on consumption (part 2)

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I met a boy once who wore the kind of jeans you could tell were ripped by hand, by accident, by adventure, not by a machine not in a factory. He had dark brown eyes and grass stains on his knees. We introduced ourselves, exchanged names and majors, and then moved on to something bigger.

I have this charming (read: unsettling) habit of flying through small talk at a thousand miles a second until, ten minutes in, we’re discussing religious extremism, global warming or, in this case, consumption.

“I’m trying to live a zero waste lifestyle,” he said, then went on to describe how he brought mason jars to the grocery store to buy things in bulk.

The most remarkable thing about this boy, though, was that he didn’t make me feel bad. Me, standing in front of him in my H&M jeans and my Forever 21 sweatshirt. Me, who was so used to feeling guilty that anything else felt strange.

He wasn’t showing off or trying to make me feel small. Sometimes people are looking for more than that.

I didn’t know this would turn into a conversation about consumption. In hindsight, it seems obvious. How can we talk about the things we buy without talking about why we buy them, where they come from, and what we owe in return?

After 30 days without buying any material items – that doesn’t seem like a lot when I write it down until I stop and think about all the times in those 30 days that I considered buying something extra and said no and I realize how easy it is to buy stuff unless you have a good reason not to – I want to make what I do purchase worthwhile.

Nancy Ray’s original Contentment Challenge has a lot to do with God. With pushing yourself to be more spiritual, more devoted. I think my challenge has more to do with people.

I’ve talked to friends, neighbours and loose acquaintances who are probably alarmed by my enthusiasm to chat about sweat shops. I am hearing stories and tips from people who build capsule wardrobes and sew their own clothes.

I didn’t know this would turn into a conversation at all, but it has.

In order to continue the conversation, here are six beautiful brands that are changing the game. They produce quality goods in ethical ways and make you look great in the process:

1/ Purpose Jewelry employs survivors of modern-day slavery to make handcrafted necklaces, earrings and rings. The proceeds support International Sanctuary, a non-profit that cares for women rescued from sex trafficking.

2/ Loly in the Sky is just the cutest thing. Their quirky flats and ultra-girly aesthetic are all handmade with love in Mexico.

3/ The Peace Collective is close to my heart and to my country. Their line of t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats are both stylish and a shout out to Canada. Plus, a portion of every sale goes to buy school lunches for low income Canadian kids.

4/  Madewell is another brand that’s, um, made well. They have everything from jeans to dresses to purses, all with a focus on quality and responsible sourcing.

5/ Everlane‘s #knowyourfactories option lets you take a look inside the places where their products are made, keeping things as transparent as possible.

6/ Oliberté is a sustainable shoe company that manufactures its products in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and supports African workers’ rights. In 2013, they became the first ever fair trade shoe company.

Check out The Good Trade for more ethical fashion choices and please sent me your recommendations. Cheers to 30 days – and many more – of trying our best.

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travel guide: Portland, OR

You’ve probably heard this before, but let me be the first to say it bold-italic-underlined: Portland is cool. From handmade stationary to vintage clothes to overflowing bookstores, Portland officially lives up to the hype. It’s all cloudy mornings, long bike rides, and books with notes scribbled in the margins. I spent four days there in May and if you can ever make the trip, I promise you’ll want to get Big Foot tattooed on your chest immediately. Here are a few things to do once you get there!

Eat:

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A rosemary and kalamata olive bagel (plus one of every other kind). I don’t know if I’ve been living under a carbohydrate-deficient rock my whole life, but bagels have never been a big deal to me. Until Portland. My dear friend Lillie took me to Bagel Land (as if the name alone isn’t proof of it’s quality) and we got back to her house with a paper bag full of different flavours of amazing. Spielman’s is just as good but more expensive and trendy.

Food carts. These compact food-trucks-turned-permanent-residents line a whole city block. You can find Polish food, Thai curries and cheese burgers – and if enjoying all that amazing food means sitting on the curb next to a parking inspector’s booth, that’s just fine. Check out this site for more info.

Homemade rhubarb crumble ice cream at Salt & Straw. Usually there’s a line up going around the building, but it’s worth the wait – and they’ll let you sample every single flavour it you ask nicely.

Shop:

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Thrift stores – and Portland has a huge selection. They vary in price, though, so if you’re expecting Salvation Army prices you might be disappointed. The quality and variety more than makes up for the $15+ price though (USD am I right?). Crossroads Trading Co. is a bit more hipster while Buffalo Exchange feels a little rock and roll, but you should devote at least an hour to each.

Powell’s Books. Powell’s isn’t exactly a hidden gem but it is definitely a gem. Most people who’ve heard of Portland have also heard of this massive bookstore which takes up an entire city block (and that’s only one of their locations). Even if you don’t want to buy anything, grab a book and curl up on the floor for a couple hours (you won’t be the only one).

Friends of the Library store, located right next to Portland’s stunning Central Library. This was the first place my friend took my in Portland, and I couldn’t have been happier. You’ll find all kinds of book-themed products, like socks, bags, and t-shirts. You’ll also find a wall of postcards designed by local artists – send one to everyone you know, telling them how much you heart Portland.

Do:

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See a movie at Living Room Theatres and grab dinner at the same time. Yes, they serve full meals and bowls of buttery popcorn right to your seat (I hope I’m not the only one who finds this very, very cool)! And you can enjoy an independent or foreign film while you’re at it.

Visit Saturday Market (now available on Sundays, too!). This overflowing stretch of vendors includes everything from home decor made from bent cutlery to handbags made from old children’s books. It’s a very eclectic bunch and an easy way to spend a whole morning. I had my palm read by a woman named Maria who misspelled half the words in her bio. I couldn’t understand half of what she was saying, but that only adds to the mystique, right?

Grab a car (or a willing friend with a US driver’s license) and leave the city. Oregon is full of stunning nature, waterfalls, hiking trails, and Cape Kiwanda. We made it to the Cape on a gloomy morning and took dramatic ocean pictures, but by midday the sun came out and families and surfers crowded the shore. There’s also excellent milkshakes at a cafe nearby.

Enjoy every brick building, Mexican restaurant, colourful mural and public library you can. Portland will take you in with open arms.

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