Category: Inside Story

Find the Perfect Gift

This I Wear  | Find the Perfect Holiday Gift

While Black Friday is not my jam, I totally get that is a tempting way to kick off a season of holiday shopping. I’ve already started my holiday shopping list, and I’m on the search for the perfect gifts for my friends and family. The lure of a good sale means it might start sooner rather than later. Even if you haven’t thought much about holiday giving yet, I’m going to guess that Black Friday and its friends (Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday) are on your radar. (Wait, is there something on Sunday or is it truly a day of rest?)

So before we start whipping out cash, I thought I’d come up with a little (intentional) holiday shopping guide to help you stay focused and mindful when shopping this season. And not so coincidentally, I think it will help you buy the best gifts yet!

Here’s how to do it:

1. Make a list. Yeah, yeah, I know this sounds boring, but making a list ahead of time, especially when you’re shopping for gifts for others, is a great idea. I LOVE gift giving and I find my list making process is actually more of a brainstorming session. I typically take a few minutes per person on my list to think about what might bring a smile to him or her. Sometimes this is buying something new, but often giving them something of my own, my time or an experience emerges as the best gift. The thinking about what would bring them joy makes the process so much more fun AND it helps keep me focused if and when I do shop.

Quick tips: I actually make my list in a Google doc! This makes it easy if I do spontaneous shopping since I can access the doc on my phone and remember who and what I’m shopping for. And most recently, I’ve started a “secret” board on Pinterest where I save gift ideas for specific people year-round. That way, I already have a load of ideas by the time I need a gift.

2. You have to love it! This is my year-round rule taught to me at a formative age by my Aunt Lynn. Just because something is on sale is not a reason to “love” it. Take a step back or walk away for a moment to really envision whether this is the right thing (the thing you’ll keep and care for as long as possible) for you or a loved one and not just more stuff.

3. Shop small. Buying from a local craft fair, a small business, an Etsy shop, or even a used bookstore is an opportunity to have a conversation with the person most connected to what you’re buying. When you get a chance to ask questions and hear the story of what you’re purchasing, you’re able to share that story with the gift recipient. And I think we all know that the things that have a memorable story usually end up as our most prized treasures.

4. No more stuff. Just to reiterate this because I’ve already touched on it, but how can we steer clear of just more things that pile up in our homes? And it’s actually related to that Gifting 101 question: is this something I personally like or is this something they will truly use and enjoy? Keep the other person in mind and give them something they’ll really use, rather than just something you like. Don’t know what they love? Don’t guess! Gift certificates are awesome to avoid the stuff trap, and a great bottle of locally brewed hard cider or some homemade Christmas cookies can be even better.

5. Enjoy shopping. Yes, you read that right! If you decide to shop, I want you to have fun! Shopping for others can be such a joyful experience. Don’t let the holiday shopping madness get you down. Take things at your own pace, make a day of it, stop for a cup of hot chocolate and give yourself time to be thoughtful about gifts. The more thoughtfulness and love that goes into what you buy (whether that gift is the perfect responsibly made thing or whatever), the more likely it is that your recipient will love it as much as you do. And I think you could argue that something that is well-loved, used and kept for the long haul is better at this point than an artisan-made thingamabob that is never touched.

What are your holiday shopping tips? Share them here! And if you’re the enlightened Buddha thinking you are so beyond shopping, I highly recommend checking out The Center for the New American Dream’s “Simplify the Holidays” campaign. I’m super digging their calendar with daily suggestions on celebrating the holidays without the stuff.

[Image via here / original here ]

The Want-Free Week

This I Wear | The Want-Free Week

Last week, I had all but written this post but was left with no time to post it, which is just sometimes how things go around here.

I was preparing to leave for a work trip to DC – a trip that as soon as I agreed to it, I started to feel unprepared. My casual work wardrobe that New York’s culture allows for would not fly on Capitol Hill. I immediately went into a mindset of lacking. My clothes weren’t enough, which almost too easily transforms into that nagging, destructive thought “I am not enough.”

So just before the trip was set to begin, I dropped some cash on a “power dress,” appropriate for DC and all future “professional” events that come every once in awhile. And I did feel a sense of relief as soon as I had the dress. Now I’m ready. Now…I’m enough?

Here’s my wish for you (and for me!) this week, especially because next week brings Thanksgiving and that new American holiday, Black Friday: let yourself be free from wanting this week. Starting now and until Sunday morning, just let go of thinking you need anything you don’t already have.

If you see something you love, write it down and then let the thought go. You can return to that list later, but don’t think about it beyond that for now. As you scroll through your Pinterest and Instagram feeds, feel inspired rather than inspired to have. Appreciate things for what they are, knowing that you have everything you need right now.

For everything we feel that we need, we can often equate it with something we feel is missing in ourselves. Did I need the dress or did I need the confidence to go outside of my comfort zone?

There were still a few more things that I felt like I needed to be ready for the trip. But I let those thoughts go and the trip went just fine. Will anyone remember that I wore the right dress or that I didn’t have the right handbag? Or will they more likely remember my smile, my story or the way I spoke about something I’m passionate and curious about? (Another possibility is that they won’t remember anything!)

So just like you might be eating lightly this week in preparation for a big Thanksgiving meal, can we “want” lightly this week in preparation for the oncoming shopping season? A “want-free week” might help us recalibrate and detox, so that next week, we can more easily recognize the difference between a want and a need, and be a little more mindful when these superficial needs and wants are just covering up what our gut is telling us we truly need.

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

This I Wear | Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

I brought along the book, Let My People Go Surfing, from my Summer Reading List to the beach, and it quickly became covered in sand. After reading the book, however, I’m convinced that Patagonia’s founder (and the book’s author), Yvon Chouinard, would have wanted it this way as he is perhaps the most adventurous (and outdoorsy) businessman you might ever meet.

The outdoor industry of which Patagonia is an important leader does not view itself as part of the fashion industry and vice versa, even though both industries make clothes. So I can’t tell you how surprised I was that this book challenged my ideas of trends, quality and beauty, but it did.

Chouinard started off as a blacksmith making climbing equipment. At a certain point, he realized that the high quality, effective and popular climbing gear he was making was destroying the very mountains the climbers wanted to enjoy. So he got rid of the destructive model and improved on and then popularized a different, less damaging technology, and it sold like crazy.

He was also responsible for popularizing brightly colored outdoor clothing instead of the gray that dominated the market. But many years on, they realized those neon colors were full of damaging chemicals and so out went the neon colors and in came safer dyes (and absolutely no orange since no safe substitute could be found).

What if all of our trends came out of the pursuit of better technology, improved functionality and environmental stewardship? What if trends were about what is better and simpler rather than what is new and full of unnecessary frills? This idea is not just for climbing equipment but can apply to what we wear everyday. Perhaps the idea of a “timeless trend” is an oxymoron, but what would it be like if the latest thing was simpler and better in quality/design/sustainability than the previous version and that was somehow “trendy”?

Patagonia’s list of values includes the pursuit of product quality “as defined by durability, minimum use of natural resources, multi-functionalism, non-obsolescence, and the kind of beauty that emerges from absolute suitability to task.”

We don’t usually talk about beauty in that way, but I got a few goosebumps when I read that line. For Patagonia, that kind of beauty is the baselayers that save your life because they keep you warm and dry in the freezing cold. In fashion, this kind of beauty could be the perfect linen top that keeps you cool while you’re out on that summer date, the versatile dress that takes you from work to an evening out, the shoes that let you work a long shift without leaving you in pain, or even the suit that gives you confidence in a job interview. It’s beautiful not just because of the aesthetics but because it supports your lifestyle. It’s also beauty that comes from not worrying about whether your swimsuit will fall apart as you get out of the pool.

After what sounds like an intense debate, Chouinard and his chief designer decided that quality is objective and can be defined. This means that for Patagonia, quality does not refer to subjective taste and preferences but instead is a very tangible and objective state. The company’s list of criteria for a high quality product is extensive but a few of the most universal components include:

– Is it functional?
– Is it multifunctional?
– Is it durable and able to be repaired?
– Is it as simple as possible?
– Is it easy to care for?
– Does it cause unnecessary harm?

Chouinard quoted one of his own inspirations who believes that “to make a high quality products is a way to pay respect and responsibility to the customer and the user of the product.” And honestly, I’ve never thought of a high quality item as being particularly respectful, but I really liked this idea. If this is true, then it would be easy to say that Forever21 has no respect for their customers (or their suppliers) by producing such poor quality products. Obviously their goal, unlike Patagonia’s, is not the pursuit of quality, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that they disrespect the customer by negatively impacting the environment and world in which the customer lives and by selling her knowingly insufficient products.

And if we’re willing to buy such insufficient products, what does that say about respect for ourselves (and the environment)? I could write a whole post about just this.

Overall it is a great book and a fairly quick read. And more surprising than any of this is that the book itself is an incredible resource if you are thinking about starting a company that makes products, whether apparel or otherwise. If you read it, I hope you’ll share your thoughts here too.

What does beauty from functionality mean to you? How would you define quality if you were (or are) making products? Share your comments below or tweet @ThisIWear.

The Ideal…Sandal

This I Wear | The Ideal Sandal
Summertime should be spent out on the beach or eating popsicles on your stoop. But I have a confession that I’ve been very distracted lately by my search for the perfect summer sandal. In fact, I admittedly have spent an excessive amount of time online and in real life looking for a new pair of sandals, mostly out of fear that my favorite pair is going to break beyond repair any day now.

The silly thing about it is that I’m not being indecisive. It’s just that I know exactly what I want.

So the lightbulb came on that maybe if I told the Internet what I wanted, it might miraculously find me. It also occurred to me that this might also be a helpful visual guide for you if you’re curious about what qualities to keep in mind when shopping for a well-made, ethically produced shoe.

I’m not a shoemaker, so I’m not 100% certain that all of these fantastic qualities can exist in a single sandal. But I’ve done a little homework and I think this is a great place to start. But I’d also like to know: what ideal qualities would you look for in the perfect shoe?

P.S. If you want more details, you should read what happens to be my most popular post of all-time, How to Invest in Your Shoes Like A Pro.

A million thanks to the very talented Mike Brown (@mchlbrwn) for the beautiful illustration!


Summer Reads

This I Wear | Summer Reading 2014

I did very little reading this spring. I made it about halfway through The Goldfinch and then desperately wanted to stop only because I was afraid of how it might end. But since I’m not a quitter, I just “took a break”, which meant I wouldn’t let myself move on to a new book. I finally did break the self-imposed curse with The River of Doubt, following the stories of Teddy Roosevelt’s reckless adventure in the Amazon. I have just 50 pages left, and I am itching to get back to some reading on my favorite subject (the fashion industry) just in time for one of my favorite traditions of all time (summer reading).

My latest summer reads are below, and don’t forget to check out last year’s reading list here. On the other hand, if reading isn’t your thing, I suggest picking up an adorable bathing suit and some flip flops and heading outside – just don’t forget the sunscreen.

What’s On My Reading List

Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose – This book has been calling my name for months as it has sat unread near my desk at work. Kate Fletcher is a London-based professor, the founder of one of the coolest fashion storytelling projects ever (Local Wisdom), and possibly one of the people I’d most like to meet in the world. Lynda Grose is a California-based professor who has amazing insight into where sustainability and fashion exist now and where they could go. Together, they’ve made a book that covers everything you’d want to know about how to get creative in bringing sustainability to fashion products, systems and design. I’ve been intimidated because it looks like a (skinny) textbook, but it’s time for it to move to the top of my list!

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard – This is Chouinard’s first book about his work in founding Patagonia. If you’re at all interested in entrepreneurship or how businesses can do good by people and the environment, I’m told it’s a must read.

The Third Plate by Dan Barber – After reading an interview with Chef Dan Barber on my favorite food blog, Food52, I immediately added this book on how to make what we put on our plate reflect “where good farming and good food intersect” to my list. It’s supposedly a little bit world food history, a little bit farming, and a lot about finding out how to make and eat delicious food.

Wish me luck! We’ll see if I finish these by the end of the season. In the meantime, what’s on your reading list?

P.S. A huge shout-out to the many of you who recommended Goodreads to me as a way to track my reading. I’m loving it! (Find me here!)

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