Friday, March 30, 2007

Howie love them

Howies makes me want to cry, tears of joy and tears of pain.

Let's start with the joy. First, their clothing is great. Tons of style, and not just basics, but not trendy enough that you'd want to toss them a season later. They use lots of organic and recycled cotton, and buy accredited, sustainable wool. They also manufacture clothing in a way that is highly durable. Highly durable means longer life, which means less crap for the land fills.

As far as a company, they seem very socially responsible and honest. They are not claiming to be the perfect green company, they are smart enough to know there is always room for improvement, but that said, they seem amazing. They are using some of their own profits to do "Little Big Voice Lectures" where they are going to teach people how to promote their own causes in a way that is plausible for someone without a lot of money behind them. And as I said earlier they are using sustainable materials, making durable items.

Good people making good products doing good things for the environment, why the tears you ask? They are in the UK, that is why. I am not in the UK. That means there is a whole lot of carbon related guilt between myself and any piece of their clothing. Some of you might be saying, uh...Jenn, do you think your Levis Eco orginated in Providence Rhode Island? not so much. But I honestly don't know if shipping one individually bought item from over seas is as efficiently shipped as a company shipping many items from overseas. Maybe it's exactly the same thing. It might be smart to do some research. Some research is definitely in order.

I also cried tears of pain when I read their David and Goliath battle with Levis. I would much rather support the little guy, whose whole business is trying to be ethical, than the big corporation that occasionally makes an effort to do the right thing. So, I am a little sad that I have some Levis Eco, but no Howies jeans to call my own. I still do believe that big corporations like Levis need to get on board with sustainability for our world to have a chance, but I'd like to see the smaller guy do well and get some credit, especially when they were doing it first.

Hopefully we'll see more small companies with the ideals of Howies cropping up here in the US. Places like Patagonia have been doing the right thing and leading the way for a long time, but they don't have the same indy-kid style that Howies has. They do have the same love of the planet, love of outdoor sports, and understanding from being outdoors how much the environment has been negatively impacted by poor choices by human beings.

So for the time being I will adore the clothes from afar, becauset I'm not sure I should purchase them yet. Is there a Terra Pass for shipping? Not yet, but maybe there should be.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I'm blue, but it's ok

Before I get bloggin about how blue I am, check out this fabric design by Natalie Wright, very apropos to the no impact man post. For the record, I am not sure if the fabrics she uses are sustainable or not, but her blog definitely has a sustainable vibe about it.

My purchases from both Patagonia and The Oko Box arrived on the same day. As I opened them up, my friend Simone commented, " You're kind of doing a blue thing now" To which I commented "no, I'm not," and then looking down at the new clothes in front of me, "Oh, I guess I am."

It wasn't entirely intended. When I went on the Patagonia site, I immediately loved this eco-waffle tee, but I did not immediately love the colors. The coral/peach was...just not something I'd wear. There was all black and all white, which I would wear but didn't have the two-tone raglan thing going on, which set it apart from a million other organic tees (right, as if there are a million to choose from). I will probably end up buying a version in black too. ( designers at Patagonia, why not a black and white combo??) There was also a pretty crazy yellow, but again, not so much me. So two-tone blue it was. I did also get the Diego Scoop top, which was in Raffia (otherwise known as beige), and the only other color choice for that was blue.

The tiramisu tank, made from a hemp/silk blend that I purchased from The Oko Box came in blue. I had ordered it in black, but it showed up in blue. (that's not me in the pic of the tank to the right, btw) It was actually a nice surprise, because the blue ended up being really lovely. But that in addition to the long sleeve organic cotton shirt I also bought from them ended up being a whole lot of blue.

Blah,blah, so what's the point Jenn? I guess it's just that at the end of month three, I am definitely making some trade-offs as far as color choices, but it's not that bad. The biggest concession I thought I would have to make in trying to buy only sustainable clothing for a year was that I would slowly devolve into a very crunchy looking hippie girl, and that's not who I am. Or, maybe, it's not what I want to look like. My husband is starting to argue that it is who I am. I think there will be more people willing to make sustainable choices if they feel they can retain their individual style while doing so. There are a lot of sustainable choices out there, but they are definitely more limited and you have to make some trade-offs. That said, so far I don't have rainbows flying out of my ass and I haven't been invited to any Phish shows. (apologies to anyone who does have rainbows flying out of their ass, and the kindly phish guys)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Extreme Extremists going to Extreme Extremes

There were more than a few people* that emailed me about No Impact Man, after reading an article in the New York Times on the 22nd about him. The Times article was called "The Year without Toilet Paper", and though an interesting article, I found it really trivialized what Colin Beavan (no impact man) was trying to do. I am sure the title of the article drew more readers than others might have, but for the NYTimes to essentially focus on potty talk to sell an article was a little annoying to me.

It amazes me how angry or disgusted people got about this man's year long experiment to try to erase his impact on the earth. I notice that people love to call any environmental decision extreme. The best way to exploit this, in this particular article, was to play on the teepee issue. I do use toilet paper (seventh generation when I shop) and I'm not yet ready to give it up, but for the sake of argument, I will say that it seems a little extreme to cut down a tree to wipe your ass with. I have to believe at some point, that we are all so detached from the realities of our every day consumption, that we have no idea how extreme our lifestyles actually are.

I am not where Colin Beavan is, but I have to applaud him for trying to figure some things out for himself. People think he is so extreme because they don't look at, and don't want to really look at the extreme impact of their own daily habits. We should applaud someone like this, who is in essence doing the research for all of us, living the life, figuring out what fits, what works and what doesn't. Am I adopting the same lifestyle? No, but sometimes I think it is worth going to more extreme measures to come back to a place that was better than where you started.

*said people, please don't stop sending me articles!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

At the mall....not so much.

Being at the mall is a draining experience. I always find it a little depressing and overwhelming, but I ventured in to buy a pair of organic Levi's for my friend Ginger's (aka Jen G.) birthday. While I was there, I figured I would not just assume that nothing was organic or sustainable, but go ahead and ask.

I got a lot of blank stares from the salespersons at Nordstroms when I asked if they had any sustainable clothing. I rephrased to ask if they had any organic clothing or clothing made from bamboo or soy products. Still no luck, although while in Nordstroms I saw some nice higher-end organic sheets and bedding in their small home/gift department. A small little victory to see anything organic in Nordstroms, but not the thing I was looking for.

When I went into J Crew, there were a lot of items that looked as if they might be sustainable, but again when I asked, nothing actually was. That was a recurring frustration... items that had a green style, without actually being green. The saleswoman there was very nice and said that there had been a lot of people asking for sustainable products lately. I felt a little better that she at least knew what I was talking about, but still was depressed that not one item in that huge store was organic.

In store after store I was pointed to the store's "natural" products, otherwise known as cotton. I did not take the time to explain how unnatural conventionally grown cotton is, or at least how unnatural I find it to be. I suppose I could have, but I didn't. Maybe I should have, but I didn't want to get into it that day, and most salespeople I met didn't seem as if they'd be very receptive anyway.

When I finally got to Levis, they were all very nice and recognized me, which made me wonder if they were just a really good sales staff, or if nobody but me was coming in and buying the organic Levis. Hopefully not the latter. In any case, I got Ginger's jeans and another pair of skinny organic jeans for myself.

So, other than Levis, there were slim organic pickins at the mall, not a big surprise, but disappointing anyway.

When I finally got out of the mall, the warm March weather gave me a little summer longing, so I went online to look for some summer clothes. I found some organic shorts at the title nine store along with some cute hemp sneakers. Neither of these products were very clearly marked as sustainable and organic in their naming, and as far as I could tell there were not more sustainable products on the site. It is hard to know, since you can't tell by quickly browsing, but have to click on individual items to read the material descriptions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Enticed by Design: Terra Plana

Another NYC find - this Terra Plana leather bag at United Nude. A steal at $75.

Officially, purses and shoes are exempt from our New Year's Resolution to buy only organic or sustainable clothing. But we had seen Terra Plana shoes on the Internet and were impressed by their aim "to be the most innovative and sustainable designer shoe brand in the world". So when we passed the United Nude Shop we had to go in and check out what Terra Plana shoes looked and felt like up close. The shoes were unique and desirable, but it was this purse that really grabbed my attention.

I was drawn to its simple shape, clean lines, and attention to detail. It's functional too - holds my laptop, cell phone and I-pod neatly, while having a few extra pockets for other items. The leather is vegetable tanned so that no chromium (a compound considered by the EPA to be highly toxic to humans and a probable carcinogen) is in its environmental footprint. And most of the remaining materials, such as the fabric on the handles and shoulder pad, are recycled from other discarded products.

So while I wasn't required by our pledge to buy only an organic or sustainable purse, Terra Plana enticed me by design to widen the scope of my resolve! And that feels as great as it looks!

Tees at the Supemarket

What not to Wear? How about diuron, naled, s,s,s-tributyl phosphorotrithioate, dicfol and aldicarb, some of many chemicals used on conventionally grown cotton that are considered PAN (pesticide action network) Bad Actor pesticides, because they are known to be carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxicants, have high acute toxicity, are neurotoxics or pollute groundwater. None of which are making me so excited about cozying up to the cheap target tee I often wear to sleep in.

So, I was psyched to find some reasonably priced organic tees for $29 at Whole Foods. Green Label Organic makes sweatshop free, low impact dyed, 100% organic cotton tees in both men's and women's cuts. I chose one with a hummingbird, and one with a skull design that says Live Green or Die. It is generally not my style to wear shirts with a political message, or any message, but I liked the design so I went with it anyway. Some of their designs are a little crunchy for my taste, and most carry a message, but the messages are good. Be sure to check out the BUMMER tee.

I love Loomstate as a company and really like their tees, but they come in at a pricier $49-$59 range. The styles are nature inspired, but generally sans anything that could be construed as dogmatic. Though they are expensive, you can often find them on sale at places like BlueFly. Currently I haven't found any of their tees at Bluefly, but they have some great Loomstate jeans on sale for $59.

In theory, I like to try to buy and support the organic brands before they go on sale, but some items can feel prohibitively expensive. If I am going to buy things on sale, I should probably make an effort to buy from companies like greenloop, who only sell sustainable clothing, instead of places like Bluefly that sell everything. But I'm not going to beat myself up over the occaisional on-sale Edun eluxury purchase.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More Vintage Finds

A week has flown by since our trip to NYC - high time I shared my finds!

Like Jen, I fell in love with Hairy Mary's. Though I wasn't as lucky as Jen was fit-wise with the georgeous dresses made from vintage fabrics (jealous!!), I did find a couple of classic vintage items that I am sure will become staples in my wardrobe.

The first is a vintage 70's guaze and lace blouse that quenched my winter's thirst for something sweet for the summer. At $45, its a bit more than I would have paid in 1975 (when $45 was all I could earn from nine nights of babysitting), but in terms of sustainability, that's only $1.50 a year for its 30 years of charming style. A real bargain when you think of it that way! Besides, I would only have to babysit one night these days to recoup my expense! And I get to enjoy a beautiful garment that is new to me all the while triggering happy memories of my first pairs of big bell Levi's and Earth shoes, and my first Led Zeppelin album...something a lot of the 70's inspired new fashions attempt to do, but not nearly as authentically. If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving...this shirt!

My second purchase from Hairy Mary's is the belt shown above. It was hand made by a mysterious NYC local who left it there and disappeared. So I don't think it qualifies as vintage, but I think it qualifies as sustainable since it was locally handmade. OK so it is black and I say I never wear black. That is mostly true, but every now and then, someone gives me a black or gray gift in the form of a shirt or sweater, and it would be unsustainable for me NOT to wear them right? But without the appropriate accessories, like the essential black leather belt, the items just sit in my closet. Now I get to break them out. And you will get to enjoy how pasty pale, but uber chic I will look in them!

How used?

It seems as if buying used or vintage clothing is the most sustainable way to go if you want to have the least amount of environmental impact. This is a great interim solution for a lot of the problems that the apparel industry causes for the environment, but it relies on the assumption that lots of people are going to discard lots of items way before they are used up. I know many people who have been excited by a barely used purchase, found at a good price, myself included. I recently was pretty psyched about a wool sweater I scored at Savers for $4. It was as if it hadn't been worn at all. I remember seeing the same sweater new at Nordstroms within the last year. I should feel great about that, right? But what it really points to is a not very well thought out original purchase.

I am all for organic, used and reclaimed materials, but maybe the first step towards purchasing with greener intentions is to really consider the quality and life of the purchase and consider if you will want to wear it for years to come. I purchased a sundress in 1992, that was more than likely not very environmentally manufactured. That said, it could possibly be one of my most environmentally sound purchases because I have worn it many times every summer since then. It is starting to get a little shabby, and I wouldn't wear it to a nice dinner, but it is still perfect to hang out in all afternoon in the sweltering heat. I wouldn't want to purchase the same dress made by the same manufacturer today, because there are much better methods to make a dress, but I hope that I can try to use a little more foresight with my purchases to find things that I won't be sick of by the end of the year.

This said, I am a little torn about a consignment shop I love here in Providence. The owner is nice and does a great job editing her selection of clothing she. Unfortunately, she requires that clothes are from the last couple years, if you want to consign. This does mean that she carries a lot of current and trendy items, but it also means she is encouraging more rampant thoughtless consumerism. I am torn because it is better that the items be used then discarded, but the person consigning is being "rewarded" for buying new items often and then selling them off before they are anywhere near the end of their useful life.

Other vintage or consignment stores that don't promote the same 2 year old time limit can theoretically exercise better environmental practices while still allowing a little more flexibility. They have more of a grand clothing swap vibe. It is possible that you could buy a used item, take care of it and wear it for a few years and then donate or consign it for something else that is new to you.

I am a big fan of clothing swaps, you just need to make sure you start chatting up some friends about your size to invite. Unfortunately, I am a gigantor, so it doesn't happen that often.

Anyone that knows me, knows I'm guilty of pretty much everything I mentioned, but I am trying to reform. I am also trying to rethink things that I have always taken as positive, like used=good. Check out Rusty Zipper for all kinds of used and vintage finds.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What's Old is New, or I love Hairy Mary's

One thing about buying new sustainable clothing, is that there are a lot of solids and not always a lot of color, often for good reason, as dyes and inks can be a not-so-eco addition to an article of clothing.

Usually I don't find myself wearing a lot of bright colors anyway, and my wardrobe is full of what's the big deal? I suppose it's a bit of the you don't want it until you can't have it. So, although there are definitely printed and colorful pieces of apparel out there that are sustainable and new, used clothing offers a great alternative, and is pretty much the most sustainable thing you can purchase.

One issue I generally have with buying used or vintage clothing is that I am a relatively big person, 6 foot to be exact, with a very long waist. This often spells lots of excitement when finding something great on the rack, to be followed by a huge amount of disappointment when I try said item on and find that I look like a sad kid who outgrew her clothes. So when we found Hairy Mary's on Sunday morning we were psyched. Not only did they have a nice selection of vintage clothing, but they also carried a ton of one-of-a-kind originals, all repurposed from old garments. The updates of the dresses and shirts often made them more flexible then the original, so they are able to fit a wider range of body types. I gravitated to some of the wilder mixes of prints, but they carried a wide range of patterns and colors.

The owner of the shop was also incredibly nice. He is a musician, and his wife is an artist and designer (they own the store together) . I felt good buying from him, I don't know if I would get the same feeling if confronted with the board of directors at Target or Gap, or Nordstroms for that matter. Who would I rather give my money to, a stuffed suit, or a genuinely nice guy who takes the time to sit and chat? Pretty easy answer I think.

Apologies for not having better pictures, I need to move beyond using the built-in camera on my laptop. If anyone wants to send pictures of great vintage finds, or other sustainable clothing, please email

Monday, March 5, 2007

love/hate NYC...or blogging at 2am

Every time I am in New York City I am always overcome with so many mixed emotions. Frank jealousy is usually one of the first to bubble up, mixed with a humbling adoration for the gorgeous bits of creative genius tucked in around every corner, plastered on any random wall, or most humbling of all, walking by you. By that I don't mean celebrity siting, that's not really my thing, more the random artist/writers/musicians that seem to be everywhere. The beauty of the sweet little boutiques filled with dresses that are nothing less than works of art, the subway tile at The Liquor Bar, breathtaking street art pasted to a crumbling wall, and the effortless eclectic style of the 20 something New York hipster are all things that fill me with a sense of awe, desire and lust. The creative force in NYC is undeniable.

But creating is a blessing and a curse. New York is full of creations, every where you look there is more to buy. For a person trying to shrink her ecological footprint by making better consumer choices, the sheer magnitude of non-green items can be overwhelming and a little spirit crushing. Shop after shop we went into, drawn by the gorgeous designs, but let down that the items we craved were not green.

Please, don't get me wrong. There were green purchases to be found, and had we carefully planned and researched where every green store in Manhattan was, we would probably have had better luck. But this was a casual fun weekend, not so planned out, and the casual sampling of stores did not yield a ton of results. Yes, I guess I was pouting like a baby being in the middle of stores who's aesthetics I loved, but had nothing green to offer me. And, yes, I had guilty pangs of jealousy watching a friend I was with fill her shopping bags with items I probably would have purchased in December before making my sustainable clothing resolution.

I was a little mopey by Sunday morning, when I found some awesome retail therapy in vintage clothing and original pieces from reclaimed materials at Hairy Mary's... which I will detail at length in the next blog because the store was so great it deserves more consideration and lovin then my bleary-eyed, exhausted self can give it at the moment. It's now 3:30 am and my insomnia is sure to bite me in the ass in the morning. I am also a little afraid to see what this rambling looks like with less groggy eyes and a cup of coffee.