Handmade and Recyled Holiday Gift Guide

For the good of humanity, I am exposing what I plan to give all of my friends for Christmas. I don’t want you to give your friends another round of body sprays you got on sale at Bath and Body Works this year. You’re better than that. Instead, take a look at how I plan to up-cycle most of the gifts I am giving this holiday season. I hope you’ll see that recycling or hand-making gifts does not have to look cheap and obvious.

Wax Food Wraps from Recycled Fabric


This is the perfect gift to passive aggressively prompt your friends and family to be more environmentally conscious! Wax food wraps have been all over the internet this year and it turns out they can be made fairly easily and almost entirely out of recycled materials. You’ll need fabric (cotton, or anything thick with no stretch), beeswax, and parchment paper. Separate them into gift sets of three or four different sizes, and add a label that explains to wash them in cold water and use around 150 times.

Do not buy new fabric to make these. Instead, turn first to what you have laying around. That bag of clothes you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill? Search it for pieces you can cut up into squares. If you can’t find anything, thrift. Thrift store usually have tons of fabric in bags on the back shelves but you could also buy clothing pieces to cut up for this too. Just throw them all in the wash before using. I actually already own tons of fabric scraps from past projects, so this is a great way to use up fabric that might otherwise go to waste. There is a way to make these in the oven and with a clothing iron. I’m linking tutorials to both because I definitely didn’t come up with either of these methods. I’m planning on experimenting with some other kinds of waxes for my vegan pals.

Treats to Go With

If you want to try making wax wraps, some kind of baked good would pair marvelously as a gift. Even if you are not much of a baker, there are tons of classic Christmas favorites like chocolate dipped pretzels, which are impossible to mess up. However, I feel like most people have at least one recipe that they really enjoy making, so I say go with what you’re best at doing. This adds a little more depth to the gift and gives you an opportunity to show the recipient how to use the wax wraps.

Books

Books are one of the greatest gifts of all time. From an objective perspective, of course. You can buy them second hand form your local book store, and will probably be able to find almost any book you looking for, or you can take time and dig through thrift store stacks. I think a book that was picked out with the recipient in mind is such a thoughtful gift. Add a note to the book about why you liked it or why you picked it out for your specific friend. Small personal touches make all of the difference when gifting.

Mugs

I am guilty of giving mugs as gift way, way, way too often. But who can’t use another quirky mug? I love finding super weird vintage mugs at second hand stores and antique stores. They are never too expensive and are always unique. I bought my sister one that said “sisters are forever” on it, which is wonderfully ominous. These can be filled with cookies and treats, or paired with some nice tea. If you are feeling more crafty, search Goodwill for some blank mugs and design a personalized mug. Using a sharpie, draw flowers, quotes, inside jokes, or obscure tv references only your friend would understand. They Sky is the limit. Then, put them in the oven for 20 minutes at around 350 degree, and then let them cool inside.

Gift Wrapping

I may be giving you the same advice over and over again, but a lot of people do not realize the variety of things you can thrift. On the back shelves in thrift stores there are giant bags full of ribbons and lace for just a couple of dollars. All of the notions pictured above were from thrift store grab bags. (And for you nitpicky readers, I know two of those are bias tape, but they work just as well as ribbon, promise.) I think tying up a gift in a bow, with no wrapping paper, is a super simple way to make your gift pretty with out a bunch of excess. Try using book pages to make gift labels or wrap small gifts. I also grabbed some pretty colored paint chips from the hardware store to make gift labels. I don’t think this counts as recycling but it is cute and free, which is also nice.

Bonus (for the brave):

Embroidery! It is not as hard as many people assume that it is. Shirts with little embroidered phrases or symbols are all the rage. There are tones of blank t-shirts in all colors and sizes at thrifts stores. Pick one up at Goodwill, a 50 cent package of embroidery thread (that stuff you used to make friendship bracelets in sixth grade) and needles, and just spend a little time trial-and-erroring and youtubing. This is another way to make a super personal, inexpensive, and recycled gift. This video is a super simple guide to a few different stitches.

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I suppose I should end this post with an apology to my friends and family for telling them (and all of the internet) what they are getting for Christmas. I’m not going to do that, though.

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 google. 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.

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.

 

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.

 

Back in Time

Let’s go back in time. I don’t mean to the 1960s’ as my outfit might lead you to believe. (I’d rather stay in 2018, thank you very much.) I am referring to close to two months ago when this photo set was taken by my dear friend, Andrea.


I made this dress YEARS ago. When I was in the 11th grade, I decided to make this dress, inspired by Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart phase. Thankfully, I still had pretty good taste back then, as this hot pink mini dress has stood the test of time.



It is crazy that I’ve waited so long to post these pictures considering how awesome Andrea did taking these. This was from one of the last times I hung out with my friends before leaving on a super long trip.


If you didn’t know, I’ve been in Hong Kong teaching English for the summer and I’m current in Cambodia. I have been insanely busy since the minute I got on the first plane, which is why I sat on this post for so long. It’s been a once in a life time experience for sure. I apologize for any mistakes in this post as I only have access to the internet through my phone right now. I am sorry to be so short but am excited to begin posting more in the weeks to come!

Thanks for your patience.

Early Summer Sunset

Summer weather recently hit the Midwest full force and I am 100% more of a person than I was before it came. I always forget how much more alive I feel in the sunshine.

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I love novelty prints and bright colors no matter the season. However, I look a lot less out of place in the summer. Believe it or not, this is not the only lemon printed shirt that I own. I bought this shirt in high school, but these vintage peachy shorts were a recent Salvation Army purchase.

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This girl loves to be ridiculously matchy-matchy, hence the shirt and scarf combination, so I had to grab this lemon mug at Goodwill. It was fate. Besides tied scarves, which are a personal favorite in every season, my favorite accessories for the summer are colorful barrettes. They are a simple way to add some extra color to an outfit, especially for us short-haired girls who don’t have many options for switching up hairstyles. I like stacking several colors, especially yellow, orange, and pink as they resemble a sunset. Just pick up a rainbow pack from your favorite store in the little girls’ section (no shame).

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Velco sneakers are comfy, casual, and quirky. They add a silly touch to my already fairly silly outfit. Shoes always make the final decision about how casual or dressed up an outfit is, making these shoes perfect for everyday summer looks. I love to wear dresses on a daily basis and these shoes are the perfect paring to keep me from being too overdressed, if one believes in such a thing.

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This is one of the first summers I won’t be spending my time in class or working. I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities to travel, which is why I have gone back to a lower maintenance hair color. I am not sure what my blogging schedule will be like, but I am excited to find more unique places to take pictures as well as just to soak up new experiences.

Spring Break – Handmade Fashion

IT’S SPRING BREAK, FOLKS. Well, it’s almost spring break, at least. Today’s outfit is reflective of the care-free times and sunny weather that I am wishing for all of us.

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This bright yellow and peach top is a result of me experimenting with pattern-free sewing. The style is mega simple. It is just a straight tank with no darts of any kind. Seriously, this tank was laughably simple to make. However, I’ll admit, being hecka flat-chested made this project much easier for me than the average girl, as this fabric has no stretch. This fabric was bought second-hand from a vintage shop in Siloam Springs, AR. I love vintage florals; they are so much more vibrant than a lot of the floral prints in stores today.

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Say hello to my favorite shoes of spring. Can you believe these dreamy rainbow pastel shoes are so wearable? My mom gave me these Rocket Dog sneakers as a gift, and might I add, she has fantastic taste. My mother has always encouraged my fashion escapades, no matter how wild, and I am eternally grateful. Whether or not her keen eye for style was passed down to me, her appreciation of the strange and beautiful has made me the person I am today.

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I have owned several slightly different variations of these John-Depp’s-Willy-Wonka-esque glasses over the years. I am honestly not sure why I keep buying the same glasses, but they are still working for me. Also, I know you are coveting my high-end “aesthetic” bracelet. Too bad for you. It is one of a kind, made for me by my sister. I only wear the finest jewelry. 

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Since this fabric has such little stretch, I needed to create a way to actually fit my head through the collar. I used this as an opportunity to add a cute little bow detail to the back.

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There are not too many different hairstyles for short hair. On most days, I do not mind this at all, but when the weather is warm it is nice to get the hair out of my face with some little buns. It seems that this hair style is being referred to as “space buns” on the internet, although I have no idea where the name got its origin. My brother once referred to these buns as “the biscuits on your head,” so that works, too.

I hope you all have a fun (and safe) spring break!

Overall Style (Ethical Update)

As someone trying ardently to support sustainable and ethically conscious fashion, I have been thinking a lot about the effect of repping brands that I do not support anymore by continuing to wear their items. I have not come to a clear cut solution, but let me take you through my thought process. Maybe you will have some insight to offer me on the conversation.

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This outfit is old. I bought all of these pieces around two years ago. The shirt is from Forever 21, the overalls are from the Gap, the shoes were a gift, and the socks from an estate sale. When I bought this shirt, I still had not given up shopping at Forever 21. Knowing what I know now about their lack of transparency and many scandals, my Forever 21 days are long gone. However, I am often left questioning whether or not I should still wear the items that I already have from them, even if I am no longer currently shopping there.

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My first instinct was to say no. For the sake of starting over fresh in this ethical fashion process, I should purge my wardrobe of all of the remnants of my ignorance. I did not want anyone to accuse me of faking it or still supporting companies I claimed to renounce. I thought, if someone liked my shirt and asked where it was from, I would have to tell them I bought it at Forever 21 and then I would be unintentionally promoting them.

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After further thought, I have come to a different conclusion. If I still like the piece of clothing, even it is from a place I no longer support, I am going to keep wearing it until I am actually done with it. There is enough clothing waste in the world to begin with, and I cannot undo my past mistakes by being wasteful with the clothing items I have now. The only purpose ridding myself of the items would serve now is to make myself feel better without actually doing any good but adding to landfills and thrift store piles.

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We may want everything to be black and white, but sometimes the best solution is truly a nuanced one; a solution that takes more thought to arrive. Instead of being ashamed when someone asks where my top is from, I think it could actually be a great opportunity to spread awareness of ethical fashion. I can take the opportunity to briefly explain why I no longer shop there anymore.

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Living conscious of one’s effect on the world is not about rigidity and perfection. Being legalistic will ultimately cause frustration and failure. I am doing my best to hold myself to high standards without creating an atmosphere for disappointment. Have you been able to find a balance in your attempts to be conscious? Let me know your thoughts on this conversation, even if you disagree.

Let’s keep learning together and challenging one another!