Dear wardrobe…

I was looking forward to writing something about the relationship we have with our wardrobes. Following the famous Reduce / Reuse / Recycle sustainability guideline, I suggest to rethink the way we buy (or don’t) clothes.

1 – Stop over consuming – REFUSE

I am not just a wallet. There is more to me than this commercial inclination to buy goods. I deeply feel that what makes me happy lies somewhere else. In creative activities, in writing, cooking, in the existence of my friends and the peace of nature.

And yet. I am often weak. I often yield to the deceitful promises of the fashion industry. Consciously or not, I tend to believe that my social life will be better if I do buy this new jacket. That my self-confidence depends on what I am wearing.

Am I particularly weak, though? Not at all. Marketers are particularly strong.

In my Business School, I actually learnt some marketing techniques based on the study of consumers’ psychology. One of them is called the Means-End chain model. Its states that products are consumed because they are instrumental in attaining more abstract values, such as self-respect, excitement, sense of belonging or security. As marketing students, we were also given a method meant to trigger purchasing decisions. Advertisings need to emphasize the product’s attributes that will allegedly help reaching these end values, and ultimately, happiness.

Are you looking for fun and a sense of belonging? Drink Cocagina! Excitement and peer’s respect? Easy as driving a fancy car. Self-respect? First, dress appropriately…

I can testify that this is how future marketers are trained. This is how they learn to make us buy, leveraging the universal desire to be happy.

As beautifully stated by Longines (a brand that I love), “Elegance is an attitude”. Any paradox here?

2 –Tidy this wardrobe up! – REDUCE

This second point is just the logical continuation of the first one.

I suggest tidying our wardrobe on a regular basis. Putting all our clothes, shoes, and accessories on our bed and look at the quantity. It will make us realize how much we possess.

With the question of surplus comes the question of the surplus’s impact on our well-being. Are the two linked by a causal effect? (quantitywell being)

In my case, I can for sure answer that it is quite the reverse. It implies more cleaning, complicated moves, and a sense of suffocation. So, tidying is a good way to realize that we already have a lot and also to remember the existence of things we forgot we had.

(In case you wonder, I am not a cleaning-maniac and my hobbies include a variety of other things. But I like the aftermath of cleaning).

3 – Give your items a second chance – REPAIR & RECYCLE

The two points above were about “Refusing” (the power of marketing in your life) and “Reducing” (your consumption).

This one is about “Repairing and Recycling”

Before buying new clothes, we should ask ourselves:

– Can I repair my item of clothing that is holed, broken or damaged before getting rid of it? I know, you can’t. Me neither.
But what about we learn?

I just read this quote by the CEO of Patagonia, Rose Marcario:

“It’s a radical thought, but change can start with just a needle and thread.” Challenge accepted!

-And if I really need a new one, can I find a second-hand version of it?

It will be cheaper for me. And I will give a second life to an item that would otherwise be discarded. The first time my environmentalist friend Clem told me about buying second hand clothes, I clearly thought he had reached a point of no return. It was in the summer of 2015. Some months later, this option seems conceivable to me.

In Toronto, consider a visit to Value Village. They have big depots with vast choices and honestly, if you take time to rummage in the alleys you will find more than decent clothes for nothing.

4 – Be selective in the brands you choose – RESEARCH

The three previous points could refer to any consumption goods. Refusing, reducing, repairing and recycling are not specific to clothes.

When it comes to actually buying clothes, prefer brands that are known to not use toxic chemicals and dyeing products or who don’t take advantage of cheap labour in developing countries. I know the information is not always easy to get. Big fashion brands themselves often say (pretend?) that they don’t even know what their suppliers do and don’t have control over them.

To what extent are companies responsible for the business practices of their suppliers, lower in the value chain? Do you think it is their responsibility to stop contracting with suppliers who behave badly?

If you answered yes to the previous question, apply this logic to yourself. Look at the lower rung of the ladder. Be vigilant with the practices of the company you are buying clothes from. It sure requires some research and time. But companies who invest in doing things right don’t hide it.

Patagonia’s Footprint chronicles is a beautiful example of an effort to give customers transparency about how their products are made. On a map, Patagonia displays its factories, its textile mills and the farms it works with. When you click on them, information is given about the number of workers, the gender mix, what is produced there and the history of the partnership with Patagonia.

Patagonia uses only organic cotton since 1996. A cotton grown without causing damages to the soil, the water or the ecosystems. It is still more expensive than conventionally grown cotton and the price of their products reflects it. This being said, buying Patagonia is like an investment: this jacket will last for years. And in case it needs a repair, you can ask Patagonia to do so. They have a garment repair facility and the stores’ staff is trained to do the minor repairs.

There would pages and pages to be written about Patagonia’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices. You can read more about them here if you are interested.

I like to end with this example because Patagonia’s philosophy encapsulates all the four key points mentioned above: Refuse, Reduce, Repair & Recycle, Research. In my opinion, this brand pioneers a new kind of relationship with customers that is no longer based on mistrust. Instead, it bets that information and transparency will be key to build stronger customer relationships. THAT is brilliant marketing.

Haute Goat

From Cleopatra…

« C’est le bain de Cléopâtre, bain limpide et parfumé… la la la la lalala … ».

Do you remember that, Frenchies? Of course you do, and I bet you’re singing it out loud now. I guess I owe some explanations to my Canadian friends… In the cartoon adaptation of one of our most famous comic books, Astérix et Obélix , the Pharaoh Cleopatra is depicted taking a milk bath. It’s a long ceremony during which her servants sing for her while she bathes her “alabaster body” with the precious milk. (here for nostalgia).

So, what is the secret behind the goat milk (or asses’ milk) she used to bathe with? If goat milk was used thousands of years ago as a skin elixir, why not use it today too in our cosmetics?

Ok. You’re failing to see the relevance of this weird introduction? Let me start my story.

…To Haute Goat

We are back to 2016. Haute Goat is the adventure of a couple who moved from Toronto to a farm in Northumberland County to raise goats and celebrate “all things goat”. It is how Haute goat was born in 2013, from the love of this passionate couple for goats. Debbie was the one in love first, but quickly converted her husband Shain to her little furry friends, if I believe the interviews I’ve read. Among the products they sell, a range of moisturizing creams based on the babes’ milk. The Nigerian Dwarf Goats is a breed whose milk has the highest butterfat content. As a result, their milk is extra moisturizing. I tried one cream: it smelled delicious and was indeed very moisturizing but with a non-sticky texture. The essential oils they use add really enchanting smells, like grapefruit. On top of moisturizing creams, their skin care products also include lip balms, a facial cleanser and a wide variety of soaps, and all their products can be bought online.

With Haute Goat, don’t panic if you can understand all the ingredients’ name on your cream.

Haute goat

I have to say I didn’t buy a moisturizing cream from Haute Goat at the Green Living Show, where I discovered the brand. The reason being I still had (and have) a very big Vaseline cream bottle at home. But reading more carefully the ingredients at the back makes me feel increasingly ill at ease. That’s what it takes to educate myself … I don’t want to do something stupid (?) like throwing my Vaseline away because I suddenly discovered that methylparaben, propylbaraben and PEG-100 are not exactly the most beneficial things to spread over my body. And after all, I’ve been doing that for almost 27 years now… ouch..

Whichever cream I buy next, I’ll make sure it doesn’t contain anything from the “Dirty dozen“.

Now, our two goat-lovers also have mouth-watering edibles like salted caramels, goat milk caramel corns and butter fudges…

Lastly, if you want to visit the farm, Haute Goat has just opened its doors (since April 30th and till October) and it’s only one hour east from Toronto. The farm tour itself lasts around one hour, but the Northumberland county seems to have a lot to offer too. A week-end get away to consider?

A Soap-making workshop with Kathrin

Have you ever thought of making soap by yourself? Learning alone can be difficult, but learning with Kathrin from For the Love of Body is a completely different story!

Why to make soap by your own?

First, you may wonder why to make one’s own soap instead of buying regular ones from the supermarket. Good question!

-Commercial soaps and shower creams (and cosmetics in general) contain many chemicals whose effects on human bodies and the environment are either dubious or clearly harmful. Since 2006 in Canada, cosmetic manufacturers have to disclose the list of their ingredients on the product. But there are still many grey zones. One of them is the “fragrance” or “perfume” issue: because they are considered as manufacturing “secrets”, brands don’t have to reveal their composition. But it’s a cocktail of chemicals that raise many interrogations.

-Another reason is simply quality. Commercial soaps usually get rid of the glycerin that is a perfect moisturizer since it comes from fat, and they sell it to other industrial purposes. As a result, they don’t leave the skin moisturized and we have to buy separate moisturizers. (it’s a commercial logic, not a logical logic). With your own soap, you can choose which oils to add depending on your skin’s needs and tailor a perfect soap for you.

-Soaps are wonderful gifts for family and friends. They are not only beautiful and smelling delicious, they are useful.

-It’s fun and entertaining to make soaps. The last time I made my own was with a bunch of friends at my place and we spent a super nice moment together.

-It’s zero waste! No plastic needed in the process.

For the Love of Body

I discovered For the Love of Body in Kensington market and immediately knew I had found a gold nugget in Toronto. Kathrin, its founder, is a holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher, and natural products-maker. She teaches soap-making, foraging, kombucha brewing, detox, natural home-care products. In a nutshell, the kind of things that keep me awake at night.

Here, I am going to tell about the first – and not last – workshop that I took with her in April.

Let’s get started

On this sunny Sunday, we were around 13 at Kathrin and Andrew’s workshop. I came with my friend Marie who is a also a zero-waste advocate and maker. We met at the Centre for Social Innovation in Spadina, a charming sort of coworking place for entrepreneurs and change-makers (update 09/10/16: I can’t help adding that I have joined CSI since then and that I am blessed to be part of it). The room was sunny, wooden-floored and with a big nice carpet.

Melt and pour soaps

We learnt how to make two different kind of soaps: melt-and pour soaps and traditional ones. The former are faster to make and don’t require the use of lye (caustic soda). You basically melt a base and then customize it with essential oils, natural fragrances, scrubbing elements and whatever you like.

While the base was melting in the double-boiler, Kathrin explained to us the benefits of essential oils and the difference between them. A topic so vast it could justify another workshop of its own, I thought. We then made two groups and each poured the basis in its mold and chose a fragrance and colour. Our group added Egyptian Geranium essential oil, white clay and dried rose petals… we religiously stirred the mixture, taking tours and chatting happily over our soap-to be.

For melt and pour soaps, there is no curing (drying) period, so after pouring the base in the molds and tracing, we were given our own little cube of pink soap!

Traditional cold process soap-making

After a short break, Kathrin and Andrew started the demo for traditional soaps, that involves lye. This process gives better-quality soaps that can be stored longer. Also, it allows to choose what kind of oils to use, and can be adapted depending on the skin’s needs. The process consists of first mixing water (1) and lye (2), the mixture reaching quickly a very high temperature. Andrew, all googles on, took care of it while I was discretely moving my chair back.  While it was cooling down, we started melting hard oils together in another pot. I think we melted coconut oil and avocado butter. Olive oil, that makes the soap bar hard, was finally added by one of us. It. We then poured the lye into the oils and used an immersion blender to mix everything!

Finally, the mixture was transferred into a wooden mold, to form several long bars of soaps that will be cut into small bars two days after.

The last ingredient of the recipe is patience, as a curing period of around 4 weeks is necessary before being able to use your soaps!

Next steps

I was super happy about the experience and I have already started collecting the ingredients to make mine. I warmly endorse Kathrin for her vast knowledge and enthusiasm! Check out her website for future workshops to come.

 

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Cube soaps on the left: melt and pour . Yellow soaps: traditional cold process soaps

 

 

Miik

Tonight, I am going to introduce a guest star in the universe of sustainable fashion… Miik!! Make some noise!

But before that, I thought I would quickly summarize the most urgent problems linked to the way our clothes are produced today. Promise, I’ll be quick. The point of the blog is to focus on solutions rather than problems.

-Growing cotton is VERY water-consuming (obtaining 1 kilo of cotton requires an estimated 3,800 liters of water) and pesticides-intensive.

-The garment industry uses toxic chemicals that are not well regulated i the countries of production, causing dramatic health and ecosystems hazards.

Labour conditions are still terrible for workers in countries where most clothes are produced.

-The clothes we buy are of very poor quality. They don’t last, fray, and quickly loose shape.

Do you agree to call that the paradigm of lousiness?

Thankfully, imaginative people with entrepreneurship spirit are proposing alternatives. Miik is one of these companies. And guess what? It’s Canadian! And guess what (bis)?? It’s eco-friendly AND sexy!

In my opinion, some eco-friendly fashion brands compromise on elegance and style. So I held breathe before landing on Miik’s homepage and… there it was. Colourful, feminine, modern. Bingo!

Key facts about the brand:

-Miik garments are made of eco-friendly fabrics, like bamboo and linen. If you take bamboo for example, it is an incredibly sustainable material for making clothes because it grows very fast and self-propagates. On top of that, bamboo doesn’t need pesticides, fertilizers or watering to grow.  And yes, it feels good on your skin: it’s soft and very comfortable! (tested and approved).

-After the yarn is shipped to Canada, everything is made locally in Ontario. Miik is very transparent about its fabrication process and gives many details about it. The only thing I had to ask is where the bamboo threads come from. I received a quick and friendly answer explaining that it comes from China. The yarn is delivered in Bolton and transformed into fabric. It is then dyed in Agincourt. The dyes they use are Oeko-approved (Oeko is a demanding textile certification granted by independent third parties). Lastly, the designs are sewed in Markham and downtown Toronto. On top of curbing CO2 emissions, this approach also fosters the local economy and allows the brand to keep control over its supply chain.

-Finally, their pieces are made to last. The quality is such that Miik’s clothes can be worn year after year and still look good. So ok, the initial price first seems high but it is the price of quality and good design. Remember Grandpa’s saying? “I’m too poor to afford bad quality”. Think about it next time you come across a tempting 12-dollar T-shirt! Personally, my new strategy in terms of buying clothes is to either buy second-hand clothes, swap or buy new ones, but only if I’m sure they will last at the very least 10 seasons (or more).

Where in TO?

Here is a list of retailers in Canada, (including Toronto) where you can find Miik’s garments. I have only been to Logan and Finley on Queen Street West. (670 Queen Street West). The service was very nice and helpful there, and they have a selection of other eco-friendly brands. You can also buy online.

Before going, take a look at this video introducing the spring collection!!

I’m telling you. You won’t like it, you’ll love it.

For the love of bulk

Buying in bulk has many advantages, from saving tons of useless plastics to saving money.

I am currently trying to convert to bulk as much as I can. But why and how? Read more about it and please share your tips and comments!

Why to buy in bulk?

Buying in bulk addresses the crucial problem of packaging and our over-consumption of perfectly useless plastics. Going to supermarkets sometimes makes me mad. Why do these innocent spinach leaves, almonds, sushis, croissants have to be put into plastic boxes? This is a pure nonsense. Let alone the sanitary questions of how plastic components interact with our food over time, it is an environmental disaster.

What’s in it for me?

Savings: marketing and packaging costs are reflected on the price of the final product. And at the end, do you want to pay for your rolled oats or for their packaging? (For example, as per April 2016, rolled oats at Noah’s Natural Food bought in bulk cost 3,69/kilo. Organic rolled oats at Longos cost  6,98/kilo).

Another aspect of savings is some stores offer a small discount when you bring your containers, which is fair since you save them the cost of the bag too.

Avoiding to waste food: when buying food in bulk, we can buy the exact quantity we need, period. No need to buy a 500g bag of walnuts if it’s only to make one cake.

Aesthetics: transparent jars where you can see the food directly look really appealing ,,,. Making them more visually accessible is also a good way to diversify the menus of a week. Instead of sticking to rice and pasta, beans, quinoa, brown rice, and lentils will inspire you through the glass.

-Last (but maybe should have been 1st): buying in bulk often means buying raw materials that have not been transformed industrially. Long story short, it is incredibly healthier.

How to buy in bulk?

So, what does it mean to buy in bulk? It means, first of all, to find grocery stores that sell food in bulk. (see a list of options below). It also requires to bring containers to the store, like cotton bags, jars, or plastic tupperware. Some stores accept it and some don’t, for so-called sanitary reasons. It is often worth insisting a bit, and explaining the reasons of not wanting to produce waste when it can be avoided.

If this step seems like a big challenge, you can also, in your usual grocery store, make better choices. Veggies and fruit packaged in plastic boxes often have “nude” alternatives. Go for them.

Tips

My advice to begin would be to start with “easy food” like rice, pasta and lentils. Just start by transferring your existing food to three jars. Continue and explore quinoa, bulgur, beans of all kinds. You can then transition to food that are a little more logistically challenging like teas, spices, chocolate. The most difficult things being probably meat, dairy products and liquids in general. (I’m not there yet!)

Also, start collecting all your glass containers. I bet that once you’ve started, you’ll be running short of them.

Lastly, get inspired by Béa Johnson, a zero waste leader in the US.

Where in TO?

Basically everywhere! But here is my shortlist:

-BulkBarn: so far the most comprehensive bulk store I have found in Toronto. they have everything from pasta to rice, flour, sugar, dried fruit… in pails, tubs or bins. The bags they propose are all made in Canada and 100% recyclable. Right now, customers are not allowed to bring their own containers to refill for safety issues. The reason given is that customers may pour extra amounts back in their containers or directly dip theirs. But they are actively working on an « even-better » solution. (This is a list of stores in Toronto).

[Update from 11/05: BulkBarn is allowing Bring Your Own Containers at Liberty Village!]

-4Life Natural Food in Kensington: actually, there are plenty of organic stores that sell in bulk in Kensington. I just selected this one because it is spacious and well organized. You can find all sorts of rice and grains there. (210 Augusta Avenue).

-Saint Lawrence Market: the lower floor of the market is home to many shops where most sellers sell in bulk their bread, flour, oats, dried fruit etc.-

-Noah’s Natural Foods: they have a selection of products sold in bulk, including rice and rolled oats, and most of them are organic. (Four locations in Toronto).

b.good

Does fast food have to be synonymous with poor-quality raw materials, health issues and high environmental costs?

For best friends Anthony and Jon, the answer to that question is a clear No, the No that led to the creation of b.good in 2004. They tell the story of how Anthony’s uncle used to feed them excellent meals when they were kids and how later they combined a love for fast food and qualitative food in… b.good!

How is it better than traditional fast-food chains?

-First, their ingredients are all sourced locally. Concretely, it means your beef hasn’t traveled in a private jet from Argentina or the US just because it is cheaper to source it from there.

All the raw materials used in the menu, from the potatoes to the bread, come from Ontario’s producers. Cheddar cheese? From Bright Cheese and Butter, in Bright. Turkey? From Hayter’s farm, in Oashwood. All their restaurants have a big map where they show the exact locations of their partners / producers.

Now, there is another thing I like about the idea of local, apart from the benefits in terms of CO2 emissions. I like that it reconnects us with the farmers who feed us. When I went to b.good on Queen West, I spent some time reading the book where they introduce all their providers, showing their pictures, the pictures of their farms…It was a healthy reminder that supermarkets don’t feed us! These people do.

-b.good also serves seasonal food. Quite logically, their menu adapts to the seasons and to what nature has to offer during each season. We got used to fast-food chains serving the same invariable food all year round and it became normal to us.

-Last thing I like about them is that they communicate openly about nutrition facts. Their website displays a very clear and visible tab of nutrition facts for all their meals.

You may also wonder at this point: is their food actually good and tasty? It definitely is. From all the times I have been there, I have never been disappointed.

But I’ll be totally frank. When I go to a fast food, I want fat. I want to feel the fat in my mouth and enjoy a ten-minute little death that will leave a more lasting print in  my body.  There, the fat lovers in us will be less satisfied for sure. What it means is we need to work on our addiction to fat, salt and sugar and to reeducate ourselves.

Where in TO?

For now, b.goo has 3 locations in Toronto:

-100 Front Street East (just behind St Lawrence market

-573 Queen Street West

-10 King Street East