Alden Wicker is the stylish New York City-dwelling brains behind the popular ethical lifestyle blog, EcoCult. She covers anything and everything she thinks a person who wants to make responsible and positive decisions would like to know about, making EcoCult a must-read and veritable goldmine for anyone looking for sustainable eateries in NYC, great thrift stores, super practical reviews of non toxic deodorants, hot new eco-friendly finds, and so much more.
We met with Alden on her home turf to pick her brains about ethical living in a big city.
How would you describe your attitude towards ethical living?
“I think living sustainably is like changing your diet in order to lose weight; it’s going to take a while to replace all of your habits, so you have to replace them one by one, until you’re living sustainably. You don’t have to go sustainable in a week. Try one thing until you have figured out how to make it work for you, and then move on to the next thing.”
What are some of the biggest obstacles for people trying to shop ethically?
“One big roadblock is just the effort it takes; even in my career where I spend all my time reading and researching all of this information, I still make mistakes, or find that the relevant information just isn’t available. If it’s that hard for me, how can everyone else spend as much time and effort collecting all of this information and finding out what to do with it?
The way that culture and commerce are set up right now means that it’s much easier not to be green than to be green.”
Do you ever worry about putting your name to brands, what with that lack of transparency and information?
“I do for sure, but I can’t be a perfectionist because being a perfectionist would mean saying ‘Well, I’m just going to move to a mountain in a cabin and grow all of my own food’. You have to work with what you’ve got and the situation you’re living in.
Within the sustainable fashion industry a lot of people beat up on brands like H&M [and their Conscious Collection]. I recently asked a sustainable fashion expert who used to be part of the Clean Clothes campaign whether she thought people who want to make a difference should only support small emerging designers who are ethical and eco friendly from top to bottom, or to support these large companies who are taking steps to be better. She said that we have to do both, because it has to come from both sides, and I totally agree. I want Forever 21 to look at H&M and say ‘Oh, that’s working, maybe we should try that too’, because we’re not going to drive Forever 21 out of business, so we have to try and help them to change.”
What clues do you look for when trying to discover if clothing is ethically made when you’re shopping?
“I look to see what it’s made of. 100% cotton is pretty good, organic cotton is amazing, things like Tencel are amazing; I look at the materials, and if it’s made of something like Nylon I put it back most of the time.
I’ll also have a conversation with the employees, and if they kind of get it then that’s a good sign, but if they look at me like a deer in the headlights, you can tell clearly no one has ever talked to them about ethics, so it isn’t likely to be a part of their brand philosophy.
I also flip the tag to look at where it was made. If it was made in Bangladesh, put it down and back away, unless it specifically says something like ‘Made in Bangladesh by artists in a cooperative’. If it’s made in the Philippines it’s also likely to be bad. Vietnam and Mexico aren’t so bad, and China surprisingly isn’t the worst. There are a lot of high-end brands that are manufactured in China now; it could be a really ethically made product from China or it could be a really terribly made product from China, so it’s hard to tell from the tag alone.”
If it’s made in the US does that mean it’s safe?
“Usually it does; if it’s a mid-to-high-end brand it probably does, but if it’s $5 you should be suspicious. I’ve heard sweatshops do exist out in Brooklyn but I don’t know for sure.
So you also have to go by the price; you have to pay at least $20 for a shirt, that’s just life. And if you’re paying more, you should be getting higher quality stuff. I don’t have as much clothing as the average person. I wear the same thing over and over again, but I love it that way – at this point I have a uniform that I’m very comfortable in, and I love it.
If you’re in New York and something was made in the Garment District you can be pretty sure they’ll be getting a fair wage, but unfortunately it also means that the clothes are much more expensive. I splurged on a coat from the Garment District recently, and I was able to have this conversation with the designer where she took it out of my hands, took it to the factory and shortened the sleeves, and gave it back to me, which was very cool, but I paid dearly for that. It’s a little less pricey in LA; some of the most affordable eco brands like Be Good and Amour Vert are made in California.”
“Reformation! Their dresses are great, I have a tshirt from them, and I got some mom jeans recently – they just get it. Everything is so fashionable, but also kind of basic at the same time. I also really like H. Frederickson; she does some really beautiful basics. I got an H. Fredriksson cable knit sweater last year from Reve en Vert (a London based sustainable fashion boutique). I really like Suzanne Rae, she does beautiful silks. Those are a little bit on the pricier side, and then I also like Amour Vert a lot, their style is a little bit more French and Californian than New York, but they have some really great stuff and are a little bit more affordable, and they are carried all over the world so they’re pretty accessible.”
“I love Jane Iredale’s lipsticks, they’re amazing. ILIA Beauty is really good, and so is Bite Beauty – and they are carried in Sephora. I love RMS Beauty, they do amazing an amazing highlighter and something that they call the ‘un’ cover-up. Juice Beauty is an amazing skincare brand and they also have a really good mascara. And then there’s MyChelle, which is another really good skincare brand.”
How do you think we can persuade big brands to change?
“I think the best way of getting big brands to change is through changing legislation. People want to do better, but brands have to meet them halfway, and many will not meet them halfway unless they’re made to. The organic food industry wouldn’t be where it is today if the USDA hadn’t come in and said we’re going to have regulations and you can’t use the label ‘Organic’ unless you get certified, and that’s what’s really made it so that as a consumer you can go to almost every grocery store and find something that you can be sure is organic on the shelves.”
Do you have any tips for eating sustainably in a big city?
“It’s really easy in New York, there’s somewhere on every street corner. I have apps that I use, like the Clean Plates which pulls up all the eateries near you. I use Yelp to bookmark all the new farm-to-table restaurants that I hear about, so that when I’m out and about I can pull something up, and there are a few chains that are everywhere, like Chipotle, and Le Pain Quotidien.”
You started something called the Ethical Writers Coalition – can you tell us about it, and how it came about?
“It came out of meeting other ethical writers in New York. It’s a completely different atmosphere in the sustainable fashion industry – it’s not dog-eat-dog at all. I really wanted to start some sort of blogger network, so I emailed every sustainability blogger that I knew, and since then there’s been a lot of talking and discussing until we came up with a formalised structure that we really like.
Whenever there’s an invitation to an event we spread it around to see who else is going, and whenever I get an offer to try something for free or an invitation to an event I tell them about the other bloggers. It’s been great because it can be hard working by yourself on your own blog, but when you meet other bloggers it turns out that everyone has their skills and then the skills that they’re working on – you can all learn from each other. It’s really helpful to be able to email each other and ask for advice about different situations, it’s sort of like having colleagues.
We’re accepting applications from everywhere, even abroad. Basically our criteria is that you need to have a focus on something that’s ethical or sustainable, and that your blog meets a baseline quality in terms of graphic design and identity.”
What are your long-term goals for the Ethical Writers Coalition?
“I just want to get more members and build an amazing community where people are talking to each other all the time and sharing things and giving each other advice and everything. I want it to be a really close-knit community of people.”
Author: Sophie Caldecott