Berlin Ethical Fashion Show, Green Showroom and Swegmark Organic Bras

Funkhaus Berlin Interior

New York, London, Milan, and Paris have the largest Fashion Weeks around the world, but a number of other cities are touting more sustainable fashion weeks.  Green Fashion Week is a non-profit, traveling, sustainable trade show that has already made stops in Los Angeles, Milan and Abu Dhabi with its next showing in Rome and Naples in November.  And Ethical Fashion Show Berlin has become a sustainable Fashion Week staple.  It runs concurrent to the Berlin Fashion Week with a clear focus on sustainability, and partners with Green Showroom, an eco-fashion resource for retailers.  This summer Ethical Fashion Show Berlin has made a permanent move to a larger venue… and Faerie’s Dance will be there to check it out!

Ethical Fashion Show
Funkhaus Berlin on the banks of the Spree River is the new home of Ethical Fashion Show

A confession… after 12 years working in the fashion industry, I’ve personally never been to a professional fashion show.  In truth, I still get more excited by spreadsheets and graphs than runways and high heels.  YES, I love what I do for the positive impact it has on the world.  (In case you weren’t aware, EcoWatch claims Fast Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil.)  But rekindling passion for your work is never a bad thing, and one of the things I’m very passionate about is travel.

Naturalmente by Schweikardt Moden will showcase at Ethical Fashion Show Berlin

So this year I’m going to do a little work-related traveling.  Faerie’s Dance will be attending the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin, checking out new lines at the Green Showroom, meeting up with Occidente at Panorama Berlin and finally flying to Sweden to discuss organic cotton bra designs with Swegmark.  Of course, since I’ll already be in Sweden… My partner and I will be taking a much needed vacation together as well, spending a week on a cruise through the Baltics.

We are training assistants to “watch the store,” and will be shipping orders and processing returns and exchanges during the entire trip, from July 1 – 20th.  However, customer service will be limited to e-mail only, with no phone service at all during that period, and we will not be able to offer expedited shipping for those 3 weeks.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook to get updates from the show.  I look forward to celebrating our 12 year business anniversary on July 22, 2107, upon my return.



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The Zen of Organic Panty Manufacturing

Last August, I announced that Faerie’s Dance would start manufacturing their own line of organic cotton panties.  By October, we’d put a down payment on our fabric and had our first patterns. At the time, I posted that we’d launch those first few designs in late January or February.

It’s April, and many of you (including myself) are wondering, where the heck are these panties?! Good question.  Let’s recap.

When we left the deposit on the fabric, the manufacturer (a small, family-run, GOTS certified manufacturer in India) told me it would be about 60 days to completion.  So I lined up our Stayton, Oregon based seamstress for end of December and our Portland based printer for early January.  And for about 2 or 3 weeks, we were on schedule.

Once we were ready to get our low-impact dyed colors done, I learned I needed the Pantone color numbers to proceed.  I’d already picked the colors to match the latex-free elastic trims.  Unfortunately, the elastic seller wasn’t able to tell me what the Pantone numbers were.   And it turns out, buying what I thought would be a swatch card is actually a reference encyclopedia running about $900.  After a bit of a confusion and scramble, I mailed pieces of elastic to India and they were able to match the colors that way. 

This small glitch put us 2 weeks behind.

Being a small business owner, I’m aware that things can occasionally (read: regularly) go wrong.  So when a machinery part broke down at the fabric manufacturer and they told us (very apologetically) that there would be another two week delay, there really wasn’t much I could do.  (Other than lament that the Hearts A’flutter panties wouldn’t be ready in time for Valentine’s Day.)

At this point, we were 4 weeks behind.

Now, we do a lot of importing.  Our best-selling bra line is from Italy.  When you ship small, lightweight items, they generally need to go by air because there’s not enough weight and/or volume to justify hiring all or part of a sea shipping container.  So I really (really!) should have known better.  But in my excitement of getting our first custom made fabric, I did not account for the time delay of shipping sea versus air.  Air usually takes a week, two tops.  Well for 1300 lbs of fabric, you really can’t ship by air.  (Unless you want to pay a ridiculous amount of money and waste a lot of jet fuel, neither of which are high on my priority list.)  So my allotted “shipping week” was taken over with special forms required for sea shipments.  Then the actual shipping time took an additional 4 weeks.

Suddenly, we were 2 months behind.

Ok, but February 27th is the big day – fabric is arriving!!  I figured a few days for customs clearance, and I would be able to get the fabric to the seamstress first week in March.  I make calls. I schedule.  The fabric arrives!  And I am the lucky winner of a special Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS) exam.  If you just clicked that link, yes, the winner of a VACIS exam also wins the right to pay extra for the exam – even if the cargo is deemed legal and no contraband is found.  To make a way-too-long-story short, customs finally released my fabric on the afternoon of April 4th.  They held it more than 5 weeks. My business was required to pay nearly $400 in additional exam fees, and no contraband was found.

Et voilà, we were now 3 months behind.

So I call the seamstress, and guess what?  She’s in the middle of someone else’s project.  This was not at all unexpected, and I was really grateful that she (a small business owner herself) was still willing to work my project in.  I’m sure some of my delays had her scrambling to find other projects.  She worked in all of the sample sewing and fittings (which are now done! yay!); and is able to start full production April 28th.

And just like that, we are 4 months behind.

Jaime, our Patternmaker, verifies the measurements of the first samples

I’d love to offer you all a list of the lessons I’ve learned during this experience, but it’s a blog post, not a novel, and room is limited.  And for the sake of all the issues I still haven’t run into and the fact that I haven’t even called the printer back yet, let’s just call it 5 months behind and hope for a July launch.  Just in case.

That said, the single biggest, most overwhelming, really smack-in-head, light bulb on, ah-ha lesson that I’ve come away with is… humility. 

I am humbled by the efforts of the fabric maker, customs broker, seamstress and patternmaker in support of my project. 

I am grateful to the many customers who’ve asked about the panty status, and who’ve not only been understanding about the delays, but even outraged on my behalf over the extra customs costs.

I am overwhelmed by the vast effort that goes into bringing the simplest of items to market.

And most of all, I am embarrassed by all the times I’ve been frustrated with manufacturers over delays they’ve had.

I’m going to go a little easier on folks from now on, including myself.  How many of you are harder on yourselves than you need to be?

Combining this with the experience of getting judgmental e-mails, I’m going to make an extra effort to be a bit more empathetic all around.

And just like that, I found a little peace through adversity.

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Just Because We Don’t Have What You Want, Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Care

As owner of an eco-fashion store, I get a lot of great emails, but every once in a while I get a crazy, nasty e-mail.  Most often, it’s because I don’t carry someone’s size, but several other varieties of nasties also wind up in my inbox. 

We’re getting a little more exposure lately, and with it, an up-tick in nasty e-mails.  Last week I received three; two were variations of size-related issues and the last was a rant that I’m a fake vegan because we carry 5 items (out of 951 currently in stock) that are made using free-range, hand-sheared alpaca.  One actually ended in “you disgust me.”  No, I’ve never met this person nor interacted with them in any way prior to receiving the e-mail.

Admittedly, our Plus Size selection isn’t as extensive as I might like.  With my strict criteria about fabric, finishes, dyes and human rights, plus sizes are just not that easy to come by.  I was very excited to find a new plus size eco-fashion source recently, and am happy to be expanding our plus selections this summer. 

Accusations are Unhelpful
Most of the women in my family are heavy, and it’s always been important to me that I carry items that my family could wear and enjoy.  So please don’t write to tell me, “You hate fat people,” “You can’t relate to larger women,” or “You’re not a real environmentalist,” just because I don’t carry or have something you like in your size. 

On the other hand, if you know of a brand that carries what you want, let me know.  We’ve looked into many overseas brands by request of our customers.  Some don’t export to the USA, some are very expensive or have high minimum orders that we were unable to meet.  But a few have been matches, and we’ve added several brands based on customer suggestions that are hard to find in the USA.

Show Some Compassion
I struggled with carrying alpaca, but started because several (eco-conscious but not necessarily vegan) customers explicitly asked me to find warmer coats that were truly eco.  The amazing folks at Indigenous Designs took a written stand against mulesing when approached by PETA, and really do care about the welfare of the animals that are sheared.  From their website:

“Indigenous sources the majority of our alpaca fiber from outside of Arequipa, Peru in the Puno and Cusco areas, close to many artisan work groups. These alpacas are free range roaming animals with pasture rotation. The alpacas are not fed hormones and do not receive chemical dippings for ticks or parasites. There are no chemical ingredients allowed on the land or animals.”

The thing is, these are just this week’s criticisms.  Every decision I make for this business is made thoughtfully. And while I would certainly not expect everyone to agree with all of them, it would be really nice if folks could avoid accusations and name calling and perhaps ask me why things are a certain way. 

Ok, in all fairness, the vast majority of e-mails and calls we get do exactly that.  So I ought to be able to just shake off this vocal minority who sends nasty notes.  But it’s hard. 

Remember People Have Feelings
This business is my passion and it means a lot to me.  It particularly stings when someone accuses me of being solely profit-driven since I earn half my previous salary running my own business, and work twice the number of hours.  (I wish that were an exaggeration, but it’s not.)

Earlier this week, I saw another small business owner noting how badly they felt when they were openly criticized. So I’m writing this post for three reasons.

  1. I know the majority of my customers and readers are fantastic, understanding, socially conscious, super stars and after a week of hurtful comments, I’m reaching out to offer up some love to the good guys! 🙂
  2. To share my experience with other solopreneurs and small-business owners so they can step back, like I’m trying to do, and realize that it really is impossible to please everyone and that we shouldn’t let one person ruin our mood or our business.  It truly is impossible to please 100% of the people.  Just do your best.
  3. To provide a useful quick-link response to future e-mailers. If I sent you this link as a response to an e-mail, try e-mailing me back with a bit more civility. I’d be happy to answer your question, help you find something, or even explain my decisions as long as your remember that I’m a real, live person, not a corporate entity.  And I have feelings that can be hurt.  So please show a little respect and kindness and I’ll do everything I can to do the same.


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Where are the bras? Vacations, Service and Love Nature

Ok, I admit that the Bras, Bras, Bras series is taking painfully longer than I ever expected.  I had Episode 3 partially written and it was long.  I mean loong.  I mean, who-wants-to-read-a-book-for-a-blog-post long.  And the realization finally came to me that I had to move into the 21st century and do what other bloggers do – make a video.  I can get all of the information across more quickly with better visuals in a 3 – 5 minute video.  So now I have a video camera and a tripod and all I really need is a little bit of confidence.  (Wow, I had no idea I was that pale!)  So please bare with me as I cringe a bit and get this video thing working.

In the meantime, I’m taking a real vacation!  I’ll be on a Mediterranean cruise for the next couple of weeks.  Of course, will be well serviced with packages going out daily as always.  But e-mail and phone responses will be slower than usual and we expected a 2-day turn around for returns and exchanges as opposed to our usual 1.  Please bare with us.  I hope to come back refreshed and ready to provide excellent service to all our fantastic supporters.

Lastly, our fall Love Nature order (over 1000 pieces) just came in.  There was a mad rush to try to count and sort it all before leaving, but alas it was just too much.  We’ve updated the stock on the Alba Padded Underwire Bra so they’re available now.  Everything else will get listed over the weekend of November 5-6.

So… once I return, Love Nature products and videos will be on the top of the priority list.  Thank you all for your continued interest in sustainable fashions and our small business!

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Bras, Bras, Bras! A Series on the History, Sizing, Fit and Functionality of the Bra

Lately the vast majority of the customer questions we’re getting are about bras.  What size bra should I get? Underwire or wireless? Padding versus No Padding? International sizing?  Which styles have the most support? Which are latex-free? Which are best for my body shape? Etc., etc. 

Our last give-a-way – for the allergen-free bras – got more entries than any other contest we’ve ever run.  And of course, we all know how difficult it is to find clean, organic bras that are chemical free and sustainably produced.

So I’ve decided to offer up a series on bras, focusing on organic cotton and sustainable bras, of course.  Over the next month or so, I’ll be providing everything (that I can think of) you’ve ever wanted to know about bras.  So here’s what I have in mind.  Please leave a comment if there’s something else you want to know and I’ll make sure it gets in.

  • The History of the Bra: Where it came from and how it has evolved.
  • Bra Sizing: How to determine what size you are and the conversion to international sizing.
  • Top Bra Styles by Body Type: Which bra “features” flatter your body.

For today, let’s start off with my story.  So, how did get to have (what I’m pretty sure is) the largest selection of eco-lingerie in the country?  The story goes like this…

Before I became environmentally conscious about everything, bra shopping was my secret salve.  Whenever I’d get depressed about something or needed a quick pick-me-up, it was off to the mall for the perfect bra.  Underwire, push-up, plunge, padding, lace, it was all good.  My lingerie drawer was better stocked than some restaurant kitchens.  And it never failed me.  As long I could find a good bra, life went beyond just bearable to fabulous, even if only temporarily.

You see there’s something luscious about wearing stunning lingerie – even boyfriendless – because lingerie is your own little secret.  Work can be overwhelming, the house can be a mess, you can argue with your family, but underneath your clothing, where no one else can see, you have… ARMOR.  That’s right, beautiful, sexy, feminine, armor.  The perfect, outrageous purple lace bra is as good as a bullet-proof vest when it comes to deflecting negativity.  And if the day happens to be going well anyway, that quick trip the rest room and peek at your hot pink panties will bring an extra smile to your face every time.  I like colors.  Oh sure, I’ve got white and nude for those days with a crisp white collared shirt, but any big sweater was always hiding something bright and cheerful.

But then I started learning.  I learned about the pesticides used in crops and what it does to the water, soil and wildlife in the area.  I learned about chemical finishing agents and what they do to the workers who handle them, the towns that have to deal with the toxic wastes and even the impacts on our own bodies as we wear them.  I learned about sweatshop labor, about appalling working conditions, subsistent wages and 6 year olds working 12-hour days.  I saw our culture being controlled by energy needs, and oil, and terrorists.  And suddenly, I couldn’t go bra shopping anymore and chinks developed in my armor.

So what’s a girl to do faced with the destruction of our planet, our home and our way of life?  Well in my case, I opened my own eco-boutique specializing in organic bras.  Now, not only am I my own best customer, but with my armor restored, I want to help all those other women who need better, more luscious, sexier, prettier under armor without all the bad stuff.

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Need the Support of a Performance Bra in a Natural Fabric? Double Up.

One of the concerns I hear most often is that women need more supportive sports bras in natural fabrics.  While has sports bras in organic cotton and bamboo, thus far they haven’t rivaled their synthetic counterparts for really good support in high-impact sports.  Last year I ran my first 1/2 marathon wearing the Bamboo Sports Bra, and while it was “good enough,” I have to agree with my fellow sports enthusiasts that it could have been better.  I also happen to be on the small side, falling between an A and a B cup.  The C and D cups out there are really struggling to find something natural, breathable, eco-friendly and supportive.

Then a few weeks ago in a rather jumpy power-sculpting class, the light bulb finally turned on.  We’ve got great natural fiber camis and tanks with built-in shelf bras and we’ve got decent sports bras.  What if I combined them?  So I have.  2 classes and 2 runs later and I’m hooked for life on an ultra-supportive combo concept.  In my case, I started with the Bamboo Sports Bra and then layered the organic cotton E Tank over top of it.  Since I fall between sizes, I wore the bra in small and the tank in medium.  If you find your almost always one size, I would suggest both pieces in the same size.

The sports bra provided the basic support.  I personally like the bamboo because it seems to control odor a lot and wicks a little, too.  However, I believe the lighter weight Organic Cotton Sports Bra or even the Jen’s Bra should work equally well as the bottom layer.  The internal shelf bra in the layering tank fits a tad tighter than usual since it’s now sitting on another garment instead of directly on the skin.  That tightness helped hold the sports bra in place and provided a full second layer of anti-bounce protection.  Almost any tank or cami with an internal shelf bra should work equally well, and as a side bonus, the layered look was quite attractive.  I should warn that my cami got a little stretched, and while its still perfect for the sports layering, extended wear this way might make it less usable on its own.

Of course, we’re still trying to find other options in technical sports wear.  I’ve found some companies that have the right idea.  One company is making technical sports bras out of traditional polyester, but using recycled fibers.  At the moment, they’re recycled content is only 35%, which doesn’t quite meet our eco standards, but it’s a good start, and we’ll keep following them to see if they can pull off a great design with more recycled materials.  But in the meantime if you need more support right now, just double up.

Stay active,

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Running, Guilty Pleasures and Stinky Clothes

Last week I ran (mostly) my first 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles). I’d been training for this for the last few months (during the times when I should have been posting to this blog…), so completing it was a huge success for me. The last few miles were pretty rough and I finished more on my own force of will than on my body’s fitness level. I clocked in at a slow 2:29 (2 hours, 29 minutes), which is good, because it means I have lots of room to improve. 😀

As a side note, the winner clocked in at 1:07. So he could have run the 1/2 marathon, sat and had a relaxing latte for 15 minutes, run it again, and he still would have beaten me!

Hints: Lower the volume before playing the video. 
I come into view at 0:41 seconds. This is mile 3, when my legs are still moving well.

Adrienne’s race day attire: Bamboo Sports Bra, Workout Shorts, Short Sport Socks – Coolmax®, and our discontinued Bamboo Briefs (which we are considering manufacturing ourselves since these are fabulous panties – especially for sports).

But I digress. The point of this story is actually about chemical finishing agents on clothing. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) Having operated an eco-fashion store for more than 5 years now, it’s been a long time since I’ve bought any “conventional” clothing. During the race expo I came across a company that sold women’s technical running gear with absolutely awesome sayings on them. There were cute things like “yes, I run like a girl, try to keep up” and “some girls chase boys, I pass ’em.” But being a slow-ish runner, my favorites included “Race Day Strategy: Start slow and then back off” and the one I finally settled on “Who moved the finish line?”

I was so proud of my accomplishment, and in so much pain, I really wanted to show off my “Who moved the finish line?” shirt that same day. But when I put it on, it stunk! I mean really reeked of chemicals. Now I don’t now have, nor have I ever had, any chemical sensitivities. And when I bought conventional clothes on a regular basis, while they may have had chemical smells, I never really noticed them. I guess I had gotten used to what new clothes smell like. Only after wearing clean, organic clothes with no finishing agents and low-impact dyes for years did the chemical smell of conventional clothing really hit me. It was just an “ah-ha” moment that I thought I would share. It also gives me a new found empathy for all of our chemically sensitive clients.

Of course, the biggest thing I learned (besides the fact that I need to train more before embarking on another 1/2 marathon) is that really needs to carry more technical sports clothing! It is my goal to make hard-to-find items available, and good sportswear is needed. I’m always on the lookout for more supportive sports bras as well and we’ve got some new items coming in spring that I’m hoping will work well for a wider variety of cup sizes.

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We opened our virtual doors on July 22, 2005.  Since July 22 will be our 5 year anniversary, we’ve put 22 products on sale this month.  Some of them are limited inventory.  So if we sell out of anything before the 22nd, we’ll add more to keep 22 choices through the end of the month.

The very first day we were opened, one of my good friends made a surprise purchase.  I remember how exciting it was to actually see our first sale that morning.  We had one more sale for the rest of July, but that second one was a “real” sale – to someone we didn’t know.  We followed up that first week with $577 in product sales for the entire month of August.  Even though that didn’t cover our expenses, the joy of being “found” on the internet was definitely there.

Since then, Faerie’s Dance has survived a divorce (losing its database admin and primary coder) and the worst economic crisis of a generation.  We’ve become one of the largest retailers of organic bras and intimates in the United States. 

Sadly, 6 of our manufacturers have closed their doors in the last 2 years and we have a lot of stunning styles that we can no longer replenish.  So here’s your opportunity to get fabulous, first run items at great discounts, like the Soy T at the top left and one of our best sellers, the Anthology Cardigan on the right.

Happy Anniversary to us all and thank you so much for keeping a viable, online business.  We look forward to many more years to come.

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An All Vegan Cruise!

This week I’m headed off for an all-vegan, holistic cruise to the Caribbean.  I booked this last year, having found it a week before last year’s sailing and just too late to make it aboard.  I’m a mediocre cook at best.  (Even before I was a vegan, I apparently didn’t get the “cooking gene.”)  So hopefully, these cooking classes will do me some good.
In any event, will be shipping and processing returns and refunds at our normal lightning pace.  However, customer service responses via phone will not be available and via e-mail will be a bit slower than normal.  I apologize for any inconvenience this causes anyone and will be happy to get back to you as soon as I’m back in town.
I’ll let you know how the cruise goes as well…  Having somewhat of a sweet tooth, I’m particularly looking forward to the “gourmet vegan pastry chefs!”
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Help Us Streamline our Shipping Choices and Win Our Most Popular Sweatshirt!

We’re giving away a Pacific Spirit Sweatshirt in your choice of size and color!

HOW TO ENTER:  Just leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post. (Preferably pertaining to shipping, but any comment will enter you in the drawing.)  Be sure to provide e-mail contact information.

Today I received an e-mail from a very irate customer on our shipping policies.  I wish I could keep a business attitude towards these things, but this store is my passion – a lot of time, energy and thought have gone into it and even one unhappy customer is usually enough to bring me to tears.  (Yup, I’m one of those weepy people.)  I really do want every single customer to be happy, but I have found that this is an impossible goal. 

But I digress.  The issue at hand is shipping.  We keep prices very low as a matter of course.  All products from US manufactures are at least 10% off the MSRP.  Unless someone is having an unexpected sale, you can generally go right to any of our manufacturers and find that we sell their items cheaper than they do every single day.  (Massive fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates prevent us from making the same claim on our Canadian and European manufacturers, but we do our best.) 

Of course, this means we make lower profits.  No worries on that because hopefully we’re spreading the Green message and selling more with our low prices to make up for it.  However, we can’t offer super low prices and free shipping all the time.  Sadly, shipping just costs too much.  Our current policy is to offer reasonable shipping charges and then offer free shipping on large orders (over $99 where our profit is a little higher).  If no one ever returned anything, this would probably work fine.  But it gets a little sticky with partial returns where an order started out at $100 and ended up at $35.

In any event, we thought we take the question directly to our customers.  On the right you’ll find a poll booth.  Would you rather pay a little more (say MSRP) to get free shipping on every item all the time?  Do you prefer knowing you’re getting the very best deal and seeing shipping charges broken out separately?  Or does the hybrid method we’re currently using work best – good prices and free shipping only on large orders?  After you vote, be sure to leave a comment to enter yourself into our drawing for the free sweatshirt.  We’ll draw for a winner on December 1, 2009.

Depending on the winning poll answer, we may have a follow up question… 

If you’ve ever purchased anything from us, is your store.  Even if you’ve just looked, the fact is, it was designed for you, our eco-conscious customers.  So please help design it the way you’d like to see it.  Your opinion really does count!

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