Let’s Talk about Faux Fur

Fur vs. faux fur. As an ethical consumer, faux is the obvious choice when one wants a little furry flair, right? In a 2017 article for the Los Angles Times, Janet Kinosian wrote that faux fur “offers you a chance to look festive … without the guilt.” However, the choice is a little more complex than Kinosian makes it out to be.

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At a glance, the option that doesn’t require the death of animal is the most ethical choice. Duh. But it turns out faux fur is just the lesser of two evils, so it is still, to some degree, evil. The synthetic material that fake fur is made out of is pretty much just plastic, meaning it’s likely to never biodegrade. (Real fur will eventually biodegrade even though it is heavily treated with chemicals to preserve it.) This is an issue in itself, but it is especially an issue when these faux fur coats are bought more for trend than for warmth. Meaning, when people buy them they aren’t planning on breaking them out every winter but, rather, to wear them once or twice for fun. They end up in a landfill in a jiffy.

This coat is made up of 34% polyester and 66% modacrylic. Both of these materials cause harm to ocean-dwellers as well as being toxic to us, as a 2015 study released in Scientific Reports revealed that these fibers were found in the bellies of fish being sold at markets in California. Growing research compiled by Patagonia shows that these micro-plastic fibers are released when we wash any clothing item made from synthetic material, but a coat like this, which sheds without any prompting, will release any especially large quantity of microplastic fibers.

I’m obviously not here to tell you that you need to avoid all faux fur because, as pictured, that would be a bit hypocritical. Instead, proceed with caution. I know my personal style well enough at this point to know that I am actually going to wear a crazy piece like this a ton, and not just chunk it after newness of it wears off. When purchasing, really think about if it’s just impulse or something you will wear a lot. Whatever you buy, buy second hand. It’s best not to contribute to companies creating cheap synthetic fur, as this just send them to signal to keep on creating more indestructible plastic coats. Just continue the life of an old one. I bought this one at Goodwill, and lots of other thrift stores have tons of wacky coats like it. When it comes to releasing fibers in the wash, Patagonia is one of the first companies to invent the “GUPPYFRIEND” Washing Bag–a bag to put synthetic clothing in that catches the little fibers. (This is useful for other clothing, as well.) I have yet to invest in one of these because, full disclosure, I don’t think coats need to be washed too often and plan on climbing that hill when I get to it.

Make whatever fashion statements you want, just make them informed.

The incredibly talented photographer who took these portraits is Kylie Atkinson, who you absolutely need to follow on Instagram this very minutes.

I Sew Because I Am an Artist (Not Because I Am a Woman)

Sometimes, I get a squirmy feeling in my chest when I tell people that I sew. It has less to do with me and more do with their reaction, which can go one of two ways: a very enthusiastic response about what a “classic” and “rare” woman I am, or a sort of sneer of confusion as to why I would want to partake of something considered part of women’s domestic past. These two responses land at opposite ends of the spectrum but are both rooted in the same misconception about what it means to be a sewist. Both see sewing as a submission to a woman’s traditional role in society, and both are wrong.

Assuming that I sew because I am trying to fulfill my role as “good woman” is not only insulting to women, but it is insulting to the craft. Often, popular understanding of what constitutes art is far too narrow. For most of my life when people asked me if I was “artsy” I felt compelled to tell them no, because I am not some type of painter or illustrator as people usually assume is attached to the title of artist.

Our culture leads us to believe creative activities historically associated with women, such as cooking and sewing, aren’t art. Yet, everything about them is artful. Art is not easily defined, and that is the way it should be. The only requirement I attach to the definition of art is creation. Sewing is creation. Looking at a rectangle of color and being able to envision it as something whole, to see exactly where I would place the darts and what accent colors would make it pop, to translate a piece of nothing into an expression of my being–I dare you to tell me it isn’t art.

Sometimes the people who reject sewing as art are well-meaning progressive women who just never want to be forced to squeeze into a traditional role. This fear of this forced assimilation is totally valid, but the way it is expressed is not helping anyone. It’s not feminist to reject and shame things that are traditionally feminine. Feminism is about the choice to express ourselves however we want. But it’s also about dissociating traditionally “feminine” things with negativity. That means supporting women and recognizing their artistic expression as valid, even if it is different from the way we choose to express ourselves. It’s an important act feminism to reclaim textile art as just that–art. Detach art from the gender binary. Give sewing the power and reverence it was neglected for far too long.

What other arts have we neglected because they are seen as feminine? Maybe we’ve never thought of our grandmas as artists but maybe they are the most artful members of our families.

I encourage you to give Faith Ringgold, Suzan Engler, and Toshiko MacAdam a search to see just how broad and innovative textile and fiber art can be.

Upcycled Embroidered Mom Jeans

I wanted to sew over winter break, but did not quite have the time to commit to a full-on project. So, I grabbed a handful of embroidery threads and dug through my closet to find some pieces that I had neglected for too long.

The fun part of this project was that I sat down with zero plan. I just put on a documentary and let myself start mindless cutting shapes. I am usually such a planner, but it always surprises me what I can create if I get out of my own way.

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Embroidery doesn’t have to be complicated to look cool. I stuck with the simple blanket stitch to finish off the edges and make every cutout colorful. It’ll take you minutes to learn if you google it.

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This pocket is my absolute favorite part. I love that the denim underneath is a bit darker so it really stands out. Also, thanks to my sister for taking this picture of my butt, along with all of the others. A true team player.

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I 100% recommend trying to embellish pieces of your wardrobe before tossing them. This project was a quick creative outlet that took an old pair of jeans from neutral to unique.

Make It Last: How to Mend Your Own Clothes

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Sewing is a practice of sustainability. You probably forgot sewing was an actual skill-set and not just the punchline of sexist jokes. However, producing, consuming, and throwing away fewer pieces of clothing all hinge on one habit– keeping your clothes for longer. When you dance a little too hard and a hole materializes in the armpit of your favorite top, don’t just throw it away. That’s your favorite top, darn it. A lot of people are held back by the assumption that they are not skilled enough to fix their clothing or that it is a skill that older, more feminine humans are supposed to learn. I do not care how old you are or what your gender identity is, you can and should learn how to mend your own clothing. Emphasis on can.

I may tell you some things that would make my mother’s professional-seamstress-heart cry, but it will get you through. I’m not going to make my own tutorials because there already so many great ones out there, so I will just link you to think ones that are most helpful.

Create a small kit.

This shouldn’t cost more than seven dollars, and should last a long time. Items on this list can be purchased from your favorite craft store, Walmart, or stolen from your grandmother’s house.

  • scissors
  • a package of needles (I always get the widest eyes to make threading easier.)
  • black and white thread (You’ll almost always sew from the inside, so they won’t be seen anyway.)
  • a cheap pin and cushion set
  • a good attitude (You got this!)

How to repair a hole in most garments.

This video from youtuber Koumori No Hime Cosplay is so clear and simple, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. This can go for any hole, not just one in a seem. The ladder stitch makes the thread almost invisible.

How to repair a hole in a sweater, specifically.

This video by Professor Pincushion is a bit similar to the first video that I linked, but it contains some important information pertaining specifically to sweaters. When a clothing item is knitted, a hole could cause the entire garment to unravel, so sewing up a hole takes just a bit of extra care.

How to sew on a button.

I love that giant button. Also, Nicki Callahan’s dolphin simile: 10/10. Anyway, everyone needs to know how to sew on a button. This video makes it super easy to see how it is done.

Ending thoughts: security over beauty. When you’re repairing a garment, you’re usually going to flip it inside out, so you’re not going to see the stitching anyway. Don’t worry about perfection, your clothes will appreciate the TLC nonetheless. If you’re getting frustrated, take a break.

If you’re financially secure enough, you can just pay a tailor to do it. They’ve got to put bread on the table too. It’s important to know how to fix something in a pinch, but it’s no less sustainable to pay a professional if you can afford it.

Creative Color Blocking

The best part of 2018 is that I got to live out the purple eyeshadow look of my  junior-high dreams.

I spent a weekend in Oklahoma with my friends a week or two ago, and forgot most of my accessories at home, per usual. I did remember my tooth brush for once, so it was a partial-win.

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I put on my favorite mustard colored turtleneck and orange scarf, but still felt like I need a bit more color. I have been layering my square scarves over my turtlenecks lately. I’m sure I’m not the first to do this, but I haven’t been seeing it around much, so I just gave it a go and liked the results.

Makeup can play a big role in a finished look, so I decided to go bold and add the finishing element to my color blocking look with eyeshadow.

I have been seeing matte single-color eyeshadow looks quite a bit on my instagram feed, but this was the first time I tried it out for myself. Honkytonkwomann is one of my favorites who has been rocking it for a while and inspired me to try it out. I raided my friend Ryan’s eyeshadow pallets, and found a bright purple that looked good with my skin tone and complemented the yellow and orange in my outfit. I think people often shy away from bright makeup, fearing that it will turn out looking like they’re stuck in the 1980s (which I don’t see as a problem, but whatever). However, I think this look is a lot more reminiscent of the playful 1960s’. Especially with some winged eyeliner.

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I know bright eyeshadow is usually considered a fashion-don’t. But style is personal, and does not have to fit into conventional standards. Do your thing. If something looks like fun, try it out. You may surprise yourself.

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.

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.