You know when you have really good news but you have to keep it to yourself for a while? Well, that’s how I feel about today’s announcement.
Over the summer, while I was on my writing hiatus, I joined the Ethical Writers Coalition, a group of nearly 40 writers who are as committed as I am to sharing how to live a more sustainable life. While each writer may have her/his own focus – whether beauty, fashion, food, or home – and perspective, we all share the common goal of making it easier for you to make ethical and sustainable lifestyle choices.
I’m just getting to know many members of the group, so I hope you’ll click on over to the EWC site and discover some new voices along with me. You’ll also find the EWC logo in the sidebar going forward, so you can easily find more resources on sustainability issues from these writers whenever you need them. In fact, I highly recommend checking out the Secondhand Challenge happening this month.
As a perfect way to celebrate this growing community, I would like to invite you all to join me at the Ethical Writers Coalition Style Swap in Brooklyn on October 3rd. I’ll be there, supporting the event and swapping a few of my own things, and I would LOVE if you would introduce yourself to me if you attend! I’ve connected with so many of you online, but I would love to say “thanks” to you in-person for supporting this site and get to know you better.
Interested? Here’s how the swap will work:
1. Buy a ticket on the event page here.
2. Show up on October 3rd with 5-10 Fall/Winter pieces (clothing, shoes and/or accessories) to swap. P.S. You’ll want to get there early since the first 50 guests get a Zady tote bag and discounts from other ethical brands.
3. Drop off your pieces and enjoy a drink while everyone arrives.
4. When the swap starts, you can pick out a new fall wardrobe til your heart’s content! You can go home with as many pieces as you like, regardless of how many you bring.
Spaces are limited. This means if your gut is saying, “Let’s do this”, you should grab a ticket soon! I hope to see you there. And for those of you who aren’t in the New York area, you can check out my guide on how to host a swap in your community.
The Ethical Writers Coalition Style Swap is sponsored by Zady. Zady is re-envisioning the future of fashion by creating apparel with the highest of standards and a completely transparent supply chain. Similar to what the slow food movement did to the food industry, we are doing this for the clothing industry. The Essentials Collection is where we put action to our words by providing high quality pieces that are made with the highest environmental and ethical standards.
Whenever I put my sneakers on, my energy is amazing. Suddenly, I’m dancing in the kitchen, and I haven’t even made it out the door yet for my bike ride. After a yoga session, I can’t stop moving long enough to change out of my workout clothes. But it took a stress-related injury to get me into a regular exercise routine five years ago. And it finally stuck because of one revelation: As soon as I’m wearing workout clothes, I don’t just get over my dislike of sweating, but I want to sweat! I feel a sudden rush of power, and I have to move. Sweating in a dress: not ok. Sweating in spandex: truly enjoyable. I’ve found that what I wear has a huge impact on whether on not I want to work out.
As New Year’s resolutions for fitness fall by the wayside in February, I’d like to propose my own secret to reaching fitness goals: take the same care in picking out and caring for your activewear as you do for your everyday wardrobe. Since I was my only documented success story, I asked my friend Shalena, who has been transformed by a recent but intense running and strength training routine, how her clothes affect her workouts. And I think it’s safe to conclude, the secret is in the gear. Read on for Shalena’s story and her tips for balancing functionality with style.
How did you get into running?
I tried running on a few occasions over the past three years. Each time I attempted to run, I ended up getting injured. I went to a podiatrist, and he tried to give me orthotics and said I’m not built for running. I have flat feet, I’m knock-kneed, and I have big hips. So my alignment isn’t necessarily ideal for a runner. I just thought I’d keep going at it and that I’d eventually become a runner. It was at the end of July that I became serious about it. I started off with the “Couch to 5K” program app on my phone, and then I joined a running group. That was the first time I had ever run more than a mile, and I’ve never been injured since. Previously they said I overpronate and should probably get stability shoes to correct that. But the last time I went to get fitted for shoes, I actually had corrected my stride, and I don’t overpronate anymore. Now I can run like most runners, even though I still have fairly flat feet, though I’m developing arches too. All of those things corrected themselves over time with me just being patient.
Why stick with running if there were so many obstacles?
I think I wanted to focus on it because it had so many obstacles. I’ve never been really athletic. I played tennis for a little bit when I was a kid, I dabbled in dance for a few years, and I did martial arts for a bit. All of those things were fairly easy for me. Running was the only thing I couldn’t accomplish, so I wanted to work harder at it.
What do you wear when you work out? How much thought goes into it?
A lot of thought. I like to run outdoors, so while the weather might determine what I wear, I like to wear bright colors just to make me feel good. Even if I’m wearing black tights, I will wear colorful shoes and a colorful t-shirt or hoodie. I like to have bright colors, because they make me feel happy.
Then if I’m at the gym, and this sounds silly, if I’m doing legwork, I make sure I wear shorts, because I like to see my muscles working. If it’s arm day, I’ll wear no sleeves, so I can see my arms working. It’s a confidence booster, because I can see the transition of my body over time.
Does the outfit make a difference when you’re working out?
It does. I actually accessorize more with my workout outfits than I do with my regular outfits. Aside from the colorful accents on my outfits, I make sure I have really colorful headphones that are also functional. My husband calls my little pouch a fanny pack, but it makes me feel comfortable to know I have everything I need. And it’s kind of 80s, so I can dig that. Or I’ll put my phone in an armband, which has to be comfortable and sleek. I bought a new phone holder that is thinner, neon and reflective, which is important when I’m running at night. They’re functional but also really cute.
Beyond functionality, does what you wear when you exercise impact your confidence?
I don’t wear loose clothing at all when I work out. It’s one of the few times I feel good about showing off my body since I worked so hard for it. It’s not like I’m wearing sports bras and booty shorts, though actually it is a goal of mine to run a race in a sports bra and booty shorts. But it’s one of the times that I’m super-feminine and more fitted, because I worked so hard for the body I have now.
What is your go-to piece?
I have these shorts that hit at the perfect spot where you can see every muscle in my legs. I was so insecure about my legs growing up, because people used to say I had little chubby boy legs since there was absolutely no shape to them. I was so ashamed of them that I would wear oversized basketball shorts in gym class, and it made me look even more like a little boy. Now that I’ve been running, I have so much shape to my legs that I love wearing my shorts.
What is your advice for others if they’re struggling to stay active?
I’ve worked out whenever I can fit it into my schedule. I work two jobs, I’m finishing up school, and I have a husband and friends. When I’m getting up in the morning [to exercise], I lay out my clothes first thing, because it’s so much easier once you see your clothes. You can’t hide from them. They’re kind of taunting you. I always have my staple piece closest to my bed, because if I feel good wearing it, then I want to put it on, even when I don’t feel great.
Do you treat your workout clothes differently than the rest of your wardrobe? Do you keep them as long?
I take good care of my workout outfits. They’re really cute! They’re almost like your favorite pair of jeans. I air-dry them for fear that the dryer is going to ruin them. Also between washes, so I don’t have to go to the laundry everyday, I hand wash them. And if I have favorite tops in a big pile of dirty laundry, I’ll wash the tops separately. I treat them with even more care than I do the rest of my clothes, especially because they can lose a lot of their functional properties when you don’t take care of them. For instance, a lot of the pants I wear wick away the sweat, but if you wash them a lot, that property can disappear. So to preserve that, I really do take care of them by hand washing as needed.
Is it worth it to invest in activewear if you’re just going to sweat in them?
It’s the kind of thing I would invest in upfront. I had a pair of cheap shorts that lasted a long time, but when they go, they really go. You don’t want to be in the middle of a really intense workout and not feel like you are supported where you need to be supported. I make sure my pants are fitted, so I feel like I’m not jiggling everywhere, which can be painful. I switch out my sports bras every two months, because they lose their elasticity. I change my sneakers every 300 miles, and I have an app on my phone, which tracks my sneaker use. That investment upfront makes a difference with how long you keep your clothes.
What do you do with your sneakers once you are done with them?
I switch from using them for running to using them as an everyday shoe. I keep them for years and years at a time. Even though I won’t run in them after three months, I keep them because they’re really cute, and I’ll pair them with my everyday outfits.
Any final advice?
What helped me get motivated to workout was also the process of going shopping for clothes. I’m not a shopper, but to be able to try on things that you may not have fit into a month or two ago, is a confidence booster. You don’t have to purchase the clothes, but to try them on to see how they fit is an awesome experience. I don’t like to shop for everyday clothes – it’s too much pressure. But there are so many workout clothes that are cute and fashionable, it can really motivating.
I’m a Pisces. This fact doesn’t matter to me but now everyone knows it. Why? Because I fell in love with some amazing vintage cuffs at a flea market, though you might just call them junk.
A few blocks from my old Manhattan apartment, there was a flea market that would take over the cafeteria and grounds of a school every Sunday. It was filled with exotic African beads and drums, fancy reupholstered furniture, old prints, and tons of junk. Occasionally, after I’d done some damage at the farmers’ market across the street, I’d walk through the flea market. Yet I never have much luck in finding things to wear at flea markets. I’ll pick up a few things, put them back down, and then pull out the hand sanitizer. My adventurous spirit is limited by the perceived grubbiness of such moments.
During one visit, however, a vendor, whose stall typically consisted of a heap of unappealing clothes on a table, had a little basket filled with enamel cuffs. The mound of clothing was the last thing I wanted to touch, but this tidy basket of bracelets was intriguing. I found myself surprised to be exchanging my ten-dollar bill for a red owl cuff and a Pisces one as well. I am not particularly impressed with owls, and I don’t read horoscopes often or seriously. While I tend to have quite a lot of friends born around my birth date, I don’t think the zodiac sign is responsible for these friendships. These bracelets were cheap, their origins unknown, and their future with me curious. Yet something about them stood out to me from the minefields of junk surrounding them.
Sometimes, I see something I love or find inspiring, and it just happens to be junk. In the case of these bracelets, it is not uncommon for my wrist to be slightly green when I take off one at the end of the day. I’ve also stabbed myself with the owl’s feet one too many times. But how can you control what you love? You can’t.
Something is only “junk” if it means nothing to you. If it’s special to you personally, then price and quality are irrelevant.
And more often, it is hard to discover the special things or predict what we’ll grow to love when the surrounding junk is so overwhelming and noisy, whether you are in a flea market or a shopping mall. But at these moments, I tune out the noise, sometimes by stepping away to think, and then go with my gut. My motto always has been that if you don’t absolutely love something, don’t buy it.
Once I took these bracelets home and out of the clutter, often pairing the red owl with a simple neutral outfit and some red lipstick, the “specialness” was clear. Today, I love wearing them, they frequently start conversations, and I have never seen anything like them since. I could have negotiated the $10 price down, but they’ve grown to be worth more to me than the price paid. The value in the items is personal to me, not inherent in the bracelets themselves. They might be junk, but they are my junk.
But maybe that’s just the poetic Pisces in me talking.
I feel like I just traveled around the world! And not because I am still on the other side of the world, but because my interview with Carmen Artigas, Mexican designer/teacher/”eco-cop” (her word, not mine), was a whirlwind trip around the globe from inside the closet of her beautiful Park Slope apartment. Carmen was one of the first people I asked for advice when I decided to pursue THIS I WEAR, and she is the extreme embodiment of the conscious consumerism I hope to explore here. Yet it is still not always easy to shop consciously and to dress intentionally. As a teacher at FIT and Parsons in ethical fashion, I thought she might have some advice on how to start asking questions about our clothes and connect with our stuff in a new way. Given Carmen’s passion, it was a pleasure to sit back, listen, and let her be my tour guide for awhile.
What are you wearing today?
I’m wearing a bracelet that is made from two types of wood. It was a gift from an ex-boyfriend in Milan. The dress is also an Italian brand, not very known…Hache? I like it because…you know, like Pompeii? It gives me the idea of a painting from Pompeii – the pleating…So it just gives me a very romantic feeling, and it might not be flattering. Maybe I look three times my size, but I like it.
The shoes are the feature of the day. They are [made by] my friend Monisha [of Love is Mighty]. The inspiration was an antique Tibetan necklace. She did everything beautifully. And this [necklace] is from Mexico. What is the stone? Jade? From Mexico, in the south near Chiapas.
What part of your outfit is most special to you? And why?
This is my personal critique, because I stopped buying H&M just over three years ago. I just thought, “I can’t do this. I’m not going to support them. I don’t like their quality. I can’t figure out how the prices can be this low.” I teach Ethical Fashion, so I just stopped buying [H&M]. But this was one of my last purchases – these tights. They look like tattoo, and many people have stopped me and asked me “Where did you get that?” and I say “H&M.” I never saw them again. They never made them again.
And they’ve lasted?
Yes, they’ve lasted all this time. So that’s a very unusual choice. But I don’t have anything else from H&M, because it doesn’t last. You can tell. It’s made to fall apart. But meaningful? I think the shoes right now, because I just appreciate the story behind them and the person behind them, because I know Monisha worked very hard. She had a vision, and it came full circle.
Do you have a shopping philosophy? How do you shop?
I really am very aware about waste. My personal sustainable agenda is about water, trees, waste, and working with artisans. So waste is an issue for me. It doesn’t go away. It’s not going to disappear, so where is it going? So I would say of my shopping habits, I will only shop for things that I see longevity. Of course, price…
Do you shop often or only when you really need something?
Very little. I actually was able to ask that question to a whole classroom [of FIT students]. I said, “How often do you shop and where?” They were caught off-guard because many of them – the youngest people – said Forever 21, H&M, vintage, and Zara. And the men barely shop. They didn’t even know what that meant. Maybe their wife took care of that. But the younger they were, the lower the price point. And the older they were, the more interested they were in longevity. And so am I. I have things that are 20 years old. They are beautiful, because they were never in a trend. I like things that will never be noticeable in a trend.
For people who are shopping at Forever 21 & H&M, a lot of them are doing it because of their budget. Do you have advice for them?
But the obvious reply is that there is no quality, right? So if you wash it once or twice, the garment looks terrible. [The students], mostly because they chose to take Ethical Fashion class, are becoming very aware and feeling guilty. It changed radically towards the end of the class. One semester I asked [the question] at the beginning of the class and one semester I asked towards the end of the course, and the answers were very different. Everyone was like “Oh no! We do swapping, I shop in stoops [sales], I inherit things…” So people were more connected to what’s out there that they aren’t making the most of.
Interesting! So it’s more that as soon as people become just a little bit more aware of it, they start asking questions?
Yes, because they ask me “what’s behind the price of a $4.99 top?”
The other thing is I support my friends. I have many friends who are designers, so I buy directly from them. It’s a relationship, and it’s a supportive relationship. I also get a better price, because we are friends. It’s meaningful that way. The other day I was wearing something from Ross Menuez. He’s a designer for Salvor. Everything is done locally. He does the silkscreen, and he’s a genius at the printing. I shop from him, and Monisha recently. I guess if I go through my closet, I could start noticing…
If someone looked at your closet right now, what would they say about your style?
Eclectic! Eclectic, Boho, Bohemian. I would be Boho chic. My impulse buy will be handbags, shoes – that I cannot resist. And I don’t care about a label. Nothing in my closet has a label, like a logo. I avoid logos at all cost. I find them tacky. I don’t need to advertise. I like craftsmanship and creativity, so most of my bags are handmade or very unusual. I think you communicate more personal style with accessories rather than the outfit. That has been my mode. I’ve done it always. And you know, let’s say if you gain weight, you know that black is going to slim you down. So you have a neutral choice of wardrobe, and then you would spice it up with accessories. Jewelry, I like also, but I like very meaningful big necklaces that have a lot of impact.
Once a piece ends up in your closet, how long does it stay there?
20 years. Most likely 10 or 20 years at least. But my size keeps increasing, so I have things that don’t fit anymore…
Would you say that you love everything in your closet?
Yes. It’s a language. Definitely first impressions count on people…Like [my style] is not expected. I have Uniqlo pieces, but I want to make them look special. [These pieces] carry an energy.
And with that question, I’ve selected a few highlights from the tour of Carmen’s closet, making sure to leave in the stories as only Carmen can tell them and including a little list of the items we didn’t quite have space for as an extra treat.
Select pieces by Christina Kim, Dosa
I was a big big fan of Dosa – the founder is Christina Kim. She’s a Korean designer, and everything she does is amazing, but it’s very expensive. So I collected a few pieces of Dosa from sample sales. They’re very unusual. She works with artisans around the world, like this is a mud-dye cotton from China. They pound the pigment in, so they hit the fabric [until] it becomes this finish, like metallic. This is another skirt from her. If you wrap it, it has multiple uses. It’s like an art piece, like you’re a gallery owner, no?
Mexican Rebozo Rebozo is the typical Mexican shawl. The colors are amazing. This is called articela, so it’s synthetic. They used to be [made of] silk, but now it’s synthetic. The fine ones should pass through a ring. When they sell it to you, they pass it through a ring, because it’s so light and so precious. That was the old Mexico.
Rope Necklace from Tanya Aguiniga
This is from a friend of mine who is Mexican but is based in Los Angeles – Tanya Aguiniga. She’s amazing. She also works with artisans in Chiapas [and] with artisans around the world, but it translates well. It almost looks Japanese in a way. I went to her studio. I connected with her on Facebook and made an appointment. My brother took me to LA, and we ended up in her house. She took me to her workshop. It’s amazing.
Replica of original handmade skirt
I made the original in Mexico City when my friend and I were doing costume design. She made me this skirt, but it was ruined with makeup. So I went to Thailand, and I brought my skirt with me, and I asked them to copy it. So this is a replica of the original one from Mexico.
Select additional items:
Vintage kimono from Japan
Fabric handbag with coin decoration from Thailand
Turquoise necklace from Chiapas, Mexico
Men’s wraparound pants from India (they “look like pajamas”)
Silk and bead necklace by Carmen
Trosman-Churba piece from Argentina
South Mexican pants received as a gift from her aunt
Bone and bamboo necklace by German sculptor working in India
Thank you to Carmen both for the interview and her patience as I worked on this piece. If you couldn’t tell from the interview, Carmen is such an inspiration for me personally, so I was truly honored that she let me into her closet and shared her incredible knowledge about ethical fashion with me. If you’d like to find out more about Carmen, I HIGHLY recommend the Facebook page she runs, Ethical Fashion NY, and you can find information about the colorful woven plastic bags she creates with imprisoned workers in Mexico in the top photo on her brand website, Viva la Vida.
*Quick note: I’ve linked to several websites for the designers Carmen mentioned. I have no affiliation with them, but just think they are worth your time. Enjoy!
Henna and I met in a summer Ethical Fashion class at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. If you don’t know her, you’ll wish you did, because she is endlessly inspiring, incredibly smart, and one of the most humble people I know. With a background in art history and in her current role at an auction house, she is clearly inspired by beauty from times past. Our conversation gave me a peek into Henna’s intriguing style philosophy, but I felt a bit like a detective trying to solve a puzzle. What makes Henna’s style so special? And after much thought, here’s what I think: Henna doesn’t shop/buy/consume; she connects/experiences/explores the items she lovingly adds to her closet in a way that I’ve never heard someone describe. There’s a process to it. She uses the act of building her wardrobe to craft her own story and explore the world. And I’m so glad to be able to share that story here.
What are you wearing today?
I’m wearing a printed dress that my mother bought in Taiwan about 15 years ago. As a little girl, I always looked at this dress and thought, “When will I get a chance to wear it?” so I pulled it out of her closet recently and started wearing it. It’s actually a Canaletto painting of Venice, and I was wearing it in the elevator at Sotheby’s [where I worked] one day, and one of the clients came up to me and said “That’s my painting.” And I knew that because when I was interning, we took a tour of her private collection and I kind of recognized that, but I wasn’t sure if it was the same painting.
What was her reaction?
She was surprised. She said it looked “great as a dress as well as on my wall.” And actually I was walking by the Met the other day and someone stopped me on the street and said that she has a similar dress. It’s ironic that it was purchased in Taiwan, because it’s an Italian painting.
Do you dig in your mom’s closet a lot?
I do. She takes very good care of her clothing, and she’s taught me to do the same, especially in recent years as my taste has developed. I want to focus on quality and not quantity. I really enjoy inheriting pieces from her.
How has she influenced your style?
I would say that she’s very well-traveled, so I have definitely inherited the travel bug from her and the general curiosity for other cultures. She has items in her closet that are collected from her travels and each piece really tells a story. That’s how I try to build my wardrobe as well. I’m actually wearing a ring that I made recently. I took a class at FIT in wax carving and going along the European theme, it’s actually inspired by a 19th century French console table. It has the acanthus leaf motif with the cabriole leg. It was cast in silver as part of the class requirement, but I dipped it in gold at my current job.
Of what you’re wearing today, what is the most special piece to you?
It has to be the dress, but the [pair of] shoes are also one of my favorite things in my closet. It isn’t as meaningful, but I bought it two years ago, and I had been eyeing it for months. I saw it on a blog this girl based in [the] UK updates. So I went into the store asking for it and didn’t see it. The salesperson said “We’re getting ready to send it back to Italy. Do you want to see it?” And I said “Of course!” So I was actually able to get it at a discount.
How long was the time between when you first saw the post and when you actually found the shoes?
It had to be four months at least.
Who’s the designer?
Jil Sander. I think it’s just one of those things that is a statement and really inspires me with the organic form and the combination of textures and different materials.
Are they as hard to walk in as they look?
Umm, I have to admit that they aren’t the easiest to walk in. They are not my most comfortable heels, but they are manageable.
What’s your favorite thing in your closet right now?
There’s actually this scarf by Caren Shen I got at the Asia Society Store. It’s very crinkled and it’s two-sided, so one side is midnight shimmery navy blue and the other side is this bronze color, so the scarf is actually very versatile. You can wear it, I don’t know, like 12 different ways, as a vest, as a dress if you wear something over it or under it…
Does it come with instructions on how to wear it?
No, I just played around with it. But it’s one of those pieces that you can wear all the time, and you would be surprised with the way you style it every time.
What’s the most important thing when you get dressed in the morning?
How it makes me feel. Certain people have best outfits that they save for certain days, and I like to think that I want to feel my best [every day]…of course it doesn’t mean that it’s always an elaborate outfit. But I also like to wear something that incorporates at least one piece that reminds me of what my goal…[or] what I’m working towards, maybe?
What the most important thing when you shop?
I don’t shop as much as I used to. I still browse a lot, and I do enjoy seeing what other designers are doing to sort of get inspiration. But I think I have to love it for me to buy it. If I have to think about an item and think on it for a few days, when I find myself still thinking about that item, maybe I should just get it? But a lot of times if I don’t buy it then, I know that I probably won’t wear it anyway.
Can you remember the last piece you bought that got you that excited?
I don’t know…I did receive a gift from my mom from her recent trip to Turkey. It was this brass necklace, large pendant, floral-shaped but also some Ottoman influence, wire-laced with turquoise beads and tied with a fabric cord. That I was really excited about. I haven’t traveled in a long time, and I have most of my moments when I’m abroad, because I love learning about the piece from the person who made it. It makes the piece so much more personal.
How would you describe your style?
When I was in school, people always remarked how fashionable I am, but I really don’t think that I am. I have a style and it isn’t easily influenced by the trends. I am very interested in surface decoration, so I like to combine textures and match certain colors.
It seems like your style is really influenced by your work, given the sheer coincidence of wearing the dress and the [painting’s owner] is in the same building.
Yes, and I am lucky that I’m surrounded by people who inspire me. I’m really inspired by the patrons of the arts, the art collectors, who are dedicated to preserving our cultural heritage.
When was the last time you got hands-on with the creation process of one of your pieces? Whether you custom ordered a piece from Etsy or a local tailor, or you collaborated on a piece of jewelry, or even just asked some questions to the designer or artist, I want to hear it! Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear and tell me your story.
Correction (8/23/12): Henna is currently working for a fine jewelry company, not Sotheby’s where she has worked in past as originally stated.