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.

DSC_0493.JPG

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).

1566677739894431 (1).JPG

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!

#InspiringZeroWaste || An Intro to Cloth Diapers

Oof. After an unintended (really long) break from my own Zero Waste challenge, I’m back! If you’re not sure what #InspiringZeroWaste is, be sure to catch up on the explanatory post here, or you can read my other ZW goals for 2019 here. Have you kept going with the challenge? I’d love love love to hear about it!


At first glance, using cloth diapers is complicated and far less convenient than disposables. But what if I told you they were way less intimidating than you think? This overview of cloth diapering will give you all of the info you need to ditch disposables for good.
IMG_8637.JPG

When I found out I was pregnant with Aria, I knew, deep down, that I’d be giving cloth diapers a try. With my other girls, I had no idea that anyone even used cloth diapers anymore (other than the most woo-woo hippy-dippy of mamas). But now that I “know better”, I couldn’t let myself not give it a shot.

Anyone who has looked into cloth diapers before knows how overwhelming it can feel at first. Once you go down the cloth diapering rabbit hole on the internet, it’s hard to recover (or even comprehend most of what’s being said). There are an array of opinions, diaper styles, insert materials, liners, wet bags, nighttime routines, washing methods, and weird terminologies to make you go nuts.

But the biggest piece of advice I got from other mamas was just to "jump in and figure it out along the way”. And so I did.

This post, the first of many in partnership with Glowbug Cloth Diapers, is an introduction to cloth, if you will. I hope to answer most of your questions (from my friends over on Instagram) and share a little bit about how the first few months of using them has gone so far. Keep in mind that I’m no expert…I may use the wrong terminology (sorry, Reddit), and I’ll be the first to admit that like all parts of sustainability, it’s not black and white.

When to start…

This is different for every parent and every baby. Aria was fairly small when she was born (7 lbs 14 oz) and there was no way that the One Size snap diapers I had were going to fit her. Although newborn size diapers exist, buying some that I’d only use for a few weeks or months seemed silly. So we used disposables for the first two months until she grew enough to fit into the one-sizes.

The newborn phase is HARD no matter how many times you do it, and so this time around, I intentionally built in extra grace for myself, and disposable diapers was one of those things. Of course, lots of people use cloth from the get-go and that’s amazing too.

IMG_8545.JPG

How many diapers do you need…

I don’t need to preface each question with “it looks different for everyone”, but truly, that’s the best answer to most situations. How many diapers you buy will depend on your situation, how much storage space you have, how often you can do laundry, etc. For me, I knew I’d need a few extra diapers because we don’t have a washing machine in our RV (this will of course change when we move out…but for now that’s our reality), so I haul our diapers up to my parents’ house nearby and wash diapers about twice a week. We need enough to last 3-ish days, so my grand total is close to 25+ diapers. If you can do laundry once a day or every other day, you can get away with less than that.

What’s my washing routine…

I plan to do a full blog post on this soon, but I’ll go over the details because this was the most common question by far. As I mentioned, I wash diapers 2-3 times a week (I don’t have specific days, but usually at the beginning of the week and again at the end of the week. Once on the weekend if I need to.) This wouldn’t be sustainable if my parents didn’t live nearby, so it’s due to the easy access to their laundry room that I’m even able to use cloth currently.

When I wash, I typically run them through a rinse cycle first using cold water and a bit of vinegar to get rid of the smell. From there, I wash again on hot/heavy duty/extra rinse using a mild detergent and a bit of Borax to clean deeper. I air dry in the sun when I can but on cloudy/cold day I just hang them inside.

DSC_0531.JPG

What about stains? Do they actually get clean?

When you think about how dirty kids get and how frequently blow-outs happen in the baby phase, cloth diapering doesn’t really seem all that strange. Clothes wash out normally, so why wouldn’t diapers?

As long as you’re washing adequately, the diapers will be good as new each time you wash them. For baby poop stains, you can use a regular stain remover, but believe it or not, sunlight works wonders on stains. If all else fails, rub a bit of blue Dawn dish soap into the stain and then wash and let dry in the sun.

Do they work as your baby grows?

Yes! One of my favorite things about Glowbug’s diapers is that they “grow” with your baby. They’re easy to adjust and are supposed to last from newborn to toddler-hood. So far, they fit Aria perfectly at three months. This size guide from Glowbug was helpful for me when I started using them.

Basic terminology?

There is A LOT of information out there and it can get super overwhelming, especially to a new mom who has no experience with cloth. This blog post from Glowbug is super helpful for breaking down each type of cloth diaper and the pros and cons.

How to prevent leaks at night

Double up on your inserts! For my pocket-style diaper, I use two inserts one bamboo and one hemp (with the hemp on top) for nighttime, as per Glowbug’s recommendation. I also use bamboo liners to help keep her dry (and make poop clean up easier). These are the ones I’ve used so far.

DSC_0530 (1).JPG

I can’t afford to buy as many cloth diapers as I need

Although using cloth diapers ends up being far more cost effective (it’s a one-time purchase that will be used for 2-ish years, as opposed to a weekly/bi-weekly purchase that only lasts a week or so) it can be a sizable cost upfront. If you can’t afford to buy brand new cloth diapers, there are TONS of resale groups on Facebook and other resell sites. If the diapers are in good shape you won’t even be able to tell they’ve been used before. Affordable AND sustainable.


If you’re a first time mama, take all of this with a grain of salt. Adjusting to motherhood for the first time is H.A.R.D whether you have an easy baby or a tricky one. Don’t feel pressure to do cloth diapers perfectly (we still use disposables at night sometimes!) and know that it will get easier with time. Make changes that you can make when you’re ready to make them and know that your mental health and your baby’s health always come first.

What questions did I miss? Let me know in the comments and I’ll answer them next month!



*This post is part of a longterm collaboration with Glowbug Cloth Diapers. All photos/storytelling/creative direction is my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make SL&Co. possible*

No Issue || Sustainable Packaging for the Future of Consumerism

DSC_0541.JPG
DSC_0548.JPG

Remember when we had to get off our couches to go shopping? We couldn’t scroll our phones to find the best deals, we actually had to browse the clearance racks and “window shop” through actual windows.

Times they are a-changing.

Now, it’s rare for most of us to shop “in person”. We’re accustomed to scrolling for our must-have’s and price comparing via apps or a quick Google search. We can get our food delivered to our doorstep by a stranger (and anything else our shopping carts/hearts desire).

Along with this rise in convenience-based shopping comes an unexpected side effect — a massive increase in packaging and, therefore, waste.

According to Rubicon Global, the United States alone throws out $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging each year. Some, but not all, packaging can be recycled, but most isn’t. In fact, the University of Southern Indiana reported that about 1/3 of every dump or landfill is made up of packaging materials like cardboard, plastic, styrofoam, packing peanuts, etc.

Packaging is a necessary byproduct of online, convenience-driven consumerism and something that, as shifts towards eco-friendliness move consumerism forward, will need to shift with the movement for the sake of our planet.

No Issue is a company leading the charge.

DSC_0556.JPG

The brand is a small startup aiming to “clean up” consumerism through something as simple as the packaging brands choose to use. They don’t believe shopping and eco-friendliness are mutually exclusive. In fact, they think the two have to go hand in hand in order for healthy consumerism and our planet to co-exist.

We believe that sustainable packaging doesn't have to be unattainable. You can be environmentally conscious and responsible while creating a premium product for your customers to enjoy, and we can help you do it.

— No Issue

No Issue creates recylcleable tissue paper (customizable with a brand’s logo or print) using plant-based inks. They also create stickers and, most noteworthy, mailers that BIODEGRADE.

We’ve all been left with the nasty predicament of what to do with our shipping materials once we’ve received an order, but No Issue takes the guilt out of the equation for both brand owners and customers by making packaging that can be easily recycled and composted (at home!).

DSC_0546.JPG
DSC_0544.JPG

Sustainability

  • No Issue used soy-based inks for their products which is free from petroleum, and enables their paper to be recycled more easily.

  • Their paper is all FSC certified, which means it’s been sourced from trees that are grown in a sustainable and regenerative way, to avoid deforestation.

  • The compostable mailers are certified by all three industry standard certifiers, making them acceptable to mail worldwide. They’re made from PLA (corn) and PBAT (a compostable bio-based polymer). They’re water-proof, durable (even for heavy items), and customizable. My favorite part of the mailers is that they’re at-home compostable, so you don’t need to find a commercial composting center for them to break down properly.

I’m not a brand owner who needs to ship items, but I am a consumer who receives quite a bit of mail, so knowing that there are options like No Issue for us to choose from will greatly lessen the waste of the fashion industry (and all of the other industries that require shipping), and can help us, as consumers, to rest easy knowing that our purchases aren’t adding extra strain to the Earth.

DSC_0537.JPG
DSC_0557 (1).JPG

*This post was sponsored by No Issue, all photos, opinions, and creative direction are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make SL&Co. possible!*

HowGood is Your Amazon Cart? This Plug-in Can Help

DSC_0465.JPG

If you’re a human with access to the internet, chances are you shop on Amazon relatively regularly. The sheer volume of products available in one spot is too much for our convenience loving hearts to avoid and, despite my issues with their excessive packaging and, unfortunately, morals as a company, I find myself shopping from Amazon semi-regularly too.

Living in a very (very) rural area - yes, I live on a literal mountaintop - I don’t have easy access to places like Target, Wholefoods, Trader Joes, or other health stores within a two-ish hour drive. So when I need to order something quickly that I don’t have nearby, and when I can’t pack up three kids and head to Denver, Amazon is often the simplest choice.

But, being the online superstore that it is, the excessive amount of options can be overwhelming to me. It’s harder than browsing the aisles of a store since there’s almost every option and brand known to man and womankind at the click of a button. I’m used to being picky about what I buy for my family, but ever since I discovered HowGood, it’s made finding healthy products on Amazon much less of a hassle.

DSC_0483.JPG

HowGood recently launched a simple plugin for your computer. Once installed, it will give you instant advice about the “goodness” of a product you may be interested in. HowGood believes the path to sustainability lies in transparency, especially when it comes to our food and the products we use in and on our bodies. Since the FDA is notoriously lax when it comes to regulating skincare and often allows ingredients that are knowingly harmful for our bodies, it feels like the consumer can’t rely on “regulations” when it comes to staying healthy.

That’s where HowGood hopes to simplify things.

As a website, they’ve rated more than 1 million products with only 5% earning the highest rating. They’ve build a team of researchers, gathering data from more than 350+ sources, and are committed to telling the story behind our food and other products and hopefully, in time, changing the face of the industry. (Click here to see how they evaluate a product for safety and sustainability.)

Their app, and now their newly launched plugin for Google Chrome, gives consumers access to their research and info on the sustainability and healthiness of a product, both in stores and online. Their plugin currently works on Amazon for baby related products (think wipes, diapers, baby lotions, etc), and they'll soon be expanding to include cosmetics and hopefully even more.

IMG_6370.JPG
DSC_0473 (1).JPG

Although I admittedly try to limit my Amazon shopping, it’s so nice to have the plugin as a backup to check the safety of the things I’m ordering for Aria and my older girls. When things labeled as “natural” or even organic generally aren’t so natural, having a deeper look into the ingredients and even the undisclosed fragrances and other sneaky chemicals that make up our go-to products is helpful. When HowGood gives a product a bad rating, it will recommend other safer alternatives for you to check out easily, without having to dig through the depths of Amazon’s inventory.

You can download HowGood’s app on your iPhone or Android to take with you to the grocery store and you can add their Chrome plug-in to your browser to make your online shopping as toxin-free as possible.

Although I haven’t placed my order yet, these water wipes (I haven’t quite gotten to the level of feeling comfortable with zero-waste wipes yet), Vitamind D drop, toxin free sunscreen, and prenatal vitamins are all sitting in my cart with the help of the HowGood plug-in.

Do you shop on Amazon? Would this plug-in help set your mind at ease?


*This post was sponsored by HowGood to promote their new plug-in. Thank you for supporting the brands and organizations that make SL&Co. possible.*

Minimal Kids: Encouraging Imaginative Play in Small Space Living

IMG_5824.JPG

Quite easily the most common question I’m asked after someone learns that we live in an RV goes somewhere along the lines of “but how do your kids play in there?”. There’s an underlying assumption that the smaller the space or the fewer the toys the unhappier the child.

Allow me to beg to differ.

We’ve never had a lot a lot of toys for our kids (mostly because the minute I became I mom I immersed myself in minimalism and have gradually been trying to strike a healthy balance ever since). I’ve always tried to encourage my kids to lean into boredom, be thankful for what they have, and not base our playtime around “things”. But this phase of life where we’re intentionally limiting ourselves (spatially) has taught me a lot about how kids (or at least my kids) play and how to foster an environment that encourages them to lean heavily on their imaginations instead of their toys.

Also, my girls have plenty of toys, trust me. I’m not a miserly mother who doesn’t believe in letting my kids have “things”. They have lots of things. But I hope this post can act as both clarification and inspiration for anyone who is curious about imaginative play, regardless of your house size.

To a child, just about anything can be a toy. I’m constantly amazed by Evie’s ingenuity — she’s my maker; constantly building, creating, drawing, tying, sewing, re-purposing. Mara is just as imaginative, but she prefers to play with her dollhouse, ride her bike, or dress up as whichever queen/mom/friend/animal/hero she’s obsessed with at the moment (as long as it involves shoes). Their interests and imagination styles are polar opposites but somehow, they haven’t run out of space or ideas for what to do yet.

Although I can’t take credit for their creativity and ability to play well together, I’ll share a few things I’ve intentionally done to foster that environment as much as possible and, ideally, create a home that they don’t get bored of or feel stifled by.

IMG_5945.JPG
  1. Choose “open ended” toys

All of the toys in our RV are relatively open ended, meaning my girls can use them to play multiple ways. My girls love their dress up clothes, like the butterfly wings, cape (made from recycled Saris) and crowns all ethically made from Do Good Shop, one of my favorite one-stop fair trade shops, especially for families. They use these pieces almost every day and have dreamed up so many different roles and scenarios to play in. I love that these pieces aren’t specific to any story/movie/game so my girls can imagine that they’re just about anything (as opposed to, for example, their Elsa and Anna dresses which are more limiting in their “line of thoughts”).

In addition to dress up things, they have a small play kitchen from Ikea, a basket of their favorite stuffed animals (Evie wants to be a “pet shop owner” when she grows up, so these get lots of use), some Mega Bloks and a set of wooden blocks to make roads for cars, a small dollhouse with mini animals/furniture/clothes, and lots of coloring supplies and play dough.

They also have a basket of books that we swap out each week when we go to the library and they spend their “quiet time” reading to each other.

Toys like these allow my girls to get more creative than other toys with a more structured purpose. They can play with all of them at once (and usually, they do), or only a few at a time, but they haven’t run out of exciting combinations yet.

2. Swap them out regularly

To stave off boredom with their toys, we have a few more options in storage (where we have the rest of our “house stuff” at my parents’ house) and sometimes I’ll switch out stuffed animals, bring in a new game, or exchange their blocks for other toys to keep them excited and interested. This practice works regardless of the size of your house and makes it like they’re getting new toys when really you’re just pulling pre-owned things out of storage.

3. Encourage outdoor play

The most important part of encouraging my kids to play imaginatively, I believe, is making sure they get tons of time away from their toys. The majority of their playtime, especially in the warmer months, is outdoors, where they’re building forts, getting dirty, exploring nearby, and simply put, being kids. I know not everyone has the space or lifestyle where they can get outdoors frequently, but even a daily walk or trip to the park is beneficial for kids. In nature, children can imagine anything, become anything they want to be, and experience the world in it’s purest form, without plastic toys or man-made interventions. The accessibility to the outdoors is one of the main reasons we’ve chosen this lifestyle and this location specifically.

IMG_5821.JPG

4. Get comfortable with messiness

There’s a time and place for structured play and clean up time, but I also believe that in order for imagination to thrive, things have to get messy. Even though I tend to be fairly laid back as a parent, it’s taken me a while to get comfortable with the idea of letting my girls turn their room into a jungle or a mansion or a pet store or the wild west knowing the inevitable battle that will follow when they have to clean it all up.

Small spaces are destroyed in half the time, so cleaning up after each round of play has been the only way I’ve been able to mesh the importance of fostering their imagination with my need for some semblance of structure.

When they’re outside, all hopes of staying clean goes out the window. They’re constantly riding bikes, digging, building with rocks and sticks, and meeting little bugs. Even though the increased frequency of bathtime (or, if we’re being honest, a quick wipe off at night) is just another thing on my to-do list, I love that they’re able to get messy and really explore with all of their senses every single day.

As I type all of this out, I’m realizing how simple it all sounds. Small space living, when met with two incredibly imaginative kids, isn’t really restrictive at all, it feels very intuitive. Every day is a new chance to turn their space into something new, a new chance to get messy, explore, and create in ways they wouldn’t be able to if they had endless piles of toys and empty space.

I’m curious how this looks in your lives, fellow mamas! Do you ever struggle to encourage your kids to play creatively or does it seem to come naturally?


*Thank you to Do Good Shop for sponsoring this post and gifting my girls with a few of their very favorite toys. Do Good Shop is a long-term partner of SL&Co. and is doing incredible work to provide fair wage and safe jobs for artisans around the world.

Use the code SIMPLYLIVANDCO for 20% off your purchase.*

How to encourage your kids to play MORE with LESS -- Lessons from a family of five living tiny.