Fashion and Ethics: Why Should I Care and What Can I Do? by Katie Metzger

Look at the clothes you are wearing right now….Would you believe that 80-90% of what you are wearing was made in inhumane, unsustainable conditions? Well, the sad fact is, this is most often the case. Sweatshops are not a thing of the past. Buying high-end, well made clothing does not mean that it is made in different conditions than Old Navy or Walmart clothing. This is hard to swallow, and as someone who loves fashion it can seem too overwhelming to even think about. However, information and acknowledgement is where change begins. So why should you care and what can you, practically, do?

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

When discussing the issue of ethicality in the clothing industry, one may have images of sweatshops and child laborers in developing nations toiling all day in inhumane conditions. Although this image may seem extreme, it is a very real aspect of our current garment and fashion industries worldwide. Sweatshops from Bangladesh to Cambodia routinely pay their workers around $1.20 per day for their work. This is not a living wage, even in poverty stricken communities. The chronic underpayment of garment industry workers creates a cycle of poverty in already struggling communities, in turn contributing to other social issues resulting from poverty. Sweatshops are not only present in developing nations but are also a growing problem in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in recent years up to 11,000 U.S. based factories were cited as violating workers rights and not paying laborers a minimum wage. This shows the problem of human rights violations in textile and garment factories is not only an international problem but a domestic problem as well. Additionally, many companies touted as being ethically made have had numerous sweatshop scandals. When it comes to clothing ethicality we must learn to be active, not passive, consumers of information.

In 2006, a study was done by the American Sociological Association regarding the marketability of fair trade products; this study found that an overwhelming majority of consumers would pay $1-$5 more for items they know are made in an ethical way. Although large strides towards ethical production have been made in the coffee, chocolate and food industry, the clothing industry remains hugely underserved.

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

Ethical Clothing Brand: Same Thread

I am someone who loves fashion and clothing. The thrill of a new dress or pair of shoes is not lost on me. But I also recognize that, as a person who believes that each human bears the image and likeness of God, I am required to evaluate and educate myself about the impact of my purchases. As I’ve become more interested in ethicality and the fashion industry I keep asking myself, “What can I, practically, do?”. Not all of us can afford to shop exclusively from fair trade clothing brands, and more often the fashion in fair trade clothing is extremely lacking. So what small changes can we make to have an impact on the clothing industry?

1. Realize that someone is paying the price for your clothing…is it you or the garment worker? Jeans should cost more than $9.99. When you come across clothing that is extremely cheap ask yourself, “what kind of production practices lend itself to producing a $3 tank top”? The answer is usually pretty obvious.

2. Inform yourself about your favorite brands. It is well-known that companies such as Forever 21, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and Walmart have unethical supply chains. However, information is severely lacking for many brands. Do some digging online and if nothing is available, request information.

3. If you are unsure, shop local and second-hand. Finding local markets and boutiques supports your local economy and makes it easier to engage in conversation and get information. Also, second-hand and vintage shopping can be a cost-effective and fun way to go! Most of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe were found at great vintage stores. I love that shopping locally and second-hand gives me a unique wardrobe and personal style.

4. Start exploring and support fair trade fashion companies. As I stated earlier, finding fair trade clothing that is actually fashionable can be a struggle. Many fair trade clothing companies are either insanely expensive or produce clothing you wouldn’t want to wear. However, lately there has been a surge of new fashionable clothing companies that are competitively priced. Myself and my business partner are actually in the process of launching a fair  clothing brand, Same Thread, that produces fashion forward, ethical clothing that also provides economic opportunity to women in Thailand. I hope to be a part of the change towards ethically and reconciliation that I know will take place in the fashion industry. Join me!

Katie is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Same Thread, an ethical clothing brand for women, and is also on staff at Mustard Seed Associates and The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. She is also a native Pacific Northwesterner with a passion for social justice and bringing fair trade business practices into the mainstream. In 2014 she completed her MA in International Development at Northwest University, where she focused on social enterprise and it’s capacity to economically empower women. She has a background in event planning, marketing, design and retail production. On a typical Saturday she can be found cooking, sewing, drawing, listening to records, vintage shopping, sipping whiskey and playing with her puppies.


Encouraging Spirituality, Sustainability and Simplicity.

Igniting the Divine Spark

The Mustard Seed rule of life encourages spirituality, sustainability and simplicity and this year we invite you to join us in the exploration of these values.

Join Us For Lent

What are the ordinary everyday activities that make you feel close to God? Is it working in the garden, going for a run or washing the dishes. Lent is only two weeks away. It is a good season to reflect on what draws you into the loving presence of God and learn to nourish these experiences.

So get ready to return to your senses in Lent.

  1. If you live in the Seattle area, join us for a Lenten retreat and take time to reflect and refocus with us. Establish new spiritual disciplines for the season: February 16th at the Mustard Seed House.
  2. Contribute a post to the Godspace series Return to Our Senses in Lent.  We already have an exciting collection of posts ready and Kimberlee Conway Ireton is whetting our appetites with an ongoing series of articles on prayer. You might like to check out her latest contribution Eight Ways of Looking at Water 
  3. No matter where you are in the world you can join us in the study of Return to Our Senses and challenge your friends to participate too. The study guide can be downloaded free from the MSA website. The book itself is available at a special discount price ($15 for a single copy; $12 for 5 or more) until Easter. We hope you will share your experiences with us on Facebook or with a comment on one of the Lenten posts.

Join Us in Igniting the Divine Spark

MSA’s entrepreneurial business developer Cindy Todd has just been featured in this TED talk. Cindy’s business is featured by the last speaker, Jill Bamburg. starting at 01.03.50 We are excited to have her share her insights and expertise with us in the upcoming workshop Igniting the Divine Spark  March 16th at the Mustard Seed House.  Throughout February and March Cindy and others will post on the MSA blog about creative models that encourage sustainable, local business and the ways that God ignited the divine sparks that gave rise to these. Cindy’s workshop will be the culmination of this series. So sign up now for this exciting and instructive event.

April 19th and 20th the entire MSA team will join our friends at the Parish Collective and Seattle School for the Inhabit Conference – The Art of Parish Renewal which also focuses on themes of sustainability and simplicity. We hope that some of you can join us their too.

Join Us In Spirituality of Gardening

The garden is the place where spirituality, sustainability and simplicity connect for many of us. May 18th we hold our annual Spirituality of Gardening Seminar at the Mustard Seed House. This is based on our popular resource To Garden With God. If you do not live in the Seattle area perhaps you would like to get a group of garden enthusiasts together to share stories about your own interactions with God in the garden. If you do please let us know. And stay tuned for other locations that will host this seminar.

Join Us in Australia in June

For our Australian friends who would like to explore these themes in more detail, please consider joining us in Adelaide in June. Tom and I will teach an intensive: Reimagining Faith for Turbulent Times at Tabor College June 17 – 22. There is still space & time to sign up. We will also be in Melbourne and Sydney and would love to have some of our friends join us.

Join us Together with The Overflow Project

The Overflow Project  is an initiative committed to a new way of living, a way of living that breaks down the walls that divide rich and poor. Using a 50-Day Challenge, The Overflow Project helps individuals, groups and churches simplify their lives in order to give generously. Donated funds provide clean drinking water – a vital resource for community and economic development. This year MSA will partner with this important initiative and encourage all of us to simplify our lives, not just for 50 days but as a lifestyle.

Join Us for Our Annual Celtic Retreat.

Save the dates August 10th and 11th for our annual retreat at the site of the future Mustard Seed Village on Camano Island. Here are a couple of links to past retreats if you want to check it out. Celtic Retreat 2011 and from 2012: Celtic liturgy and Lectio Divina and Celtic retreat slide show 

There is much happening here at MSA and we are excited to be able to share these opportunities with you. I do hope that you will be able to join us at some of these events.  


Can a Simple Piece of Paper Change the Way We Eat?

This is an amazingly creative way to save fresh produce. When I first watched the video all I could think of was the food that goes bad in our fridge, (yes self centred I know) but this really could save the 25% of the world’s food which presently gets wasted because of spoilage. Kavita M. Shukla the Inventor and Founder/CEO of Fenugreen is a pioneer in the movement towards sustainable, active, natural food packaging.

Spirituality of Gardening Seminar is Almost Here

Its almost time for the spirituality of Gardening Seminar May 5th at the Mustard Seed House and with the beautiful weather we have had in Seattle the garden is thriving – Register Now

This year’s Spirituality of Gardening seminar at the Mustard Seed House will be held May 5th. This year we have special discounts for students and alumni wanting to gain new spiritual insights and share gardening advice. It would be a great opportunity to check out the Mustard Seed garden, interact with our growing garden community and hear about the developments at the Mustard Seed Village.

Join in discussions about connections between community, spirituality and gardening. Explore the wonderful ways that God and God’s story are revealed through the rhythms of planting, growing and harvesting. Spiritual insights, practical advice for organic backyard gardeners and time for reflection will all enrich and deepen our faith. Come prepared to get your hands dirty as we will spend some time in the garden or in the greenhouse if the weather is inclement.

Register HERE today before all the spots are filled!

Wendell Berry: 17 Rules for A Sustainable Local Community

farmers' markets & local produce - mainstay of local economies

farmers' markets & local produce - mainstay of local economies

Last night Tom & I were talking to Jason Fowler of Sustainable Traditions a site that I highly recommend as a source of great articles on sustainability and faith. Browsing through his website after our conversation I came across this article. – not new, in fact as Jason commented it is all over the internet, but it is worth reposting because it is such a wonderful reminder of what it takes for us to become sustainable. Thanks Jason for this and for the good conversation. Thanks too to Wendell Berry and his inspiring and challenging advocacy for all of us.


How can a sustainable local community (which is to say a sustainable local economy) function? I am going to suggest a set of rules that I think such a community would have to follow. I hasten to say that I do not understand these rules as predictions; I am not interested in foretelling the future. If these rules have any validity, it is because they apply now.

Supposing that the members of a local community wanted their community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, they would:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.


How do you seek the shalom of your community?
For more on Mr. Berry check out these resources.

[Source: This is all over the Web but I’m giving credit to Utne’s archives]

Year of Plenty – New Ways to Worship

Year of Plenty by Craig Goodwin

I just finished reading Craig Goodwin’d book Year of Plenty which talks about his family’s commitment to consume only what was local, used, homegrown, or homemade for  a year.  I had planned to read it earlier in the year and blog about it before the growing season got going but one of the other community members grabbed it and I have only just gotten it back.

Craig is a Presbyterian minister in Spokane Washington, a farmers’ market manager, a master food preserver and a doctoral student in Missional Leadership. I met Craig at the Inhabit Conference a couple of weeks ago and was disappointed that I did not have the chance to talk to him much about his intriguing experiment.  I thoroughly enjoyed Craig’s stories and the way that he weaves his family’s journey to learn more about the food they eat, the community they live in and the global community of which they are a part with lessons of faith, life and God.

Craig writes in a very engaging and often humourous way that is delightfully entertaining but at the same time challenging as he addresses issues of environmental degradation, food justice and the often disinterested response of the Christian community.  I loved the way they tore up their lawn to plant vegetables – not in a haphazard way but in the pattern of a labyrinth.  And the children loved it spending more time rather than less playing outside as a result.

The most sobering chapter is that in which he talks about Green Christians.  evidently churches that go green are more likely to do so because they think it will attract members than because they really care about the environment.  And most concerning of all is that Christians are less likely to recycle than the average American and less likely to want stricter environmental laws than atheists.  Craig comments ”

As someone who laments these statistic, I wonder not only why Christians are lagging, but why Christians aren’t the leaders and exemplars when it comes to caring for God’s creation.  I’m not disappointed that we’re average.  I am disappointed that we’re not ahead of the curve in the same way that we are less likely to cuss in public.  By all rights the church should be on the cutting edge of environmental concern.

Yesterday I also finished an article for Clayfire Curator on gardening as an act of worship.  As I contemplated Craig’s concerns it occurred to me that part of the problem we suffer as Christians is our inability to take our worship experiences outside the church box and into the communities of which we are a part.  I suspect that until we come to see caring for the environment as an act of worship – the fulfillment of God’s first mandate to humankind to tend the garden and make it flourish – that we will never be at the forefront of environmental concern.

My own passion has grown, not dwindled over the years, not because I love to garden (and I do) and not even because I love the beauty of God’s creation (and I do), but because I am constantly inspired by the incredible revelation of God and of the story of God that I see unveiled in the garden.  I talk a lot about this in To Garden with God I find too that the revelation is ongoing.  I am constantly reminded that the creation is indeed translucent and the glory of God does shine through it.

I heartily recommend Year of Plenty to anyone who is grappling with issues of sustainability, environmental stewardship and simplicity.  Well done Craig.  Let us know how the journey continues to unfold.

The New Shared Economy – Is God Up To Something New?

Yesterday I wrote about the new shared economy and the concept of collaborative consumption and commented that I thought this could be a move of God. Later in the day I conducted a mini garden seminar with my students here at OMSC.  At one point I used Graham Kerr’s comment “chefs compete, gardeners share” and I started to wonder – is it a coincidence that this new sharing economy is emerging at the same time that people everywhere are becoming gardener?.  Maybe there is a link between the two.  Maybe it isn’t just the internet that encourages us to share.  The sharing of garden produce is encouraging us to share other aspects of our lives too and behind it all I think is a God who wants us to share our lives just as generously as we share everything else.

Whatever the reasons I am excited by this new movement and wanted to share another important resource I came across this morning on The New Sharing Economy


Technology is connecting individuals to information, other people, and physical things in ever-more efficient and intelligent ways. It’s changing how we consume, socialize, mobilize— ultimately, how we live and function together as a society. In a global economy where the means of production are becoming increasingly decentralized, where access is more practical than ownership, what do the successful businesses of the future need to know?  Read the entire article

Sharing is Everywhere

A Food Manifesto for the Future

I just came across this interesting article in the New York Times that I wanted to share – certainly made me think

For decades, Americans believed that we had the world’s healthiest and safest diet. We worried little about this diet’s effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure — that is, its sustainability.

That didn’t mean all was well. And we’ve come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production workers labor in difficult, even deplorable, conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system. read the entire article


When Will We Run Out of Food?

The world is only one one poor harvest away from chaos according to Lester Brown on the Earth Policy Institute

The question is not whether the food bubble will burst but when. While the U.S. housing bubble was created by the overextension of credit, the food bubble is based on the overuse of land and water resources. It is further threatened by the climate stresses deriving from the excessive burning of fossil fuels. When the U.S. housing bubble burst, it sent shockwaves through the world economy, culminating in the worst recession since the Great Depression. When the food bubble bursts, food prices will soar worldwide, threatening economic and political stability everywhere. For those living on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder, survival itself could be at stake.  Read the entire article

Concern about where our food comes from and how vulnerable it is to the current climatic changes that are going on across our planet is a very real and challenging one.  For me it just highlights the importance of the local sustainability movements that are sweeping the Western world.  I think that the move towards local food sustainability and the recognition that we can all participate in preventing the looming crisis for our food supply is probably the most important movement of our time.

Fortunately there is a growing wealth of resources available to help in our move towards sustainability and I thought that I would highlight this one today.  The Sustainable Future website has a great array of resources and links that can help us both research and develop our own sustainability.

What are your favourite sites for sustainability resources


Fixing the Future With a New Home Grown Economy

A couple of days ago I blogged about making life simple for the new home economy in which I wrote:

There is a whole new movement sweeping the Western world in which people everywhere are cutting back on their involvement in the cash economy, bartering, swapping, growing and cooking their own and generally learning to live with less.  In the process they are discovering that they can take control of their lives again and learn a much better way of life than the consumer rat race offers.

I was surprised at how much interest this stirred so I thought it deserved more than the short article I wrote.  There is a growing concern amongst people everywhere that we need to find new ways to run our businesses and live our lives that cost less, consume less, pollute less and at the same time strengthen local economies and build healthy families.

I highly recommend this PBS video Fixing the Future as an introduction to this movement.  However Wendell Berry’s 17 Rules for A Sustainable Local Community also provides an excellent starting place.

Sustainability networks are springing up all over North America helping to connect and educate people about everything from eco friendly housing to eco-shopping.  The Eco-trust provides this interesting interactive map which outlines their idea of a structure for a sustainable society/culture/economy.  Fascinating as this is, I was a little disturbed by the fact that religious beliefs did not register on their map.

It was Ched Myer’s booklet Sabbath Economics that first challenged my view of Biblical economics and started me thinking about the importance in God’s eyes of co-operative community based local models.  It made me realize that God’s way of doing economics is very different from the secular view, yet many of us have bought into this view without even thinking.  New Zealander Viv Grigg has also challenged my views and made me realize that community rather than individualism is the focus of God’s view of economics.

There are many Christian communities around the world that are now living more cooperatively and more simply, deliberately reducing their consumption and their eco-footprint so they have more resources to share with those at the margins.  Others are deliberately establishing small businesses that foster local economies and often provide jobs for those at the margins too.  Like the community garden movement I wrote about last year I believe that this is a move of God.  In so many dimensions of life the Spirit of God is moving us beyond our self centred, individualistic way of life, encouraging us to discover the richness of a life that is interdependent and interconnected at every level