Going Zero Waste, Part 2: Hygiene

Welcome to part 2 of my three-part series on my attempt to do a month of zero/low waste! Part 2 is about hygiene, so WARNING: If you are uncomfortable with even thinking about bodily fluids, including blood, please don’t read this post. I don’t go into extremely graphic detail, but I’m not going to mince my words either.

I’ve organized the contents of this post under four different headings—(1) snot (and a brief discussion of fingernails and hair), (2) menstruation, (3) toilets, and (4) toiletries—so if there is one hygiene item that you are particularly interested in, or one that you cannot stand, feel free to skip around the four sections!

1. Snot (and a brief discussion of fingernails and hair)

When M. and I began our month of zero/low waste (see my introduction post about that here), we already owned a stack of reusable “paper” towels (similar items include this and this), so we figured we could also use the reusable towels as handkerchiefs. After all, it was the beginning of autumn, and sniffles were definitely on their way. As long as we did our laundry within a reasonable amount of time, we’d be okay, right? However, as the month went on, I realized that I have a huge reluctance to use reusable towels/handkerchiefs for nose blowing. I have some germophobic tendencies, and the idea of putting a mucus-covered piece of fabric in with the rest of my laundry completely grossed me out. Instead, I found myself reaching for toilet paper whenever I needed to clear my airways.

I realized that what I was doing wasn’t environmentally sound and that my feeling of disgust was not entirely rational, but I couldn’t bring myself to go all-in with the reusables. And because of my germophobic tendencies, I ended up throwing my used tissues into our landfill trash can, because it felt “wrong” to put my snot into the compost. After a couple of weeks of chucking tissues into the landfill, I decided that something needed to change. And the more I thought about, the stranger I felt about being so reluctant to put my used tissues into the compost. The compost contains rotting fruit and vegetables, for crying out loud! And I wasn’t not suffering from any deadly illnesses, so my used tissues probably wouldn’t pose any more of a biohazard than a pile of decomposing fruit. If I was going to use toilet paper to blow my nose, at the very least I could compost the used paper, and that’s what I started doing. I felt a little better about that decision, but not that much better. Even now, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to use reusable handkerchiefs, but I am holding that in my mind as my goal. (M. is a lot less germophobic than I am, for better or worse, so he is succeeding in this arena much more than I am.)

I did/do feel okay sticking my fingernail clippings into the compost though. I rarely, if ever, use nail polish, so I figure my nail trimmings are organic enough to be composted. I also don’t dye my hair, so whenever I clean my hairbrush out I place the hair in the compost bin too. According to the internet, hair contains a good amount of nitrogen, so it’s great for soil!

2. Menstruation

I am a person who menstruates. Since M. and I decided to go for a full month of zero/low-waste living, I knew I was going to menstruate at least once during that period (hehe, punny). But could I menstruate and be zero waste?

See, I use pads. I have never liked tampons. I tried them once and did not particularly enjoy the sensation. I also tend to worry a lot, and when I was using the tampon I couldn’t stop worrying about toxic shock syndrome. Now, let me be clear: I am not judging anyone negatively for using or liking tampons. Tampons are just not for me. I love my pads. Unfortunately, the kind of pad that I grew up using is definitely single-use and chock-full of plastic, and that’s not doing the environment any favors.

I had first started hearing about menstrual cups a few years back, first from the internet and second from some friends who had tried them. While I really liked the sustainability of menstrual cups, they didn’t seem to be right for me, for the same reason why tampons aren’t right for me. So when I started thinking about the zero-waste month, menstrual cups didn’t even register in my mind.

Earlier that year though, I had gone with J., a good friend, to a feminist bookstore in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (go support Bluestockings bookstore if you can, they’re amazing!). We were browsing the knickknacks section, because knickknacks, and I noticed some cloth pads for sale. Reusable. Cloth. Menstrual. Pads! I was very, very excited, and I added a pad to my purchase. By September, I still had not tried the pad out yet, but now I didn’t have any excuses. If my month of zero waste wasn’t the perfect time to try this out, then when was?

Unfortunately, I only had one pad, which meant I couldn’t be zero waste for a full week of menstruation unless I really wanted to test the limits of my personal hygiene. So my goal became to replace at least one disposable pad during that week with my reusable one, and I succeeded! During my second day of menstruation in September, I used the pad for several hours with very minimal leakage (and the leakage that did happen was partially a result of my improper placement of the pad).

Then came time to clean the pad. That was. . . interesting. I am not squeamish about blood if it is my own (and fortunately I haven’t had to see much of anyone else’s), so cleaning the pad wasn’t necessarily “gross.” But it was a little messy. The sink immediately filled with red when I started rinsing the pad, and it took several minutes for the water to start running clear. And I think many menstruating people know about the “chunkiness.” So that was, ahem, fun.

But actually though. Actually it was kind of fun. Some part of me enjoyed being so literally in touch with my menstrual cycle. And I really, really liked knowing that I had avoided tossing one more disposable pad into the landfill.

After rinsing out the pad, I soaked it overnight in some water (in a closed, lidded jar), which took care of most of the staining (although some staining seemed inevitable). Shortly thereafter, I started actively hunting for more reusable menstrual pads. I bought some online, and then I found a supply at the Dill Pickle Co-op. I’ve been slowly incorporating more reusable pads into my menstruation routine. Last month I almost went for an entire cycle without disposables! It is harder to use reusable pads when I’m in my office, because there aren’t any private sinks in my workplace’s bathroom, so I can’t really rinse anything out when I want to switch to a fresh pad without creating a very awkward situation. But I’m hoping I can figure out a solution, because my ultimate goal is to go a full menstrual cycle without any disposables! (Stay tuned for a separate blog post where I’ll review all of the different reusable pads I’ve been using!)

3. Toilets

When M. and I started planning our zero waste month, I very briefly considered trying a bidet. Very briefly. I’m not a stranger to bidets nor am I opposed to them, but during my exploration of this idea I quickly realized that installing a bidet would be an investment. Tushy has a fairly affordable option (less than $100), but M. and I don’t own our apartment. While I don’t think we’ll be switching residences anytime soon, I don’t want to sink money into a piece of equipment that might be difficult (and possibly icky) to uninstall and reinstall multiple times in case we ever did move. I think a bidet will be in my future if I ever end up owning property, but it’s not suitable for me at the moment.

TL;DR: we didn’t extend our zero-waste practices to our toilet-sitting time. 😀

4. Toiletries

There wasn’t much we could change toiletries-wise during our official month of low/zero waste because we still had full tubes of toothpaste and containers of floss to use up, and prematurely disposing of those would have been very, well, wasteful. M. also didn’t want to give up his brand of very mainstream toothpaste because he feared that the more natural toothpastes would not be as effective. Personally, I don’t think M.’s concern is warranted, but I didn’t want to push the issue.

Now that, in February of 2018, I am nearing the end of my toothpaste tube, I do want to switch to something more sustainable, but for me the issue is slightly more complicated as I am currently using Sensodyne under my dentist’s recommendation. Admittedly, I haven’t done any research into whether there is a more sustainable toothpaste that would provide the same benefits as Sensodyne. (If you know of any, please comment below!) I’m also not ready to go the route of making my own, so in this arena we’re definitely not zero waste.

I did do a little research into some sustainable flosses and toothbrushes. Package Free introduced me to a brand of silk flosses that are stored in beautiful and recyclable glass containers. And Package Free has bamboo toothbrushes too—the handles are compostable, and the bristles are plant-based (but unfortunately not compostable). I haven’t tried the toothbrushes myself yet, but I did gift one to M. and so far he hasn’t complained! It’s also much more aesthetically pleasing than the bright neon plastic toothbrushes that we are used to. I’m hoping to switch to bamboo toothbrushes myself soon, but every time I am back home in Brooklyn I forget to pack my toothbrush and so I end up grabbing a new plastic one and then now I have double the plastic toothbrushes. Major zero waste fail.

Alright, so that’s my summary of the attempts I made at zero-waste hygiene during the month of September 2017. Part 3, about zero-waste packaging, sustainable transit, and my final thoughts, will hopefully come to this blog in the next week or two! Stay tuned!

❤ AMisplacedPen (a.k.a. S.)

P.S. I’m thinking of revamping this website a little bit and archiving some of my oldest blog posts. If things start to look different around here, that is why! Once my changes are more concrete, I’ll write an update post on what’s different.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

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Going Zero Waste, Part 1: Groceries and Cooking

Back in September 2017, M. and I made a commitment to live a low-waste / zero-waste lifestyle for a whole month. Finishing the month was relatively simple, but I’ve had a difficult time gathering my many thoughts on the matter into a coherent blog post. Four (!) months later, I’ve finally settled on a method for conveying my experience. I’ll be posting about my zero/low-waste month in three parts. Part 1 will discuss grocery shopping and cooking, part 2 will discuss hygiene, and part 3 will discuss packaging and transit and convey my final thoughts. So, welcome to part 1!

When we made our zero/low-waste commitment, M. and I realized that one of the easiest ways to go zero waste is to cook all of our meals ourselves. After all, whenever we get takeout we run the risk of receiving the food in a non-recyclable or non-compostable container, and whenever we eat in a restaurant we run the risk of receiving a plastic straw or being unsure whether the restaurant composts its food waste. In other words, we’d have a lot more oversight when cooking for ourselves. This meant, however, we’d need to figure out how to grocery shop in a zero-waste manner. So we assessed our stock of reusable containers. Between us, we already had about five reusable produce bags, either from personal purchases or received as gifts. So we were mostly set for produce. For storing dry goods, we had several mason jars left over from various other projects: M. bought his about a year ago, when he first became interested in zero-waste living. I also bought mine about a year ago, to store some brandied cherries I made for Halloween of 2016 (following this recipe). And we had some glass bowls with silicone lids that we were already using to store leftovers. I also had an assortment of reusable straws and drinking containers, bought during a brief period of my life when I was obsessed with making breakfast smoothies. Ultimately, we didn’t need to invest in much more equipment in preparation for zero-waste living.

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Some of our zero waste equipment: stainless steel straws, a mason jar, a reusable stainless steel water bottle, an organic cotton produce bag.

After taking stock, we rounded up all of our various reusable grocery/shopping bags and made sure they were placed in a visible and easily accessible area of our apartment. We each made ourselves a little “reusables” kit—which included a reusable food container, a reusable hot beverage container, a reusable straw, and a reusable napkin—and stuck the kits into our respective work bags. After that, we were ready.

Week 1 of the zero/low-waste month went very well. That first Sunday, we packed up our produce bags and grocery bags and jogged to the farmer’s market. We were able to buy all of our produce for the week without taking any plastic bags or boxes from the vendors.

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Our first zero waste grocery haul! Clockwise, from top left corner: cremini mushrooms in a compostable and recyclable paper bag, organic eggs in a recyclable paper container, an eggplant, organic broccoli, a roma tomato, a green bell pepper, string beans, a chili pepper, shallots, and an iced tea (that I got “to go” in my reusable bottle!).

I did buy a juice from one vendor because we were thirsty after our jog (that day, it was probably 70 or 80 degree weather), but fortunately the juice came in a mason jar that we have been reusing ever since. Our only oversight of that outing was lunch: we bought tacos from one vendor under the impression that the plates they were using were entirely paper, but upon receipt I realized the plates might be plastic coated. So we ended up placing those plates into the landfill instead of the compost under fear of contaminating the latter. 😦

During week 1, we used up most of our groceries making homemade, vegetarian meals. I had a (plastic) bag of rice in the pantry, purchased before we started our month of low/zero waste, so we cooked the rice for our carbohydrate needs. I tried to prepare lunches for myself every day as well, but there were days when I would be too exhausted to. Fortunately, my workplace cafeteria uses compostable or recyclable packaging for their packaged meals, so I was still able to avoid throwing anything into the landfill whenever I would purchase lunch there. I started keeping a glass jar (with an airtight lid) in my office cubicle for the purpose of holding any compostable trash accumulated over the course of a workday. So, if my lunch packaging was compostable, I’d simply stick the packaging into my compost jar when I was done eating, then bring the jar home and empty it into our compost bin. (M. and I started paying for a composting service in the summer of 2017, as the city of Chicago does not provide composting as a utility. We use WasteNot, and I think they’re amazing!)

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My cubicle compost jar!

The Saturday of week 1, we did go to a restaurant for dinner. We typically like to go out on weekends, and we had agreed that it would be unrealistic to try to stay in every Saturday night of our low/zero-waste month. But we dined at a vegan restaurant that didn’t use single-use or disposable plastic serving ware, and when I ordered a milkshake I remembered to ask for no straw! Our server looked a little confused but accommodated me easily. I had actually brought along my own straw and used that instead. 🙂

Week 2 was less impressive. On Sunday of week 2, we woke up too late to make it to the farmer’s market before closing time and ended up buying produce at the Dill Pickle, a co-op grocery store. While the Dill Pickle is an excellent place to shop (they have so many bulk options and they’re community owned!), they use non-compostable stickers to mark the PLU codes on their produce, and a lot of their lettuce and other leafy greens are tied into bundles using rubber bands that are not easily reusable or compostable. So even though we brought our own produce bags, we ended up having some additional trash thanks to these produce “accessories,” which aren’t so much of an issue when buying directly from farmers at the market. Because we were at the Dill Pickle though, I was able to buy some lentils in bulk (using our mason jars as containers), as I was getting a little tired of relying solely on eggs for our vegetarian protein needs. (I am lactose intolerant, so using cheese as a protein source was not really an option, and so far I haven’t been able to find tofu that is package free or comes in a compostable container.)

We also chose to get brunch on that Sunday, but this time I forgot about refusing the straw. Frankly, I usually don’t ever want a straw, so I don’t expect my drinks to come with them. I ordered a homemade lemonade at our brunch place, not even thinking that it would arrive with a straw, but it did. Zero waste fail. 😦

For the bulk of week 2, we still stuck with our vegetarian home cooking, but occasionally we’d be too tired to cook in the evening (especially me, as I had a freelance project to work on in addition to working my full-time job). Whenever I was too exhausted, I would get takeout from places that have compostable packaging. The two places I came to rely on the most were Sweetgreen and Dos Toros (which also have vegan and vegetarian options). Admittedly, I did feel a little uncomfortable getting takeout from chain establishments, however earth-friendly those establishments might be, as I would like to support my local businesses more.

During week 2, I also made the unskilled decision of attending an office event and forgetting my reusables! There was breakfast food (eggs, hash, etc.) being served at the work event, and the only available plates and utensils were made of non-recyclable plastic. Admittedly, I could have refused to eat anything there, but the promise of free food overrode my aversion to using plastic disposables (I do work for a nonprofit, so free anything is very, very hard to resist). Another zero waste fail!

Most of week 3 was spent in Denver and Boulder; see my posts (part 1 and part 2) about our time there for more information on how we attempted to continue our low-waste habit while traveling. A quick summary: We did better in Denver than I had expected, but we still generated much more plastic waste than if we had been at home. And after we returned to Chicago, we were too exhausted to make a trip for groceries, so we ended up getting takeout for the rest of week 3.

On the Sunday of week 4, the last week of our official low/zero-waste month, we actually woke up early enough to jog to the farmer’s market and get produce there again! But I had a miscommunication with one vendor, who handed me fruit in a plastic bag even though I was trying to ask for no bag. My introversion and anxiety got the best of me, and I took the bag without saying anything. If I had refused that one bag, then our shopping trip would have been a complete success!

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Yellow zucchini, from the farmer’s market. I had never seen yellow zucchini before!

We also chose to get brunch again on that Sunday, and once again, I forgot about refusing the straw and didn’t realize our drinks came with straws until it was too late. 😦

Throughout week 4, we maintained our goal of cooking vegetarian meals for ourselves, but we didn’t use up all of our groceries because, once again, I had chosen to skip a couple of nights of cooking as I was overwhelmed by my freelance project. On those nights, we got takeout from restaurants that use compostable packaging, so we still generated much less waste for the landfill. But the best course of action would have been to actually use up everything we had bought.

At the end of the month, it was wonderful to realize how much emptier our trash bins were. Thanks to our new grocery shopping habits, most of our household waste was either compostable or recyclable, so we barely had any trash to take out. I loved the experience of going to the farmer’s market and seeing the variety of produce there. And using our own reusable produce bags was very easy, plus the reusable bags are more aesthetically pleasing to see in the fridge than the disposable plastic ones. I also really enjoyed having a compost jar at my cubicle, as most of my day is spent at work anyway, and before we began our low/zero-waste commitment I was generating lots of compostable trash at work that was ending up in the landfill. In addition, the both of us felt a lot healthier eating more homemade meals and more vegetarian meals. Our new habits were also very comforting for me: I think my conscience felt a lot of relief because my actions were finally matching my morals.

But, during these four weeks, we did have two areas where we failed majorly: (1) straws, and (2) snacking. In terms of straws, as I noted above, I don’t normally want a straw, and so I rarely think that my drinks will come with one. Every time we dined in a restaurant or went out with friends and ordered cocktails, I would forget that the restaurant serves its beverages with a straw until it was too late. So I want to be better at anticipating the straw and refusing it.

As for snacking, during our official zero/low-waste month M. continued to purchase chips packaged in plastic, although he did lessen the frequency of said chip buying. (Admittedly, he had warned me that he wouldn’t give chips up as he does really like them.) As for myself, I had a hard time resisting the call of the office vending machine. At work, I rely heavily on snacking to help me get through the day. I had a couple of plastic-packaged snacks leftover from before we made our zero-waste commitment, and after I finished eating those, the packaging regretfully ended up in the trash. And at least five or six times throughout our low/zero-waste month, I ended up purchasing snacks packaged in single-use plastic. During the second week of the month, I realized that giving snacks up completely wouldn’t work; I’d just keep heading to the vending machine if I didn’t have something to munch on already at my desk. So I made a trip to the Dill Pickle Coop to get some bulk nuts and trail mix to keep in my cubicle, which helped greatly. Even then, I continued to have some difficulty refusing plastic-packaged snacks.

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Some bulk trail mix that I bought at Dill Pickle Coop.

Overall, I think that zero/low-waste grocery shopping and cooking can actually be fairly easy, with the right preparation. M. and I were fortunate enough to already have reusable produce bags and mason jars on hand, so all we needed to do was stick to a schedule and remember to bring our reusables. I think that we failed so much in the snacking and straw arenas because we weren’t sufficiently prepared on those ends: I hadn’t realized how much I love snacking until I was forced to think about how often I hit up the office vending machines, and I hadn’t given very much thought to how many restaurants serve their beverages with straws until I was forced to confront the fact that my lack of anticipation would mean more plastic trash in landfills and oceans.

After our official month of zero/low waste ended, M. and I have still continued making trips to the farmer’s market or co-op grocery store with reusable produce bags and mason jars on hand. We still try to cook at home as much as possible, and we have still stuck to a mostly vegetarian home diet. So I’m very happy to say that after a month of forcing ourselves to develop better grocery shopping and eating habits, these habits have stuck! 🙂 I’m still struggling with the snacking and straw issues, but because my awareness around those topics has greatly increased, I’m doing a lot better than I was before that month.

Now, stay tuned for part 2, where I discuss how I tried to manage hygiene during our month of zero/low waste!

❤ AMisplacedPen (a.k.a. S.)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

I’m on Instagram!

I’ve joined the black hole that is Instagram (psst, I’m @misplacedpen). There’s no denying it, social media is addictive, and I may be addicted. From the first few days of using it, my takeaways are that:

  1. I love how easy it is for me to see snapshots of what sustainable-fashion and zero-waste bloggers are doing to treat the earth better, and
  2. I hate how easy it is to lose two hours admiring what said bloggers are doing to treat the earth better. (Not to mention the time spent admiring new offers from sustainable brands. . .)

I’ve been uploading my own snapshots too, including my outfit from this past weekend:

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Hello hello, that’s me, laughing at how addicted to Instagram I’ve become in the space of a week.

This outfit was also my entry into Beacon’s Closet’s #beaconsturns20 giveaway! (Follow the link for details on how you can enter; the giveaway runs through the end of May and the basic requirements are that you have an item bought from Beacon’s and you have an Instagram account.) Beacon’s is a well-curated vintage & resale store (as I’ve probably mentioned many times before. . . . Can you tell I like them?), and they have an online shop! I spend way too much of my free time checking out their online offerings.

Anyways, if you’re curious what else I’m up to outside of this blog, find me (@misplacedpen) on Instagram and say hi! Maybe even follow me. 😉 I have a couple of detailed shots of my accessories up on there, and a nice photo of my roommate’s cat. Mreow.

I’ve also updated this blog with an Instagram button to the right that you can click on to be directly linked to my profile (if you open up any one of my blog pages or posts, you’ll see a right-hand sidebar full of things to click on). I’m currently extremely overwhelmed with work and life, so I haven’t had the time to figure out how to import the photos from my Instagram feed into this website. I’ll get to it soon, fingers crossed!

Outfit details: Fishnet top (from Buffalo Exchange), denim jacket (thrifted from Village Discount Outlet), silver sports bra (brand is US-made Beyond Yoga, but was bought at Beacon’s), seafoam green high-waisted shorts (made in the US), gold leather bag (from Beacon’s), fishnet tights, navy studded loafers, vintage doorknocker earrings (from Vintage Underground)

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

The True Cost and the Value of Compassion

I watched The True Cost earlier this year. If you haven’t heard of The True Cost, it’s a 2015 documentary about the fast-fashion industry, conceived of and filmed after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. The filmmakers interview survivors of the collapse, factory workers, activists, farmers, founders of several fashion brands, and factory owners.

It’s a hard movie to watch. The images are devastating and the truths in it are hard to swallow. But whether or not you agree with every single point that is made in this documentary, the larger point remains: we have to acknowledge that we are aiding and abetting in the destruction of millions of lives when we purchase from massive retailers that emphasize excess consumption over human rights.

Fashion is an industry that affects us all. Even if you don’t care one bit about the latest trends, you still wear clothing. And, especially after recent elections and world events, I think we need to reexamine many of our daily actions, including our spending trends. I believe that in order to be better citizens, we all have to be better consumers.

The way fashion operates right now is not sustainable. The cheaper it is to produce clothes overseas, the more our environment suffers from the production of what are essentially throwaway goods: synthetic fabrics from cheaply produced, low-quality clothing pile up in our landfills, and toxic chemical dyes leak into our water and soil. The less we value the work that goes into our clothing, the more our local economies suffer from a culture of consumption that doesn’t concern itself with the people making the goods we purchase: the products on the shelves are conceptually detached from the humans who created those products with their own hands, with their own blood, sweat, and tears, so it becomes easy to ignore what those fellow humans are enduring in the production of these objects, and it becomes easy to forget the need for better environmental and labor regulations. We are all struggling against a larger force of greed.

One of the most consistent arguments that I’ve heard against being a more ethical consumer is that ecofriendly and fair trade brands can be prohibitively expensive. I would say that is not true. (For examples of affordable brands, see the companies tagged as $-$$ in my list of ethical and ecofriendly brands.) I think this “prohibitively expensive” argument stems from the fact that, as consumers, we’ve been trained to value a low price tag above all else. For many of us, a $5 t-shirt is normal. Some people might say they would never pay more than that for a t-shirt. But why is this? It’s because that’s what’s been made normal. Fast-fashion stores thrive on constant, sustained shopping. In order to get the customer to return a few times a month, even a few times a week, trends have to be constantly changing and advertising has to suggest that you are only desirable if you wear the latest trends or if you have a constantly changing wardrobe. And so the customer returns every month, every week, every few days, in order to be this desirable person. And so the stores have more incentive to churn out massive quantities of cheap clothing. And the more we are surrounded by $5 t-shirts, the less we wonder how these items came to be so cheap, and the more we become accustomed to ignoring the human rights violations that make the $5 t-shirt possible.

I think it’s important to start looking at clothes differently. Even if buying ethically made or sourced clothing is a little more expensive than what we have become accustomed to, if we can each reduce the quantity that we buy, then our wallets will still be full and our consciences will be lighter. If we make a point of buying less and buying ethically, brands will have to change their practices to meet the demand.

There are also means of being an ethical consumer that are still “cheap.” If the idea of paying more than $5 for a t-shirt is still difficult to handle or truly financially impossible, you can go to a neighborhood thrift store or consignment shop (ones I like are Crossroads Trading, Buffalo Exchange, Housing Works, or Beacon’s Closet, the latter two of which are pricier but have online stores or auctions). If your clothes and shoes are getting worn out, find a neighborhood tailor or cobbler. Organize clothing swaps with friends or go online to find a clothing swap nearby. Save up to buy higher quality garments and shoes that will last longer, so that you feel less of a need or desire to purchase “throwaway” goods. Wait for sales (most brands have at least one in the summer and one in the winter).

For the past two years, I’ve been on my own sustainable and ethical consumerism journey. I’ve been trying my hardest to avoid the fast fashion retailers (H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy, Gap, Urban Outfitters, etc.) for the past year and a half. Ethical consumerism requires some willpower, but once you start forcing yourself to do it, it becomes second nature. And I fight the occasional urge to browse the fast-fashion racks by reminding myself of the Rana Plaza collapse and of the sisterhood I share with these factory workers (most of them women) overseas. If I really need that physical shopping fix, there’s always my local thrift store.

I’ll leave you with an illuminating quote from Livia Firth, who is featured in one of the segments in The True Cost: “Is it really democratic to buy a tee for $5, a pair of jeans for $20? Or are they taking us for a ride? Because they’re making us believe that we are rich or wealthy because we can buy a lot. But in fact, they are making us poorer. And the only person who is becoming richer is the owner of the fast-fashion brand.”

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Blue Velvet

Last month, I officially left my early twenties. I have a lot of mixed feelings about how my mid- to late twenties are looking given all of the events of last year. A part of me wants to ignore the outside world and curl up into a ball. But I’m determined not to give into that impulse, especially since I’ve resolved to be community focused in the upcoming year. Once in a while though, everyone needs a day off. And what better reason to take a day off than your own birthday?

I ended up having three different celebrations, one with my family, one with my friends in NYC, and one with M. in Chicago. For my night out with M., I really wanted to make a new birthday outfit. Then, four days before our special date night, I realized my attempts to make a velvet dress were not going well… The bodice that I had sewn together was fitting poorly, I was exhausted from work and wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to fix the fit, and I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the pattern as I thought I’d be. The fabric was so beautiful though, I didn’t want to just give up…

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The fabric in question. Look at it call out to you!

Fortunately, I still had enough velvet material left for a skirt, and while I was back home in NYC I had made a trip to M&J Trimming and bought some beautiful Belgian elastic with a fleur-de-lis pattern on it, thinking it would make a lovely waistband. A quick and easy gathered skirt was my best bet. The velvet is striking enough by itself, so I knew even with the simple shape the skirt would still have high visual impact. I cut out two rectangles from my remaining velvet, added pockets in the side seams, and then, in place of a serger, used the zigzag stitch on my geriatric sewing machine to attach the Belgian elastic to the gathered rectangles of velvet. Add a few choice accessories, and viola! I felt rather “high fashion”:

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My photographer was not very pleased to be standing for ten minutes in a cold stairwell to take these photos for me…My expression here probably reflects how he felt during the photoshoot.
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Is it just me or is this photo blurry? Perhaps this will be my excuse for getting a new camera…And a tripod to replace my reluctant photographer. 😉

This outfit ended up being an extravaganza of ethical and eco fashion, which made me doubly excited to wear it out. My shoes, bag, and sunglasses are all from various consignment shops. The sheer turtleneck top I’m wearing was made in the U.S.A. My rhinestone clip-on earrings are from Vintage Underground. The rhinestone bracelet on my left wrist is from a thrift store that uses its profits to provide services for disenfranchised men. The watch I’m wearing is almost entirely biodegradable because it’s made (mostly) from wood!

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Some of the aforementioned accessories.

Last, but not least, the silver lipstick I am wearing is Perfect Foil, from Portland Black Lipstick Company. The lipstick is made in the United States from natural materials, and the parent company is a small business founded and run by a woman (a very nice woman, who sent me a personal email to confirm my online order!). I’ve tried two of Portland Black Lipstick’s colors so far, and Perfect Foil is a little bit drier than the other one, but that’s to be expected of such an intense metallic pigment. And even with the intense pigmentation, my lips didn’t feel too thirsty over the night.

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Look how shiny! (If you’re wondering why the texture looks rough, I used a lip brush to apply the color so there’s some weird nooks and crannies in the lipstick surface now…)

To match my outfit’s ethically conscientious attitude, M. and I started my birthday night at Lula Café for dinner. Lula Café has existed for almost two decades and makes a point of using as many local ingredients as possible. For my entrée, I had duck breast with truffle au jus and red rice risotto. It was sublime!

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Then we made our way to The Drifter for drinks and a show. The Drifter is a cozy bar set in a historic space and run by a woman named Liz Pearce. Fun tidbit: it’s actually not as common as you’d think for bars and restaurants to be owned or run by women (like many other lucrative industries, the food and beverage industries are very male-dominated…).

The Drifter appealed to me with their amazing cocktails and cabaret acts throughout the night, including a couple of burlesque performances. Burlesque fascinates me; I waver back and forth between looking at it as male-targeted titillation and thinking of it as empowering performance. It’s easy for me to forget that both of these views are gross simplifications; as with almost everything, there is nuance to be had. While M. and I were at The Drifter, we caught two burlesque acts, both of which were hilarious (one involved the performer’s buttocks moving to the rhythm of Mozart!). While I was sure that some of the people in the crowd were only at the bar to gawk at bared female bodies, the combination of humor and self-assurance that I saw in the women who were performing was definitely empowering to me. I came away with a lot of admiration and a desire to learn burlesque myself!

All in all, I had a really lovely evening. It was a good time to refresh in preparation for the years ahead. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and I’ll need all the strength I can muster to keep fighting the good fight.

Wishing all of you equality, love, and peace.

❤ S. (aka AMisplacedPen)