Last week, I tried my hand at writing about a few of my favorite, trusty eco-friendly products-- a post you can read here. Pretty quickly I gathered I had lots left to learn about this whole new greener world I've been venturing into over the past few months. So this week I decided to write about something I know everything about: admiring French girls.
While officially a French girl myself, I mostly grew up in the States, worshipping the style of my older, and fully French, half-sister from afar. My big sister, Hélène, is 100% Parisian and everything else you imagine that goes along with that. I might have played Miss France in an episode of Flight of the Conchords, but she IS Miss France. She's a decade older in years and centuries ahead of me in terms of sophistication. In effect, we are a Henry James novel-- the clash of the brash and new with the suave, old world. While I was growing up, we'd only see each other every few years, and I treasured those encounters. Each of my big sis's perfect, effortless ensembles is as indelibly inscribed in my memory as the books and films she'd mention off-hand. As I began learning more about sustainable fashion and minimalism, it occurred to me I'd encountered these lessons in refinement, understatement and less-is-more before. In my more brash fashion, here it is, in no particular order, what I learned from my big Parisian sis, mirroring what I've learned so far about sustainability:
1. Effortless Chic Means Minimalist Chic:
The biggest difference between my French sister and the stylish Southern belles I was surrounded by in Virginia seemed to be one of effort. Hélène simply was glamor, those girls tried to be glamorous but it was always the smell of hairspray I'd most take away from encounters with them. I remember how very pretty they'd look in their sundresses, dressed up special for the Foxfield races come spring, how their shoulders gleamed, buffed to perfection as did their hair shine chromatic as a '57 Chevy owned by an old car aficionado, but it always had the stink of, not just hairpray, but of being put on for a special occasion. A look that was as comfortable for them as their new sandals, pinching the feet that longed to run free through soft, tall grass.
Not only did Hélène appear not to try, but her home reflected this same texture of knowing and being. It wasn't just a pose she assumed when out and about. I remember the small wardrobe, I mean the actual piece of furniture, that comprised all of her minimalist closet. In America, I knew one girl who had alphabetized her many garments by the mall stores from which they came: Abercrombie, Banana Republic, Gap. That girl would grow up to be Heidi Montag. (My college boyfriend worked at Timberline, her step-dad's restaurant, where that press-friendly family was endlessly gossiped about. I'm sure she wouldn't mind me sharing the story. ) Hélène like another fashion idol of mine, Marylin Monroe, didn't own much by way of outfits, but, somehow, magically, she always looked perfect. Instead of endless iterations of the trendy outfit, it might be that one accessory that would be a knockout, pulling the whole look together. I think it's that unforced effortlessness that makes French women so endlessly alluring to American women, who often look fabulous but you can see the effort and money put into it. Indeed, the money seems to be more of the point than the fashion sometimes. That's one big cultural difference right there: yes, Hélène didn't have much, but everything she had was of the highest quality. When I was a teen, I remember rifling through her guest bag left unattended in my grandmother's guest room. (Sorry, sis!) Her loose powder was Chanel and smelled like a sunset or peonies. Her earrings were Christian Lacroix. I know this, because she kept them in the box they came with and I swooned over them, remembering how they'd sparkled, elevating a simple denim dress. I was then a gawky 13, and she was a glamorous 23, arthouse boyfriend in tow. Let's cut me some slack for this creepy episode and move on.
2. Effortless Doesn't Mean Not Getting It Just Right:
Eight months after my sister gave birth to twins, I came to visit her on my own. It was my winter break, and at that point I was a sophomore in college and had just finished up a grueling round of finals. That was my excuse for my ragged ensemble, snarled, frizzy, gobs of hair, and, worst of all, the long, shapeless denim skirt-- an item, which to my shame, I only seemed to wear around my sister, until it occurred to me I could donate it and never have its gruesomeness touch my skin again the next time I had another terrible notion about prairie dressing after gazing at some Ralph Lauren campaign, or something equally ridiculous. Hélène had just birthed triplets. TRIPLETS! Her firstborn was only seven, yet when she greeted me at the door of her apartment, then adjacent to the Jardins de Luxembourg, her hair was in a smooth, shiny ponytail and her gray, cuffed trousers hit just so at her ankles. She was wearing these snazzy blue hightop Converse sneaks. On her, they looked like Manolo Blahniks. She confided in me that taking those five minutes every morning to put on a bit of makeup and run a brush through her hair made all the difference. Words that resounded through my brain when I had my own children. I have two of my own little ones now, and I'm not as consistently groomed by any means, but I do make an effort a few times a week, and it does lift my spirits each time.
As I mentioned, I'm only half-French. I seem to need to wear loungewear at least 50% of the time. That's in (at least half of) my genes, too.
3. Care and Care Some More:
Not only was Hélène always at least minimally groomed, but she cared about her possessions in a way that's rare to encounter in America. No, she didn't have a lot of clothes. You wouldn't find in her apartment-- partially subsidized by the French government because she has so many kids and not even called welfare, just called normal humanity!-- the overstuffed drawers and closets we've all become accustomed to in this age of cheap, fast, disposable fashion.
But what she had she cared about. As I mentioned, her trousers were tailored and fit her just right. While the triplets napped, she fetched a long, slip dress I'd tossed two years earlier due to a combination of factors. I'd been passing through Paris on my way to the Middle East, and my pack was overstuffed. However, I'd also had a bad experience in the dress and didn't want to wear it again. I used to project emotions onto inanimate innocent things like clothes. I'm glad I've grown more sensible with age. It was a simple, floral, rayon dress, and Hélène understood its value in a way that I hadn't. That dress would still be chic now! Hélène clearly cared about her things and took good care of them.
4. Have Fun But Not at the Expense of More Important Things
I often think one problem with the fashion world, and one reason its under-regulation has been able to wreak such havoc on the environment, is that serious people don't pay much attention to fashion. In France, serious people care about their clothes. My sister was always wearing something fabulous, but she also had fabulous things to talk about: politics, philosophy, music, poetry, dance, acting. Her home was full of beautiful art on the walls, books on the bookshelves, and, at least in that Jardin de Luxembourg apartment, the odd lovely bit of furniture like the salmon silk chaise longue that even at 20 years old I couldn't believe she'd purchased so soon after having had triplets, bringing the household's child count to 4. Most Americans would have settled for something squashy and grayish. We, as dual citizens, did both: squashy and a nice shade of white that perfectly frames dribbles and grape-colored handmarks. (It was on sale!) Anyway, having a few nice things and taking good care of them, seemed to matter to her more than having a lot of junk everywhere. Long before minimalism was a movement in America, it was a way of life in France.
5. Only Wash Your Clothes When They're Dirty & Other Energy-Saving Pieces of Wisdom
I won't put this last, slightly icky item at my sister's door, but it was a way of treating clothes that I did pick up in France long before I read the same tip on an eco blog and shared it on my own in this post . When I was first allowed to visit my grandparents on my own in the sun-drenched, placid village of Saint Aubin de Locquenay, my water habits sent my grandmother through the roof. As soon as I'd wear a garment I'd toss it in the laundry bag. When I showered, I'd take nice, long, hot showers, emerging from the bathroom to an apoplectic grandpère, red-faced and muttering angrily about the Nazis and "Americans with nothing in their heads". I never quite understood the connection, but I gathered his confusion had to do with how idiotic offspring coming from the same people who had freed him from the work camps. Those summers in the French countryside caused me to reevaluate my water habits long before it became at all fashionable to do so. Now, I wash my hair when it's dirty but not before, and I do the same with my clothes, which brings me to my final point...
6. Perfection Is Boring
My sister's hair might have been nicely cut and colored, but that doesn't mean it was perfect. It was always a little bit of a mess. A little greasy or a little wild. It's hair that says I have more to do with my life than endlessly primp. She might have worn Chanel powder that, in my memory, made her skin gleam pale and perfect as June's strawberry moon, but that doesn't mean she had a whole face of makeup caked on. (No offense to anyone by that, I personally like to wear a whole face of makeup caked on from time to time myself, but, again, I'm only half-French.) Most of all, I learned from her the sense that she enjoyed her clothes, she took them seriously as an extension of herself, and she treated them and the environment around her with the same kind of care...
More or less, what the sustainable fashion movement is trying to teach us all to do: to care, to try, to pay attention to our clothes, and the world they, and we in them, perishable and inchoate, move through.
I almost tossed these old white Chucks, because they'd gotten so grimy, but I didn't because I'm practicing what I preach! Instead, I spent a while wiping them down and washing them off, and they look great! I had to wear them for this post as that's my favorite image of my sister: in her Katherine Hepburn tailored trousers and Chucks, floating around the baby-packed room on feet light as air, haloed by the gray Paris sunshine filtering in through the jardins outside.
Switching to products that don't test on animals and don't use toxic ingredients makes logical sense. Yet, like most people, I too hesitated to make a switch. Maybe it was laziness or habit. Maybe it was that I worried those products wouldn't be effective, that I'd waste money on them, that they might even smell funny.
In reality, the above is not true, I saved money, and they smell great! I'm still concerned about the packaging waste, but I recycle and do what I can. Every little thing counts, and this is a very little and very easy to way to show the Earth, your wallet, and your body some extra love. However... as I began researching some of the products for this post, ones I'd casually assumed were "eco" based on their names, the amount of green-washing I uncovered shocked me. (*cough* Burt's Bees is owned by Clorox *cough*.) I'm going to have to write a follow-up next week with 5 more vetted recs. For now, without further ado, here's what I discovered today.
The good, the bad, and the green-washed:
1. The Balm Cosmetics
A while back, around when I first started this blog, I was equally shocked to discover MAC, or Makeup Against Cruelty, actually DOES test on animals contrary to its actual name. Like why call yourselves that? Call yourselves literally anything else! That level of duplicity and cynicism really steamed my beans. Anyway, I wrote about that discovery here. But, in fact, MAC is not alone: ALL department store brands that sell in China are required by law to test on animals. It's an even more puzzling and unfortunate law when you consider the Chinese don't require this kind of testing of their own brands. China is a huge market, and so even companies with anti-cruelty as their name have folded to the pressure. However, there's no reason we have to put up with that. There are plenty of brands available that don't play fast and loose with their image but actually stand behind their message, and one of those is the Balm Cosmetics.
Here's more info at a glance: http://www.crueltyfreekitty.com/does-thebalm-test-on-animals/
I'm wearing one of their gorgeous matte lipsticks in the shot below. I love ALL the available colors, but I wear the matte lipstain in the shade "committed" on a daily basis. It's so natural-looking and easy to apply. Far from having to sacrifice quality for my principles, the Balm Cosmetics is a life-changing daily go-to. #winwin
2. Coconut Oil
In the image above, I did use a little hairspray to keep my curl from falling out, because we shot my fair fashion outfit in the (ever-persistent, we now live in Seattle apparently??) rain. I very rarely use hairspray and have had the same bottle for years, because my main (and favorite) hair and skin product is plain, old coconut oil. I've actually been using coconut oil for years as well, although the bottles get used up considerably faster.
I've always had a tendency to dab oils on dry skin, and I first discovered the cooking variety, which is only different from the kind pictured above, because it comes in a glass jar. I loved that coconut oil didn't leave behind any of the kind of greasy residue that olive oil does. I found out later lots of women use plain coconut oil as a beauty product. However, I kept breaking the glass jars that the cooking kind comes in. Plastic isn't so great, I know, but I do recycle, and at least I don't have to throw out half-used, shattered glass jars, what with the fact that I am as clumsy as a rom-com heroine and always knocking things onto the bathroom floor.
3. Burt's Bees. Not.
Burt's Bees is problematic. As I coughed, it's actually owned by Clorox. Ew. But I like that the subsidiary company does donate money to bee-saving research, so I really wanted to include them on this list and photographed them with the other items. However, I couldn't, in good faith, write them up without properly researching them. Well, the Clorox ownership is only the start. They also use lanolin, a sheep byproduct, and other non-vegan, non-organic ingredients that make them far from being as genuinely earth-friendly as the name implies. As the site More Nature puts it:
Is Burt's Bees really natural? Strictly speaking, yes, Burt's Bees ingredients are still natural and don't include any of the really bad chapstick ingredients. However, questionable ingredients used in Burt's Bees chapstick like canola oil are starting to blur the line between natural and artificial. As you might expect, though, the Clorox buyout of Burt's Bees has affected the company's ingredients list. The price of Burt's Bees beeswax chapstick is only a few cents cheaper than MoreNature's 100% natural beeswax lip balm. Why not pay less than a dollar more for vegan, all natural beeswax lip balm made from 100% pure beeswax and organic coconut oil?
So let's redo #3!
3. Tom's of Maine... Nope! Again! Doh!
When I looked into this company, one of the first thing's that came up was this:
Tom’s of Maine has become a mainstream brand among health-conscious consumers. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of these consumers are unaware of who owns Tom’s of Main and what ingredients Tom’s products contain. This might be shocking to some but Tom’s of Maine isn’t owned by Tom and is not from Maine. In fact, it’s owned by a well-known corporate giant — Colgate-Palmolive of New York.
It's also NOT aluminum-free but has trace amounts of aluminum in it.
I've been seeking out aluminum-free alternatives for years. Ever since my mother's bout with breast cancer. (She's doing great now! But she also no longer wears traditional deodorants.) Whole Foods carries a bunch of options. An eco-friendly option that works well for me is... wearing nothing. So long as I'm not eating meat, that usually works out okay. For those less willing to brave the consequences-- and there have definitely been some embarrassingly stinky miscalcuations--back to square 3.
3. Co-op or Health Food Store Non-Aluminum Deodorant
I found endless possibilities after a very short search. My mother uses something called Crystal from Whole Foods.
4. Holy Grail Beauty Co.... or Face Palm. I've Had It!
So far I've only tried the Holy Grail Beauty Co.'s Hibiscus and Pomegranate Clay Detoxifying Mask but I really loved it. I have a mask fetish and have tried everything from Lancôme to SK-II to the cheap stuff at CVS, and I thought this mask rated as highly as the nicest ones. Smelled great? Check. Visible result? Check. That's all I asked for.
Before that is. Before I made a commitment to caring.
Now I'd also like my masks to be cruelty-free, since it seems ridiculous to torture an animal for my own vanity. Amazon lists Holy Grail Beauty Co. as having a confusing (and troubling) 70% organic, natural, and cruelty-free rating. Since that's nonsense, more or less, I sought out more info, but their website is still being built, and, honey, you try and put "holy grail beauty products organic cruelty-free" into a search engine and see what happens.
(Basically, "holy grail beauty products" is a pretty damn popular phrase for rating beauty products in general. Nada came up. Nothing. Zilch.)
My fruitless search for more information did garner one positive result! I was so excited Ahava is on many cruelty-free lists! I worked on Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which is affiliated with Ahava. I'm not sure if they're part-owners? Something else to look into... But I do know the factory was close by to the kibbutz, and there were a lot of Ahava products floating around. I've tried all of them. They're wonderful. I'm not sure how affordable they are in the States, but after the fiasco with Burt's Bees and Tom's of Maine I was just happy to see a brand I recognized, have extensively tried, and can stand behind.
That's it for now! Next week, after I've had a chance to thoroughly scrub off all this green dye, I can hopefully recommend a few more 100% eco friendly brands, because 70% does not do it when we're talking about frivolous and fun products that this tired mommy uses to make herself feel nice.
What are your favorite eco products? Do you make your own? Tips would be appreciated! If this week taught me anything, it's that I am definitely no expert yet in this field. However, I do sincerely want to do better for all the reasons I listed above, but most of all for my children and all the children.
Fair Fashion Outfit Details:
Skirt from Greene Street Consignment in Chestnut Hill. Reusable shopping bag from Robertson's Flowers, also in Chestnut Hill.
1970 saw the birth of the first annual Earth Day. It also saw the publication of John Ashbery's The Double Dream of Spring. Named for a de Chirico painting, it's filled with poems nearly as opaque and puzzling as the banner image from which the title springs.
Some Trees, Ashbery's first book written in 1956, won Yale Younger Poets Prize. That year it was judged by W.H. Auden, who once talked about a poet needing a little censor in his head to cut out all extraneous words and who famously confessed he didn't understand a word of what he'd read.
Ashbery does not have that censor. Not one little bit.
I haven't dipped into that earlier book yet. However, I can attest to the fact that Ashbery's later book, The Double Dream of Spring, published some 14 years later, continues the obscurity trend, although it does also contain some poems that are more easily ingested.
From "John Clare":
I say this because there is an uneasiness in things just now. Waiting for something to be over before you are forced to notice it. The pollarded trees scarcely bucking the wind-- and yet it's keen, it makes you fall over. Clabbered sky. Seasons that pass with a rush. After all it's their time too-- nothing says they aren't to make something of it.
There is an uneasiness in things just now... That's certainly a line I can relate to in the current political climate, when I'm almost afraid to simply open links to CNN.com or NYTimes.com anymore.
Ashbery is widely viewed as a genius, not because he's so difficult, but because he freed the written line from academic constraints in a move mirroring abstract expressionism in painting. His unique style has brought out the copycats by the scores-- imitators writing poetry difficult to understand, poetry filled with both high-falutin' allusions to things like "eidolon" and to pop culture as well. But always at the heart of an Ashbery poem is a connecting thread of good, sound sense, a desire not to impose a false sense of order over a chaotic, ever-changing world.
I like best Ashbery's take on his own work, in an essay in he which he comments on Borges as well:
‘Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces molded by time, certain twilights in certain places—all these are trying to tell us something, or have told us something we should not have missed or about to tell us something. The imminence of the revelation that is not yet produced is, perhaps, the aesthetic reality.’ The imminence of a revelation not yet produced is very important and hard to define in poetry and probably is the source of some of the difficulty with my own poems. But I don’t think it would serve any useful purpose to spare myself or the reader the difficulty of that imminence, of always being on the edge of things.
This entire blog is devoted really to the sense in that line alone: to the idea of opening a space in your life that will allow for the imminence of a revelation, to being on the edge of things in order to leave the old behind, to make something new, something that will, I hope, with grace, courage, be better.
Sustainable Outfit Details:
Blouse from Greene Street Consignment in Chestnut Hill. Sandals by sustainable designer Swedish Hasbeens-- their company is all about fair labor practices and they use vegetable dyes on their leather! Crossbody bag from Tradesy-- an online secondhand site for clothing, shoes, and purses. Brass necklace from Second Time Around in Center City, Philadelphia. You can also shop their feed on their Instagram page @2taPhilly. Happy hunting!
This year has marked the beginning of a change in lifestyle, a change that's been a long time coming.
Some of the changes have been small: doing less laundry, reusing shopping bags, walking whenever possible. And some have been larger: getting rid of our second car, switching to a mostly vegetarian and vegan diet, shopping secondhand or sustainable whenever possible.
I know that these changes came about because of the election, but, recently, as I've been thinking back over this past spring and how different (and better, kinder, more textured, richer, happier) my less materialistic, greener life already feels it made me wonder what brought about the environmental movement in the larger society.
Of course, as all things in my life seem to link back to, it has to do with the 70s.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on in 1970. A year before that...
"...a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this natural disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out."
Almost half a century later, in 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed on Earth Day by the U.S., China, and almost 120 other countries.
I fear that half century of hardwon progress is about to be rolled back again.
And so I do what I can... I walk. I learn. I share. I celebrate the Earth. I celebrate life.
Please join me!
Sustainable Outfit Details:
Dress by sustainable designer Kelly Love. Sustainably designed clothes are costlier. This was the only new dress I bought this spring, and I spent my whole spring budget on it, but it was worth it! The expense reflects fair labor practices and ethically sourced fabrics, but the cost is also reflected in the grace and quality of the garment. I got married at City Hall, so I don't have a wedding dress to pass along to my daughter. But I can imagine passing this silk dream of a dress along to her one day. My bag is secondhand from one of my favorite consignment stores: Bring N Buy in Ridgefield, CT. You can shop them on their Instagram feed now!
Well, it's been 100 days.
100 days of Trump & a 100 days since everything changed. The outside world is grim. Prominent protesters are dying in highly questionable circumstances in Ferguson. A nuclear stand-off feels imminent with North Korea. Healthcare is on the verge of being stripped from millions of Americans for the sake of ANOTHER tax cut for the uber-rich.
However, the utter helplessness that has plagued me at first is being held at bay by a few things: a renewed belief in poetry if only for the need of its soul-fulfilling function. That and a desire to be better myself if only to hold at bay the horrors of the world by shaping my own life in a different mold.
I thought these greener-living changes would be hard or sacrificial to the max. I admit I more than once imagined myself like a Mrs. Miniver doing her duty, forehead-creased and stalwart or a nun, pious and behatted, her lustrous hair kept under wraps because there are more serious things than vanity to be thought of.
To my equal parts shame and delight, my life lived green-style has only gotten more fully rounded, livelier, lovelier, and, yes, greener, too. Not hard, bitter, and penitent at all. I still have changes I'd like to make, subjects I'd like to read up on, but these small changes add up. They're not hard, and they make your life and the world better. Here are a few simple, easy changes I've made with a nod to more on the sunset-splendored (hopefully not because its a nuclear holocaust of a) horizon:
1. Reusable Cups
I very rarely buy bottled water, and I'd like to stop entirely. It's really a habit of convenience, and more and more I'm getting in the habit of always having a bright teal and therefore easy to keep track of venti Starbucks reusable cup with me throughout the day. I do also need to start using it when I go out and get coffee.
2. Do Less Laundry
Washing your clothes only when necessary couldn't be an easier to save the world, and it certainly makes the life of a mother of two small children a lot more manageable. It's like I needed the guilt associated with being lazy removed for me, and this water-saving tip is it! You can read more here. about the labor and water-saving benefits of doing loads less frequently.
3. Extend the Life of Your Clothes
"It's not eco fashion," as Livia Firth, a champion of the slow fashion movement, has put it. "It's common sense." That's a great point, because it's insane that we've now gotten to a point where we buy a garment planning to throw it out-- I saw that exact language in a recent People Stylewatch article, actually as you can see in an earlier blog post here. It's so easy to make an effort to keep wearing the clothes you already have. Another great line from Livia Firth comes to mind along these lines: Before you purchase an item, ask yourself if you'll wear it at least thirty times.
4. Switch to a Plant-Based Diet
You don't have to throw on a daishiki and chant around a fire to do this, mind you. You don't have to label yourself a vegan or vegetarian to reap many of the benefits of those who follow a plant-based diet all the time. I'm not officially a vegetarian and eat red meat about once a month, because I feel like I have to. My body only craves it on those rare occasions, and I've failed at being a vegetarian because of a tendency to become anemic. So why not mostly be a vegetarian? It was a real lightbulb moment and it really works. I don't know why that didn't occur to me sooner. Not only are there innumerable health benefits linked to a plant-based diet, but every time you forego red meat, you're helping to save 2,500-5,000 gallons of water.
Composting is my next adventure. I actually don't know anything about it. But as you can see from the picture above, I have a little patch of garden, and I'd like to grow some tomatoes-- something I did once upon a time on a rooftop in the East Village so why not in my patch of Philadelphia dirt?
Well, that's about it for some of the easier changes I've been making. What are some ways you try to live green? Please comment and share! For more easy-peasy ideas, I also loved this post on the Eco Warrior Princess.
Wearing a secondhand Ulla Johnson dress from eBay & sustainably designed (and very gorgeous) Swedish Hasbeens sandals. They use vegetable dye!
I want to make a promise to you before you read, because I know this vegan/ environment stuff is scary stuff. I know because I was too scared to care or to pay attention myself. I was too scared, until I realized a couple important things. The first?
It's kind of crazy that I have to preface ANY argument of any kind by using the "science matters" card, but, sadly, I think we can all at least agree that in this day and age I do.
So there it is: the concept we all need to embrace this Easter as fervently as we do chocolate. Mmmm chocolate. (I promised not to scare you. Otherwise, this would be the time to bring up the upcoming planet-wide chocolate shortage. However, that is way too scary for even me to contemplate. So let's get back to less scary things like meat and water and science.)
100% absolutely, US-grade guaranteed, the world needs us to pay attention, simply because... science. Because the polar icecaps are melting, which means ocean levels are rising.
Because we're depleting our underground aquifers faster than we're replenishing them. Because, most of all, climate change is a thing. A very real, very scary thing.
But we're getting too scary again. I promised not to scare you, and I KEEP MY PROMISES.
So here's the worst part, and guess what? It's not scary. I promise. The worst most Orwellian craziest part of all is how it's so easy for us to help, to make a difference, to be the change.
Easy AND fun AND not scary at all.
For instance, how hard is it to not eat meat as often? That's it. Eat less meat. In another recent post, I pointed out that we could all save the world by-- and this is ABSOLUTELY SCIENCE-Y THE WHOLE TRUTH-- not doing laundry as often. That's it. So this not eating meat as often thing is kind of like that not doing laundry as often thing. SO easy.
And here is the best, easiest reason why:
For every pound of beef you don't eat, you save a whopping 2,500-5,000 gallons of water.
Don't worry about going vegan if the word or concept or lifestyle freaks you out. Just east less meat. Eat more fruit & veggies. As a non-chef myself, I can promise you, non-meat recipes are SO much easier to make and clean up than the smelly, bloody, meaty kinds.
I could go into other benefits: weight loss, clearer skin, more energy, a brighter outlook. But I shouldn't even have to play those cards, because the only card that matters is the one I already played: science matters. The Earth matters. And yes, you are part of the Earth.
You matter, too.
Now here's the two easy recipes I promised! The first recipe I like to call...
Recipe 1: A Green Smoothie That Doesn't Taste Like a Disgusting Bitter Salad Because Mmmm Peanut Butter
I found this original recipe in a magazine and decided to try it. You can really tinker with this one and end up with dozens of delicious variations. The one I ended up most emulating is the one below (with pics above).
1 bag of frozen berries (I like the blue kind, because the final mixture ends up purple, and I can tell my toddler it's Twilight Sparkle Ice Cream and get her to consume kale, guys. KALE!)
2 tablespoons of almond butter (peanut butter works equally well and is highly, HIGHLY motivating towards you actually making this thing. Do not skimp on this part!)
2 handfuls of fresh kale leaves
1 handful of sunflower seeds (optional: I just like the extra crunchiness and texture)
1 pouch of applesauce (optional)
1 small container of coconut water
Mix on high until well blended. Add a handful of ice cubes if desired and mix again until smooth. So filling. So delicious. So healthy. Enjoy!
Recipe 2: Mémé's Soup or 4 Ingredient Soup
(Or 1 onion if leeks are unavailable.)
(You can use plain ole Russet. I make this soup so often, I've started playing with potato varieties.)
(You can use less or more depending on how big you want the soup to be or how much you like cabbage.)
(I add more, because I like the extra sweetness.)
*1 sweet potato
(Optional-- it makes the soup sweeter, and I like that. Also, sweet potatoes are wicked good for you. Not part of the traditional recipe, though.)
Simply chop these veggies up in smallish chunks. Throw them in a pot and top them with filtered water. Let it boil until soft. After you mix it with whatever you have at hand, you can season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.
I used to add milk and cheese, because I was too lazy to mix the veggies up before I discovered the Cuisinart Smart Stick. The blend is tasty enough to stand on its own without the need of adding any other ingredients, barring salt. It takes 30 seconds to stick the hand-held blender in your pot of boiled veggies and mix up this surprisingly delicious mélange of simple vegetables. It usually makes enough to last me 3 or 4 days. I've also recently started adding dried red pepper flakes. My husband adds sherry vinegar and thyme to his.
This soup doesn't need much to be delicious! It's simple peasant food and what many French, non-vegan people eat every single evening for their supper along with a fresh baguette. I remember once my sister and I got in the breadbox and devoured the baguette my grandmother had fetched fresh from the baker that morning. A daily chore. I will NEVER forget the utter horror and incomprehension on my poor grandfather's face when he was informed he would have no baguette with his dinner. I actually enjoy this soup on its own or with crackers, but some nice hot rolls-- or a baguette!-- help make this soup feel fancier!
I was so excited to hear that the world's first mall for recycled goods has opened in Eskiltuna, Sweden:
The facilities contain both a recycling center and a shopping mall. Customers can donate the items that they no longer need, then shop for something new – all in one stop.
Read more about it here.
Honestly, at first, I felt jealous of this little Swedish town, and then, upon reflection, I realized how many sustainable options there were in my own neighborhood. Everything from an upscale boutique for sustainable fashion like Roots, Inc. to secondhand stores and consignment shops like Greene Street Consignment. Up and down the Hill, you can find co-ops with local produce and farm fresh options like Weaver's Way and artist-owned Artist Supply and Crafts. Green Design, one of the number one green design stores in Philadelphia, is on Germantown Ave, right there beside block after block of antique shops and rare book sellers. Not to mention, from time to time, the Clover Market, a flea market for upcycled goods, comes to town.
And yet, I rarely see people in these stores. The Clover Market, which took place this past Sunday, was packed from white shining stall to white shining stall, but on a day to day basis, when I walk up and down Germantown Ave pushing with my baby in his stroller, the street has a haunted feeling like it's a set for The Sixth Sense as much as anything else. We need to support these kind of stores, not just in theory but with our dollars and our hearts. Next time you need a basket, don't make a Target run, try stopping into Garden Gate Antiques, so called for the charming, postage stamp-sized garden at the back of the shop.
Eskiltuna took it to a new level, granted. Not only can you go there for upcycled goods but you can bring your own gently used items to drop off as well.
Every town needs an Eskiltuna, but I bet every town has something pretty close already. Check it out! Explore! Have fun! And maybe help save the Earth, too, in the meantime.
Yoga wisdom can sometimes come across as a little fortune-cookie-ish to the outside observer.
"Breathe out through the top of your head," a yoga teacher might command you in class.
Um, what now?
You can go with it or you can let your intellectual mind take over and scoff. I find going with it easy when I'm in great shape, but considerably harder, when, like I am now, I'm struggling to get back into the flow of things after a long, stressful winter. For the past week, I've been taking advantage of an unlimited pass at Rebel Yoga in Chestnut Hill, and both loving and loathing the unusual amount of practice. Usually, it's a pleasure to test my own gains in strength and flexibility. But when you're experiencing the opposite-- how you've weakened and softened-- it's hard not to get into your head in the afore-mentioned critical way.
In short, it's hard not to get competitive, when you're feeling insecure. I realized the broader implications of that feeling, when the teacher commanded us not to breathe through our skulls but to take what we had learned on the mat and apply it to life.
"That's ridiculous," I thought. "I don't act this competitively in real life..." Oh wait.
I was aware of my yoga class competitiveness, and I was already ashamed of it. There's nothing worse than another student beside you, radiating tension, shaking with effort and rage.
Effort and rage are not what yoga is about to say the least.
It's so much better to move gently through poses, breathing, and enjoying yourself. But when you can't flow where once you could, it's hard not to become the very, uncool fire-breathing version of a yogi yourself.
"Am I being this competitive because I'm... insecure?" I mused for a while after our teacher spoke her yoga Yoda piece. It certainly helped explain why I was suddenly not enjoying myself, because yoga is usually a chance to reconnect with the 9-year-old inside of me who spent an ENTIRE SUMMER UPSIDE DOWN.
I was never a great gymnast, but dang if I was not an enthusiastic one.
In how many other areas of my life, I wondered, had I spoiled my own enjoyment, measuring myself against others instead of being in the moment? Of course, physical stuff came to mind immediately, because 1. and 2. I live in a world that never stops messing with women's heads.
I'm happy to say that in becoming a mother I have become considerably less competitive in that category. I'm not 100% immune to the advertising, because I'm not blind, deaf, and dumb/ liar, but after having experienced gaining 70 lbs, losing 65, gaining another 70 back and then losing 60 in the course of two pregnancies in less than three years, I'm much kinder to myself about my shape. Partially, I'm just grateful my shape-shifting days are over.
It was also interesting-- like being the heroine of a sci-fi story-- to be all these different sizes. However, it was disconcerting to change that dramatically that swiftly. It wasn't a process I had a lot of control over, but it did leave me feeling more body-positive. After all, when you've experienced your body making people and then shrinking back down to your normal size as if nothing happened, it's hard not to be a bit in awe of a wisdom that surpasses all rational explanation. It's hard on days like today when I step on the scale, and it tells me I'm still 20 lbs heavier than when I was modeling in New York, but I mostly win that battle. I mostly feel good about myself.
It's the not feeling good that mostly fuels the worst aspects of the fashion industry, I think. And that's unfortunate. There's no reason the silly, vain, sweet art of self-decoration needs to be despised by some or honored by others the way it is. Go with me here as I metaphor, but if your body is like your mat, really your experience there should be your own. For me, to be happy, I need to be gew-gawed, bedazzled, and spackled to the tee. However, a problem arises, I think, when we women let the world make us insecure, when we look around at other mats, and wonder whether their gew-gaws are gooier.
When I think of how happy I am to inhabit a healthy, fit body, I am content. When I weigh myself and begin to think critically or compare myself to others, I become less so.
I become a shopper. I become compulsive. I help fuel the world's second most polluting industry after big oil. The silliest part is beauty truly does come from inside. I never felt beautiful when I modeled. Never. But I feel beautiful now. It's the feeling inside your own self, on your own little mat that counts towards happiness more than any other factor, and finding that flow in any way you can is your own wonder and work.
The more I learn about the fashion industry, the more I want to define my own ideal of beauty and living. To my great surprise, I have not had to give up style to do so. There are SO MANY gently used clothes out there. Did you know most garments only get worn FOUR TIMES?
So that's my struggle at the moment: defining my own sense of style and fashion, finding my completion within myself, instead of comparing myself to others, and letting those cracks of insecurity crack open all my happiness and cause me to contribute to a global epidemic otherwise known as fast fashion. For example, the dress above does not fit me. I bought it on ebay. My very first auction! And I usually always wear a size 4, but at the moment my body is still shifting and changing.
I'm selling the Self-Portrait dress here, rather than hoarding it-- my preciouses, sigh!--soon to be listed in the shop section of my site! I'm 5'9", and it's a bit too short on me and won't close up the back. I bought it from another new mother, and I understand now why she was selling it brand-new. (It's still got its tags. I just wore it for this blog post before I gave up the good fight.) It would suit someone a bit shorter and...er... not a mommy (to use a euphemism for my still heavy, breast-feeding boobs. Email me at email@example.com or DM me through the site if you're interested in learning more.
Thanks for reading! I'm always curious what people think of these essays, so be sure to let me know your thoughts below. Do you think insecurity is the contributor the world's great ills or do you think that's a bit of an overstatement/ yoga fortune cookie?
Sustainable fashion was an interest of mine long before it had a snazzy, hashtag-worthy name. Back in the day, it was called plain old thrifting, and I loved it for purely selfish reasons.
In fact, I can remember my first time.
The thrill of it. I was 14, wandering around NYC on my own because my father is a mad Frenchman and let me loose on peaceable Murray Hill. I remember the dusty smells of the thrift store, the furtive folks rifling through racks, and the first time I felt real velvet, clutched tight in my grimy paw. The catch at my heart. The pure, unadulterated delight, as I made the discovery that I could afford luxury items. Fabulous, heeled shoes. Real leather purses and tailored jackets that should have been far out of my Contempo Casual budget.
I can even remember what I purchased that day: a dark blue velvet jacket with frog closures. An exquisitely draped red Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, one little ink spot marring the bodice.
I don't know where I thought I was going to wear these purchases, mind you. I was a teen, living in the Deep South! My native New Yorker mother had, and has, a thing for hiking the Blue Ridge, but me and my interest in fashion were in exile down there except for vacations when I visited my dad.
All it took to get voted "Most Unique" my Freshman year of high school was wearing that deep blue velvet jacket. That was all it took to qualify me. Actually, I sort of did it on purpose on voting day. At first, I wanted to be noticed. Later I didn't. I learned it was not a compliment for a girl to earn that superlative, although it was for boys.
The boy who won "Most Unique" with me that year, also won "Class Clown". I'm still not that funny. Well, not on purpose, but I'm happy to say that I'm not afraid anymore to put together clothes that make me feel unique and happy.
It was only much later, while living in Soho that my interest in thrifting slowly turned into an issue of deeper concern. I began noticing how quickly trends were coming & going, and how insane the stampedes of shoppers looked up and down Broadway. At the same time, thrifting had a new, more polished monicker: sustainable fashion. As it turned out, it wasn't simply a selfish practice: I was saving the world! Fashion, as I came to learn from following other sustainable fashion bloggers, is the SECOND BIGGEST POLLUTER of the planet after big oil. Americans on average toss 65 lbs. of textiles away. Producing ONE t-shirt, just one, uses up THREE YEARS of human drinking water. Let's not even get into what it takes to make a pair of jeans. (Or let's. TEN YEARS. A decade of fresh water to produce enough cotton to make just one pair in that pile of thrifted jeans stuffed at the back of my closet.)
The good news is there are some extremely easy ways to make changes now!
1. Extend the life of your garments.
Mend your shirts. Find a cobbler or a tailor. Don't toss your clothes! Even making a small effort to wear your clothes longer, hugely cuts down on landfill waste. Super easy, see?
2. Dry Your Clothes on a Line or a Drying Rack or Tumble At Low Heat
I've been doing this anyway, because I think it helps my clothes (and my children's clothes) last longer. I only dry my husband's undershirts and our sheets and towels, but avoiding high heats has even more ready benefits:
"According to Well Dressed?, about 60% of the energy used in the life cycle of a cotton T-shirt is related to postpurchase washing and drying at high temperatures; transportation constitutes only a small portion of the energy profile to produce a cotton product. As for whether it is better to buy locally produced garments, the report argues that this approach would cut severely into the livelihood of peoples in developing countries where the products are now being manufactured."
3. Donate Your Old Clothes, Don't Throw Them Out!
Again, Americans toss out 65 lbs of textiles a year; that's not even taking into account sheets and curtains. Plus, donating can lead to other fun things, too. I brought three bags to Impact Thrift Stores in Montgomeryville, PA last night after taking my daughter to see Beauty & the Beast (the reason for the Belle doll clutched in her little hands above). I ended up finding several beautiful picture frames for about $15 total and a brand-new pair of children's size 12 UGG lace-up boots that both my daughter and son will be able to wear! You never know what you'll find. It's like a treasure hunt.
4. Wash Your Clothes Only When Necessary
See! I told you these are easy! This one will make your life even easier, and if you're a mommy like me, it will also erase those pre-feminist, lingering feelings of guilt. "Hey, I'm not being a lazy mommy by avoiding the piles of laundry in the basement! I'm saving the world!"
b. I also turned one of my baskets into an alterna-laundry basket. Clothes I've worn but that seem okay to wear again go in there. It's harder with my baby, but I've been able to do the same with my potty-trained toddler.
5. Choose the Right Detergent
We use Mrs. Meyers, and it's available everywhere. Even at Target!
"This is a very important step in avoiding environmental pollution. This is a difficult step since companies are not required to list the ingredients on the container. Some of the harmful ingredients are surfactant nonylphenol ethoxylate or NPE, phosphates and bleach. In order to avoid these ingredients start by choosing detergents without dyes, such as those recommended for washing baby clothes. If its gentle enough for a baby, its likely to be gentle enough for the Earth. Some eco-friendly detergents I found during research were Seventh Generation, Biokleen, Planet, Method and Ecos. Remember to take into consideration the water temperature as another step in sustainability. Whenever possible, use cold water. There are detergents especially designed for cold water like Tide Free for Coldwater. You will save energy and money on your bill. For optimum savings try making your own detergent by adding baking powder or vinegar to your water."
That's it for now. See? SUPER easy way to be the Earth's superheroes. (Sorry, my toddler is obsessed with superheroes right now.) Thanks for reading this far. Now for the fun stuff!
As promised here are the winners of my new blog's bag & book giveaway.
Bag #1: Vintage Italian Leather Satchel
To Erica at The Simple Chic Brunette!
Bag #2: Vintage Backpack
Bag #3: Tylie Malibu Crossbody
To Marci Reid!
Congratulations again, guys! DM me your address whenever you have the chance, and I'll send the bags & a copy of my book your way.
Thrifted Outfit Details:
Secondhand Self-Portrait dress from www.Tradesy.com, secondhand Swedish Hasbeens boots from https://greenestreetstores.com/, vintage necklace from a shop on 8th Street & Avenue A in the East Village, Consigned Celine bag from www.ebay.com, secondhand Elizabeth and James ring from Tradesy
*Names generated by a random name generator.
For a while after the election, every morning I'd thumb through the news, absorbing one shocking story after another, until they merged into one huge, overwhelming ball of bad vibes. I knew I had to make a change in my life to combat how helpless I felt, and that's part of what this blog is about. However, in that time, one piece, an obit, stuck with me, even though I hadn't heard of the French designer Emmanuelle Khanh before her death. (It's sad how often that happens!)
Emmanuelle Khanh, whose name caught my eye first, resonating as it does with a postcolonial, global vibe, was famous for reinvigorating fashion in the '60s. Her specialty was quirky, wearable clothes for young women. Not only was she ahead of her time, freeing women from the ongoing rigidity of girdles (boo Spanx!), but she was already aware of a creeping modern malignancy: disposable, cheap trends.
What she said that stuck with me was this:
“In the 1960s and ’70s, it really was all about ready-to-wear, clothes designed with women in mind, because there hadn’t been anything like it before,” Ms. Khanh told the magazine L’Express in 2016, when she sold her private collection at a vintage-clothing auction. “In the ’80s and ’90s, it was ‘ready to show’ — runway fashion. In the 2000s, it’s ‘ready to throw away’ — you buy it to wear it for one season, and that’s it.”
Ready to throw away.
If you think about it, that phrase is almost the foundation of our modern culture. For example, before the blizzard hit last week, I made a semi-reluctant trip to Target to stock up on essentials for me and the toddlers. I actually found some great DIY and art projects that occupied us very nicely through the biblical plague visited upon us-- whoever heard of a snowstorm so loud it kept us awake all night, hailing and icing!! While I was standing in the long line of freaked out Philadelphians, waiting to check out, I paged through StyleWatch Magazine. My eyes lit on this passage:
It sent a chill down my spine.
We must stop normalizing a culture that uses 400 gallons (2700 liters) of fresh water to make ONE t-shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink for 900 days! Almost three years of drinking water that we're planning to throw away BEFORE WE EVEN BUY IT. Jeans are even worse. They require almost 4 times that amount of water to grow enough cotton to produce a pair. ONE pair requires 1,800 gallons of water. That's more than a decade of drinking water, and I don't know about you, but I have so many jeans I couldn't wear them all in a month. (Most of mine are from Housing Works, Life, Vintage, and Thrift, etc., but still.)
We have to stop normalizing the concept that we can just keep making more of the stuff we already have, while throwing out 65 lbs of textiles every year! (What the average American throws away without including other textiles like sheets and bedding.)
Rant over. Sorry. Here's the good news.
The good news is that an awareness is growing, and since we have a lot of stuff already, changing shouldn't be that hard.
Reusing, recycling, thrifting, upcycling, sharing, giving away, trading, donating.
Those are all easy, quick ways to make a huge difference in terms of your personal footprint. But... we need to do our part to help the concept catch on, because we have been conditioned for a while to think new is better than old. For example, the same day I made that Target run, I stopped into Millay Vintage, where I found the beautiful, sustainably-designed and produced dress I'm wearing in the first picture along with the vintage cashmere shawl. I got to chatting with the owner and mentioned I was starting a sustainable fashion blog. Inserting my foot in my mouth, I then mentioned an observation, that I haven't noticed a lot of interest in thrifting or vintage in Philly compared with New York-- the city where I'm originally (kind of) from.
Millay Vintage is a beautiful shop, like an exquisite little boudoir of some sci-fi geek's idea of a time travelling femme fatale from the 1930s, stopping in the '90s, and remaining in 2016. I apologized profusely for my faux pas.
"No, it's okay," the owner said. "It's true. A lot of my clientele seem to be from New York."
I think that's a good sign, actually. New York City has tended to be America's trendsetter, and if it's cool in New York, I guarantee you it will be cool soon enough elsewhere. For my part, putting all these pieces together, I realized the reason Emmanuelle Khanh's words stuck with me is because they align so closely with my own feelings on the subject. I want to continue her legacy. I both love fashion and loathe fashion's footprint. I want to help redefine what a cool girl is just as Emmanuelle herself did, and I think a cool girl should be a sustainable one, not a trendy one. As Coco Chanel said anyway, "Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman." Dressing well, shouldn't be dressing in the latest disposable trends.
Doesn't that make us disposable in a sense as well?
In that spirit, I'm giving away a bunch of my own things, donating them and sponsoring this gently used bag (and my book!!) giveaway here and on Instagram. To enter simply follow @IsabellaMDavid on Instagram and comment either here (mentioning which bag you're interested in 1,2, or 3) or under one of the pictures on my IG!
Outfit & Giveaway Details
Giveaway 1: vintage Italian leather satchel with crossbody strap. Kelly Love dress and vintage shawl from Millay Vintage in Philadelphia.
Giveaway 2: vintage black leather backpack with extra side pockets and a drawstring closure. Marc Jacobs blazer from Shop Greene Street in Manayunk, Swedish Hasbeens Boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Celine micro bag from eBay (not for giveaway yet, sorry!)
Giveaway 3: Tylie Malibu fringe, crossbody bag from Buffalo Exchange in the East Village, Hasbeen Swedish boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Paige jeans from Twice As Nice in Ridgefield, CT
French-American dual citizen on a green journey, making a Paris out of Philly or a Philly out of Paris, depending on the day.