Spotlight On: Glimmering Adornments from Objets d'Envy

     I've written about a lot about a lot of women's wear brands but want to share one of my favorite fashion jewelry brands.  Objets d'Envy is a Chicago based jewelry brand created by Kirsten Goede.  While not being touted as "eco", Kirsten's focus on keeping her jewelry handcrafted in small batches and sourcing only genuine Swarovski crystal elements definitely makes it a conscious brand.  
Love my Violet colored Amie earrings!

     One of my favorite things about the brand is how each piece is sparkly and girly without being too overwhelming or cutesy.  I could never go to the Macy's on State Street without stopping to check what Objets d'Envy pieces they had in stock!  My personal favorites are the Initial + Birthstone necklace and the Tetra ring (which does feature a sustainable Indonesian Sono wood base).

     Another thing I love about Objets d'Envy is the use of Swarovski elements.  In addition to a commitment to quality, Swarovski has a corporate responsibility focus.  They plan on finding more safe and sustainable ways to formulate their crystal.  The 2010 sustainability report [PDF] highlights points of their commitment to safety in the workplace, fair treatment of employees, energy/emissions reduction plan, and how they give back to their community.  

     Also have to enjoy the price point - quality accessories without a huge price tag.  The Spectra collection, coming out later this month, features color-blocking in fun geometric shapes and starts at $38.  

So far, I am digging the Chromage necklace ($78): 
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Goede

I also like the Blocagette earrings ($38):
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Goede
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Goede

The real showstopper in the collection though is the Blocage necklace ($186).  Love the color palette and arrangement of shapes:
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Goede

     Keep an eye out on the Objets d'Envy website for the rest of the collection!  Of course, if you'd like to pre-order any of these items, you can contact Kirsten here:  

     You can also catch her at the Objets d'Envy warehouse sale on March 16, 2013 in Chicago!  She will be setting up shop at Flourish Studios (3020 N. Lincoln Avenue, near Wellington, Chicago IL 60657) from 11 am - 2 pm.  Items will be priced up to 75% off and there will also be a table of items selling for $5, RSVP is encouraged.  Inventory will include items from past collections, press samples, one of a kind pieces, prototypes, and more.  If you bring an item to donate to Flourish Studios's charity event, you can also get a free Objets d'Envy gift!  Please check out her events page for more information.  
     Objets d'Envy jewelry can be purchased online, at Macy's on State Street in Chicago, and at various other shops and pop-up events.  Keep up with the brand on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information.  And be sure to sign up for the Objets d'Envy email list - it gets sent out monthly and is truly always full of event information, fun style tips, and sale/GWP codes :-)

January: National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

I know I've let the whole month slip by, but the new year brought a lot more changes and stress than I anticipated.  I've been taking it day by day, trying to find motivation to improve myself, my writing, and my life.  I hope to stay accountable to my goals by sharing my progress and thoughts here.

January was declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  The majority of Americans would agree that slavery is wrong and are glad it has been outlawed, but that same majority may not know how prevalent forced labor and human trafficking are in modern times.

Photo credit: Powerhouse Museum Collection

It is estimated that between 12 and 27 million people globally are victims of human trafficking or forced labor.  It is hard to pin down since most of these cases go unreported.  This includes not only manufacturing, but also labor in nail salons, restaurants, agriculture, and domestic servitude.  Many of those workers are forced into sexual exploitation.  Even more unnerving is that half of forced labor victims are children.

Slavery doesn't just mean unpaid workers that are tied up or chained down, physically unable to escape under pain of death, as was taught in history classes.  Sometimes forced laborers get paid, but not paid nearly enough.  They feel trapped due to threats on their families and have been defrauded by labor brokers promising a better life.

Labor brokers facilitate the connection between workers and the industry.  These operations are often very informal and brokers can charge exorbitant recruitment or placement fees, misrepresent terms, withhold important documents, or even give out fake licenses to a vulnerable and unwitting migrant worker.

In September 2012, the US Department of Labor reported that 134 goods from 74 countries were produced with a significant incidence of forced labor, child labor, or both.  That is up from 122 goods in 58 countries reported in 2009.  Forgive my concern when vague company policy and sketchy counterfeit goods make me wonder if an 8 year old's legs were broken so she couldn't play outside and could instead finish the garment.

From fires in Bangladesh apparel factories to labor on cotton fields and cocoa fields in Uzbekistan and West Africa to tomato and citrus fields in Florida, to Burmese migrants in the seafood industry in Thailand, it is clear that forced labor is a global issue.  But what can be done to stop it?

Change can happen by consistently taking small steps.

Next time you go shopping, keep an eye out for fair trade labels or at least try to avoid brands that have been known to break the rules.  As much as I love a low price point, Forever 21 has broken labor laws and skirted intellectual property rules over and over.  They keep getting away with it because people keep shopping there.  Free2work has a breakdown of the supply chain and eco-conscious decisions of other popular brands here. They even have a mobile app (for Android and iPhone) to assist you in making better choices while you're on the go.

Petitioning for more transparency in the supply chain is another way to make change.  ChainStoreReaction allows you to send messages to different companies inquiring about their supply chain policies and the responses get posted.  California has passed laws requiring a public display of the commitment to evaluate and address risks of human trafficking and slavery, that audits are performed to evaluate compliance with standards, certification by suppliers that materials used comply with slavery and human trafficking laws in the country or countries in which they do business, that they maintain internal accountability standards and procedures for employees or contractors that fail to meet standards, and that they train employees on human trafficking.  While the system isn't perfect, it is a step in the right direction.  One of my favorite brands, BCBGMaxAzria follows this.  

If you see something, say something.  It may be difficult to tell but if you suspect forced labor or child labor at a neighborhood restaurant, nail salon, or wherever - report the incident to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) 888 - 539 - 2373.  They can look into the incident and work with law enforcement to sort out the problem.

Most importantly - remain informed.  I've shared some information here but there is a lot more out there - check out the International Labor Rights Forum, Humanity United,  or any of the links I've cited above.

An Introduction to Fair Trade

     There are some changes underway here at Urban Orchid.  I'm in the process of moving my blog from googlesites to blogger/blogspot and while I am working on my layout/formatting it may look a bit odd.  I'll also be working on adding more items to my blog sale and if you live in Las Vegas you will soon also be able to see some items for sale on Rumgr.

     Last week, I posted about the circumstances under which some of our clothing may be made.  Sometimes we forget that our clothes didn't just magically appear in the store and then home to our closets, but that there is a whole process in sourcing the fabric and turning that into the garments on store racks.  

     One way to ensure you are shopping consciously is by looking for fair trade items.  A brand or retailer that is committed to fair trade practices will sell products that support the producers and communities in which the items are made.  These items extend further than clothing but include chocolate, coffee, tea, soap, lotion, olive oil, and almost anything you can think of.  Fair trade items may be priced higher than a typical alternative, but that is because some brands that sell at lower cost do not ensure good working conditions or living wages for the manufacturers.

Fair Trade Panel at Greenfest Los Angeles
     The principles of fair trade are creating opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers, developing transparent and accountable relationships between producers, retailers, and consumers, paying workers fairly and promptly, improving working conditions, protecting children against forced labor, environmental stewardship, and cultural identity.

     Many fair trade co-ops, organizations, and certification groups exist to make it easier to distinguish these companies that commit themselves to fair trade practices from those that do not.

     Fairtrade International (FLO) is a non-profit organization.  The members of this organization emphasize strength in the supply chain - 1.2 million farmers and workers in 66 countries are able to organize and have a voice through FLO.  Fairtrade International acts as a global agent for change by providing strong standards for the minimums, premiums, and labor practices for each item they certify.  The standards are different for each product, but are all available online so it is clear what is required for each product.  An independent certification body checks on each product to make sure the production standards are up to par.

     The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is a different membership organization that screens businesses committed to fair trade.  With members of the FTF, you won't see a stamp or sticker on a certain product in a store, but the business will be listed as a member of the organization.  The FTF provides third-party accountability to the business, as they do routine checks and tests to ensure the business is keeping up with membership rules.  They have a great page on the myths of fair trade here.

     Fair trade USA also provides third party auditing.  Again, this ensures that the company at hand cannot slap a fair trade logo on their product or description without really committing to being fair trade.  Zhena's Gypsy Teas was the first fair trade tea to be certified by Fair Trade USA.  Zhena (pictured in the fair trade panel photo, second from left) says that fair trade is a powerful way to connect people to products.  She is committed to a good quality product and having a good relationship with her workers.  During a time of drought in Sri Lanka, the farm from which her teas are harvested did not produce enough tea.  Rather than going to another supplier, Zhena and her usual farm made an arrangement with another farm to make up for the lack of product. 

Raise The Bar

     Consumer choice and organization can influence major corporations.  The "Raise the Bar, Hershey" campaign put pressure on Hershey to use more ethical practices in how they obtain their cocoa and manufacture their bars.  In October 2012, they announced that they will "source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020 and accelerate its programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa regions of West Africa."  While the wording is vague, the commitment and intent is a step forward that was encouraged by consumer pressure.

     Until then, I'll continue to enjoy some of my favorite fair trade chocolates - Divine chocolate and Chocolove's Fair Trade Organic, Fair Trade Organic with Cherries, and Fair Trade Organic with Currants and Almonds bars.  

    Incorporating fair trade items into your home doesn't have to be expensive or happen all at once.  Next time you wear out an item, try to replace it with a fair trade item.  Make fair trade coffee at the office and see how many people would be encouraged to do the same.  Tis the season - give fair trade gifts from candles, soaps, lotions, jewelry, scarves, and more - a fair trade gift would mean so much not only to your giftee but also to the community of the producer of that gift.  

Where are you wearing?

     When was the last time you looked at the care tag of your favorite clothing item and thought about the life of the person who made it?
     At the Green Festival in Los Angeles, I was able to listen to a provocative presentation by Kelsey Timmerman, author of the book "Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People that Make Our Clothes".
Cover of "Where Am I Wearing?" Buy the book here.

     Inspired by a sense of adventure and the origin of his favorite T-shirt, he trekked to Honduras in search of the clothing manufacturer.  After being turned away at the factory doors by security, he waited nearby until the day was over.  He was finally able to speak with a friendly factory worker.  They chit-chatted about sports and hacky-sack but Kelsey didn't ask the questions that brought him to Hondoras in the first place. Part of him was afraid to know the answers.
     After that incident, he was determined to find the origins of his other favorite items.  Next up - a pair of boxers from Bangladesh.  He wanted to meet with representatives from the clothing manufacturer but they did not want to speak to a journalist.  They only took interest in speaking to a prospective buyer.  As Kelsey continued his quest to find out where he was wearing, he met factory workers making $50 or even $24 a month.  The cost of living in other countries may be lower, but often those wages are not still not enough.  Families must be separated or go hungry despite the long hours worked.

Kelsey Timmerman on the left, Chris Yura of SustainU on the right.
     Recently, an apparel factory in Bangladesh caught fire, killing more than 100 workers and injuring more than 200.  Days later another clothing factory also caught on fire and people were injured jumping out of windows to avoid burning - there were no fire escapes.  Poor building design is only one of the problems these workers face.  (See Kelsey's thoughts here:
     It seems that many garment workers in other countries are treated poorly and are paid low wages.  A job to earn money to try to support a family is good, right?  But do these jobs provide real opportunity?
     Tally up the approximate cost of what you are wearing or carrying (smartphone, tablet, handbag, wallet, etc).  How long would it take someone making $24 or $50 a month to afford that one outfit?  Life in some other countries is different than in the United States and I am thankful for the opportunities I have as an American.  But that does not mean workers who make the clothes I wear every day should have to live in poor conditions for me to get lower prices.  It also should not mean employees for the retailer that contracted the factory should be treated poorly, either.
     There must be a balance between the price of an item, the look and quality of that item, and the treatment of those who made it possible for me to buy that item.  This balance is definitely difficult to find - many retailers are not exactly transparent about their supply chain.
     I like to shop at Target - they have many locations, carry a variety of items, and have good prices on my favorite personal care items, snacks, nail polishes, and other items.  I've enjoyed free museum days they sponsored in Chicago and am glad they remind people to recycle every time I see the bins in my store.  I am interested in their collaboration with Neiman Marcus and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (who have initiated a major crackdown on counterfeiting!).  Target has goals to increase sustainability practices and better the health of their employees.  But I can't seem to find information on where and who makes the items that are sold under the Target labels (Mossimo, Merona, etc).
     This is unsettling after hearing about factory fires, forced labor, and impoverished workers in apparel factories abroad.
     As consumers, we can be part of the solution.  Kelsey suggests starting by wearing one story a day.  Like with a diet, it's difficult to restrict yourself to eating or avoiding a large number of food items right away but a slower, more conscious lifestyle change is easier to maintain.  It would not make sense to throw out everything in your home and start over.  Instead, check the tags on your favorite shirt or when you go out shopping.  Observe how many items are imported and from where they are imported.  See if you can find more information.  Check the types of materials that are used - natural or synthetic.  Find out more about the differences.  When you need to buy a gift or replace an item you've worn out - choose to buy from a company that is transparent about it's sourcing and goals.
     We use clothes, care, and food items every day.  Don't you want to know more about you are putting on and in your body?
    Kelsey spent a lot of time to find out and share more about where he was wearing.  He also spent the time in finding out more about the food that fuels him - his next book entitled "Where Am I Eating?: A Journey Through The Global Food Economy" is coming soon.  His website and blog have more information on his books and the social injustices of the clothing industry.

Shopping More Consciously: Why I Started This Blog

        My sister and I recently went shopping at an inexpensive chain retailer and even armed with coupons on coupons, I didn't find myself wanting to buy much of anything: a few camisoles to replace ones that had worn out, a pair of slacks for work while I'm losing weight and between sizes, and a flyaway cardigan in a trendy color. 
        Even if the clothes were cute on the rack, many of them felt static-y and flimsy with loose threads all over. If the item actually fit properly, it just didn't seem worth buying. Cue inner rant on "fast fashion". Cue guilt and curiosity about how the prices of these items can get so low - where are they coming from, who is making them, how little must they be getting paid for the company to sell so low?      
        The store was closing so we checked out and went home. Having a shared love of movies starring Rachel McAdams, we watched The Vow before turning in. Shots of the Chicago skyline and neighborhoods I know made me miss Chicago - the city that sparked my love of shopping local and wanting to know the contents and origin of my food, clothes, and other goods.
        After the movie, my sister was eager to (yet again) show off what great deals she scored when the musings in my head came out.

Image courtesy of stockphotos / FreeStockPhotos

          Out came my grievances with fast fashion, child labor, and poor treatment of the people working long days making those clothes. Out came my rant for people to start buying from American designers that sell items actually made in America and my related rant on "patriotic" people on Independence Day sporting Old Navy flag tees made in China. Out came my rant on the awful things the fake Chanel purse she bought in New York may have funded. Out came my rant that people should know that what you put on your body should be just as important as what you put in it.
        I could tell my sister was falling asleep and wanted me to stop talking, but was too tired to get up and leave. She said it was cheaper and easier to go to a big retailer and it didn't matter if she made a different choice because not everybody else will.  It took too much time and was too expensive to find alternatives.
        To me, that is the problem. Why don't people make time to make better choices? Or even to learn about other choices? Or at least try to consider sustainable or ethical products and practices? As consumers, you vote with your money and choose to buy one thing over another every day. If you are looking for a lipstick or pillowcase or scented candle or canned corn, out of the countless brands on store shelves, you choose a certain type or brand on whatever basis you deem important.
        Though the "illusion of choice" is another matter for another day:
          I know the change toward conscious consumerism needs more than one person, one household, or even one group of people. But it does start with small steps. Not everybody thinks like me and my hope is that somebody reading this blog can learn with me and fall in love with new options. I have discovered many brands on my journey that don't sacrifice cute or accessible to be better made and have some transparency in their sourcing and production practices.        
        It's not going to be perfect and not always practical or possible to buy organic, local, ethical, and sustainable. Even some 'eco' brands I rave about aren't perfect.  And I'll still write about conventional brands and chains I'm excited about and attend events that aren't always zero energy.
        But I know I'm still excited for an upcoming chance to shop local for the holidays. I know I'm excited about going to GreenFest in Los Angeles this weekend to learn and mingle.  I know I am excited to study for my LEED Green Associate accreditation and be on my way to better building design. I know I'm excited about the Chicago Fashion Incubator in which a major retailer like Macy's provides space and start up for homegrown Chicago designers. Expect to see posts about those programs and events and more.  
         I hope to show you that going green is more than a trend or a buzzword - it's a way of life. As long as I am learning and trying to do the right thing, I can share that knowledge with others and help other people make better choices too.
       As my sister said at the end of our conversation, "I'm saving the world in my way, and you're saving the world in yours."