Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shanti Boutique: fair-trade jewelry for the eco- and spiritually-minded

by frédérik sisa

This week brings a brief eyeball review of a little online boutique I came across a while ago. I’ve haven’t had the chance to handle any of their goods first-hand, but their business model and compassion-driven philosophy is very compelling. In line with Toms and Sierra Sandals, Shanti Boutique is all about doing business with a conscience, that is, with an eye towards improving the world. A portion of the profits generated from the sale of yoga-related jewelry goes towards the Tibetan Children’s Education Fund, a non-profit “dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture by supporting Tibetan schools and school children-in-exile from their homeland.”

Also appealing is Shanti’s membership in Green America, which screens vendors for their environmental and social sustainability, and the Fair Trade Federation, a trade association of North American businesses committed to alleviate poverty and supporting sustainable businesses across the world:
“The Federation envisions a just and sustainable global economic system in which purchasing and production choices are made with concern for the well-being of people and the environment, creating a world where all people have viable economic options to meet their own needs. We seek to alleviate poverty by continually and significantly expanding the practice of trade that values the labor and dignity of all people.”

So what kind of jewelry does Shanti sell? Their products span the gamut – anklets, earrings, bracelets, pendants, and toe rings with a yoga, Hindu, and/or Buddhist flavour. Charms feature the “Om” character, yoga poses, and other charms loaded with spiritual and ecological significance. All of their jewelry is sterling silver; most are handcrafted. Materials used also include vegetarian ultrasuede. I quite like the gentle spirit and style inherent in the jewelry, and somehow I get a much better vibe from Shanti then I do from large retailers like Gaiam. Once I can reasonably justify it, I’ll try out some of the anklets and report back.
Of course, if I had been really clever I would written about this a few weeks when it would have made a difference for your holiday shopping. But there’s more to the holiday season than shopping, right? Regardless, Shanti Boutique is the sort of business worthwhile supporting for their good selection of designs and because the only way to get stores to notice that people want products that don’t exploit people and the environment is to support those businesses with good practices and avoid those without.

As always, I’d love to hear back from you if you do order from Shanti Boutique. Send me pics, feedback, comments…

On a housekeeping note, this will be my last post for the year. I’ll be back in January with more Fashionoclastic goodness, including an interview with LOOMLAB founder Jane Henry, bowling shirts, and more. Have great holidays! Namaste!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

the Tarahumara's awesome running sandals

by frédérik sisa

(Click image to enlarge.)

Confronted with these rough-hewn sandals, it might be tempting to turn away, thinking, “hey, these are just leather insoles glued to cut-out rubber outsoles with holes punched through for the leather straps whose knots aren’t even hidden.” And so they are. The soles are even made from recycled tires, which scores points for the planet if not for refined handiwork. Yet as tempting as it is to dismiss them as DIY crafts when lying helplessly on the ground as in the picture above, its worth remembering that they’re not called running sandals for nothing. The Tarahumara Indians – among the world’s best long-distance runners - run in these things for miles, and miles, and miles…a 100 miles... With a kinship to the sandals of those legendary marching Roman warriors, these are clearly not sandals to mess around with. But let’s be honest. While running and marching may be great for those who like that sort of thing, and who have unlearned the corrupted walking habits that come from wearing shoes, the question is – can these be fashionable too? Here's a hint:

(Style in the city! Image courtesy of Sean Hull. Click to enlarge.)

The answer is, of course, yes. In fact, of all the shoes I’ve reviewed so far for The Fashionoclast these are my favourite. They’re an earthier, eco-friendly cousin to the often tricked-out gladiator sandals of runway models and celebrities, with a timeless quality that makes gladiator-type sandals a perpetually popular choice of summer footwear. The lace-up straps offer a distinctive flair, and the happy discovery is that while the sandals may not look like much by themselves, they do look good on a pair of feet and calves – casual chic, even, in a colloquial sort of way. The best thing is that these sandals have a style that is truly universal, with both Tarahumara men and women alike wearing them… and now us, which is good news for those us of who are tired of seeing yet another flip-flop as a shoe brand’s offering to men.

(Bald head = reflected light. But you're really looking at the sandals, right? Click to enlarge.)

In practical terms, the running sandals lack the characteristics that detract, ever so slightly, from those other shoes reviewed here. They don’t make flip-flop noises like the Dopies or Topsies. They aren’t as demanding as the topless sandals (or the Dopies, for that matter). The trickiest thing about the running sandals is figuring out how to lace them securely but without cutting into the skin, a relatively mild challenge on par with breaking in a new pair of shoes. Most importantly, once they’re on they feel great – simultaneously, and paradoxically, both very snug and very carefree. With just a few straps holding the sandals on the foot, there is that unmistakable feeling of being barefoot. These sandals maximize foot mobility and flexibility. The straps, however, can fit securely enough, especially around the ankle (but not on top of the anklebone), to create a warm-and-fuzzy kind of foot binding. As for those knots below the sole, they aren’t nearly as noticeable or distracting as I thought they would be. The leather flattens out with use.

Speaking of flat: these sandals have no arch support or other orthopedic contrivances, part of the barefooting philosophy that sees modern footwear as harmful. Feet evolved for walking without shoes, the insurgent wisdom goes, and I suspect that those of us without foot problems (or simply accustomed to walking badly in flat shoes)will best enjoy the running sandals…but probably not as much as people walking using the natural barefoot techniques we’ve been conditioned to suppress. (For example, walking heel first causes more pain since its like driving with the brakes on.) That’s neither criticism nor praise, by the way; just an observation that may (or may not) be of value for people who may be on less than friendly terms with their feet.

(Just what you want: a close-up. Click to embiggen.)

It is possible to find these sandals on the internet through barefoot runners who can make them using high-tech vibram soles. Or you could, in principle, make these yourself using recycled tire rubber, or even vibram soles, thanks to instructional videos and kits. But what makes these sandals unique is their origins at the hands of the Tarahumara Indians. Sierra Sandals’ Sean Hull, as you’ll recall from a previous post, is working with non-profit organizations in Chihuahua, Mexico, to provide the Tarahumara with sources of revenue. So not only are the sandals fun, stylish, and good for running according to expert runners, they’re also a means to help a poverty-stricken people pull themselves up by their, well, sandal straps. Who can argue with that? To find out more, including how to get a pair for yourself, visit sierrasandals.com.

(Yup. There they are. Right where I left then. Right...there. Click to...oh, you know why. And of course my pants are rolled only to show off the sandals.)

As always, if you get yourself a pair please check in and let me know what you think! For my part, I'm looking forward to warmer weather here in LA so I can experiment with these sandals and more summery outfits...like real "capris."

Note: A pair of sandals was graciously given to me for review purposes. Many thanks to Sean Hull of sierrasandals.com.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

report from Unique LA 2009

by frédérik sisa

I realize I said I’d offer a foots-on review of those Huarache running sandals, but since I haven’t been able to take the pictures I’ve wanted it will have to wait until next week. Sorry. Instead, I give you a report of the 2nd Annual Unique Los Angeles Independent Design and Gift Sale, a great idea that didn’t entirely live up to its promise.

Here’s the scoop: Unique LA jammed up space at the California Market with designers and artists selling their wares – jewelry, clothes, greetings cards, chocolate, and an assortment of stuff. Key word: local. The ground-floor room focused on specifically “green” vendors, like a fellah who transformed record album covers into snazzy take-out boxes, while the 13th floor was more general in scope. The overall feeling was of a hipster’s arts and crafts fair, an urban version of a country crafts sale.

It’s my understanding they have several events like this, although this looks to be one of the biggest for the obvious holiday-related reason.

For all the nobility that comes with bypassing the whole made-in-China thing, however, Unique LA suffered from a curious lack of diversity. There were plenty of t-shirt vendors and jewelry-makers, plenty of letterpresses selling greeting cards, plenty of baby and kids stuff. After a while, the juxtaposition of idiosyncratic vendors only highlighted just how similar the idiosyncrasies tended to be. How disappointing. Curious was the overall lack of truly refined, elegant products. It was like walking into a clothing store and finding lots of nifty jeans and t-shirts but very few dress shirts and blazers. The most disappointing quality of the show had to be, hands down, the lack of items for men. Bling for the ladies? Oh yes. Accessories and cute indie-designer clothes for the gals? You bet. Gifts for moms? Absolutely. Dads, however, were mostly out of luck in the gift department, and so were guys looking for a unique sumthin’-sumthin’ for themselves. Like I said: lack of diversity. I feel very excluded.

But in any case, there were standouts. My favourites of the show are:

Crows Cloth: Accurately self-described as “peculiarly unique textile art,” I’m reminded of the cheery macabre oddities from Necromance on Melrose. Doriandra offers t-shirts, bloomers, skirts, pants, hats, bags, creatures adorned with medical diagrams, pages from Coton Mather’s treatise on witches and demons, quirky erotica, or other delightfully peculiar images. Think Victorian by way of steampunk, seasoned with goth, and crafted with skill, class, and wit that goes beyond genre offerings. Bonus points for eco-friendly vintage re-use. I bought my wife a fuzzy black hat with cat ears – we call it a Russian Kitty hat – and she’s been getting much admiration for it ever since.

Dust and Co: In speaking with a few other folk who went to the show, the verdict came in: a wee bit pricey, but wow, what a concept. Using recycled watch parts – mechanisms, clock faces – and vintage finds, Jill crafts rings, pendants, and cuff links that are mechanical yet minimalist, industrial yet not without an elegant flourish. Forget the fanciful stuff that belongs to a cosplay convention; Jill delivers on the honest, DIY side of steampunk.


Loomlab: Founder Jane Henry offers some funky fresh scarf and pocket square designs drawing on her experience working at Reebok International designing tennis apparel and, more recently, at the fashion house of Tadashi Shoji & Associates. Designs are inspired by technology - circuit boards, barcodes, Braille – and make me wish I incorporated pocket squares and scarves in my wardrobe. (Personally, my scarf style is cold weather and Tom Baker but I can admire, can't I?) Materials range from silk to wool. Lovely, lovely accessories for today’s fashionable wardrobe.


Scarlett Glass: A mother-daughter team of artists. Daughter Sunny offers photography and fused glass pieces of jewelry including pendants and earrings - elegant, understated, reasonably priced. Sally is all about pot melted glass with vibrant, amorphous colours.

The question is, would I go again? Sure...with tempered expectations and a more detailed look at the vendor list beforehand.

For a full list of the vendors, click here.

How about you? Did you go to Unique LA? Find anything? Share your shopping experience by leaving a comment below...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Face Your Hairs, Never Never Never Never Give Up

Aqua Catlin

The Clog. Toe Socks. Recycled Rubber Sandals. Some things Frederik and I will never see eye to eye. But each to his own and as I've said, there's room for most points of view. Except on the toesock thing and the clog thing too.

But then, he's got the gift of bald. He can use the coolest product on the planet, Headblade, which is run by some quite cool baldies I like to visit with him. Lucky Frederik can go through life looking confident, clean and pretty much in charge of his world...most people look at bald men with some awe. Even in his toe socks, he's still got impressively healthy looking skin-head. I assume its the Headblade. Done.

Me, I have endle$$ experiments in foundations, primers, revver-uppers, cleansers, toners, sunscreens and moisturizers. Doesn't seem to matter that I've got 2 kinds of primers (goes - I think - over your toner and moisturizer before the foundation...?), turns out I need a specific brand that is really the best. Is it ok to use it with a sunscreen as well? Nope! That's too much on the skin. So which do I choose? According to extraordinarily talented makeup artist, model, and talent Brooke Mason,
( she also gets photocredit for my pic here), I need to be using the primer at night-events and the sunscreen, (spf50, no more or less will do), during the day.

I use Arbonne, for most of my skincare and cosmetics
, a wonderful quality brand. I also represent them if you'd like to try anything but this is not a salespitch. Its a cry for help really from too many options, or not enough. But I've used Arbonne foundations and love them, then came the Bare Mineral powder foundation trend and I tried that instead and quite liked it. Then I ran out recently for the second time. I suppose I was bored but I wanted to try what Brooke was recommending. Cargo foundation. Well after reading a lot of consumer reviews which I also do for shoe, car and electronics purchases, I went into Sephora and after trying several options, I walked out with Makeup Forever's High Definition foundation. I've had this endless hunt because I tend to have an oily t-zone. Don't judge, it keeps your t-zone looking younger for longer. But with MF, it was just too young-looking a Tzone. So I exchanged that for the Cargo and quite like it. The packaging is eco-friendlier because its in a foil bag with a screw-cap and it won't fill much of a land-fill. Plus it smells exotic for something so utilitarian. But I wonder if the powder wouldn't have been just as good with less time invested? And the Arbonne liquid foundation I used to use made me pretty happy at the time too, and for skin health their products aren't rivaled within the price-point.

Hair: different story. I didn't love the Arbonne for my lame locks. It didn't fatten them at all. Can't do much to it anyway. Can't go Frederik's route. Thanks Brooke for the new cute hair style, it helps! Still, my hair is so fine I can tease it at the root several times a day, hairspray it for nearly $20 a bottle, and still run my fingers through it easily like it was brushed by two handmaids I didn't notice. This on top of volumizing Root Lift by Kiehl's, whose thickening shampoo is good! Success! At $20. Does anything work extremely super well? I'd probably pay more if so but otherwise, I'd like to pay less! I think perhaps the Root Lift does a little something. For guess how much? $20. I've settled on, when I can find time: curl it and get happy. It gets to bounce around for at least 5 hours before it starts to straighten and fall again. Like a little Cinderella moment.

I mentioned I needed to improve my body, recently and so was asked if I "like myself". Of course I like myself! This is vanity not insecurity. What's wrong with wanting "the pretty" or "the perfect"? If we stop trying, we're either not inspired or not girls. There'd be something wrong if I didn't want to improve.

This post isn't very fashionoclast, I know. Its barely even a full review of any one product or brand. Its just a review of my experiences in experimenting. Its been time to read reviews, ask questions, find parking, get excited, avoid frustration, buy, try, request samples, return, exchange, mix and match, and eventually settle on:

A. Use the best you can afford especially in skincare: Arbonne or Clarins, or Headblade. And I learned, if you make a mistake with a product, your face will still be there and no one but you will know the difference.
B. With your hair, devote the time to getting the right look that frames your face and know that the $60 means nothing if you don't. And even if you do. Unless you're bald, then see A.
C. We can experiment forever wanting better products, bodies and habits and maybe never settle on just one miracle solution, its because you do like yourself and believe in having the best possible face forward (which is being respectful to others and yourself)...and maybe one day, thinner calves and big fat hair.

I'm not even going to get into the 3 kinds of mascara I bought in the last 6 weeks. Questions? Makeovers? Product recommendations?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

unique LA: independent design &gift sale

Frédérik here with a special announcement for all you Los Angeles people. This weekend, December 5 and 6th, is the Second Annual Unique Los Angeles Holiday Show. From the website, www.uniquelosangeles.com:
When: December 5&6, 11am - 6pm both days
Where: California Market Center (110 East 9th Street - Map It)
Cost: $10, with partial proceeds going to the local non-profit 826LA! Entry gets you an exclusive-to-the-show limited edition tote bag, a free drink ticket, unlimited re-entry for both days, and access to our great lineup of free workshops. (children 12 and under are free)

Show Details: UNIQUE LOS ANGELES is an exciting two-day shopping event that showcases independent design talent at great prices - with an emphasis on "made in America" goods, 99% of products at the show are proudly made right here in the USA! On top of shopping the wide variety of offerings, the event boasts many exciting Extras & Amenities, including free workshops, a lounge area, and two cafes. Plan to spend the day with us!

New to the Show - Our special GREEN ROOM will feature over 50 eco designers!
This exciting eco-friendly area features an amazing selection of green vendors. The environmentally friendly products include everything from clothing, bath and body care, stationery, bedding, and loads more. We've partnered with the fab crew at the eco blog Your Daily Thread to bring you cool workshops and surprises throughout the space!

Clothing & Accessories • Stationery • Jewelry • Housewares • Artwork • Ceramics
Gourmet Edibles • Plush Toys • Books • Photography • Screenprints • Lots more!
My wife and I will be there, keeping an eye out for exciting stuff - especially in the eco-friendly "Green Room." Of course, I'll report back. But if you happen to go, please drop me a line and let me know about your own fun discoveries!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sandals and the Tarahumara Indians

by frédérik sisa

Okay, kids, welcome back! I trust you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday stuffed, as it were, with turkey, tofurky, or other culinary delights. But it's back to business here at the Fashionoclast, and I'm really excited about the sandals - and the fascinating story that goes with them - I'll be writing about both here and, in a few months time, at The Front Page Online.

So what are huarache running sandals? And what do they have to do with the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico? This week I lay the groundwork through a little chat with Sean Hull of sierrasandals.com.

Who are the Tarahumara Indians?

Probably one of the last indigenous/native tribes of the world who are completely removed from 'modern' civilization. They are closely related to the native American tribes of the Southwest.

How did you discover them?

By chance. On a completely unrelated trip to that part of Mexico to see the Copper Canyon, I ran across this tribe of native Indians so removed from civilization, it was almost unbelievable.

What challenges to they face?

Primarily, surviving on their own land due to a) a long running drought, b) environmental 'depreciation' (due to such things as logging), and c) the ever-increasing narco traffic/activities in their habitat.

What makes their sandals so special?

Two words: minimalist & functional. Born out of necessity & circumstance, the sandals are minimal - tire treads & leather straps - but serve their purpose and (as it turns out) support a growing trend in our own culture – running barefoot or with minimal footwear.

What made you decide to get involved?

Just as unbelievable it was to see these Indians so removed from modern civilization, so was their plight. Seeing mothers, with kids in tow, practically eating dirt in the streets of the cities as they were panhandling was brutal. It seemed so absolutely impossible only south of the U.S. border.

How does purchasing these sandals benefit the Tarahumara...and what do wearers get out of it?

Cash means nothing to the Tarahumara. They live off their land & each other. So we work with a non-profit organization that uses the cash to provide items to the Tarahumara that they desperately need basic necessities such as corn. What the wearers get are sandals that are handmade artifacts (if you will) and the sense of helping people that desperately need it.

What are your plans for sierrasandals.com?

For now, establish a source of revenue for the Tarahumara. In the long run, maybe a place where other people in need can sell their handmade sandals. Not trying to be dramatic, but sandals have been made by people all across the world since the stone age.

What organizations are you working with/supporting?

For now, I'm going to keep that one close to the vest. But know that they are not-for-profit & absolutely consumed with helping the Tarahumara in any way they can. For example, one of the organizations has negotiated a contract with Wal Mart (somewhat ironic) in Mexico to sell the Tarahumara weaved-grass "pottery."

A big shout-out to Sean for his generous help pointing me to great resources on the Tarahumara and for getting me a pair of sandals to try out. Next week, it'll be a detailed foots-on review. Stay tuned!