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Kickin’ it: the ethical guides to soccer balls & summer shirts

Shirts and balls

“You never do any columns for guys,” my editor grumbled a few weeks back. I gasped. “Are you saying the frying pan and cleaning cloth guides that we just published are a woman thing?” I prodded loudly, making sure our banter was audible to the whole news room. To be honest, in my house, my partner does at least as much cooking and cleaning as I do (which isn’t always saying much, but when that man gets on a whirlwind cleaning and purging spree, boy, watch out!).  Regardless, a few weeks after the news room remark I rolled out a few “man-friendly” columns to make sure the gents in our midst don’t feel left out. First up, my new researcher Elyssa suggested a guide to short-sleeved summer mens’ shirts. Not an easy task, considering there are so few eco brands doing menswear these days.  Turns out finding dude clothing that’s both made in Canada AND made with eco-friendly fabrics is about as rare as a sighting of Justin Bieber with his pants pulled up. For the full frontal break down of good and not so good brands plus Nature Notes on donuts and deforestation as well as the latest on GMO-banning nations, head to the full Hot Under the Collar column.

Next up, we channeled the vibes pulsing through every bar/pub/patio with a TV on earth with our Ecoholic guide to soccer balls. Men, women, children, everybody loves the World Cup…well, except for the thousands of poverty activists taking to the streets of Brazil, of course. The Ecoholic Football Fever guide dives into the ethics of stitching the very soccer balls you might be kicking around in a field or yard near you. Plus in this issue, you’ll also find news on the Saputo dairy boycott, Greenwash of the Week and more so don’t change the channel! 

If you like it then you better put an ethical ring on it: the band guide

wedding bandsOnce spring hits full swing so does wedding season. If you’re already engaged, well, congratulations! When’s the big date? You planning on sealing the deal with a wedding band? Have I got the column for you. In the latest Ecoholic, we dig deep, real deep, like belly-of-the-earth-mining-conditions-deep to, er, extract the truth about which rings are truly fair and and full of heart from the ground up. Lots of companies claim to use ethical diamonds and responsible gold, but what steps have they taken to ensure they’re not selling you dirty bling, tainted with blood, sweat and tears? Check out Earthworks retailer score card called Tarnished Gold. Interestingly, Birks and Tiffany were two of the only major retailers that scored fairly well, though the top scorers are all indy brands that use certified fair trade and/or recycled gold.  For the complete Ecoholic wedding bang guide, though, read on here. And keep your eye on this page…Earthworks has an updated retailer scorecard coming out in the near future. I’ll be sure to post it.

ethical rings

Ride, Sally, Ride: Bike-friendly bags…just in time for spring!

Noujica 3

As a good Canadian girl, I do love the sight of big, fluffy snow flakes but please, god, let me not see another flake again for at least 7-8 months! Now that spring is officially here it’s time to dust off your bikes, if you haven’t already. It’s the perfect Goldy Locks time to ride, really. Not too hot, not cold, just right. For NOW’s Bike Issue I did a guide to messenger-style bags (see below) but you don’t have to stick to that cut alone. Super stylin’ backpacks and cross-body purses are also perfectly suited to zippin’ around town on two wheels. I’m including a few of my favourites that didn’t make it into the column here.

Right now, I’m crushing on two Montreal-born bag makers. One, Noujica: her latest collection of bags made of hemp canvas, vegetable-tanned leather and reclaimed suede are  super bike-friendly. Even if you don’t go for the backpack (above), she’s got lots of long cross straps to fling on and ride. Too bad they’re not available on Noujica’s Etsy store so you’ll have to track down their retailer list or just call and ask for a special order. Another fab Montrealer, Rachel F is a lot easier to order online and offers a killer collection of bags this season. They’re made with a combo of recycled or veggie-dyed leather and canvas. Now the canvas isn’t organic but it is woven at a 200-on year old sweatshop-free American factory, which is pretty cool. It’s not waxed or treated with petrochemicals – its weave make it naturally water repellent. Perfect for your ride to work, the grocery store or just out meeting friends.

Rachel F trio

Really, there are a ton of amazing bag designers these days working with all sorts of planetarily conscious materials. Yes, they cost more than run of the mill bags made in sweatshops overseas but they’re super well-constructed and guilt-free. Plus they’ll get you where you need to go without making you look like a pro bike courier – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  And without further ado, ladies and gents….the official Ecoholic bike bag guide….Double click on the image below to get the version that appeared in print or click here for the easy to read web-version.



‘Tis the season to be giving: karma-boosting gifts

NMFSC_048_1212_v2 ethical guideMy family stopped exchanging Christmas gifts a good 15 years ago. My sister, in med school at the time, told us she just didn’t have time to shop for us (pshaw, what an excuse!). And just like that, the whole card castle crumbled and we gave up the whole swapping tradition ever since.  Instead, we just hang out, laugh and eat as much as humanly possible. There is one exception to the rule: kids. If you’re under 18 you’ll still on the “nice” list and will get gifts beyond love and hugs.

Whoever’s still on your gift list this year, make sure you’re opting for options that aren’t muddying your karma. I’m including my ethical giving guide (above) and my toy guide (below) for a survey of some of what’s out there. Just click on each image to lead you to my guides in NOW. Oh and check out my DIY gifts of the week each week to get some super last-minute ideas made with 100% upcycled and/or local/organic ingredients. Happy holidays!

NMFSC_037_1219 toys


Sweaters and the new green economy

Sweater guide imageHey peeps, this is prime example of a week that blends and stirs together different living, breathing elements of sustainability in action. You’ll find my guide to greener sweaters, made lovingly, without sweatshop labour and with greener, more sustainable fibres. You’ll also find my Q&A with a prominent thinker on the new green economy – Tim Jackson, and funnily enough, the two have a lot in common. Why? Well, those businesses making those feel-good green sweaters are actually live examples of just what a green economy should embrace! Healthy, happy jobs that produce healthy, happy products. Plus you’ll also find my greenwash of the week is a moisturizer many of you have probably have in your homes (they’re that good at greenwashing). Check it all out in this issue of NOW by reading on here.

Coat of arms: your guide to greener fall jackets


It’s getting mighty crisp out there. Right about now you may be realizing the coat on your back just won’t cut it much longer. First question to ask yourself is, do you really need a new coat or do you just want it? Second question: can you get it second hand by trolling vintage stores, Kijiji, Craigslist? If you’re still angling for a new jacket then it’s time to assess which brand actually deserves your money. My philosophy is if they want at your wallet, they better work for it…that means they better have decent sustainability policies in place.  Outwear companies, particular the ones that make technical coats, tend to be pretty good on this front, maybe because the outdoorsy set expects more from them. No doubt, Patagonia and MEC are real leaders. But there are lots of flunkees out there, too – to get the lowdown check out my Ecoholic jacket guide. Keep in mind that even better brands like MEC don’t all automatically feature recycled content or organic cotton so always double check before you buy.

Plaid jacketPlaid Nau backIf you’re wondering why we focused on technicalCurator Lennon Coat coats and didn’t include any more fashionable green jackets, well, it’s because I couldn’t find any  in TO this season. However, if you hop online, you can order some pretty damn cool fall coats from the lovely ladies at NotJustPretty in Victoria. Here’s a little sampling (left, right) of what they have on hand this fall.

Also in this issue, Doing the Math: How Canada’s Blowing Its Carbon Load, California’s Big Chemical Makeover (one we could all learn from), and Greenwash of the Week (sorry, Volkswagan Touareg hybrid, drivers). Read all about it here!

Solar Power: Sunglasses, Solar Bonds, Solar Lights & more

NMFSC_025_0725Okay, so the sun may not be shining where I’m sitting a hop, skip from Lake Huron (it’s pouring rain, actually) but it’ll be back soon. This is summer after all, so since my own sunglasses are scratched to s#*@ and people around me keep mentioning cracked or lost shades, figured it was high time to share some of the cool eco sunglass options on the market. I know sunglasses seem totally small potatoes in many ways, but if you can support options made with sustainable materials instead of junky petroleum-based plastics made in sweatshops and/or buy a pair that gives the gift of sight to someone in need, then why wouldn’t we? If these are totally out of budget, then look into vintage/second hand shades (preloved is always green). Here are a few options available in Canada, though there are even more coming out of the US. And while I was walking through Toronto’s Live Green Fest on the weekend, I spotted another company, Two Birds, selling yet more wooden sunglasses out of Forest Stewardship Certified wood (some of which is waste wood).

As for serious solar power, you’ve got to check out SolarShare. These guys are AMAZING. It’s a solar coop with dozens of projects around the GTA that offers really cool solar bonds, starting at $1000/bond. If you’ve got a little cash to invest in your/our future, these are the peeps you need to talk to. I spoke with SolarShare prez Mike Brigham on the state of green power, the big bright future for cooperative energy and solar bonds in particular. And on top of all that, you’ll find Nature Notes on a new natural gas pipeline for fracked gas coming through the GTA, updated on Bangladesh’s new garment industry laws and one of my fave solar lights for your backyard… all in the latest Ecoholic (just click on the big image of the column above to access it – can’t seem to activate my links today, otherwise!).

Now back to soaking in the sights and sounds of Lake Huron. I’m technically on vacation, after all! Check back soon for my reviews of bug sprays in our next issue!

Summer lovin': Green dresses, The End of Growth & more

NMFSC_026_0704_v2First of all, can I just say, who else is giving you sweatshop-free fashion advice and an excerpt of a speech by a world-renowned economist/environmental thinker like Jeff Rubin (author The End of Growth), all on one dense page? Welcome to the revamped Ecoholic section in NOW! We cover it all, literally.

If you haven’t read ‘The End of Growth: But is that all bad?,’ you should. It’s brilliant. I was lucky enough to pop by a fundraiser for TREC Education (the education outreach arm of Toronto Renewable Energy Coop) and hear Jeff Rubin in real life. Wish we had room to share the entire speech but this excerpt in this week’s Ecoholic in NOW gives you a good teaser.

On a breezier note, I offer up some change room choices on the summer dress front. Though, of course, it’s not all hemlines and fluff. Each dress gives us a chance to dive into the wider problems and politics of each brand and/or fabric, like the Gaps’ refusal to sign the Bangladesh fire and safety accord or Me to We’s sharing of 50% of profits with Free the Children.

Since I’ve been talking a lot clothing companies behaving badly abroad, thought I’d share some examples of kick ass fair trade designers stitching responsibly in developing countries. Azadi Project make their dresses fairly in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, offering up a positive spin on what’s possible. It’s a shame they don’t use organic fabrics, but we love them anyways – and their fabrics are handwoven without electricity thus minimizing their carbon footprint. Here’s a sampling of some of their super fly styles:


Paper People dressesYou can’t get any greener than upcycled dresses sewn locally using second hand fabrics. I featured Preloved in the column because it’s available nationally, but there are countless other upcycling designers across this country, like Adhesif out west, Toronto’s Paper People Clothing (left), and Quebec’s Creations Encore . Some use a mix of new and old fibres, so ask. Patagonia dress

If you’re shopping at outdoorsy stores like Mountain Equipment Coop, you’ll find a few eco dress options, including organic dresses by Patagonia, Prana and MEC itself. Though my favourite of the Patagonia dresses is this one (right) made of organic cotton and Tencel.

Now for the bamboo babes. Bamboo gets complicated because while it’s pretty sustainable to grow, it gets mashed up with a bunch of chemicals to process it into soft fabric , often in a polluting process in China (see Ecoholic Body for the full low down). At the same time, it’s the most common eco fabric in use amongst green designers. I’m told that’s partly because it’s more widely available in a variety of patterns and colours and partly because the price of organic cotton has really spiked. Is it a perfect fabric? No. But I still encourage you to support independent, sweatshop-free Canadian designers that use bamboo (often blending them with organic cotton) over what you can buy at the mall. There are lots of fab options in this Lilikoi dressescamp.  BC’s Lilikoi  (above) uses a combo of bamboo,organic cotton and hemp for her gorgeous event-worthy cuts.  Another Nelson, BCer trending across Canada is Dear Pony, which also uses a blend of organic cotton and bamboo as well as Tencel for her cute cuts (right).  DearponySome take their bamboo up a notch – like Miik Dresses Miik  (left) – his bamboo is certified organic, milled/woven in Canada and says his source is closed loop (which means the chemicals get reused/recycled). A lot of his stuff is double sided too so you can wear it two ways and Miik has a lot of stuff suitable for professional women of all ages and sizes.

But the dress I’m getting most wear out of this season is a number handmade SoleeNaturalsby a tiny company called SoleeNaturals in Toronto. It’s only 67 bucks, it’s organic cotton and it rocks my world. Only available at Fashion Takes Action’s showroom in the Distillery District. The one woman show behind it is modelling this very dress to the right. So if you ever assumed eco fashion was all about dowdy beige hemp sacks, well, this one’s for you.



If the shoe fits: sandal guide, sunscreen screamer & more

ecoholicsandal1_largeNow that summer’s officially creeping up on us, I need new sandals in a hurry. I can’t be rockin’ boots in July and the Grecian strappies I got on my “back to the roots” family tour in Greece last year are mostly a pain in the butt – or the arch. So which sandals to choose? The Ecoholic sandal guide in NOW gives you a taste of some of greenest to meanest options for your feet. Plastic sandals in the gym shower are one thing, but don’t make a habit of wearing plastic all summer long. Why? Read my 2011 column “Are Plastic Sandals Leaching Chemicals into My Feet?

I cover four brand options in my sandal guide (Tom’s Earthwise collection, by the way, was supposed to get a 3/5), but thought I’d share a couple more options. There are tons of ethical flip flops, heeled sandals and more available in the US (like Nisolo, Musewear, Sseko, Cri de Coeur) but don’t worry, you can track some down in Canada too (besides the ones I mention in my column). Cruise online sites like Chartreuse Style or Not Just Pretty. Scan for a local retailer near you carrying, say, Groundhog’s summer selection. Walking on a Cloud stores will carry Think! (sort of a funkier, more feminine eco version of Birks, with supportive cork soles) as well as El Naturalista shoes (BTW, you should definitely scope out El Nats online sale – everything $50!).

MohopsMohop’s sassy customizable sandals with interchangeable ribbons (above) give you like 50+ sandals in one and if you’re not near one of their Canadian retailers you can order some online without duty.  Okay, so they don’t have the foot-friendly support of Birks or Think- but they’re all sweatshop-free so you don’t have to stress about what you’re putting on your soles.

You can find my sandal guide and way more in the latest Ecoholic, including a full blow by blow of Health Canada’s upcoming new sunscreen regs (good news teaser: retinyl palmitate, on my Mean 15 list to avoid, will finally get warning label on sunscreens – though instead of banning it, sunscreens with RP and other peelers will come with a weird Saturday Night Live-style warnings to stay out of the sun for a good week after sun exposure! What?). Plus Greenwash of the Week, Northern Gateway news and, yes, more.


Bangladesh, bouquets, banning bee-killing pesticides and more


What do cut flowers and sweat socks have in common? On the surface, not so much. However, if you follow the trail back to where they were made, they both come with a pretty heavy back story the store clerk doesn’t often sell you on.  The story, whether we’re talking Joe Fresh socks or the Mother’s Day flowers slowly wilting in your mom’s vase (both featured in this week’s Ecoholic spread in NOW), is the one about the people getting shafted, ill and killed to make our stuff under atrocious working conditions with virtually no safety regulations safeguarding their health (or the health of the planet). Why do I keep harping on this in Ecoholic? Isn’t this a green living blog not a worker rights symposium? Well, before I started working as a news journalist, I was first an anti-sweatshop activist and then worked as a labour rights researcher so the issue is really near and dear to my heart. I’ve always been drawn to the hidden impacts of all the stuff we buy – whether it was tested on animals, whether it was made in a sweatshop, whether it’s loaded with carcinogens and hormone disruptors, whether it ravages ecosystems to make it, use it or toss it. If we’re going to live more consciously on this planet, it’s time to consider the whole truth about the stuff we buy – and demand a better way.

20130514adira_largeThe good news is the media glare that’s accompanied over 1100 human beings crushed to death in a factory collapse in Bangladesh has pushed H&M, the owner of Zara, Benetton, Mango and as of Tuesday Loblaw/Joe Fresh to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh with the Global Unions IndustriALL and UNI as well as Bangladeshi unions. Gap (big daddy to Old Navy/Banana Republic brands) and Walmart are still refusing to sign on.

But no matter what brand you buy, unless you weave it and sew it yourself, you’ve got to ask questions about how it was made. One thing I learned on the job as as an anti-sweatshop researcher is if they’re shitting on they’re workers they’re no doubt dumping dyes, wrinke-retardants and a stew of processing chems into local waterways too (just check out Greenpeace’s Detox campaign, now targetting Gap’s toxic trail). I also learned that you should only boycott a company if its workers call for a boycott. But even if you choose never to buy Joe Fresh, Mango, Zara, Benetton, Children’s Place, Dress Barn or Walmart (all of which were clients of the collapsed building) you may be walking into a store whose labour rights record is still sitting like a poison mushroom in the dark. So please, check your closet, pick your favourite brands sourcing in Bangladesh and take 30 seconds out of your day to honour the women and men quite literally dying to make our stuff by asking those brands to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh ASAP. Post it on their Facebook page, tweet it, tell the store manager, email the company directly, and pass it on to friends. And next time you’re buying any brand, be it made in Canada or China, ask them what they’re doing to make sure they’re ethically and environmentally made. We need to keep reminding brands that we’re paying attention.

Wait! Before you go, don’t forget to check out the Ecoholic spread on  guilt-free flowers,and my weekly Nature Notes on cage-free pork and the EU’s ban on bee-killing pesticides. Lots going on in Ecoholic every week!