Free to Explore || The Tote Project

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Colorado is rugged in the fall. As the season slips from warmth to chill, my tendency is to avoid the ruggedness, to cozy up with a sweater and a coffee and “stay comfortable”. Despite my adoration of the warmer tones, the changing leaves, and the layers, I’ve realized that I don’t explore my surroundings nearly as much when the cold sets in.

I think that metaphor can be used for most “seasons” of life too. It’s not in our nature to push past comfort and once we’re there, we can be hard pressed to leave, to get out, to venture into the unfamiliar. My Enneagram 9-comfort-loving-conflict-avoiding heart might be the worst of all. But I think the trait is fairly common even for the most adventurous of souls. When the frost lays down a layer of unfamiliarity, we bundle up inside ourselves, afraid to meet whatever lies beyond.

This tote — with the phrase “Free to Explore” — is my subtle reminder to do just that.

As I venture into uncharted territory with Simple Coffee, as I juggle three kids and our first year in real school, as I force myself to venture out into new places in the town I grew up in….I want to always feel free to explore.

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I can’t help but feel that this reminder of my own freedom was intentional. The Tote Project, sneaky geniuses that they are, cleverly write reminders into all of their pieces that we are FREE to do the things we love (even if it requires a push).

The reason they remind us of this is because their heart is with the women who aren’t free…the women who are trapped, literally, in human trafficking. They aren’t free to explore or learn or grow or flourish or forage or dream. They’re trapped, stuck.

One of the reasons I love The Tote Project so much is that they take a seemingly simple phrase and open it up to reveal the true irony behind it. Gently, they’re pushing consumers to be better and to care about issues that may not affect their day to day but are wreaking havoc on lives elsewhere (sometimes just around the corner).

I’ve partnered with this brand before (I’ll apologize in advance for my photos ;) — they were one of the very first brands I ever worked with back when I was trying to turn SL&Co into a job. Even then, I was inspired by their dedication to ending slavery one tote at a time.

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The Tote Project donates 10% of their gross profit to Two Wings, a LA-based non-profit that empowers trafficking survivors to dream about a new future through mentorship programs, holistic support, and job training.

Every purchase, every tote and pouch, makes a difference.

They’re also incredibly transparent about their supply chain and sourcing, since slavery in supply chain and production factories is very common in the fashion industry. All of their pieces are made with organic and/or fair trade certified cotton and printed with designs that they create themselves.

Here’s the other thing about freedom — it’s a privilege. Even the opportunity to shop from brands like this who are committed to doing good, is a choice we shouldn’t take lightly. It may seem like a small thing, deciding where to buy a tote bag, but when you consider how much GOOD The Tote Project does through the production of a single tote compared to how much harm other brands can do, the choice is pretty clear.

The Tote Project just released their fall collection and, of course, I picked the tote/pouch combo that most resonated with my heart. Which phrase is your favorite? Click here to shop the new collection!

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*This post is in partnership with The Tote Project. All images, creative direction, and storytelling are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make the world a little bit better.*

Made Trade || Beautifully Curated, Ethically Created

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Home is where a life is made, memories are spun, and hopefully, the happiest moments occur. It’s where you’ll wake up with your baby hundreds of times over dozens of sleepy nights, it’s where you’ll run to get drinks of water for littles who just can’t seem to fall asleep. It’s where you’ll bicker with your spouse and share apologies over your favorite cocktail. It’s where you’ll redecorate and rearrange and reconsider. It’s where you should feel most comfortable.

The concept of “home” is one that I’ve written about a lot and one of the notions that is most important to me. I love creating spaces that feel like home, be it an RV, an imperfect condo, a bedroom in my parents house, or now, my most recent venture, a tiny coffee shop in an unsuspecting mountain town.

Home, although it’s so much more than the pieces that fill it, like your wardrobe, is something that should be made up of pieces that were made with love, dignity, fairness, and creativity. There’s a dark side to every industry and home goods are just as guilty as any other when it comes to mass production, unfair wages, and cheaply made products that are harmful to the makers and the environment. So, when it’s possible, I try to fill my spaces that I call home with goods that were made as beautifully and fairly as the space I’m trying to curate.

Made Trade is a new favorite resource for doing just that, taking the guess work out of creating an “ethical home”.

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If you read my blog post from last week, you’ll know that deciphering the ethics of most brands can get pretty “murky”. That’s why when a brand like Made Trade pops on the scene I LOVE sharing about what they do. They share exactly where their pieces are made, who makes them, what materials are used, and whether the artisan was paid a fair wage to do so.

Made Trade’s core values are Sustainability, Heritage, Fair Trade, Vegan and when possible, USA Made. This means that they’re committed to sourcing products that not only have minimal environmental impact but are made fairly, without the use of animal products, and either support a local USA cooperative or craft or preserve a cultural heritage through artisan craft. They lay it out clearly, concisely, without greenwashing or using buzz words to catch attention.

We call it being “ethically elevated.” It means we put artistry above efficiency. Fair wages above profits. Sustainability above mass production. Quality craftsmanship above mindless consumption. And transparency above everything, as we painstakingly hand-select only the most artfully-designed, ethically-made goods that put people and our planet first.

— Made Trade

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That, to me, is what an ethical home should look like as well.

For this collaboration, I drifted away from my typical “drinkware of choice” (a coffee mug) and opted for something AJ and I can enjoy together. These copper cups are handmade by Sertodo Copper, an initiative making gorgeous cooper homegoods in Texas and Mexico for more than 20 years. The craft though, has been passed down for more than 1000 years and is a source of both art, creativity, and income for the artisans who create it.

The cups are made using recycled copper, meant to last for generations much like the craft itself.

My go-to cocktail is a Moscow Mule, which is heightened by the copper, making this cup an easy sell for me, but it also works just as well for those middle of the night water runs to squelch bad dreams or parched throats.

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The beauty of Made Trade, much like a home, is that it’s a beautifully curated “hodgepodge” of goods. All of them chosen for it’s fairness, beauty, and usefulness. They have everything from clothing (with pieces from some of my all-time favorite brands), to furniture and lighting, to smaller pieces of decor for your home. There’s something for all homes, bodies, and budgets on Made Trade and that’s certainly something worth toasting to.

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*This post was sponsored by Made Trade, but as always, all photos, creative direction, and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that are making the world a better place.*

Conscious Consumerism || How to Tell if a Brand is Ethical (+ an outreach template)

Today's fashion industry is rampant with Greenwashing. This post helps you determine the good from the bad and gives you the tools you need to dig deeper, including a FREE template to email brands yourself.

In my “line of work” I get to interact with a lot of brands and brand owners. I see the great, the bad, and the ugly and have gotten pretty good at spotting when a brand isn’t really living up to their claims of sustainability/ethical-ness.

Even still, it can be hard to wade through the murky waters of ethics and shopping when you aren’t sure what to look for or even what an ethical brand “should” be saying. This post, I hope, will be a reference for that. I’ll share my tips — learned over three years of collaborating with brands, making mistakes, and finding some gems — for spotting green washing, a quick run down of what to look for in a truly ethical and sustainable brand that’s deserving of your support, and at the end, I’ll share a template that you can download and use to reach out to brands yourself when their website doesn’t give you enough information to go on.

An important disclaimer before I jump in: the realm of ethics/sustainability is incredibly NOT black and white. It’s full of opinion, perspectives, layers that consumers often don’t see, and steps. Being a sustainable brand isn’t easy in today’s convenience, consumer-driven world, and brands who value eco-friendliness and supply chain transparency often have to do so in small steps, instead of all at once. I’ve learned to give grace and celebrate small but important steps. I hope this guide will give you the confidence to do the same and to learn the difference between greenwashing and “green-doing”.

Important Terms

  • Ethical: Ethical fashion as a term typically references humanitarian issues like worker’s rights, pair pay/living wage, fair hours, factory/field safety etc. Brands who claim to be “ethical” are usually saying that they care for the people who make their clothes whether it’s garment factory workers in a different country or at-home seamstresses (but remember that just because they use the word, doesn’t mean they actually are…).

  • Sustainable: Sustainability refers to the way a brand tries to minimize their carbon footprint, or their impact on the planet. This encompasses A LOT and the most common areas are things like packaging, dyes, fabric composition, shipping, factory energy, water use, and more.

  • Supply chain: This is the journey a garment takes to become a piece of clothing. The supply chain can (and should) be traced back all the way to where the fabrics are grown/made to who is doing the sewing/growing, to who is packaging orders, and who is getting the money. It’s a “seed to shirt” mentality that, sadly, most brands aren’t very transparent about.

  • Greenwashing: Greenwashing is when a brand “whitewashes” their unethical behavior with buzz words. Sustainability especially is having a moment in the green-washing world. Spotting green-washing takes a lot of research and awareness as a consumer, because at face value, it isn’t always easy to spot.

  • Transparency: I share this term because, although the word itself is easy to understand, most brands use it as a buzz word. True transparency should entail sharing where their factories are, who audits them/when they’re audited, how much their employees/workers make, where their fabric is sourced, what their pieces are made of….if this isn’t listed on their website or code of conduct, it’s time to reach out.

  • Common certifications: certifications are helpful for discerning a bit of a brand’s ethics because in order for them to earn the certifications, they usually have to uphold a certain set of ethics/practices. However, certifications can be expensive and therefore inaccessible for smaller brands and startups, so don’t write off a smaller brand as unethical or non-sustainable just because they don’t have a list of certifications. Conversely, just because a brand uses GOTS Certified cotton or is a B-Corp, it doesn’t mean that they’re truly as ethical as they should or could be.

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Greenwashing 101

  • Watch out for buzz words. When a brand uses words like “ethical” or “sustainable” but has no actual FACTS or SPECIFICS to back it up, be wary. My rule of thumb is that brands who are truly ethical/sustainable will be excited to share and will probably give more details than most.

  • Think holistically. Great, a brand uses organic cotton or Tencel. But do they share where their pieces are made? Do they disclose who audits their factories? Employee base-line wages? Brands worth supporting will think through a holistic lens when they’re building their brand, not just focusing on one aspect over another.

  • Don’t accept their bio at face value. It’s really easy to write a catchy byline or “about us” page that doesn’t really give you any details or specifics about what ACTUALLY makes their brand ethical. For example….

    • “Modern apparel for the eco-conscious woman. Made ethically in LA.”

      • I just made that up, but it' doesn’t really tell you ANYTHING about the brand. Cool, they use good words, but they don’t have any specifics there. Most websites will go into more detail elsewhere through back links, blog posts, or even more details on their about-us page. If not, you have an easy jumping off point when you email them to ask for more info!

What to look for in an ethical brand

Ideally, a brand will check boxes in all of the categories: ethics, sustainability, supply chain transparency…when a brand is overly transparent and making an effort in all three aspects, I know I’ve found a winner. Keep in mind that the perfect brand doesn’t exist, but there are PLENTY of brands worth supporting who work hard to be transparent and do things right. Take a peek at ROUND PLUS SQUARE’s “About Us” page for an example of what I love to see. Sure, there aren’t links to factories or wages, but they’re extremely detailed and transparent. Through working with the brand for nearly six months, I also know that they’ll be quick to offer up any additional info needed, because the brand’s founder works incredibly close through each step of the process.

Here’s a quick list of things I check for when I’m deciding whether to pursue a collaboration or buy from a brand:

  • Do they use natural fibers or are they moving towards use of plant-based, organic materials. See my guide to sustainable textiles here for more info on what to look for.

  • Do they say where their clothes are produced? Who they support through their production?

  • Do they note anything about their factories/is there an audit process? (This isn’t super common, but an ethical brand should be able to tell you more info without a problem).

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Sample “outreach template”:

To (Brands name, contact email/point person,…)

My name is () and I’m reaching out with a few questions about your brand. I love your aesthetic and have had my eye on (), but before I add it to my closet, I’d love to learn a little bit more. I’ve committed to only shopping from brands who are as ethical, transparent, and sustainable as possible and in my research, I couldn’t find any information about (…anything from sourcing to material use to factories to wages…) on your website. Could you tell me a bit more about ()?

I try my best to make informed purchases and hope that you would value the same.

Thank you for your time!

Sincerely,

A hopeful customer (or your name)

See? Easy-peasy.

As intimidating as it can be, I always preface my emails with the internal reminder than brands are made up of real people — most of whom are just doing their best. Your email should be met with some kind of response, and if its not, you don’t want to buy from them anyway ;) Once you have your “foot in the door” with an initial email, you’ll be able to tell if the brand is just glazing over green-speak (ie. greenwashing) OR if they can give you the specifics you’re looking for.

As always, email me with any questions or responses you aren’t sure about. I would LOVE to hear how reaching out goes for you.

Good luck!

Solios Solar Watches || Sustainable Accessories

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Industries around the world dabble in clean energy, and slowly the fashion industry is catching on. Some factories use solar power or other forms of renewable energy, forego chemicals, and reduce their water usage, but there is still a long way to go before it’s the norm.

Luckily for the eco-curious consumer, there are a few brands that move ahead of the curve.

Solios is one such brand who has considered their carbon footprint from the onset and hasn’t been deterred from creating products that merge beauty, practicality, and eco-friendliness. Aside from using green energy and dyes, and eco-friendly materials to create their product (we’ll get to that later!), the product itself runs on clean energy.

It’s a solar powered watch, you guys.

And it’s gorgeous. No battery necessary — Solios’ timepieces rely solely on the sun, saving about 20 batteries per watch. In fact, two hours of sunlight charges this watch for six months.

Although single-use batteries can be recycled, and often are, there are growing concerns about their effects on the environment and on our mental health. A solar powered option is much cleaner to produce and doesn’t consume as many resources, since their lifetimes are much, much longer.

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The Eco-Composition

Solios’ watch straps aren’t made of conventional leather, instead they use a PU and PVC-free leather alternative (most vegan leather’s contain PU (ie. polyurethane), making them not only bad for our bodies, but terrible for the environment to produce, so this is a step in the right direction). Their leather, with a recycled plastic interior, is also recyclable, so if there ever comes a point when it’s damaged to the point of no repair, it can be recycled into something new.

They also sell stainless steel mesh straps, if leather isn’t your jam.

Sustainable from the onset, your watch will also arrive in packaging made from recycled material that you can compost or recycle.

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We want to enable those wearing Solios to be proud of the positive actions that have been taken and to remember that improving one’s lifestyle is an ongoing process.
— Founders, Solios

Minimal Design

When it comes to aesthetics, Solios intentionally keeps it simple. Their watches are gender neutral, with two face sizes to adjust to your preference. I chose the Eclipse watch with the larger sized face and Eco-Green Leather for a fun “neutral pop” of color — in contrast to my usually very minimal (ehm..camel leather) tastes.

They have a variety of sizes, colors, and watch face styles so that anyone can design the perfect watch that will never run out of batteries.

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When a gorgeous, sustainable option exists that’s even more high quality than conventional watch brands, why would you choose anything else?

The brand’s founders admit that perfect is an illusion, but each step towards a more sustainable future is worth taking.


*This brand was sponsored by Solios. As always, all thoughts, photos, and creative direction are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands who make SL&Co possible.*

Sourcery the Label || Luxury Simplified

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Motherhood isn’t a luxurious business.

It’s messy and sleepy and, usually, a general blur. It’s taken me three kids to somewhat get my feet under me and still, there are days where it’s all I can do to pull on a pair of leggings and do the dishes. Between the spit up stains, crayon markings, and spilled dinners, I need a wardrobe that can keep up with my messy reality.

When most people think of silk — the worm-grown fabric that’s been craved for centuries around the world — the words “practical” or “day to day” don’t usually come to mind. In fact, the fabric usually conjures up the opposite. Words like “luxury” and “excess” typically spring to mind.

Buy why, I ask, can’t we demand both? Can “practical luxury” be a reality too?

Motherhood (or any other lifestyle) doesn’t have a one-size-fits all aesthetic (or fabric) and our wardrobes shouldn’t either. Sourcery is one label on a mission to mix practicality and luxury with their machine washable silk garments.

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The Fabric

Yep. It’s Machine washable. Aside from the environmental and health issues associated with most dry-cleaners, the majority of us don’t have time to drop our clothes off somewhere else to be washed. That’s the kind of excess and “luxury” that most silk garments demand, until now.

Sourcery creates all of their pieces from silk that can be washed at home, free from the risk of carcinogens and other toxins at the dry-cleaners. The fabric is incredibly light-weight and soft, but durable. It doesn’t stain easily, like other silks I’ve worn and, if something happens, you can toss it in the washing machine on cold and wash with the rest of your clothes.

The Factory

Sourcery is incredibly transparent about where they source their silk and where it’s dyed and spun into fabric. Their raw silk is sourced from a supplier located where silk production originated 5,000 years ago. The fabric is dyed using Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification, which means it’s free of most chemicals present in most dye-houses.

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I know the price tag may seem intimidating to those of us who shop with “practicality” in mind, but hear me out. The durability and quality of this fabric means it will last for years. Whereas a cheaper fabric — one sewn in questionable factories using questionable ethics and cheap fabrics — will likely deteriorate over several wears or require expensive dry cleaning under the guise of false expense. Sourcery’s washable silk, on the other hand, will last for years with proper care (which luckily means just machine washing it). The wear/cost breakdown makes Sourcery’s pieces far more sustainable AND cost-effective in the long run.

The Wide Leg Silk Crop pants pair well with dressier button down tops for work wear or they can be worn day-to-day, perfect for this work from home mama, with a simple tee or crop top, like my go-to ones shown here from ROUND + SQUARE. I’m excited to layer my denim jacket over the top and add my favorite booties as the weather begins the cool.

One thing I’ve learned in my (almost) six years of motherhood is that when I feel like I’ve put effort into myself, be it my outfit, some extra rest, time to pursue a passion, or anything else, I’m all the more equipped to be the kind of mother my kids deserve.

Sourcery enables me to run and chase and meal plan and baby-wear and mother while feeling like I haven’t lost any bits of my identity along the way. Practical luxury at it’s very finest.

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*This post was sponsored by Sourcery Label. All opinions, photos, and creative direction are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible!*