Over the years we’ve had a number of natural fiber sports bras. I wrote about running my first half marathon in the Bamboo Sports Bra (shown below) back in 2011. I still use that bra in my workouts today. However, the Xylem Sports Bra (shown left) is the first organic cotton sports bra we’ve had that has enough support to stand completely on its own. There’s no need to double up with a shelf-bra tank or anything else. The fabric is thick and supportive, and at 92% Organic Cotton with just 8% spandex, it’s high on the eco-friendly scale. It has sold so well that many customers have found a size or color sold out at least once.
So you can imagine my dismay when Xylem told me they had decided to discontinue this style. What(!) Turns out they are experimenting with a bamboo version that they’d like to try out. We’ve also got a recycled sports bra coming this summer for those who prefer the more traditional polyester in their sportswear, but still want something eco-friendly. But if you prefer organic cotton to other fabrics, and you really want support, the Xylem Sports Bra is the one. We just got in the last 53 pieces yesterday. (While that might sound like a lot, it averages to a little over a dozen per size.) If this is a favorite for you, get them while they’re still available.
For those of you who have been wanting a sports bra for larger breast sizes, have no fear… we’ve been working with Swegmark of Sweden and hope to have an option for you near the end of summer.
One of the questions we get A LOT is about organic clothing manufacturing in China. There is a belief that garment manufacturing in China automatically means low wages and lots of pollution. Many of our customers avoid anything made in China at all. However, some sustainably-minded companies are still manufacturing organic clothing lines in China and it’s time to take a closer look at why they are. For one thing, garment industry wages in China are increasing rapidly. “Cheaper” clothing lines are actually leaving China for Africa and East Asia, where wages remain ridiculously low. Additionally, organic clothing manufacturers are working with third party certifiers such as the Global Organic Textile Standard, OEKO-TEX, and Fair Trade International to ensure their Chinese-made goods are meeting environmental, safety and ethical employment standards. Many of our USA made goods actually carry fewer certifications.
We caught up with Jane Nemis, owner of Echo Verde clothing for an interview on why they still manufacture in China.
Faerie’s Dance: What influenced your company to manufacture in China?
Jane Nemis: I had been working in China when it was the only producer of eco/organic fabrics (18 years ago) and formed relationships with factories that I still have to this day.
FD: How long have you worked with your current factory in China?
Jane: We have several factories – depending on sweaters or cut/sew knits – some are new 2 years and several are 6 years – 2 are 15 years.
FD: How often do you travel to China directly to meet the people who make your clothing?
Jane: Twice yearly.
FD: Can you tell us about your relationship with the folks who make your clothing?
Jane: There is still wide-spread opinion that sourcing and manufacturing clothing in Asia-and more specifically in China is a desire for cheap labor and that the conditions under which people work is not good. The truth, though, is much more complicated and nuanced, or just plain not true! Our Chinese manufacturers have become experts in working with organic and eco textiles and they produce some of the highest quality goods at competitive prices. All of our factories are reviewed for workers’ conditions and all must show proof of third party monitoring of social and environmental conditions. We have formed relationships with these factories from our years of visiting them in China and their owners and many of the ladies that work there are now our friends!
They have also listened to us over the years and instituted changes which have bettered the living and working conditions of their staff.
While the work ethic in China may not seem “perfect” to our standards, it is considered to be a skilled trade now to be a garment worker. They bring home a middle-class income and many factories now have health care. Many of the workers support their families and send their children to school based on the money they earn cutting/sewing and finishing our goods. The factories we work with are all family owned and smaller operations that employ workers from the surrounding areas. This means we are able to support families staying together. There are many sweatshops all over the world including specifically in New York and LA. It is important to us that we can personally monitor conditions and we have a partner that respects and listens to our requests for change.
Our workers are honest, hard-working, and family oriented and doing the best that they can to make a living. They depend on us for this. When we visit the factories, the ladies laugh and joke with us and teach us new words in mandarin. They are free to come and go to the bathrooms, they have tea and water available at all times and they are free to stop work and share a chat with their friends. The food they are served is the same as I eat when there (free lunch tokens are given out) and it is good and balanced and they have access to fresh fruit and vegetables. One of our factories has even built a small meditation garden where workers can walk during their breaks and get some fresh air and enjoy the greenery. Both our knit factories have adopted stray dogs from the local area and care for them like family pets.
These ladies make our clothes!
FD: Do your factories have any certifications (WRAP, GOTS, OEKO-TEX, etc.) and can you explain what that entails?
Jane: Yes, one factory has WRAP the other has a European version of WRAP and the very small ones cannot afford the costs so I just make sure they are following the same standards.
All our factories are small – we paid for one factory to get WRAP certification but while many big businesses can list an impressive amount of certifications – the reality is this is out of reach for most small family owned operations. Cost for WRAP was around $350 USD for a small factory of 23 employees. So it is impossible to do this for all our little factories even though they use the same standards (or higher). Bigger companies can afford to pay for WRAP and FLA (Fair Labour) is even higher $1200 USD which is to be paid as a yearly fee.
FD: Do the fabrics you work with have any certifications?
Jane: Yes, bamboo is 100% certified organic, cotton is 100% certified organic, wool is produced using humane farming practices and non harmful chemicals to process it.
FD: Some of our clients are concerned with Chinese factories “faking” certifications or claiming certifications they don’t actually hold. Is this a real concern?
Jane: Yes, I would say this is more related to large scale operations – they can afford to bribe the certifying body – I have heard about it but have never experienced it first hand. I would say it is a real concern with anything that is produced on a large scale for low cost… organic is expensive – as are good working conditions.
FD: Can you tell us a little bit about what modern Chinese facilities are like?
Jane: Here are some pictures – they are like any factory I walk into here in Canada or USA. Some are much better kept actually. Very neat, all windows are open in summer and doors. Well ventilated, lots of natural light and each worker has their own chair/light/table.
FD: What other information can you give us to assuage the negative connotation that is still often associated with garments that are Made in China?
Jane: Another reason that we manufacture in Asia is because all of the eco textiles originate from Asia, and one of our goals is to have our production facilities as close as possible to where our fabric, hardware and fixtures originate, this has been proven to reduce the environmental impact of shipping. Did you know that much of the cotton produced in the US is sent to either China or India for milling before coming back into the states? So really, if you go to the root of the garment – it is possible almost every piece of clothing has come from China in some way.
I would add is that I find it frustrating that there is such a negative connotation with Chinese goods. The US has spent the past few decades growing trade with China and helping to bring the work up to standard, pay etc. This is primarily why all the cheap brands have moved to countries without any work conditions in place (Bangladesh, US Samoa, Cambodia, Areas of Africa) – I also think other big industry has not kept pace and there are still horror stories of people falling asleep making cell phones and getting little to no pay for extremely poor work conditions. So unfortunately, I think this is the impression that is given in the media – these are the things that make the headlines – not the goods news.
FD: Is there anything you’d like to add or would you like to bring up any points we may have missed?
Jane: Just to stress that we have worked a long time with our factories and they rely on us – that’s how they make a living. So although we may do some production locally, we will continue to support them. It is impossible to do the sweaters we make in US or Canada. The machinery just does not exist anymore.
Unfortunately, not everyone likes the look of bronze in their jewelry options. So From War to Peace has started dipping some pieces in recycled silver or recycled gold. The entire piece remains recycled, inexpensive and made in America, but now has the lush look of gold or silver. We’ve brought in an entire line of silver plated Tree of Life pieces perfect for Valentine’s Day.
We’re also giving away a gold plated Make Art Not War Necklace. It’s a $35 value and one lucky winner will receive it absolutely free. Start your entry below and you’ll unlock ways to get additional entries.
Green Tree Organic Clothing has been in business for 2 years now and we’ve put out a total of 8 designs. Our goal was to offer inexpensive organic cotton panties and intimates that are made in the USA. If you followed along with us that first year, you’ll know the process was much more trying than I had ever imagined. Fortunately, our process is now fairly stable and our small line is doing quite well.
Unfortunately, rising prices of everything from fabric to elastic to sewing has kept us from expanding into more colors, more designs and men’s items. We have been reluctant to raise prices because we really wanted to offer an economical, Made in the USA option. If you look at the PACT model, they started off sewing exclusively in the USA. Prices continued to rise until most of their panties were in the high $20 to low $30 range. Eventually, they gave up on manufacturing in the USA and started manufacturing in India. It brought their costs way down and their panty prices are now all under $15. On the flip side, Blue Canoe has continued to manufacture in the USA and their price is now $34 for a single panty (though we sell Blue Canoe panties at a small discount everyday for $30 each).
So what’s a small business to do? Here’s our plan.
• We will continue to manufacture in the USA and keep as much of our processes local.
• We will be raising prices in January both to reflect our higher cost and to offer wholesale so we can get USA-made panties in brick and mortar stores.
• We will expand the line of PACT underwear that we carry to offer a less expensive organic cotton panty alternative for those who really want organic and just can’t afford the Made in USA prices.
Green Tree Organic panty prices will go up between $3 – $5 each starting in the new year. This is early warning for you to stock up now. There are a few sizes/colors currently sold out, but our seamstress is working on them and we should have everything back in stock before Christmas with at least a couple of weeks left at the old pricing.
What are your thoughts on this? Manufacturing in the USA has certainly been in the news a lot lately. Is price more important than local jobs?
Ah sunscreen, white goop filled with unpronounceable ingredients slathered liberally over those of us with particularly pale skin. The debate over eco-friendly sunscreen still rages, with some respectable websites recommending to cover up rather than use any sunscreen at all. That’s all well and good, but wearing long pants, a long sleeve shirt and floppy hat to the beach can be a bit of a bummer. And have you tried playing beach volleyball while wearing a full getup? Yeah, not so much.
The Environmental Working Group, whose Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a personal go-to of mine, has come up with a balanced approach to sunscreen. They note that it should be a last resort, but don’t dismiss it out of hand. If you’re going to be in the sun for a period of time and covering up is just not practical, sunscreen is still better than bare skin. (Especially if you’re pasty white like I am and tend to burn to a crisp within minutes with peeling and blistering following shortly thereafter.) My quest for the perfect sunscreen includes the following criteria:
The problem is, while EWG rates the ingredients, some brands are just unpleasant to use. Think Sport SPF 50 gets the lowest toxicity rating at just a 1 (on a scale of 1-10), and it is very effective. I used it all last summer while marathon training, and I must admit, I didn’t burn once. However, it is a pasty mess that would remain white long after I’d rubbed it in and would get in my eyes as I started to sweat. It had a very mild scent, though, so it might still be a good option for some folks.
I’ve also used Badger Sunscreen Cream, which comes in an unscented version for those that prefer no scent. Again, it has the lowest toxicity rating at just 1, and is very effective. It only has 5 ingredients, which is pretty impressive, but I’ve only seen it in SPF 30, which isn’t high enough for me most of the time.
Like my trial and error with Deodorants, sunscreen is one of those things that I’ve spent a lot of money on to get products that I haven’t really liked. So this summer, I was out and about and needed to pick up some sunscreen without having my trusty EWG database with me. I’ve used a number of products from Kiss My Face, so I figured that would be a good bet. I got both Kiss My Face Cool Sport SPF 50 air-powered spray and Face Factor 50. The Cool Sport SPF 50 is the most convenient thing I’ve ever used! It goes on super easy, no mess, no pasty white stuff. It has a strong, but pleasant coconut scent. It’s not really practical for the face, but the Face Factor turned out to be light and easily absorbed. I absolutely fell in love! I’d found my permanent sunscreen!
Unfortunately, once home, I learned that my newly beloved Sunscreens weren’t as safe and natural as I’d hoped. Sigh. The Cool Sport comes in at a whooping toxicity level 5, while the Face Factor rates a 3. Kiss My Face has an air-spray version, Bare Naked Air Powered Body Mist, that rates a 3 toxicity with an SPF of 30 (which I have since purchased and likely equally well as the Cool Sport for limited time outdoor stints).
With the summer almost over, I’m probably done experimenting for this year. How about you? Have you found a light-weight, non-pasty, high SPF, low toxicity sunscreen that you just love? Please share. I’ll put it on my shopping list for next summer.
Flexible Gift Cards that you can e-mail or print at home.
Easy, one page checkout.
Checkout without creating an account (although the Wishlist and Gift Card features do require an account).
More payment options including AmEx and Paypal!
In addition to all these great features, there were a few we just didn’t have time to get in. Over the coming months, we’ll be adding even more options as part of continuing site improvement. There’s even an expanded customer service area and FAQ so you can quickly and easily get answers to your questions.
There is one major policy change. We will no longer refund shipping charges on returns. To offset this, we are looking into offering a slower, first class shipping option. Unfortunately, that requires the weight of every one of our (1100) products. So it will be a little while before we can get that implemented.
As with any new software, there are sure to be little issues here and there that we’ve missed. If you find something that’s not working or seems “wonky” as it were, please don’t hesitate to contact us and let us know.
Thank you so much for your patronage through the years. We’ve launched this new website on the 11 year anniversary of our original opening date (July 22, 2005). It’s only with awesome customers like you that we were able to do this.
You hear this phrase all the time. In one very important sense, it’s true. We should be considering our impact on our planet home every day, with all of our decisions. But is there any value in actually taking time out to celebrate a single “Earth Day” each year? Yes, I believe there is.
Like any holiday, celebrations remind us of things that are important to us that we may have lost track of in our busy schedules. Celebrations help us rejoice and come together as communities with shared values. So I believe it’s well worth taking note on April 22nd of all the activities that effect our environment and having a little fun together in the process.
So, what should you do for Earth Day?
Attend a Fair or Festival
Many conscious businesses, artists and organizations spend a lot of time and effort to set up earth day festivals. So check one out. Learn, mingle and just enjoy all of the effort.
There are so many beach, trail and forest clean-up efforts centered around Earth Day. This is a great time to chip in a few hours, get outside, and meet up with other caring folks. While there’s no single website or link that covers every area, a quick web search should point you in the right direction for a local event.
Chip in a few hard-earned bucks to an environmental charity. There are so many great organizations, you can definitely find one that resonates with your values. Charity Navigator rates charities based on how they use funds that are collected. It’s a great way to ensure the charity you give to is using your money wisely. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Guide also helps donors make more informed giving decisions.
Vote for the Environment
The League of Conservation Voters is a non-partisan, political action group that “works to turn environmental values into national, state and local priorities.” Check them out to find out how your elected representatives are voting when it comes to the environment.
Get Outside and Enjoy the Day
The single best thing you can do for the environmental is to get outside. People fight to protect what they love, and they only love what they know. So go introduce yourself to the beautiful places in your area.
Green cleaning products are fairly easy to find these days, and not just in specialty stores, but just about everywhere. The biggest complaint I hear is that green products are more expensive than their every day (often toxic) counterparts. So let’s start with some great, inexpensive, DIY cleaning options.
Vinegar is an amazing product. Not only does it clean and disinfect all around the house, but you can even use concentrated vinegar (which is not edible) as weed controller in your garden. Reader’s Digest came up with 95+ Household Uses for Vinegar. Again, never use vinegar, which is also acidic on granite, marble or natural stone. Also, as an odd fact, pearls can dissolve in vinegar! It takes a while, it’s not instant on contact. Still, it’s a good idea to take off your jewelry or wear gloves when cleaning with vinegar.
Most of the recipes listed combine several ingredients. In general, you can mix and match the above products with simple soap like Dr Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap for extra cleaning power and add essential oils for fragrance. Tea Tree Oil also has disinfecting properties.
There are several brands that sell steel wool pads filled with cleaning agents. Let’s face it, sometimes you need the strength of steel wool and elbow grease to clean burnt-on pans, ovens or other really tough stains. But you don’t need to buy pre-fab steel wool at the grocery store. Any hardware store will have medium grade steel wool that you can augment with your own cleaning agent.
Store Bought Green Cleaners
If you don’t have time to make your own, or your looking for something specific, like the elusive granite and marble cleaner, here are a few really good options that I’ve personally used and love.Earth Friendly Products Creamy Cleanser – When you need to really scrub down that kitchen or bathroom this scrubs without scratching.
Zum Frankincense and Myrrh Granite and Counter Cleaner – This has an intoxicating scent that I absolutely love. But beyond the scent, it does an excellent job on my granite and quartz surfaces. It has no acids, so it’s completely safe. If this scent is too much for you in the kitchen, it also comes in several others.
Biokleen’s Bac-Out Bathroom Cleaner – This enzyme-based cleaner helps keep mold and mildew at bay. It’s an easy spray-on and wipe or rinse off. I tend to spray this in between deep cleanings for a quick clean. Leave it on for a few minutes before you wipe it, rinse it or flush it to allow the enzymes to work.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know about the harsh chemicals and detergents in mainstream cleaning products. Chlorine bleach and ammonia are the most well known, but the list is long and filled with toxins particularly hard on the lungs. Happily, there are a lot of resources already available to find eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaners. The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning is among the best. Additionally, a few eco-friendly brands have moved beyond the health food store and into the mainstream. Big grocery and department store chains are now carrying brands like Biokleen and Seventh Generation.
With all this information already out there, I thought I’d bring you some personal tips on cleaner effectiveness (it’s great that it’s eco, but does it actually work?), as well as a few tricks I’ve put together over the years.
This week we’ll tackle Laundry.
Biokleen Sport Liquid Laundry detergent is my personal favorite. While it’s designed to get sweat smells out of sport clothing, I end up using it for everything. It makes all my clothes smell great and cleans very well. It’s also reasonably priced compared to some other natural brands.
Eucalan No Rinse Delicate Wash, which we sell at FaeriesDance.com, is absolutely
amazing for hand or gentle machine washing delicates. The Jasmine scent is intoxicating. It smells so good, I’ve tried using it for the regular wash, but it just gets overwhelmed by the rinse cycle. Though I have added a capful to the fabric softener tray when I’m out of lavender bags.
Use lavender bags in the dryer instead of dryer sheets and fabric softener. This is a great tip that can be very cheap if you take a few minutes to put them together yourself.
Buy a bulk lot of small, cotton muslin drawstring bags. You can get them at craft stores or on eBay.
Buy a large bag of bulk lavender flowers, again on eBay or Amazon or at a craft store or apothecary.
Fill the muslin bag with lavender flowers until it’s stuffed.
Add a cotton ball at the top to avoid having any spill out.
Make a double knot at the top.
That’s it! Add one lavender bag to the dryer and your clothes will come out smelling awesome! Each bag lasts about 4-5 loads in the dryer, though the first one is always the strongest. I try to put a new one in with my sheets because I love the strong lavender scent on the sheets when I go to bed.
You can also untie your knot and reuse the muslin bag over and over again. Use the remnant lavender flowers in craft projects, your composter or sprinkle them directly on the lawn. There’s no reason to throw them away.
There are a number of products out today that use a hydrogen peroxide base bleaching agent to clean and brighten without the use of chlorine. I have personally tried Earth Friendly Products Oxo Bright and Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus. I have not noticed a significant difference between the two brands, and generally buy the cheapest.
Advantages of oxygen bleach:
Completely safe and non-toxic
Readily available in stores, and inexpensive
Disadvantages of oxygen bleach:
Doesn’t seem to work well in cold water washes
Requires a bit of effort as a stain remover
As a stain remover for white clothes, just putting oxygen bleach in the machine doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. For the best results, make a paste with your powdered oxygen bleach and hot water. Gently rub your paste directly onto your stain. Let it sit for a few minutes before putting the item in the wash to allow it to really soak in.
Finally, the very best thing you can do to green your laundry is to do it less. Laundry uses a lot of water and energy. Here are a few guidelines.
While you should wash undergarments after every wash, jeans and sweatshirts can often be worn a few times before washing.
Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible. (I wash almost everything in cold except whites and workout/running clothes.)
Do laundry at night and on weekends when power usage tends to be lower.
Hang dry clothes if you can.
If you live in a rainy area or just don’t have the time to hang dry, set your dryer to a low heat setting to save energy and make sure the lint screen is cleaned after each dry, as that can also effect drying time.
If you’re in the market for a new washer, check the energy star rating and choose one that is both energy and water efficient. Most front-load washers use much less water than top-load varieties.
On Wednesday, I received a $362 check (woohoo!) from the Energy Trust of Oregon. This isn’t the first check I’ve received, but it’s been the biggest so far. And why did they grace me with this new found money? For insulating my attic. The 1957 home I purchased in 2012 still had its original, now much compacted, insulation and was leaking heat. This October, I finally upgraded to R38 insulation before another winter set in.
The surprising part of completing this project is how the living room “cold zone” almost instantly became the same temperature as the rest of the house. Even better, my heating bills are down 25% this winter over last! I hadn’t honestly believed it would make that much of a difference. And while it’s unseasonable warm right now, we had a good snow and freeze early in January that I’ve already seen the bill for.
While conscious consumerism is an essential part of green living, we have to look well beyond shopping to make our largest impacts. So to answer my own question; Yes, getting a Home Energy Audit is well worth the time and money. Here’s a good intro video, though each state handles them a little differently.
In my case, I didn’t have the full-blown audit like the one shown, but I did have an inspector point out areas of concern. Since I was already doing some renovations, I had my contractor make suggestions and then compared the two to determine which areas would have the most impact. In addition to the attic insulation refund, I was able to take advantage of a rebate on an Energy Star refrigerator and a tax credit for upgrading to an energy efficient water heater.
If you’re not quite ready to have someone do something as extensive as in the video, you can also try Energy Star’s self-assessment test. If it looks like you can make some improvements, whether from windows, appliances, heating and air-condition, insulation or elsewhere, there’s a good chance you can get some financial help for it. Here’s a list of incentive programs by state.
This is a great green step that not only has environmental impacts, but can also be a good financial investment for the long haul.
As a side note, we steered away from compact florescent light bulbs in favor of the more expensive, longer lasting, and much greener LED bulbs. This Light Bulb Showdown has LEDs winning on price alone, with other benefits like no heavy metals in LEDs, being icing on the cake.