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This post is generously sponsored by Timberland. As always, EcoCult only works with companies we believe are doing good things. Support EcoCult editorial by supporting them!
You may not know this, but Timberland has quite a reputation as a sustainable company.
Yeah, I know. I had read here and there over the years about the outdoor footwear and apparel company’s commitment to manufacturing its products responsibly, but they don’t advertise this fact often, so it’s easy to forget!
I’m thinking I should talk to you more about their efforts, because according to Timberland’s consumer survey earlier this year, nearly four out of five consumers wish brands would offer more eco-conscious styles, and about the same number wish brands and retailers would tell them more about what they are doing to create sustainable fashion.
The survey also showed that more than half (55%) of consumers say they don’t understand what eco-conscious means when it comes to clothing, shoes and accessories.
My job, as your sustainable fashion writer, is to remedy that.
What a Sustainable Big Brand Looks Like
In 2016, Timberland announced some bold sustainability goals for 2020, and they’ve been tracking their progress toward those goals over the past two years. These initiatives apply to everything, not just a capsule collection, which is impressive.
They’re hoping to:
1. Sustainably source 100% of their cotton for their apparel from U.S.-origin, certified organic, recycled or Fairtrade or sourced as certified-Better Cotton through Better Cotton Initiative, all of which use less water and fewer insecticides than conventional cotton grown outside the U.S. The Better Cotton Initiative is a fashion industry push to teach farmers in developing countries like India more sustainable methods of cotton farming that use less pesticides and water. It’s not certified organic, but it’s made a huge difference in the past few years, and it’s easier to come by than organic cotton which makes up less than half of a percent of the global supply of cotton. As of the end of 2017, Timberland had reached 81% of its total cotton sourcing for apparel being more sustainable than conventional.
2. Produce 100% of their footwear with at least one component containing recycled, organic, or renewable (ROR) content. That used to include itty bitty components such as webbings, trims, and labels. But last year, in a move to meaningfully increase their use of ROR materials, they decided that in order for it to count, it has to be a major component. That new policy dropped the reported number down to 67% of all footwear shipped in 2017. But it seems to have worked to improve their materials, because their use of recycled PET increased by the equivalent of 3 million plastic bottles, to a total of 40 million plastic water bottles used last year.
3. Source 100% of leather footwear, apparel, and accessories from LWG Silver or Gold-rated tanneries. They’re at 93.1% for all apparel, and 99% for footwear. I was curious about what this means, so I researched the Leather Working Group. In essence, this group was formed by brands to audit and rate tanneries on their environmental performance: how they handle their waste, where they get their energy from, and their emissions. For example, there’s only one rated leather tannery in Bangladesh, even though there are over 200 tanneries in the notoriously toxic leather tanning district of Dhaka. (And Timberland doesn’t source any leather from Bangladesh.) But there are plenty of rated tanneries in the U.S. and Italy, and many other countries with stronger environmental regulations. Timberland sources from these best-in-class facilities.
4. Have 100% PVC- and PFC-free footwear and apparel. In 2017, 3% of all Timberland footwear shipped contained PVC. According to Timberland, there are stringent performance expectations in certain styles that PVC-free alternatives currently can’t meet. (The oils that are naturally present on leather interfere with the efficacy of water-based adhesives.) The same challenge arises when it comes to PFC (per-fluorinated compounds), which are potentially hazardous to humans – at the factory as well as to the consumer. In 2017, 91% of their waterproofing was PFC-free, but they’re held back by performance issues of the alternatives. However, they have been able to reduce the amount used in their shoes through programs like employee training, better containment of VOC adhesives to prevent evaporation, upgrading VOC application equipment, more targeted application, and increased material pre-treatment processes to minimize the VOC adhesives needed. (Why yes, sustainability is complicated. Why do you ask?)
5. 100% recycled material packaging. The area where Timberland has achieved their goal already? Packaging. All their packaging is made from recycled materials and water-based inks and has been for years.
Ask any expert, and they’ll tell you the best thing you can do for fashion sustainability is buy less and buy better. And Timberland products have an impeccable reputation for quality and long-lasting wear. Their sustainability initiatives are a fantastic cherry on top of being a trustworthy company that inspires loyalty from professionals, outdoor enthusiasts, and fashion consumers alike.
Tell me in the comments: Do you own a pair of Timberland boots? What do you think?
It was probably less than a couple weeks into our year-long trip when I was wandering through Instagram and saw a photo of Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, for the first time. It was a picture of the back of a woman, seated alone on the edge of a slope and looking at a mountain with diagonal stripes in a literal rainbow of colors.
It looked otherworldly, tranquil, and utterly magical. And I had the same reaction that many people probably do when they stop their scrolling to look closer: I want to go there.
I clicked through and found out that it’s a few hours outside of Cusco. So made a note of it, and when we starting planning for the Peru leg in our around-the-world trip, I sat down to figure out how the heck one journeys to Rainbow Mountain. The first thing I discovered is that you can’t just Google it and drive there; you have to hire a tour company.
Little did I know that I had fallen victim to an increasingly large problem: Instagram overpromises. Rainbow Mountain was at one point an otherworldly place accessible only to the most hardy, adventurous travelers who were down for a six-day hike. But in 2016, Cusco tour companies started offering day tours directly to and from Vinicunca. And now, it is mobbed.
Yes, the view and nature is astonishing, and there are hundreds of alpacas, llamas, and vicuñas, so I’m told. But it’s safe to say that the opportunity to take a photo in front of such Instagram gold is what spurs many tourists to pay good money and wake up at 2:30 am for a 16-hour-long adventure, involving a long drive and a two-hour trek in freezing weather to the top.
More importantly, I had partnered up with Lokal Travel*, a travel agency that helps you find authentic and high quality experiences that benefit the local community. I told them I wanted to visit Rainbow Mountain, and they had a couple of experiences that included it available. With one of the co-founders being half-Peruvian, and their extensive process for finding and vetting the best local tour agencies, I knew that we would be in good hands.
This is not the picture you usually see on Instagram of Rainbow Mountain
The tour we booked was their overnight Rainbow Mountain excursion. And the two-day excursion is actually a much more interesting, comfortable, and fun way to do it, because you leave at a reasonable time from Cusco the first morning and head first to the Chari community halfway to the mountain, where you have lunch with the community, then to some ruins that literally no other tourists visit, then dinner again in the Chari community, and to bed in their home. Then you wake up at 5 am the next day to go to the mountain, so you can beat most of the tourists there and get your picture, before having lunch and a quick weaving lesson. And this is all done with a private driver, instead of you being herded around on a bus.
On top of that, the tour is administered by CBC Tupay, which connects travelers to unique experiences with indigenous communities throughout the Sacred Valley around Cusco. These experiences financially support the local nonprofit Centro Barolomé de las Casas, which is dedicated to studying and supporting the preservation of Andean cultures.
Rainbow Mountain and Overtourism
The first tourist picture of Rainbow Mountain was in 1992.
When we landed in Cusco in 2018, we were confronted by advertisements everywhere – in the airport, on every corner – for Rainbow Mountain. Most of the pictures had been color edited to make it look more saturated and fantastic than it is in real life. How would you even choose which tour company to go with if you had just landed? I was happy we had pre-booked with a reputable provider.
The day before our tour, our guide Carlos came to our hotel to prepare us for the excursion and tell us about the program. Carlos himself proved to be a wonderful guide. While he was still working on his English, he actually did his college thesis on Rainbow Mountain, and so was able to explain to us exactly what was going on there.
The sudden influx of tourists has had both good and bad implications. The good is that many locals from indigenous groups have been lured back from working in dangerous gold mines in order to help tourists hike up to the top. The bad is the local community, faced with all this money, has been beset by corruption, and while they’ve built some bathrooms and improved some trails, with the amount of money they make daily, there should be a lot more improvements. There’s a lot of trash, and a lot of sellers. Environmentalists fear that that the combination of up to 1,000 backpackers a day, combined with poor management, could mean Rainbow Mountain is destroyed. Already a local wetland that was popular with migrating birds has been paved over to handle the tourist buses.
Just the fact that our very well-educated guide was willing to share both the pros and cons of the tour gave me confidence. That, and the fact that we would beat the crowds. I wanted to get that picture.
Falling in Love With Andina Women
At 9 am the next day, we stored our luggage with our hotel, threw our duffels in the car waiting outside, and drove south out of Cusco, listening to our driver’s collection of local Huayno music. Alpine slopes rising steeply on either side of the road. We passed quinoa fields, their maroon tassels dropping heavy with seeds, and corn fields, a sheep herder with his muddy flocks, small towns with adobe homes painted with faded political slogans from election years gone past.
We made a quick stop in Checacupe, a town with three bridges over the river – one in the Inca style, one in the colonial style, and a modern metal bridge – and explored the ornate Catholic church with the oldest ornate pulpit in the area of Cusco. I bought chicha de sebada, a fermented barley drink, from a woman seated outside. We were the only tourists in that town.
They raise their own cuys, or guinea pigs, for food.
Then we continued on to the Chari community. We pulled up in a tiny hillside village, and after waiting a bit, an Andina woman popped out from behind a stone wall, and after some quick words in Quechua with our guide and driver, led us down a path past some cows and to the door of a home. Several women came out and were suddenly dressing my husband and I in Andean clothing: a poncho for him, a lushly embroidered full skirt and a matching cape for me.
I barely kept it together. I hadn’t been prepared for this. Honestly, I had taken a picture with some Andina women in and an alpaca and baby goat in Cusco, which was exciting enough. I had no idea I would get to actually wear this beautiful clothing.
The Chari women’s home
Formal introductions in the courtyard followed, and we all held hands and danced in a circle, singing a song. We had a wholesome lunch of choclo (fat Peruvian corn on the cob), vegetable quinoa soup, and wild-harvested muña tea, which is sort of like a mint tea, that is good for the stomach.
Then we piled back in the car to visit Machu Picchu Marca, ancient ruins that predate Machu Picchu. The matriarch of the family, Eustaquia, climbed in by my side in the back seat. At first I was shy around her. I had no idea what to expect, or what to say.
But when we got to the ruins, she climbed out of the car, popped her traditional had on her head, spread her arms wide and said, “foto!” with a belly laugh. Then she unwrapped her bundle and passed out some coca leaves for us to chew before we climbed up to the ruins.
But by the end of our two days, I was absolutely enamored of Eustaquia. I don’t think I can describe her in a way that really does her justice. She’s wise, kind, but also wickedly funny and playful. She was always laughing and teasing, the Quechua language lending a lyrical and bouncy quality to her chatter. When she got on the cell phone to tell the other Chari women we were on our way back, she yelled into the phone in a way that I can only describe as the way a little girl would yell at her dad if he was teasing her, with love and laughter in her voice.
Eustaquia has been selling artisan products since 2000, but CBC Tupay got involved in 2004 to support her and the other artisans’ work. She’s now the leader of this group of artisans, and CBC Tupay flew her to Mexico for an artisan showcase.
Eustaquia was especially charming, but it’s really all the Andina women that I fell in love with. If you listen to Huayno music, especially in Quechua, you can hear their sense of humor and strong personalities in their musical yelps, and complaints about their drunk men. It’s amazing.
My super tall husband with Eustaquia
Eustaquia picked herbs – anise, salvia, and muña – for us as we slowly walked across the empty archeological site, and I practiced my simple Spanish with her. We reached the top of the hill and all sat down, taking in the mountains and the translucent moon rising above the shadowed slopes. The afternoon was slipping away, and it was getting chilly. There used to be snow on the mountain tops we were looking at, 20 years ago. Not anymore. I asked if other tourists ever come here. “Never,” Carlos said. “It’s too far out of the way.”
“This is amazing,” I said. “I love that we’re here at this place by ourselves.”
That’s when he casually said something that would change the course of our excursion. There’s another Rainbow Mountain in the same area that they are just starting to bring tourists to. In fact, it has four mountains, instead of just one. He had visited it with his cousins last year.
The Other Rainbow Mountain: Palccoyo
“A lau lau!” Eustaquia said when she felt my hands, which is Quechua for “Wow, so cold!” So we headed back to the car, and back to her house. Our room in the family compound was unexpectedly nice, with two comfy beds covered with heavy blankets and a table covered with a woven fabric.
The women busied themselves in the dirt-floor kitchen with the propane and wood burning stove, talking amongst themselves in Quechua, and peeling potatoes. I wrapped myself in my serape and sat by the stove to warm up. After our big traditional dinner with the Chari women and cow farmer man, I brought up the “other” Rainbow Mountain again. Could we maybe go?
It was possible, Carlos said. It’s actually a shorter hike, one hour instead of two. Oh, and there are only about 50 tourists that go there each day. I felt guilty about not doing the original, longer hike. Would this be a cop-out? I wanted to get a feel for what Palccoyo was like, so Carlos opened his Instagram and I looked up and compared the hashtag #vinicunca to #palccoyo. There are 20,000 #vinicunca posts, and 250 #palccoyo posts.And the 20,000 #vinicunca posts all show the exact same view. But what clinched it for me is when I found a picture that a travel blogger posted of herself running barefoot across the ground in an off-the-shoulder dress. I stared at it, incredulous. Had she packed that dress just so she could get that picture? It was so unethical, her putting this place forth as a warm summer paradise. It is cold up there. It often snows and sleets.
“Let’s go to Palccoyo,” I told Carlos. He made a call to the main office to confirm, and told us that we could even get up three hours laterbecause the hike is shorter and we wouldn’t have to rush to beat the crowds. Then the group, us, our guide, the driver, the Andina women and the farmer hosting us, passed around coca leaves. The women examined the leaves and peeled away the stems and stuffed large wads of it in their cheeks for chewing, while we all told stories. Then we were off to bed at 9 pm. That’s what happens when you don’t have a TV, a lot of bright lights, or a laptop.
The next morning we woke at 8 am, had more choclo, bread with jam and butter, coffee, and tortillas verduras: delicious pancakes with shaved vegetables baked inside. And we were off. After a half hour, we turned onto a dirt road, and now we only passed Quechua people, colorfully attired with cloth packs on their back filled with alfafa, a man leading an ornery bull, a woman her bonneted baby in a wheelbarrow.
I’ve been an admirer of alpaca as a sustainable alternative to cashmere for years now. So every time I saw a photogenic alpaca, I would squeal and make the driver stop so I could take pictures. Alpacas aren’t just good for the local environment. They are freaking adorable, with funny haircuts and expressions of excitement and curiosity.
At one farm, the farmer put a baby alpaca in my arms while the mother fretted. Further up, vicuñas, the luxurious cousin to alpacas, wandered on the side of the road. Then we came around a corner and found a vast field filled with alpacas. Alpacas were everywhere. Carlos had to tell me to stop taking photos – we were an hour late because of all the alpacas that I wanted to photograph.
Around every corner was another incredible vista, with stepped grassy slopes and tiny streams tumbling down, dramatic rock formations slashed across the hills, herds of alpacas in their stone corrals, red adobe houses with with grass roofs that blended right into the landscape, pink rivers of iron-rich mud carving a course through the gorge. It would have been a beautiful drive even without the promise of candy-striped geological formations ahead.
Up and up we went. A stone said 4,250 meters above sea level. We paid a small fee to the local indigenous people who manage Palccoyo, and kept going. And then there we were. At the other Rainbow Mountains.
At Palccoyo, you don’t need to hike two hours to see anything. The first mountain is right there when you arrive. Then it’s 15 minutes to the first lookout, 15 minutes to the next, and the next, until your reach the end. It was incredible. And tranquil. As we did the easy hike through the otherworldly country, past the Stone Forest formation, we encountered an Andina woman with her baby strapped to her back, her ruddy-cheeked toddler, and five other tourists. When we got to the end, there was a small group of Germans, who quickly left. We had the whole lookout to ourselves, until a herder’s..
This post is generously sponsored by Cosmos Studio. As always, EcoCult only supports brands that are making a difference in the world. Support EcoCult editorial by supporting them!
Despite all of its challenges, ethical and sustainable fashion is slowly gaining traction. But there is one really important piece of sustainability that’s getting severely overlooked by companies and consumers alike — and it’s a huge problem. It’s water.
But it’s not only the amount of water being used that’s the problem — it’s also where it’s being used.
The majority of our apparel is made are water-scarce areas, such as Bangladesh, India, and California. Click To Tweet
Lastly, we have reason to be concerned about the extreme toxicity and pollution that comes from dyeing and processing textiles with water and then dumping that chemical-filled water into rivers and streams that people then drink out of. You’ve probably even seen images of rivers painted different colors as a result of textile dye.
This is precisely what inspired Jeffrey Man and Davy Chan to create a fashion brand that does things differently: Cosmos Studio. When nearly every other brand has forgotten about the water crisis — they are making it their number one priority. The Founders source raw, organic materials, they don’t use toxic chemicals, and their production takes place in a WRAP Certified factory, but they don’t stop there.
The Problem with Traditional Dyeing
“People overlook the environmental impact of dyeing and finishing — when it is by far the production stage with the worst environmental impact,” says Co-Founder, Jeffrey Man. “This stage contributes the most to greenhouse gas emissions, human health degradation, and energy use.”
One of the reasons why traditional dyeing uses so much water is because of reactive dyes. You dip the garment in they dye, and then you have to rinse it until no more color bleeds out. “A lot of times, only 70% of dye would reach the garment and the rest would be rinsed off,” Man says.
Plus, the enzymes used in dye are acidic, which means that alkaline water has to be used in order to neutralize the dye again, which means even more rinsing.
Man is empathetic with the fact that water use and pollution is not often a priority for eco brands. The truth is, it hasn’t been an easy problem to solve. “It is understandable that most brands focus on using more eco-friendly, raw materials or upcycling used materials, because it requires technological advances and investments to change the way you dye.”
So, what did the Cosmos Studio duo do to address this problem? They created a brand new technology.
An Entirely New, Innovative, and Affordable Technology
Cosmos Studio’s brand new dyeing technology is called GiDelave, It uses 95% less water, 70% less chemicals, and half the energy that traditional processing requires. Not only that, but there is zero discharge involved, meaning no wastewater and no contaminated runoff.
The technology works by basically “printing” the dye onto the fabric threads before it becomes a piece of clothing. After the fabric is dyed, the nontoxic pigment actually returns to its powdered form and the little water that is used to process can be reused since there are no harmful chemicals in it.
Hope for the Future
The Founders of Cosmos Studio are not even close to being finished innovating, and they may just have the potential to revolutionize the fashion industry and provide tangible solutions to our growing global water crisis. The team is in the process of developing even more technologies that will be released next year.
They are currently working on testing the GiDelave technology on denim, in order to make a much more sustainable pair of jeans that look just as great as traditional denim. “If you want to make a distressed pair of jeans, you have to do a lot of things, like sandblasting, which is now illegal in a lot of places because it is super dangerous for the workers,” Man says. Not only that, but the lighter the jeans, the more you have to wash them to get that faded look, dumping more dye waste into the waterways. “You don’t have to do all that and put people in danger!” says Man. The technology they are working on to change this involves what they call “color diffusion.” The yarn is put through a machine prints the color onto it 360 degrees around, the pigment diffusing into the yarn, giving it the washed look.
Yet another technology they are developing involves a completely waterless dyeing method, which uses recycled PET chips that are heated then mixed with color and combined with the cotton. The color is essentially transferred from the chips to the textile.
As of right now, Cosmos Studio sells a collection of unisex button down shirts, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter at the end of 2017 as “the most sustainable shirt in the world.” They are currently working on releasing short sleeve shirts for the summer and sweaters for the winter. In all of this, Man says their ultimate hope is to “use these technologies to be the basis of the brand and to disruptively and sustainably change things.”
I’m writing to you from Buenos Aires. On Saturday I make the harrowing journey across to hemispheres to Denmark for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. It’s a grand gathering, and I’m already on a huge Instagram group chat with a bunch of other sustainable fashion enthusiasts about meeting up when we get there, and I feel an epic sustainable shopping trip coming on. After all, I need to switch out my wardrobe from Latin-American-artist-chic to European-minimalist-chic. If you have any tips or recommendations, please comment below!
Meanwhile, my influencer network, Ethical Writers & Creatives, got a lovely writeup in Glamour! And some of my favorite, most hardworking members were included.
We are excited to partner with AGAATI to give away a $150 credit to anything on AGAATI.com, plus a personal call with the brand’s Designer, to one EcoCult reader. Enter at the bottom of the post!
Despite the serious room for improvement, America is still a frontrunner when it comes to human rights and social justice. But while we fight hard for equal pay and a sexual harassment-free workplace through #MeToo and TIME’S Up, female employees in many developing countries don’t have any rights at all.
There is perhaps no industry that practically illustrates this disconnect more than fashion. Despite the fact that the fashion industry has been predominantly fueled by women’s money, it is in fact women who suffer the most in sweatshops and garment factories, especially in developing countries, which have few worker protections.
“There are 75 million workers in the garment industry and 80% of the workforce are women,” says Saloni Shrestha, the Founder and Designer behind the women’s fashion brand AGAATI. When these women workers are exploited with low wages, gender inequality and harassment, the effects percolate throughout the society, scarring generations and communities around the world.”
This hasn’t occurred to many of the women marching in New York City and San Francisco, wearing feminist slogan tees. “I want to connect the modern, independent, better-resourced women of America to the women from a completely different world whose fight for their social status and economic empowerment is still far behind,” says Saloni. “We want to lend our voice and actions to enable fair wages and respect to these women.”
Empowering women through slow fashion - YouTube
AGAATI employs both women and men weavers, but over the past year, Saloni and her team have prioritized women’s empowerment along with deep connection with artisans as specific goals for the brand. As AGAATI grows, they continue to collaborate with more women artisans who have faced domestic violence as well as give back portions of their profits to NGOs that support women’s empowerment and create employment for artisans around the world.
In order to bring the stories of these artisans closer to you, AGAATI is releasing several short films to introduce you to the individual makers themselves. The designer herself works closely with artisans and weavers, some of whom have been carrying this work through generations.
AGAATI’s Newest Collection, Inspired by Nature
AGAATI’s newly released Spring/Summer ‘18 Collection is inspired by the Himalayas, the gorgeous mountain range that runs through Nepal, where AGAATI’s makers are based. Saloni was inspired by “the continuity of life in nature, despite the ways in which we take away from her,” which influenced a collection that is symbolic to the transition of buds transitioning into their full bloom. The pieces are made using mostly 100% silk, some of which is upcycled, as well as cotton. In order to reduce waste, Saloni and the AGAATI team are using up the viscose fabric which was bought last season for the lining and will be switching to a more eco-friendly alternative for next season’s collection. All of the fabric is purchased undyed so that the team has full control over the natural dyeing process and can ensure that no harmful chemicals or toxins are used.
Note that some of the photos included in the SS18 Lookbook may not yet be available for purchase on AGAATI’s website. This is because, in their commitment to high-quality, slow fashion, AGAATI releases just a few pieces at a time in order to give consumers the chance to “soak in the looks slowly rather than rush through like a fast fashion cycle.”
Saloni and her team at AGAATI believe that fashion should be an actual experience, instead of something to be consumed and thrown away without thought. Because of this, their pieces are always limited edition, and they rarely give discounts because they want the wearer to see and believe in the true value and beauty in what they’re wearing. Each piece has a story, a journey, and they are meant to make you feel special as you wear your AGAATI piece for a long time.
We are excited to partner with AGAATI to give away a $150 credit to anything on AGAATI.com to one EcoCult reader! PLUS, the winner will also get a phone call with Saloni Shrestha, AGAATI’s Designer, where you will be able to ask her any questions about the brand or artisans, discuss any pieces you are interested in, and enjoy the real AGAATI experience! And if you’re located in New York, Saloni would love to meet you in person at their pop-up event in June.
The winner will receive their piece by the end of the first week of June. If the piece you want is a pre-order of a special design, then it will require 4-5 weeks and Saloni is happy to take your specific measurements. AGAATI return policy: if size is a concern, you will be able to exchange the piece within 10 days of receiving it.
An Instagram fan recently asked me if I knew where to buy ethically-made dresses that she could wear to weddings this summer. What a great question! Shockingly, I hadn’t written about this before. Maybe because the choices were so limited.
But there is good news, fashion lovers: Once I poked around amongst my stable of favorite sustainable and ethical designers, I found hundreds of beautiful options. I narrowed it down by only including boutiques or brand websites that have at least three pretty cocktail or formal dresses for you to choose from.
And in a happy side note, I also found some plus sizes, and lots of models of color! So we’re getting much more diversity than when I started doing editorial roundups just a few years ago.
So pour yourself a glass of champagne. We’re going shopping.
I love the direction that Mara Hoffman has gone in the past couple of years. Not only are her pieces now sustainably made, they are oh so chic, while still retaining fun, bright colors. Absolutely perfect for both a city and barn summer wedding. (Bonus for my plus size readers: Mara Has extended sizes in some of these dresses!)
Sustainable, Green, Eco-Friendly, and Ethical: The careless practice of using these terms lightly and synonymously, especially by marketers, has created a bit of confusion.
All of these terms do point to awareness, as well as environmental and social responsibility (though most are not strict legal or certified definitions) so you could technically use them interchangeably. But there are small differences in meaning that are important to define.
To clear up the confusion, here are some basic guidelines for those who are curious about the many shades of green:
Green vs. Eco-friendly vs. Sustainable
The meaning of the word “green” has long outgrown the color. It’s now frequently used in a colloquial speech to apply to almost everything related to benefiting the environment, from the movement to architecture and fashion.
Eco-friendly isn’t quite so broad. It means that something doesn’t harm the planet.
But sustainable is the most precisely defined term here, and represents the wide scope of issues and activities that, according to the United Nations, do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Sustainability sets the focus on the future. It means the item or action is generating environmental, social and economic benefits, while not using up too many resources or causing pollution. Yes, all these aspects are covered under this one word.
Compared to ‘”green” and “eco-friendly,” sustainability has much higher standards. Sustainability includes eco-friendly activities and green products, but green doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable. For instance, a product made from renewable resources is considered green, yet if a life-cycle analysis shows that it required a lot of energy to manufacture and ship to you, and if there isn’t a proper way to dispose of the product, then it’s not considered sustainable.
To be honest, there’s not much out there in the consumer product world that is truly sustainable. Rather, some products are simply more sustainable compared to the alternatives.
For all those reasons, we prefer using sustainable on EcoCult. Though, we’ll sometimes use eco or eco-friendly because that is what people are searching for.
Clean vs. Nontoxic vs. Organic
Rising demand for safe products, mainly in the wellness and beauty industries, created the terms clean and nontoxic, which are very similar. Clean implies ingredients — natural or synthetic — that are not harmful to your health. Nontoxic products are free from ingredients that can harm your health or the environment. When talking about beauty or cleaning products, we usually use nontoxic on EcoCult, just because it feels more precise and accurate than the lifestyle-y term clean.
Organic is a legally defined term, which is used by the USDA to certify food, beauty products, and other agricultural products as being produced in a very specific way – mainly, as free from synthetic chemicals that are harmful to the environment and humans. So we only use this term if we’re talking about food, a restaurant, a beauty product, etc. that uses certified organic ingredients.
Ethical vs. Fair Trade vs. Artisan
Since the 1980s, global trade has changed for the better, especially in developing parts of the world.
The ethical trade movement refers to the working conditions of workers who produce clothes, toys, food, and other products for multinational companies, as well as how well they are paid for their work. It is a broad term that is not certified or precisely defined, but it’s still quite useful for describing in general the type of products you want to buy.
That’s why on EcoCult we usually use ethical separately from sustainable, as an and/or description.
Conscious vs. Thoughtful
The trendy term conscious refers to consumer awareness and high standards regarding health and environment. It can also sometimes include the realms of spirituality and wellness. The conscious consumer knows how to read labels and will, most likely, spend extra money on a product that is organic, sustainable, or animal-friendly. She probably also practices yoga and meditation. Yup, it’s a lifestyle word, so we usually use it to describe a person (“conscious bride”), a business, or a way of thinking about things, not a specific product.
The definition of thoughtful is showing consideration of other people’s needs and being well-informed on a topic before making a decision or forming an opinion. Being thoughtful encompasses all the qualities mentioned above and can stand as the overarching goal.
Thoughtfulness goes beyond being a responsible shopper and recycler. Buying local products is fine, but the analytical approach when it comes to reading labels or choosing an eco-friendly package is just the start.
Being truly thoughtful and aware has to do with embracing a completely new lifestyle where less is more. Embrace slow fashion, buy less and get rid of excessive items in your home. Grow your own food or shop at the farmer’s market. Learn how to make homemade skin care products with natural ingredients. Decontaminate your surroundings by getting rid of pollutants and clutter. Sell and donate stuff you don’t need. Choose to live in a small home in a walkable neighborhood with public transit. Read a lot of high quality journalism on the topics of the environment and human rights, and be an involved citizen.
If we wish anything for the readers of EcoCult, it’s that they are thoughtful in how they go about the world. And in return, we strive to be thoughtful in how we write and share information with you on fashion, travel, and beauty.
It’s the best we can do in this often unfair and contaminated world of ours.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the ethical fashion space lately about how small brands keep getting “burned” by influencers. The chief complaints I’ve read are:
The brand sent free product to an influencer, but she never posted about it.
The influencer was paid a large sum to promote the brand, but the brand didn’t see enough sales to justify the price.
I really do understand how difficult it is to be a tiny ethical brand. You’re bootstrapping, you have too many scruples to underpay your artisans, and your eco-friendly materials cost so much more than conventional materials. I frequently have to clean out my shopping guide and old posts because brands have – poof! – disappeared, and all that is left is a 404 where pictures of beautiful clothing and accessories used to be. And yes, I feel bad that they couldn’t make it, even though I personally supported these brands with editorial and posts.
So I get that, as a brand, you might feel really heartsick when you pay money to an influencer or send them a beautiful object that was lovingly handcrafted, and you seemingly don’t get anything concrete out of it.
And you know what? I believe you. I believe that there are influencers – micro and massive – out there that are behaving unprofessionally and unethically. They certainly aren’t part of the Ethical Writers Coalition, because we put guidelines in place and have even booted members who we’ve found out are buying followers. But every time I dive into the wide world of Instagram, I realize that there are literally hundreds of influencers out there now who are #vegan #ethicalfashion #slowfashion #plantbased #zerowaste promoters. Like, where did they all come from? Back in my day (2013) I could count the eco-bloggers on one hand. Now they are multiplying like rabbits on an organic carrot farm!
I also believe that you get dozens of emails a week from these small sustainable influencers asking for free product, and how old that get get.
But, I also know from experience that a lot of small designers and social good entrepreneurs start approaching influencers with complete naiveté and over exuberance.
So. I’m going to do y’all a solid and give you some advice from the inside on how not to get burned by so-called ethical influencers. This advice comes from five years of blogging, and of co-founding an ethical influencer network where we discuss these issues all day long.
Here we go:
Don’t do any work with an influencer until you have a holistic marketing plan.
If you are slapdash emailing random influencers and giving them vague offers without having a 360 degree marketing plan, I guarantee you, you will run out of money with nothing to show for it. You need to know how each influencer fits in with your larger plan. (And no, you cannot make one influencer your entire plan, anymore than you should make only one product in one colorway and rely on that for all our revenue) I haven’t created one of these brand guidelines and marketing plans myself, obviously, so I can’t give you details on what exactly to put in it. But I’ve gleaned from the many professional and well-run campaigns that I’ve participated in that it might include:
An overall marketing (and as a line beneath that, influencer) budget for this quarter and the year, including for sponsored posts and gifting. Don’t have a marketing budget? Then you need to reevaluate your business plan.
Whether you want to use that budget for a few big influencers, or a lot of little influencers, or not work with influencers at all. I know one really successful designer who doesn’t work with influencers, and it works for her. But it’s a blanket policy that she sticks to . Most other successful brands are working with influencers to great effect.
Your target market for your product (helpful in helping you choose influencers to work with).
Style guidelines (also helpful in choosing influencers to work with).
Your goals: brand awareness, sales, website visits, Instagram followers, or newsletter subscribers are all legitimate goals. You can’t do all of these at once in one post from one influencer, so you need to choose one or two to pursue.
I can tell the difference from the first email between a brand who has a plan, and a brand that doesn’t. And I actually respect brands more when they seem to have specific goals in mind for our collaboration, rather than brands that are like, “Whatever you want! I don’t know! Please write about us!”
So, do not engage in one influencer collaboration until you have your marketing plan nailed.
2. Understand the value of brand awareness.
Sales are amazing, and obviously the overarching goal of your business. But if you are a brand new, tiny brand, then right now you need to work on building brand awareness, which will snowball into sales later on down the line. There’s a famous adage that it takes on average seven touch points before a consumer is ready to buy. That could be a lot less for impulse buys (a.k.a. fast fashion) and a lot more for huge life purchases (a car). But especially when it comes to quality fashion, mid to high-end beauty, and travel, a consumer needs to gather information about your brand and get familiar with it, so that she will even remember you and consider you when she’s ready to buy something in your product category. So, for example, if you are selling bathing suits, she needs to have learned about your brand, probably more than once, so that your brand comes to mind when she’s shopping for an upcoming vacation.
Brand awareness matters: brands in the initial-consideration set can be up to three times more likely to be purchased eventually than brands that aren’t in it. – McKinsey
This is especially true when it comes to sustainably-inclined consumers. They’re only buying high-quality items that they really want and need in their life. They are not impulse buyers. So they are going to think long and hard about whether your $150 blouse is really worth both the money, environmental resources, and space in their closet.
Knowing all that, it’s completely unrealistic to expect one individual influencer to generate a lot of sales for you immediately, especially if your product is more expensive than what you’ll find at Walmart, and you’re new and completely unknown to consumers.
So spread your marketing dollars out to a lot of different channels. Remember that holistic marketing plan? Many readers will see your brand in one Instagram post, and then read about it in detail on another influencer’s blog, and then see your brand in your retargeting ads, and then sign up for your newsletter to get that discount, and then four months from now (long after cookies have expired from that initial sponsored post) will be ready and have saved up the money to finally buy the thing that your brand is selling.
The point is, each sponsored posts holds value in pushing the consumer towards eventually becoming a customer of yours, even if it doesn’t immediately generate sales. You should be aware of this going into any collaboration, and set your goals not just around sales, but around post views, read time, click throughs, newsletter sign ups, Instagram likes, and other measures of how many people saw your brand through the influencer’s promotion.
3. Go out and find influencers who fit your brand.
Now that you have your marketing plan and goals, you can go out and choose your potential influencers. (And assess any that have emailed you.) They should be carefully chosen based on their fit with your target market and aesthetic. Does her Instagram come close to your style guide? Is she in your target demographic? Is she posting about topics that indicate she and her readers would be interested in your brand? I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent writing well-meaning brands back and saying, “This isn’t a fit for EcoCult.” I say no to wrong fits, but not all influencers do.
If you would like to ensure that all the influencers you’re working with are vetted and focused on sustainability and other conscious topics, then you can either look through the the list of members of the Ethical Writers & Creatives and pitch the ones you think are a good fit, or work on a campaign through the EWC with several of our members at once. Our Marketing Director Kamea will manage the whole thing for you, and ensure that you’re paying a fair price and that the campaign members deliver their required assets on time.
4. Check to make sure they aren’t cheating.
Now that you have a list of potential influencers, do a quick check on their Instagrams. Click into all the comments and into the likes to browse through the kind of accounts that are interacting with her. If a large portion of them are in a language that’s different from what she speaks, or have similar photos or photos of non-faces, or are all private with similar follower counts, they are probably fake. Do not work with this influencer.
Here’s a selection of likes from a “popular” sustainable travel blogger. Do these accounts look like people who will book a room at your eco-hotel in Mexico? Are they even real people? Probably not.
Even if the followers aren’t fake, though, you want to see if her followers are actually the kind of people in your target market, and are lay people who would potentially buy your product. For example, a friend of mine who is a marketing consultant told me that a popular fitness blogger actually has three quarters of her followers as men! (Blame the booty shots.) So three-quarters of your budget would be wasted if you’re trying to sell women’s fitness clothes through her. Also watch out for circular commenting. If all her comments are similarly vapid (35 “OMG SO CUTE”) and almost all her likes are from other similarly-sized influencers with similarly-polished profiles who all have blogs, then I don’t think those followers are actually interested in learning about your brand. It’s not unethical to submerge herself in a scene where everyone is desperately commenting on each other in order to boost their engagement, and technically, she’s not cheating. But, you should proceed with caution in this case, because all you might get out of working with her is emails from 24 other influencers asking to work with you and get free product.
Also look through her images to verify that they go back longer than six months, and that she actually created those photos. One big clue she is cheating is if the quality of the pictures in which she herself is featured is worse than the pictures of her supposed apartment or smoothie bowls or sunsets or resorts. She could have bought or stolen those photos to fill her Instagram feed and make her look more professional and talented than she is. Pictures with her face should be the same quality as pictures of her brunch.
5. Look for past examples of partnerships with other brands.
Honestly, if brands always did this step, they could avoid a lot of grief. When I hear brands complaining that the influencer did poor work compared to her (obviously fake bought photos), I have little sympathy. Her portfolio of work is out there for you to see! Look for #sponsored or #ad Instagram posts, and looked for Sponsored posts on her website. Do you like the photos or video she took? Do you like the way she wrote about the brand? Did you see meaningful engagement from her readers and followers around the brand? If you can’t find an example of a partnership with another brand within the last four months, I wouldn’t engage.
5. Set aside a few hours to email them personally.
Start with the top influencers on your list and email them with a personal note. (Side note: DO NOT INSTA DM THEM. That’s so unprofessional and it makes it hard for her to manage the partnership, or even respond to your DM at all.) Depending on their responses (some will say yes, some will say maybe, and some will say no or not respond) you can work your way down the list to the tier 2 and tier 3 bloggers the next week until you’ve reached your budgetary limit.
Any influencer worth her salt should have a media kit ready to send you with her numbers and demonstrating her professionalism. If she does not have a media kit, walk away. If she does, now you can review it to make doubly sure she is a good fit.
6. Evaluate her prices against what she offers and your budget.
Her media kit might have prices. If not, ask for them, for whatever sponsored thing your asking for. Then make sure that you’re comfortable with the price as compared to what she’s offering and the number of followers and visitors she has, and it fits in your budget, before you confirm.
By the way, if you “don’t have a budget for influencers,” or you can’t even offer free product to keep or an affiliate program, then you shouldn’t be emailing them asking for coverage from them. I know that some brands try to pull a fast one and pay certain influencers while telling others that you don’t have a budget. We talk to each other about this, and also it’s kind of obvious when that other influencer has a #sponsored post with you that you actually do have a budget and you were just lying. If you don’t think a small influencer is worth paying based on her numbers, then maybe offer her a nominal amount, like $75, and clearly outline the quality of work and assets you’re expecting. Or just don’t waste her time.
7. Communicate your expectations clearly.
Most top-tier bloggers will not do a lot of work in exchange for a free gift. That’s doubly true for top-tier ethical bloggers, who don’t want a lot of free stuff sent to them. So, know that you will get a lot of no’s, or get ignored if you are only offering free product (unless it is expensive, a well-known brand that is re-sellable, or she would love to have it).
But, since micro-itty-bitty influencers will accept free product, and apparently ask for it all the time, I’ll address how it’s different below:
If you just want to gift product… Overall, gifting product is like loaning money to a friend: don’t do it unless you can actually afford to not get anything back. Influencers really do require free product, to test it out plus take photographs. But it is entirely possible that when she gets your product, she will decide that she doesn’t like it after all – it’s low quality, it’s not flattering, it doesn’t work, it’s not her style, etc… No, not every influencer will be professional and responsive in the event that they decide they don’t like your product. New bloggers are awkward and unsure of protocol (I certainly was) and will feel really guilty about the whole situation and may stop responding to yours emails. Oh well, move on.
So, clearly outline your expectations. Do you expect her to post a picture of her wearing it on Instagram? Do you expect her to review it on her blog? Let her know, so she can confirm or turn you down now, instead of three months from now after you’ve sent product. You can’t make specific stylistic requests or ask to the the post before it goes live in exchange for just a free gift. In fact, she may review your product and point out the negative aspect. Again, she is allowed to do that.
If she is a tiny blogger and the product is valuable, you can be more demanding and make her promise to post a photo or a review, or send it back in good condition if she doesn’t like it. Larger influencers, not so much. That’s just part of your budget, my friend, taking that gamble. But feel free to email her after the tracking code (don’t forget to track the package!) has indicated the product has arrived, and check to see how she likes it or if she has questions. You’re reminding her that you sent her a gift and that it’s polite for her to at least give feedback, even if she doesn’t want to post about it.
If you’re offering an affiliate program… Some people believe that it should be all affiliates, all the time. I don’t agree, because of what I discussed above with brand awareness. But if that is all you’re offering, then you can’t make any demands or set out any expectations at all. It’s completely up to her if and when and where she wants to link to your product. Smart influencers will not do an entire post around one brand just because you are offering affiliate sales – it’s just not worth it. I personally tend to use affiliates links in roundups of several brands.
If you want to do a sponsored post…Then you can ask for a lot of specific assets. You can ask to review the post before publication, to see the caption, to see the photos. You can send over style guidelines and requests for how the product should be photographed, and request that certain keywords and concepts are included. You can specify a window of time within which she needs to post. Just communicate everything before she receives the item and starts testing it out and photographing it. After she’s spent a whole day shooting photos and editing them is not the time to say, “But I wanted both sides photographed!” You should have said that from the outset.
8. Pay after you’ve reviewed the sponsored post.
This is something I came up with and it’s worked great for both me and the brands I work with. I write up the sponsored post, and the brand doesn’t pay until they’ve seen the draft and approved it. Once they approve, I invoice them. And once they’ve paid, I publish it. This makes sure that you know she’s done quality work before you pay, but she’s confident that you won’t skip out on payment after she’s published the post. It’s a fantastic compromise that I absolutely recommend.
9. Review the post as soon as it’s live.
If you sent free product…You an only request changes if there are typos or factual errors.
If it was a sponsored post…You can ask for errors and typos to be corrected, and you can make sure that she’s not broken any of the guidelines that you sent over before publication.
10. Review your campaign when it’s completed.
It’s time to learn from the experience. Who sent the most and least traffic, as compared to their monthly visitors? Who got the most and least engagement, compared to their followers? Who took the most beautiful pictures, and who, well, didn’t? You can use this information to choose better influencers to work with next time. This is all for internal learnings by the way – please do not harangue the influencers who were a disappointment. But do compliment the best influencers on their work!
Overall: Meet Her Halfway
One influencer cannot wave her magic wand and do everything for you. You need to meet her halfway with a great product, great photos, and a great website, plus diversify your marketing plan so that she’s just one piece of the overall machinery that moves customers from awareness to purchase to loyal repeat customer.
But if you follow these guidelines, I guarantee you that you will maximize your influencer marketing dollars and get the best possible work for your budget – and gain a lot of loyal new fans and customers in return for your professionalism.
It’s my husband and I’s one year anniversary, and, well, I guess I’ve been too busy traveling and exploring to tell you what the wedding was like! I’m long overdue on revealing the whole thing to you, from the organic flowers to the low-waste, reusable favors. So now is the time!
First, you should know a little bit about my husband and I. Because of course we designed the wedding to our own preferences and passions.
I met my husband, Illich, at a beautiful spring rooftop party in April of 2013. I’m pretty sure it was the most beautiful rooftop party I’ve ever attended, and as a New Yorker, that is saying something. He was DJing, though I didn’t notice. I had just quit my editorial job and was in the middle of planning the launch of this blog. Someone introduced us on the dance floor, and I chatted briefly and then wandered off. I didn’t find out this next part until three years later when Illich was telling the story, but he saw me heading downstairs to the bathroom, and followed, knowing the line would be long.
I had my big Canon DSLR camera with me that day, and he tried to break the ice by asking if I could send him any photos I happened to catch of him DJing. He had caught me at a bad time. There was another guy at the party, which I would now call a fuckboi, an ex hookup that was treating me badly. I was in, I’m focusing on myself and ignoring men mode. “Maybe a friend of a friend will tag you,” I said. And turned away.
He withdrew to regroup. Then, pulled up a funny picture of a cat and slid it into my vision. I laughed. And the rest is history.
I know that many men would have scoffed at me when I said, “I’m launching a blog!” But he was completely supportive of my crazy idea from the beginning. He designed my launch party invitations, and DJed the launch party. He’s taken hundreds of photos of me. In return, I’ve always supported his DJing, going to every gig, editing his bio and newsletters, and giving him social media promotion tips. (His day job is in architecture.) He proposed three years later on the roof of our Brooklyn apartment that we had renovated together, and we celebrated that night with our friends at a surprise electronic music party in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Our Goals for Our Wedding
So as you can imagine, when we started planning our wedding, we had a lot of goals.
1. It would be as sustainable as possible.
2. We would design it together. With his architectural background, we wanted it to have a unique, modern design that we came up with together – none of this traditional “Whatever the bride wants” business.
3. It would have excellent electronic music, while not alienating our friends and family who don’t party hard.
4. Because we couldn’t have it in Venezuela, because of the crisis going on there, the wedding would reference Illich’s Venezuelan heritage.
We decided to have it at The 1896, an old warehouse in Bushwick blocks away from the area where we frequently go out with friends. We had been at this warehouse before for huge, all-night warehouse parties, so we knew they would let us go as late as we needed – they wouldn’t kick us out at midnight like most venues. It was also a blank slate for us to play with for design. Which… is fun, but incredibly intimidating! We had to bring in everything, including extra bathrooms.
At first we interviewed wedding designers, but when we realized that Illich could do all the services that wedding designers provide – graphic design, a floor plan, even renderings – and I already had contacts in the sustainable world of weddings – florists, makeup artists, etc. – we realized that we could absolutely do this ourselves. In fact, it would be a wonderful opportunity to combine our talents to create something beautiful.
Our colors were black, white, and copper, with a sacred geometry theme. This was a reference back to a sacred geometry necklace I bought for Illich in Bali a few months after we started dating, that he still wears almost every day, and another lazer cut pendant he designed and made as his Burning Man gift. The main symbol was something special Illich created using two circles that represent our respective heights of 5’2″ and 6’5″, and we splashed that across the invitations and favors, in lieu of a traditional name-and-date motif. All the guests also received laser-cut wooden pendant necklaces with the same symbol, which they would need to get into the afterparty nearby in Bushwick after the main festivities wrapped up. Above each dinner table, we hung a large birch laser-cut pendant with flowers in shapes corresponding to the escort cards, so that the 90 guests could find their table not by number, but by sacred geometric shape.
A Clever Way to Cut the Budget and Still Invite All Our Friends
Another special thing we did was to have a two-tier wedding. We planned our wedding in NYC, so it would be easy for Illich’s parents (who don’t speak any English) to arrive straight to our neighborhood, where the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans all speak Spanish. We didn’t want to subject them to the suburbs of Maryland where my family lives, or Upstate New York. Of course, planning a wedding in NYC is expensive. At the same time, it felt wrong to exclude all our friends for budget reasons, when most of them live in NYC.
Our solution? We had 95 people to our ceremony and dinner. Then, 120 more people were invited to the dance party, where they drank beer and prosecco, and nibbled on late night snacks from the caterer. Nobody seemed to mind this scheme at all, because everyone realized that if they hadn’t been invited to the main part, we wouldn’t have been able to invite them at all. In fact, even a few friends came from out of town just for the dance party. They made a weekend trip of it to NYC!
How We Made It Sustainable:
1. We Chose Eco-Friendly Invitations
I know most people recommend evites. But I wasn’t into the idea. I had heard a horror story about a friend of a friend who had a New York wedding and invited all their friends to the party on a boat…and half of the people who RSVPed yes didn’t show up! (NYC party people. Flaky AF.) I was terrified with our two-tier plan that the same thing would happen to us. So, I wanted people to know that this was a Real Wedding. And that required Real Invitations on heavy card stock that arrived in the snail mail.
So, we ordered invitations from a local eco-friendly company, Bella Figura. Bella Figura uses vegetable-oil based and low-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) inks, and low-VOC and citrus-based solvents. They recycle and compost their waste, and use recycled packaging materials. The papers themselves are made ofreclaimed cotton fibers from the garment industry, and colored papers are FSC-certified. They are entirely powered by wind through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).
2. We Used Local and Organic Flowers
The flowers were organic and local, by Molly Oliver Flowers. She sources the blooms seasonally from local Brooklyn farms, regional growers, and NYC farmers markets (with supplement from NYC floral district wholesalers). And proceeds from flowers purchased from Molly’s partner educational farms support sustainable agriculture educational programs for youth and adults around the city.
We gave her a color palette months before, and based on what was in season, she crafted lush, gothic bouquets and garlands. My bouquet had ranunculus and hellebore from New Jersey; Tulips from New York; Peonies, Dogwood and Huckleberry from New York; and Lambs Ears right from from Brooklyn; all tied with natural waxed black twine.
We rented all our furniture and most of the decor from Patina Rentals, for a rustic look that matched the brick warehouse walls. And we rented all our place settings from Broadway Rentals. We invited our friends over to help us stamp 100% cotton napkins with the logo. And everything that Illich designed to have custom built for our wedding – the laser-cut hanging pendants, the sacred geometry DJ booth – we sold to our friends who are party organizers to use as their own decor. We sold the custom LED chandelier (above) to a local club that’s a ten-minute walk from our house.
To welcome guests to venue, we rented two Gamelatrons from a local Brooklyn artist. They’re based on the Indonesian gamelan. We had discovered Aaron’s work at a music festival that Illich played at, and then continued to follow his work and visit the Gamelatron whenever there was an NYC exhibit. They played softly before the ceremony, played a sort of wedding march as we walked in, and then played celebratory music as we kissed and walked back down the aisle.
So nothing from our decor was thrown away in the end. It was all either sold or returned so it could be used again and again.
4. The Fashion Was All Sustainable
Because I write about sustainable fashion, I wanted to make sure every element of what I wore was sustainable and ethically made. My dress was a custom hemp/silk blend piece from Venezuelan designer Susana Colina. It combined my passion for sustainable fashion with a nod to my husband’s home country.
My gold shoes were secondhand, and my quartz crown was from Etsy and made in L.A., my artisan cuff bracelets I bought from the sustainable online store Modavanti, and my fan was by the artisan brand Caravana.
I asked my bridesmaids to pick out a long black dress from Reformation. And in a wonderful touch, my sister handmade matching brass and purple stone earrings for everyone.
We requested that the groomsmen wear a simple black suit – not a tuxedo, which they might never wear again. A couple of them didn’t have black suits (architects don’t need them, apparently) but I didn’t feel at all guilty for sending them to Indochino for a custom suit. “Tell their girlfriends I said, ‘You’re welcome,'” I said to Illich. Indochino is not an sustainably-focused or social good suit company, but a good black suit is something that every man will get a lifetime of wears out of, and Illich loves his.
The food was by a local farm-to-table catering company, Purslane. We chose them because we kept running into them at wedding fairs, and would end up parked in front of their table pretending that we were just making conversation while stuffing our faces with their delicious food.
They ended up doing an amazing job of accommodating the diverse allergies and preferences of all of our guests. We could choose from a long list of potential dishes, and I kept sending them questions, because two of my dearest friends have such strict and completely different dietary needs. They were game for everything, and my two friends who usually have to pack food for events like this were able to have a delicious dinner just like everyone else, served family style.
Though we saw one group of drunk American chicks wandering past our mezcal bar while we were there, they were the exception to the rule. This magical desert town has an energy that attracts people who are looking for inspiration, and thrive in mystery and ambiguity. Not much English is spoken. The liquor is hard. The food is spicy. The sun is harsh, and the nights are cool.
So pack accordingly. Leave your cardigans at home and channel your inner Georgia O’Keeffe-meets-Freida Kahlo love child. Think flowing cotton dresses, wide-brimmed wool hats, ponchos and bright colors popping against the color of sand.
Also pack a bathing suit and resort wear in case you’re going to Oaxaca’s coast.
Layers. It’s the desert, an area where you sweat during the day and shiver at night, so come prepared.
Natural materials. You don’t want to be wearing polyester (itchy and bad for your girl parts), rayon viscose (attracts and retains B.O.), acrylic (same), or pleather (sticks to skin, falls apart quickly). Merino wool wicks away moisture and lets go of odor (more on why I love wool) in all temperatures, cotton is healthy for your skin for a whole day on planes, silk is lightweight and healthy for your skin, hemp is strong and long-lasting, as is linen, and artisan-made leather accessories will last. Why real leather for artisan-made items is better.)
No dry clean only. The desert was made for line drying. So pack items you can hand wash in the sink and throw over the balcony for a quick dry.
My Traveling Outfit
This was for leaving New York City in December. You might be different, obviously.
Ably Apparel Sweatpants – I like these because they’re fitted, so they look pretty put-together, plus they are cotton (so comfy for wearing for long periods of time) and stain and odor resistant. Perfect for traveling!
Ably white t-shirt– Again, has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling!
Merino wool hoodie– I used this constantly. A dark grey color ensures if you layer it under a scarf or poncho, no one will know it’s also for hiking
Baseball cap – To protect your face from the harsh sun.
Mini crossbody purse – I’ve started carrying a mini crossbody purse when I travel, because it gives me quick and secure access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack. O My Bag has a ton to choose from, and Marlow Goods has some great ones as well.
Passport and Passport case– I’m so glad I brought this case by Nisolo, because I stuck my Mexican visa in here, and still had it when I found out that you need to present your copy to leave Mexico, or else pay for a new one at the airport. I also have my yellow fever vaccination card, extra visa photos, and my international drivers license in here.
Mini wallet – There’s lots to choose from at O My Bag.
Earbuds – traditional jack for laptop/airplane console, and a dongle if you have the newest iPhone
Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
Mini bottle SPF moisturizing day cream. It’s so great to have this in your backpack or purse at all times, because you’ll find yourself walking around and think, oops! Should have put on sunscreen! Here are my favorites.
Hand sanitizer – The public bathroom may not have any soap available. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to pet a friendly stray cat or dog!
Portable pillow – always bring this, even on a side trip if your plane ride is an hour. You never know when it will be delayed by five hours until 2 am, as happened to us in Zihuatenejo. I bought mine in Singapore – it converts from a neck pillow to a square pillow.
Wool or cashmere poncho/serape – So I actually didn’t pack this. I bought a fringed cashmere serape in San Miguel de Allende from Recreo, and it became the most beloved thing in my suitcase! It can be draped around you in cold weather, is appropriate for the city or the resort, and you’re essentially wearing a blanket, but stylishly. If that price tag is too high for you (understandable), try this from Victoria Road, and these from VOZ. You can also buy this as a souvenir when you arrive to Oaxaca.
Pons Avarcas walking sandals in camel brown – These last forever and are super comfortable and versatile – I wore them literally every day in Oaxaca. And when I showed up to lunch with Hannah from Manos Zapotecas, I realized she has the exact same pair.
Chila Bag from Noa Trade– You can flat pack this in your suitcase but it holds a lot! I got the camel brown one, which goes with my Pons Avarcas.
Wool socks– Merino wool keeps your feet cool or warm, and wicks away odor and sweat.
Sarong – Great as a cover up, towel, or beach blanket. I got mine in India from Anokhi, but of course you can get these anywhere!
Pajamas – I chose this set because I could wear the t-shirt separately out in public (and did!), and the shorts to the beach.
Jewelry? – I had so much fun jewelry shopping, that I actually wish I hadn’t packed anything except my ear studs.