April 30, 2007

cosmetics: it's what's on the inside that counts

Pop quiz: How do pollutants enter your body?

(a). We inhale them.
(b). We swallow them in food and water.
(c). They're absorbed through the skin.
(d). All of the above.

Did you pick (d)? You're a smarty. Although the skin is the body's largest organ of absorption, people often forget about it, or think of the skin as a barrier to the ills of the world outside. Not so. The things that get onto our skin can be readily absorbed into our bodies. Since that's the case, all the cosmetics that people - especially women - use must be stringently tested by federal agencies like the Food & Drug Administration, right?

Um... no. Sorry, you got that part of the quiz wrong. In fact, the FDA doesn't have the authority to require cosmetics companies to test their ingredients for safety. As a result, there are all sorts of nasty pollutants in our cosmetics - more than 10,000 different chemicals, the vast majority of which have never been evaluated for safety (you can read more dirty details at the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website).

Some of the nasties that are common ingredients in cosmetics like makeup, lotions, shampoos and hair coloring include:
  • Lead acetate - powerful developmental toxicant; used in hair coloring and facial cleansers.
  • Formaldehyde - a known human carcinogen (causes cancer); used in nail treatments.
  • BHA - a possible human carcinogen; BHA can disrupt normal development by acting like a hormone in the human body. Used in hundreds of products, from makeup to moisturizers.
  • Tolulene - a reproductive toxicant used in nail polish.
  • Coal tar - a known human carcinogen banned from cosmetics in the European Union; in the US it's used in shampoos, especially for dandruff treatment.
  • Phthalates - Hormone mimickers that cause many types of health problems; dibutyl phthalates have been blamed for feminizing young boys. Phthalates are used in nail polish, skin care, lip gloss, facial cleanser, hair color and many other products.
  • Progesterone - may cause cancer and reproductive toxicity; mimics hormones in the human body and disrupts development. Used in around-eye creams, hair loss treatments, and men's hormone creams.
Popular brands of cosmetics frequently contain these types of nasty pollutants. They're cheap ingredients that are used for all sorts of purposes, from intensifying color to making cosmetics penetrate the skin better. It's particularly troubling that so many of these products containing developmental toxicants and hormone mimickers are marketed to young girls and teens, who are still developing, and therefore highly sensitive to them. As an adult, I'm not much of a makeup and potion user, but as a teenager I obsessed over products that would make me look different - especially things that would make my frizzy, curly hair straight and glamorous, or hide all my crazy freckles. Marketers of cosmetics play heavily on women's insecurities about the way they look, from changing your eye color to lightening your skin (let's not even get into deconstructing that one).

Recently I saw Jane Houlihan of Environmental Working Group speak on a women's environmental health panel. Pressed to name the worst-offending cosmetics, these are the products she named: hair coloring, skin lighteners, and nail polish. These products in particular are not only bad for you, the consumer, but also quite dangerous for the salon workers who apply them (and inhale them) all day long.

Many companies have signed on to the Compact for Safer Cosmetics, a pledge to eliminate toxics from cosmetic products. You can use the website to look up the companies you buy from and decide whether they really deserve unfettered access to the inside of your body. You can also use simpler solutions and home-made remedies to cut your exposure to dangerous pollutants in cosmetics.


One of my favorite home remedies is a simple facial scrub (I think I must have learned it from not martha). Just use the soap of your choice (a pure one, of course), get a good lather going, and sprinkle about a tablespoon of baking soda into the lather, then wash your face. The baking soda gives a good gentle exfoliation to your skin and leaves it feeling very smooth.

Here are a few more sources for making your own natural beauty products:
Atomic Teen: Natural Beauty
not martha: Home Spa-erific
a mind-bogglingly complete list at makeyourcosmetics.com

Home safety hint: When making your own cosmetics, be sure to use safe ingredients to which you are not allergic. Essential oils in particular may irritate your skin, even though they are "natural." It's always smart to test a dab of the stuff in an inconspicuous place to find out whether it will irritate you. I recently learned the hard way that I'm allergic to tea tree oil. Itchy!

April 29, 2007

SIGG bottle design contest

lunchbag & bottle for older nieces

I am a big fan of Swiss-made SIGG bottles. (The above is just one of many I sent out this past holiday season.) So when I heard a design contest was being held, asking "What's Your Eco-Style?", I wanted to share it here. The SIGGART Design Contest, aims to find the next great eco-friendly design for their one-of-a-kind reusable customized bottles. A percentage of sales from the winning bottle will go the Surfrider Foundation, which fights to keep our oceans and beaches clean. The contest asks you to "design a concept based on your personal “Eco-Style,” to design a SIGG bottle that represents your eco-outlook on life."

Details can be found at the SIGG website.

April 25, 2007

Interview with David Tracey::author of Guerilla Gardening

Hello sew greens!
Today I wanted to share with you an interview I recently did with the author of the new book "Guerilla Gardening", David Tracey. He is a journalist and environmental designer living in Vancouver, Canada. His book is all about taking your surroundings into your own hands and beautifying it in the most earth loving way. He was kind enough to take some time to talk about himself and the book. Below is our friendly chat, enjoy!

Ok, so first why don't you just tell me more about yourself and what you do for a living?

It's a bit of a complicated question, actually. I'll make it short as I can: I'm a journalist, also an environmental designer.

What do you do as an environmental designer?

Well I studied landscape architecture in grad school, so I learned to do eco-restoration, site design, edible landscaping... a variety of things. I'm also now working on a project to help get more community gardens in Vancouver, particularly among vulnerable populations. We're working with provincial health and city officials. Also, I'm the executive director of Tree City, an ecological engagement group that gets people involved in their own environment through trees.

That's wonderful, do you feel like Vancouver is accepting of the work you're doing?

Yes, mostly. It's a good time to be here and doing green things because there's a convergence going on, but it's a struggle too... the conservative elements and profiteers are no less voracious here.

So what inspired you to go into "guerrilla gardening"?

I got interested in engaged ecology, the idea that people in cities were losing their sense of place. I wanted to find a way to help everyone get back in touch with the land, and a lot of the people I'm thinking of are not landowners. It's not just low income -- even modern condo dwellers may have expensive places but nowhere to put their hands into the earth. I was also interested in the changing notion of public and private. We're now in an era of intense privatization of everything. I see it more and more, not just with gated communities and private security firms which now outnumber the public police in most north American cities. It's also happening in our minds. We're being encouraged to accept corporate advertising as the arbiters of style and beauty. So to combine a way to get people back in touch with their own shared environment, and to think about what public really means, guerrilla gardening seemed an ideal fit.

I get a sense that to be a guerrilla gardener you have to do a little sneaking around, do you feel this is true?

I don't think it is true about sneaking, although that can be a big part of the appeal. A lot of the best work can be done after you get permission. In the book I define it as "gardening public space with or without permission." I tried to take as open-sourced an approach as possible... even that definition I wouldn't claim as definitive. I wanted instead to make the point that because guerrilla gardening is autonomy in green, everyone should be able to discover what it is for themselves... and no one should be discouraged from doing a guerrilla garden just because the landowner (city or private or whomever) agrees...

I would be slightly intimidated by it. I was glad to read in some of the marketing for the book that "handling officials" has a section. Plus, I would think you would want people to overcome any fear of legalities.

The legal part is more of a fear than a reality, though. It's highly unlikely you'd be arrested for flowering. Although I do have a story of a guy in Montreal who did get busted for graffiti work involving public space issues.

So basically everyone has a right to the earth.

I think so. We all create the city, we all share the air, water, etc. So whose kids don't have a right to breathe clean air?

So what are some other benefits to guerrilla gardening other than visual gratification?

That list can go on and on. It's fun. It can be a community building thing, good exercise, a political lesson in public space, increase biodiversity, lesson in storm water runoff and an environmentally educational tool for green propaganda.

So is there anything you would expect your readers to know before reading the book?

No, not really. I wrote it to be a "manualfesto" so it's a combination of a rant and some practical advice for anyone whether you're a beginning gardener or a pro.

Are you an avid gardener?

Yes, I've loved gardening since I was a kid. I only wish I had more time to do it...the usual excuse. It's almost more of a need than a desire. I know if I don't do at least something every year I get this gnawing sense of regret like...there's a growing season gone. I love plants of all kinds, and am still fascinated by the whole process -- photosynthesis is astounding -- but if I can grow stuff AND eat it too? That's as good as it gets.

So I'm assuming there are guerrilla gardening groups? How would someone get involved with one of those?

There are, some that put the word out and want members, some you never hear of. You and your two friends can go out tonight and plant a parking strip and create a guerrilla gardening group. One example of how to do it is the group that just started up in Vancouver through meetup.com... they're now holding monthly meetings, doing workshops, and sound like they're off to some great stuff.

So hopefully this has given you, our readers, a little inspiration to go out and put your hands in the earth. Plant on!

That concludes our little chat. Please check out the new book Guerilla Gardening and if you would like to know more about David, here is his website::Davidtracey.ca

Related links that David is involved with worth giving a look:
Eco urbanist
Tree city

April 22, 2007

happy earth day

the image above is by vik muniz for the new york times.

it seems as though everywhere i turned this last week or so i heard and saw talk about ecological changes/needs. earth day segments were the rage on local and national TV.

on the one hand i'm glad that environmentalism is a current trend. it's nice to see people paying attention and trying to make a difference. i sincerely hope that this line of thinking becomes more than a trend. that it becomes something that sticks and permeates our EVERYDAY culture and consumer choices. bill maher suggested on friday that it's time we make every day earth day. i couldn't agree more.

here are some links to green happenings all around.

reader lisa d. suggested this video/pledge for one planet life

the sundance channel offers a greener living guide. [thanks wendy for the tip]

thomas friedman went into a lengthly discussion in last week's NYT magazine about how green should be the new political interest. there's a great link to a video on that page - as well as a link to friedman's discovery channel special that aired last night.

also in today's NYT was a story on eco-cleaning products that some socialites were getting into. i provide this as a tease for gwen's impending post on this subject.

finally - science friday was at it again. hour one discussed ethanol fuel, solar technology and battery challenges. hour two talked about parks and climate change.

hope you are out and about enjoying this day. i plan to take a moment to see if there is a small thing i can change in my life to make a difference.

April 18, 2007

the 100-mile diet

i am going to start off by saying that this is a fantastic book. vancouver writers alisa smith and j.b. mackinnon documented their year-long experiment into local eating. local for them was defined as 100 miles from vancouver bc, which meant produce in season from the fertile fraser valley, to the shores off vancouver island for seafood.

what became difficult they soon realized, no wheat. no farms west of the rockies grow any type of wheat. however they did come upon a farmer who had tried on a trial basis. he welcomed them to what he had in storage. they were so desperate to have wheat that they ground it into flour themselves.

this book takes you on a journey through local history, food politics, sustainability, relationships to place, all with a very light-hearted tone. from the moment i picked it up i did not put it down until i finished later that evening. highly recommended.
there is a link to their website under our resources links to the right.

April 13, 2007

Use only what is required & nothing more

A little while ago now I mentioned that Louise and I would be taking part in a 40 hour drought, an idea akin to the 40 hour famine that many of you would have taken part in many, many years ago now, the general idea being, to go for forty hours using 40 litres of water. Sure, simple enough, I scoffed. I drink 2 litres of water a day, that still leaves me with a whole 36 litres of water to shower, make a pot of coffee several times over, rinse afore mentioned coffee plunger and cup, clean my pearly whites and soak a jumper or two in a bucket… or so I thought.

40 litres is surprisingly, even for the water conscious among us, a very small amount. For those familiar with gallons, think approximately 10 gallons of water and you get the idea. Better yet, imagine 10 gallons of water in several small buckets and you can see it’s quite a small amount to live off. Planning on doing a load of washing in the washing machine, why, there goes another 15 litres (depending on the model and its energy efficiency rating). Ah, yes, when you consider that an automatic dishwasher can use up to 40 litres of water per load (there goes the 40 litres allowance in one fell swoop), this challenge was quite a feat. And whilst I possess neither a washing machine nor a dishwasher, I found this challenge to be just that, a huge, enormous challenge.

So, just how did I go? Well, first off, we pretended the 40 hours was just like any other 40 hours so as to fully see how much water we use day to day. We pushed and coerced the challenge to the back of our minds, wanting to see how much water we did or didn’t use in that period of time. We currently bucket our shower water out onto the garden so that took care of the garden. Water restrictions have gone up a small notch since my last posting ensuring that we only water our gardens by a trigger nozzle hose or watering system two days a week during a specified two hour window of time… between 6 to 8 in the morning (so as to minimize water evaporation) on a Saturday & Tuesday for even numbered properties, Sunday & Wednesday for the odds. Many of course flout these restrictions, particularly in the greener wealthier suburbs… but, I digress. As the challenge did not fall over the days for odd and even numbered houses to water, that took care of that. I can’t actually recall the last time I watered the garden with anything other than grey water, and whilst I miss the process, the act of watering the garden and its relaxing, unwinding ways, the garden is doing just fine with buckets of soapy water from the bathroom. So to, is my back.

Clothes were washed (as per usual) by hand, teeth washed with a glass of water rather than by a running tap, and toilet flushing, it has to be said, was kept to a hygienic minimum. We even managed to change the water in the fish tank and poured the nitrogen and phosphorous-rich water onto the potted orchids. Showers were short, and whilst soaping up, the water is turned off. So many ways to use less. Ice cubes make for effective means to water plants in hanging baskets, and pot plants can be soaked one after the other in a bucket of water… keeping the lid on pots of boiling water when cooking, installing a water softener to your tap, putting the plug in the sink when you wash your hands. I could go on and on. All these things are simple and free, everyday means of saving water. Everyday means of using less.

During our 40 litre water challenge we estimated (using a chart to pencil in how many showers were had during the 40 hours as well as there duration, how many times the half flush or full flush was used, how often we washed dishes or our hands, cleaned our teeth etc.) that we were closer to 80 litres each! Yes, double the water challenge.

In light of this, here are several water and energy saving tips for one and all, to appease my sense of guilt. I have tried to compile a list of green tips for those on a budget, for those who cannot install a rainwater tank at this very moment nor solar panels on their roof, for I am a firm believer that every little bit helps and can make a difference. Saving water is important to all of us even if you live in areas or countries were there seems a natural abundance. It is always important to treat our natural resources with care, to use only what is required and nothing more.

* Use biodegradable cleaning products. Not only are they better for the environment, they are better for you too.

* Head to Greenpeace for wonderful recipes, such as the ones below, for using trusty Borax, soap, vinegar and Bicarbonate of soda (excellent for cleaning and deodorizing). Again, products that are better for both the environment and your family.
Heavy Duty Cleanser 1
4 litres hot water
1/4 cup cloudy ammonia
1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
Mix together. For a stronger mixture, double all the ingredients except water.

Heavy Duty Cleanser 2
2 tablespoons borax
1 teaspoon soap
1 litre water
This can be stored in a spray bottle.

Hospital-quality disinfectant
Use 1/4 cup borax dissolved in 2 litres hot water. Keeping surfaces clean and dry reduces the need for disinfectants.
{Recipes for spring cleaning courtesy of Greenpeace.}

* Install energy efficient lighting and you’ll find not only is this a win for the planet it is also a win for your future energy bill.

* Long, narrow buckets especially for shower units can now be found at many hardware stores. Oates have released an 18 litre Water Saver bucket (4.75 gallons) that sits on the floor of your shower that you won’t trip over. I stumbled across this handy little number for $14.97 at Bunnings. And whilst I haven’t actually tried this as my shower is over the bathtub, I’d hazard a guess to say that it would be very hardy indeed.

* Dry your clothes on a clothes lines… logical, I know, but you’d be surprised at the amount of folk who still fling their clothes into the clothes dryer from start to finish.

* Move your thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in summer to limit your energy usage. Adjusting it by just two degrees will make a huge difference throughout the course of a year.

* Use less hot water.

* Turn off all stand-by power.

And of course, use less of everything in general. Find tips such as these and many others here (Reduce your impact at home, An Inconvenient Truth.)

Read how others who participated (and are worthy of gold stars) went here and here. I'm off to fix my leaky taps... Happy green ways, one and all!

April 11, 2007

These aren't your mama's clogs!

So last week it seemed that I got in the thick of things over here at Sew Green. It was pollution-soaked jean extravaganza. Not that I’m opposed, really I’m not, but what the post really did seem to provoke was a whole lot of comments and a lot of email from people asking me the question that seemed a natural follow-up:

“Can you recommend a place to get these non-pesticide riddled clothing oh fabulous eco-fashionista?”

Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite like that. The important thing here is that you, the readers of sew green, need clothes that aren’t as harmful to the world. I can give you that information that you so justly deserve. So here for your pleasure is a list of places where you can buy organic/sustainable clothing, companies that make organic/sustainable clothing, and information for those of you who really don’t want to consume more out there but want to try your own hand at fashion.

The DIY set:

Since this is a blog that is also centering on consumerism I thought that I would start off with the DIY (or “D”o “I”t “Y”ourself) information first. If you don’t have clothing that you can refashion already then what you want to do is get thee to a Salvation Army (or goodwill etc)! Why I say these sorts of places rather than one of your cooler thrift locals? Because the cooler thrift stores are already selling “fashion.” If you’re going to cut up a suit jacket and make a corset top then you don’t need to fork over $60 for that 60s suit jacket. Trust me on this one. Do you and your wallet a favor.

So you have your jacket. Now what? Here is a VERY small list of some of the places I know about where you can make magic happen. Check it:

Live in San Francisco Area? Don’t have a sewing machine or know what the hell to do? Stitch Lounge is the place for you. Run by “Two Melissas and a Hope” this great place not only teaches you basics but provides all the machines for you to do what you need to do! Serger? Check. Straight stitch machine? Check. Work tables, dress forms, notions and much more. Take a refashioning class if you don’t know where to begin or just go to their open studio times and have at it.

Live in NYC? Want to be craft? Step out to the Make Workshop! They have everything a guy/girl to need to craft up a wardrobe! Classes, supplies and so much more… all in the heart of Manhattan! Bring a t-shirt to turn into a ball gown or a suit jacket to make into a mini-skirt. This is the place in the NY area to make it happen.

Attention Austin peeps! First Samples is the place for you! Just like everyone else listed here they have a little something for the girl/guy who craves their own wardrobe their own way.

Love it but don’t feel like leaving your home? Then try some of these great books from the library!

“Sew U: The Built-by-Wendy Guide to Sewing Your Own Wardrobe” This is a book by NYC fashion darling Built-by-Wendy. On the whole I’m not a fan of her stuff BUT this book is great. You get three basic patterns and a whole lot of information. Great for intermediate sewers for sure.

“Generation T – 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt” This book always seems to find new readers. They literally give you a 108 ways to make a T-shirt interesting and new. The bonus? Try taking these techniques and ideas into FITTED shirts. Then you start cooking with gas!

“Sew Subversive” By the aforementioned Stitch Lounge girls. The book is for beginners. There are some projects that can perk your brain into different directions but if you are into sewing and refashioning this might bore you.

Need support? There are PLENTY of people out there (like our dear Nikki) who are there for you:

Wardrobe Refashioning


Ok, so this is the part that I talk about some of my favorite manufacturer’s of sustainable and organic clothing. Again, this is just some of the places and people with whom I have given my hard earned greenbacks for their amazing goods. Yes these products are more expensive than their “conventional” brothers/sisters but I would rather refashion 500 t-shirts so I can save and by a top by one of these great designers.

Del Forte Denim (of course I’d start here!): Premium organic jeans for women. $125-$190 I wouldn’t be lying to say that these jeans are just the greatest. From shorts to skirts to jeans Del Forte has got it all. Made from seed to jean entirely in the USA – a rarity even in the premium denim marketplace.

Loomstate Denim: Premium organic jeans for men and women $125-$150 Indonesian Organic Cotton made in the USA. Their men’s jeans are where it’s at for sure. The jeans they make for women are really ill-fitting to say the least. Plus 90% of them are the (what I like to call) “Britney Spears” rise (aka 6”.) Ew. For men’s jeans though they can’t be beat for cut and wearability.

AC Clothing & Bags: Women's clothing $50-$200 Oakland, CA Amy Cools is cooler than ice. Her clothes are all hand made in her studio in Oakland's Temescal district. Made of recycled materials, vintage materials and vintage trims. From simple cute T's to fantastic multi-layered dresses and petticoats.

Passenger Pigeon : Women's clothing $76-$200 A great eco-clothing like from Canada. While they use a lot of bamboo and soy fabrics (not the best processes in the world) these are beautiful clothes that are easy and simple to wear. Playing with prints and textures this company walks a great line of fashion and sustainability.

Terra Plana Shoes are sassy and sustainable. $100-$150 Men and Women's Shoes. Made in the EU with sustainable materials. Not only are many of their styles organic but they go the extra mile to cut down or not use many of the harmful glues required in the manufacture of shoes. They are committed to the environment and have their eco policies plainly stated. I’ve got several pairs of their shoes and they wear great.

Stewart and Brown: Women’s clothing $55-$500 Organics, sustainable fabrics, factory surplus. Imported fabrics, Made in the USA. Stewart and Brown are the “organic pioneers” as they so humbly state on their website. But let’s face it – they were. Most of their line used to be a bit to “earthy crunchy” for me but they have begun to really get the fashion market as of late. Very pricey on their knits but oh so sexy.

Cydwoq: (pronounced sidewalk) shoes are little bits of leather art. Men’s and Women’s shoes $200-$300 (ow!) These are limited edition handcrafted shoes made in the USA Vegi-dyed leathers and water based glues. Way too pricey for this gal but I’ll tell you, if I could afford them – I would. They fit AMAZINGLY well and are so unique.

Enamore Lingerie Women’s lingerie $40-$125 What you expect to find in fine European undies. From bed-jackets to sexy bras this place has it all AND it is Eco. Hello nurse!

Junky Styling Refashioned clothing for the modern woman and man. $125-$500 I was blown away by these two women when I was in London. Takes refashioning from people's sewing rooms to the runway almost seamlessly (pardon the pun.) You can't tell that my sexy longsleeved wide necked shirt was once a track suit and a pair of men's pants. It's amazing. Best is that they can take your old vintage clothes and turn them into their latest runway clothing. Making thier clothes even more special to you. Top Notch.

So now a little love to the small boutiques in the bay area that (and NY) that sell eco fashion lines, but also some of the made in the USA smaller local designer types. After all, if you can't buy eco the next best thing is to buy local. Not only are you helping out the small shop owners you are benefiting the designers who sell there. Double bonus!

Doe: Lower Haight in San Francisco for Men, Women, Baby and Home. This place is just too great. Local made goods and amazing ones at that. Great for anyone in the bay area to find a "just right" gift for just about anyone. From beautiful vases to beautiful dresses this store's aesthetic is right on.

Gomi: Brooklyn, New York Women and Home This eco boutique is a powerhouse despite it's small size. For serious! The shop owner, Anne, picks out every piece herself (much like the above Doe - rock on Kati!) and the time it takes SHOWS. She has discerning taste and it's all eco and sustainable. Sexy and saving the planet. I heart GOMI (and it's not just because she sells our jeans.)

Relish at Home: Oakland, CA Men's & Women's (limited clothing) Home, Garden, Accessories This amazing little shop in Oakland pack a punch. This woman's shop is TINY (is this a trend?) and she packs it with some of the best independent designers this place offers.

This list is only the beginning. Please feel free to post YOUR favorite local businesses or sustainable clothing lines in the comments section. The more people who are out there making a demanding local and sustainable the more likely big companies will begin to "get it".

Green car parking

My mind is bubbling with excited thoughts and plans. I want to build a green driveway from old bits of dry ski slope! It's such sturdy stuff and looks great once the grass begins to grow through and disguise it.

I often see piles discarded locally, but now they've started using it to stabilise the hill paths and prevent erosion near the ski slope itself, it works really well. That's the kind of re-use I like, where the new use it even better than the original one. The slope is 20 minutes walk from my house, on the Pentland Hills overlooking Edinburgh. Here's where I sit to catch my breath and make my cunning reclamation plans...

People think I'm lucky to have a drive already in my garden, but to me it's lifeless space that could be inhabited by plants and herbs for the insects to enjoy. Scented ones too, since it's good to treat your nose as well as your eyes.

I'm also concerned by water run-off which creates flood problems as more and more people pave their gardens to park their cars. Such a sad loss of habitat. I'm really into green carparks, paving, roofs etc. as a way to lessen our impact in built environments.

The first green carpark I saw in the late 80's was the concrete type which looked similar to this. I was VERY excited to discover it. Modern ones mostly use grid systems made from recycled polyethylene, like this Australian kind. Our local Ikea has a small section for about 20 cars. I'd like to see entire car parks look that way - where suitable*.

I'll be using ski slope if I can, but for those of you who don't have that option but are interested in the idea, have a look at Paving Expert. They explain different types plus preparation needed to install them so they'll stay put. They also advise on grasses for each use - walking, heavy traffic etc. It's a UK site so grasses & suppliers will differ elsewhere but it gives a good overview of things to consider before doing a further search in your own area. They have UK supplier links and this one has pricing for green paths to give you an idea of costs. It seemed no worse than the cost of decent quality paving in the UK.

For many, grass is not an eco option on account of water use but many of these systems also hold dry materials so I'm guessing you could plant low growing drought tolerant succulents etc. such as those used for green roofs (more on that later). Anyone tried that? It also stops dry material being lost onto the road.

Others hold gravel or stones, but having seen a beautiful Scottish river scraped for it's stones and left lifeless, and coutryside quarried for gravel and left scarred and barren - I would not advocate their use unless they were reclaimed. Plus they are incredibly energy intensive and often have huge mileage to get to you.

I'd love to hear from any of you have tried any of these options, and especially from anyone who has successfully improvised. I will keep you posted on my own attempts.

*this tends not to work on slopes and boggy areas.

ps. I forgot to say that they help prevent 'urban heat islands'. Read more about that here.

April 9, 2007

Knit* Green

(* = crochet, embroider, etc.)

I was a little girl growing up in Southern California when my mother taught me to knit. Living in Southern California where the temperature rarely dropped below 70 degrees, did not inspire me to become an avid knitter. It was not until I moved to North Carolina, befriended an environmentalist, and started stitch-n-bitch chapel hill that I truly became the knitter I am today. Aside from a knitter, I am an ecologist, and at the time I was doing research on organic farms on cabbageworms. It was a combination of my involvement with the organic farming community and the amazing activist girls of my stitch-n-bitch that lead me to thinking green.

So why knit* green? Well, one of our greatest powers as individuals is our power of purchase. The demand for higher environmental standards have, at least in part, brought about the increase in organic products at your market, and the higher production of fuel-efficient cars. Why not put that same pressure on the textile industry as dutch girl suggested in her earlier sew green post ?

Here are a few facts, guidelines and suggestions on how to knit* greener that I have accumulated through my years as a knitter and ecologist:

Knit* Local.
This is a similar principal to buying your fruits and vegetables from local growers. Although the statistics are not available on the cost of transporting yarn, large amounts of fossil fuels are used to get products to you. It is estimated that food products travel 1,500 miles before being consumed (Heller & Keoleian). How far do you think yarn travels? One would imagine, since a large proportion of yarn comes from countries outside of N. America and Europe, that the mileage might be even higher for yarn. The closer the farm is to you, the less fossil fuel used. Check out your local farmers market or sheep and wool festival (google it for festival near your town) to find out where to get yarn close to home. Not only are you knitting* greener, but you are also supporting small independent farmers and artisans.

Knit* Recycled.
Local yarn can be very expensive. Some of us don’t have that kind of money to spend on being greener, so an alternative is using what has already been produced and transported. This requires a different perspective on knitting* since you can’t necessarily plan on what to knit*, but rather let the yarn inspire you. There is no doubt this could lead to incredibly creative projects! I am always amazed at how much yarn ends up at thrift stores (think about your own stash of yarn). Sometimes you can find very nice yarn and lots of it. Admittedly a huge proportion of the yarn I find is acrylic - but that can be used for a blanket or baby clothes that need to be washable. Another alternative is find and unravel a wool product like a sweater that may be perfectly hideous but is knit out of beautiful yarn. There are some great articles about recycling old sweaters for new projects here, here, and here. You can also use old cotton sheets or t-shirts ripped in strips to knit* a rug, or plastic shopping bags to knit* a sturdy shopping or tote bag. Hell, you can even knit* yourself a 1950s outfit!

Knit* Alternative
More and more yarn companies are offering eco-friendly (and animal-friendly) wool yarns (including my beloved cascade yarns). These are generally yarns that are not dyed, or that are acquired using sustainable and/or humane farming practices. But for those who want to avoid wool altogether, there are now a number of yarn alternatives on the market made from organic or alternative fibers. It is important to be aware that classic alternatives to wool yarn are neither sustainable nor eco-friendly (see below).

What about Acrylic and Cotton?
Acrylic yarn is made from acrylonitrile, which is considered an environmental pollutant and hazardous to human health (more info. here and here). Producing acrylic is a highly chemically-dependent industry and produces pollutants, such as the organic solvents N,N-dimethylmethanamide and sodium thiocyanate, vinyl acetate, and methyl acrylate .

Avoid yarn made from conventionally grown cotton because of the industry’s dependence on pesticides (“…nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides -- more than 10% of the world's pesticides and nearly 25% of the world's insecticides,” according to the Pesticide Action Network North America). Seek out organic cotton alternatives, such as Blue Sky Alpacas or Green Mountain Spinnery.

What’s the Alternative?
Its amazing what you can knit* with nowadays. There are numerous alternatives to wool, cotton, and acrylic for eco-friendly and animal-friendly knitters. Including silk (note: silk does kill silkworms/caterpillars), soy, bamboo (but see comments on post), corn, hemp & nettle! Check out more options here and here.

Six years later and 5 hours north in DC, I am still studying bugs and still knitting*. Am I a greener knitter? Well... I do not knit* with hemp yarn or make recycled plastic bag rugs but I do buy most of my yarn from eco-friendly companies. I promote buying local yarn and the DC stitch-n-bitch en mass heads to the sheep and wool festival each May. So yes, I am getting a little greener every year. And every little green step counts.

April 6, 2007

Victory Gardens 2007+

I am so inspired by my Sew Green collaborators and by you commenters. So much to learn from all of you!

As far as i can tell, my backyard really really wants to become a garden. That concrete is bursting green at the seams!

When I was little, my parents grew corn, tomatoes, squash and dill in the backyard. We also had (and still have) many fruit trees. It was so satisfying to walk around in the sun, most plants taller than me, and just pluck and eat from the world around me. My grandparents in Sweden grew potatoes, carrots and many kinds of berries. My grandmother made all sorts of jams and drinks from the berries, decidedly the most delicious
berries I've ever eaten.

Mormor and morfar preparing to plant

I went to the
SFMOMA last week, and was so inspired by an art-political-environmental-gardening project called Victory Gardens 2007+ being shown, that I wanted to share it with you. I admit I was drawn to the project because of the beautiful posters the artist, Amy Franceschini, had made advertising the various gardening events. I’m a sucker for nice graphic design, words and color (as I’m sure many of us are). I love that this project brings together artists, gardeners, scientists, politicians, environmentalists, ordinary citizens.

Here is the website about Victory Gardens 2007+: http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/
(On the right side of this page at the bottom, you can see one of the posters I was drawn in by at the museum, though it’s more beautiful in person.)

Victory Gardens 2007+ is based on a historical community gardening model established in 1941 in the US.

Victory Gardens, also called "war gardens" or ""food gardens for defense,” were gardens planted both at private residences and on public land during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civil "morale booster" — in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. These gardens produced up to 41 percent of all the vegetable produce that was consumed in the nation.

In 1943's San Francisco, there were 800 gardens for food production in the Golden Gate Park alone! Read more about the history here: http://www.futurefarmers.com/victorygardens/history.html

Today’s Victory Gardens program draws on the historical one and

puts a new spin on the meaning of “victory.” In this program, “victory” is:
- independence from corporate food systems
- community involvement
- getting people closer to the natural environment.
Some interesting info from the website:

Seed banks represent genetic reservoirs of adaptive traits. By knowing the conditions under which the seed's ancestors have developed, botanists can identify characteristics signaling where else a plant might thrive...The Svalbord Global Seed Vault is located in Norway and has the mission to store as many seeds known to humans as possible, under the terms of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
There is so much to gardening that I have no experience with. But, I think home and community gardening will become more and more important as we try to get out of the mess we've gotten into with corporate farming, soil pollution and overuse, pesticides, food contamination, long distance food transportation, packaging, superfund sites, etc.

What are some of your community gardening experiences like? Send us links to your community gardens or city gardening efforts.

Other topics I’m hoping to learn/do more about through Sew Green are:

Superfund sites and electronics waste/cleanup
Milk (Seems like a simple topic, but I think one can investigate milk production from many angles.)
Paper (Chlorine use, getting institutions/entities to switch to chlorine free, recycled paper)
Plastic (So much cool stuff is made with plastic. What are the consequences/alternatives?)
Clothing/textile industry
Art for environmental change

April 4, 2007

Ethical Banking

photo - Cwmni Gwynt Teg (Fair Wind) in Wales, UK

My 1st post, scary and exciting.
I feel so lucky to have been included in this blog with these great women who have already influenced changes in my own life through their recent posts. But what to write? My current pet topic is eco building, but with April 5th approaching (deadline for ISA's in the UK) my thoughts have been around banking.

For years I prided myself on living ethically, being veggie, eating organic, and caring for the environment etc. Then, in 1995, I found out my bank, my little (so I thought) Scottish bank was financing the arms trade, among other unsavoury things. I was horrified and wanted to switch immediately.

I learned that The Co-operative Bank had responded to customer demand in '92 (yay) and developed an extensive ethical policy. They are now well known for SMILE, their highly acclaimed online banking facility, which helps as they don't have a lot of high street branches. I liked that they were not investing in companies etc. which would harm the environment, make or trade arms, hold 3rd World Debt or support oppressive regimes. This was all great. But could it be better?

Yes it could.
When I went self employed in 1996 I discovered Triodos Bank. They didn't have high street banks for me either, but they had a totally inspiring ethical policy. In their own words 'Triodos Bank only lends to organisations which create real social, environmental and cultural value'. And they mean that. You can see all projects they have loaned to or invested in on their website. Most banks refuse to disclose such details at all.

They began in the Netherlands in 1980 and now also operate in the UK, Belgium and Spain, and have an agent in Germany. One of the nicest things about banking with them is the mail. No more letters encouraging you to get into debt so you can have the latest car, the hottest holiday or the biggest TV. Nope, with Triodos you get updates on who they've helped with lovely profiles and great photo's. It's so inspiring and un-banky, and it gives you the most incredibly good feeling to know your savings are doing something so positive.

As well as a traditional savings accounts they have Charity Saver accounts, so you can direct your savings towards causes that are particularly dear to your heart, like wildlife, human rights, renewable energy or social housing to name a few. At the time I was spending my free time campaigning against GM trails near our local Organic Farm so I opted for an Organic Saver Account. Years later Triodos helped when the farm shop needed rebuilt. That felt good. They've also help local artists with studio space, which I know you crafty types will approve of. Honestly, this bank is GREAT.

We have enormous power to create positive change by where we keep our money, as well as where we spend it. Not all countries have such great examples as Triodos but many have banks similar to the Co-operative bank. And it's not just savings accounts, but also investments, pensions, mortgages and all the other ways we deal with the bigger finances in our lives. It's worth having a search to see what options are available where you live. Through Triodos I even bought shares in a windfarm!

I've added a selection of UK links below to get you started and also some worldwide links. Please feel free to use the comments section to let us all know of other links that you recommend. Oh, and I've not forgotten about alternative currency, just keeping that for another post. Happy saving...

Co-operative Bank
Triodos Bank
The Ecology Building Society

Ethical Investors (Mortgage, Pension & ISA options)
Naturesave (Insurance)

Australia - MECU
Australia - Savings & Loans Credit Union
Australia - Australian Ethical
Belgium - Triodos Bank
Canada - Citizens Bank
Denmark - JAK
France - Institut de Dévelopement de l'Economie Sociale
France - Société Financiere de la NEF
Germany - GLS Bank
Germany - Triodos Bank
Italy - Banca Etica
Netherlands - Triodos Bank
Spain - Triodos Bank
Sweden - JAK
Switzerland - Alternative Bank (nice graphics)
USA - Common Good Bank

April 3, 2007

It’s not easy, being green. Or Indigo for that matter…

So when I first meet someone and the inevitable question of what I “do” comes up in conversation. The answer is usually met with some sort of the following:

a) strange brow furrowing and nose twitching
b) blank stare
c) snicker
d) snicker followed by “So, like, what? Hemp?”

Ah, the joys of being an eco-fashion designer! What does all this mean? Do I have to wear hemp? Do I have to be vegan? What the hell is mud dye anyway? Being a fashion designer and being organic and sustainable used to be worlds apart. The reason? Because high quality organic and sustainable fashion fabrics were in short supply (if available at all.) Organic cotton? What for? Why? Sustainable and organic wool? What’s the difference? Why bother? What was available 10 years ago was natural hemp and linen. Not a whole lot else. That isn’t true anymore. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe you need to know WHY before we go anywhere else.

The fashion industry is one of the most pollutant causing industries in the world. From the farming of raw materials to washing of the final product, almost every step there is an opportunity for greening. Since I work in the denim industry I feel like I am most qualified to talk about the greening steps involved in one pair of simple jeans. This is a long article but I feel if you begin to understand what goes into something as simple as pants you can see the sum gain of the larger picture.

Jeans, and in specific cotton, is one of the most pollutant pieces of clothing that any one person can own. Unfortunately it takes 2/3 of a pound of pesticides to make one pair of jeans, and 1/3 of a pound to make a single T-shirt. A pair of jeans only weighs about a pound! That sort of ratio is unheard of in any other crop. While conventional cotton accounts for 2% of global agriculture it requires 10% of global pesticide use. The EPA says that conventional agriculture is responsible for 70% of all problems in U.S. rivers and streams.

When it comes to going organic in fashion there are certain criteria, just like food, that need to be followed. Organically grown cotton has been produced without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A field must be pesticide free for three years for the cotton to be certified organic. This insures that the land is free of any residual chemicals that could enter into the plants and cause contamination.

Why is contamination important? According to the EPA, five of the top nine pesticides used in cotton production in the US (cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin) are known cancer-causing chemicals. The EPA classifies all five pesticides as Category I and II, the most dangerous of chemicals. While these pesticides are washed out by the time the cotton gets ginned, farm workers suffer the most by being in direct contact with many of these chemicals. The World Health Organization estimates accidental pesticide poisoning causes 20,000 deaths and 3 million non-fatal poisonings every year, worldwide. Not only that – but this stuff gets in your foods! 60 percent of a cotton crop, by weight, enters the food chain in the form of cottonseed oil which is used widely in processed foods, and as cottonseed feed for cows. The pesticide residues from these cottonseeds concentrate in the tissues of these animals, and are passed on to consumers in meat and dairy products. This is a big deal because these chemicals were originally formulated as nerve gases for warfare, at least 107 pesticide active ingredients are carcinogenic. Pesticides have been responsible for birth defects, respiratory problems, behavioral changes, infertility, sterility, and hormonal imbalances. Imagine that next time you eat a bag of chips containing cottonseed oil.

Not only farm workers suffer but animals do too! In 1994, Australian beef was found to be contaminated with the cotton insecticide Helix® (chlorfluazuron), most likely because cattle had been fed contaminated cotton straw. One year later, farmers were alarmed to discover that newborn calves were also contaminated with Helix, apparently because it was passed through their mother's milk. In 1995, pesticide-contaminated runoff from cotton fields killed at least 240,000 fish in Alabama. Shortly after farmers had applied pesticides containing endosulfan and methyl parathion to cotton fields, heavy rains washed them into the water causing the deaths.

The next step in fabric to jean is the dye process. Lately this is where marketing departments are having a field day with you. Most of the debate circles around “Natural” indigo. “It’s so much better!” they tell you. “It’s not chemical dye!” they extol. The kicker is they are right… to a point. No matter what kind of indigo you use, synthetic or natural you need developer to bring out the blue. That developer is a cancer-causing agent Thiox. There isn’t a way (yet!) to develop indigo without it and just knowing that information can help you pick apart what people are selling you. Our jeans use indigo. Not using indigo won’t happen any time soon – but where we strive to cut down on harmful impact is in the wash and finishing process – the last stage in the making of your blue jeans.

When ever people talk about “the wash” in regards to denim they aren’t talking about getting rid of dirt. “The Laundry” or “the wash” is where color gets applied to jeans, they get stonewashed, ground down, distressed etc. This is a battleground for greening. Most factories aren’t regulated in China. There are no official standards to follow when it comes to treatment of wash waters or irritants. There are no agencies to run checks and no one to care about where that water goes once it leaves the factories. There are no standards for worker safety either. Many times workers will be in rooms with sandblasting equipment inhaling particulate matter. That matter lodges in your lungs and causes cancer. Resins and distressing chemicals are applied with little protection. In the US, and most specifically in the factory that we work with in Texas, there are strict policies and standards in place with regards to this sorts of finishing.

When we set out to design a new wash we investigate and use some of the most green washes we can. We don’t use a chlorination processes in regards to bleaching down color. We prefer to instead use a hydrogenation process. This results in cleaner wash water when removing color. Hydrogen breaks down into water much better than chlorine and doesn’t have the same effect on water wildlife.

The wash water in the factory that does our work is welled from a private spring that lives under the factory (does this sound just a bit too idyllic? It did for me!) The water is treated so that it is almost as clean when it exits the factory, as it is when it enters. Why? Because this water is used to irrigate the alfalfa fields that surround the factory. This alfalfa is then sold as feed to family farms. The factory is working to close the loop. The pumice stones that are used in the stonewashing machines are not thrown into the trash or dumped in a river. They are further ground up and added to soil as an aeration device. Lastly, for our jeans we only have our people hand sand. With hand sanding there is no particulate matter and the people working on our denim are not at risk for disease or cancer.

That’s a lot isn’t it?

At the end of the day these are the things that you should look for when buying jeans. Organic Cotton. Hand work. Clean water standards. Made in the USA. With labor standards in LA and Texas being some of the highest in the country you can’t guarantee perfection, but you know you are working with people who care enough to pay a fair wage. You know that these people aren’t being exposed to the sorts of chemicals that workers in China endure.

I hope I haven’t bored you. I hope you feel you know a little more about why organic isn’t just for food anymore. I hope to tackle other issues and to tell you about who are working towards a greener fashion standard here and around the world! I’ve really enjoyed writing this and thank you for the time to let me vent!

April 2, 2007

a very warm welcome

hello everyone!

First - i'd just like to re-iterate how great all your enthusiasm and support for our project has been. it's been really wonderful and overwhelming. we hope that we can continue to spark your interest, curiosity, and participation.

Second - we'd like to introduce 3 more contributors to sew green. they hail from 3 different continents and will help round out our cast of characters. we feel very lucky to have them on board. keep reading to learn a bit more about them!


Cally Daniels
artist designer crafter
Near Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Nothing makes me happier than eating home grown organic veggies, walking dogs on Scotland's beaches and hills, and appreciating the immense, and the minuscule, wonders that are all around us. All these things feed my passion for making things and my desire to live a greener simpler life, and hopefully influence others along the way.

My background is in textiles, jewellery & sculptural metalwork, mixed media work and graphic design, all hugely influenced, in both ideas and materials, by my environmental and health concerns. My future... time will tell.

At the moment I'm on a huge learning curve as I eco-renovate my mobile home so that I can have a low impact sustainable house with studio where I can (hopefully) make a living from my creative endeavours. It's a long term project as I'm trying to source materials from people's waste and do the work myself. I'm hoping it will eventually look like a beach hut or a tree house. Home.


Nichola Prested (aka Nikkishell)

Melbourne, Australia

I live in Melbourne with my husband and two girls (Esme aged 16 months and Mia almost 3 years old), after moving here from the UK in 2004.
I first started to simplify our lives because of lack of money but this grew into simplifying to live a better life and to make less of an impact on our Earth. Last year i challenged myself to refrain from buying new manufactured clothing for 6 months and asked on my blog if anyone would be interested in joining me on my crazy adventure and this is how Wardrobe Refashion was born. The group blog is going strong and has a large following of Refashionistas. I'm proud that it has influenced people all over the world and proud of myself for not buying any new manufactured clothes for over a year now.

I try to be greener by the day by doing things such as reusing, buying local, buying in bulk, using canvas/cloth bags, buying used, switching off at the wall, using energy efficient globes, not having a car, saving grey water for my thirsty garden, changing to green energy, using cloth nappies and many more BUT there's always room for improvement and i plan to improve in all areas of my life.

You will find me sewing most days (clothes, bags, needle rolls etc), knitting and crocheting occasionally, cooking, reading, blogging and taking care of my girls.


Amber Clisura
clothing designer/fashion industry
oakland, ca, usa

I live with my kitten and boyfriend at "The Farm" in North Oakland, CA. I'm an eco-fashion designer and I work for Del Forte Denim I design organic premium women's jeans. I've got a degree in Fashion and Textiles from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and San Francisco. I'm a born and raised San Franciscan. I have over 200 photobooth strips of myself taken predominately at the Musee Mechanique in San Francisco. I believe in ghosts. I'm a Dutch Girl who understands that biking is always the best option and everything is more comfortable with clogs. I don't believe the way things are going now are the way things need to be. I think that my cat is one of the coolest people I know. I believe that growing my own veggies, fruit and eggs makes me a better person. Composting is hard and dirty work but I'm trying to believe it's all worth the effort. Sometimes I'm scared that even with all that I do it's not enough to offset me just being alive. I like to laugh really loud at inappropriate times.

Being part of Sew Green means the world to me because I've felt for years that people like us can be the new catalyst for change. I believe that things like this blog can really make people think differently. If that happens they might start acting differently. If that happens change will happen. I try every day to fall back in love with life.