Conscious Shopping

by Gena on June 10, 2010

Happy Thursday! I cannot wait to put this week to bed.

Those of you who keep up with my Twitter feed know that I write a weekly blog post for the very awesome Whole Living Daily blog. This blog, which is a companion to Whole Living Magazine online, features a slew of daily entries on green living, food, yoga, mindfulness, organization, stress management, and nutrition, all from experts in those fields. It’s updated every few hours, and very fun to read.

My post this week, which you can find here, was on a hot-button topic: orthorexia. I’m sure that you’ve all read plenty about this “new” eating disorder, and most of you probably have opinions on it. I have a great deal to say about it myself; my presentation at the Healthy Living Summit this summer will touch on some of my thoughts, and it will offer practical suggestions for coping with the condition. This post was to-the-point summary of my feelings, so I encourage you to check it out and chime in (here or there) with your feedback!

Let’s get to another topic: shoes. Though it’s often assumed that a young, savvy NYC woman will inevitably love footwear, I don’t fit the bill. If I happen to have some spending money for my closet, I will choose clothes over shoes any day (in part because shoes that don’t fall into the “sensible” category really hurt my footsies). I therefore purchase new shoes only once or twice yearly, and usually out of necessity. Last week, though, I stumbled on an online boutique called Kind, and promptly fell in love with these guys:

Summery espadrilles from Marais. Aren’t they cute? On sale, too! They came in a sweet package with a handwritten note (thank you, Kind boutique!):

They fit like a glove:

In comparison with my habits as an eater, my habits as a shopper fall short of highly evolved consciousness. Here’s a list of things I do at least a few times yearly:

  • I purchase mass-produced clothing from giant retailers
  • I purchase items made abroad and with unethical labor practices
  • I purchase cheap items that are often donated to thrift shops a year later

These aren’t habits I’m proud of, and my discomfort with them is growing.

There are also some things I do right. I do have many sturdy, quality pieces of clothing that have lasted me years; I’ve cared for and cherished the same Theory work pants, for example, for eight years, and I love my favorite jeans so much that I’ll patch and mend them countless times before ever parting with them. My favorite jeans have been in my closet for over a decade now, and still get plenty of wear. I make an effort to support independent boutiques and vintage stores whenever I can. I have boots re-soled each year, rather than throwing them out, and I do try harder than ever to invest in high-quality, timeless garments, rather than throwing away money on trendy and flimsy pieces.

This year, it’s my goal to not only shop more consciously, but also to shop with a stronger vegan ethos. As I’ve mentioned before, finding my way to vegan lifestyle habits has taken me longer than it did to immerse myself in vegan food. But this year, I’ve made an effort never to purchase new leather or down; I do purchase pre-worn items in thrift stores and on eBay (which explains why so many of my shoes are scuffed up, a fact my mother notes with admonition). In the coming year, my goal is to begin supporting more vegan and eco-friendly designers; I want to set an example with what I wear.

I also want to support fledgling vegan designers with my dollar. Take Marais. Their shoes are made in the USA and designed by industrious young women who live locally (right here in Brooklyn). Most of their designs use cloth and faux leather (which means that, though they’re not a fully vegan label, they are offering consumers many vegan options), and they price their shoes at a decent price point. I couldn’t possibly feel better about supporting them.

I’m not a fully enlightened shopper, and there’s much room for improvement. But I’m evolving. And I like it.

I encourage you to check out Marais and other independent vegan designers. Tell me what you find! And tell me more about your shopping habits. How would you describe your “consciousness” as a shopper?

Have a great day!!

xo

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather June 10, 2010 at 10:39 am

Those shoes are fantastic and oh so perfect for summer. I have a decent time shopping consciously: I purchase approximately 70% of my wardrobe from thrift stores and have been doing that for nearly a decade. I do still shop at Target and Old Navy and cringe every time I look at the tag to see it was made in [insert country here] and image the women who slaved over a machine in a hot factory to make it. Being a conscious shopper comes down to the issue that nobody ever wants to talk about: class. When I need an item for a job interview or can’t find a pair of jeans in my size at a thrift store, I can’t go to a local boutique and drop $100 on a brand that represents a more ethical approach, so going to whatever chain store is just what I do. I’ve never had extra spending money to pay more than $30-40 on any particular item of clothing, and it’s something that stems from the way I was raised. My mother made almost all of my clothes with hand-me-downs from my older cousins, taking their outfits and transforming them into something else. When she didn’t have the time for that, we went to Goodwill or garage sales to jumpstart my budding adolescent wardrobe. I wish more people would thrift for things, or even places like Buffalo Exchange or Plato’s Closet are a great alternative to Forever21 or H&M. It’s both environmentally sound AND lighter on the wallet. Can’t go wrong with that.

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Regina February 22, 2012 at 9:20 pm

It’s funny I find myself feeling the same way. It is easier to give up the food than the lifestyle. The food is easy to replace. The lifestyle is a process especially as a woman. I love shoes and handbags. However my purses live in my closet because I don’t feel comfortable bringing out something that I now condemn. It makes me feel hypocritical. I’ve started to see my shoes, my purses just the way I see meat: this used to be someone. And I can’t wear someone. It creeps me out. So the process is difficult. But with each item I replace the better I feel. Like a weight lifted off of me. I get upset when people think I’m crazy, or call me a hippie or in general think it doesn’t matter. But the I think that everyone thought like that at one time or another when someone was being oppressed. “Crazy people want freedom.” “Crazy people want to vote.” So I have to proceed with patience and know there are others out there like myself who know why it’s not crazy.

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Krystle June 10, 2010 at 10:40 am

That’s awesome!

I try to buy only vintage or thrift store clothes too. When I need to buy something new I would definitely love to support vegan designers. The only vegan shoes I know of are from toms.com. Please share links as you find other designers.

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Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) June 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

I am alive and unpacking but had to say, cute shoes! I am not as on board w/ vegan clothing, shoes, health and beauty products, etc. as I wish I was. I don’t go out of my way to buy products that are toxic or totally full of chemicals (which is slightly different than vegan, I know), but sometimes certain “mainstream” products work better than the holistic ones, which are usually twice the cost. Go figure. So I am conscious but also not afraid to admit to using conventional over “organic” say face cleanser.

Leather, fur, etc…I never buy it anymore! I do have some of each. Leather belts, shoes etc that I’ve had forever and fur, one jacket from the 1950s that I found at a thrift store 10 yrs ago.

Off to tackle my day. Thanks for your comment this morning :)
xo

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Chloe June 10, 2010 at 11:04 am

Hi Gena,

Do you think it would be possible to arrange a video of your Healthy Living Summit presentation? For those of us who can’t be there in person? Hope so!

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Kenzie (HealthyPurpose) June 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

i dont by sustainable things..but i do buy higher quality merchandise. I could do better, but for now I try and work within my budget and sustainable food is more important than sustainable clothes…for now. i hope one day i can afford to do both!

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Ameena June 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

Marais has beautiful stuff!

I am not doing a good job buying sustainable clothing but now that I am in my 30′s I have a good sized wardrobe and rarely buy anything at all. I’ve had the same BCBG pants for 8 years and they look fantastic still! So at least I bought quality stuff that will last a while.

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Dianne June 10, 2010 at 11:32 am

gorgeous shoes! I might go buy some right now!
I’ve recently had a hard time finding good dance shoes as a vegan- Capezio will custom-make non-leather character shoes, but they told me it might be $300 to $400! It is certainly frustrating to be kind.

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Laura June 10, 2010 at 11:54 am

I’ve been trying to avoid leather in my purchases for some years, but never 100%. I have beautiful red vegan boots I got last year but I’m not sure they make any kind of statement (other than the $ dropped), as I don’t think anyone can tell they aren’t leather! When anyone complements me on them I say, “thanks, they’re vegan!” as though that were what had elicited the comment :)
I love clothes shopping and while I think I have an average size wardrobe I do feel guilty that most of it does not come from ethical suppliers. Like organic food (used to be), I think there has to be a tipping point reached before there are mass producers of organic ethical clothing in a more average price range. In the mean time when I ask for Christmas presents I often ask for things like vegan shoes or clothes from Whole Foods or an organic online retailer.

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Shannon June 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

The leather question is something that I have been wrestling with recently. When I went vegan five years ago, I threw myself into it whole-heartedly and stopped buying leather and other animal products. However, one thing about non-leather shoes that bothers me is that I find I can usually only get one season out of them before they fall apart. Six months ago I was gifted a pair of leather pumps and I decided to keep them. I have worn them very often since then and they still look brand new. Not only that, but they are far more comfortable than any other high heels I own. (By the way, the shoes are a brand from which I have purchased several non-leather shoes over the years and never had them last this long.) So I am not sure what is worse: buying leather shoes that will last years or buying non-leather shoes that I have to replace every season? Replacing shoes so often feels wasteful and not at all eco-friendly. Are there shoes out there that are high enough quality to become long-term members of my wardrobe but that are not made of leather? Are they affordable?

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claire June 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I grew up the daughter of a stylist and interned for a fashion mag so to say I am an always conscious consumer is far from the truth, unfortunately. I have really always tried to go for quality over quantity, so that may be my best shopping habit. Since I do eat plant based, I too wish to live more plant based. We have so many vintage leather pieces (and even some fur) in my family/home and I sometimes wear my old leather boots I bought in Amsterdam that have been re-soled, and carry a few-year old designer leather purse that was a gift. I do love and want to try and support more vegan designers when I have more personal income but I have yet to really do so. I have a pair of Marais boots I wore this winter though and love them! It is great to find quality vegan goods. One of my favorite nyc stores is Kaight. Have you checked it out?

Thanks for this post Gena. I also loved the Whole Living article and feel sometimes I struggle to not seem too healthy (like yesterday when my boyf and I searched at more than one grocery store for one organic bell pepper so I could make him “cheesy” kale chips). I knew he really wanted them but we never found one so conventional it was. It is hard knowing which fruits and veg are the most pesticide heavy though and I struggle to not tell the family when they are making poor decisions (in my mind) by buying non-organic produce that would be on the dirty dozen list.

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Bevin June 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I pretty much only get things on sale! Most of my favorite clothing is really old, I have jeans from high school that I still wear!

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eric June 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I like the goal of supporting more vegan and eco-friendly designers. That’s on the top of my list as well :)

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Christine (The Raw Project) June 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Love the shoes! Great post and improving my shopping habits is something I’ve been focusing on lately too. One of my newest purse craves are Harveys Seatbelt Bags – vegan, made in the USA and stylish. Funny you should mention clothes age, I pulled a top from my closet today to wear that is 12 years old. Hey it still looks goods, fits great and is easy to maintain. Anyway, that’s great that you’re strengthening eco-friendly/vegan shopping, something I need to do as well.

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fartygirl June 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Totally checking out that Kind store. I’m like you – not a shoe person, mainly because most shoes hurt. But those little green froggies are really cute.

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jenny (green food diaries) June 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm

gena, i am so, so, so happy you posted on conscious shopping. i’ve been more and more aware of the “greenness” of the companies i buy from. gone are those days when i used to consume like crazy (a mere 2 years ago) when i would raid h&m for the cheapest made-in-china finds as a first year university student. i HAD to have those cheap made-in-indonesia tshirts because OBVIOUSLY the more clothes i had, the better (though i would never consider myself at all a fashionable or fashion-concious person). after i started recovering from my eating disorder, i didn’t buy clothes for longest time, and the first time i’ve bought a new piece of clothing (as opposed to thrift store) was just last week, for the first time in a year and a half. i’ve developed these habits, and like you, i’m still evolving.

1) i consume waaaay less clothing (and makeup, cosemetics, accessories), and only buy what i need. my friend and i were talking about eating disorders (her mother has lived with it for 20+ years) and we decided that people tend to consume at massive amounts when they are insecure, especially about their bodies. we came to the conclusion that people just need to go for a run and stretch instead of buying clothes that they feel will better fit them or “cover” them up. this fits my idea of a healthy lifestyle, which is becoming more and more vegan daily.
2) recently, i have decided to never buy leather (i own one leather belt, which i’ve had for 6 years, however, and two-three wool sweaters). i always thought fur was ridiculous so that’s no problem.
3) the country of production is a big one for me. i try really hard not to buy anything new that was probably made with cheap labour and with unsustainable methods.
4) i always go for the higher quality item that will last me a very long time. i’ve been buying better and better quality everything (cheap tupperware to stronger tupperware to metal lunchboxes).
5) i buy secondhand everything, including books, clothes, and pick up perfectly working furniture/household goods that are abandoned on the street i live on when people move out at the end of the month, especially during the summer. i’ve zero shame in picking up placemats or artwork or barstools or kitchen tools that people leave in front of their houses. i live in a pretty student ghetto area though, and i don’t think i can be the only one who does this.
6) i’ve started going to the two sustainable enviro- and specifically vegan shops in my neighbourhood when i need a new sweatshirt, wallet, notebook, face lotion. a lot of them are pricey, but that’s why i always browse like a hawk, in case there’s a sale. there’s a new and hip buy-the-pound vintage store for clothing in toronto and i want to make the trip there if i need something fancy or special, which might be soon because my wardrobe is so plain right now.

sorry for the giant comment… i guess i’ve a little too much time on this volunteer shift.

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Tonya June 10, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Gena,
Those are so cuuutttee! I am not a shoe person either. My husband has a larger collection than I do. Really. Mine are all very practical. Being in charge of family purchases, aka the kids, I do prioritize quality over quantity, but most of our shopping is done at thrift stores. One day searching for pants for our 6 year old, not easy at thrift stores, he asked, “why don’t we go to one of those stores like Grandma does?” He was referring to Target. I try really hard to avoid these main stream places. We own a local small business, so despite the higher price tag, we try to exclusively shop at other local businesses. I would like to support more vegan, but so few of our purchases consist of new merchandise. Thanks for all of your great writing, you are an inspiration.

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Annie@stronghealthyfit June 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Great post. I think it’s hard to shop ethically even when you want to, especially as a young adult in America. There is so much cheaply made clothing available to us. I default to TJMAXX because I got myself a credit card there and don’t really have money to be going shopping. I do care about the ethics of clothing production. Thanks for getting me thinking more about it! Those shoes are darling :-)

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mariannes June 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm

This is such an interesting post. I have been thinking about the same things for a while because I need a new pair of jeans. I am pretty particular about how I want them to look, but I also hate shopping. I’d rather buy them second hand, but that involves much more time looking for them, and as I said I hate shopping. So I’ve asked my friends if they have pairs they aren’t using. None of them are my size though. So here I am and I have to make a decision. Buy a new, or do the difficult second hand thing.

Living in Norway i find winter shoes to be the most difficult task. It is almost impossible to find a sturdy, warm pair that isn’t made of leather. Luckily this year I found some at vegetarian shoes in Brighton, UK. http://vegetarian-shoes.co.uk/

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mariannes June 11, 2010 at 12:24 am

Shoot! I just remembered you don’t like links in your comments- sorry about that! I just put it in if there were other euorpean readers with the same problems.

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Gena June 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

No worries. When I say I don’t like links. I think what I really mean is “Great post! You should check out this article/blog post I recently wrote on _________” I think it’s sort of in bad taste to do that. Obviously, there are always exceptions.

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melissa June 10, 2010 at 3:35 pm

we’ll have to go vintage shopping soon! excited to read your article!

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Rachel June 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I always strive to buy cruelty free clothing and other essentials, although i’m quite a big forever 21 and target fan. But i’m also a huge thrift store junkie and love second hand clothing. I’m able to get leather/wool/etc items without supporting the industry. I wish i lived near some vintage boutiques cause i LOOVE vintage clothes. Thankfully i don’t have a taste for a majority of modern clothes so a lot of my stuff is already old and i’m saving some cash cause of my picky taste haha ;)

and those shoes are adorable!!

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Noelle @ greenlemonade.com June 10, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Hi Gena. Love your work at Whole Living! I haven’t ventured much into vegan clothing yet myself, but I’ll keep an open mind. Love the color of your new shoes! So summer.
Noelle

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emptyjar June 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I actually have a lot of thoughts on orthorexia. Have been reading more into it. Plan to research it more in future and cover hot topics (when I start my new more focused blog).

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Brynne June 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm

LOVE the shoes!!!

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Lauren June 11, 2010 at 2:11 am

Hi Gena! I love those shoes, they look very cute on you!
I try to be a conscious shopper. Sometimes it can be pretty expensive so I’m always looking into new designers or products that are vegan, natural, and allergen free, but not too expensive. Thanks for sharing about Marais!

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Veronica (lifewithnature) June 11, 2010 at 9:28 am

Conscious clothing goes far beyong vegan and fair trade. I stumbled on alarming information regarding conventionally grown cotton, and I have to say it’s very scary! One of the most used pesticide in cotton can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through skin. And it’s also used in the US, and more than 12 states has been found to have some in their groundwater. (see post for more details)

Chapeau to bring more awareness on conscious clothing, and I have to say that your new vegan shoes are lovely!

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The Voracious Vegan June 11, 2010 at 9:33 am

Great post, Gena. I’m in the process of writing a post about sweat shops, so this was fantastically well timed.

I try as absolutely hard as possible to be an ethical and conscious consumer, but living where I do it can be ridiculously hard. There is almost no organic food which is heart breaking. I wish I could buy from small, local and sustainable producers, but that is literally not an option here in Saudi Arabia. Plus, everything has to be shipped in from overseas, tacking on a ton of food miles to every purchase. I comfort myself by knowing that I snap up anything organic and fair trade that I can, and that I always buy vegan, but it is still hard. I hate supporting industrial agriculture and companies that I know exploit their workers or harm the environment…but if I want a loaf of bread/bushel of bananas/sack of rice, I have absolutely no other option.

As for clothes, that is difficult for anyone living anywhere. Even clothes that say Made in the USA are not usually ethically acceptable. They are usually assembled in US free trade zones in other countries or in US territories abroad. These lands are under the jurisdiction of the US and can therefore read made in the USA, but they do not have to follow US labor laws or environmental controls.

And even when the clothes are actually literally made within the continental United States, they are often still in violation of human rights laws. They employ undocumented workers in order to use their ‘illegal’ status as leverage, work them over time with no pay, abuse them, etc, etc. It is very, very difficult to find clothes that are produced with any sort of respectable human rights record.

There are no thrift stores here either, so unfortunately that is not an option. There are a few great fair trade, ethically sourced manufacturers that I have found on-line so I can order clothes, but again, they would need to be shipped thousands of miles.

So…basically, I have not bought new clothes in 3 years. But, since I am down to 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of work out pants I need to go shopping ASAP. I’m still not sure what to do.

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Gena June 11, 2010 at 9:41 am

Tasha,

Wow, what a predicament. Can you shop for vintage via Ebay? I often do!

Gena

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The Voracious Vegan June 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I didn’t know I could buy vintage on e-bay! Wow, thank you so much, I can’t wait to look into this.

ps- I meant to say how much I loved your shoes, they are gorgeous and what a beautiful color. PERFECT for the summer!

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mrd June 11, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Thanks for this post Gena. I’ve always hated shopping and avoided it whenever possible, so I never gave much thought to shopping ethically. Now that I’ve had to develop a professional wardrobe, though, I’ve become more conscious of my consumption. I appreciate reading all the strategies from you and your readers about how to shop more ethically. One suggestion I’ll add to the list: host a clothing swap! I recently hosted one for a few of my girlfriends, and we all left with several “new” articles of clothing and without some of the clothes that have been sitting in the backs of our closets. Also, it was kind of fun to play dress-up for an afternoon!

Thanks again for bringing up this topic. Enjoy your weekend!

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Jackie (Peaces of Earth) June 12, 2010 at 12:24 am

I do buy vegan only clothing and shoes and try to go thrift store shopping as much as possible. That being said there’s definitely room for improvement when it comes to clothes shopping. I think this is the one area in my life that I’m not really careful about “voting with my dollar”. Thanks for this Gena, I’m learning a lot from everyones comments!

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bitt June 12, 2010 at 2:17 am

I love those vegan shoes! They sure have gotten more stylish in the 10 years since I first went vegan. I got rid of a lot of stuff like wool and leather but since I’ve dug into the supply of old wool sweaters (yes my parents are hoarders) from my teen years without guilt.

I’ve tried to work a lot harder on being a more ecofriendly consumer. Mainly I just don’t buy a lot of stuff. That’s the easiest way to do it. People in America are obsessed with changing clothes so often. I’d rather get something ethical that might be more expensive and wear it more often. The cost of these things is slowly coming down but it has a long way to go to be competitive.

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Kerry June 17, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Hi Gena,
I checked out the Marais website and they appear to use Kid (I assume baby goat skin) in a few of their ranges so not quite as vegan as we were lead to believe maybe???
Kerry

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Gena June 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Hey Kerry,

You are right–just read the fine print. Thanks for the observation! I went back to the post and edited to make clear that the label offers mostly vegan options, but isn’t exclusively vegan.

Gena

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Marichela May 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm

I love your honesty about your” not so conscious” purchasing habits. I too sometimes, buy stuff that is not ethically made, perhaps designing names clothes sold at consignment shops…my reasoning is that at least I am re-using them and I am not buying from the company directly, therefore encouraging consumerism from them. I am speechless about this shoes, they are simply beautiful. Awesome posting!

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I love the color of the sandals. :)

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