Upcycling – old to new

Previously: Recycling clothes.

Continuing my 3things pledge to become an ethical fashionista, I have been on the challenge to discover the wonderful world of upcycling.

Upcycling is the process of converting a somewhat useless product into something of value. In the world of fashion upcycling can also be referred to as reconstruction, refashion or reclaiming. There is even the term ‘trashion’ (trash+fashion).

The best part about upcycling is you can use nearly everything in your wardrobe again and make it into something new. WHY you ask? Why not!? Why not use something you already have and make it into something new? It’s exciting, it’s crafty and there is a definite sense of achievement when you realise nothing went to waste when making that item. Best of all it can be virtually free if you use something you already have.

Upcycling yourself involves at least some basic sewing skills for small things, and a sewing machine for the more complex things (or be willing to pay a tailor or your Mum to do it for you).You can also buy upcycling items which it is relatively easy once you know where to look.

I decided to try both – buy and make.

Buy It

I unknowingly stumbled across buying something upcycled when I was drawn to the colourful dress rack assortment at Pigeonhole http://pigeonhole.com.au/ to discover the rack was full of old vintage dresses upcycled to better fitted dresses while still keeping with the vintage styling and there were no two fabrics the same. The best thing about these dresses is they were super cute, while still being unique.

upcycled vintage style dress by pigeonhole

I found some great online stores like Enchanted Platypus selling upcycled clothes like this amazing upcycled jacket made from old sweaters. Enchanted Platypus even donates a portion of her takings to her favourite charities.

Image from The Enlightened Platypus

And this dress from Scarlett Charlett made from a mixture of old outfits.

Image from Scarlett Charlett

You can even find bags like this one made by SewMuchStyle, made from old suits.

Image from SewMuchStyle

Make It

When it came to making something I really had to put my creative hat on. I’ve been seeing fabric necklace in magazines lately and decided to give it a crack without really knowing what I was doing! I found an old singlet that had a hole in it and decided to use this. I ended up using 95% of the singlet, cutting it up into strips, plaiting, tying and sewing it together in different spots. I then made some fabric flowers and used spare buttons (you know, the kind you get with new clothes?). Here is my random attempt:

upcycled necklace by Kat

Can you believe that was once a singlet? I’ll admit it’s a pretty average first attempt and would definitely create a pattern next time instead of cutting and sewing blindly like a crazy person, but it was good fun and great practice for hand sewing and crafting and it inspired me to make more attempts in the future!

There are lots of ideas and patterns on the internet, you just have to find them. For example the below singlet was converted from an old tshirt, with instructions on how to make it and step by step pictures included.

Upcycling sewing project from Crafting a Green World

Upcycling love

The best part is, once I gave upcycling an attempt I then started looking at everything as a project-in-waiting. Old clothes, leftover fabric, random objects – anything really. I even started finding other people making things and selling them locally, like the store Oldlove  in Subiaco, who sell all sorts of upcycled items such as lampshades made from things like old My Little Ponys or He-Man action figures or books (like in the picture below), as well as jewellery, accessories and clothes.

Image from Oldlove

So far this has been the most fun eco fashion element I’ve played with. It’s just so exciting to find something unique and amazing that used to be something else entirely.

 

Next: Fairtrade and Ethically Accredited

Recycling clothes – seek and you shall find

Previously: Becoming an ethical fashionista

The road to my becoming an ethical fashionista has challenged the way I  look at fashion and shopping. It can no longer be about satisfying an immediate want and going to the cheapest fashion store to buy it. I have to consider what my ethical choices are and the first consideration should be looking at what already exists – second-hand or vintage clothes.

Mo Mo's Vintage

With so much waste in the world, fashion certainly contributes with its ever changing trends encouraging people update their wardrobe constantly and subsequently throw away old, out of fashion clothes. But where do these old clothes go? Either the bin (I hope not!) or to goodwill clothes bins for recycling.

Firstly, let’s get two things straight. I might refer to things as ‘second-hand’, ‘recycled’, ‘op-shop’ or ‘vintage’ – what’s the difference? The only difference is, specifically referring to something as ‘vintage’ refers to clothes typically from the 70’s and earlier (and are almost ‘in demand’ for their uniqueness) they are usually harder to source. Most of them still exist today thanks to vintage enthusiasts and people storing bags of old clothes and eventually giving them away! When I say ‘second-hand’ or ‘op-shop’ or ‘recycled’ – despite technically meaning all pre-loved clothes, typically refers to clothes from the 80’s onwards, including relatively new clothes. The reason these ‘new’ clothes have been given to goodwill is probably because they are not in fashion anymore and the owner needed to make room for new fashionable clothing!

There are positives and negatives to buying second hand or vintage clothes. In the positive, you find can find cheap, unique or rare clothes and it’s good to know that reusing something means it doesn’t go to waste.  The only negative is it can take more energy to trawl through racks of clothing, to then hope it’s in the right size and also repair possible damage. Sometimes if it’s really special or rare, it’s not even cheap! True vintage enthusiasts find that it’s all part and parcel of vintage shopping – it’s a treasure hunt.

My recycled clothes adventure

vintage scarf

vintage velvet skirt with neck tie turned into a belt

Walking into a vintage store is like walking into a costume shop – you have to have an idea of what character you want to play and be willing to try a few on before finding the right one – and sometimes you just don’t know where to start. I had fun looking through all the racks without anything particular in mind, I was just hoping something would stand out.

I eventually stumbled across a navy velvet skirt, tried it on and it fortunately fit perfectly. I also found myself getting giddy at the scarves rack (I have an obsession for scarves), and found a great mauve coloured fabric which was the perfect length for a neck or head scarf.  I also spotted some awesome fabric in the way of a neck tie and thought it would make a good belt. All three things cost me $60. If I was to buy this from an op-shop it would have costed even less.

Needless to say, you certainly have to be creative when looking through recycled clothes. I usually browse by fabric, if I see a fabric that catches my attention I’ll have a look at the outfit. It also pays to understand the history of fashion so that when you find something you understand how it was meant to be worn and how you can incorporate it into your modern wardrobe.

A recycle fashion hero

Jessi Arrington

I recently stumbled upon Lucky So and So blogger Jessi Arrington on the ‘ideas worth spreading’ website TED, and her inspirational talk titled ‘Wearing nothing new’.

Jessi, self-confessed ‘outfit obsessed’, doesn’t buy anything new and buys everything second-hand.

“Second-hand shopping allows me to reduce the impact my wardrobe has on the environment and on my wallet, I get to meet all kinds of great people, my dollars usually go to a good cause, I look pretty unique…”

Jessi believes if you believe that you are a good person inside and out, then there is no look that you can’t pull off. She also puts great emphasis on not getting emotionally attached to clothes. To prove her point, she came to the TED Seminars with a suitcase of underwear and only the clothes on her back. She bought every outfit for every day of the seminar from second-hand stores in the area.

“You do not have to spend a lot of money to look great”

What Jessi makes you realise is that buying recycled clothes gives you the best opportunity to dress uniquely. There’s something slightly unsettling about going to a fashion chain and picking up an outfit from a rack of 30 other matching outfits.

Watch Jessi’s inspirational video here:

Swap with friends

If you’re not keen on trawling through second-hand stores, another option is to have a fashion swap night with your girlfriends where you can bring all your unused outfits and swap them with your friends. I once accidently did this with a bunch of girls from work, where we discovered we all had bags of clothes to give to goodwill in the boots of our car at the time, so we brought them all into the office and we went through each other’s bags. It felt a lot less invasive to know where the clothes were coming from.

Another option is websites such as Thread Swap which is virtually the same thing, but online. This involves a straight swap system though, so in order to ‘take’ something you will have had to have ‘given’ something of the same value. It’s still a great way to find people who will truly use your pre-loved fashion items.

Perth vintage

Whilst you can quite easily find goodwill clothes stores (such as ‘Good Sammys’, ‘Salvation Army’ etc), the true vintage stores are harder to find. Here are a few that I know of:

Memory Lane : 768 Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley

She Seldom Blushes : Shop 5, Atwell Arcade (just off High Street Mall) Fremantle.

MoMo’s  : 849 Beaufort St Inglewood.

Lola Rose Vintage  : 42a Old Perth Road, Bassendean WA

Pigeonhole Vintage : Shop 10 Bon Marche Arcade, Barrack Street, Perth

Bluebird Vintage  : 288 Cambridge St, Wembley

You can also keep your eye out for advertised markets such as Polka Dot Vintage Markets and the Sugar Blue Burlesque’s Retro Markets.

The conclusion

Personally, I am a vintage girl at heart loving everything retro. I usually don’t mind going on a treasure hunt for clothes and I love the idea of finding a really unique outfit. But I know that it’s not for everyone and I know that it can become tiring, especially if you’re desperate for a specific item and you just can’t find it.

An alternative to buying second-hand or vintage clothes is upcycling.  Upcycling uses these old clothes and fabrics but reconstructs them into something different (both in retro and modern styling) and this is the next stage of my ethical adventure.

Next: Upcycling

Becoming an ethical fashionista

my wardrobe of clothes

As I have mentioned before, I recently made an ethical fashion pledge via Oxfam’s ‘3things to change the world’ initiative. Whilst I later expanded this to becoming an ethical shopper (in all facets of my consumerism), the fact still remains – I love fashion and I can’t give it up, so I had to find an ethical and sustainable way of being involved in fashion.

How can being an ethical fashionista ‘change the world’?

Ever wondered how clothes from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on are still found in good condition today? Do you think most of today’s mass produced clothes will last that long?

Ever wondered how many new clothes you’ve bought, and subsequently how many old clothes you ‘threw out’? Hopefully most of you give old clothes to charity, but in the UK in 2009 it was estimated that 63% of people’s old clothes go to landfill.   Most of these clothes are perfectly fine, or at least most of the fabric is still in perfect condition.

Ever wondered how a top could be on sale for $5? I’m sure you just thought “Bargain!”, but what it more likely means is the effort of some underpaid worker in a third world country has now been demoralized.

As I mentioned before when I talked about being an ethical shopper, it’s all about consideration as to where these items came from: considering and appreciating the history behind a vintage item, considering the worth of an outfit’s fabric, and considering the effort and conditions of the workers who made your modern day outfits.

How to be an ethical fashionista

Here are three ways you can become an ethical fashionista:

  1. Recycling clothes (buying second hand or vintage clothes)
  2. Upcycling existing clothes (altering clothes into something new)
  3. Buying fairtrade or ethically accredited clothes

I have made the lifelong decision to be an ethical fashionista. Full stop. I am experiencing all three of these steps, and sharing the journey with you in articles to come. This isn’t about being preachy because I am experiencing this for the first time too, and I know nobody wants to be told what they can and cannot wear! But it’s about educating myself (and you!) to realise something you probably didn’t consider before.

Attitude

I’ve now realised the essential key to this challenge is changing my attitude about fashion. Fashion for most girls (and boys) I know has become all about satisfying immediate wants – whether it be mass produced cheap rip-offs of the latest trends, or buying something expensive just for the ‘label’. We see a celebrity wearing something and we decide we have to have it. I honestly believe it’s an addiction.

There are different ways of being an ethical shopper, but having the right attitude is the only thing that will make it work. How?

  • Patience – it’s not as likely that you will be able to satisfy any immediate wants
  • Creative – you have to think outside the box and look at a piece with how it can tie into your current wardrobe, how it could be altered to fit, or how you can just ‘make it look good’
  • Understanding – recycled clothes have flaws, upcycling takes effort and buying fairtrade involves checking the label and doing some research – look beyond this

It’s safe to say that becoming an ethical fashionista has already completely changed the way I look at things. Where I used to often head straight to the mass produced cheap ‘sweat shop’ stores to buy the latest cheap fashion item, I now take a step back and look around at all my options, whether it be recycling, upcycling or hunting online for some awesome fairtrade outfits or accessories. There is an amazing community of ethical stores out there, which I would have never found if I hadn’t looked. It’s already brought some of the most exciting items to hit my wardrobe in a long time!

What now?

I am going to tell you more about each three areas of becoming an ethical fashionista with my own experiences and adventures, one by one.

For now, why don’t you start looking at your attitude to fashion and start observing your purchasing practices? Once I made the decision to become an ethical fashionista, it was amazing how guilty I felt just walking into a cheap fashion store and how unappealing and ‘cheap and nasty’ the clothes seemed.

Next: Recycling Clothes

The tips and tricks of avoiding Palm Oil

The first battle in the fight against unsustainable Palm Oil will be spear-headed today (23rd June 2011) in the Australian senate. The Truth in Labelling Act was first introduced by Nick Xenophon back in November 2009 and is calling for the mandatory labelling of Palm Oil in all food products on Australian shelves. Xenophons bill has not only backed what environmental groups have been saying for years but is also supported by many health organisations (including the Heart Foundation). Xenophon has recognised the consumers right to know what they are buying and the effects that these products have on their health, and the planets!

I discussed in detail the effects of palm oil production and consumption in my previous article but in summary, the production of Palm oil is leading to mass clearing of important south-east Asian rainforests (homes and habitats), astronomical carbon emissions and after all that is an unhealthy oil due to its extremely high level of saturated fat. I think it is safe to say that those are three damn ugly side-effects for a product that is a) easily produced sustainably and b) easily replaced if not.

A selection of products containing Palm Oil from http://www.palmoilaction.org.au

Why does labelling of Palm Oil need to be mandatory?

As Australian consumers we trust the fact that when we look at the ingredients list that what we see is what we get – but this is currently not the case. According to the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) the only edible oils that need to be declared are soybean, sesame and peanut oil (due to allergies) but it is perfectly acceptable to label all other plant based oils (including palm) simply as ‘vegetable oil’. In Senator Xenophon introduction of the bill he commented on the ridiculousness; that at even the most basic level this is misleading given that palm oil is made from fruit! But beyond that minor technicality we have a right to know exactly what we are consuming and consuming it we are, with the average Australian ingesting or applying 10 kilograms of it every year! In my previous article I focused predominantly on the environmental impacts of palm oil which, in my opinion, is reason enough to make labelling mandatory. So instead I have decided I will focus on the health implications.

Our government spends millions of dollars a year advertising ‘health’. In terms or heart disease, cancer and obesity we are advised to reduce our intake of saturated fats. Saturated fats are commonly associated with animal fats such as those found in meats, butters and cheeses rather than vegetable oils, like Canola and Sunflower. So, on this belief, if a consumer picked up a product labeled as Vegetable Oil it would be perfectly logical for them to believe that it was low in saturated fat. However the food source that contains the highest level of saturated fats of any (up to a whopping 93%) are hydrogenated oils – Palm and Coconut Oil. As consumers how can we make responsible decisions when the credible information we are basing them on is fraudulent? So what do you need to know to avoid palm oil in your products?

How to decode the labels?

In food…

Here at the Eco Empire we must sound like stuck records but here it is again – read the label! Repetitive? Yes. But the fact of the matter is, making a habit of reading your labels is one of the biggest steps to take if you want to live a more ethical existence. In this case the first hurdle is to identify whether Palm Oil is even being using in the product. This is not as cut and dry as identifying say, nuts, gluten or dairy. It seems that companies are only willing to be transparent when there is risk of allergies in their buyers. An easy example of labeled palm oil will list it as Palm Oil or Palmolein. However with the more vague products however, you will have to dig deeper. While it is perfectly legal to deceivingly bundle palm in with vegetable oil the amount of saturated fat in a product must, by law, be declared. So if a product lists a vegetable oil look straight to the saturated fat level for the vital clue. As I mentioned earlier Palm and Coconut oils are the only vegetable oils high in saturated fat so If the levels are high it is very likely these oils have been used. While it’s not bulletproof method it definitely helps to identifying a hidden ingredient! Once you have established the presence of the oil look for the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) logo. If it is missing it is highly likely that the palm oil was produced unsustainably. But if you are not satisfied coming to this conclusion, ring the customer feedback line and ask them is it is RSPO certified.It if is not explain the reasons that you will be taking your hard earned cash elsewhere. Those customer lines are set up to learn customer expectations and while they may not respond to heart disease and orangutan extinction they’ll listen if you mention money!

In cosmetics…

Strangely enough, the requirements for labelling palm oil in the cosmetics industry are far stricter than those that apply to our food industry. In cosmetics, palm oil must be listed as an ingredient without exception. However, as Juliet asked Romeo, what’s in a name? Here is a list of all the names used for Palm Oil (or chemicals containing it);

  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate

    Image by Emily Ehlers

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Palmate
  • Palm Oil Kernal
  • Palmitate
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate
  • Anything with palmitate at the end

It is a hell of a lot to remember. Zoos Victoria have been major drivers in enforcing correct labelling and have this cute little print out card that you can keep in your wallet to pull out before you buy your shampoos and conditioners. A solution that I have found very effective is buying certified organic shampoos and conditioners. Still check the label, but products like Sukin list the scientific name for each ingredient and in brackets next to it the common name i.e. Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil

Know your companies and products

While it sounds like it is a massive undertaking to eliminate palm oil for your shopping trolley it gets easier every week. You will start to recognise the brands and products that do use them and the companies you want to support because they don’t. Since I pledged to 3things that I would eliminate palm oil from my home I have noticed a very welcome side-effect: I am no longer buying unhealthy packaged foods! It has forced me to be a lot more creative with my decisions which often leads to healthier options. Before when friends came over I would dish out a bowl of greasy potato chips, but since the switch they have been welcomed into my home by the smell of toasting flat breads or healthy crudites. It has been a really positive change in my home.

Make the change

The Truth in Food Labelling Act (if passed) is definitely an exciting step in the right direction but it is not the solution. The power still lies with you, the consumer, to make ethical decisions and ultimately support the companies that are considering the triple bottom line and are producing responsibly. It upset me when I found out Oreos (one of the few vegan pleasures of the old world) had palm oil in. But now I am not chewing down a heap of saturated fats, trans fats, refined sugars and all the environmental costs associated with packaging and transport. Instead I now make delicious vegan chocolate biscuits with my husband and the best bit is we see exactly what goes into them.

Looking to the future

I hope this has provided you a few solutions on how to cut down or eliminate palm oil from your life. I also hope that as I type this over in Canberra a fantastic bill presented by an admirable man is being passed through to the House of Representatives, so that shopping ethically can be that little bit easier for us all. Once consumers start reacting to unsustainable palm oil in their products, companies will be forced to meet consumer demand. As I consumer I demand that some of the most diverse rainforest on our planet is preserved, I demand that we stop killing 50 orangutans every week, I demand that we allow local people the right to their land and I demand that we stop depriving future generations of some of our worlds greatest wonders.

References

What’s so good about ‘Organic’?

Organic is the latest buzz word around town and if you’re not sure what it is, you at least know it’s healthy… or something like that.

photo (c) Kat Wray

So what does organic mean?

According to the BPA (Biological Farmers of Australia):

Organic produce is grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, or GMOs with a focus on environmentally sustainable practices”.

To be certified organic in Australia there are three main focuses:

  • Soil fertility – methods such as crop rotation, green manure crops and composting to maintain natural soil fertility.
  • Pest & disease control – mechanical and natural methods of pest and weed control.
  • No GMO’s (genetically modified organisms)

This means no artificial fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are permitted creating a more natural product. An organic farm must also adhere to these practices for a transition period of a few years before being certified organic.

Aside from your food being chemical free, you’re also supporting sustainable agriculture which also supports a better ecosystem.

To ensure you are not buying products that have misleading claims of being organic, looking for the accredited logo “Australian Certified Organics” is your best bet.

What does biodynamic mean?

photo (c) Kat Wray

Biodynamic farming is an enhanced version of organic farming (which actually predates it). Whilst similar to organic practices, biodynamic agriculture is all about ‘self-sufficiency’ where the entire farm becomes ‘a living organism’ – the farmer, the land, even the animals play a part – that’s right animals. Animal husbandry plays a part, as animals aid in successful crop rotation and the manure being an essential tool in cultivating the land for crop planting. The animals are primarily fed from the farm itself.

Vegans beware – aside from manure, there are other animal bi-products used to condition the soil, such as “cow horn manure” and “horn silica” HOWEVER, the guidelines depict that the animals receive continuous observant care and must be able to carry out their innate behavioural traits and recognise animals as ‘ensouled beings’.

Soil husbandry is the most important part of the system however, with high standards of soil conditions being vital.

Biodynamic Agriculture Australia explain Biodynamics:

“Biodynamics is a regenerative agriculture, holistic in approach and practice, through which the farmer and gardener bring the substances and forces of nature into a quality and sustainable production.”

The concept of biodynamic agriculture was born from the lectures of Austrian scientist and philosopher Dr Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Dr Steiner wrote the lectures at the request of local farmers who were concerned about the future of agriculture due to their depleting soil conditions and quality of stock. The concept was brought to life by other practitioners and is now somewhat managed by world certification agency Demeter International.

Biodynamic food has been known to stay fresh longer than organic produce and because of its focus on rehabilitating and enhancing soil this is a very sustainable agricultural practice.

Why choose organic (or biodynamic) food?

  • It tastes better (some people will say this is an arguable point, but if there are no chemicals involved in the production how can it not taste better?!)
  • Supports sustainable agriculture practices (not only improving soil, but no nasty chemicals get into our ground water system)
  • The food contains a higher level of nutrients (scientifically proven)
  • Produces chemical and additive free foods
  • Supports the local community

For more reasons why you should check out the Organic Food Directory website.

Don’t be fooled

There are still some products on the market that claim to be organic or biodynamic but with no certification (or at least, a certification you’ve never heard of). If unsure, you can double check for a company’s legitimacy using the Ethical Consumer Guide iPhone app as I have suggested before, or check  the Organic Federation of Australia’s website for current certification labels.

You should also be wary of products such as premade food and beauty products claiming to contain organic produce – whilst there might be one organic item in the mix, this doesn’t mean the entire product is organic or good for you. Organic lavender isn’t going to make a difference if you’re still putting harmful chemicals on your face. It really does pay to read the label.

My experience

Without really knowing what it was all about, I made a pledge for 3things that I was going to buy organic produce, which is how my organic adventure began. I didn’t realise at the time that I’d go one step further and order weekly packaged boxes of biodynamic fruit and vegetables from a local farm called Mimsbrook Farm  in Darling Downs (Perth, Western Australia). Eating only organic produce for a month seemed like the best way to experience the food.

photo (c) Kat Wray

My delivery box only has what is in season and available at the time of packing – you never know what you’re going to get! Eating seasonally is sustainable and nutritional.  Whilst the selection at your local markets appear fairly vast – if you look closer you’ll realise a lot of the fruit and vegetables are from interstate or even international! A few weeks ago I almost picked up some asparagus at the supermarket but noticed it had been shipped from Peru! The carbon footprint on that asparagus was far too much. Locally grown fruit and vegetables ensures freshness and a low transportation distance ensures a smaller carbon footprint.

Because I am supporting a community farm, I have to support their business too – which means I had to pay for a month’s worth of vegetables up front. It might have seemed like a lot at the time, but I barely have to visit the supermarket anymore so I’m certainly not complaining!

In order to not waste anything I also have to pre-plan the entire week of meals – it can’t be about what I am ‘in the mood for’ but more about ‘what can I make with this?’. Personally I am keen for the challenge, but not everyone’s a cook! It requires dedication to get pre-packaged boxes!

There is also the cost. Yes, organic or biodynamic food is generally more expensive. I personally put good food first, so paying extra doesn’t bother me and unless you are on a super strict budget, you have to think that the extra cost comes back in return as extra nutrients, chemical free food and supporting sustainability.

The conclusion?

I have fruit and vegetables that are rich in colour and flavour, I could hear the fresh crispiness when I cut into the produce, I am eating food that is in season – even vegetables I have never tried before (such as kale, which happens to be the super vegetable of the world!) and I feel good knowing I am getting nutrient rich food whilst supporting a sustainable local business and community. It feels good to buy organic!

Ethical shopping – it’s all about reading the label

image from ethical.org.au

I made a pledge via 3things to choose vintage/pre-loved clothes over brand new ‘sweatshop’ cheap clothes. In hindsight it was an odd thing to choose, but I knew that I was going the easy route of shopping at super cheap fashion clothes stores without considering where these clothes came from, who made them, in what conditions and at what cost to the environment.

What I’ve since decided is I’m going to expand this pledge to something bigger – to shop ethically and not just clothes, but everything I consume. So before I can fully become an ethical shopper and fulfil my pledge, I first had to find out what it all meant.

What is ethical shopping (or being an ‘ethical consumer’)?

One of the biggest key words here is “considering” – and consideration is all about respect, concern and thoughtfulness.

  • Considering how the product will affect other people or animals
  • Considering whether the production of the product has been made using sustainable practices
  • Choosing products that are of good quality
  • Choosing products that are themselves sustainable and not harmful to the planet

Ethical shopping is deep rooted and there might be items that don’t or can’t tick every ethical box (eg. leather). According to the Ethical Consumer Guide though, there are four different forms or levels of ethical shopping to consider:

  1. Favouring ethical products (which they refer to as ‘positive buying’)
  2. Disfavouring or avoiding unethical products (which they refer to as ‘negative buying’)
  3. Examining businesses as a whole (which means looking at companies and all subsidiaries – a company or product might appear fine until you discover they’re owned by a much larger unethical organisation)
  4. Taking everything into account (in other words, a combination of all three)

Now the lazy person in all of us is might say “that sounds hard” – well it’s not as easy as remaining naive and buying things without thought, but it’s not hard. All it takes is a bit of foresight and some researching – but most of all an attitude change.

What to do

Step One: Read the label!! Find out where this product has come from, what it’s made from and who the company really is.

Step Two: Check your choices!! Don’t just pick a product because it’s what your Mum always used to buy and you don’t know what else exists – look around for the most ethical choice.

Step Three: Know what to look for!! Educate yourself about ingredients, production practices etc and really know what you should be looking for in a product.

What to look for

These are some key things to look for when choosing an ethical product and why:

  • Local products – less transportation as well as supporting local businesses
  • Fairtrade certified – which ensures non exploitive trade practices (wages and conditions of workers) and sustainable practices
  • Environmentally friendly – having less of an impact on the planet, such as organic (no chemicals or genetically modified ingredients), biodegradable (materials naturally break down in a relatively short amount of time), no harmful ingredients (such as palm oil, SLS) etc
  • Cruelty free – treating animals humanely

But, like I said earlier, it’s all about consideration. Not only should you consider the above items but you also have to consider whether the product you want to buy is the best option for what you need – for example if you were looking to buy disposable plastic cups for a picnic, you might instead consider buying good quality BPA free plastic cups that you keep, wash and reuse for years to come. Think about why you want the product and what you’re hoping to achieve. It shouldn’t always be about convenience.

Where do I start?

Favouring ethical products is the best place to start. The next time you do the food shopping before you reach for your favourite product, stop and look at all your choices.

Don’t overwhelm yourself, just take it one step at a time – start with your weekly food shopping and then look at every item as you need it such as new clothes, shampoo, soap, household cleaning products, car, furniture – you name it. It’s as simple as using Google to search for “Ethical shampoo” and seeing what you find.

When you feel comfortable with the basics then you can really start to delve deeper.

Why?

So you might be asking yourself why, aside from the obvious, should you be making ethical choices when you don’t know anyone else who does.

Firstly, you gotta start somewhere – once you do it, your best friend might do it, then their cousin might do it, then their mother might do it, and so on. Create a chain reaction and don’t be afraid to lead by example.

Secondly, by choosing ethical products you create a demand for them, which means they become more popular, more widely available and soon enough hopefully ‘the norm’. It worked with free range eggs – we created the demand and now the supermarkets have to stock them to meet the demand. This demand has now crept into restaurants who advertise the fact that they serve free range eggs. We win with better quality eggs and chickens win (more than before) because they now get treated more humanely.

Feel good shopping!

At the end of the day, it feels good to know that you can shop guilt free. So, the next time you need to buy something, by choosing the ethical option you will be able to consciously feel good about your decision (just don’t max out the credit card!!).

Just remember:

  • CONSIDERATION
  • CREATE DEMAND FOR ETHICAL PRODUCTS
  • LEAD BY EXAMPLE

A little action creates a chain reaction.

Sugar free and dairy free cake? Possible!

Is it even possible? I didn’t think so – and when my naturopath told me I had to remove sugar from my diet I went through a very difficult addiction withdrawal period. You might know that sugar is ‘bad’, but did you know why?

  • Sugar is empty calories (high in calories but not filling, which means you eat more)
  • Sugar overconsumption suppresses your immune system
  • Sugar can cause inflammation (which promotes aging and disease)
  • Sugar plays with your insulin levels (which can cause hypoglycaemia)

I was pretty much suffering from all of these issues, and sugar was one of the causes. It had to go. But did my diet have to suffer?

Fortunately, after one week of withdrawal hell I had stopped craving sugar and survived on the occasional crepes with maple syrup (yes, maple syrup is allowed!), but fast forward 3 months later and now that little craving for something sweet has crept back up on me. I must resist I keep saying to myself and was about to give up the idea of ever having dessert again when, looking for vegetarian recipes on my new favourite food blog Green Kitchen Stories, I stumbled across a sugar free chocolate, nut and date cake. I was intrigued.

The recipe called for dates, hazelnuts or almonds, sugar free dark chocolate, eggs, lemon (or orange) juice, vanilla powder, unsweetened cocoa powder and coconut oil. Two of those ingredients stood out from the rest: sugar free chocolate and coconut oil. As someone new to the world of food allergies, I am getting used to finding odd ingredients in recipes and slowly my pantry is getting full of weird and wonderful items – I was now going to have to add sugar free chocolate and coconut oil!

I ended up finding coconut oil in the Asian section of my local growers market. It’s an interesting item as the oil is actually quite solid, almost like lip balm. As for the sugar free chocolate I decided to use carob chocolate. Whilst not tasting much like the chocolate I am used to, carob chocolate can be bought dairy and sugar free and is known as ‘healthy chocolate’ because it has one third of the calories and virtually fat free. It is also is nonallergenic and has abundant protein – and as a vegetarian who suffers from allergies, this is good news!

I made sure I bought all the products from my local growers market and, like my 3things pledge, tried to make sure I bought as many organic products as I could.

Feeling like this recipe was too good to be true, I made it yesterday with very little hope of it actually tasting good. I am a huge former-dessert-addict, so this cake had big shoes to fill.

And the result? Delicious!

Here is a picture of the cake – which almost looks like a brownie. The carob chocolate was a great touch as it sweetened the cake in a more subtle way. I ended up using both almonds and hazelnuts, but I’d probably stick with just hazelnuts in the future as they go so well with chocolate!

So for anyone who wants to cook a more healthy dessert, or for those like me who shouldn’t eat refined sugar, there are options out there – you just have to find them and maybe even experiment a little!

Big thanks to Green Kitchen Stories for their recipe – an amazing blog full of amazing vegetarian food!

Ems 3things for Oxfam

Whether being green is something that consumes your life or it is a guilty after-thought… there are always changes you can make to tread lighter on the planet. That’s the great thing about sustainability… every step you take in the right direction is a good one. As Kat said in her gorgeous article 3things can change the world, a simple change can make a big difference!

Got to admit, I am writing this article just after watching Avatar. Other than Fern Gully I can’t think of another movie that makes you hate capitalism and or consumerism more. Well, at least I have a theme! Here is what I have pledged to the Oxfam 3things website

Ems 3things for Oxfam

So what exactly do my pledges mean?

Pledge #1 – Stop using any products that contain Palm Oil

Don't buy palm oil

#1 - No more Palm Oil

This pledge was borne of the research I did for my article on palm oil. To sum up, 40% of all packaged foods in Australia contains palm oil and to meet this demand Indonesia and Malaysia are clearing rainforests at record rates (Guinness World Record rates) for oil palm plantations. So how can I abolish meat, eggs and dairy for animal rights reasons with an ounce of credibility when the biscuits, soups and shampoos I’m using are displacing orangutans, tigers and elephants and many other amazing animals. Labelling laws for palm oil in Australia are non-existent: there is no convention that says companies need to list whether the palm oil they are using is sustainable; they don’t even need to tell you they are using palm oil at all (it is listed as vegetable oil). This will be a tough challenge. Looking at the positives though it will make me consume more whole foods instead of processed junk and another by-product of the pledge means I will reduce the amount of packaging I use and will support local producers.

And if all that isn’t enough I just need to remember that my love for convenience will never outweigh my love for orangutans.

Pledge #2 - Grow my own vegetables

#2 - Grow my own vegetables

#2 - Eat what I sow

For pledge 2 I am recycling an old idea, after last year getting so scared of starting my own veggie patch that quit before I even began. There was just so much to consider. Where do I put it? What materials do I use? Is the pine I’m using treated with arsenic? And that’s before I have even planted a seed!!! But I’m biting the bullet and making the change. Ignoring the effect on the earth, I have to admit I am pretty damn terrified about all the emerging reports of the herbicides and pesticides being sprayed onto my food (and that’s before even broaching the subject of genetic modification). So all in all, I am excited and I will document my movements in the Home section of www.ecoempire.org.

Marigolds here I come!!!

Pledge #3 - Make Eco Empire the best environmental site in Australia

#3 - Make ecoempire a hit

#3 - Make this website a hit

Kat and I were chatting the other day; the information we have learnt from each other already – in the first month of Eco Empires existence – has been huge! I think it was a surprise to both of us just how much we were learning; not to mention a very welcome by-product. For me it has completely confirmed that we are doing a really positive thing. I want to continue educating myself, my friends and my family and hope that the enthusiasm that Kat and I share will translate into an interesting and useful resource. I pledge to make this website engaging, contemporary and constructive; a go-to for information, inspiration or just a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Remember, it’s not sacrifice… its a compromise.

So…what did you pledge??? 

3things can change the world

Changing the world, 3things at a time” – this is Oxfam’s latest initiative, and we like it. It’s such a simple concept: choose three things that you ‘pledge’ to do to make a difference, no matter how big or small.

The best thing about this concept is it’s not putting too much pressure on people to be eco warriors – just making a change to “make the world a better place” as 3things put it simply.

So last week, I chose my 3 things and pledged them on the 3things website.

What to choose?

Though I try to be a good little greenie, I’ve still got so much to learn, so I decided to push myself with things I’m keen to achieve (but haven’t have the right motivator to do so) – which I assume is the goal behind 3things, to motivate people to change.

Kat's 3things

1.      Buy organic produce

This is something I keep saying I’ll do, but not quite following through. It means going to an organic store that is only open for a few hours on Saturdays, and searching for longer to find the right stuff – but absolutely worth it in the end. I know that eating organic produce is good for me, but I can’t yet explain why. I am going to tell you all about my organic research and adventures in posts to come.

2.      Choose vintage/pre-loved clothes over brand new ‘sweatshop’ cheap clothes

This is a big one. I love fashion and I’m at the start of winter without enough warm clothes to get me through. Despite having the best intentions, it always seems easier to shop at the bargain places (which I know have been shipped directly from asian sweatshops). A great quote I saw on twitter* recently from ethical store owner EthiklWe all love a bargain, but when you are paying only $5 for a t-shirt, maybe it’s time to ask some questions…”.

I think this will be my biggest challenge and I’m going to dedicate quite a bit of time researching and documenting my ethical shopping adventures. Watch this space.

3.      Educate others by continuing to write for www.ecoempire.org

Need I say more?

When I document how I’ve travelled with my 3things challenges, I’ll let you know how these pledges can change the world.

In the meantime, you should check out the website to see what other people are pledging. After I had posted my 3things I noticed so many great ideas pledged by people that I even wondered if 3things was enough for me!

*You can follow EcoEmpire on twitter here