveda, looks different for each one of us and differs based on our age, the season and even the time of day.

Inspired and intrigued by this different perspective on balance, I tumbled down the Ayurveda rabbit hole. Here’s why I think I might stay for awhile.

After a few initial attempts to learn about Ayurveda (a dense confusing book and a few online dosha quizzes), I serendipitously ended up in class at the yoga studio I attend occasionally with the resident Ayurveda teacher who had just returned from India. Taking it as a sign but too intimidated by my total ignorance to ask her where to start, I picked up the book Essential Ayurveda by Shubhra Krishnan in the studio’s lobby, assuming that the teacher had likely picked out this book anyway. And lucky for me, it was the perfect introductory book and was such a good read that I almost missed my train stop on multiple occasions.

Since Ayurveda is a holistic healing system that relies on whole foods as “medicine,” the focus is truly on what we are putting into our bodies as nourishment, which obviously reflects in our outer beauty. When we’re functioning well on the inside, the outside glow is a natural side effect. But there are quite a lot of Ayurvedic daily “beauty” rituals – just consider oil pulling or dry skin brushing. My curiosity around how Ayurveda translates to skincare led me to Pratima Spa and Skincare, based in NYC.

As a birthday treat for myself, I tried the Ayurvedic facial, and my amazing esthetician Heidi (after I admitted I was intimidated by the products) walked me through where to start. I’ve been using the Pitta face oil twice daily after cleansing and before I add a little moisturizer on top. I’ve also been massaging post-shower with the Vata body oil, which is really lovely. If I had based my purchase on scent alone, I wouldn’t have picked these, but given how happy my skin is, I plan to stick with both. If you’re curious, you can pick up Pratima’s book Absolute Beauty (though I don’t recommend it as an introductory book) and take her dosha skincare quiz to find your dosha type and the right products for you.

And after all of this, I am still so hungry for more knowledge. It’s been really interesting also to see how it fits in with my regular yoga practice and (mostly) healthful diet.

So what does balance look like for me right now? Well, it looks like 10 minutes with the Headspace meditation app while I ride the train to work, going to bed earlier than I would like (old habits die hard!), and letting myself get up from my desk and take a break without feeling guilty for not looking busy. It looks like really luxurious evening rituals like a steamy shower followed by thoughtfully applying body oil to soothe the aches and pains. It looks like reaching for a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea instead of a caffeinated beverage. And it also looks like experimenting with new and delicious recipes that warm me from the inside out.

And most of all, it means acknowledging that only I know what my body feels like when it is in balance, and trusting my gut (rather than a perfectly normal blood test) when it says that it’s time to make some changes. Balance is not achieved in one day, but then again, it didn’t take just one day to reach this state of imbalance. But a very good place to start the healing process is simply to redefine our idea of balance to allow for constant change and even imperfection.

So tell me, what rituals keep you in balance? What are your best tips for letting go of stress?

*Krishnan, xvi.

Buzz Word: Transparency

This I Wear | Buzz Word: Transparency

It is ironic that “transparency” has become, well, not so transparent as the fashion industry isn’t being very upfront in how it is defining the word. And in honor of transparency’s definition – “frankness, openness, candor” – I’m going to try to stick to those qualities as I explain this dilemma.

Frankness. Transparency is interesting. It inspires a level of trust and it feels new and fresh, especially in an industry that is so mysterious. It’s not just fashion that has a burgeoning fixation on the idea of transparency. I’ve been listening to the podcast “StartUp”, which is exciting and innovative because never before has anyone been so honest and open about the process of starting a company. It’s easy to understand why this hasn’t been done before. It makes you really vulnerable to share the proud moments and the not-so-proud moments. From a listener’s perspective, it feels like there is nothing withheld. But that’s not true – there is editing, there is waiting for the right time to share sensitive information, and there is strategy, even if it’s all well-intentioned.

Openness. The fixation on transparency is likely a result of the Internet age, where we expect all information to be available at all times. We don’t expect privacy in our own lives, and we have the same “open book” expectations of companies now. This is a great thing, but we need to acknowledge that transparency, in the context of the fashion industry, can mean vastly different things. Companies who claim transparency might be open about some aspects of their business but have no intention of sharing other aspects.

Candor. Transparency could very easily become a meaningless buzzword like “heritage” or “natural”, but there’s still time to stop it from the clutches of marketing. And we should infuse it with real meaning because a movement towards greater transparency in the fashion industry is a win for everyone.

So how is the fashion industry defining transparency?

I think it boils down to four key concepts:

1. Transparency of Pricing – Yes, Everlane claims to be transparent on where their products are made, but what they were really founded on was transparency of pricing. Their claim to fame is that you aren’t paying the markup of traditional retail, and they transparently transfer the savings to you. Later, Honest By used this idea of transparency of pricing to share the exact cost of every button, zipper and fabric that went into the product as well as how much was paid in wages. The idea is to truly show what the item is worth and what it costs to make a responsible high quality product with fair wages.

2. Transparency of Supply Chain – Nike does this best with an interactive map of all of their suppliers (pictured above), so anyone can access the name, address, and details (such as number of workers) for any Nike supplier. This invites activist organizations to hold Nike accountable to its promises of social responsibility and encourages collaboration on factory initiatives with other brands working in the same factories.

3. Transparency of Materials/Ingredients – While this isn’t as common in the fashion industry, there are some great examples in the growing safe beauty product movement around disclosing all ingredients. Beautycounter was founded on this idea, and brands like Tata Harper allow you to trace the ingredients of your product back to the farm. In the apparel industry, Icebreaker allows you to put in the “Baacode” of your purchased garment to trace where the merino wool was sourced and under what conditions. I think this category will grow rapidly in the fashion industry as well as demands for disclosing chemicals used in the dyeing and finishing processes increases.

4. Transparency of Values – This is where it gets murky. There are a lot of great companies founded on strong values that ask for your trust based on those values. Companies like vegan handbag company Matt & Nat or artisan-made shoe company Nisolo claim transparency as one of their core values. While they don’t have complex supply chain maps like Nike or a breakdown of how much they paid workers, there is a clear message that the company is trying to work in the most responsible way possible and will share as much with you as their small staff can possibly do in their limited time. It’s just not always clear how they are sharing it. But there are other brands in this category that maybe we shouldn’t be trusting, so we have to go with our gut a bit here.

Now that your head is spinning you might ask: If transparency is this complicated, why push for it?

Because transparency isn’t just good because you as the consumer know your product was made in a way that you feel ok about. Transparency done well has the opportunity to change the way fashion companies do business – from how brands could collaborate together on worker safety and factory remediation to how a brand makes both financial and responsibility decisions. It’s a win-win for all when companies get a little vulnerable with their peers, partners and customers. Smart people like the founders behind Project Just are on this already, and there’s room for more innovators too.

How do you define transparency? What do you expect from a brand who claims to be transparent? Share your ideas in the comments and include any brands that you think are doing transparency the right way.

Pictured: Screenshot of Nike’s Global Manufacturing Map.

Trend or Timeless: Plaid

This I Wear | Trend or Timeless: Plaid

I think plaid is having a moment, but then again, I also thought plaid never left.

I see plaid everywhere right now. It isn’t the grungy plaid of the 1990s or the Clueless plaid that came later (I definitely had a number of plaid kilts from Limited Too if that tells you how old I am). Instead, this is the plaid that your favorite lumberjack wears every day, the classic tartan on a good Scottish kilt, and probably not too far off from the plaid already hanging in your closet. This is the tried and true plaid that I think never left. So I guess my question is – is this plaid explosion a trend or just an opportunity to stock up on something timeless?

I experienced this same confusion two years ago when suddenly everything was emerald green thanks to its selection as Pantone’s “Color of the Year”. When this gorgeous green was suddenly trendy, I took it as my opportunity to buy a few great green things, as it happens to be one of my favorite colors. Some might have engaged with the green as a trend, but for me, it just felt like a lucky time to stock up on what I know I’ll love regardless of the current style.

And that’s sort of how I feel about the plaid moment happening right now. You can see it as a trend, or if you love plaid, see it as your lucky day (or season).

Just to prove my point, I’m sharing a few of my favorite pins to show how timeless plaid truly is – from a 1950s Pierre Cardin coat in the Met Archives that I would wear in a second right now to a present day red tartan dress and oversized coat that would be perfect for your holiday party.

What do you think? Is plaid a trend or is it timeless?

[Images, left to right: Via, Via / Original, Via]

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