Black Friday, Small Business Saturday… WTF Wednesday

As a conscious business owner, I get a little conflicted this time of year.  While we definitely want folks buying sustainable gifts, and organic clothing fits the bill nicely of course, it’s hard to condone or to ignore the commercialism that comes this time of year.  And yet, we count on the extra holiday sales to keep our books balanced.

 
On a completely unrelated topic, I’ve gotten a lot of eco-living questions lately unrelated to clothing.  Many people assume that since I know a lot about eco-fashion, that I might have done a little research on greening other parts of life.  So I was just pondering the idea of highlighting some of my favorite conscious businesses in the blog for next year. 
 
Then lo and behold, as a little holiday miracle, the following gem just landed in my personal inbox today from the awesome organic coffee company, Dean’s Beans.  Here it is in it’s entirety.

Black Friday,
Small Business Saturday…
WTF Wednesday


My first sit-down, face-to-face meeting with Dean was supposed to last 10 to 15 minutes. It was my intention to pitch him on my experience, explain away the inadequacies in my resume, and impress him with my innovative pseudo-millennial-tampered-with-an-old-soul approach to marketing. Within moments of meeting him, the resume was pushed to the side, my stress about finding the proper number of professional references was put to rest when he quickly called a former coworker of mine (whom he had known for 30 years), and told me that he didn’t doubt her judgement of my character. The conversation, very naturally, and very quickly, turned into a thorough examination of my soul.

Dean’s Beans, as I have come to know the company, carries itself like a man who has just seen his doctor and been given a few months left to live. There is a fundamental focus on the soul of the company, the legacy we are leaving behind, and the quality of the relationships that we are building. No one enters into an unmeaningful relationship in the final moments of their life. They don’t have the time, and every moment must be savored and spent with the people that are as excited about you as you are about them. Dean’s Beans as a company is alive and well, but as a company, they carry themselves as if every move is the defining moment of their legacy. It has to be ethical, it has to build meaningful relationships, and it has to feed the company’s soul.

Now, what does any of this have to do with the mad dash of consumerism that takes place after Thanksgiving?

Having had my soul thoroughly examined by every member of Dean’s team at his beanery in Orange, I was hired and given the title of Chief Media Magnet. As the go-to guy for all things marketing, I immediately extended my brain to the opportunities that the holiday season provides. I even began composing tweets, email blasts, and other social media pieces about the importance of supporting this amazing company in the holiday season- especially during the feeding-frenzy of online shopping at the end of November and beginning of December.

Except that none of it felt right.

 Black Friday has reached an almost comical level of chaos in most stores, to the point where REI publicly announced that they aren’t participating this year… ironically the publicity has been a major boon for the company, and others like Nordstrom have followed suit and are making beaucoup bucks. Small Business Saturday is getting a ton of love this year from congress, the president, and small business owners world-wide. BUT IT WAS CREATED AND CONCEIVED BY AMERICAN EXPRESS IN 2010! There is a foul odor emanating from any “selfless” promotion propagated by a huge corporation like American Express.

Now all of this isn’t to say that that these days of shopping are intrinsically evil. Thousands of small, wonderful businesses really benefit from this time of year, and this increased exposure. Heck- we sure do! But to ally ourselves with them? It feels like that’s a dicey defining moment to our legacy, and I now judge all of my actions by that company standard.

Therefore- I propose that you celebrate WTF Wednesday with us this year. It’s a wonderful way for you to plant your tongue firmly in your cheek, all while supporting the stores that you want to support. We are able to engage in meaningful, direct development work all across the coffeelands, partly due to the sales we make this time of year. We are so incredibly grateful that our customers have given us the opportunity to operate in this way- and we know that as we seek out only truly meaningful relationships, you are all a huge part of that.

As the newest member of the Dean’s Beans family, I want to thank you for feeding my soul.

Drink Deep.

Robin Stewart DeMartino
(the new guy)

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Organic Clothing has a Reputation for Being Expensive. Is it really?

You’ve just made your first eco-fashion purchase.  You’re enamored with your $20 organic cotton
t-shirt and matching $40 shorts.  You’re
touting the benefits of your new eco-duds to one of your friends when she whips
out a t-shirt made from organic cotton that she just bought at Big Mart for $5.  Ouch! 
What just happened?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may be familiar
with my suggestions on what to look for when purchasing truly eco-friendly
clothing.
·       
What is the source material the fabric is made
from?
·       
How is it processed?
·       
What dyes are used?
·       
Was the final garment treated with toxic
chemical finishing agents?
·       
Were the workers who made it treated equitably
in a safe working environment?
Cheap “organic” clothing is the new trend in
green-washing.  Big companies source a
small amount of organically grown cotton and then insert it into their current
production system.  This clean,
organically grown cotton is then dyed with conventional dyes, finished with a
chemical soup of toxins to make it softer, wrinkle free, and machine washable,
and then sewn in potentially unsafe factories by workers earning subsistence
wages. 
Am I exaggerating?  Maybe.  It’s unlikely that all of these things would
be true of every Big Mart garment labeled organic.  And big box stores can weather smaller profit
margins because they’re selling greater quantities.   However, if you think about all the things
that need to go into making any t-shirt, and shipping it half way around the
world, you’ll realize it is very likely that some serious corners need to be cut
to offer that shirt for $5. For organics specifically, certifications such as
GOTS, OEKO-TEX 100, and Fair Trade are also expensive to get and maintain, and
those prices have to be factored in somewhere.
You may be thinking, if I only have five bucks, isn’t it better
to get the shirt that at least has some organic material in it than one that
doesn’t?  While that may be true if those
were your only choices, there are better options.  Instead of that cheap “organic” shirt, I
offer up the following alternatives:
1.     
Buy better quality, gently used items at charity
shops, thrift or consignment stores or on eBay.
2.     
Host a clothing swap with your friends and
family.  How many of us have clothing
that we don’t like or doesn’t fit that’s barely worn (or in some cases still
new with the tags on)?
3.     
Save up to buy fewer, higher-quality,
lower-impact pieces.  They may be more
expensive but they’ll also last longer, be better for the environment, and make
a positive impact on the workers that create and sell them.
Watch the video below to see the issues with “fast fashion.”

So is organic clothing expensive? Really?  Like many other things, you most often get
what you pay for.
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Greening Your Whole Life: The Turtle Approach

Happy 2014!  You’ve made it through another year and you may already be tackling a list of resolutions.  I’m here to tell you to toss out that list.  Instead, I’d like you to consider this ridiculously slow (and permanent) way to go green and healthy forever.

I used to make loads of New Years Resolutions and, like most other folks, I’d be down to working on just one or two (if any) by February.  It’s hard to change everything overnight.  Especially if the night before was a drunken debacle – or at least a late night with a few too many glasses of wine.  

Long before I became a vegan, before I owned an organic clothing shop, before I washed my hair with mud, I was an everyday woman who wanted to green up my life a little and get healthier.  Pretty simple.  Each year I’d make my list and then end up giving most of it up.

That is until one year, I decided to address just one thing

That first year, I took on household cleaners.  That’s it.  I dedicated the entire year to greening up my household cleaners.  There was no big rush on January 1st and nothing overwhelming.  It was just this: as I ran out of each cleaner, I would take the time to checkout what’s in it, what shouldn’t be in it and what I could get to replace it. 

Over the course of 12 months, I switched my laundry detergent, stopped using dryer sheets, got rid of everything with bleach or ammonia in it and effectively changed the look of my cleaning closet.  Of course, it got easier with each cleaner.  I got to know brands I liked and could trust and automatically went to those first when the next cleaner ran out.  The beauty of that concept, was that nothing was wasted.  I didn’t throw a bunch of stuff out on January 1.  I simply switched when I would need to replace anyway.

The next year, I decided to switch out my beauty products.  I found new soaps, lotions, deodorants (that was the hardest one) and hair care.  I purchased my first wood-bristle brush.

The year after that was make-up, which I rarely use anyway.  But I looked into natural mascara, non-toxic lipstick (you shouldn’t have to poison yourself just to look good), and natural mineral powder blush and foundation.

You get the idea.  Just one thing.  Each year.  Consistently.  Food, clothing, cleaners, cosmetics, car, kids toys, you name it.  Even food changes weren’t overwhelming. 

One year, I committed to just consciously looking at the ingredients in every packaged item I purchased.  That’s it.  I could still buy whatever I wanted, but read the ingredients to learn.

The next year I committed to stop eating anything with high fructose corn syrup. 

The thing is, if you have the entire year to make just one commitment, it works.  Living a healthy, green life is great, but you don’t have to (nor would you really want to) change everything all at once. 

I know there’s a lot of change-your-life advice that comes out every January.  I recommend not changing your life.  Just pick one small thing and work it in to what you’re already doing.  By the end of the year, it will be so ingrained you won’t have to think about it any more.  And then you’ll be ready for the next thing.

That’s it.  One small step, taken slowly, will help you be a better you each year than you were the year before. 

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Modal is touted as the new eco-fabric; does it live up to the hype?

I’ve been seeing a lot of eco-fashions made from the new fabric, Modal, recently.  Some of the designs are super cute, but I wanted a little more information before jumping in.  I bet you do, too.  Modal is yet another play on Rayon.  It’s got that fabulous rayon drape and soft, silky feel, but is it sustainable?

I was pleased to learn that Modal was developed by the Austrian company Lenzing, developer of the eco-fabric Tencel. Like Tencel, Modal has earned the European Union EcoLabel for having a reduced environmental impact throughout its life cycle.

Modal comes from Beechwood trees. Beechwoods are self-propagating which means no artificial irrigation or planting is required. More than half of the wood used by Lenzing comes locally from Austria and the remainder is from neighboring countries. All of the beechwood used for Modal comes from forests that follow sustainable harvesting methods.

Notably, Modal is the first fabric considered carbon neutral in its production process.  This is possible due to the generation of excess energy during fabric production and the recovery of component parts of the wood.  Even the pulp production is self-sufficient in terms of energy and is an important supplier of energy for the entire operation. Lenzing also boasts that up to 95% of the production materials are recovered and reused, which sounds very much like a closed-loop production system.

The key part of the production cycle is Lenzing’s Edelweiss technology: oxygen-based chemistry that eliminates the need for harsh and/or toxic production chemicals.

In summary, Modal passes the environmental criteria we set out to meet: sustainable input materials, very low waste production and no harsh or toxic chemicals.  Of course, we also source clothing from manufacturers who use low-impact dyes on the fabric and do not add harsh finishing agents.  With that in mind, our first Modal-based garments are now in and this batch has the bonus of all being designed and sewn in the USA.  Like Tencel, we still plan on using the fabric sparingly in our offerings; but a few awesome pieces are sure to add a bit of variety to your wardrobe.

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Bras, Bras, Bras! Episode 3 – Tips to Making Your New Eco-Bra Last

So you’ve picked up a beautiful new eco-bra and you want to make sure it looks good for some time.  Most of the harsh chemicals put on clothing today do have a purpose.  Some help clothing stand up to machine washing better, while others keep clothing from wrinkling or losing their shape.  While your organic bra doesn’t have all that gunk, it does have some special needs.  Here are a few quick tips to help keep your bras lasting as long as possible.

Tip 1:  Remove any removable pads or cups before washing.  If the bra comes with removable pads, remove them before washing the bra so they don’t lose their shape.  Ideally you should wash the pads by hand separately, but if you must wash them in the machine, be sure to follow Tip 2.

Tip 2:  Wash ALL bras in a lingerie bag. The most important tip is to wash all bras (and also any panties that have lace on them) in cold water inside a lingerie bag. Even bras that claim to be machine washable can easily have their straps stretched and lace torn in a conventional machine. Snags from zippers or buttons of other clothing are also common. A simple lingerie bag will provide a layer of protection to avoid those common issues.

Tip 3:  Don’t put your
new bra in the dryer.
  The dryer is a
fairly harsh environment and even if it doesn’t do any immediate damage to your
bra, they will likely fray and wear faster if they are machine dried.  So laying them flat to dry will add life to
them. 

Tip 4:  Always buy
your bra so it fits on the loosest hook.
  Most bras will stretch out over time, so buy them so they fit on the loosest hook initially.  As they lose shape and become looser, you can
gradually wear them on tighter and tighter hooks to keep them fitting
comfortably.

Tip 5: Use the dryer after your old bra has stretched.  If you have an older bra that has stretched
to the point where you can’t wear it again and you have been diligent about laying
it flat to dry, you may be able to use the dryer to extend the life of the
bra.  Most natural materials will shrink a tad in
the dryer.  If you haven’t dried your
bra before, drying it for the first time after it has stretched too far can
sometimes shrink it just enough to extend the wear a little longer.


Tip 6: Don’t invert padded bras.  Many women will store their padded bras by
inverting one cup into the other. This can lead to lumps and dimples in the padding,
especially with bras made out of natural cotton padding instead of molded
polyester.  If you don’t have the room to
lay them flat in your drawer, twist the center as shown so that both cups fit into each
other without inverting one of them.  It
will help keep their shape longer.


Follow these few tips to get the longest wear out of your
natural fiber bras and lingerie.
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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 FaeriesDance.com 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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“Organic” versus “Eco-Friendly” – Is there a difference?

There seems to be some confusion about the difference between clothing that is “organic” versus clothing that is “eco-friendly”.  So I’d like to provide a little clarification of these terms.

First off the term “organic” is a short-cut term for an agricultural crop that has been organically grown, that is grown without harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  For a crop to be labelled as organically grown, it must be certified by a government agriculture agency either here or abroad.  In the USA the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) is the primary certifying agency for organic crops.  Up until recently, companies could be certified by local government authorities such as the Organic Tilth Standards or the Texas Department of Agriculture.  Now those programs are incorporated into the overall NOP by acting as agencies accredited by the NOP to certify organic crops.  In addition to the USA, the NOP program accredits 42 foreign agencies (as of 12/2010) to certify crops as organically grown in other countries.

In general we can say that most organic fabrics are eco-friendly.  However a fabric could possibly be organic and still be dyed using conventional chemical dyes, finished with toxic chemicals or sewn using child or sweatshop labor.  Additional certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), Oeko-Tex® for Confidence in Textiles or Fair Trade Federation standards govern those extra details.

Eco-Friendly clothing can be environmentally beneficial while not being organically grown.  For example, FaeriesDance.com’s Lingerie Wash Bag is made from recycled PET from plastic bottles that might otherwise wind up in landfills.  Plastic is a petroleum product and in its initial form would definitely not be considered eco-friendly.  Since it’s not an agricultural product, the term organic doesn’t even apply.  But reusing waste products is better for the planet than tossing them out.  No new chemicals are introduced during the recycling and restyling process, so the bags are definitely eco-friendly.

Soy fibre clothing is another good example.  The clothing is made from the discarded outer casing of the soy bean, which otherwise goes into landfills.  (The casings can be composted, but they seldom are at the manufacturing level.)  While the original soy beans can be certified organically grown as an agricultural product, both organic and non-organic soy bean casings are used in creating soy fibre clothing.  This is because the emphasis is on the environmental benefits of reclaiming the waste product rather than on ensuring organic production.

In summary, growing crops organically is better for the environment and our health, but a final piece of clothing made from organic fabric may or may not be completely eco-friendly depending on how it was dyed and finished.  Reclaimed, reused and recycled fabrics make great eco-friendly options even if the base material wasn’t originally organically grown.  So the terms “organic” and “eco-friendly” while often used together, are not actually synonymous.

Happy New Year,

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October 1st is World Vegetarian Day – Go meat-free for a day

Celebrate World Vegetarian Day next weekend with great food and fun.  Even if you’re a carnivore, October 1st is a great day to try a local vegetarian restaurant.  Check out happycow.net to find vegetarian restaurants in every US state as well as most countries around the world.  Angelinos will appreciate Vegetarians in Paradise, a website that offers up reviews of vegetarian restaurants in and around Los Angeles.  Or try your hand at your own vegetarian creation using one of VegWeb.com’s 13,000 recipe ideas.

Folks living in San Francisco can enjoy World Veg Festival next weekend, October 2-3.  While Bostonians will want to check out the 15th annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival at the end of the month on Halloween weekend.  The Phuket Vegetarian Festival in Thailand is arguably the most elaborate vegetarian festival in the world.

Even the greeting card companies are getting involved.  AmericanGreetings.com is offering up a free World Vegetarian Day e-card with a cute poem attached.

Bon Appetit,

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Recycle Your Bra!

Ok, we’re always touting the benefits of going green right down to your skivvies.  But if you’re greening your underthings with some gorgeous new organic bras, what do you do with the old bras?  Well, you recycle them, of course!  The Bra Recyclers over at brarecycling.com will give new life to your old bras.

So what are the Bra Recyclers all about?  Here’s their story according to their website:

  • We are a textile recycling company specializing in recycling bras and providing deserving women in our communities who are facing challenges with a basic lingerie staple.
  • We are creating awareness about delaying the number of re-usable textiles, such as bras, that are unnecessarily being sent to landfills that could be used for women and girls in our communities who are experiencing challenges in their lives
  • We are using simple encouragements to develop, blossom, and renew positive attitudes and self-esteem.

 
You can leave your old bras at one of their drop off locations or mail your washed, functional bras to:
 
Bra Recycling
3317 S. Higley Rd, Ste 114-441
Gilbert, AZ 85297

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Sunday, November 15 is America Recycles Day

November 15 is America Recycles Day.  (Of course, looking at the name, I immediately wonder why there isn’t a World Recycles Day.)  In 2009, I wonder why we need this.  By now, recycling should be a gimme.  There are recycling drop off stations in almost every city and town; many of us now enjoy curbside recycling; and there are tons of information sources from Real Simple and E-Magazine to the Environmental Protection Agency on how to recycle just about anything.  In addition, there are fabulous groups like Freecycle and resources such as Craigslist where you can sell, swap or just give away your old stuff to someone who might want or need it.

November 15 isn’t the one day in the year when you should recycle.  It’s a day marked out to evaluate how you are doing on recycling.  Let’s all try to improve recycling efforts both at home and in our workplace.  Of course, the less you use, the less you need to recycle.  Maybe November 15 is the day you finally buy that reusable Starbucks cup (or the equivalent at your favorite coffee shop), start packing your child’s lunch sandwiches in Tupperware instead of zip lock bags or put out a bin in the office to collect cans.  (Hint: if you don’t want to recycle them yourself, you can often find a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop leader that will pick them up for you.)

Whatever you do, make one change starting now.  Add one small step to live greener.  You may be surprised by how good it feels.

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