Images above courtesy of Kira Luxon Photography via Wild Hand.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been an odd year for us all. I don't know about anyone else, but I've often fantasized about what it would have been like to quarantine somewhere besides Philly: say Paris with my sisters or Charlottesville near my mom or, more often, in my quasi-hometown of New York City. My nostalgia never goes too deep. All I have to do is imagine two screaming kids, two cats, two dogs, and what were briefly five fish (RIP) all contained within the walls of a small apartment... I quickly shudder and try to think of something else.
What I do miss the most about NYC is the easygoing chit-chat that made up my daily life, although I guess I wouldn't have been able to shoot the breeze much in quarantine anyway. Philadelphians are a little more reserved in general. That's why, when I happened to stop into Wild Hand, a beautifully curated yarn & ethically-produced goods boutique nestled into Mount Airy, one of Philly's gorgeous garden districts, meeting the vibrant and talented Theresa Hill of Ewe-Nited States of Fiber was such an unexpected pleasure. Theresa is so many things that I don't even know if vibrant does her justice. She is an ICU nurse, a cancer survivor, a veteran, a mother, a spinner and a dyer, who also leads workshops, which you can learn more about here.
It was so easy to talk to her, that when she mentioned she actually lived in Delaware, I had to bring up that I was also not a Philly girl but an ex-pat New Yorker. We both shared a laugh about how different the style of chitchat is in Philly. I've really come to love Philly, and I'm still trying to unravel that conundrum of how it can be both an international city but also feel parochial sometimes. I could be wrong, but it seems to me some of it comes down to how most Philadelphians have lived here all their lives and aren't eager to make new friends, whereas New Yorkers are often transplants from all over the globe. From there, Theresa and I got to talking about other things we shared in common-- our tendency to bring out confessions in strangers, our love of knitting (or in my case crocheting-- I was there to purchase yarn for my husband's Christmas present. A so-called "love blanket", called that because I always overestimate the proper size a blanket should be in the first few rows, so much so that my crochet projects always turn into monstrous-sized gravity blankets that take years and many skeins to complete aka a labor of love. )
Among the stories Theresa shared was how she had the hilarious idea to create a bag of "watermelon sugar love" fiber batt inspired by Harry Styles' popular summer anthem (see below). She also dropped that she had the knowledge to dye and spin the beautiful yarn in the bag herself. Since I have a sustainable fashion blog, I was instantly beside myself and eager to learn more about her craft. It's a thousand times more difficult to ask to interview someone in person than it is over email, but Theresa was very gracious when I stuttered out my request. Read on for the results of that request below, and leave me a comment if you also enjoyed learning more about Theresa's work!
Image above courtesy of Kira Luxon Photography with permission by Wild Hand.
Meanwhile, as I checked out from the shop, we kept chatting, and I also learned other ways 2020's trends have echoed in Theresa's life: Theresa also worked as an ICU/ER nurse and nursing home supervisor and, on many occasions, as has been the case for too many coronavirus patients, has been the only person there as her patients passed.
"I told them if there's anything they need to get off their chest, they can say it to me or say it in their heads." A sense of overwhelming gratitude for the angels that are on this earth and my luck in having encountered one overcame me as as we discussed God, religion, death, hope. "Um, I hope that's your husband outside," Theresa interrupted herself at a certain point, pointing at the large, masked man staring at me through the glass. "Oh, that's okay, he's used to this. That's the New Yorker in me coming out, always chatting with people, haha." Theresa shared that the same thing happens to her, that recently in Walmart she told a young woman she was beautiful, and they "ended up holding church" while discussing self-love. Sometimes it frightens me how strangers make what amount to confessions to me, but I loved the way Theresa framed it as a positive thing. I vowed to try seeing it that way in future.
Granted, sometimes that quiet, non-judgmental quality in me leads me to standing in line for three hours to vote, as I did this fall behind a former Republican, who literally told me every detail of her life story and all the reasons that now led her to voting for Biden in the current election. That was brutal, but I was actually afraid if I cut her off, she might change her vote! I suffered through it and tried to be gracious as she delved into her dating history, her family life, her childhood memories, and everything in between-- even dropping gruesome details about childbirth that made the man behind me visibly squirm. At other times, it leads me to connecting to folks like Theresa. Maybe it's on me to work on my boundaries a little more, so when I find myself in the former situation, I can politely extract myself and catch up on the "What A Day" podcast as I was longing to do that early-voting Election Day. However, in other cases, I'm so grateful when I'm going about an ordinary day and something extraordinary happens like meeting someone like Theresa.
Anyway, I thought Theresa was one of the more incredible human beings who crossed my path in 2020 or any year, and I wanted to share her story with you guys! I hope you enjoy! Read on for more about Theresa's passion for her own corner of sustainable fashion!
First, thank you so much again for agreeing to share your inspiring story with me! This "Take Five" interview section is a leftover from my days working as an editor at Easy Street Mag. I truly loved our format of asking everyone more or less the same five questions and sharing their amazingly varied responses, so without further ado, here goes!
1. Where are you from? Can you tell me a bit about your background?
Born in Chester. PA.... lived in many places, Paris, Germany, Finland, San Francisco, Colorado, but currently living in Delaware.
2. What inspired you to learn the crafts of dyeing and spinning?
I have been knitting and crocheting all of my life... since childhood, I stopped for a bit while in the army, and I picked it back up with a fierceness when I was going through breast cancer. I wanted to do something helpful and also keep my mind off of my own situation. So I knitted hats for everyone else, LOL. I learned how to spin in 2014 and how to dye, shortly thereafter.... I LOVE the "organic-ness" of taking the raw fleece, washing and preparing it, spinning it and creating a garment with my final yarn. Just knowing that my hands created - just like my ancestors had.... gives it a spiritual connection, you know?
3. What would you advise others to do who are interested in learning more about knitting or spinning but might be intimidated [like me]?
Have FAITH in yourself. Who cares if you get it perfect- for you- the first time out of the gate. Ignore those that do not support or want to criticize, and DO NOT compare yourself to ANYONE else, especially someone who has been in the game for years!
Also, be inspired by all that you see...
4. Are there other aspects of fashion or sustainability that inspire or worry or excite you? Or anything else you'd like to share about your craft?
Don't let trends dictate your style... Be you through it all... Definitely be inspired by trends and others. But then put your own spin on it.
5. What books or podcasts or classes would you recommend for others interested in learning more about what you do?
I honestly don't listen to a lot or know who all is out there, but I learned the basics from my fiber guild, my fiber friends, and several books. But, honestly, for those REALLY interested... take a workshop/class and use that opportunity to ask questions and take notes. Take that back home with you and EXPERIMENT.
You can learn more about Theresa's work and workshops on her website here.
Image above courtesy of Kira Luxon Photography with permission by Wild Hand.
Thank you again to Theresa and to Wild Hand, for providing these gorgeous images. Wild Hand is not only a shop but also where Theresa plies her craft and offers workshops. As their website states and I can verify, it's nestled in a sparkling corner of the beautiful Mount Airy neighborhood in Philadelphia. They are committed to sustainability in every aspect of the word, offering everything from a variety of ethically-made yarn, fibers, looms to hand-woven, gorgeous ethically-produced bags from Kenya's Kamba tribe. So many excellent stocking stuffer ideas that I was inspired to make a holiday guide here [coming soon]! Or, if you can't make it into their beautifully-lit curated space at the moment, check out their website here. Orders over $100 ship free!
A couple months back, an eco-activist friend posted a link to a piece about sustainability in Rwanda that astonished me. Peeling back the layers of a piece that felt overall negative judging by the title alone--
"Public Shaming and Even Prison for Plastic Bag Use in Rwanda"
-- instead I felt presented with a gift of hope. Here was a totally different approach to sustainability from the elitist and exclusive one I'd observed in Philadelphia and New York City. However, the piece also felt like it was written from a critical outsider's perspective, one wary of larger political implications and less concerned with sustainability as a movement.
I longed to see and judge the situation for myself, but, these days, with a home that doubles as a children's petting zoo, a trip to Africa is not possible. At 18, when I took off a year before college, I did visit Northern Africa for three glorious weeks while working and backpacking around the Middle East. That trip gave me a small sense of the vastness of Africa-- not only in the 19 hour train ride from Cairo to Aswan but in the unforgettable vision of a night sky blanketed by blistering constellations of stars. Skies undiluted by city lights and a sight I'd never see the like of again anywhere else in the world. However, since that kind of exploratory, aimless wandering isn't in the stars (pun intended sorry) at the moment, it occurred to me I could devote the next few entries of Vintage Tea, my blog's interview section, to chatting about sustainability with the online friends that I've been lucky enough to connect with in different parts of Africa and who have seen or experienced those sustainable developments for themselves.
To prepare for these chats, I also tried to read up on Africa, but even that presented a challenge. Africa, I learned, is an even bigger continent than I had imagined it to be that night on a felucca ride in Egypt when I slept out in the open under blistering starlight. Did you know over 2,000 languages are spoken in Africa? Or that the continent is so large it's the only continent to span the northern temperate to the southern temperate zones?
Trying to get a grasp on sustainability in Africa has proved both more fascinating and more elusive than I expected. From a burgeoning eco-tourism industry in Botswana to Rwanda's nationwide ban on plastic bags, Africa is currently dealing with the consequences of climate change in more immediate, tangible terms than people in the U.S. and facing those challenges with exciting and innovative responses. Too often, Westerners still mischaracterize Africa as being undeveloped. In college, I remember my Nigerian suitemate often and insultingly being asked whether her childhood home had a bathroom or electricity, whereas the truth is that even with sometimes smaller economies or fewer resources to face greater climate change challenges, some African countries are actually leading the way. For example, the Seychelles GDP might be 170th in the world, but it also ranks among the best in the world for the most protected areas not to mention its inspiring success stories about lowering the threat level for its endangered species. Or take Nigeria, Togo, Tanzania, and Zambia: all actually way ahead of the U.S. if you measure the rankings by countries belching out the least CO2 per capita vs. one of the most per capita.
I hope to continue this sustainability in Africa series with more responses and to learn even more about this incredibly diverse continent. (There are over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria alone!) I'm so delighted to start off this series chatting with the beautiful sustainable fashion blogger Paula Mugabi @mspaulapresents.
Here's a glimpse into sustainable developments in Uganda from an insider's perspective.
1. Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me! Where are you from in Africa?
2. What are some of your observations about the sustainability movement in Africa?
Uganda, like most of sub Saharan Africa, has suffered significant devastation from the negative effects of climate change. The problems are exacerbated by population pressures, while family size grows exponentially but yet remain reliant on subsistence farming. There is a growing consciousness by the central and local governments, the education system and the population generally that living sustainably is an imperative now. For example, businesses like Eco Fuel Africa, which converts farm and municipal waste into briquettes used as a substitute for charcoal, are introducing transformative changes.
There are also some passionate youth activists like Vanessa Nakate and some up-cycling designers, but I would not say there is a groundswell like it’s here in the United States. But it is also just a fact that Ugandans have a much lower carbon footprint than the average American, because of way they live. They consume less because they generally are not wealthy and daily lives are lived more sustainably. The average Ugandan likely does not use paper towels and eats locally grown organic whole foods. There is some plastic use in households; some of which is repurposed for other uses like storing leftovers but cheap plastic has proliferated in last couple of years, although the Ugandan government introduced a ban on single-use plastics.
3. What are you most hopeful about for the future of sustainability?
At the macro level, the government should be doing more to embrace the clear science on climate change. Steps like banning single-use plastic bags and fully embracing the science are all encouraging signs. It also helps that Ugandans can be quite innovative: I see up-cycling projects like using used plastics for jewelry, bags, toys and even housewares. Uganda is sunny throughout the year so it’s my hope that solar power continues to pick up.
There are, however, some serious challenges. There is rapid urbanization and motorization which is affecting air quality, increasing incidence of respiratory diseases. While there have been attempts to ban the import of used cars, there are still too many on the roads, contributing to poor air quality.
Also western countries dump used clothes to our second hand markets but many such clothes are in such poor state that they end up not being sold and end up in landfills.
Paula is a Ugandan American mom and sustainable fashion blogger currently living in New York City. She can be found on Instagram @mspaulapresents.
Thank you again, Paula!
Here are some articles I linked above and a few more for further reading below. Please keep your eye out for more in this series as well.
Africa is Leading the World in Plastic Bag Bans
An Amazing Conservation Success Story in the Seychelles
Tanzania to Ban Single Use Plastics, Joining Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda
How Botswana is Shaping the Future of Sustainable Travel
It's 2019. Trends have never been cheaper or more accessible, yet we all still share a complicated, if not tortured, relationship with shopping and our closet. Evidence A of the ubiquitous unhealthy relationship linked to shopping: a few days ago, I saw the meme below, laughed with a friend, and would have forgotten it, but, to my surprise, the joke went deeper and struck a chord with many. On the popular meme account @mytherapistsays, it's racked up 150,000 likes as of the writing of this blog post with many laugh emoji responses but also many sad or shame-faced emojis posted as well. One of the sustainable fashion journalists on Instagram that I follow used the meme in her stories to conduct an impromptu poll and was shocked enough to try to start a conversation about our collective sadness on her page here.
As accessible as fashion has become these days, have you still ever felt dissatisfied with your closet? *Raises hand.* Do you tend to shop when you're sad and often feel like you have nothing to wear? *Raises other hand in a gesture of surrender.*
Joking aside, I used to feel that way ALL THE TIME. And now I still do, sure, but much less frequently, although I still do tend to browse or thrift when I'm feeling a little down. Scoring an Ulla Johnson dress for $50 or a pair of 3X1 denim jeans in my size secondhand is a quick pick-me-up. However, I've recently learned that it's just as satisfying (and MUCH better for my budget) to shop my own closet and put together new looks with old pieces. For the first time in my life, I finally really love what I already own. The big change for me was learning to fully embrace my passion for the art of fashion. That impulse was also born around the same time as the Fashion Revolution spurred by the tragedy of the Rana Plaza disaster. That was about six years ago now, and since then my relationship with fashion has changed not only my closet but my life.
Those lessons were hard-learned over the past six years, so I wish I'd encountered a guidebook like Elizabeth L. Cline's The Conscious Closet to help me articulate and sum up the struggle earlier on. The Conscious Closet is not only a book that will teach you the ins and outs of sustainable fashion, it's also a handy guidebook for how to appreciate and care for what you have as well as a how to guide to help you curate a sustainable fashion closet that you actually enjoy. In the past six years, I've grown to love caring for my garments as much as wearing them, because they've become a collection of beautiful and useful things instead of a major source of frustration and even shame over my fast fashion habit. From new slow fashion brands to check out to new ways to help reduce my footprint to the names of the stitches that help make my Rouje garments so special that my tailor LITERALLY gasps in joy when he sees them-- seriously!-- Elizabeth's book enriched my understanding of why I find fashion so compelling.
Whether you are a sustainable fashionista yourself or you are feeling overwhelmed hearing terms like sustainable vs. slow vs. conscious fashion often used interchangeably, this is the book for you. Click to pre-order Elizabeth's latest book here or read on below for a fascinating glimpse behind the writing scenes!
1. I’d love to hear about your writing environment! What are the essentials you need around you, if any? A favorite place to write? How long did you spend writing “The Conscious Closet”?
I love talking about the writing process! To write a book, I have to be able to concentrate without any distractions, meaning no sounds, emails or phone calls, and limited social engagements, which as you might imagine meant putting my life on hold and leaving New York City as often as possible. I tried to write in the City and couldn’t get a flow going. I was at my local co-working space in Brooklyn one day, trying to finish a chapter, and a children's party came in and started carving pumpkins while I was writing. A kid popped a balloon right by my face. My downstairs neighbors also liked to play dubstep when I was working. Eventually, I took off to my mom’s house in rural South Georgia to write. There, I can work at a table that looks out over a pond. It’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop. I also rented an AirBnB in an old house with a big yard and porch in Atlanta for a few weeks. I only had about eight months to write the book, which isn’t enough time, but I knew I needed to get the book out ASAP. I also read constantly when I write, as reading helps cultivate the ability to focus and think deeply. This time, I read a slew of how-to books on totally unrelated subjects, like Dale Carnegie’s 1948 bestseller How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. It gave me great ideas for how to structure The Conscious Closet. Unfortunately, it did not help me stop worrying about my book deadline.
2. I believe you’re originally from Georgia, but do you consider yourself a New Yorker now? Also, I loved how much travel featured in the book, too! Were you always interested in traveling as part of your writing process? What’s your favorite place you’ve visited for work or for fun?
I don’t consider myself a New Yorker most of the time, although I should after 17 years here. I’m very attached to the South, and to the rural place where I grew up. If you've seen Friday Night Lights, that was my childhood, but crossed with The Decline of Western Civilization. I did end up with a Southern partner. My boyfriend Joe is from Little Rock. Anyway, I’ve been lucky to travel to almost a dozen countries to research and promote sustainable and ethical fashion. I don’t have a favorite place, I just love getting to see behind the scenes and deep into the fashion supply chain.
Traveling the world certainly shapes the way you craft a message or think about a social problem like sustainable and ethical fashion. I’ll give you a couple of examples. There is a lot of emphasis on innovation in sustainable fashion right now, where people seem to think we’re going to be wearing lab-grown textiles in a few years. But, I’ve also spent time in a lot of textile mills, including Italian textile mills, where they’re crafting wool and leather and other ancient materials, but in very high-tech, sustainable factories. What’s more, anyone who studies the petrochemical industry knows that the world is going to be wearing lots and lots of plastic-basic fabrics moving forward, not less, so as advocates we have to face that reality head on rather than pretend that it’s going to go away.
My on-the-ground experiences have changed how I think about innovation and what the future is going to look like. Secondly, my experiences in Nairobi, Kenya, researching the secondhand clothing industry, shaped so much of The Conscious Closet. Sustainable fashion is rushing forward with this message that recycling textiles is going to save us. But in my perspective, you can’t have that conversation without including the traders in Nairobi and across the global secondhand trade in the developing world. Garbage is political and so is donating clothes. Plus, if you look at the problems with the plastic recycling market, we know that recycling is no panacea.
3. How did the idea occur to you to write such a complete handbook on sustainable fashion? There’s definitely such confusion, even mystification around terms like slow fashion, conscious fashion, and sustainable fashion. I myself didn’t realize I’d been misusing the term “slow fashion” until I read the book. And I’ve read a lot of books on sustainable fashion. There’s definitely nothing else as comprehensive and helpful out there.
Thank you! Perhaps I’ve been misusing the term slow fashion, too? Ha! I definitely wanted to avoid sustainable fashion jargon with this book and just put everything under the umbrella of conscious fashion. I’m not advocating for “conscious fashion” being the word we use; I just needed one simple word to keep the book streamlined and focused, an umbrella to put our cause and all of this information under. The whole point of the book was to reach the widest possible audience, from the hardcore labor activists, of which I am one, to the minimalist dressers to those people who really love fashion and just don’t want to feel bad when they get dressed every day. That meant the book had to have some breadth.
But, that said, I was shocked at how comprehensive the book ended up being. That wasn’t really the plan. The original idea was more about slow fashion, shopping for quality, and building a beautiful wardrobe, but that message only reaches so many people. If I’d stopped there, I’d leave out all the influencers whose livelihoods depend on wearing something different every day, for example.
As a journalist, I found myself wanting to go further once I sat down to write. I want people to have all of the information they need at their fingertips. Not all of it is applicable to everyone, but there’s certainly something for everyone in that book. There’s so much to know and to learn about clothing, and currently that information is spread across the Internet or is hidden from consumers. I wanted to put it all in one place and back it up with sources. I found myself adding the chapters on toxic chemicals in fashion, the impact of different materials, and the importance of labor organizing to the future of ethical fashion without really planning to. Now I can’t imagine the book any other way!
4. What are some of your favorite sustainable brands for fashion or otherwise? I learned from your book that Patagonia is an even greater company than I’d realized, so I recently purchased this guppybag from them for #PlasticFreeJuly. (FYI in the book, Elizabeth states that changing your laundry habits is the best way to change your fashion footprint!)
"If you are looking to change one single set of habits that will slash your fashion footprint and keep your clothes looking better longer, look no further than your laundry room."
My Lovely Wife sounds like particularly chilly fun if you're into unputtdownable thrillers.
2. Spring sales! There's an extra 25% off sale at Anthropologie this week.
Shop sustainable label Faithfull the Brand on sale at an extra 25% off here.
3. Speaking of sales, sustainability, and spring, have you checked out online sustainable fashion boutique https://shopbaiae.com/? They're stocked with all the whisper white cottons and pretty spring dresses your heart could desire. Enjoy 15% off your first order!
4. 5 Reasons NOT to Detox this Spring at Betches!
5. Which country ranks as happiest in 2019? Vogue has the answer.
I have been an animal lover as far back as I can remember, when I went to the San Diego zoo as a baby. I have also been a nature enthusiast ever since I joined the Girl Scouts as a second-grader. Whenever I am in nature I feel calm and at peace, while at the same time excited to learn and explore. There is a unique sense of immediate awe and profound happiness that I get from being around trees, plants, and animals even in cities like NYC. That spark of joy is something that I have always felt inspired to work with. As I got older and I began to learn that these things were being destroyed and ever-more at risk, I knew I was going to dedicate my life to trying to protect them.
2. How did you first become interested in sustainability and sustainable fashion? Was your gateway to becoming a sustainability advocate through your experiences in the fashion world or was it the reverse: did you learn about sustainability and from there become interested in sustainable fashion?
Definitely the latter… It was only after getting the unique opportunity to be an international fashion model that I felt a yearning to tie my day job in fashion with my lifelong dreams and love for nature. At first I was exploring veganism, and since many people in fashion are obsessed with health and looking young, I thought I would share what I had learned through the lens of sustainable nutrition. I did that initially on my blog, when I started it in 2014, until I saw the movie True Cost. Once I learned how horrible the fashion industry was for the environment, I decided to pivot and share more about that. In 2015, there were only a handful of sustainable fashion bloggers, so I wanted to help spread the word to my peers in fashion as well as my social media followers. If most of us creating and selling fashion didn’t understand the harm we were causing, it was likely to assume most of the public was unaware as well. I helped promote Fashion Revolution an their mission from the beginning, and shared as much as I could my journey away from fast-fashion. It is wonderful to see how, in only 3 years’ time, so many people are now on board with the sustainable fashion movement. I hope that it continues to shift more and more into the main stream.
I’m also wondering how your approach might have changed after the revelation that climate change is largely created by corporations and not through the decisions of consumers? I still feel like our decisions are important if only to help us envision the kind of sustainable communities we want to be living in, but I was wondering how you might articulate that?
I still live by the motto, “Buy less, choose well, and make it last.” We are fortunate to have such a broad range of sustainable products and brands available. So, for me, it is about making the best choice from the options I have. But as I have always said, living a sustainable lifestyle is a constant process. And one of the evolutions to my process, over the last year especially, has been to not be such a martyr for individual perfection. The sad truth is that even if 50% of individuals around the world (a steep goal given colonialism and the global, unequal distribution of wealth) went vegan, zero-waste, minimal, only bought second hand things and sustainable fashion, avoided cars, etc; there would still be 3.5 billion+ people and growing that couldn’t afford to live that way due to lack of time and resources, a lack of access, a lack of local waste management, health issues, etc. Yes, individual efforts can make a small impact, and if we are privileged enough to make better choices than we should… but the reality that most sustainability advocates (especially white, first-world advocates) need to wake up to is that most people are not privileged at all.
Therefore, by placing all of our attention on promoting sustainable fashion, avoiding plastic, avoiding animal products, and shopping ethically/ sustainably, is NOT going to solve the problem. It will however, take up and consume a lot of our time and resources, leaving us with little time to advocate for the real systematic changes that have to/ should have been implemented a long time ago. Not only that, it further alienates those who have been historically disenfranchised and are STILL held back due to our colonial, capitalistic culture. It points a finger at individuals who aren’t making the life choices we deem as “pure” and “earth-saving” because they can’t, while not actually forcing corporations to shift their extremely harmful/ exploitative practices.
I say all this with 100 percent transparency that I myself wrongly advocated, in the past, that everyone can make better choices, and that I still advocate to privileged folks that we can easily avoid a lot. The biggest difference in my personal and public work today is that I am constantly trying to learn about the systematic problems causing most of the damage, and how they can be fixed so this lifestyle is equally accessible and real positive change can be made. But even more so listening to people with different backgrounds than me, and sharing what I learn from them about the environmental injustices they experience and the barriers they face to living a better life. Individual actions can’t be the holy grail of sustainability if they aren’t accessible to everyone.
3. What are some of your favorite sustainable brands? I know you’ve worked with a few as a model as well. It was so great to stumble across your lovely face on Elizabeth Suzann’s site for example! If someone wanted to create a more sustainable wardrobe, where would you suggest they start?
If you have the money to invest, I do really like Elizabeth Suzann because they are incredibly sustainable, their pieces last forever, and they are size and diversity inclusive. My biggest tip isn’t about brands however, because our overarching problem on the planet today is too much consumption. The easiest and most affordable way to create a truly sustainable wardrobe is to buy secondhand, and when you wash your clothes, use a Guppy Bag to capture the polyester that is polluting our waterways. That way you aren’t using any new resources to build your wardrobe, and you’re also saving used fashion from going into a landfill or ruining a third world country’s local fashion economy.
4. What would you recommend to consumers interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle? I love your guide to sustainable gift-giving as well as your chat with Eco Cult, which in itself linked to a post of theirs called “50 Sustainable Resolutions for 2016” but which I think I could see implementing in 2019 as well! I know that you spent a month going zero waste for Earth Month. You wrote such an inspiring piece about that experience. I really think you could turn it into a book!
Be mindful of what you actually use and need, and try your best to find your personal style. If you know what you like and who you are, you are much less susceptible to marketing gimmicks and feeling left out if you aren’t wearing the latest of the constantly-changing fashion trends. I also suggest doing your research before buying a product, and making sure that what you buy can last you a long time. Then once you have the things you need and use, take care of them so they can last up to their full potential.
5. Speaking of books, which five books would you recommend on the topics of sustainability or activism or whatever you’d wish to recommend of course? You have such a great multi-media approach to activism, so I feel like I should ask if there any documentaries or blogs you would want to add to this list?
Project Drawdown is a wonderful book & guide to the future of our sustainable planet. I also recommend Eaarth by Bill McKibben, Folks this Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Chasing Coral is a fantastic documentary explaining the dire problems our oceans are facing today. Other documentaries I suggest watching include: Inhabit, Terra, Before the Flood, River Blue, A Plastic Ocean, 13th , Feel Rich, Dirt!, Samsara, Planet Earth II, and Racing Extinction.
Thanks so much, Renee! I always love chatting with a fellow secondhand-shopping enthusiast, and I learned so much from this interview as well. Can't believe I've never heard of Guppy laundry bags! And they're only $7.99! You can purchase them here. Again, Renee's blog is Model4GreenLiving. You can also follow Renee on Instagram @renee.elizabethpeters. Did you guys learn anything new from this interview or something you think might work into your daily life from spreading the word about voting to washing polyester clothes in a Guppy bag?
Every other week, I'll be metaphorically sitting down to tea with one of the incredible women whose work inspires me to seek out and find my own passion. If, like me, you're in an in-between moment of your life– in my case, my daughter just started kindergarten and my son is still at home with me while I try to start working again – I hope you'll draw as much inspiration from incredible, passionate, smart, funny women like Kara as I have! However, if you've listened to UnF*ck Your Brain, Kara's always brilliant and often hilarious podcast, you'll also understand why it proved so hard to limit myself to only five questions with her, gah!! Luckily for me I started this series off with a coach, because Kara was incredibly patient as I blundered through the process. Hopefully, I will be a little more on point next time, but here are my very first five questions in all their meandering glory! And again, I'm so grateful for social media and the opportunity to connect with women like Kara, because expanding my blog has been a dream for a while, but I don't know if I would have had the courage to ask someone else first. Is there anything in your life that you're dreaming of doing but afraid to try? Is there a first step you could take towards your dream? Read on for more courage and inspiration from this beautiful lady.
*Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr. Susan Jeffers
I started my career as a lawyer – I attended Yale College and Harvard Law School and was a reproductive rights litigator and then an academic working on women’s legal rights before I became a coach. I absolutely think that background has informed my coaching and my work. I see a lot of life coaching and self-development stuff out there that at best ignores social justice and structural issues and at worst is actively appropriative. And then there’s a lot of feminist social justice discourse that is depressing and alienating. What I didn’t see anyone offering was what I have created: An empowering individually-applicable body of work and set of tools that takes social structures into account but actually teaches women how to change the self-defeating thoughts that patriarchy teaches them to think.
Podcast-wise, it’s both. I do quite a few listeners question and answer podcasts where I answer individual questions, and I create new episodes with new content based on what I’ve learned in my coaching work, my reading, my conversations with my clients, and my own self-work.
2. Can you talk about your work environment? I’m fascinated by the relatively new field of podcasting and I bet I’m not alone in that. Do you record at home? I’ve personally done a little voiceover work in studios, most notably for Jay Marks' full-length animated feature, playing Gretchen in a modern-day Faust set in Montreal, and doing the worst French accent, partially because everyone has this preconceived notion of what a French accent is and partially because I am really bad at accents. (To be fair to Jay, an Emmy-winning animator, my father does sound like Lumière in Beauty and the Beast, so there’s some truth to that stereotype.) But I also recorded some stories at home for Every Day Fiction, and I didn’t realize how close I lived to an airport in Brooklyn until then, gah! Do you run into any issues working at home? I personally love hearing your cat’s commentary in the background!
I record my podcast from home much to my poor podcast editor’s chagrin. I live in a one-bedroom in Manhattan (NY). When I first started I remember he asked me if I could record in a different room and I was like “I don’t even have a different room”! I do use a mic and a filter he recommended, but it mostly falls on him to work his magic in the remixing/editing. I don’t really think of myself as a podcaster – I’m a life coach who happens to have a podcast.
3. In addition to lawyers (Kara’s podcast was originally entitled The Lawyer Stress Solution before she changed it to the unforgettable monicker UnF*ck Your Brain) I feel like so many writers could relate to the first episode “One and Done: How to Stop Procrastinating”, which happens not only to be the pod’s very first episode but one of my favorites! I’ll never forget the day, a few years back, I found out I was not alone afflicted in the world as this massively procrastinating writer. That, in fact, most English majors (although I was a Comp Lit major) suffer from this syndrome. As a coach, do your clients tend to include many writers and lawyers? Can you talk a little about your coaching program? It sounds so fascinating! I loved the line in one of your episodes about “the first round of coaching” being about how to “get out of pain, and then the second round of coaching was to get into pleasure, joy, and excitement. The first round took away the suffering, but the second round created the next adventure.” I love the idea of approaching life decisions from that place of strength and confidence!
I work with all kinds of women these days although they do tend to be well-educated and professional women. But I find that women of all professions procrastinate. It’s less about the profession and more about the mindset. We procrastinate because we fear the thoughts and feelings we’re going to have when we work on or finish a project – and that can happen whether you’re writing a novel, researching a brief, or charting for a patient.
My coaching program focuses on the thought patterns that create insecurity, self-doubt, people-pleasing, and validation seeking. I teach women how to recognize and identify the thoughts that internalized socialization has created in their brains – women are taught to always worry about what other people think, to seek validation from others (especially men), to worry more about how they look than what they achieve, etc. All of those messages get turned into literal thoughts in your brain that you don’t even recognize. I teach women how to recognize those thoughts and then how to change them on purpose. You can’t create confidence with external achievements – it never works. You have to create it by changing your thoughts from within. I focus on really concrete cognitive methodologies – I’m not really a woo-woo type of coach.
4. Speaking of striking phrases from your podcasts that have stuck in my head, I also loved the phrase “analysis paralysis” from an interview with one of your clients. Although your client wasn’t specifically referencing therapy, how does your coaching differ from therapy? Or, do you consider your coaching similar to therapy? For example, on a related note, I recently watched the new Netflix documentary Feminists: What Were They Thinking? Have you seen it? I thought it was so good! I’d never heard of Phyllis Chesler before the documentary, and I’ve only just bought her book Women and Madness about the ways in which sexism continue to underlie the practice and the art of therapy, so I can’t speak to that but was wondering if you could or had thoughts about that? I know that for me, that’s one reason I was so drawn to your podcast! It feels so fresh, relevant, helpful, and different from what I experienced in therapy. I don’t know if you’ve read her book, but I would love to hear your thoughts on therapy (which I do think can be very helpful for some folks but wasn’t in my case for reasons I won’t go into here)!
I think that therapy tends to (1) focus on the past, (2) focus on the family of origin, and (3) focus on insight with the premise that insight on its own will be transformative. Coaching is different because we focus on the present and the future, not the past. I don’t believe that your family of origin creates your life or your potential. Occasionally it’s helpful to see where some of your thought patterns originated, but insight alone will not produce transformation. That’s the biggest difference I see. I went to years of therapy and had plenty of insight but I couldn’t seem to change my behavior. The insight on its own didn’t change my behavior because it didn’t change my existing thoughts and actions. Coaching is what teaches you the tools to actually change your thoughts – transformation requires application, and that’s what coaching offers. Most people are already too past-oriented – they think their past predicts their future. The last thing they need is more time thinking about their past. I teach my clients how to be future-focused and how to create new thought patterns that will change their future reality and make it different from the past.
5. While we’re on the topic of books (one of my favorites as anyone knows who follows this blog) what five books would you recommend to anyone looking to change their life and take control of their thoughts? Or just five great reads? Either one! Up to you!
1.Self-Coaching 101 by Brooke Castillo – my teacher’s first book and the book that introduced me to coaching.
2.Essentialism by Greg McKeown – a book all about the importance of simplifying and focusing on the true essentials in your life.
3.Mindset by Carol Dweck – so many of my clients have a “fixed” mindset where they believe their intelligence and skills are limited and innate and they are terrified of failure and rejection. This book teaches you the concept of a growth mindset – if you combine that with thought work to actually shift your thoughts, that will change everything.
4.The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson – a book about the value of small compound actions over time.
5.Killing Sacred Cows by Garrett B. Gunderson – I’m currently reading this so a bit biased but it’s all about a different way to think about creating value and wealth.
Have you listened to UnF*ck Your Brain yet? It's one of my favorite podcasts of 2018 (all time)! It's truly life-changing magic. Read more about UnF*ck Your Brain here. Or check it out here or at iHeart radio or anywhere you download podcasts.
Isabella David and her husband maintain these pages & always appreciate your support or just plain feedback. To guest blog/ comment/ contact/ or for any other enquiries, email:
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