Friday, May 25, 2012

nomad to the bone

by frédérik

Just as I was bemoaning the challenges in finding eco-conscious fashion without some sort of labeling regime, I got roped in by Nomadic State of Mind. Although I have worn rope sandals in the past – alas, that pair from major name didn’t prove especially durable – I hadn’t really given them much thought until this free-spirited retailer caught my attention. Describing themselves as a “group of planet wanderers” who temporarily put up their gear to establish some kind of permanent presence, North Carolina-based Nomadic State of Mind is a grassroots social enterprise that illustrates how doing business can also mean doing good.

In this case, wanderer-in-chief Chris Anderson took a company from a ’69 VW van to a larger group effort whose work combines ecological awareness with community-building. Their soled sandals are made in the US using abandoned “vintage” equipment and made-in-the-USA Vibram soles, while non-soled rope sandals come from a non-operational coffee farm in Nicaragua. (As the website tells it, Chris taught a small community how to make sandals, and create sustainable income-generating employment. He has since worked with the same group of artisans for 8 years.)

Among the materials they use are reclaimed polypropylene cord, sustainably harvested wood, eco heather, organic cotton – all in  a process that reuses waste as much as possible. Apparently, they don’t even ship their sandals in a box. To reduce wasteful packaging, they simply put them in a USPS mail bag tied with a string.

This, readers, is precisely the sort of company I like to see. Fun, good, and mindful of planet and people. To delve a bit deeper, I contacted Chris for an interview. Since this is the busy summer sandal season, however, it will be a while before that comes together. In the meantime, here’s a stroll through their catalog of smile-inducing bohemian wares:

Ecolyte, Argyle Strap with Hemp Pho Fur - $39.99

JC Sandals - $34.95, on sale for $29.95

JC Sandal with Sole - $49.99 on sale for $47.95

My favourite sandal by far is the distinctive Romano gladiator sandal, which can be fitted with interchangeable coloured laces. The moment it comes in black with a sole, I’m quick-drawing my wallet.

Romano Gladiator Sandals - $34.99 on sale for $30.00

Beyond sandals, Nomadic State of Mind also offers organic tees, hoodies, hammocks, jewelry, rope art, and accessories. For example, these pretty things:

Nomo Hoop Earrings, 1.25" Oak - $16.00

Large Hand Bag - $34.00

There you have it. Ecological, stylish, and with a great attitude. What more can you ask for?

To see more, visit the website at And stay tuned for that interview with Chris.

Disclaimer: Images borrowed from under fair use for illustrative purposes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

label this!

by frédérik

To address concerns of sustainability and eco-friendliness, the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry (A/E/C) can turn to a variety of rating systems to measure a building’s environmental impact. The biggest of these is  the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) rating system, which both certifies building along various standards (silver, gold, and platinum) and accredits professionals. An alternative focused specifically on schools is the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), which is dedicated to healthy and safe environments that are also sensitive to the environment. Relatively new on the block is the Society for Environmental Responsible Facilities (SERF), which strives to be a more affordable, flexible, and streamlined than the costly and unwieldy LEED™ system. All the details differ, all three of these generally aim to achieve the same goal: provide an objective third-party certification of a building’s sensitivity to the environment.

I often think about these because it’s an extension of my (day) job, but lately I’ve been thinking about these rating systems in the context of fashion. For example, when the DSW eNewsletter arrived in my inbox, I moseyed on over to the website to browse their men’s sandal selection. I found this absolutely gorgeous Mercanti Fiorentini Men's Lace Up Gladiator Sandal, available for $99.95 from a regular price of $245. (The discount doesn’t impress me because, obviously, the shoe must cost less than $99.95 or no one would sell it for that price.)

Image copyright DSW, borrowed under fair use.

After the dazzle effect passed, the rational mind assered itself:

Where was the shoe made?
What materials were used?
Who makes the shoes, and is the labour ethical?

As it turns out, the partial answers are: Italy, “fine Italian leather,” and “who knows?” Hence the problem: how do we get to know how our fashion is made? There are certainly rules of thumb. For example, fashion from Asian countries more likely than not (I don’t want to generalize unconditionally) means sweatshop labour and similarly exploitative work conditions. But even countries like Australia can have sweatshop labour in their garment industries. Leather is bad for animals and also environmentally harmful because of high water and energy use as well as the use of chemicals such as arsenic sulfide, sulphuric acid, and sodium hydroxide in the hair removal process. Of course, human-made materials aren’t necessarily better either, depending on the material.

How about a rating system for clothes equivalent to SERF or LEED? It would certainly make it easier to make an informed choice about the clothes we buy, and from whom we buy them. It would also create market pressure to move companies towards eco/ethical production and distribution.

As it happens, there are some companies that have developed their own rating and labeling solutions. UK apparel company Rapanui, for example, uses a simple A to G rating system based on European Union energy labeling. Their idea is to offer a quick visual reference to consumers, who can understand how their clothes are made and make informed choices. The ratings themselves suffer from a bit of vagueness – for example, D is “not bad, not good either” while E is “needs improving” – but overall has the kind of accessibility needed to make the rating perform as intended.

The European Union itself has an Ecolabelling initiative as well, one that takes into account the confusion of voluntary self-labelling and the potential for greenwashing. Developed with the input of scientists, NGOs, and other groups, the initiative aims to provide independent evaluation of various product types throughout their entire lifecycle to measure their environmental impact . There’s even a searchable catalogue of Ecolabeled products.

But what about North America?

Searching the Ecolabel Index for the US, there are a few relevant entries such Cotton Made in Africa, a fair-trade and social business initiative, Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits, FairTrade, the Global Organic Textile Standard (certification for products containing a minimum 70% organic fibres), and a few others. But in the dizzying list of ecolabels, none strikes me as providing a big picture snapshot of fashion products.

An opportunity, perhaps?

In a different segment of the fashion awareness spectrum are organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, who work towards improving labour conditions and empowering garment workers around the world. The Clean Clothes Campaign in particular is an association of organizations, including trade unions, in 15 European countries. Among their campaigns: put an end to sandblasting jeans, stop wage theft, and achieve fairness for migrant workers. Their FAQ is worthwhile reading.

In other countries, Australia has FairWear. The Fair Labor Association is based in the US, but also has international locations. The Clean Clothes Campaign has links to other similarly worker-oriented organizations.

Between ecolabels to help consumers understand their clothes and activist groups seeking to empower workers in the garment industry, the challenge for being a responsible fashionista is significant. To some extent, I find myself rather paralyzed when it comes to shopping. Part of it is simply the fact that I don't have unlimited funds. But a larger part is that I don't really want to buy products if the cost to make them involves the suffering of other living beings. There are useful strategies, of course. Becky, who is the rock 'n roll mistress of thrift store discoveries, regularly demonstrates the merits of reusing clothes instead of buying new ones. And through events like Unique LA, it's possible to connect with thoughtful and talented artisans who methods and materials one can know. But the question is: is that enough to start a revolution in fashion? Or are we just doomed to be saddled with consumerism?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

desigual: the fab and the bold

by frédérik

The first time I came across Desigual, it was on the site of a former deli on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. It stood out for being exuberantly iconoclastic in a street once filled with thrilling independent stores like the now-defunct Midnight Special bookstore, but now branded with the likes of Old Navy and Apple stores. Stepping inside the store was like walking into a carnival at night only to be dazzled by the bright lights of the rides and the cheerful noise of the games. As if a textile mill had been merged with a paint factory and exploded by a mad graffit artist, the clothes consisted of a riot of colour, patchwork patterns, and an unabashed repudiation of timid design. Never mind that the awkward name sounds like something strangely kinky; at last, a store that isn’t afraid to celebrate fashion, to be positive, to indulge in that grand spice of life called variety.

Started in 1984 by  Thomas Meyer, then a 20-year-old from Switzerland, this Barcelona-based company employs 2,900 employees and has stores in major cities around the world. It’s only recently that the store made a splashy entrance in the Los Angeles market, and as far as large chains go I’d say it’s a welcome alternative to Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and the like.

Here’s a few embiggable snapshots from their website to give you a tease of what they offer:

A sampling of men, with the usual fabrics and colours and a few standouts...
By comparison, the women have plenty of options....

Beautiful dresses...
Their association with Cirque du Soleil seems entirely natural, even if it does play into a commoditization of the Cirque experience. (“See the show, then buy the pricey merchandise!”) But – and you suspected they would be a but, right? – as much as I love and admire their enthusiastic design and applaud their efforts to step up design from the usual, Desigual leaves me with mixed feelings. Predictably, the men’s collection, though more creative than the average designer’s menswear collection, is a shadow to what’s on tap for women. In addition to clothes, Ladies get the joy of splashy shoes and sandals, while men get…nada.

A cornucopia for shoe lovers...
Aside from the usual state of affairs in fashion design, the surprising lacuna is that however adventurous Desigual is with patterns, colours, and even the tailoring details, the company isn’t overly bold with forms. The collection consists of the usual shapes for dresses and pants, t-shirts and button-downs...but just as I get irritated when the best artistic designers can do is slap pretty pictures on t-shirts, I’m rather peeved at finding the usual kind of apparel serving as a canvas for otherwise inspired designs.

To Desigual, then, I say this: We have the fab and the bold in graphical terms, now give me the flared pants, the 3/4 lengths, the asymmetry – for men as well as women. Stop playing into the usual notions of gender. Don’t just bat around: bust fashion open like a piñata filled with tasty sweets. Do that, and I’ll overlook your inelegant name.

Regular readers of this blog won't be surprised by my stance, so I'll just add one more thing. Despite failing to fully live up to its ambition, Desigual does succeed in a way many brands don't, namely, by creating a distinctive and memorable signature style. And there's no denying the kinetic energy of a Desigual store. The brand's disappointment, in a sense, emerges because of an inability, or unwillingness, to carry the Desigual design philosophy to its logical conclusion, holding itself back instead. This is more than be said for many mainstream fashion brands whose designs are too domestic to even chart an ambitious path.

Other than the design, there is the question of where and how the clothes are manufactured. As I've become increasingly dominated by a preference for locally made clothes, I'm reluctant to sing the praises of Desigual without learning more about this aspect of the business. Unfortunately, I don't have any information to share about this at the moment, but will definitely revisit this intriguing brand when I learn more.

Until then, what do you think of Desigual's designs? Do you have any of their clothes in your wardrobe? I'd love to read about it in the comments below.

Here's that link to their website again. Where? Right here.

Housekeeping note: Becky and I are both inundated with work-related activities, which means that updates to this blog might be erratic, though certainly not non-existent, for the next few weeks. Do bear with us, please.

Disclaimer: images are screen capture's of Desigual's website, and will be removed if requested to do so by the copyright owner of the images within the screenshot.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Frivolous Fridays: Readers' Choice

by Becky

Friday's challenge was all about pushing your own personal boundaries. Except at my office. I told them what their challenge was. Because I'm bossy.

First up, the indomitable Mica tried her hand (torso?) at pattern mixing! 

030512 awayfromblue fcuk tribal print skirt cotton on star print top balenciaga sapphire city bag

She says it's, "Something I'm not very good at and need to try more."

I'd say she's pretty good at it. Read more on her blog.

My Kentucky colleagues went to work on Friday decked out in their finest derby hats. (Because, okay, I told them to.)


That's Emily, me, Ashley, Val, and Caroline... Looking mighty fine!


Amanda and Anne had to have their own personal derby day photoshoot... Such divas!

Well done, all!


And now, this week's challenge: Something borrowed.

I don't know about y'all, but I have been subject to more than my fair share of matrimonial gatherings of late.  My sister got hitched a few weekends ago (still recovering, thank you for asking) and I hit up another knot tying last Saturday.

So, with the sartorial guidelines for brides and the increase in couples activities, I've been thinking about stealing articles of clothing from significant others.

My favorite way to wear stolen western shirts and my favorite man from which to steal them

Or sisters. Or buddies. Or pets, if you happen to have a particularly well-appointed poodle.

Lift a locket from your lady. Misappropriate moccasins from your man. Pinch a parka from your papa. Grab a gown from your grandma. Find footwear from a friend. Cop some corduroys from your cousin.

You get the idea.

Raid someone else's closet and email me the evidence by Sunday, May 13 (also, don't forget Mother's Day)!

Friday, May 4, 2012

forget green thumbs - here's a wood thumb

by frédérik

I came across Wood Thumb at last year’s holiday edition of Unique LA. As eager as I’ve been to feature this neat little artisanal company, however, I’ve been holding off on account of a pending interview with one of the company’s founders. Since there seems to have been a breakdown in communications, I’ve decided to just go ahead and give you glimpse at Wood Thumb and their unique offering, with the hopes that the interview ship will eventually return to port.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: wooden ties.

Made from reclaimed wood originating from places like old barns, the ties start off as something like, say, a roof beam, that is cut, sanded, varnished, and otherwise gussied up into a lightweight and flexible sectional tie held together by an elastic cord that goes ‘round the shirt collar. At the Wood Thumb booth at Unique LA, I had the opportunity to try one out and – remember, I usually hate, hate, hate wearing ties – was absolutely impressed. It was lightweight as promised with beautifully finished wood. Best of all, I didn’t get that constricted feeling around the neck that I so dislike about ties.

I would have bought one, but my budget for the show went instead to buying my wife a little something nice.

The Wood Thumb Gang

Still, they're on my list of fashion accessories to covet, even though the pricing is rather odd. (Both large and small ties are priced at $36.) Reclaimed wood, human effort, made in's just the sort of ingenuity  we need. If ever I get that interview nailed down, I'll post it here. In the meantime, check out their website and keep an eye for them at a local event. They'll be at Unique LA on May 11th.

Note: Images borrowed under fair use from Wood Thumb's website. They'll be taken down by request. Etc.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Frivolous Fridays: Funky Footwear, Part II

First, I want to thank Frédérik for covering for me on Monday. My sister got hitched over the weekend and I suffered from a fun times (and champagne) hangover for two solid days.

I will say that the shoes I wore as the maid of honor were fabulous.


But for the rehearsal dinner on Friday, I did ornament my feet in some of the most ridiculous slippers known to man.


Behold: My Jeffrey Campbell platforms. They always look out of place (perhaps because the only place they truly belong is on the feet of a 1970s stripper) but they appear even stranger when paired with a pasture.

My equine companion, Maggie, was thoroughly perturbed.

Because I wasn't at work on Friday, my frivolous-to-the-max coworker Anne shared these hot heels with me via text.

Frivolous Friday: Funky Footwear

She says: "Funky footwear is a state of mind for me, so this week's challenge was particularly formidable for me. I chose a pair of highly obnoxious snake skin shoes. Oh, and it's real snake. No, don't believe me? What's throwing you? The fact that it's pink? It's a razor rattlesnake! I paid top dollar for these, promise!"

Heehee! However much she paid for them, they look like a million bucks!

And now, for this Friday's challenge...

Derby Day at TJ Maxx

We Kentucky office ladies are primed and ready for Derby Day on Saturday, so you will find all of us in our most opulent derby hats! Mint juleps all around!