“StyleWise is a place to consider our attachment to the things we buy, learn more about the people and processes behind products, and work together to make the world a little bit better, step by step.” -Leah Wise
When did you become interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
It’s been a real process over time. Right after I graduated from college I worked at a Christian craft store. It had this ideal of having better values than a typical store. Every Thursday was truck day and we would unpack boxes of things and as I put things on the shelf, I noticed “Made in Haiti” and “Made in China.” And there was one particular product that was this metal frog and it said “artisan-made” on it, but we were selling it for $3.99 or something. That’s when the cognitive dissonance hit of “wait, someone is making this.” I realized they probably weren’t getting paid very much. It made me angry as someone who grew up with a Christian worldview. This company was projecting that view but not living those values of caring about everyone and that was the tipping point for me.
Did you start your blog right after that?
I started it about a year later.
And what was that process like? Had you done writing and photography before or was that all new for you?
I’ve been on Live Journal since I was in Middle School. I started blogging very, very early on. I had a style blog in college but it was just a conventional style blog. I think I had like 40 readers and it wasn’t particularly successful. That was when style blogging took off for a lot of people so I liked being part of that community. The reason I started a blog for ethical fashion was because I didn’t know anyone else talking about it, and I had no idea how to get resources. I thought “well, if I just throw something out into the world, maybe I can get connected with people who can help me figure out the best way forward." There is a huge community out there that I’ve been able to find through my blog.
Were there particular brands that were the “original brands” that you discovered when you first started blogging about sustainable fashion?
I started looking up corporate responsibility standards for a lot of larger brands because that was the easiest thing to find. That helped me get some of my sense of the types of standards to look for. From there, I found Mata Traders which is a Chicago-based fair trade store. I think at the time, in 2013 or so, they were one of the biggest American fair trade companies that were producing clothing. And then there’s 10,000 Villages of course which a lot more people know about since they have brick and mortar stores all over the country. It was good to have companies that included education in their marketing.
How has the landscape and community of Charlottesville in particular influenced your blog?
I moved from Tallahassee, Florida, which is a much larger city. In that sense, you don’t get that tight-knit community. You don’t have this sort of encouragement to just start talking and collaborating with people and I feel like in Charlottesville you do have that. I worked on the Downtown Mall the first few years that I lived here. I worked at a fair trade coffee shop, which was just accidental. Just being able to talk with a lot of people about deeper issues right off the bat was really encouraging. The advocacy and pride for local art and local food all ties into that consciousness.