Thursday 25 August 2011

a green swap fling

Clothing swaps have to be the eco-goddess' gift to recovering shopaholics - new clothes at no cost and no carbon footprint. 

I've participated in a few swaps at work and among other things I've scored a now-favourite sundress and comfy harem pants perfect for my writing days.  So when I spotted an ad for the next swap hosted by The Clothing Exchange (as part of the NSW State Library's On Sale! exhibition) I quickly jumped at the chance to attend a swap hosted by these pioneers of the swap trade.

The last swap at work was only a couple months ago, and since I've generally cut down on my shopping over the past few years I really had to dig around for quality pieces that I no longer wear.  I managed to find a pair of Michael Kors metallic strappy sandals and a Saba dress, both in good condition and both in need of a new owner - they're so beautiful I've just grown tired of them, and they deserve better than being hidden in a dark closet.

When I checked in at the swap (check-in lasts about 45 minutes while the volunteers examine everyone's goods and then hang up the accepted pieces on Green Hangers) the volunteer looked baffled when she confirmed "only two?" and then handed me two buttons, my currency for the evening.  Swappers are allowed to trade up to six items and plenty of them come armed with more than six in case some of the pieces don't make the cut; my two items were a pathetic attempt compared to the seasoned swappers in the room. The exchange rate for items is exactly one for one - one button equals one item - and no value is placed on designers or style because, as they put it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The racks were starting to fill as I waited to check in - who wouldn't want to
shop at this chic store?

Patient swappers waiting to exchange their clothes.

As I waited for the swap to start I could feel the excitement building as swappers plotted their attack on the racks.  This was a reasonably small swap, I'd guess about 100-150 people, and I can't imagine what the atmosphere must be like at some of the larger swaps (Clothing Exchange has hosted a swap of 1700 people!).  The room continued to fill, as did the racks of clothes, and there were swappers of all ages, sizes and even genders (though 99% of us were women).  As the rules of the swap were announced - including a coin toss decision if two swappers grabbed an item simultaneously - everyone pushed to the front to enter the 'store' that had been set up on tables and wooden racks where items were separated by category. 

The swap started and it was mayhem!  Swappers crammed in between racks, rushing around with their arms full of clothes, frantically deciding between this maxi sundress or that velvet blazer.  I had played it all wrong - I'd been so busy chatting and observing the scene that my friend and I found ourselves at the back of the pack entering the swap, and most of the racks were quite bare by the time I got to them. For awhile I even took post outside the fitting room hoping some good rejects would be tossed back onto the racks. 

Savvy shoppers abound - yep, there's a fella in amongst the ladies.

I had fallen in love with a skirt during check-int - red cotton with tape-measure ribbons in green, yellow and blue running around the bottom hem - but it was gone by the time I got to the skirt rack.  Later I saw the skirt in another swapper's arms and my shopping-jealousy kicked in - I needed that skirt! In my friendliest voice I asked her to let me know if she decided she didn't want the skirt because I loved it so much. She was lovely, but I was rejected; she had won it in a coin toss and I was the third person to ask her for it.  Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but that skirt was desirable to many of us.

I ended up with two new additions to my wardrobe at the end of the swap (which only lasted about 25 minutes, impressive effort swappers!) - one vibrant peacock top and a cute cotton skirt - definitely no brand names but I really didn't mind.

Truthfully, I grabbed the skirt just because I had a button to spare. It's too big for me so will require tailoring; if I don't get around to it I'll just bring it back to the next swap. My friend ended up with five new pieces - including a fabulous black and white sundress and a great floral number that will look amazing with black tights and should easily work in the office or out and about.  We were among the last to leave, and I was impressed with how few items remained on the racks (the remaining pieces will be donated to Red Cross and Fitted for Work).

One lone shopper remains - I met her during check in, a Clothing Exchange
regular, and apparently very patient. She loves swapping because "It's a
great way to clean out your closet, get new things and it's good for
the environment" - well said!

Thanks Clothing Exchange for a great night!  I'll be back at your next swap, and you can bet I'll be waiting at the front when the swap opens with my plan mapped out.  Who knows, maybe that red skirt will even end up back on the rack?

Friday 19 August 2011

product of the week: stem organics smooth skin exfoliant

Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Musq I've been introduced to my new favourite skincare brand, Stem Organics, and their Smooth Skin Exfoliant.

I have an oily complexion and this exfoliant with its tiny bamboo particles has been just what I need to naturally exfoliate my skin without any irritation.  It contains organic Aloe and Jojoba to sooth and moisturise, and also contains Pomegranate and Kakadu Plum extracts to give me a nice anti-aging vitamin C booster.  I've been using this exfoliant every other day for a few weeks now and my typically fussy skin is very happy (those with less oily skin could get away with using it once a week).

Stem Organics creates ethical skincare products out of the most divine organic ingredients and what they call 'natural skin super nutrients'.  Every Stem product includes three signature ingredients: Australian Kakadu Plum, one of the highest plant sources of vitamin C, antioxidant rich and anti-inflammatory Pomegranate, and organic Aloe, which they use instead of water as their top ingredient.  This exfoliant also includes Bottle Brush flower essence, Willowbark extract and essential citrus oils; it is 78% certified organic content. 

If you couldn't tell from the ingredients list, products are made in Australia.

Stem Organics also works with Climate Friendly to offset their carbon emissions, uses only recyclable packaging and ships products using cornstarch packing beads.  The ethical good news continues with Stem Organics supporting The Butterfly Foundation, which supports Australians with eating disorders, and World Wildlife Fund, and they have been certified by Choose Cruelty Free for not testing on animals.

Can the news get better?  For this recovering fashion and shopping addict it definitely can, because Stem Organic products are continuously recognised in mainstream fashion magazines including:

After all the amazing things I've learned about Stem Organics it seems the only things left to ask are why did it take me so long to find them, and what will I try next?

Tuesday 16 August 2011

a green melbourne food fling

Like any good greenie I always travel with my KeepCup (and like any good fashionista I wear my new clothes as soon as I can).
In Fitzroy Gardens, KeepCup in hand
and wearing my new vintage dress.
Okay, I'll confess that my Melbourne food choices weren't all as green as my shopping choices.  In particular the decadent afternoon spent lingering over a cheese plate at the City Wine Shop definitely raised my food footprint; the EWG's Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health tells me that cheese ranks just below lamb and beef in terms of carbon footprint, and that cheese plate was the equivalent to driving about 4 miles. 

I think I more than made up for it by visiting CERES on Sunday afternoon, though.  CERES is an environmental education centre and urban farm in East Brunswick, and we ate at the delightful restaurant on site, The Merri Table & Bar.  The Merri is fully committed to sustainability from the seasonal local menu through to the way the restaurant is operated, serving delicious food in a naturally beautiful atmosphere.
Fresh herbs growing outside the restaurant.

Pumpkin gnocchi, pie and fresh coleslaw - amazing.
After stuffing ourselves at The Merri we spent time wandering around the rest of the park.  It's really hard to imagine that it used to be a municipal tip now that the site is filled with gardens, chooks, solar panels and a marketplace. Groups like Bike Shed, Community Gardens and Chook Group also reside on site making this place a real eco-wonderland. I walked around filled with delight as I saw people tending to plots of land, collecting free chook poo and parents showing their children around the sustainable park.  If I lived in Melbourne I'd be signing up to volunteer tomorrow.

Later on we popped by Little Creatures for a refreshing beverage.  I was delighted to see community bicycles (to take on a picnic, of course), fresh herbs growing in window boxes, menus printed on 100% recycled paper and an interior design that embraced reused furniture and dematerialisation. Not your average pub, that's for sure.

We passed a couple casual vegetarian restaurants walking around but weren't hungry at the time to stop in (there's just never enough time!).  If you're in Melbourne try out Vege2go, a Vegitalian place, or Yong Green Food, and let me know how they are.

I don't know if it's because I was specifically looking for green activities in Melbourne, but it certainly feels like it is more sustainable than Sydney.  From the frequency of the trams to the cycling culture and the abundance of green food and fashion, I definitely found it easier to be green in Melbourne than I ever have at home.  Hopefully the old Sydney-Melbourne rivalry can extend to sustainable living, otherwise I may have to move.

Thanks Melbourne for a wonderful weekend!

Saturday 13 August 2011

product of the week: sukin hydrating body lotion

Sukin is an Australian skin and haircare company with a commitment to creating products that are natural, effective and environmentally sustainable (and a personal favourite brand of mine).  In stores now is a limited edition range of their Hydrating Body Lotion; for each bottle sold Sukin will donate $1.00 to Keep Australia Beautiful.

This deliciously moisturising lotion is filled with aloe vera, rosehip oil, cocoa butter, jojoba oil, shea butter and avocado oil, and is just the thing for my dry winter skin.

I think Sukin will always hold a special place in my heart because I discovered them when I was first becoming a greenie. One day I was searching for a new shampoo in the chemist, clutching my 'ingredients to avoid' list from Gorgeously Green, and stumbled upon this brand that seemed to answer all my eco-prayers.

Sukin products do not contain:
  • Sulphates
  • Animal derivatives
  • Petrochemicals
  • Artificial colours
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Triethanolamine
  • Mineral oils
  • Parabens
The products are all made in Australia and, best of all, the company is certified carbon neutral.

I've been using their shampoo, conditioner and body lotion for a couple of years now and couldn't be happier with the results.  Sukin is widely stocked in chemists across the country (totally affordable - another bonus!), and in 2010 they extended into overseas markets.  So keep your peepers peeled for Sukin - you'll love how healthy your hair and skin feel after being pampered with naturally beautiful ingredients.

Thursday 11 August 2011

a green melbourne fashion fling

I just had a fabulous long weekend in Melbourne (we took the train of course).  The past couple of months all my spare time has been spent working on my book and all I wanted to do was eat, drink and relax, oh, and shop, of course. What would a trip to Melbourne be without shopping?  I wanted to keep everything as green as possible, too, and Melbourne was the perfect destination.

Here's a rundown of the eco-fashion highlights of my weekend:

hunter gatherer
I scored 2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 poncho and 1 amazing retro jumper for the hubby between the Fitzroy and City stores.  I will certainly be back next time I'm in Melbourne. Actually, I may have to make up an excuse to get back sooner than planned I love this store so much.

I was overwhelmed by the range of vintage clothing and furniture in this corner of Melbourne, suitable for a range of tastes and budgets. I also loved the pride for local fashion in this area. The Rose Street Markets are held every weekend featuring handmade pieces by local artists, and Tomorrow Never Knows is a funky, friendly shop filled with Melbourne-made pieces, mostly made of 100% cotton, and they also sell Otto and Spike scarves and beanies knitted from surplus materials of the wool industry.

I was disappointed to discover The Social Studio was closed when I arrived on Sunday afternoon, though, I should've planned better. In this studio beautiful, unique pieces are created by young refugees in the area using recycled and excess fabrics -  a wonderful shop with a wonderful ethos - luckily I can shop online!

And after wandering along Johnston and Smith Streets, I know where I'd be buying amazing secondhand furtniture if I lived in Melbourne.  I'm slightly jealous . . .

Located in Manchester Lane next to Design a Space for local designers, Zoologie creates modern fashion pieces designed to stand the test of time, aiming to be the antithesis of fast-fashion.  The label also relies solely on local manufacturers in order to guarantee good work conditions and to treat people fairly - a very socially sustainable business practice not present in many modern fashion labels.  I bought these fabulous equestrian-inspired pants and a mod-fab mini and I'm definitely hooked.

I've long been a fan of Gorman, and it rates really well on How Big Is Your Eco, too.  I was thrilled to find this bomber jacket made of Tencel plus a beautiful cotton and silk dress for a wedding I'm in later this year at the outlet store in Richmond.  As I was in the fitting room the hubby graciously used his iPhone to look up Tencel and its eco-credentials: it's made of wood from sustainably harvested forests, which you'd never guess when you feel its silk-like texture; the chemicals used in production are less harsh than those required for bamboo; and 99% of the chemicals are reused so it's essentially a closed-loop production process. Pretty amazing for such a luxurious fabric.

I try to reduce and reuse as much fashion as possible, but every now and then I just have to buy some new items - I love fashion too much to give up all the new stuff.  But I was a conscious consumer the entire weekend and ended up with some fantastic eco-fashion finds.  I have none of the guilt of my previous shopping sprees (both my wallet and the environment were less damaged this time around), and I'm even left feeling optimistic about the state of the eco-fashion world after easily finding so many sustainable options.  Thanks Melbourne for a gloriously green weekend!

Stay tuned for my next installment of Melbourne in a few days - a green food special.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

a green surry hills fling

A couple days ago I popped over to the South Side (of Sydney Harbour) on an eco-shopping excursion. Destination: the ethical shop I Ran The Wrong Way.  Unfortunately, I hadn't looked up the store's opening hours and was left staring wistfully through the closed shop's window, devastated. 

Even from my window view (and the amazing online store) it's obvious this place stocks the best of the best for the conscious consumer plus all your eco-essentials.  This store of eco- and ethical-wonders is only open Thursday through Saturday though, so plan accordingly because this is one eco-hangout you don't want to miss. I for one can't wait to run the right way back to this store very soon.
Cushion with crochet from black plastic bags,
created in Burkina Faso, Fair Trade

Plastic Fantastic by the amazing Supercyclers

Never one to waste an afternoon in Surry Hills, I got a quick vintage-shopping fix by popping across the road to David met Nicole. I've long loved this shop's styling and the beautiful reused items filling every nook and cranny and hadn't been inside for a couple years.  I didn't make any purchases, but I did enjoy examining the eco-luxurious secondhand furniture, lighting fixtures and miscellaneous bits and pieces like ceramic dolls heads, dice, tin cars, rubber stamps and scrabble squares. 

I did come across the below piece for my kitchen - what do you think?

Vintage food storage cabinet, circa 1890s-1900s
All in all, my excursion was a nice reminder that eco-shopping never goes exactly as planned, but I always enjoy the discoveries that I make along the way.  And, of course, I'll be running back to Surry Hills and very soon indeed.