Wednesday, November 28, 2012

ship and the sea

Best Black Friday find?  $9.50 bookend at an antique mall in Boone, IA.  Thanks, Iron Horse.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fair Tuesday

Black Friday & Cyber Monday are over.  It's Fair Tuesday!!

I made my first purchase from Mata Traders today.  Mata is an independent fair trade company that sells clothing and accessories made by women's cooperatives in India and Nepal. They've got a great sale going on right now too.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

online shopping

Soooo... I'm a terribly inconsistent blogger.  I apologize to my two dear friends who actually read this. :)
Here's a complain-y story for you:

I spent a looong time last Sunday shopping online for some needed clothing items.  It took me 5 hours because I was determined to only purchase clothes that clearly stated "made in the USA."  I was pretty proud of my discoveries in the end.  I'd never bought clothes online before, so I was a little nervous about sizing... but thought I'd give it a try.

Clothes arrived.  Love them.  Two items are CLEARLY marked "made in China."

I'll be calling to ask this retailer to update their web description and I'll try not to sound grumpy about it.  I'm too lazy to return them (and the jeans fit really well), so I feel a wee bit guilty.

But really... what about truth in advertising? Come on!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sweatshop Free Tees

I order "team" t-shirts for work on a semi-regular basis.  It's hard to find fair-trade/USA made shirts that aren't $20.00+ each. (American Apparel, I love you, but not when I need 30 shirts for a summer camp).

I'm so happy about these three options!  Next time you need some screen printing done, try requesting these:

Canvas - USA Made Short Sleeve T-Shirt - 3001U

Best of all:

I haven't purchased here yet because my order doesn't exceed the minimum this time, but THIS COMPANY IS AMAZING!  Freeset also custom prints and makes stylish jute bags...ideal for events. 

From their website:
"Made from fair tradeorganic certified cotton, you can wear Freeset tees with pride knowing they're eco-friendly and making a difference in women's lives! 

Freeset tees are made by women in Kolkata, India who were once marginalized and trapped by poverty and prostitution. Freeset has given them an alternative - a way to find freedom. They have learned new skills and now earn a respectable, shame-free living making tees for you!"


Do you know of other places to get ethically made t-shirts? Share them with me if you do!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

a fail blog?

Feel free to chuckle knowingly as you read this rambling post. My grand experiment has been far less easy to execute than I originally imagined. I've been humbled, fo sho.

I began to realize I was in for some trouble when I read A Year Without Made in China by Sara Bongiorni.  Her primary point was demonstrating how dependent America is on Chinese exports. I laughed a lot (she's hilarious and the conversations she has with her husband sound so much like the ones I have with Matt), and then I started to get worried.  Sara and her family attempted to go one year without purchasing anything made in China.  She had to buy expensive shoes for her son from Germany, paintbrushes from Mexico, didn't replace her printer cartridges or broken coffeemaker the entire year, and her husband resorted to wearing "found" child-sized sunglasses, just to mention a few of the stories in her book.

Oh my.  And here I've committed to only buying from fair-trade, social-good business models or companies who manufacture in the USA.

The only advantages I have on Ms. Bongiorni are my non-parenthood (almost all kid stuff comes from China, fyi), and my affinity for Craigslist and thrift stores.  Let it be known that Craigslist and thrifting only go so far, however, as our plaid couch and my lack of summer sandals demonstrate.

Then, I realized how hard it is to actually discern where things originate.  You might buy something that says "Made in the USA," and discover all the parts inside came from China and Yemen.  You have to read your orange juice bottle very carefully to discover the source, and blueberries at Whole Foods come from Chile (wait... don't we grow those in Missouri too)?

THEN, my sister wrote a school paper about tomatoes in Florida being harvested by slaves. Ugh. tomatoes unless they come from the organic farmer's market.  Anybody know anything about lettuce?

My husband's laptop bag is breaking and there isn't a fair-trade replacement under $100 that doesn't seem like it belongs on a 17 year old girl with dreadlocks. 
I look the other way when Matt has to buy electronic parts from RadioShack.
I bought our friends diapers for their new baby because all the cute baby things were made in China or Vietnam. Practical, no doubt, but where's the fun?
We went shopping for a 16x20 picture frame, but they're all from Mexico.
My hair products are made in Canada (and I NEED my hair products).
My new water bottle is from Switzerland and I'm not a bit sorry because I love it.

The USA probably has far more slave-labor issues than Canada or Switzerland.  But I made my criteria US or fair trade because I thought it would be simpler. It is, to be sure.  Case in point: I e-mailed a company to find out where their dresses were made and they wrote back to say they chose China because they were avoiding sweatshops. So.. China's better than Vietnam on labor laws, but tons of human rights violations still happen there.  And where do Mexico and Poland fall in? I don't have a problem with international trade.  I have a problem with human rights being violated.  It's complicated when you start comparing every nation in the world.

I aired my difficulties to my 92 year old grandmother.
My grandma is a woman who fasts for an end to global poverty, loans her money through Kiva, sponsors a child in Africa, reads tomes about economics, and asks me what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life on a fairly regular basis.  She laughed and said (gently), "well, that sounds kind of like a waste of time."


Perhaps it is. Nevertheless, the experiment was never about me making a huge impact on retailers and manufacturers.  It's going to take crowd of people with louder voices and deeper pocketbooks than I possess to make a change.  This project is about me being aware of what I buy and why.

And to that end, it's working. Obviously, I'm not going to do this thing perfectly and it's basically impossible to live without touching slavery, but I'm learning tons, and I've found some awesome small companies I never would have noticed before. That's fun.

Bonus:  I'm saving so much money not buying shoes.  You don't even know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Freedom and Fear

"Over the years, I have come to understand a critical difference between the world of fear and the world of freedom.  In the former, the primary challenge is finding the inner strength to confront evil.  In the latter, the primary challenge is finding the moral clarity to see evil."

"Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm?  If he can, then that person is living in a free society.  If not, it's a fear society. Some people who live in free societies may consider this test too expansive since, in addition to the liberal democracies, it includes many countries not always considered free.  According to the town square test, societies where women are not allowed to vote, where discrimination is rampant, or where the economy is rigidly controlled can still be free.  This valid criticism demonstrates that every society that meets the definition of "free" is not necessarily just. Rather, this test shows only that every society that passes it has crossed the threshold of freedom.  In contrast, fear societies never cross this threshold and are always unjust."  -Natan Sharansky in The Case for Democracy

Mr. Sharansky was imprisoned in Soviet Russia as a political prisoner for nine years, so he's a pretty big fan of democracy and human rights. Haven't finished the book yet, but I like it so far.  Definitely some food for thought.  U.S. foreign policy tends to favor other nations based on their diplomatic behavior in the international world, rather than the treatment of their own citizens, but the book points out the moral and strategic flaws in that mindset.  It was written in 2004, so some of the middle eastern "current events" are dated, but the ideas are still timely.

This quote really stuck with me:
"A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors." - Andrei Sakharov

"Democrazia, Democracia, Democracy, Démocratie, Demokratie" - Emilio Chapela Perez (2010) 
These series of paintings re`present the total number of searches for different "keywords" in Google. The painting above represents the total volume of searches for the word "democracy" in Italian, Spanish, English, French and German respectively. In this case, Spanish speakers search for "democracia" the most, while English speaking users search for "democracy" the least.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kony 2012

Suddenly Joseph Kony's name is all over the place.  Wow. Invisible Children has created an brilliant awareness movement from the ground up. That's the way it should be done.  Watch this (it's just 30 minutes) and share.

 There's also a pledge you can sign.

I have heard some criticism of Invisible Children as an organization. They support the Ugandan military which has its own issues, they spend a lot of money on travel (which is not uncommon) and a LOT of money on filmmaking (see above).
They may have some problems. But there are a few things I really like about I.C.  They are focused on their cause. They have a target in sight and no one can deny that he is evil.  They help rebuild schools. And when you sign up to donate through their organization (TRI), they state that when Joseph Kony is brought to justice and his child soldiers are rescued, your donation will end.  A lot of charitable organizations have extremely muddy goals with no conclusion in sight...ever.  This one may not be perfect, but it has a clear, attainable, worthy purpose. This can happen.  Joseph Kony's LRA terror can be over this year.

My friend theothermarkmiller (now So Long Solo), wrote a song inspired by Invisible Children and the conflict in Uganda.  It's gooood.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

lots to learn

I really need to educate myself a lot more about the economics behind fair trade, free trade, and the global economy as it relates to labor slavery.

So... here's my free time for the next five weeks:

Some of these were recommended to me.  Others just looked interesting. Have you read any of these books?  Do you have any thoughts about them... or other book recommendations on these topics?

In other news of the day, Home Depot apparently doesn't carry any light bulbs made in the USA.  That's disappointing.  The employees were extremely helpful and willing to call supervisors to inquire for me though.  (Yeah, I just became one of those people.)  I think I'll visit a few more stores before I resort to lighting candles.

Monday, February 13, 2012

loving chocolate

It's been well documented that the cocoa farming industry has tons of issues with regards to child labor and trafficking.  Uggghhh.  

Protest, but don't despair, O chocolate lovers! Hershey just announced that they will FINALLY be offering a version of their Bliss brand chocolate that is 100% from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms beginning later this year.  It's a step. In the meantime, there are other companies that are actually committed to investigating their supply chain and providing ethically sourced chocolate. 

Here are just a few:

Sorry if this is slanted slightly towards dark chocolate. It's a weakness. :) Several of the above are available at Whole Foods (where I just tried Chocolove for the first time a few days ago. YUM!). Henhouse and HyVee carry quite a few Newman's Own products. I've heard that Trader Joe's also has some good options. 

Chocolate labeled "Fair-Trade" is probably the best way to be sure you're not supporting slavery, but buying organic chocolate is a pretty good guarantee as well since US companies go through a very detailed process to be certified organic.

Happy Valentine's Day and all that. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I have 47 slaves working for me

That's crazy.
It may not be a perfect calculation, and they might not be my full-time personal slaves, but isn't even one a slave too many? As the world is now, it's next to impossible to be 100% "slave free," but we can definitely reduce our dependence on slavery by paying attention to our purchases.  Go find out how many slaves are working for you and take a few minutes to check out the methodology they use.

They also have a "take action" app you can download for iphone or android.  Because, of course, consumer driven action is the important part.  I just downloaded it, so I don't have a review, but I love the concept.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

the project

Who made this stuff?
Was it a 7-year-old kid who should be in school learning to read?  Was it a dad who never sees his family because he lives at the factory?  Was it a political prisoner in a restrictive nation?  Was it a slave? I wonder about these things when I’m buying Christmas lights and my tenth pair of flip-flops.

I’ll be honest.  I like cheap, cute stuff. I like Target clearance.  I like Snickers bars just about as much as any expensive Swiss chocolate you can throw at me.  I’m not rich by American standards.  I’ll probably never spend $200 on a pair of jeans. My wedding dress didn’t even cost that much.

Nevertheless, I am rich.  I’m a stinking rich American consumer when compared to most of the world.  I have more than I need.  I make purchasing choices almost every day that are above and beyond basic necessity, and I want to start thinking about those choices as they relate to a world bigger than myself.

For this next year (yeah, I never start anything on January 1, sorry), these are my personal shopping guidelines:

1. Buy it used/shop thrift
            [saves me money + great for the environment = win]
2. Buy local and/or handmade
            [support my community + support individuals and small businesses]
3. Buy “made in the USA”
[Not always a guarantee of fair labor or environmental practices, BUT, far more of a guarantee than “made in China.”  And who can argue with supporting those businesses that create US jobs?]
4. Buy from businesses that advertise their fair labor/fair trade practices or social business model
         [Being good for people IS a good business plan.  I want to support this.]
5. Don’t buy it
            [“Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without.” 
            If my grandma could do it, I can too.]

So why this blog place?
It’s true; I could do all of the above without a blog. My hope is that this will be a year of discovering great new places to shop (online and off), finding quality organizations to support, and gathering new knowledge about economics and human rights.  It’s no fun if you don’t have anyone with whom to share these tidbits. I hope I get a few readers.  If not, well… at least I’ll have a journal of a small adventure. 


P.S. I’m praying my computer doesn’t break this year, guys.  I don’t know what I’ll do.