Hello all! An especially warm welcome to the new readers who’ve come over from Midlands Minimalist. Good to have you here!
How’s your long weekend going? Been up to much? It seems that pretty much everyone I know is having a quiet one; aside from a few friends who’ve gone on holiday, there’s lots of talk of gardens and family meals and switching off alarm clocks.
This has certainly been the rhythm of my weekend so far. It’s now 4pm on Sunday afternoon and I’ve been mainly occupied with eating and sleeping. In that order.
I’ve also been doing some gentle reading. While flicking through the pages of a couple of magazines, I’ve been thrilled to spot some good recommendations for the conscious consumer. There’s definitely a movement towards greater mindfulness around what we buy – something that we’ve seen for a few years in food but is spreading into other areas too.
If the recent good weather has got you searching for some new outdoor furniture, I spied some FSC certified eucalyptus deckchair frames in the John Lewis Edition summer issue. They are £34 each and you can select a fabric sling for an additional £9.
Initially I was drawn to the gorgeous old school style: ethics don’t have to mean compromising aesthetics.
Also beautifully designed is the bamboo lunch pot (£16) that appears a few pages later. Made by food brand Leon, the bamboo is biodegradable, sustainable and naturally anti-microbial.
The red box would look fab at any picnic or, more likely, perk up lunch at your desk when it starts raining again!
There are many other amazing ethical, eco and sustainable brands that you can buy from listed in my blog post last week, where I offer a round up of the companies that I met at a recent trade exhibition.
While the sun shone down gloriously on London this Tuesday, I spent the day in the giant greenhouse that is Kensington Olympia. I was there for a trade show featuring lots (and I mean *lots*) of companies looking for new retail outlets; imagine the Clothes Show or the Ideal Home exhibition without being able to buy any of the goods. This is probably a good thing as I wanted so much, from sea shell earrings to several different kinds of bag to some oversize pink earrings!
Window shopping opportunities aside, I was there on a specific mission.
In my fashion and beauty writing, I’m committed to featuring eco, ethical and sustainable firms as much as I possibly can. In particular, I want to highlight the many innovative and stylish small brands working in this area – brands that don’t have huge publicity budgets but deserve exposure.
At Olympia, I was looking for companies doing good work in terms of conscious consumption so that I could share them with you.
Boy did I find some! Below I’ve detailed my highlights in five categories (beauty, candles, fashion, jewellery and other). I hope that you like their look, and their ethos, as much as I did. Visit their websites, follow them on social media (check out my following lists on Twitter and Instagram if you like) and next time you’re making a purchase, consider buying from one of them.
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’ Lao Tzu
Do you have any brands that you like to recommend? Tell me about them! You can comment below. Plus if you enjoyed reading this post, please do tell others about it on social media – it really helps! Sharing buttons are also below.
Natural, organic handcrafted and vegan friendly, never animal tested, ethically sourced and eco-friendly handmade products in recyclable packaging. Also free from SLS, parabens, synthetic fragrance, petroleum and mineral oils [That’s quite a list!].
Small batches of handcrafted botanical skincare and essential oils candles made using completely natural and organic ingredients [These aren’t a new discovery – I love their soap, as I mentioned last week – but they definitely warrant a mention].
Each product is created by handicraft charity units or World Fair Trade Organization producer groups in Nepal, giving local people an income in line with fair trade principles along with a continually developing commitment to minimising environmental impact as much as possible.
Focused on fair trading and supporting Columbian artisans, particularly women with no other employment options, while also using suppliers certified by the Administrative Department of the Environment in Columbia.
Just Trade collaborates directly with eight groups of artisans in Peru, Ecuador and India to create handmade jewellery that is fairly traded and crafted from locally-sourced and ethical materials where possible.
The Revival Collection of home accessories is made using off-cuts from the fast fashion t-shirt industry that are saved, sorted, shredded, woven and then reused by Indian families working in good conditions.
Seedballs are designed to encourage bees and butterflies by making it easier for everyone to grow either wildflowers or herbs or salad. They’ve been designed specifically for a north eastern European climate and each one containing of these British made balls contains a mini ecosystem of seeds, clay, peat-free compost and a little chilli powder to deter predators! This is a new concept in the UK but seed balls have been used in ecological restoration projects around the world.
It’s Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week! Yes, really! Under the lead of the Soil Association, 15th to 21st May 2017 is an awareness week dedicated to celebrating beauty brands that are certified organic.
‘there is currently no legal standard in place for organic cosmetics, meaning that any brand can make organic claims on packaging without needing to contain any organic ingredients.’
Unsurprisingly this makes sourcing organic beauty even more complicated. However dedicated we are to this mission, it unfortunately seems that there are firms out there who are willing to dupe us with misleading branding and hard to decipher ingredients lists.
So what can I do? What can each of us do?
1) Get clear about our own priorities
For a start, get clear about our own priorities. Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week is, unsurprisingly, focused on organics – but maybe your biggest concern is with animal welfare. Cruelty free is a related but not identical issue. Likewise, you might be trying to use fairly traded products as much as you can; this may or may not map neatly on to organic products. Alternatively if you’re looking for British made then you’ll have different criteria again.
This might seem like trying to rank equally worthy objectives, but it is necessary. Otherwise you’ll be stood at the counter trying do weigh up the merits of a possibly smaller carbon footprint versus fairly traded ingredients from further afield while also needing to decide what food to pick up during your lunch break.
In a complex web of competing factors, we need to make our choices as easy as possible.
2) Do some basic research
We can also do some basic research into the area that most concerns us. The internet, as well as online shopping, makes accessing niche brands and products easier than ever. We can check out a firm’s credentials (as I need to do) and buy what we are after with just a few clicks.
There are plenty of resources out there to support this. The Soil Association, for instance, lists the brands that they have certified as organic. There are also apps that can help, such as Skin Matters by Joanne Evans (unfortunately for IOS only at this stage). This doesn’t focus on ethical issues directly but allows you to find out more about the components in your skincare, including those chemicals best avoided.
I own a dozen pairs of shoes. This includes wellies, walking boots and the trainers I wear (occasionally) to actually exercise in.
I used to have over fifty pairs. Back then, visitors to my bedsit studio apartment would marvel at them all stored in their boxes and stacked neatly against the wall in two tall piles.
Back then, I was known to choose cleaning my shoes over eating breakfast if I was running late in the mornings.
Over the decade since, I’ve become more committed to minimalism as well as ethical and sustainable fashion. I spend more and buy less (actually I always spent a lot on shoes, so I guess I’m just buying less of them). Right now I’m wearing a pair of patent loafers that I purchased sometime before I started dating my current partner, and we’ve lived together for two years.
I pride myself on having a pretty small wardrobe and sticking to my own style rather than slavishly following trends. I’m even currently reading a book, Inger D. Kenobi’s How Do I Look? The year I stopped shopping, about her twelve month boycott of clothes buying – and contemplating doing the same.
Of course you know that this is the point where I insert the big ‘but’.
But I want a pair of sliders.
I really want a pair of sliders.
This thought has been lingering for a while. My interest was piqued a few months ago when I saw the beautician from next door to the coffee shop where I like to work wearing an Ivy Park pair. Then yesterday I got serious shoe envy of a woman in a grey suede number on the train. Now I’m obsessing.
Suddenly all my own shoes seem wrong: too warm, too dark, too heavy, too try hard.
More dangerous are my fantasies about what a new pair of sliders would do for me:
They’d complete my wardrobe. I’d not need buy anything ever again. This would be the final perfect purchase (even though I already suspect that my plans to wear some new linen trousers for a wedding in August will fail as I’m already wearing them pretty much daily).
They’d make everything better. Literally everything in my life would be better if some beautiful new slip on summer shoes graced my feet. Borderline personality disorder? Building my career as a writer? Fears that mental health issues will prevent me from having children? But I would have bows on my feet!
Most pressingly: I’d feel amazing on at a friend’s birthday drinks on Friday evening.
As Inger recognises in How Do I Look?, such longings generate conflicting feelings. I know that new shoes, any new shoes, won’t improve my life beyond the pleasure of the shoes themselves.
Yet still I hope they’d be as transformative as Cinderella’s glass slippers.
Such is the power of our desires and the lure of the fairytale. Beneath the fantasy, though, what do I really want? To lose the five stone I’ve gained through medication, to quell the anxiety I’m feeling about going out socially at the weekend (no matter that these people are my friends)… and to feel as carefree as I did when I was younger, when picking up a new pair of shoes for a night out really did seem to have magical powers.
This is how I felt back in the late nineties – back in the late nineties when I last wore sliders.
I’ve featured here some of my favourite sliders on the high street at the moment (I’d have bows on my feet!). You can view some others over on my specially curated ‘Stop me buying sliders’ Pinterest board!
Tell me, have you ever had any magic slipper shoes? Why were they so potent? And what is your attitude to shoes now? Do you buy cheap and often or would you rather a pair that lasts? Do you own a cupboard full but always seem to end up wearing the same two pairs? I’d love to know.
You can comment below. Plus if you enjoyed reading this post, please do tell others about it on social media – it really helps! Sharing buttons are also below.
8th to 14th May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness Week, focusing on the theme ‘surviving or thriving?’ Throughout this time, I’ll be collecting links to related material on a dedicated Pinterest board. Please feel free to send me suggestions of items to add, to read what’s posted there and to share the board with others. It’ll by no means be comprehensive (the hashtag #MHAW17 is already trending on Twitter and it’s only Monday afternoon!) but I hope it provides something in the way of a round up.
If you’re interested in what I’ve contributed to this week of awareness, you can read my latest articles for Mental Health Today and Huff Post UK. Again please read and share – it honestly helps every time a link is tweeted, pinned, mentioned in a status update or otherwise given a shout out!
During my time away from my blog, I spent a great deal of time wrestling with the relationship between clothing and confidence. What we wear has so much potential to bring us joy but too often feels like a source of stress. One day we can select an outfit that makes us feel ten feet high; another we can lie prostrate in front of the same rail of clothes despairing that we can nothing to wear – or at least nothing that feels good.
As I worked to get my mental health back on track after a dramatic downturn, I became acutely aware of the toll that my medication induced weight gain has taken on my wellbeing. Five extra stone on a five-feet-****-all frame sure has an impact! Suffice to say, nothing fitted and in my newly raw state I was sensitised to just how distressing the experience of getting dressed every day was. Reduced to wearing an old pair of leggings and my boyfriend’s tops, I literally felt like I had lost myself. Who was this person in a band t-shirt staring back at me in the mirror? I didn’t recognise her.
Where had Rae with the cotton shirts and silk scarves gone?
Eventually I got myself together enough to go shopping for new stuff. The relief was instant, the ease spectacular, the sense of identity restored. With my new white shirt buttoned to the neck, I could work, I could go out, I could act in the world. With my new red coat, I was able to go out when it was raining!
I was myself again.
I am far from alone in recognising the transformative and restorative power of the right clothes. The latest #StyleHasNoRules campaign from Long Tall Sally, a retailer who caters for women over five feet eight tall, focuses on helping women to reclaim their fashion confidence while having fun doing so.
A study of 1,000 UK adult women found that 76 percent did not feel confident when it came to choosing outfits even though 78 percent of them had when they were children.
96 percent said they had worn what made them happy until they were ten years old.
The element of playfulness in this process was particularly emphasised by one of the Little Stylists who selected a polka dot dress for her model because ‘dots make me happy, and I want my lady to be happy’. What we wear may have an important influence on our self-confidence but we can have fun with it too.
My fashion philosophy is that we should take it both more seriously and also less seriously.
The role of clothing in confidence is also recognised by the Smart Works. Alongside interview training, this charity provides personal styling session for women who are job hunting, providing them with high quality clothing to wear to interviews and keep afterwards. As they explain,
The clothes we choose to wear have a huge impact on how we are perceived by others, particularly when meeting people for the first time. Selecting what to wear for a job interview is a critical element of our non-verbal communication, and can be a huge influence on the interviewer when they are making a decision on whom to employ.
Furthermore, they claim that ‘over 95% of our clients reported that a visit to Smart Works significantly increased their confidence in succeeding at their job interview’.
It’s possible to support Smart Works in their mission and boost your own confidence through clothes at their forthcoming designer sale. On Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st May they will be selling some of their high quality stock at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, with proceeds going to support the charity. You can buy tickets here.
Tell me about your experiences of clothing and confidence. Does wearing polka dots make you happy? Do you think an outfit helped you to secure a job? Or do you feel a lack of clothing confidence has held you back in some way? And if you enjoyed reading this post, please do tell others about it on social media – it really helps! Sharing button are below.
With thanks to all the Lululemon Regent Street staff who gave me their time and attention.
‘Don’t laugh at the fat person in the gym’ memes do the rounds on social media every so often. Trouble is, if you are overweight then getting kitted out to go to the gym can be problematic – harrowing even. Changing rooms can be an unpleasant experience at the best of times but they’re even worse when you’re trying to hoist various bits of yourself into a highly elasticated piece of Lycra.
Furthermore many of us hold firm to the belief, realistic or not, being fat is a temporary state. Regardless of how long we’ve been overweight up to now, this isn’t going to continue for much longer. This makes us question the wisdom of investing any expensive clothing, let alone pricey sportswear – especially if we don’t usually go for the athleisure look. I gave my one and only hoodie away to my then boyfriend in July 2004. He looked better in it than I did.
Did you guess that there was a big but coming?
My experience in the UK’s flagship Lululemon store on Regent Street challenged all my doubts, prejudices and resistance. This Canadian yoga brand not only kitted me out in gorgeous practical clothes that I wanted to wear, they gave me Tuesday lunchtime morale boost.
If the prospect of going into a Sports Direct store causes you to sweat more than a 5k park run, be assured that a visit to Lululemon is totally different.
For a start, it’s a fun place to be! The flagship shop encourages play, with a photo booth where you can be snapped stating your dream and join their wall of positive intention. And if you’re looking to begin or extend your yoga practice, the shop also houses a studio. Offering free classes is at the heart of the firm’s ethos.
They also have a café stocked with food that tastes goods and looks virtuous. I had a salad and one of those intense juice shots that makes you feel a bit smug even if it has no effect whatsoever! It’s a great place to stop for a quick lunch alone or a quiet haven to meet with a friend in the heart of the city’s hustle and bustle.
The highlight, however, has to be the company’s clothes. I had a personal session with one of the staff, another feature that is freely available – and there was no high pressure sales pitch either. I answered a few questions about my preferences in advance, and a selection of garments greeted me, along with a welcoming sign.
Trousers, vests, t-shirts, outer layers: everything that I tried on was beautiful, comfortable and felt supportive enough to exercise in with confidence. The service was friendly and discreet, and staff explained the technology and concept behind each of the items.
Clearly a lot of thought and design has gone into every garment. The Swiftly Tech Racerback vest, for example, was seamlessly constructed to reduce chafage and had strategically placed mesh vents in high sweat areas to help with airflow.
Such attention to detail and design comes at a price. That particular Racerback vests cost £45, while the trousers cost £98 and the outerwear came in £100+. The grey marl Run It Out Tee I’m wearing comes in at £62.
These price points obviously rule out many consumers. That said, some cheaper high street sports stores exclude customers by only catering to a narrow range of body sizes. I currently wear a UK 16/18 and my body, all of it, was accommodated by the Lululemon garments that I tried. Easily accommodated. My experience doesn’t encompass the full range of women’s sizes in Britain today but it’s a marked improvement on existing provision.
Everything chosen fitted.
No too tight seams or skimping with fabric around the chest. No squishing of my excess required. No tears of frustration shed.
I didn’t feel like a freak.
More than that, I felt like I had a right to be there.
You’d think that anywhere willing to take your money would give that impression but it’s not the case. Fat shaming, overt or covert, is widespread. Yet despite all the assumptions about yoga culture losing its spiritual dimension in favour of pursuing the body beautiful (here’s looking at you, Instagram), I felt valued.
Thanks to a combination of the store’s vibe, the staff’s attitude and the clothing’s fit, I felt I deserved to feel good wearing Lululemon, whether for yoga, other exercise or something else altogether.
Plus I’d be the best dressed fat person in the gym.
Whatever your size, how have you found the experience of buying sportswear? Do you think that wearing an outfit that you like and feel good in would make exercising easier or do you think it’s more often a case of ‘all the gear, no idea’ (one of my brother’s philosophical gems)?
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