Put a Sweater Under It

My fall and winter motto: put a sweater under it. Specifically, a turtleneck. This way, I can wear all of my favorite summer dresses all winter long and no one (or temperature) can stop me.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is the absolute best time in history to have ears because the earring trends are INSANE right now. I bought these earrings at Dig It in OKC and I can’t stop wearing them. They were super reasonably priced, too, at around $12. I’ve been trying to shop minimally for winter and fall, but these earrings were worth adding to my wardrobe.

I handmade this dress in early high school and it’s still going strong. A lot of the dresses I made back then are a little big on me now, but they actually work out perfectly for putting over sweaters. I loving mixing brighter colors with muted tones and pastels. 

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This outfit is full of pieces I’ve owned for years, yet I’m still finding new ways to style them. I totally recommend walking into your closet with a fresh mindset before you decide to go out and buy something new.

How to Know If a Brand is Sustainable, Greenwashing, or Just Hoping You Won’t Ask

Look, some clothing brands are like your toxic ex. They only pretend to clean up their act when they’re afraid you’ll leave them. That’s what we call greenwashing. The term has been floating around for years but is especially relevant as the idea of sustainability continues to gain popularity in the fashion world. In an article for the Guardian, Bruce Watson defines greenwashing as the name for when businesses “present themselves as caring environmental stewards, even as they [are] engaging in environmentally unsustainable practices.” Figuring out who is telling the truth, who is a good liar, and who isn’t even trying can feel messy, so I am detailing a few different ways to check up on a business’s sustainability practices.

Start on the website. Sometimes it is simpler than you think. If a brand is really transparent, they’re going to have the information easily accessible from their homepage. Being a responsible brand takes a lot of work, so bragging is of upmost priority. Compare, for example, the website’s of  Patagonia and Forever 21. “Inside Patagonia” lives at the top of the screen on Patagonia’s main menu bar, linking you directly to their sustainability practices. In contrast, you won’t find any information on Forever 21’s homepage until you scroll all the way to no man’s land at the bottom of the screen, where a “Social Responsibility” tab is found. Sometimes these tabs will have titles like “about” or “ethics statement” instead. If you’ve done all the clicking you can on your favorite brand’s site to no avail, then there is pretty much no chance they are sustainable. They aren’t even trying to pacify you. Although sometimes eagerness is a sign of greenwashing, generally brands that are green are going to be upfront about it.

Know difference between evidence and fluff. Ask yourself if the brand is just stating broad claims or if they are answering the question of how. I’m going to stick with our previous examples. Some companies’ whole idea of sustainability is writing somewhere on their website “We love the earth and care about our workers!” But, like, what does that even mean? How? In what specific ways are they proving that they care? If their CEO just sits in an office somewhere and thinks really, really hard about putting positive vibes into the universe, that’s not good enough. Look for meaningful and tangible evidence at a structural level. Sticking with our past examples, Patagonia’s information spans from how their cotton is produced to where their wool is sourced from to what a living wage means to them. That is evidence.

Fluff can take many shapes and forms. Often the brand’s fluff is some type of once a year event, like employees planting trees or a recycling drop-off, which may sound nice but in reality is irrelevant to what we are interested in– how the company functions on a structural level. The article “Selling and Sustainability Primer for Marketers” published by Futerra is actually meant for businesses to read rather than consumers, but it has an easy to read list of commonly used greenwashing techniques to look out for on page 11. Forever 21 is guilty of many of these, such as “Emphasizing one tiny green attribute when everything else is un-green.” It’s like throwing down a smoke bomb so they can run away. The first bullet on their sustainability page states that their shopping bags are recyclable. Cool beans, F21. I’ve never met a plastic bag that couldn’t be recycled. What’s going on in your factories?

Give that bad boy a goog. If you’ve read the sustainability page and are still feeling a little uneasy it’s fine to start broadly with Google. If it is a very large company, you may be able to find lots of articles or reports on it. If it has had any scandals, those will pop up pretty quickly. Use keyword like “ethics,” “sustainability,” or “factories.”

Know the difference in expectation for different business models. We have to have different expectations for different types and sizes of businesses. For instance, for a large brand it is important to look for information on factory emissions and fair wages. In comparison, when researching small businesses or local businesses, you may not need quite as much information to know that they are sustainable. When a business is small, they don’t have the means to be wasteful. If items are handmade and the staff is small, then there is no need to reject them for not having factory information because they don’t even have a factory. Unless they are outsourcing, just by the way that they are structured, smaller businesses are not going to be an issue. By the same logic, a fast fashion company cannot be truly sustainable by definition because they profit off of the concept of cheap, fast, and disposable. If you see a cute sweater in the window and know you can check back next week to find it on the clearance rack, the store is functioning under the fast fashion model.

It may feel daunting to do the research at first, but it gets way easier as you get used to it. As consumers, we decide what practices we are willing to condone with our dollars. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter.

One Year of Blogging: On Creativity and Well-Being

One year ago, I was a sophomore in college struggling with an anxiety diagnoses and general unhappiness that felt unjustified. I was doing all of the “right” things: volunteering, turning in assignments early, exercising daily, and eating healthy meals. I consumed myself in work and school, studying 24/7, partially fueled by intense anxiety about grades and the other half to avoid thinking about not having made the friends or built the life I had hoped to in school. I didn’t even listen to music anymore. I told myself I didn’t have time. I removed all avenues of beauty. Most people, professors and friends, patted me on the back. What a good student. Sarah’s such a hard worker.

To be fair, I paved this path to burnout myself. It was easier to feel like I was doing well when I was doing more than everyone else. I was deeply entrenched in the American ideology that my worth was only in my production. I treated myself like a machine.

I was not a machine.

Self-care is a hot topic right now, not just because bubble baths are nice, but, because we live in a culture that so desperately needs it. We and our parents and probably their parents work overtime and weekends. It’s what we are used to. It’s how we’ve all grown up. It took a season of panic attacks, of spending more time crying than not, of secluding myself from others to push me to ask myself what was wrong. I write a lot about sustainability on this blog. Here is something I know is unsustainable: measuring your worth by output. How much can I do? How high can I score? How far can I stretch?

So, one year ago, I challenged myself in a different way. I asked my friend Ryan to show me how to set up a blog. I wanted to keep myself accountable to do something that wasn’t measurably productive. I wanted to bring creativity back into my life but I knew that if I didn’t set myself up to be accountable I’d eventually shirk it off for things that felt more “valuable”.

Creativity is life-giving. There is something vital to human wellness in the act of creating that we can’t get anywhere else. I believe that the need to create is present inside of all humans, but it’s a part of our identity that we often ignore. It cannot be done quickly. It is not a formula. It does not make sense with conventional values of success. And yet it’s the very slowness of creativity that, in many ways, saves us from ruin.

I am not saying that blogging cured my anxiety and workaholism. (Surprise! It doesn’t work that way. I saw a professional and went on medication as well. I do not advocate ANYTHING as a substitute for that.) But weaving creativity back into my daily life, the act of writing, allowing myself to put together colorful outfits again, helped me reshape what I saw as meaningful. Slowly, it brought balance and beauty back into my life. Even though I still have hard days, I am overwhelmingly happier with my life now than I was a year ago.

Sometimes I feel completely hopeless and stuck and I can’t do anything about it. I can journal and talk my friends’ ears off and pray until I exhaust myself. I just have to live until it passes. But sometimes, I can sit down and brain storm ideas for blog posts, or come up with a photo shoot idea, or sit in my closet for hours creating new pairings. I can feel my heart jolt back to life a little bit.

Blogging is an expression of my need to create. And maybe it isn’t yours. But I hope you find the thing that you love, something that probably isn’t useful on your resume, and I hope you do it. You deserve to enjoy your life. Maybe it is too simple a thing to say, but I sure need to hear it sometimes. If no one has told you today, you are vast. There is a whole world inside of you that is not meant to stay there. The things inside of you are worth being expressed and shared.

Thank you for this past year, for being a part of my little victories. I hope to be a part of yours too.

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I write a lot about where to and not to shop, but another side of sustainability deals with how much to shop as well. I’m often tempted to buy gobs of new cozy sweaters at Goodwill the seconds the temperature drops in the slightest. This season I’ve made it a goal to purchase as few pieces as possible while still keeping my look fresh for fall.

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Nothing about this look is tired even though every item except one is from AT LEAST a year ago. Getting the full use out of my items is a big part of creating less clothing waste. I kind of enjoy the creative challenge of restyling my old pieces into new outfits.

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Playing with accessories and layering is one of the best ways to make an old outfit new. I bought this vintage coat from Re-Runs in Kansas City and it is going to make my entire wardrobe feel like new. This coat is a 1960’s piece that probably originally came in a set with a matching dress or skirt. It is unexpected to pair it with some ripped jeans, but I love styling a vintage piece in a modern way. If you’re in a bit of a rut, try searching out one or two pieces that really intrigue you instead of getting a whole new wardrobe.

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These pictures were taken by my favorite creative collaborator, Andrea Schultz. If you want to see more of her photography, check out her new website https://andreaschultz.blog/.

My Top 5 Ethical and Sustainable Brands

We are constantly consuming ads from fast fashion brands all over social media, but sometimes finding those careful and conscious brands seems like a lot of work. I have compiled a list of my favorite ethical brands, big and small, to make finding them a little easier.

Culture Flock

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Culture Flock creates playful and positive graphic tees and sweatshirts designed by artist right here in Missouri. They were an online only store for years, but, as of October 11th, they opened a brick and mortar store In Springfield, MO.

Price Range: $-$$

The prices are pretty typical, around $25 for tees and $45 for sweatshirts. Keep in mind that this is a small, artist run business creating unique and lasting designs, so these prices are not too shabby at all. Older designs will often be on sale for less, as well.

Ethics Statement:

“We design, create, and handprint all of our wearables in a historic warehouse space in downtown Springfield, MO. We print our designs on Bella + Canvas or Alternative Apparel clothing. Both of these manufacturers place a high priority on social responsibility & sustainable practices, which is why we’ve chosen to work with them.”

Uniqlo

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I have no words for Uniqlo. Or maybe too many. Considering Uniqlo is a large brand that can be found in malls, they do as much as a brand of their size can to reduce waste. They create high-quality basics that come in an array of different colors. Uniqlo is a great brand to use as the building blocks of your wardrobe. And might I add, the pieces I own from Uniqlo are all very professional and COMFY AS HECK. Although the best part of shopping ethically is supporting smaller brands, shop here if you need something in a crunch and don’t have time to search.

Price Range: $ !!!

One of the most inexpensive sustainable brands on the known planet, probably. They have the closest rival in pricing to fast fashion brands.

Ethics Statement:

Here is a link to Uniqlo’s sustainability page. It is information overload in the best way possible. The more information a company can give us on their sustainability practices, the better.

Uniqlo seeks to reduce waste by creating long lasting products and making sure their products that are no longer being used are given to those in need if in good condition or recycled if no longer wearable. Their recycling program is much more nuanced and further developed than the gimmicky one put on by H&M. How clothes are recycled is tailored specifically to the area each store is placed.

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Take a look at number 4. “Clothing is delivered in consideration of local needs, climate, culture, and religion.” This program is incredible well thought out and there is plenty more information available.

I could summarize all day, but instead take a look at their site to see further information on their factories and values.

Big Bud Press

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Not to be dramatic, but I love Big Bud Press more than I love myself. Big Bud offers a line  of colorful unisex clothing that is made in LA. They have t-shirts, jumpsuits, fanny-packs, trousers, backpacks and more.

Price Range: $$-$$$

A bit on the pricier side, with t-shirts coming in at about $40 and jumpsuits at $160. But hot dang, those jumpsuits get me every time. You get what you pay for with this brand: a unique item that is packed full of fun.

Ethics Statement:

“All of Big Bud’s products are very proudly USA made and we take pride in our high quality and attention to detail!” This statement doesn’t seem like much, right? So, how do I know that they’re ethical?

They don’t have all the information on their main website, but they are very transparent on social media. There is a highlight on their Instagram dedicated to production, where they keep videos of their items being sewn and t-shirts being printed. As a smaller brand, they do not have to worry as much about producing excess waste. Any defective or messed up items are sold at deeply discounted sales rather than being thrown out.

Everlane

Hip and minimalist are the two words I would use to describe Everlane. They have quality constructed basics, but basics that are very “in”. They offer a few different styles in several different muted tones.

Price Range: $$-$$$

I like to use t-shirts as a comparison point, so note that Everlane’s tees fall around $32 dollars. Denim runs around $68, but they are built to last. I would note that they seem to run a little small, as I has trouble fitting into a pair in my usual size.

Ethics Statement:

“We spend months finding the best factories around the world–the same ones that produce your favorite designer labels. We visit them often and build strong personal relationships with the owners. Each factory is given a compliance audit to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environment. Our goal? A score of 90 or above for every factory.”

Everlane also offers a break down of how much their items cost to make, and then shows how much they charge in comparison. “Radically transparent” is there motto.

Click through profiles of every one of their factories here.

Patagonia

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Surprise! The choice attire of frat boys everywhere is actually one of the leading brands in sustainability.

Ethics Statement:

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Patagonia offers ambitiously comprehensive information on their production on their website. They offer insight on everything from the growing of their organic cotton to their fair trade certified factories. They even give grants to grass roots activists around the word to further environmentalism outside of their company as well. They also have a section of their website titled “Worn Wear” which offers used Patagonia gear at a discounted price.

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This is just scratching the surface on brands that offer a plethora of different styles without harming humanity or the only earth we’ve got. If you didn’t see a brand that piqued your interest, I hope you were, at least, able to see that there is no reason to settle for fast fashion brands.

Summer’s Last Hurrah

It may not be summer anymore but this is my last warm weather look for the season. It’s not actually getting cold, I am just trying to will the universe into submission by wearing turtlenecks.

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This post is mostly going to be a photo-drop, but if you’ll notice I’m taking a bit of my own advice from Daytime Disco Dress. This rainbow crop-top is 1980’s piece I picked up from the OKC Mod Swap. I balanced it out a bit by wearing jeans, but kept it fun with my Classic Sarah (TM) yellow beret and some bubblegum pink Keds.

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These photos were taken by my multi-faceted friend Andrea Schultz. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve seen her fabulous work many times. She is launching her website soon, and you can (and should) keep an eye out for it by watching her Instagram.

This blog is about to turn one years old! What should I do for my blog-birthday post? Help me decide in the comments.

 

How to Shop Ethically While Traveling

A souvenir does not have to be an “I heart NYC” shirt or a gator head bought at a gas station in Florida. Shopping ethically during my travels this summer was actually helpful to both my wallet and to meeting the luggage weight limit. I ended up only coming home with items that I really loved instead of tons of gaudy chotchkies. Here are some tips I learned throughout my travels this summer.

Thrift stores are unique in every city.

Every city has a unique style. I find that when I am in a new city, I start to notice small details about how the people there dress differently than I’m used to seeing back home. A thrift store will also contain these little nuances, so don’t feel weird about stopping at Goodwill in a new city. Even when traveling abroad, many places have thrift stores that go by a different name, such as a charity shop. A unique item you spend time searching for carries sentimental value and an ability to remind you of your travels (maybe even more than a snow globe). The main difference is that you will actually use it instead of having it sit on your shelf or in the back of your closet.

Keep your eye out for vintage shops.

In New York City I was SURROUNDED by vintage stores. It was heaven. Some of the coolest parts of the city I visited were because I searched for the locations of a few vintage shops online and then just branched out and explore the surrounding area.

Look for local art shops.

No matter where you go, there will probably be a community of local artist trying to make it. Look for places that real people are designing and selling things they make. It is not hard to do a quick google search. You can find much more eclectic t-shirt designs that locals actually wear or just generally interesting items.

Do your research and read the tags.

If you have access to your phone, the world is your fair-trade and sustainably farmed oyster. Google to your hearts content. I am not going to lie to you and say that shopping ethically while you travel is easy, but it is definitely possible and accessible if you are willing to put a little effort into it. I made a practice of reading the tags on items to see if their is any information on its origins, and was surprised to find that if an item is sustainable or ethical, it is usually eager to tell you so. Don’t be afraid to ask store owners or workers about where their clothing is made. If something looks suspicious, it probably is.

Get creative.

Don’t be afraid to bring home more obscure souvenirs. Locally roasted coffee beans (the bag will usually indicate if they’re fair-trade) or books about the new place. If you are traveling abroad, always grab different types of candy and snacks from the country. I have a friend who grabs business cards from all of the different places she visits. You are only as limited as your mind.

 

 

Daytime Disco Dress

One of my friends told me I looked like Hannah Montana in this outfit. No shame in dressing like a pop star every once in a while.

Often times, people will compliment my outfit and say something along the lines of, “I could never pull that off.” My response to this is always a resounding, “NOOOOOO.” Nothing makes me sadder than hearing that people aren’t dressing the way they want to simply because they feel that they aren’t the “right” type of person. You just need a little bit of courage and lot of sense of humor to put on that sparkly dress you want to wear even if you’re just going to brunch. The number one piece of advice I’d share about taking fashion risks is to understand that, unless you’re going to work, there is no reason to take fashion seriously. Play with it. Like I said earlier, people makes jokes about my outfits or say that I dress like a cartoon, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. If I put on something I love and it is a little weird, I just keep in mind that people will probably think so. For every person who doesn’t get your style, there will be tons more who are into your creativity and willingness to break the status quo.

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However, I did make some conscious accessory choices to help keep the outfit from being entirely distasteful. When I wear a really attention grabbing statement piece, I like to choose accessories that won’t compete for the attention. Sneakers and a denim jacket help tone this dress down, taking it from night club to casual. I still kept the beret and sneakers colorful because that’s my thing. It works even though the dress is so loud because the colors are in smaller doses.

Almost all of the items in the outfit were thrifted. Except the coffee.

Go forth and make fashion fools of yourselves. It’s a lot of fun.

Hot Take: Is H&M Recycling a Scam?

H&M has been advertising a program in which the buyer donates their old clothing to their local H&M for recycling in exchange for 15% off of their next purchase. Sounds pretty awesome right? Is it, though?

No? Maybe. Kind of.

I’d advise a healthy dose of suspicion toward fast fashion companies in general, but especially when they suddenly advertise their image in a way that is contrary to their entire system of functioning. Being “sustainable” and having a new display of clothing every week is just not compatible. It is important to ask what H&M’s motive is and even to question our own motive in participating.

This fast fashion company has gotten in trouble in the past for the mass shredding of never before sold or worn clothing. The recycling program, which has been going on for a couple of years, if my memory serves me correctly, is part of an attempt to shine up the store’s sullied image. Trying to clean their image is not a problem necessarily, but it is not entirely genuine.

The 15% off coupon is a huge incentive for most people, considering H&M’s already low prices. If a person drops off one bag of clothing and leaves with three new bags, has anything good truly been accomplished? It seems like one step forward and two steps back. It has the potential to create more waste than it eliminates.

It is also important to consider that clothing recycling is not magic. The act of shipping the clothing around and breaking it down for re-use is also a use of resources. A good use of them, but maybe your clothing could have a second life on a friend or in a re-sale shop before needing to reach its final demise. It is a fairly new practice that is rigorous and in need of more research for efficiency.

Recycling is always better than throwing away, but it is not better than not creating or consuming excess in the first place.

The final decision and conclusion is in your hands. Mostly, I urge you to never stop thinking critically.