I’m Not a Fashion Omnivore

This I Wear | I'm Not A Fashion Omnivore

Recently, I was visiting my brother, whom I totally and utterly credit with introducing to me to sustainable agriculture way back when it made a huge impact on what I have pursued in my life and work. He and his wife have both worked on farms extensively and every time I’m with them, I eat the most delicious, unexpected and almost entirely vegetarian meals. With them, there are no labels – the goal is simply to eat nutritious local food. But outside of this bubble, this diet would undoubtedly be labeled as vegetarian, making it sound much more high maintenance than it is.

Back in New York, everyone is high maintenance and has her own “special diet.” With all of the labels out there – vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, raw, Paleo – I’ve come to expect everyone to have their own diet boundaries. With all of these new diets, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when simply being vegetarian was surprising. Now, in most parts of the US, I’d like to think we’ve moved beyond the surprise.

But when it comes to fashion, a constrained diet is still surprising. And as a fashion “vegetarian”, what I want is often not on the menu. And though there are rare interactions with others who feel the same way and can share tips, it’s still a small tribe that is trying to find each other, mostly because there are lots of labels by which we call ourselves: minimalists, ethical shoppers, conscious consumers, sustainable fashion shoppers, and more that I probably don’t even know.

But I do know that I’m not a fashion omnivore. I’m pretty picky about what I will buy, but the fashion companies and retailers are like the crazy family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “He don’t eat meat?! Ok, I’ll make lamb.” They are still trying to make me “eat” things that aren’t in my fashion diet.

So what’s the ethical fashion diet, the “vegetarianism” of the shopping world?

Well the “meat” for me is pretty obvious. It’s fast fashion and it’s totally disposable. It is the $5 t-shirt, the slouchy pants that will be out of style within the next 6 months, and the sandblasted jeans that endangered the workers making them. It is definitely off the table.

But the “lamb” of my diet (or the fish or whatever someone mistakenly thinks vegetarians can eat) is the hardest part to explain and sometimes even difficult for me to recognize without reading the “ingredient list.” It is the clothing made by companies whose values and practices are questionable (e.g. American Apparel’s misogynistic CEO means I personally won’t shop with them) and the “made in USA” pieces that are produced in sweatshop conditions. Right now, the only safe thing we can assume from a “made in USA” label is that it provided jobs for people living in America. We can’t assume it was made by American citizens, that the job is in safe conditions, or that the quality is higher. We can’t even assume that the carbon footprint is smaller (fiber, fabrics and trim could have been imported).

Also in this category are the high quality pieces that might last forever but were made using questionable materials, whether fur or other animal products that are inhumanely produced, unsustainable fibers, conflict minerals or other controversially harvested materials. These issues are still tricky, and often may require compromise at times. As in the example of my bamboo scarf, I didn’t know it wasn’t in my diet until after I bought it. Sometimes we have to ask and research what the “ingredients” are and even then, we may still make mistakes for now.

But what about the “vegetables”? What are they and where are they?

Imagine if instead of going to the grocery store, you had to visit a different farm to find every kind of vegetable: it would be hard to know what vegetables exist or where the farms were. Not only would you be frustrated and inconvenienced, but you might be malnourished too. Well, that’s kind of how I view the state of ethical fashion right now: decentralized and disorganized.

As sad as that might sound, there are a lot of bright spots if you know where to look, and it’s been my goal this year to see this abundance. They are the handmade, the holistically sustainable, the secondhand and “second life” items, and the people who are so committed to providing safe and fulfilling work to their employees of the fashion world. They exist, but they just aren’t written on the menu yet. You have to ask for them.

Luckily, it’s easier than ever to connect with small production designers and makers online through platforms like Of a Kind, Madesmith and Etsy. Companies are starting to opt in for certifications and legal designations like B-Corporations that signal to the shopper that they are committed to creating more value in the world than just a good product. And smart people from bloggers to start-ups to established companies are starting to figure out their own boundaries are, which means communication on these important issues is improving, whether it’s easier to look up the information or it’s printed right on the label.

All of the above are merely examples of what your constraints might be in each category: what’s clearly off the table, what requires more inquiry or compromise for now, and what will make us jump up and down because it’s exactly what we’re looking for. It’s worth it to make these decisions for yourself, even if it takes time.

As for me, I might still have to work hard to find the vegetables, but when someone offers me the proverbial meat or fish, I say “no thanks” because I’m simply not hungry for that meal anymore.

The Monthly Mend: Fix A Ripped Belt Loop

TIW | Fix a ripped belt loop
Last week, my mom/seamstress fixed a ripped belt loop that had created a fairly large hole on one end of the loop. I had no idea if it was even repairable, so I was amazed when it not only could be fixed by hand but also looked like nothing had ever happened. This week, our seamstress-in-residence, my sister Lisa, is back sharing how this sort of magic can help you out if you too have done the “skinny jean jig” one too many times. – Rebecca

It happened to me one day as I was getting dressed for work. I was doing my usual skinny jean jig and, whoops, there went a belt loop. Now being a seamstress doesn’t mean I will fix everything right away or even within a month. Cut to six months later and I’m finally digging through my Ziploc full of iron-on patches ready to fix these pants.

For those of you new to the mending scene, iron-on patches are pieces of fabric (usually a twill or jean) with an adhesive backing that can be ironed onto the underside of any rips or tears to stabilize the torn fabric and hide the rip. It also gives you something to sew that ripped belt loop back onto.

Once I find a matching jean colored-patch and plug in the iron, the fun begins:

You’ll need:

– An iron-on patch in a similar color (these can be found at drugstores as well as sewing stores)
– An iron
– A long needle (big can be better when it comes to thick fabric like denim) or a sewing machine
– Thread to match the thread of your jeans
– A few straight pins or safety pins

Start with heating up the iron: high heat is fine – a cotton setting if you have it – since the patch is made of cotton. If you are ironing onto a non-cotton fabric, adjust the temperature of the iron to the setting for the main fabric. In general, it’s smart to avoid any steam. A little bit is okay, but the steam can prohibit the adhesive from sticking as well as it could.

Next step is to prep for ironing by placing the patch. I trim my patch down to about a half-inch bigger on all sides of the rip.

01. Then, I pin the patch in place with the adhesive side facing down on the wrong side (i.e. the inside of the jeans) and flip over to the right side (i.e. the exterior) to make sure it’s covering the rip.

Once everything is lined up on the right side, flip back over to the wrong side, making sure to keep everything in place as best as you can (that’s why the pins are super helpful!) and take the iron to the patch. For this situation, it was imperative to catch the ripped jean and the ripped belt loop with the iron even though the belt loop has a thick bottom. That means iron as hard as you can.

02. Finally, let’s reinforce the patch with some stitching. I was anxious and did my first stitches very quickly on my sewing machine with a tight zig-zag stitch above the original belt loop stitch.

03. The stitch is still holding, but I can still see the rip.

04. So I decided to strengthen the stitching by hand with a “slip stitch” (or blind stitch) by running the needle and thread through the belt loop end and into the patch at the back and then repeating this loop until I’ve got a secure stitch connecting the belt loop back to the jeans and patch. Really there is no wrong way to mend as long as it holds! Just be sure to tie off the thread on the inside of your jeans after you’ve finished stitching with a knot as close to the fabric as possible.

05. Sometimes your rip may have left some frayed threads. If that’s the case, now is the time to cut these away for a clean, finished look.

06. You’re done! The belt loop is now securely fastened to the patch.

Tip: If your iron-on patch comes unstuck in the wash, Stitch Witchery is a great iron-on adhesive tape found at your local sewing store that will re-attach the patch to the jeans. It can be cut down to fit around your patch and ironed on using the same method as you did with the patch before.

While the belt loop may look as good as new, it’s best to do your future skinny jean jigs while pulling up the whole waistband, and not relying on belt loops.

More mending questions? Find Lisa on twitter @lisammagee or follow her tumblr, Stitched History, for her inspiring look into costume and fashion history.

All photos by Lisa Magee.

My Closet: Shared Earrings + Shared Time

This I Wear | Shared EarringsThree trips later, and I’m back here with you. I thought I could squeeze in a post last week, but reality convinced me otherwise…but not until the last minute.

In truth, I knew I had these three trips for a while: personal, work, then personal again. And because of so many days out of my usual routine, I debated over whether to take the extra vacation day off or to let my visiting mom hang out with my brother while I did “work”. What finally helped me make my decision was a random piece of advice embarrassingly gleaned from a women’s magazine article on self-help books. The advice: if you are having trouble making a decision, use the 10-10-10 rule – if I make this decision, how will I feel 10 minutes from now? 10 months from now? 10 years from now?

Knowing that 10 years from now, I’d be glad I spent the day with my mom made the decision easy. So instead of sitting at my desk, I spent last Thursday at Wave Hill, a beautiful garden I knew she would enjoy. I spent the afternoon with my mom and brother, instagramming way too many photos of stunning flowers (and so many cactus!) and quizzing my mom on her floral knowledge. It was perfect.

While together, she surprised me with a belated Easter gift that had obviously been too precious to mail. It was one pair of tiny diamond earrings of two that she had recently re-made for my sister and me. Two of the diamonds were dubiously and naively bought from a coworker’s brother when my mom was in her early twenties, and the other two were a nearly identical set bought for her a few years later by my dad’s mother while on vacation in Vegas. I’m not sure which set (or whether a mix) of the two original sets I have, which makes them a little more mysterious.

Before my mom came up for a visit, I was thinking of the million things I wanted to do with her while she was here, mostly all the things I needed to ask her advice on in person (How do I repair this pair of pants? How would you arrange this furniture? Can you remind me again how to quilt? And how do I gain closure on a recent heartbreaking experience?). But while all of those were questions to be asked, there’s never enough time to get all of the answers. Time always runs out, and I have siblings I have to share her with.

But just like these earrings that were too priceless to mail, the time spent face to face is truly irreplaceable, especially those rare moments of silence that you just can’t share over the phone. The best time is not always the time spent talking but the time spent sharing the same air, seeing the same surroundings and hearing the same distant sounds.

In fact, like any of the beautiful things that my mom has passed on to me or that we’ve collected together, even in their perceived silence, they are speaking so loudly and clearly to me.

It turns out I’m not the only one wearing something from my mom. The Of A Kind ladies strike again and shared these spot-on stories by Leanne Shapton on women who wear things from their mothers. View it on NYTimes.com.

A Conscious Home Update

This I Wear | A Conscious Home Update

I promise that next week I will get back to fashion, but as I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting Friday to head to the famous Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts, I can’t think of anything but coffee tables and artwork and everything else conspicuously missing from our apartment. And I thought it was time to give a little update after my first post on our apartment back in November when our apartment was pretty bare.

So the short story is: our apartment is still not complete.

The longer story is that this has been the longest apartment decorating experience I’ve ever had. We’ve been in the apartment for nine months now. And it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do: the bedroom lacks art and any place to set a glass of water or book and the living room is missing a cozy chair and a coffee table to make it a great place to hang out with friends. I think more than anything the sense of “home” is still missing. I still don’t feel relaxed in the space because it feels less than complete.

I was again inspired by design*sponge when earlier this year the site’s founder, Grace Bonney, wrote an article on mindfulness at home. She wrote about how happy she was even when living in a nearly empty apartment and when things weren’t “finished” or perfect. It’s clear that the happiness doesn’t come from the things in her apartment but from a deeper internal place, and in turn, that happiness turns our house (or tiny apartment) into a home.

I couldn’t agree more. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the struggle for finding perfection has been a recent theme of mine, even if I’ve only recently rediscovered this trait from my younger years. But perhaps I didn’t stop being a perfectionist but instead just changed my definition: I’m no longer benchmarking myself against others, but instead looking for what feels “perfect” or most in line with who I am. And that isn’t necessarily any easier.

But there have been a few bright spots:

The Gallery Wall
My boyfriend has an incredible collection of work from his days as an art minor, but all of his work was hidden in various portfolios. In fact, one of my favorite memories from the beginning of our friendship was sitting on his apartment floor in New Orleans as he flipped through his art, suddenly introducing me to a whole different side to him I hadn’t met yet. In the apartment, I wanted to give us plenty of space to show off his art, my “art”, and pieces I’ve collected from friends, family and different places, so a gallery wall was inevitable. It started with two pieces, framed as a Christmas surprise. Then, slowly, I’ve framed other meaningful pieces: a vintage postcard that reminds me of a life-changing trip to Greece, a photo I took in Mexico after planning a wedding there for a client, silly photos of us in a Mississippi cornfield from the road trip that sealed our friendship, and a watercolor by my sister. Each piece was added one at a time, giving us time to truly appreciate the new arrival. If there is anywhere that excess could easily creep up, it is in an art wall. But I’ve practiced reserve and feel happy each time I see these beautiful pieces. I’m already dreaming about what memory to add to the wall next.

The Rug
For several weeks (maybe months), I became an absolute rug addict. Not drugs. Just rugs. And I could not sleep until I found the perfect rug for the apartment. It got a little dramatic at times. As I scrolled through rug after rug online, I kept seeing the same styles and patterns. Yet with some stroke of luck, I stumbled on Gypsya’s store on Etsy, which sells naturally-dyed handwoven organic cotton rugs. It was a welcome relief, and the owner Rose had the rug pattern I liked in stock, so I didn’t have to wait for it to be made. It’s beautiful and it improved the feeling of “home” significantly, but it took a lot of searching and a little going over budget. While I did drive myself a little crazy over this, I’m proud that I didn’t give into the temptation of easy and held out instead for what I know I will enjoy for the long run.

Grace’s article suggests that we truly ask ourselves if something has a sense of meaning before we add it to our homes and to let go of the feeling that we need to buy to fill the void. This goes for our homes in general but also our closets. Why are we so scared of an empty house or wardrobe? Perhaps because it forces us to narrow in on what’s really at the core of us. There is nothing more difficult than being concise or minimal. Excess is easy, and it’s also easy to hide behind.

It’s nice knowing that this rug, this gallery wall, and the other thoughtful pieces of our apartment (the shelves I built, the pillows my mom and I made together, and even the candles that make our apartment smell like my favorite scents) represent me.

For our weekend at the antique fair, I’m making a list of what we need and sticking to it. And while I hope I’ll find a few special things to make our home more comfortable, I’ll also be working on filling our home with more happiness and not just things.

Natural Beauty

Last week, I had a big moment. A moment that included me suddenly becoming so decisive about an issue I have cared little to nothing about that started with me downloading an app, involved me throwing out half of my medicine cabinet somewhere in the middle, and ended with my boyfriend asking was I “ok”.

Skincare and makeup have always been part of an important ritual of self-care for me, a way I could indulge my otherwise stressed out self in some nice smelling things that make me soft and pretty and remind me that I can indeed take care of myself. So while “natural” has always been nice when it is on the packaging of these products, it has never been a priority for me.

A few months ago, I read about makeup artist Rose-Marie Swift who created the truly organic and healthful line of RMS Beauty after her own experience of severe illness due to the metals in cosmetics. Her intention with RMS Beauty was “creating a product that’s not only non-toxic, but that actually heals and nourishes skin.” This idea of makeup being nourishing and restorative, way beyond just being “not toxic”, really struck me. My makeup could make my skin better, not just hide the bad? This felt radical.

But I did nothing, mostly because makeup is a little intimidating.

Last Friday at work, an email reminded me of the GoodGuide mobile app, which ranks products and the companies that make them on health, environmental and social factors. I gave it a quick download out of curiosity, and the first ratings I searched for was the makeup I use, and IT WAS BAD. It was really bad. Some of the ingredients were banned in other countries. One of the ingredients is suspected of causing developmental, reproductive, and/or skin or sense organ toxicity. The guide is not perfect (I’m still questioning the basis of brand’s social and environmental scores), but the health score and ingredient list is firmly based in facts.

As soon as work was over, I walked right out and bought my first RMS Beauty product. I even struck up a conversation with a fellow shopper who apparently makes her own skin cleansing oil at home (It’s cheaper than face wash and way more balancing even for oily skin. Learn more here.). I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be best friends, and I should have taken her out for a glass of red wine so she could teach me everything else she knows, but that’s beside the point.

On Saturday morning, I kept the process going. I threw out a ton of products in my medicine cabinet (recycling when possible of course), and I felt no regret. And then, I took the next leap: I bought a new natural deodorant that everyone has been raving about, but I was too scared to try because it comes in a jar and you have to use your finger to apply it. Yes, it sounds weird, but the Soapwalla organic deodorant cream is amazing. The natural formula doesn’t include those metals that make your deodorant into an antiperspirant (i.e. they interrupt your body’s natural sweating mechanism so that you can’t release moisture – yikes!). So while it won’t make you stop sweating, it will keep you dry and fresh.

My whole skincare and makeup routine is not totally natural yet. But I’ve already come to one big realization: I wasn’t using natural products before because they didn’t “feel” or look like what I was familiar with – deodorant is supposed to be in a stick, shave gel in a resource-intensive aerosol bottle, and microbeads make for a great scrub. But just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it is safe. The aerosol and the metals in my deodorant are pretty darn bad. And those microbeads are actually plastics that are polluting our oceans.

Natural products are going to be an experiment for me, and they are not always going to come in the familiar forms that I’m used to. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work as well. In many ways, they could work even better, like RMS’s promise to improve skin. I’ve also found that sometimes they take awhile to really prove that they are working, because our bodies have been compensating for those harsh chemicals for so long (think of your greasy hair – your body is producing extra oil because that harsh sudsy shampoo is stripping it of natural moisture!).

So what’s next in natural beauty? Besides updating my products, I’m also thinking of how else I can change my routines. I’m even thinking of trying dry shampoo, so I wash my hair less to shorten my showers and save water. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Find out the details of some of my favorite natural beauty products on my Pinterest board, Natural Beauty. And don’t forget to share your favorite natural products, whether bought or made at home.

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