Sustainable Gift Giving Guide 2019

There’s nothing I love more than giving gifts. I’m one of those people who prefers to give gifts rather than receive them. I just love to see the smile of a loved one light up when I give them something that is meaningful. However, a lot of people don’t love the holidays because of the emphasis on consumerism rather than time with friends and family. I don’t believe that gift-giving in itself is bad, but that they should be given with intention, selectivity, and consciousness in mind. The majority of products today are made using toxic chemicals, low-wage labor, and are not made with longevity in mind. Even if the product is made sustainably, it still takes a lot of resources to make because we are all still reliant on the fossil fuel industry whether we like it or not. Therefore, we should look for gifts that will be meaningful, useful, and last beyond next Christmas/Hanukkah. Here are my top picks for sustainable gift giving!

 

Alter-Eco Chocolate:

This certified B-Corp is sustainable from the inside-out. They use 100% organic and GMO-Free ingredients, invest in the well-being of farmers, source from small-scale farms, and piloted the world’s first compostable stand-up pouch. I also love how their co-ops practice dynamic agroforestry, which according to Alter-Eco, “…strives to mimic the natural evolution of the forest.” Agroforestry enriches the soil, supports a variety of plants, and manages pests without the usage of pesticides. My favorite product of theirs is the cherry and almond butter coconut clusters. If cherries or almonds are not your gift-receiver’s thing, you can also choose from other cluster flavors, truffles, and chocolate bars.

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Image is not my own and comes from the Alter Eco website.

Anything from Tamga Designs:

When you purchase something from Tamga, you are wearing a work of art. Not only are Tamga designs some of the most unique I’ve seen, but the company is also dedicated to using fashion as a force for social good. They pay their workers a living-wage and are very transparent on their website about the factories they use. Tamga uses sustainable materials such as Modal from sustainable beech-wood forests, Tencel that recycles 99.8% of water and solvents, GOTS certified Organic Cotton, and OEKO-Tex 100 dyes free from harmful chemicals. I would highly recommend a scarf or headband as a gift. Here’s a pic of me wearing the Nila Scarf Toba, as well as an up-close picture of the pattern.

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Ten Tree Clothing:

Do you want to shop and fight climate change at the same time? For every item you purchase from this company, ten trees are planted. Ten Tree has a goal to plant 1 billion trees that will sequester carbon from the atmosphere by 2030. They’re already well on their way by having planted 30 million trees in 8 different countries. I find that a lot of sustainable clothing brands just sell basic solid colored items, but Ten Tree clothes feature neat designs such as constellations and woodblocks. Best of all they use sustainable materials such as organic cotton, hemp, tencel and recycled polyester in their clothing. If purchasing an article of clothing is out of your budget, you can also purchase socks, hats, and towels from Ten Tree.

 

To-Go Ware Bamboo Cutlery:
If you want introduce your loved ones to the concept of zero-waste, this is a great gift to give. Not only does the bamboo look chique, but the set is lightweight and I love that To-Go Ware has a holder to put the utensils inside of. The zero-waste lifestyle can be overwhelming and this is a great first baby step for anyone interested in being more conscious of their waste. 

Honeybee Gardens Eyeshadow Palette:

Out of all of the eco-friendly eye-shadows I’ve tried, Honeybee Gardens is my favorite. They are by far the most pigmented and durable eyeshadows I’ve tried and don’t crease after an hour of wearing. Their palettes are my favorite because they choose colors that go together well. Honeybee Gardens is also one of the more affordable green-beauty brands, with the palette costing $27. This unfortunately can be the price of one eyeshadow color for many green beauty brands. I love how they work with the National Resources Stewardship Council to obtain ethically-sourced and child-free mica and regularly test for heavy metals in their cosmetics. The palette is also recyclable and refillable. I highly recommend the Canyon Sunset Eyeshadow Palette, which won the Delicious Living 2018 Beauty & Body Award.

Here’s a pic of me wearing the eyeshadows

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Pela Phone Case:

This is the world’s first and only compostable phone case. This phone case doesn’t look like someone stitched hemp and elephant poop together, but rather is elegant and sleek. They come in a plethora of colors with cute designs featuring honeybees, turtles, mandalas, as well as a more classic design. Pela phone cases are compatible with most cell phone brands such as the Iphone, Samsung, and Google. Pela uses renewable materials such as starch, natural fibers, and flax shive. When you’re done with your Pela case, you can either compost it or can send them your case through their Pela-Cycle program to be recycled again.

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This photo is not my own and comes from the Pela Case Website

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed:

Okay, so this book doesn’t have anything to do with environmental sustainability, but this has seriously been the best book I’ve read this year. This is a collection of letters that Cheryl Strayed received while working as “Dear Sugar” for The Rumpus and her responses to them. The problems that these people are dealing with are raw and real and have no easy solution, if any at all. I love Cheryl Strayed’s compassionate but yet direct advice that she gave. This book is like wearing a sweatshirt blanket on a cold day with a cup of hot chocolate in your hand, except in the form of a book. Tiny Beautiful Things is guaranteed to light anyone up and I would especially recommend giving it to those going through a difficult season in their life.

BuymeOnce Gift Card: Do you have a family member or friend who’s tricky to shop for? Instead of buying them a gift card to a big-box store, get them one for BuymeOnce. BuymeOnce is an online shop that fights against planned obsolescence by finding the highest quality products on the market. They sell a wide range of products including, but not limited to, clothing, technology, kitchen appliances, home décor, and so much more. Many of the products sold are made out of sustainable materials and even if the product you’re buying isn’t eco-friendly, it will at least be guaranteed to last for years to come.

The best part about eco-friendly gift-giving is that it’s an excellent way to introduce loved ones to conscious consumerism and for them to see that sustainably made products can be chique, cool, and fun.

What’s on your eco-conscious wish list? Let me know in the comment section.

 

Being An Imperfect Environmentalist

Over the past year, I’ve gotten into sustainability and protecting the Earth. I light up every time I hear the word ‘sustainable’ or ‘sustainability’. From the research I’ve done, I have realized that a lot of the world’s problems are connected to the environment and our inability to slow down. The concept of living more consciously and intently, is uplifting, because not only do I think that paying more attention to how we treat the Earth will help the environment, but maybe even save humanity all together. This past year I took a class in college on systemic thinking. One of the resources I read for that class was about the year 3000 and what we as humans want the world to be like that far into the future. All of the authors agreed that they wanted an ‘imperfect but lovable world’. It could just be the young idealist in me, but I believe that the concept of sustainability can help us get to that point.

Even though becoming more sustainable as a person and inspiring others to do the same is uplifting, it also terrifies me. Every single time I read a disturbing article about climate change, I realize that it’s not necessarily just a foray into becoming a better human/contributing towards a better world. It’s a matter of life or death.

It’s not just preparing for natural disasters that might come a thousand years from now if we’re not careful; it’s about apocalyptic disasters set to happen in this century. It’s not just about choosing an organic bamboo t-shirt over an ethically made, cotton American shirt sprayed with pesticides. It’s about the female and child garment workers working over 12 hours a day in egregious working conditions; breathing in toxic chemicals while being paid slave labor wages just to survive. By the way, these chemicals find their way into the water supply as well. It’s about how  2/3 of the great barrier reef has been bleached. It’s about how minorities in poor communities will be disproportionately effected by climate change. It’s about how the Arctic during the summer-time will be ice free by the year 2040. I will be 43 years old. That sounds like a long-time from now, but in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t. The next war could be over water supply. Fact is, climate change is going to make the world into a pandemonium and 30% of people believe that climate change is not human caused, but rather due to natural changes. While this is still the minority and not the majority, cultural influences are powerful and as a result, they vote in people who deny climate change. The majority of Republicans in congress deny climate change because of big-oil special interests. Even amongst the slim number of Republicans in congress who do believe that climate change is caused by humans, they don’t believe that it’s a huge threat. For instance, Governor John Kasich who is seen to be moderate believes that, “Now it doesn’t mean because you pursue a policy of being sensitive to the environment, because we don’t know how much humans actually contribute.” It’s depressing when you look around you and want to snatch all the plastic bottles out of people’s hands and replace them with reusable ones; showing them how much easier and cost-efficient it is. It’s depressing when the college you go to promotes sustainability, but their compost bin isn’t even inside the dining halls. They also overheat the dorms and classrooms to the point where you’re sweating profusely and feeling nauseous. You want to yell at the administration and tell them how much money they’d save if they turned the thermostat down and told people to wear sweaters instead. It’s depressing when you see people do silly things that are toxic to the environment and if they made one small change, it could make a huge difference. But I also know that I have to have compassion and know that people care. They just aren’t educated enough and/or don’t have the time to think about it due to the ludicrously busy lifestyles we’re forced to live today.

However, I also think that environmental perfectionism can steer some people away from living more sustainably as they feel that they can’t live up to what they perceive to be an impossible standard. Including myself. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely admire and support the zero waste movement, minimalism, capsule wardrobes, only buying ethical and sustainable products, compassionate vegans, living off the grid, etc. If you do any of these things, props to you! I believe that the world can and should learn from these movements; but doing all of these things 100% of the time isn’t attainable for everybody.

I often will beat myself up for not being ‘sustainable enough’.  Even though I know about the horrors of the fashion industry, I still buy clothing from mainstream retailers when I need pants in a petite size, a bra that fits my large breasts, work clothes that fit my budget, or simply just because it’s more convenient. I try to buy more ethical and sustainable products, but I can’t help that they all come packaged in plastic. I’m just not in a place in my life where I can ‘DIY’. I still take 20 minute hot showers because I like it. I still use the dryer to dry my clothes. I’m nowhere close to zero waste or even low-waste yet. I can’t go vegan due to having a plethora of food allergies and other health conditions.

As you can see, some of the things I listed above I can definitely improve on and some of it is outside of my control. But I can’t help but compare myself to bloggers, youtubers, and Instagramers who I know are doing better than me. Sometimes I’m able to rationalize my way through and tell myself that I’m in a learning stage, that it’s important to have a peace of mind. Even if I could, I don’t think I would be completely 100% anything because having an obsessive mind-set where I scrutinize all of my actions isn’t healthy for me. However, whenever I see a new article talking about how we’re destined for the worst within our lifetimes, I feel like all the actions I’m taking are minuscule compared to the depth of the problem. If I use another plastic bag all the fish in the ocean will die. I need to start a capsule wardrobe now! 32 pieces in my wardrobe per season max! Curse you food allergies! Because of you, I can’t go vegan and I’m killing the planet. Yeah that piece of plastic might be recyclable, but only 9% of plastics get recycled, so therefore I must go zero waste NOWWW!!! You get the picture.

I can only do so much as one person. The key to saving the planet and becoming more sustainable is educating people on actions they can take, not specific lifestyles or labels. Small actions add up. Imagine if everybody drank from a reusable water bottle, started thrifting more, used public transportation or car-pooled whenever possible, refused plastic straws, or went meatless on Mondays. Think of the impact all of this would have! It is my opinion that the simple, daily changes of many can have the same effect as the larger actions of a dedicated few. If you can’t or don’t want to do everything in an eco-friendly/sustainable way, don’t give up the ship! Every little action helps!  Nobody should shame you if you aren’t doing things in their way or up to their personal standards. I’m not and will never be the perfect environmentalist. Instead, I strive to become more mindful and aware of the actions I take each day, while also educating myself as much as I can. Living a more sustainable lifestyle is a journey, not an instantaneous endpoint. Don’t beat yourself up for being an imperfect environmentalist. If you’re reading this blog post, you care, and that is what matters the most.

How are you an imperfect environmentalist? Let me know in the comment section down below!

Alex

How To Avoid The Fast Fashion Industry On A College Student Budget

Recently, a well-established women’s clothing store, The Limited, has closed their in-store businesses after 54 years. Why? Because consumers are showing a preference for cheap, fast fashion retailers that can keep up with yearly trends. The Limited was known for making multi-purpose, business casual clothing that never went out of style. This used to be a successful business model, but now a days, consumers prefer to purchase an abundance of clothing at cheap prices and then dispose it, once the trend is deemed unfashionable. While being able to purchase 3 dresses for $30 at Forever 21 might sound like a deal you can’t pass up, the consequences are detrimental for factory workers and unsustainable for the environment.

Factory workers are paid on average 3 dollars a day and given few legal protections. Many of these workers are exploited and forced to work 12+ hours a day. A sector of these factories don’t even given their workers a day off. One would like to think that this is a rarity or an exaggerated statement, but it’s a reality. Only 2% of suppliers pay their workers a living wage and the workers, often female, can barely support their families.  In addition to the fast fashion industry being toxic and dehumanizing for workers, there is currently 11 million tons of textile waste in landfills. This textile waste takes over 200+ years to biodegrade.

While I can’t control the fact that Donald Trump wants to get rid of the EPA, I can control what I choose to buy. I understand that buying from more ethical, sustainable companies is more expensive and difficult when you’re on a tight budget. As a college student, I can’t be the perfect sustainable/ethical fashionista 100% of the time, but I do believe that my awareness of the issue helps.  Here are some things I do to avoid the fast fashion industry when I can on a college student budget, that you can do too!

      1.) Shop at thrift, consignment, or vintage stores: Thrifting is one of the number one things we can do to be sustainable when it comes to clothing. Reusing clothing instead of throwing it into the landfill, is so important, as it extends the life-cycle of an object. It can be hard to sift through the racks, as some of them are filled with grandma sweaters that grandmas wouldn’t even want to wear. However,  you can also find some true gems at thrift/consignment shops. The prices are also extremely compatible with a college student budget, often surpassing discount fast fashion retailers. While the majority of the clothing in these thrift/consignment stores were probably made from conventional clothing stores, you are not supporting their fast fashion practices. Instead, these funds go to the store owners or charitable causes.

Vintage stores are also a wonderful place to shop! Not only are they fun to look at, but back in the day, clothing was made to last for multiple decades.  Even though vintage stores cost a bit more money than thrift/consignment stores, I find everything there to be of high quality . The shop owners, also, often know the story behind the item. For instance, I got this red hat at a vintage store in Providence, Rhode Island.

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The shop owner told me that this beaut’ was made in the 70’s and apparently had never been worn before. It is incredible to me that this stunning item would’ve spent its whole life-cycle never being worn. In today’s fast fashion industry, something like this would’ve been tossed in the landfill, but vintage stores give these items a second chance at life. I, 40 years later, am able to give this hat a story. An upside of wearing vintage clothing, you get a plethora of compliments as what you’re wearing is so unique. Whenever I wear this hat, I get, on average, about 3-5 compliments in a day.

     2.) Etsy: I pancake flipping love Etsy and browsing their website. For those of you who don’t know, Etsy is a website where independent businesses can sell their products, similar to eBay. I can literally spend hours looking at all of the eclectic, unique products on their website. I can’t say that I’ve shopped a lot on Etsy, but what I have gotten from their sellers has been superb. I  once, got an abalone ring that only cost $33 that was handmade by a woman in Florida. It is my favorite ring and I wear it all the time.

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If you’re curious, the hand-chain I got is from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair-trade boutique store.

Best of all, it isn’t some cheap piece of jewelry made of questionable materials and no one’s human rights got violated making it. Since they are made by independent sellers, many of the products can be customized, which you can’t get at your local Forever 21. .If you want something unique and hand-made, but reasonably priced, shop on Etsy!

     3.) The Sales Section of Sustainable/Ethical Fashion Websites: There are so many great sustainable/ethical fashion brands out there, but the prices are usually not friendly for the college student wallet. Look at the sales section of these websites and you’ll see lots of reasonably priced, beautiful clothing. For instance, I’ve had my eyes on this beautiful, eggplant, stripe skirt from Synergy Organic Clothing  for only $37 and this gorgeous bamboo aubergine colored tank top from Thought Clothing  for only $12.21 US Dollars. Also, if you can’t afford to shop for main pieces on Sustainable/Ethical Fashion Websites, buy items that tend to be less expensive like socks, scarves, hats, or underwear. For instance, you can get these adorable thigh high bamboo socks from Thought Clothing  for only $9.76 US Dollar or this beyond cute, hand-made panda hat from People Tree  for only $18.24. While you are still probably going to pay more for sustainable/ethical clothing on sale, what you will be getting will be of much higher quality and last you for years, while helping the Earth/your fellow citizens.

     4.) Buy Less: It is of my opinion, that it is better to buy less and instead, buy versatile items that won’t fall apart by the time the trend is over (items are usually designed to only be worn 7x). If you think about, the $100 dollars that you spend at Forever 21 for disposable clothing, that you’ll hate later on, you can also spend on a hand-made wool coat that will last you a lifetime. I am very picky in what I buy, and even if I do shop at a conventional store at the mall, I have to **love** and be head over heels for the item before I buy it. This year alone, I can count on one hand how many things I’ve purchased (albeit, I do have a wardrobe that I’ve built up over the years that is mostly from conventional retailers). Through selective shopping, most of what I’ve gotten has been under $100 dollars. A part of becoming more sustainable is adopting an attitude where if the object doesn’t add any lasting value to your life, you shouldn’t get it. It is easy to forget that stuff is just stuff. That is why I think it is so important to feel a positive connection to the stories behind these objects. I, personally, feel a lot more connected to a scarf from a company who supports women by paying them a living wage, while also giving them other benefits (education, healthcare, etc.), than a scarf that was made in a sweatshop by an abused worker. That is why I’d rather shop less, but more sustainably, rather than having a new outfit to wear everyday.

I get that it is isn’t always possible to shop sustainably/ethically 100% of the time, especially if you’re a college student or are struggling to make ends meet. It is hard when you want to do the right thing, but don’t always have the funds to do so.  In my opinion, though, it is most important to be aware of the problems with the clothes we wear, and to help if you can. Even if only 20% of your wardrobe is sustainable and ethical, that is certainly something. Every little bit helps and matters, and it is vital to keep that in mind.

I’m curious, what do you guys do to shop sustainably/ethically in an affordable way? Let me know in the comments down below!

Interesting Articles/Sources: 

The Limited is closing all of its 250 stores

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Analysis: Fast fashion comes at a steep price for the environment

 

Best,

Alexandra 

 

 

Why Sarah Mclachlan is One of the Best Female Musicians of All Time

Sarah Mclachlan. You might know her for a few things. The song Angel. Her tear-jerking ASPCA commercials. Being Canadian. Lilith Fair. However, in my opinion, she is so much more than this and is totally underrated as an artist.

My journey of listening to Sarah Mclachlan started when I was very little because my mother loved to play her live album Mirrorball in the car. I always enjoyed her soothing voice, but at this point in my life, I was more interested in listening to Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood (whom I both love), as well as other more teeny bop, popular musicians. My love for her resurfaced though when my acupuncturist who I saw when I was in the 4th-6th grade (yes, I really did start acupuncture that young, lol) played her Afterglow album while I was getting treatment. This really helped me relax and evoked my imagination while I was lying on the table with needles in me. As you can probably guess, it is not easy for a squirmy, ADD ten year old to just lay there and unwind for 50 minutes. Sarah Mclachlan made it a lot easier for me.

The day my obsession with her music surpassed my mother was when I started high school and was really struggling with loneliness, depression,  finding my place in the world, and understanding society. I usually don’t listen or try to interpret lyrics as I like to focus on the voice/instrumentals, but Sarah Mclachlan forced me to listen. Unlike many other artists, Sarah Mclachlan writes about the human experience. She writes about growing up, tense family relationships, passion, betrayal, rising above circumstances, death, loss, the dissolution of relationships, hope, everything really. You may or may not have noticed that 99% of songs are about romantic love. While Sarah Mclachlan writes a lot about romantic love, her music differs as she goes into the deepness of it. The words she uses to describe a relationship makes you feel like you’re in the relationship even if you’ve never had one. This is especially evident in the lyrics of her song Stupid when sings,

“Love has made me a fool set me on fire and watched as I floundered
Unable to speak except to cry out and wait for your answer
But you come around in your time speaking of fabulous places create
An oasis that dries up as soon as you’re gone
You leave me here burning in this desert without you”

Sarah Mclachlan feels things deeply and this is definitely evident in all of her songs. It’s almost as though she’s letting you inside her head and I feel like emotional, intense thinkers will be able to relate to her lyrics. While I can’t say I’ve ever dated or known someone like in her song Building a Mystery, the lyrics are the ones I’ve pondered on the most out of all of her songs. These lines particularly resonate with me,

“You live in a church
Where you sleep with voodoo dolls
And you won’t give up the search
For the ghosts in the halls
You wear sandals in the snow
And a smile that won’t wash away
Can you look out the window
Without your shadow getting in the way?”

She writes with sophistication but without pretentiousness. Her songs are raw and real, and feel as though you are listening to the finest of poetry. However, like I said earlier, voice and instrumentals are just as, if not more important to me than lyrics. Sarah Mclaclahlan’s voice has an earthy, distinctive quality to it, but unlike other earthy sounding musicians, her voice is easy to listen to. She also has the ability to sing extremely, extremely high, almost like an opera singer.  The instrumentals on her songs are also unique and give her easy listening songs a rock sound quality, which therefore, makes for some really phonoaesthetically pleasing songs.

She is also just as phenomenal of a person as she is a singer. She created a ground breaking all female singer-song writer festival that was created to dispel the myth that women couldn’t be played back to back to one another. She also created The Sarah Mclachlan School of Music, a free music school designed for at risk youth. I also went to a concert of hers two years ago and it was an extremely intimate experience. She had a couch on her stage and selected people got to come up on the couch during a break in the concert and meet her. Sarah was extremely gracious and kind to those who were on the stage. Additionally, she had people write questions and put them in a hat. Then, she answered a few of the questions for the audience. It was by far one of the most interactive musical experiences I’ve ever had.

I’d highly recommend checking her out and not just her biggest hits. She has a huge library of music and there are very few songs of hers that I don’t like or feel meh about. I’ve created two playlists, an intro to Sarah Mclachlan playlist and a playlist for those who are familiar with some of her work.

Intro to Sarah Mclachlan Playlist:

1.) Angel

2.) Witness

3.) Adia

4.) I Will Remember You

5.) Fallen

6.) Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

7.) Good Enough

8.) Possession

9.) Sweet Surrender

10.) Building a Mystery

Other Incredible, Epic Sarah Mclachlan Songs:

1.) Steaming

2.) Vox

3.) Black and White

4.) In Your Shoes

5.) Monsters

6.) Time

7.) Stupid

8.) Plenty

9.) Wait

10.) Don’t Give Up On Us