eco brand: studio kimaya, building a community

DSC_2240.jpg

sophie planet is an eco entrepreneur with an alacritous mind + a charming french accent, and she’s telling me about her steamy morning hike through the lush woods of auroville, located in south india. sophie has moved to this small village, where she lives between serenity beach + sadhana forest.

hers is an unconventional story: this is the story of sophie’s serendipitous journey to a life of wellness, balance + ethical entrepreneurship.

auroville is an experimental town + utopian village that provides a milieu for material and spiritual awakening. and this is where sophie planet has come to live, and where she has built her ethical apparel brand kimaya from seed to sustainable garment.

sophie is recounting her first trip to india, a city that spoke to her in gray. she recalls stepping into the blistering heat + conspicuous pollution. she remembers thinking she couldn’t live here, but 15 years later, life spilled sophie right into india.

DSC_2243.jpg
The universe put me [in India] to push me away from my comfort zone - I’m grateful for that. Life pushes you beyond your limits every time there is a challenge.

sophie shares her youthful wow moments before creating her own eco fashion label kimaya: working for luxury fashion label burberry, having financial security, early morning walks to work through the metropolis + sunbeams of paris. at this time she wasn’t traveling much, at the horizon of her life stood her lone office work building.

sophie knew from a young age that she wanted to be a fashion designer. she would go on to study english literature before attending fashion school in paris. soon, she was working alongside her designer cousin, growing her small fashion brand, a brand built from scratch.

eventually sophie went on to work for other fashion labels; these big machines offered a life of structure, but she had the irksome feeling that there was no human connection, the focus was on money. this thought seemed perennially perched on her shoulders.

It’s really important to be connected, to foster good relationships. I know the names of the children of each worker, where they go to holiday: it’s really a collaboration, a co-creation.

and then one fateful day, while helping a friend tend to her paris bookshop, she found herself surrounded by shelves plump with spiritual books + a solicitous client who highly recommended a masseuse. the masseuse highly recommended a trip to pondicherry, india. and before long, sophie was on a plane headed to the seaside city in india. there she stepped wittingly into an ashram to meditate, and this is where she had the distinct feeling that she was home. she traveled further south, and upon her arrival to auroville, she thought, “what do i have to do to live here?”

she then wondered, “why am i asking this question?” she was quite happy in paris. but on the flight home, she found herself crying. back in france, she soon understood the tear shed. while at reike, she learned that these were cleansing tears, tears allowing her to shed the old + welcome the new, “i had something to do. the reason was because i was saying goodbye to my old life and a new life was coming. change was coming.”

KIMAYA.jpg

it was like a bottle had washed up on the shore of sophie’s life, and inside was the answer to her own spiritual awakening. how do we listen to our intuition when it seems to be guiding us into the unknown, a new direction, yet speaking to us so clearly?

sophie tells her story easily, as if narrating the unfolding of her favorite rom-com. it makes me believe that we are all capable of sculpting our lives exactly as we imagine in the far recesses of our mind.

a determined sophie booked a return flight to india, “the idea was to see that i didn't feel the same way, but i felt exactly the same and it was even stronger, it was home. i had to follow my intuition because i have very strong intuition. my intent was not just to live but to enjoy the present moment.”

after making the decision to move her life to auroville, and taking time to settle in, she eventually knew it was the right time to start her own ethical fashion brand. “every step is important. i have met wonderful people who were the right people [to start this eco business]: the right weavers, the right pattern makers.”

It’ important to take pleasure and love what we are doing. Then everything flows. Gratitude changes the energy around you. You feel it in you and in the product.

kimaya now employs 12-15 people, all locals, including sewers + batik dyers. sophie has created a community that envelopes her workers. “i know everyone by name. i want to empower the workers. i want to recreate something like a family.” 

kimaya uses local textiles from regional farms, “humane fabrics” including organic cotton, banana fibers + bamboo, and all clothing tags are made by an ashram in pondicherry using recycled t-shirts. sophie herself designs classic, feminine jumpers; wide-legged pants in calming hues; liquid tops, soft + flowing like the energy she speaks of. she shares emphatically, “design is so important, if it's not beautiful, men + women won't be moved to change their habits towards clean fashion.” 

“it’s important to do things with consciousness. it’s important to take care of the planet and its resources as well as the people with whom we are working. gratitude changes the energy around you. you feel it in you and in the product. it’s all about co-creation and connection to people.”

by the end of our conversation, i’m a bit mesmerized by sophie, much the way she was spellbound while sitting in the ashram, years ago, in india for the first time. i ask her how she balances it all: life, a burgeoning business, self care?

“meditation every day helps me to be grounded and connected to life and people. i also take a walk in the forest every morning and evening. it’s important because it gives love to my body and it gives me energy.”  

it seems to make perfect sense that sophie has come to live in auroville, on the outskirts of sadhana forest; sadhana means you are using everything as a tool for your well being. and i think this is exactly what sophie is doing, putting her energy into her community + its people, and giving the world products prepared with love, care + positive energy.


eco mode: wearing gifted kimaya organic cotton top with vintage skirt and thrifted jacket. check out my instagram to see how i style the fab banana silk shorts + this wear-with-anything top.

eco beauty: akamai basics for good clean fun

DSC_1919.jpg

try as you may, you’ll be hard pressed to find a gal who loves and lauds the benefits of botanical facial oils + natural skin oils more than me. akamai basics is an american, indie + small-batch skincare company, founded by vincent cobb and marni shymkus, and they’re bringing to life clean + green products for boys and girls who love the simple things in life.

akamai makes one of my new favorite vegan, cruelty-free and sustainably sourced face + skin oils, skin fuel.

i’ve learned over the years that oils can seem quite alien as a bath + beauty product; we cook with coconut, avocado and olive oil, but did nature intend for us to use these vitamin + mineral-packed oils on our faces + bodies? the answer is unequivocally yes!

skin and facial oils go beyond the daily duties of a traditional moisturizer, my friends: oils heal, repair and regenerate skin. of course, not all oils are created equal! a well-crafted oil supports the skin’s bicrobiome and the body’s ecology by delivering key nutrients to your cells and body. oils deliver peace and harmony by balancing the pH of your skin. you’ll find only natural, organic + unrefined ingredients at akamais.

weird science

We know far too many people who have died of cancer, or who have battled and won, at great cost to themselves and their family. While a small percentage are genetic, 85% of all cancer is caused by the environment and lifestyle choices.
— Vincent Cobb and Marni Shymkus

here i’m going to hit you with a little science, stay with me: the chemicals and synthetic ingredients that can be found in conventional, big-brand moisturizers have negative effects on our bodies, both short-term effects like psoriasis, and long-term effects like endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, birth defects and cancer. if you can’t figure out what’s listed on an ingredient label, put the bottle down and step slowly away from the shelf. parabens, pthalates, sulfates {foaming agents, preservatives, dyes and synthetic fragrances}: you don’t need them and you don’t want them. parabens, a preservative found in makeup, shampoo, conditioners and lotions, mimic the hormone estrogen and have been found in breast tumor tissue.

just as ingredients are the starting point for a great meal, they’re also the foundation of a fantastic and effective product. skin fuel has six simple ingredients: coconut, jojoba, argan and olive oil; trace mineral/fulvic acid concentrate {for proper cellular metabolism}; and rosemary essential oil for a soothing and aromatic experience.

the oil

akamai's skin fuel is like a protein smoothie for the skin. it’s the first product i reach for after a shower, and the one i want by my side when i’m traveling because it does it all. i use it to moisturize my face, my hands and legs. fun tip: mix it with your fave lotions for a rich, hydrating experience + for the perfect amount of body glow. just a touch adds a healthy shine to my hair. i also swipe a bit across my lips as a light lip balm.

the toothpaste

i’ve been brushing my pearly whites with the akamai mineral toothpaste. first thing’s first: it’s a natural, clay-based paste; the color of the paste might surprise you. it’s a gray hue. i do not shy away from the new; in fact i was quite intrigued. i love this formula and i offer one small caveat: it’s not as sweet as those you might have used, so keep that in mind. i personally love it. i don’t like to wake up and have a slosh of extra sweet in my mouth. like all products in my green routine, i do rotate for variation. this paste will remain in the mix!

the bar soap

i really do love shampoo bars. i love any company that thinks outside the bottle. this is a 3-in-1 product: a shampoo bar that can also be used as a soap bar, and a shaving oil. i use this as a facial cleanser and shampoo. it’s grrreat for traveling. think no-spill magic. as a gentle reminder, i always use a conditioner along with a soap bar for best results {this combo is best for my parched hair + scalp}. this product adds volume to my hair, which i quite like on dry, winter days. i just ordered these as stocking stuffers because everyone deserves good hair days!

my goal is not to slow down the natural and beautiful results of aging, but rather to look and feel healthy, my very best every day. akamai allows me to feel confident about what i'm putting on my body each day. check out akamai for some of that natural glow.

don’t forget the tip: from no more dirty looks, “awareness about cosmetics [and personal care product] ingredients is on the rise. all of a sudden it’s ‘sulfate-free’ this and ‘paraben-free’ that. as consumers get savvier, so do cosmetics companies. in response to the chatter, many companies are reformulating to omit one or two of the ingredients that have become buzzwords, and then they mount advertising campaigns bragging about it. that is what we call marketing—but leaving out one ingredient and replacing it with a lesser-known or chemically similar substitute is not necessarily what we call clean. neither is boasting about its absence when your products are packed with a dozen other dirty chemicals.”

often healthy skin is a result of what we put in and on our bodies. follow the environmental working group to learn more about the important work that they do to keep citizens healthy and informed. akamai donates 1% of all sales to ewc to support their mission to empower people to live healthier lives.

eco mode: wearing boxy tee made of organic cotton from wildlife works with earrings from fair trade label abel. hair by akamai and facial oil by akamai.

eco boutique: by the sea

IMG_1661-18_curves28.jpg

i hear an unfamiliar sound in the background. "what's that?" i ask. "wild chickens," comes the answer.

when kathryn letson, founder of eco lifestyle brand by the sea, decided she wanted to see change in her life, she really meant it. over ten years ago she made a decision, and like a tide washing over her life, every aspect would be affected, her entire life eventually transformed.

this new life would prove to be a slower life, a greener life, and a happier life.

sometimes we are catapulted onto a new path suddenly, other times change happens over a life span, and sometimes life puts everything into a blender for us, and we have to decide which direction this new mix of events is pointing us towards. for me, the collusion of slow fashion + plant-based eating that set me on the path to wellness; for kathryn, it was a decision to leave a lucrative career in new york within the fast-fashion industry, to embrace a new life in a new locale, and to build a sustainable company from the ground up.

this brand is a design + aesthetic experience awaiting your participation. this is by the sea

"there are places that you're called to," kathryn is telling me from her home in hawaii.

i couldn't agree more.

IMG_1625-10.jpg

island living suits kathryn. she was only eleven when she first experienced the lush landscape of hawaii with her grandmother, but the memory stayed with her. later in life, when contemplating a move, it seemed like the perfect milieu to start anew. it's this backdrop that influences her relaxed, feminine line of fair trade, handmade apparel + home goods for free spirits. 

this summer while i was road tripping through france, i had one thought on repeat in my mind: i'd love a white, billowy dress for long days of exploring under the sun, a crisp little number for sandy days at the beach or park days with friends.

my mind had conceived of an ethereal white dress made of organic cotton*, made by happy hands. it's exactly at this time that an unexpected connection occurred with by the sea, a line of beautiful, ethically-produced home goods and a gorgeous selection of organic cotton summer dresses including a flowing, ivory frock, exactly like the one i imagined: a handcrafted marvel.

when my inner self is in alignment, then my outer world starts to align, too.

from the beginning, kathryn aspired to be more than a brand offering beautiful apparel; she wanted to create a company in which the process of making clothing + textiles was healthy for everyone involved. she shares, "when my inner self is in alignment, then my outer world starts to align, too."

kathryn follows the tenets of sacred commerce, an idea that embraces choice + responsibility at its core and a belief that every person is valued throughout the supply chain. "everyone has a job, and that job is important. there is no hierarchy in sacred commerce," she shares. not only is she taking care of her workers, she's also tending to the needs of her customers.

"fast fashion is like mcdonald's for the skin," kathryn ruminates. she offers the reminder that what we place on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream {this is called dermal absorption}. hence, kathryn built a business that's akin to farm-to-table cuisine. she sources organic textiles + her entire supply chain is transparent, considering all people involved in production, from the harvesters, to the weavers + the sewers.

now, here's my favorite part about kathryn's story {because i love learning how people come to adopt their dreams, how they choose one path in life over another, like adopting a puppy at the pound}: i wanted to know how exactly does one come to a decision with so many wonderful options, all of them barking, begging for your attention?

i asked myself, ‘what would you like to do?’ i decided i was going to create my own job based on my passions.

i ask her how she came to this path as an eco entrepreneur, as a fashion designer, as a social media manager + marketer, as the person who seemingly does it all. and i love her answer, "i asked myself, 'what would you like to do?' i decided i was going to create my own job based on my passions. i am the prince of fashion: he did everything, and i do everything."

it makes sense that this multi-tasking woman has created so many multi-tasking items in her line, including charming, hand-blocked sheets. my bedding is all white, and the only color i've brought into my living space exists in the shape of green plants + antique books of varying muted tones. adding printed bedding is like adding a bouquet of flowers to any room. i love the subtle color palette + intricate patterns of each handmade piece.

by the sea's organic cotton sheets are made with a tight weave, making it a hardy companion for picnics {as a picnic blanket, it's big enough to fit all your friends + all those healthy eats too}, and its pretty enough to be hung as a curtain or used as a tablecloth {which i love to do}. the pillowcases are made with a lighter cotton fabric; they are ever so soft, and the blankets are light + deliciously cozy: all bedding is made with masterly craftsmanship, natural dyes + exquisite details.

in addition to women's wear + accessories, the line has grown to include woven + knits, as well as bedding + kitchen accessories {all fair trade items, all gots certified + some made with recycled cotton}. they have the loveliest clutches + wristlets {i have declared my love for clutches big + small here, but i'll say it again: i do a travel pouch love}. these clutches are perfect for artists + adventurers on the go: organize anything + everything in their colorful or monochromatic options.

{don't forget the tip} *conventional products + clothing carry toxins that are absorbed through our skin and can negatively impact our health + the health of the workers producing the goods {the chemicals in coloring dyes, scouring agents + industrial detergents have been linked to skin rashes, hormone disruption + cancer}. kathryn's entire line is made using only natural, non-toxic textiles + dyes. 

greening your home can seem like a daunting task if done all at once; take your time + choose one category or room at a time {green bath + beauty products, household cleansers, home goods}. for me, bedding was very important, and finding a label that has items in every category makes life that much easier. hop on over to by the sea for green living options for every room in your house. 

{images by cats like scotch}

 

eco boutique: fair + simple

on a clear fall day i've been chatting via phone with molly acord, the proprietress of fair + simple, an online eco + ethical boutique. molly has a discerning voice, the way some people have keenly observant eyes; she laughs easily the way one does when discoursing with an old friend; her answers are thoughtful, reflective - not like the words that cartwheel from my mouth when i'm excited about any + all projects in my life.

behind molly's calm demeanor is all the energy + exuberance that comes along with a passion project born of the heart. i find that before my conversation with molly is over, i will have learned many new things about life, self-love and how good always prevails {and a little bit about mr. rogers, too}.

this is fair + simple, the place you want to go for eco gifts that truly have a positive impact on people + planet. welcome to molly's neighborhood:

the book, about a woman’s call towards simplicity and generosity, prompted me to ask important questions about my consumer habits: is this purchase negatively or positively impacting someone?

i'm always fascinated by the journeys that lead us onto the road of sustainability, slow living and compassionate choices. i first ask molly about the initial impetus for this e-retail space offering gift cards + goods that are handmade by artisans across the world, by companies with social missions furthering education, job training and counseling for marginalized people.

"i read jen hatmaker's 7: an experimental mutiny against excess," molly shares, "the book, about a woman's call towards simplicity and generosity, prompted me to ask important questions about my consumer habits: is this purchase negatively or positively impacting someone?" a period of discovery and education ensued with a large learning curve.

she sought information about the production of seemingly innocuous items including household goods + apparel, querying as to where the items were made + by whom? she then began to engage retailers + shopkeepers in a non-interrogative way, "tell me more about your principles," she would inquire politely, with increasing frequency.

and then, like a bolt of lightning, molly was struck with the idea, "it fell from the sky!" molly recounts laughing; she is trying to piece together the remnants of a hazy, yet delightful memory in which she knew she wanted to create an online sustainable shop. her dream was to make gift giving simple + impactful. "today," molly confides, "a little piece of my heart goes into each package."

i believe every person has value even though we don’t know them. when we shop ethically, it’s a way to say, ‘i value that person.’

beyond fair trade wages, every company that molly has included in her online shop targets employment to artisans + marginalized people, coupling it with tools + resources, to create opportunities for self-sufficiency. "i really see value in the sustainable alleviation of poverty through jobs. education is also a major component of change in society, especially with women. when we purchase ethically, it's a way to say, 'i value that person.' i believe every person has value, even though we don't know them."

every product at fair + simple is linked to a good cause; this is truly what gift giving was meant to be:

fair + simple vert.jpg

1/ hammered brass + druzy cuff: artisan crafted baubles. jimani collections bridges the gap between conscious customers and artisan communities in kenya through high quality products and beautiful design. artisans in impoverished areas are impacted through education in business, dependable employment, and the opportunity for mentorship.

2/ turkish cotton fouta towels: soft, slender + absorbent towels {perfect for globetrotters}.  education + more is a non profit organization aimed at alleviating poverty through job creation and educational sponsorships in guatemala. as members of the fair trade federation, they work very closely with talented artisan groups of weavers in guatemala.

3/ hand-poured soy candles: vegan, earth friendly + free from chemical fragrances. thistle farms employs women from their residential program who are survivors of addiction, abuse, prostitution, and trafficking. their natural bath and body line serves as a platform to fund the residential program and offer vocational training to the residents. their quality product “bears witness that love is the most powerful force for change in the world”.

4/ olive wood cutting board: every boy + girl needs a quality cutting board. badala is a non-profit company that employs women in africa with fair wages. in addition, the profits from the sales of these fair traded goods are focused on educational scholarships for children and micro-financing to help these women start their own businesses.

everybody has stress. when i am discouraged, i say true things to myself: it’s effective. i tell myself that my business is growing and that it’s good.

for all those expecting entrepreneurs wondering how to put their dreams into action, i like to hold molly up as a model of what one person can do. as a mother of three {9, 6 + 3 1/2}, a wife, and a small business owner {with a recent cross-country move under her belt}, i'm truly mystified by molly's infinite pool of moxie + motivation. at one point, i tell her i'm proud of her, wondering aloud if i sound like a mom; molly tells me i sound like mr. rogers. suddenly i've become both my mom + fred rogers in one fell swoop.

i am curious about work/family balance + broach the subject of stress, pondering how she manages full days and brimming nights.

molly is pensive, then her candid response comes, "everybody has stress. when i am discouraged, i say true things to myself: it's effective. i tell myself that my business is growing and that it's good." {full disclosure: i loved these words of wisdom so much that i have adopted this technique.} below is a list of molly's favorite ways to relieve tension, which is a wonderful reminder at this time of year to take deep breaths + tend to your hearts.

a little self-love goes a long way:
1. hike or walk
2. exercise
3. good nights rest
4. quiet drive
5. bath
6. time with a quality friend or two
7. healthy, warm meal
8. straightening up and/or cleaning
9. game night with my family
10. recreational reading
11. writing a list {and then crossing stuff off!}
12. drinking a glass of water
13. breathing
14. meditating/praying
15. journaling
16. listening to music
17. turning off my phone

what's next on the agenda for fair + simple? f+s is working with a beautiful refuge to bring to life an in-house design line for children will soon be blooming over f+s. handmade items for little ones 3-7 years of age including fair trade, handmade pants, rompers, headbands and {wait for it} dresses with pockets! the color scheme includes olive green, chambray blue, gray {calming colors you might expect to find in nature}, and black tees because, well, stains. these ditties will be available for your little rascals this winter, so all you fab mama + papa bears should be on the lookout.

{don't forget the tip} i like to ask eco entrepreneurs where they shop. molly likes to head out to consignment shops in her neck of the woods with her tots in tow, not all at once she cautions. here's a lovely blog post by molly on how to teach + involve your children in responsible shopping. i absolutely love her ideas, which consequently, can be used by folks of all ages. 

for a list of 8 of my fave eco + ethical online boutiques, skip on over here. if you're shopping this holiday season, try to shop small. until next time, stay green dear hearts!

{images via fair + simple // artwork by ev}

eco brand: penh lenh, from cambodia, with love

along the coastline of the the gulf of thailand lies the country of cambodia. with its lush landscapes + historic temples, cambodia is a land of dizzying beauty, but it is also one of southeast asia's poorest nations.

over 15,000 women in phnom work in drug or sex-related industries, often with the hope of providing financial support to their families.

fair trade + ethical accessory label penh lenh {meaning "whole"} seeks to combat these industries by providing education, vocational training + career opportunities to women overcoming great obstacles. each woman is employed as an artisan, creating unique jewelry + apparel while earning a living wage.

i've long had an affinity for tassels, but this is exactly what i imagine tassel heaven to look like: variations of smart earrings with shoulder-sweeping tassels, conservative + coquettish tassels, tassels in beautiful, calming hues + rich, saturated colors and handcrafted necklaces with tassels, too. oh, and the brilliant women of penh lenh are also creating dainty bracelets.

are you ready to tassel?

from our friends at penh lenhserving the marginalized and often abused women of phnom penh gives penh lenh the chance to illustrate messages of kindness, peace and hope where those things often lay dormant.

it is our mission to pour 100% of our profits back into building new and effective methods of teaching and caring for our artisans.

we are deeply committed to changing the world by starting from within. weekly, our team members are offered academic courses that cover an array of topics ranging from nutrition and physical wellness, to female empowerment, english classes, and professional + budgeting skills. it is our belief that from knowledge springs strength, and from strength springs reform.

watching our artisans take pride in their accomplishments, professionally, personally and academically, is penh lenh's greatest joy. each morning we wake up hopeful for what's to come and grateful for what we've built.

how do you take your tassels? check out to of my favorite from penh lenh with these dramatic tassels in teal and this coy pair in a pop of rouge

is exactly the color you need to add a little style to your everyday wear {perfect for work, dinner parties or a leisurely stroll through the park; i've worn mine to each}.

until next time, stay green dear hearts!