Chicago Day Trip

Last weekend, my husband and I went to Chicago to visit his parents. We decided to go downtown on Saturday, but wanted to find some 'peasant posy friendly' places to shop and eat. First, we stopped in the Wicker Park area to go to the Green Heart Shop. We loved this place! It's a fair trade store with both local and imported goods. It's styled beautifully and everyone was really friendly. I'll post later this week about some of the things we bought!
We also popped in across the street to Renegade Handmade. It's a small little shop that sells art from designers in Chicago and around the country. We picked up a beautiful watercolor print for our new hallway gallery project (more on that later, too).
Next we decided to head over to the Lincoln Square neighborhood, which we heard had cute shops and a sort of old world German feel. But first we stopped at a relatively new concept store called the Andersonville Galleria. It is basically like an indoor art and craft fair, with independent vendors set up throughout, ranging from fair trade gifts to clothing to cosmetics to food. I actually bought my 'meaningful clothing purchase' for August here, so that post will be coming up soon.
We capped the evening off with a dinner at a beautiful French restaurant, Bistro Campagne. The chef uses local and organic ingredients. The service was excellent. And I had the absolute best macaroni and cheese I have ever eaten in my life. Can't wait to go back!


Meaningful Purchase - Fair Trade Macbook Sleeve - awava

For those of you following this blog, I apologize for not posting much in the last week. Josh and I were in Chicago over the weekend (more on that trip later) and this week I've been in meetings all day at MSU. On that note, today's post features my new computer case that came from fair trade retailer Awava. Awava empowers marginalized women in Uganda by providing education and global retail opportunities for their crafts. I love the beautiful vibrant blue print of this envelope-style case. It provides the perfect amount of protection for my laptop, but doesn't take up too much space in my bag. Check out Awava's site for lovely clothing, accessories and home goods at very reasonable prices.


Meaningful Purchase - Handmade Purse - madebyhank

A few years ago, I was browsing Etsy for a new handbag and came across this purse from burgeoning designer Katie Henry, whose line is called madebyhank. (At the time I purchased this bag, she was still an up-and-comer, but I believe her stuff is so popular now that she often sells out of new merchandise the day she releases it. Yes, I'm a trend-setter... what can I say!) She calls this line of bags 'tough ruffles' and uses lots of reclaimed materials in production, including a vintage belt for the strap! I was enamored and convinced my husband that I would use it all the time and he should allow me to splurge on the slightly-higher-than-I-normally-pay-for-handbags price. Well, I was right. I still use it almost every day. I also continue to get compliments on it almost everywhere I go. The only problem was that after a few years of heavy use, it was starting to look a little worse-for-wear. The fabric was looking dirty and the belt was coming un-stitched. I brought it to the dry cleaners, but they wouldn't touch it because of the leather and I don't sew, so I wasn't sure how to fix the belt. So, I decided to just email Katie and see if she had any advice for me. Well, she replied promptly and kindly offered to have me ship the bag back to her so that she could clean it all up for me... at no charge! Not only did she clean up the fabric and sew the belt back together, but she also re-positioned the inside pockets and added a magnet closure! Then, as if that wasn't enough, she included a free tough ruffles zipper purse to reimburse me for the shipping I paid! Above and beyond.
(As you can see, Katie has such great style when it comes to packaging and branding, too. I actually kept the original tag that came with the purse all these years because I thought the little plastic dinosaur attached to it was so clever and quirky. Love.)

This is exactly the kind of customer service and personal attention that I wish would accompany all of the products I buy. If you've ever seen the videos in the Story of Stuff series, you have heard the term 'designed for the dump.' One of the things that makes our current method of consumerism so unsustainable is that the stuff we buy is designed not to last. So, when something does break or start to look worn out, unless we have the skills to fix it ourselves, it's usually cheaper to just trash it and buy new. How long can we really keep that up?

I love my madebyhank purse for many reasons, the first of which is that it's rad, but also because it was designed and made by a person who has passion for what she does and cares about her products and her customers. So, go check out her site and find something you love. It won't be hard. Thanks again, Katie!


Meaningful Purchase - July - american apparel tank

OK, let's talk about American Apparel for a minute. On one hand, I love that they are made in the USA, sweatshop free and embody a simple, easy fitting, casual style. On the other hand, I abhor their marketing that exploits and objectifies women to an alarming degree (just Google it and you'll see what i mean). So, while they don't exploit workers in third world countries, they do exploit young women (and some of the women in their ads look really young) in this country, contributing to the increasingly problematic standards women are given for beauty and sex.

So which is worse? I suppose you could argue that the women in the American Apparel advertisements at least have a choice in their exploitation, while the workers in third world countries are given very few, if any choices. But that doesn't really sit well with me (not to mention the fact that the CEO has been hit with multiple sexual harassment lawsuits over the past 10 years, which doesn't exactly suggest the promotion of female empowerment).

In the end, what it comes down to for me is awareness and willingness to speak up. Getting American Apparel to change their marketing tactics sounds like a lot easier job then, say, getting The Gap to move all of their production to the United States. I know of various petitions floating around the web to be signed that denounce AA's marketing, or you could send an email to the company. Of course, for many, boycotting probably feels like the best option, and I don't disagree with that either. There's a lot about the company to celebrate, and a lot to be disappointed with, for sure.
In the meantime, you can check out this floaty, flowery top I bought from them last month. I hope it will be a very versatile piece that I can wear alone in the summer, under a blazer for teaching in the fall, and even with a chunky knit sweater in the winter. I like how it mixes an 80's color palette with a vintage - almost 'old lady' style - print, but the cut is fresh and modern.

I think I'll go send that email now...


DIY - Wrap Bracelet

I've been seeing leather wrap bracelets all over the place this summer and I love them! I believe the originator of the trend (the one that all the movie stars have) is Chan Luu. Hers are hundreds of dollars, but I've also seen copycats in local boutiques for around $5o. Then, I saw this tutorial on Honestly...WTF (odd name, i know... their site is awesome, though) and decided it would be a perfect lazy summer afternoon activity. I wanted to copy this Chan Luu style, as it's the most neutral and I thought my version might actually look similar. So, I bought natural Irish waxed linen thread and Greek leather cord on Etsy, picked up some chain and nuts from my local hardware store, and went to work!
It took me a little while to get into a groove, since I also decided to make a super long version that would wrap around my wrist 5 times like the original. But I eventually found an efficient method.
One episode of Barefoot Contessa later, and voila! Success. Now I just want to make a bunch more! Maybe I will even try some colors next time....


The Life Cycle of a Cotton T-Shirt

I came across this article earlier this summer and bookmarked it because I thought it would be helpful to share on this blog. The data was complied by an organization called USAgain who are making an effort to reduce the amount of clothing and textiles sent to landfills every year.

Here are a few key facts:
  • The production and transport phases of one t-shirt weighing approximately 6 ounces produced in India uses: 700 gallons of water, .22 pounds of fertilizers, .01 pounds of pesticides and 1.2 pounds of fossil fuels.
  • Washing and drying one t-shirt 50 times, produces 18.3 lbs of Co2 emissions.
  • Currently, Americans send 85% of their used or unwanted clothing and shoes to landfills, meaning only 15% are being recycled or re-used.
Information like this often feels overwhelming to me, especially considering I have to multiply all of those stats by the ridiculous number of t-shirts currently sitting in my drawers. And this is just the environmental impact. It doesn't even touch the fact that that one Indian-made t-shirt was probably also produced in an unsafe and under-monitored sweatshop and the impacts that has on individual and community health.

Sobering facts for a dreary Monday morning. Ignorance is bliss. But it doesn't make the world a better place.


Meaningful Purchase - Husband's Jeans Edition - good society denim

So, my husband is rather tall... and rather thin. This poses numerous problems for him when purchasing clothing, particularly pants. When I started this project, I included him in it as well. However, as you might suspect, there are far fewer options for sustainable menswear out there than women's. In fact, I don't believe we have successfully purchased an item of clothing for him yet this year. Well, you can imagine my excitement when one of the only fair trade organic denim distributors, Good Society, came up for sale on Pure Citizen... for 50% off! We had been burned ordering pants online for him before, so we were hesitant. But they had a slim fit style that claimed to have a 34 inch inseam. So, we tried it.Low and behold... these jeans fit him better than any other pair he's ever purchased! He put them on an instantly a smile came across his face. Jeans that don't fall off without a belt... and don't reveal his shins when he sits down? A miracle.


Art Fair Necklace - courtney fischer jewelry

One of the things I love most about the Ann Arbor Art Fair is the smaller jewelry vendors that set up in the back alleys and sidewalks. They are the best way to bring home something one-of-a-kind without paying an arm and a leg. Last time I went I bought a huge ring carved out of real wood that still had moss on the side of it. This year, I got this cool sculptural necklace from Courtney Fischer Jewelry.
I had never seen anything like it before. She cuts all the metal herself and does her own patinas. This one looks like aged copper and somehow manages to be both a neutral (ie. goes with everything) and colorful piece at the same time. Courtney also offered to re-cut the chain so it would be the perfect length for me. Love it!


Organic Alternatives - Hair Cut and Color - salon re:

One of the things that I knew would be difficult when I started this blog was finding an eco-friendly and non-toxic way to get my hair cut and colored. I looked around online for different natural and organic hair dyes, but I knew that my current stylist wouldn't get behind it and I figured I'd have to do it myself. I was lamenting all of this to my sister-in-law one day and she told me that her friend Kelly styled hair at an eco-friendly salon! Perfect.
In addition to using reclaimed materials and eco-friendly paint to construct the building, Salon Re: also uses water saving hair wash basins, natural cleaning products, and maybe the coolest thing - they donate all of their cut hair to Matter of Trust, an organization that makes hair mats to help clean up oil spills. Kelly uses a variety of low toxicity products, including yogurt and plant-based colors and lighteners. The salon also carries some great lines of natural hair care products, some that even come in compostable containers, that I'm excited to try when my current products run out.Overall it was a great experience. My least favorite thing about leaving the salon after getting my hair dyed has always been the smell. In fact, I usually wash my hair a couple times right away just to try to get it out. Not this time! My hair smells like flowers and spices, not chemicals. Thanks Kelly!


Organic Alternatives - Movie Candy - justin's peanut butter cups and surf sweets jelly beans

We've been working our way through the series all summer, and on Friday my husband and I planned to watch the 3-part finale* of Battlestar Galactica (don't knock it 'til you've tried it. it rocks.) Earlier in the week we had been grocery shopping and came across some fair trade and organic versions of some of our favorite candy, so we snagged them to enjoy during our triple feature.
I'm a chocoholic so I chose Justin's Organic Peanut Butter Cups. The note on the packaging was cute, so I'll just let them speak for me here.
Think of your favorite peanut butter cup. Next, magnify that feeling by a gazillion - that's ours. Nuts? Yes. Crazy? No. Just imagine what happens when I take the best tasting organic peanut butter in the world and delicately place it into the highest quality organic fair trade chocolate available. Yup. Peanut butter cup perfection.
Ok, so that may be a tad hyperbolic, but they certainly were tasty and had a depth of flavor that you don't often (read: ever) get with candy filled with tons of fake ingredients.
Josh can't get enough of chewy fruity candy, so he chose Surf Sweets Jelly Beans. He's tried a few different kinds of organic fruity candy in the past and we always say the same thing... "it actually tastes like fruit!!" He was kind enough to share some with me and they were delicious. I liked the grapefruit flavor the best.

I'm not sure I could ever be one of those natural eaters who gives up candy and treats and only eats raw veggies and grains. But I do think I can be someone who tries to eat only natural/organic/fair trade foods. These candies obviously cost more, but the end result is worth it, for all parties involved. (plus, the fact that it costs more means i'll eat it less often.) And I really can't say enough about how important I think fair trade is. If I can find a fair trade version of a food I like to eat, I can't think of an excuse not to choose it.

* We absolutely loved the series and would recommend it to anyone; however, the finale did disappoint in just a couple ways... as finales often do (see: LOST). No worries though; it will still go down in history as one of my favorite shows ever.