Monthly Archives: May 2016

Living it up (the eco-way) in New York City

Welcome to New York. It’s been waiting for you.

At least that’s what Taylor Swift claims. As for me, ever since I found out I was going to the Big Apple for work, I was hoping that great vegan food, eco-fashion and new acquaintances would indeed be waiting. Guess what? They were.

The training I was there to take allowed me to be my most social self during the days and I made some great connections! In addition to all the fun I was having, several people in the class were into eating healthy and two were living plant-based, meaning green lunch choices for the group. Yay.

Finding vegan options turned out to be as easy as I had hoped. Finding plastic-free, zero waste vegan, a bit harder, though definitely possible. Let me tell you about some of the places where I ate!

Vegan, Organic and Zero Waste

The first night, after a long walk through the city, I had a well-made meal at Blossom (21st and 9th) in Chelsea. Friendly staff, fast service, nice setting. And, I got to eavesdrop on a seriously millennial conversation one table over, while watching the street action outside the window. Pretty sweet. Yes, that also applies the two glasses of organic riesling I had.

The best food of the trip was at Candle 79 on the Upper East Side (79th and Lex.). I started with empanadas, followed by a chick-pea cake creation accompanied by delicious broccoli and cauliflower in a curry sauce. It was excellent and I highly recommend this place. A reservation is probably a good idea, though I got lucky and was seated right away. By the window again.

Vegan on the go

Because sooner or later, all New York visitors will find themselves in midtown, near Times Square fearing that Olive Garden is their only lunch choice – I’ll tell you, it’s not. Fresh and Co. is half a block away on 48th street (between 6th and 7th avenue) and they’ll mix you up an awesome salad. Though delicious and fresh, my salads (Gaucho and Falafel) were unfortunately tossed and served in a plastic bowl (I didn’t have a reusable one). I did fill my own bottle with tea, no problem.

Organic Soy Latte

Anyone else appalled by the super sweet soymilk at Starbucks? Pret A Manger is a much better choice if you ask me, and they’re all over town. I had an organic, unsweet soy latte there and of course reusable cups welcome. This chain donates all their left-over food at the end of each day to homeless shelters and food programs too. Waste not, want not.

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On another eco note, I had four nights in the city and spent most of them walking around enjoying the scenery and the different neighborhoods. Why take a cab when you can walk, right?

One night while strolling down Highline Park, I suddenly had this idea to hit up Century 21 (the discount department store by World Trade Center). I hadn’t been there in years and was curious to see what made in USA or eco-friendly brands they might have (if any!).

A few minutes into browsing, I saw an Italian-made sweater by a designer I had never heard of before and decided to try it on. Instantly, it felt like mine. It fit just right and felt super comfy. Sold! Although it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said “eco-fashion” and it didn’t really follow any of the rules I set up for this year’s shopping challenge, I still had to have it. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart and break the rules a little.

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My new Dirk Bikkembergs made in Italy sweater

I hadn’t prepared much for this trip, however I still feel like I managed to make simple, eco-friendly choices throughout the visit. Like what, you say? Well, like:

  • Enjoying vegan, organic food (the most eco-friendly, low carbon diet)
  • Not using the hotel bath products (saving plastic)
  • Not asking to have my sheets and towels changed every night (saving water, energy and cleaning products)
  • Managing my drinking water, so there was no need to buy even a single water bottle (saving plastic and money)
  • Carrying my new Italian sweater in my reusable bag (saving plastic)
  • Walking or taking the subway instead of riding in taxis (less pollution)
  • Carbon compensating my flights
  • Stayed at a local boutique hotel to support small business

I had an amazing time and I wouldn’t change a thing, not even the breaking the rules part.

Indeed, it was all waiting for me in New York!

Read about my previous eco-friendly work trip to California here.

Sweater+me photo credit: Shutterluv by Ashley.

Five fashion statements made in Texas (y’all)

I showed up at Fleastyle Houston a couple of weeks ago in a (made in USA) tank top, old jeans and a pair of sneakers. It hadn’t crossed my mind that an event with “flea” in the name would be a dressy one. But, apparently when there are vintage items and locally made products on display, you should be wearing your trendiest outfit, preferably combined with a few select pieces in light brown leather and high heeled shoes. Acceptable hairstyles include perfect curls, long waves, a high bun or braids. Unwashed hair in a ponytail? Don’t even think about it. (Oops!)

Despite not looking quite the part of someone interested in vintage style, I did get to talk to a number of local vendors and craftswomen about the products they had to show and sell. If not pre-owned, most of the goodies were made right here in the Lone Star State.

Time to finally put together a list of some made in Texas fashion (on my made in Texas blog). Right, y’all?

Here it goes:

1. Newton Supply Co.

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This company is all about them totes and weekenders. Every bag is handmade in Austin and materials are locally sourced whenever possible. My favorite is probably the Texas State tote, made with hand-printed natural cotton canvas, veg-tan leather and brass rivets. So cute! Another cool thing is that Newton partners with a division of the Austin-based Multicultural Refugee Coalition, Open Arms. A non-profit organization assisting them (and other companies) with producing locally made items while empowering refugee women through living wage employment. Prices range from $30 to $250, depending on the style. I wish I needed another tote bag.

2. Kathrine Zeren

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This Houston-based fashion brand is catering to all the wonderful men in our lives. Yes, there are bow-ties made from recycled hemp, vintage handkerchiefs, handmade American leather key chains and organic cotton pocket squares ($32). All made right here from domestically sourced, sustainable materials. Very hip(ster).

3. Folksie

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Folksie is small-batch-fashion for women, men and kiddos, with straight lines, somewhat somber fabrics and a touch of country twang (check out the vests!). All of Folksie’s pieces are handmade in Dallas, one by one, and most are made to order. I’m not sure this brand is for me personally, however the men’s aprons ($95) are pretty darn awesome.

4. Hatton Henry

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Gracefully rustic leather bags in the 100-200 dollar range, is what Hatton Henry offers. Each wallet, tote and clutch is handcrafted (here) in Houston. I’m not sure where the leather is from, but I must say the bags are beautiful. This designer is apparently into helping homeless mutts get better lives too, doing so by donating a percentage of every item sold to a Houston rescue program. So, if you’re one of those people who claim to be an animal lover, yet somehow can justify wearing leather – here’s a brand for you ;).

5. *Leighelena*

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Texas style cuffs and bracelets, handmade in Austin, that’s Leighelena’s thing. Every type of leather (alligator, python, lizard, ostrich) wrist wrap you can think of – they’ve got it. The leather is Italian (I asked) and unfortunately the few vegan options I saw at Fleastyle didn’t feel quite right. I know, I know, this is Texas, there will always be lots of leather, I’m just saying I like more options! The buckle designs are really neat and unique to Leighelena. Priced from $20 and up.

And no, thanks to my shopping challenge, I didn’t get myself anything. Just browsing. Being sustainable.

Go Texas!

All pictures belong to the brands. No ownership intended.

These boots are made for splashing!

Though I have never visited, I think I really like Canada. Their prime minister seems more than capable and most of my favorite HGTV shows are shot there. And when it comes to products, well, I’ve had my Canada Goose jacket for eight years now (still going strong!) and I can’t deny that we really like maple syrup (especially if aged in a whiskey barrel) at our house.

But here’s something else from Canada that has caught my attention recently; super nice rain boots from Kamik.

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My friend just got a pair for her son that they both love so far. They’re sturdy, made in solid quality synthetic rubber with removable comfort felt insoles, and obviously waterproof (that’s kind of the point). She paid about 30 dollars for the kids’ style “Stomp”, while most women’s boots are around $60.

I’ve run into Kamik boots at DSW and West Marine before, but the best selection is, not surprisingly, online on their website. (Oooh, polka dots!) Shopping there also makes it easy to check which boots are indeed made in Canada and which (few) are not.

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Most of the styles are 100% recyclable and just like (my favorite brand) Oka-B takes back their worn shoes for recycling, Kamik gladly accepts their old boots back for that same reason. But before you go that route, they suggest that if you think your boots have a little kick left in them, you should just buy new liners and keep them going a while longer. Recycling is, as always, our last resort after reuse, repurpose, reinvigorate, relove and regift. Speaking of liners and recycling, their so-called Zylex liners are made from 77% – 97% recycled water bottles. Pretty good.

I do have one little beef with them. They have separated the boys’ and the girls’ boots into two different pages on their website, which I find very unnecessary and 1950s like. Kids should be allowed to pick their rain boots based on interests and color preference, not automatically be put in a gender box suggesting that girls like pink strawberries and boys like black. I for one would have loved the boys’ navy blue rain boots with coral soles. That’s like my perfect color combination!

Kamik’s men’s (or women’s!) game and work boots are built in the USA and range from $130 to $180.

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My friend took these beautiful pictures of her son making a splash and having a blast in his new boots. In Houston, we’re never short of puddles to play in and thanks to Kamik, we’re never short of made right (here) rain boots either.

Browse boots here but check your local stores first to save packaging and trucking :)

Check out my friend’s photography page here.

Fair Trade or simply UNFAIR aid? How your TOMS help create poverty

I believe most of you reading this blog are in agreement with me that buying locally made products supports and maintains a strong local economy. I also believe that price is the only reason an American would buy a made in China product over a made in USA one.

Imagine that you have a choice between two identical sweaters, one made here, one made in China. The price is the same, the quality is the same and they’re sitting next to each other on the same shelf at the store. I bet you would pick the one made in USA.

Now, let’s say the imported sweater is ten dollars cheaper. Some of you would now switch, some would not, claiming that ten dollars off of an 80 dollar sweater doesn’t matter. But what if the made in China sweater was free? Yes, completely FREE of charge! Now, which one would you pick?

Hold that thought for a second and let’s turn our heads toward developing countries, applying the same logic. What do you think happens when companies like TOMS overflow a developing market with free shoes? What do you think happens when your donated clothes arrive in a less fortunate country? Do the people there still go shopping for locally and sustainably made?

Let’s talk about TOMS a bit, just because they’re probably the most famous of all “social entrepreneurs”. You think you’re doing a great thing, buying one overpriced pair, while TOMS donates another to a child in need.

Unfortunately, the reality looks a bit different. Instead of helping, you’re actually:

  1. Buying a pair of shoes you don’t need i.e. wasting resources (come on, admit it).
  2. Making the American CEO of TOMS richer.
  3. Importing a pair of shoes from China. (Go ahead, check the tag. Pretty much all pairs are made in Chinese non-fair-trade-certified factories and shipped across the ocean disrupting marine life.)
  4. Helping destroy local shoe making businesses in developing countries.

Oops. Not so great.

Now, I don’t think TOMS was started with some evil intention to keep third world countries poor, nor do I think you wanted to help them do that, when you bought your shoes. I simply think TOMS misunderstood their own efforts and lots of people believed (or believe) in their concept.

For generations “we” have tried giving aid to poor countries in order to “help” them out of poverty. And obviously, it’s not helping. I haven’t heard any sunshine stories about how riches ever came from aid (talking about all that free stuff).

And it makes sense. No one would invest in a local rice plantation if there were bags of free imported rice available. No one would want to start a local manufacturing plant if everything people needed (and wanted) was already available for free.

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Is that you Angelina? (Copyright Povertyinc.org)

The cool thing is that we can make better choices in our everyday lives to make sure we don’t contribute to the broken aid system! Here are some ideas on what you can do to make a positive impact:

  1. Stop randomly donating money. Make sure you know what your money is used for, and who profits the most from it. If you are unsure, you’re better off keeping your dollars away from any organization or church meddling in another country’s business. This does not include properly handled emergency aid.
  2. Stop over-shopping. By limiting your shopping, especially of clothes and shoes, you can avoid “donations” that contribute to the mountains of items overflowing developing countries. Quality over quantity, you know. If you need to donate, give it to a local homeless shelter or a resale shop.
  3. Shop second hand. Keep other people’s bad choices from ending up as donations!
  4. Shop fair. The only way to HELP developing countries grow strong economies is to purchase their fairly made (non-sweat-shop) products (i.e them creating jobs). I’m talking about fair trade clothing from Kenya, organic chocolate from Peru, unique jewelry made by artisans in Haiti* or something as simple as choosing the local beer and hotel chain when you travel. You know; doing it fair, shopping it small and keeping it real.

Without local manufacturing and thriving businesses, a community, no matter which country it’s in, can never rise above poverty.

If you were tempted (or secretly picked) the “free” made in China sweater instead of the 80 dollar American one in the scenario at the beginning of this post – you know this is true.

The Poverty Inc. movie inspired this post.

* To me, the optimal “fair” shopping is when you shop items made close to where you live, minimizing shipments. So if you’re in Europe, support African Fair Trade, if you’re in the States go for Central American goods etc.

The clothing is old, what’s vintage is new, a purse that is borrowed & ballet flats in blue

Second hand shopping and I don’t always get along. I get impatient and picky and normally leave empty handed. But now and again, on an odd day out, I strike gold. (Fake gold that is.) Why I keep at it? Because it’s the most eco-friendly way to add new things to my closet and I support small neighborhood businesses while doing so!

First, let me introduce my “new” flower broche. A vintage piece that I immediately fell for at the Vintage Revival boutique south of Houston. I paid $10.50. I love using a spectacular broche as the focal point on a (dull) purse!

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Vintage Broche from Vintage Revival Shop, Nassau Bay, TX

This plastic clutch was actually my grandmother’s. She got it for free with a mail-order make-up purchase, sometime in the early 2000s, and I snagged it right away. Finders keepers, you know? That goes for the broche and the clutch bag.

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Made in USA ballet flats, second hand blouse, upcycled jeans

The blouse is ALSO a “new” second hand find! Can you believe it?

This is Lucky Brand (lucky me), from who knows when, which I got for $10 at a local resale shop. I love the pattern and I love how the blue plus red threads “make” purple, allowing me to wear one of my favorite old scarves with it. Scarves always make every outfit better (logic according to Anna). This one was a gift from my mom.

The jeans are my “overhauled” old boot-cut Gap jeans that I blogged about last week, and the flats are, of course, my made in USA Oka-B’s. The BEST (and cutest) shoes for Houston’s wet weather.

Sustainable fashion at its best; garments that are old, a vintage broche that is new, a purse that is borrowed (no return date set) and of course, ballet flats in blue.

That’s how that saying goes, right? ;)

Picture credits: Shutterluv by Ashley.