Mahagedara Retreat: The Most Eco-Conscious “Hotel” I’ve Ever Experienced

Mahagedara Retreat: The Most Eco-Conscious “Hotel” I’ve Ever Experienced

 I’ve traveled to many places where I’ve felt “at one with nature”, but I can’t think of a single location that tops Mahagedara Wellness Retreat and Spa for offering the perfect combination of luxury-level pampering and relaxation and nature immersion.

Mahagedara translates to “childhood home”, and you truly feel welcomed as part of the family from the moment that you step into the beautifully maintained grounds of the retreat.

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Kantala: Vegan Handbags That Aren't Made Out of Plastic + Support Weaving Artisans

Kantala: Vegan Handbags That Aren't Made Out of Plastic + Support Weaving Artisans

Vegan handbags usually fit into one of two categories: “vegan leather” (which is usually made of polyvinyl chloride and other non-natural materials that are actually quite awful for the environment) or cloth/canvas (cute, but not very sturdy and a bit casual for those who prefer a more traditional looking purse. Up-and-coming Sri Lankan brand Kantala is bringing something new to the table with vibrant, woven handbags using carefully sourced, all natural materials paired with traditional shapes.

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Chai Overnight Oats

Chai Overnight Oats

Overnight oats has been my thing ever since I started attempting to live a more zero-waste life. It's easy to get the ingredients completely zero-waste (bring a cloth bag to the grocery store and fill it up with oats in the bulk section- usually grocery stores with small bulk sections at least have staples like oats and rice), it's cheap, and it can be made so many different ways!

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Reasons I thought about quitting blogging (and why I’m still doing it)

I’m frustrated with many aspects of blogging (as you have probably noticed from my tone on Instagram lately), and I wanted to be completely honest and share those with you. I have seriously considered quitting blogging in the past 6 months over the reasons listed below, and have decided not to. I’ll also be sharing how I plan to position my blog moving forward in this post.

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Marie Hell

I'm so thrilled that Marie Hell is radically transparent and actually willing to give consumers the information they ask for. As a blogger, it is usually incredibly difficult for me to pry information out of "ethical" brands to share with you, and I think that it speaks volumes of Marie Hell's integrity and the company's intentions that they are so confident in their transparency. 

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These Women are Walking Across Asia to Bring You Stories of Fair Fashion

veryone, meet your newest ethical fashion related obsession: Walk Sew Good. Made up of two smart and sassy women, Megan and Gab, team Walk Sew Good is currently walking across southeast Asia to gather positive stories about how your ethically-made clothes are produced and the affect that ethical business practices have on the people who make your clothes.

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Bunosilo will make ethical clothing just for you!

Based in India, this brand offers a colorful array of apparel and home goods made from primarily natural fabrics, with a price point ranging from about $20 to about $100. Your Bunosilo product will be made especially for you, upon ordering (you'll be able to choose the correct size and input any special custom requests at checkout), and will arrive on your doorstep in eco-friendly packaging, with your name on the tag! 

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Invigorating Green Tea Scrub for An At Home Spa Day

Invigorating Green Tea Scrub for An At Home Spa Day

Andrew knows exactly how to help me calm down and relax, and he specializes in planning day-long, elaborate scavenger hunts, building blanket forts, and planning DIY "spa days". He often surprises me at the end of a long trip or a hard day with a spotless bathroom equipped with candles, cucumber water, fresh flowers, and a variety of homemade, zero-waste and all-natural bath and body products- like DIY bubble bath and tea soaks! His latest creation is a green tea sugar scrub using Numi Tea's Matcha Green Tea Powder

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Is Ethical Fashion Elitist?

We often make blanket statements like "If we all changed our consumption habits, we could change the fashion industry!". But are we really asking everyone to change their consumption habits? And is that fair? For me, the answer is "no". At this point in my life, the vast majority of my friends, and the people I spend the most of my time with are not well-to-do and it seems ridiculous to encourage them to buy a $22.00 pair of organic and fair trade underwear when they are just trying to get by and cover rent and food for the month.

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My Friends Are Garment Makers: When "Fashion Revolution" Gets Personal

The longer I'm here in the beautiful Philippines, the more personally connected to the cause of "fashion revolution" I become. In just a few short months, I've befriended women in the garment industry, met local, small ethical fashion businesses and listened to their struggles to survive and "make it" without compromising on fair wages, and have even gotten the inside scoop on the big fast fashion manufacturing factories here. 

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Zero Waste Hair Care

This post is brought to you in partnership with Numi Tea. I'm compensated for my work for Numi, a company that values all the workers + voices that bring Numi to you! 

Hi, I'm Hannah and I haven't purchased shampoo or conditioner in plastic bottles for 6 months! Establishing a zero-waste hair care routine that worked for me took a little time (and several failed attempts at the "no poo" method), but I think I've cracked the code! Here's what I'm currently using to keep my scalp clean and happy: 

1. Shampoo Bar

After trying a few shampoo bars that were a bit more "clean" with their ingredients but didn't work well for my hair, I settled on the bars I found at LUSH. My favorite is the Seanik bar, but I've tried a few others as well that were all great! I'm really happy with this option, even though there are a few ingredients that I could do without, because LUSH shampoos are available locally here in the Philippines (so I don't have to ship a tiny bar of soap across the ocean), and because they are SO easy to purchase completely packaging-free! 

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar

I really do use baking soda and vinegar for cleaning EVERYTHING! Even though the no-poo method didn't work well for me, I still occasionally wash my hair with a baking soda paste if I feel like there's any buildup. I make sure to condition with a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse, too! 

3. Tea Rinses

Sometimes my hair needs a little extra help. Between constantly being exposed to super-intense sunlight here in the Philippines, and the inevitable scalp-sweating that is causing me to experience a bit of dandruff (not normal for me!), my locks are taking a bit of a beating. I try to pamper my scalp every once in awhile, and one of my favorite ways to do that (because it's easy and I don't have to mix up multiple ingredients) is with tea rinses. Tea is naturally an astringent, which means that it helps break up excess oil on your scalp and in your hair follicles, and different types of tea have different benefits as well.  

Numi Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea is supposed to lighten and condition your hair. I first read about this in an herbalist's book when I was a teenager but didn't try it out until recently... I'm attempting to even out my unfortunately half-tone hair (the result of recklessly deciding to have my hair dyed- never again!). I'm not certain if it's just the time I've spent in the sun recently or if the tea is doing it's thing, but my hair is gaining some lighter streaks! 

Numi Mate Lemon Green Tea
The anti inflammatory properties of green tea help minimize dandruff, and invigorate your scalp. This one's my favorite. 

Numi Golden Chai Black Tea
The Caffeine in black tea helps to stop hair shedding by counteracting the hormones that cause your hair follicles to shrink and "kill" hair strands. You can use any black tea but this one smells SO amazing. 

To treat yourself to a tea hair treatment, steep 2 tea bags in a few cups of water. soak your hair with the mixture, and then wrap your head in a wet towel and let it sit for 30-45 minutes before rinsing out. If you try it, let me know how your hair reacts? What zero waste routines work for your hair? 

Zero Waste Kitchen Solutions from SuperBee

This post is in collaboration with SuperBee. I was not compensated for this post, but I was sent a free set of wax wraps to try. 

Plastic cling wrap and paper towels were two of the very last non-eco-friendly items still in our kitchen as we made the transition to a more zero-waste lifestyle. Andrew especially had a difficult time giving up the convenience of these two single-use, everyday products (how many 90’s-era kids didn’t grown up using paper towels constantly?).


Finally, however, we cut ourselves off and stopped buying plastic wrap. For lack of a better alternative we started simply putting everything in glass jars in the refrigerator, but that’s not always ideal… It’s a bit difficult to fit a half-eaten sandwich or a block of cheese in a jar!

Enter SuperBee wax wraps. After trying to make my own wax wraps (and failing miserably- that’s another story for another time), I discovered this lovely, small and ethical company based in Thailand.

SuperBee wax wraps come in a variety of sizes and styles, and are made with only locally sourced and natural/biodegradable materials: 100% cotton, OTOP-certified pure beeswax, organic coconut oil, and tree resin. They’re easy to use, easy to clean, and affordable!

More important, still, than creating products that make zero-waste living easier for conscious consumers, SuperBee is providing good wages.

Going beyond just the bare minimum required by “fair trade”, SuperBee’s employees make 20% more than the living wage calculated by the Fair Trade Association. It’s a number that SuperBee founder Antoinette hopes will grow, as the company grows and more orders come in. In her words, “I believe generosity breeds prosperity”.

The women employed by SuperBee also enjoy the flexibility of bringing their kids along to work when they need to due to school holidays. 

Wax wraps aren’t sticky or messy, as you might assume, and they’re easily washed with warm water and mild soap. Because they form easily around whatever object you wrap, they can be used for everything from storing half an onion to covering a casserole dish!

I’ve mostly used mine for storing cut veggies- since I have a tiny refrigerator in my tiny apartment, it’s necessary for me to have space-saving solutions like this (I can only fit so many jars and bento boxes in there)!

I’ve come across several wax wrap brands, but SuperBee is by far the most transparent with regard to manufacturing, ingredients, and worker wages, AND the most stylish (there are colorful patterns to match any kitchen’s décor, as well as natural and earth-toned sets for the color-adverse like myself)- giving them my stamp of approval.

Check out SuperBee’s beautiful website to learn more about the SuperBee story!

SustainabiliTEA: Numi Talks Business

This post is brought to you in partnership with Numi Tea. I'm compensated for my work for Numi, a company that values all the workers + voices that bring Numi to you! 

If you've caught my angsty posts on social media lately, you'll know that I'm struggling with all the feelings of betrayal after discovering that some of the ethical companies I'd loved.... well, aren't really ethical. In the midst of this activist identity crisis (who can I trust? have I wasted my time?), Today's interview with Numi Organic Tea is giving me life. 

I've been thinking a lot about whether companies can remain "ethical" as they grow.  I had some tough questions for favorite tea brand (and long-time L+S+J collaborator) Numi to answer, and Numi's Director of Quality, Sourcing & Sustainability, Jane Franch,  graciously stepped up to answer them! Jane is currently leading the development of Numi’s climate initiative, among other exciting projects. Prior to Numi, Jane worked at SCS Global Services with clients large & small to develop, implement and maintain robust & credible ethical sourcing programs. Her work has taken her to 5 continents and countless villages, where she has had the privilege of getting to know the people and places that grow our tea, coffee, cocoa, coconuts, hazelnuts, mangos, and many other delicious treats.

Hannah: Numi has experienced some wonderful growth since the company’s beginnings in 1999. What have some of the challenges been in “scaling up” operations while still remaining true to Numi’s ethical standards?   

Jane: We’ve been fortunate in that as we’ve scaled, our suppliers have also grown with us. This is a reflection of the growth in general in the organic, socially certified CPG space. Nonetheless, we have faced challenges in scaling up, primarily related to material availability and managing costs. Because we place an emphasis on our supply chain partnerships and continuity in sourcing, and we require both organic and Fair Trade certification in most cases, we are sometimes faced with material shortages that limits our decision making. Similarly, as we’ve grown we’ve had to keep a keen focus on cost efficiency, which sometimes means prioritizing our sustainability objectives in terms of impact and value to the brand.

H: About how many workers are employed by Numi supply partners? How does Numi manage the company’s supply chain to ensure ethical treatment of everyone involved in the manufacturing of Numi Products?

J: To give an idea of the scope of our supply base, we currently source 150+ ingredients from 26+ countries, although ~75% by volume is coming from 6 distinct supply chains. Within those 6 distinct supply chains I would estimate there are approximately 7,000 farmers and/or workers.

When seeking new opportunities, whether on the customer side or the product development side, we lead with our mission and values. In terms of supply chain relationships, this boils down to knowing our suppliers, and making sure they know us as well. Before embarking on new supply chain relationships, we thoroughly vet potential partners through multiple onsite and remote meetings. Only once we’ve determined that we have a fit in terms of commitment to social impact and continuous improvement do we move forward with the relationship.  In addition to our up front emphasis on relationships, we approach ethical treatment of workers through a three avenues:

  • Numi Supplier Code of Conduct: our code of conduct outlines our expectations with regards to ethical conduct by our suppliers. All suppliers are provided with the Code of Conduct, and during site visits Numi representatives will conduct due diligence follow up as needed. Furthermore, where a supplier is working through a sub-supplier with whom Numi does not have a direct relationship, the primary supplier is responsible for implementing the Code of Conduct at the sub-supplier level.
  • Site visits: Among our core 6 supply chains, we visit each at least once on a three year cycle, although some supply chains we visit annually. By developing direct relationships with our suppliers, we better understand the challenges they may be facing, both in terms of delivering positive impact to the farming community or workforce, and delivering positive impact to the surrounding natural environment. Through this on the ground process, we can better identify opportunities to support the health and wellbeing of farmers, workers, and their families.
  • Certification: In addition to our Code of Conduct and face to face site visits with our key suppliers, we see certification as a valuable tool in further ensuring ethical practices within our supply chain. Currently, 67% of our product is socially certified by an independent 3rd party organization. 60% is Fair Trade certified through FLO-Cert, and 7% is Fair Labor Practices & Community Benefits verified through SCS Global Services. Certification offers robust and credible validation, and is particularly useful in those situations where perhaps our relationship to the producer is through an exporter or trader, and is not direct.

H: Do you think it’s possible for ethical companies to compete in a mainstream market without compromising ethics? If so, how? 

J: Yes, and Numi is a prime example. What we are seeing now is the values of the ethical consumer are becoming more mainstream, particularly as the millennial consumer comes of age. They are looking for companies with integrity who share their values, while also wanting a safe, clean product that tastes good.  Looking at Numi as an example, while we continue to be strong in the natural channels, we are also making inroads into the mainstream market, notably with stores such as Target and Kroger. The natural products industry is booming and becoming more mainstream to the average consumer; brands with certifications are now widely available across all categories and natural product sales grew by nearly 8% in the U.S. in 2016.

Price continues to be a challenge, and yet trends are also showing that consumers are willing to pay more for a premium ethical product if they have a high degree of trust in the brand and the values are aligned with their own.

H: Numi sells wholesale with several large retailers. Does the way that the wholesale system currently works lend itself well to fair wages for all? With so many “cuts” being taken by the various hands involved in the wholesale deal, how do you ensure that workers still get their fair “cut”?

J: Notwithstanding the challenges inherent in the current distribution model, Numi has a firm commitment to ensure that we are paying fair prices for our raw ingredients. This emphasis on the ingredients ensures that farmers and workers are getting a fair deal, and that consumers are also getting the most premium product available. This sometimes means that we have to cut costs in other ways, usually through simple packaging rather than fancy tins and canisters. We also evaluate new sales opportunities and product development ideas with the ingredients in mind, and avoid opportunities that would compromise our values and commitments at origin.

H: Can a large ethical company still be a “slow” company (in relation to the “slow food” movement)?

J: Thinking about the slow food movement as a return to local food traditions and knowing where your food comes from, I think it depends on the company. We are seeing industry-wide – and have for some time now – a trend towards transparent, traceable supply chains. From an organics and food safety standpoint, these supply chains have always been traceable, it’s the transparent piece that is new, and driven by both consumer demand and the growing awareness among brands that it makes good business sense to know your suppliers.

I would consider Numi a small to medium sized company. For us, our values have been at the center of our decision making every step of the way. As we’ve grown, so too has the list of spices, herbs and florals that we are incorporating into our blends. While we have maintained those close, direct relationships with the farms providing our top ingredients – green tea, black tea, puerh, mint, chamomile, rooibos, and turmeric – we’ve had to rely on our blending partners to source high quality, ethical ingredients for the minor spices, etc. This is part of the reason we developed our Code of Conduct, to ensure that our values were present even when we could not be present ourselves to meet the farmers, workers, and processors.

H: Let’s talk about packaging and shipping. How can larger companies reduce or offset the inevitable footprint of these areas of their operations?

J: We approach this through “reduce what we can, offset the rest”. Meaning, we reduce unnecessary packaging, both in our finished consumer goods and in the inevitable upstream shipping materials. Our purchasing and production schedule is designed for efficiency such that we are buying and shipping by the container/truck load and/or pallet load most of the time. This helps to avoid unnecessary emissions from partial shipments or air shipments that might be more typical in a “just in time” purchasing model.

We also do an annual calculation of our shipping emissions and offset these with verified carbon credits through the Since we started offsetting in 2011, we have offset nearly 5 million pounds of CO2 equivalent. Currently, our purchased credits are supporting a small-scale hydro project in India and a wind farm in China.

Our vision for the future is to inset all of our scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions in our own supply chain through adoption or amplification of carbon sequestering regenerative farming practices with our key suppliers. Not only does this have a tremendous potential to reduce the impacts of climate change, it also supports the health and wellbeing of our farming communities by building productive, healthy, biodiverse farm ecosystems.

H: For Numi, how necessary is plastic/non-biodegradable packaging? Is the use of plastic materials limited?

J: Over the years, we have worked to drive innovation in sustainable packaging. We are proud of our achievements as a market leader in the use of 85%+ postconsumer waste paperboard for our cartons, SFI certified corrugate for our shipping boxes, biodegradable non-GMO filter paper for our teabags, and recycledpaper in our teabag overwrap. However, we are also mindful of the need to preserve product freshness so that the premium quality of the product is maintained all the way through to the end consumer. This has been a challenge with our overwrap, which is a 3-layer material with paper, foil and a petroleum based freshness sealant. Through the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and OSC2, we’ve worked with like-minded brands and the packaging industry to develop a biodegradable, non-GMO flexible packaging material that ensures quality while also delivering on sustainability. We are currently testing this material and hope to launch it in our finished products sometime next year.

On the upstream side, our challenge is the shrink wrap that is used to hold a pallet load together. For pallets coming to us in Oakland we have found a recycler that accepts this grade of plastics for recycling, however this is not a perfect solution. Often these lower quality plastics are difficult to recycle into any usable secondary product, and the required energy and associated emissions from doing so can outweigh the benefits. We’d love to see a market innovation for a non-petroleum, renewable shrink wrap alternative. Any ideas out there? 

H: Finally, within your role at Numi, what are you the most passionate about, personally?

J: Personally I am most at home on the farm. I love walking the farm with the farmers and workers, learning about how and why they manage the way they do, being inspired by their passion for organics and land stewardship. And building communi’tea with the faces and places where our tea, herbs, and spices are grown. There is so much we have in common as people, and so much beauty in our differences. Working for Numi I have the privilege and opportunity to celebrate our shared values while doing business for good.

H: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Life+Style+Justice audience?

Keep drinking Numi tea, and keep asking questions! It’s up to consumers like each of you to hold brands accountable and strive towards the vision of an equitable, ethical economy. 

Workwear, Beachwear, Casual Wear, These Ethically Made Silk Shirts Do It All!

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, but The Fable sent me the featured tops for review. 

I was immediately impressed when I discovered The Fable brand. First, they carry all my favorite colors: black! white! navy blue! grey! Second, they fill a niche that's lacking in the ethical fashion industry- classy, affordable silk tops (yes, we have Everlane, but their somewhat dubious ethics have made some conscious consumers, myself included, wary about buying from them. Third, the transparency on their website is fantastic, complete with photos of the process of manufacturing each of their signature pieces. 

If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that I love versatile pieces (my tiny wardrobe is full of items that can work for just about any style, and everything in my wardrobe is pretty regularly rotated- I don't believe in "special occasion" clothes that only get trotted out once in awhile). 

I have been loving The Fable's silk tops, for that reason: They are amazing, neutral basics that can be added to any outfit! So far I've styled mine (the true white and dalmatian sleeveless options): 
-Under a suit
-As beachwear, thrown on open over a bikini and paired with slouchy pants
-Tied casually over sundresses
-Paired with dress slacks and a sweater for the office
-With ripped jean shorts and sunglasses
and I'm sure there are many combinations I haven't even thought of yet! 

The silk isn't fragile or see-through- It's surprisingly sturdy. I've been hand washing my The Fable tops in a bucket, as I do with most of my clothing here in the Philippines, and hanging them out to dry on my balcony with no issues whatsoever. 

I really appreciate the fact that I don't have to dry clean my tops, or "save" them for only office wear because I'm worried about ruining them.

The Fable shirts are designed in Australia and manufactured in Jaipur, India, under ethical labor standards. Tailors are paid double the standard "living wage" in India, never work longer than 8 hour days, and work in a well-ventilated, comfortable space with breaks for tea and company-provided lunch throughout the day. 

The fabric and buttons used for Fable shirts are dyed using low-impact, vegetable based dyes, but still come out with vibrant, deep hues. 

I love that The Fable shares photos not only of the skilled tailors who sew the shirts sold in the online shop, but photos of the workspace and sewing areas as well. It's so wonderful when brands are brave enough (or have enough integrity, really!) to give a glimpse into the reality of what goes on behind the scenes. 

The Fable shirts retail for $95.00-$125.00 (though some are currently on sale). Shipping is complimentary within Australia and New Zealand, and affordable everywhere else (only $10.00 to ship to the USA). 

I hope that these ethically made shirts fill a wardrobe gap for you like they did for me!

Two Weeks in the Philippines: An Update

It's been two and a half weeks since we landed in the Philippines. I wake up every morning blown away by how lucky I am to be here, and excited to start another day of learning and working and exploring. A few of the highlights so far have been: 

Discovering the Sunday market near our apartment. Fresh fruits and veggies in abundance (most of which I can buy without plastic, farmers' market style), beautiful plants and flowers, handcrafted goods, and FOOD STANDS. I'm slowly working on trying something from each vendor's stall. There are lots of healthy/sustainable options- from raw vegan brownies to raw milk and cheese to a huge variety of glass-bottled kombucha and probiotic drinks. 

Catching up at the shop! It's been wonderful to kick things into gear at the shop. We've started off the year by making some improvements to our workshop- a new floor to help with dust issues, a window (we had to knock a huge hole in the wall to install this in our previously windowless space!), and a new sewing machine. We're working on new products (lots of zero waste living products like cloth napkins and produce bags, and new tee designs) and planning for the next 6 months. We were able to just spend some time hanging out with the A Beautiful Refuge ladies and their kids, too, which was wonderful. Little Ryan had a birthday party and we enjoyed a huge feast and games (check out the video below to see Andrew and our friend Andy helping out with the Filipino version of the piñata). 

Hiking and camping in beautiful surroundings. Some of our wonderful new friends here invited us to join them on a quick weekend camping trip to BangKong Kahoy, a campsite and retreat nestled between two mountains. We had such a blast hiking up a mountain to taste the healing waters that flow there, road tripping while blasting 80's music, feasting on fresh, sustainably farmed food, and camping in the mountain air while listening to the rain fall on our tent. We got to meet and learn from the wisdom of the land's caretaker and water protector, and be inspired by his passion for caring for the environment.

Discovering new ethical brands. There are so many wonderful small local brands based in the area I'm living and I'm having so much fun getting to know them all! From clothing to bags to home goods to food, there's a rich variety of startups who are focused on ethics and sustainability. 

Getting into our new ethical living routine. It's been pretty easy to set ourselves up for minimal-waste living. There's a wonderful shop within walking distance, Ritual, that sells bulk items like all-natural laundry powder and baking soda, as well as cleaning supplies packed in recycled gin bottles and natural fiber brushes. I'll post an update soon on the product I've been using! 

Tiny apartment living has been awesome so far. Our space, measuring in units of Andrew, is about 1.5 Andrew's wide, and 3.5 Andrew's long. WE LOVE IT. It helps to have minimal belongings, as it's easy to keep the space feeling uncluttered and organized. 

Andrew put together this wonderful little video blog showing some glimpses of our life here over the past two weeks, hope you enjoy! 

Sloths, Toucans, and Trees that Walk: how Sumak Travel changed my perspective on DIY travel.

This post is on of several in a series on ethical tourism in Costa Rica, written by myself as well as Kasi (The Peahen Blog) and Simone (The Ethereal Edit).

To learn more about our experience with Sumak Travel, read Simone's post on Finca Sura organic farm, my posts on visiting San Jose and the Juanilama Community, and Kasi's posts on slow food and secondhand fashion

Hills surrounding Arenal volcano

Hills surrounding Arenal volcano

I watched a lot of nature documentaries as a kid, so the rainforest was pretty close to how I'd pictured it before visiting Costa Rica and experiencing it for the first time in real life. 

There were a few things that I didn't expect, however. The darkness, first of all. The tree canopy overhead is so thick that even on a bright, sunny day not much light filters down to the forest floor. Second, I didn't quite expect to feel so emotional while trekking, but I found myself quite overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, awed by the sheer diversity of plants and wildlife, and sobered as I thought of all the beautiful rainforest areas that have been destroyed or are in danger of disappearing. 

View from the rainforest trails near Arenal volcano 

View from the rainforest trails near Arenal volcano 

Third, I didn't expect to have my travel perspective changed. You see, I've always been a fiercely independent, DIY traveler. I love lists, I love planning, I love the thrill of showing up somewhere I've never been and navigating my way through a well-thought-out itinerary.

But then I met Jose Pablo, our guide booked through Sumak Travel. I love being around people who are truly passionate about what they do, and Jose certainly fits that description. His love for the wildlife, culture, history, and people of Costa Rica is apparent, and his knowledge on each of those subjects is extensive. I quickly realized that without Jose's guidance my experience would have been much less rich and informative. 

Jose Pablo teaching the group about how cinnamon is produced

Jose Pablo teaching the group about how cinnamon is produced

On our first day, as I traveled with Kasi, Simone, and the Sumak Travel team to our first destination (a sustainable farm), The van suddenly came to a halt. Jose excitedly got out, grabbed his telescope, and pointed toward a tall, scraggly tree near the road. Sure enough, a sloth was perched in the highest branches, scratching itself sleepily. 

The next day we woke up early and headed out to see the toucans we could hear squawking in the trees. I would have missed most of the bright flashes indicating their presence in the branches above us, had it not been for our guide's practiced eye. Seeing toucans, creatures I'd only seen caged at a zoo, flying freely in their natural habitat was breathtaking! 

The day before my group flew home, we visited Arenal volcano. The weather was rainy and grey, and we couldn't actually see the volcano through the mist... but our hike certainly wasn't ruined. As we walked the muddied trails at the volcano's base, Jose showed us medicinal plants, identified bird calls, educated us on the history of the volcano, and regaled us with tales of jungle trees that "walk" toward sunlight (moving and stretching in minuscule increments, but still!). 

Our other guides during our Arenal Volcano experience- horses that took us on a trail ride through the rainforest. 

Our other guides during our Arenal Volcano experience- horses that took us on a trail ride through the rainforest. 

Each of these moments would have been a moment that I would have missed out on, had I chosen to travel on my own. I'm immensely grateful to Sumak Travel and to Jose for showing me the value of enlisting a local guide- I've actually already booked local guides for several upcoming trips because of my experience with Sumak.  

Kasi and I during our horse riding excursion 

Kasi and I during our horse riding excursion 

If you want to experience South America through the eyes of a local guide, choose from one of the 12 countries where Sumak Travel offers trips, and start planning your adventure! 

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The Bright Side To Filing Your Taxes

This post is sponsored by the team at All opinions are my own. 

Tax season. The time of year that strikes fear into the hearts of small business owners everywhere. Or at least mine. Though I track income and expenses religiously, pay my estimated taxes quarterly, and do everything right, I'm still always a little freaked out that I'm going to miss something important when I file (or get audited. I've had nightmares about IRS audits.).

I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm always going to be a bit stressed about taxes, and I'll take any little ray of sunshine that I can find to make the hassle just a little bit less dramatic. This year, that ray of sunshine appeared as an email from, a give-back online tax filing service. I'm a big believer in the idea of doing a little bit of good with your mundane, every day decisions, something I've written about here on the blog many times, and I think it's so cool that something as simple as clicking over to a different tax filing website than the one you usually use can result in a donation to a worthy cause. 

Here are 4 reasons to feel great about filing your taxes with 

1. Your tax return will give back. 
$2 per return (even if your return is free and you don't pay a cent!) is donated to Healing Waters International to provide clean water to communities without current access to a safe water source. Read more about why clean water is so important on the website! Last year donated 2.6 million gallons of clean water. That's a whole year of clean water for almost 15,000 people.

2. Say it with me: transparent pricing.
Have you ever started filing your taxes through one of the "free" services online, spent time filling in all your information, and then discovered that your return isn't free anymore? won't sneakily bump up the price for your return with hidden fees- all of their pricing information is displayed prominently on their website for anyone to view. Simple returns are free, but some returns may move up a pricing tier based on their complexity. Satisfaction is guaranteed! 

3. You won't need to worry about messing up. 
Unlike some online tax filing services, is easy for small business owners to use. The system will prompt you to enter 1099-MISC information, it supports all related forms for business filers (Schedule C, Office in Home, Depreciation, etc…), and's tax guide is a great resource to get help along the way. Developing a track catered specifically to small business owners is in the works for next year (yippee!), and in the meantime, all guarantees and resources are available to every customer regardless of occupation.

4. You'll be in good hands.
The team is composed of real, friendly, helpful people who care about sustainability and ethics.'s headquarters are in Franklin, NC, deep in the Appalachian mountains. The company culture is steeped in nature, conservation, and community service. When North Carolina experienced a heavy drought and wildfires,'s parent company cleared an entire building for the firefighters to headquarter and sleep in and provided computers, phones, and internet. The team is also hands-on with the international work that they support through donations to Healing Water International, traveling to Guatemala to see the impact of those donations first hand. 

If filing your taxes is on your to-do list, why not file them through

ROUND + SQUARE: Funding Equality Through Fashion

Women’s equality is in the spotlight right now-with the Women’s March drawing at least 4.8 million women to make our voices heard, how could it not be?



But what happens when the rallies are over, the buzz from the march wears off? Many newly minted activists will struggle to know how they can continue to make an active effort to facilitate change. I always give the same advice: start where you’re at. Use what you have. Take a look at your lifestyle and tweak it to make it work for justice. I always admire women who are working quietly, steadily in the background through their own professions to promote justice work.

My newest discovery in ethical brands is ROUND + SQUARE. ROUND + SQUARE is a bold and modern brand with a luxury designer feel. Dreamed up by designer Henriette Ernst, the colorful, playful designs offered by ROUND + SQUARE include hand-embroidered pins, silk scarves, and cotton tees. I love how Henriette is using her talent within her profession to support the causes she cares about, and I am more than happy to support her brand! 

30% of all profits to Equality Now, a wonderful organization focusing on gender equality and tackling tough human rights issues like female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, and other injustices that disproportionately affect women. 30% is a much higher donation margin than many give-back companies use, and I love the fact that more than just a few cents of my purchase are going to support a worthy cause.

I decided to try out one of ROUND + SQUARE’s silk bandanas, the Let's Make Equality Reality design in Navy. I love the dainty stitching around the edges and the fun graphic print! I’ve worn it several different ways so far, but primarily as a headband or a neckerchief. I love the way that it dresses down a suit a bit- I’m working in an office now where I feel comfortable in slightly more business-y attire, but I still want to retain a touch of quirkiness


All in all, the designs are fabrics are wonderful, and the give-back element ofROUND + SQUARE is impactful. Check the brand out for yourself on the web or on Instagram! You can also read a review on ROUND + SQUARE tees and pins from my Ethical Influencer Network friend Natalie of Sustainably Chic here

JORD Eco Friendly Watches

Disclosure: I received a watch from JORD for review. All opinions my own. 

Watches without plastic, batteries, or difficult-to-recycle electronic elements are difficult to find (and are often made questionably, though costing thousands of dollars at fancy watch stores). JORD wooden watches are the perfect solution for the conscious consumer.  

Andrew recently received a watch from JORD's Dover series, and I asked him to write a quick review on his experience as a JORD watch owner:

"The craftsmanship of the Dover watch is beautiful in many ways- from the choice of wood used in the band (Olive + Acacia) to the intricate gear work that is visible from both the face and back of the case.

One of the ways I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the watch is the maintenance of the watch! Don’t take that the wrong way- it’s a rugged watch that's meant to be worn everyday. But it also requires care- oiling the wood, storing it appropriately, taking care to not subject it to quick temperature changes or lots of water because it’s wood and it will expand and contract."

As an ethical company, JORD company policies protect their workers as well as the environment. The wood used for the watch bands is sourced from many places, but the greatest and most substantial source is reclaimed furniture remnants. The watch face elements are made in China. The workshop is supervised directly by JORD, and because of that they are able to dictate the pay of the workers, which is well above average, and the quality of the parts produced. Assembly is done in St. Louis, MO, providing good paying jobs both overseas and state side. JORD is a good example of what companies should be, in a world filled with fast fashion and throwaway mentality.  

CLICK HERE to enter to win a store credit at JORD! One lucky winner will receive $100.00 to spend at JORD, and all other entrants will receive a $25 credit once the contest ends, just for entering! 

Sentimental Value: Northwood Rings

Some of my most often-received emails through Life+Style+Justice are questions about where to find ethically made wedding and engagement rings. I'm happy to be partnering with Northwood Rings to bring you this post, in plenty of time for valentine's day/engagement season! Use code LSJ2017 for 10% off your order at Northwood Rings until Feb 6, 2017. 

I'm just going to admit it- Andrew and I are ridiculously sentimental. We love being in love, we love collecting photographs and love letters, we love reminiscing about past adventures and planning new ones together. When we were downsizing recently to prepare for our big move, we sold or gave away most of our belongings. Our remaining stuff fits into 9 boxes, which are filled with the following: 

3 boxes: dishes and kitchen things
1 box: winter clothing and boots
3 boxes: Books and board games
1 box: assorted household goods
1 box: sentimental items: letters, a doll my grandmother gave to me, a family recipe book, my wedding dress, etc. 

Even as a minimalist in many ways, I still think it's important to make room in our lives for items that might not be "necessary" but are meaningful and bring us joy. For example: Andrew and I seriously considered not purchasing wedding rings at all when we were married (we were this close to just getting matching tattoos!), but ended up deciding that we valued the sentimentality and meaning behind them enough to invest in something beautiful and ethically sourced that would serve as an heirloom for years to come.  

Even though we wanted to purchase rings that were quality and would last a lifetime, Andrew and I agreed that we didn't want to spend much money. The diamond industry, in addition to being exploitative toward workers within the industry, is a bit of a scam. I think it's a bit awful that couples are expected to spend an average of nearly $5000.00 on a shiny bit of rock, anyway. I can think of so many other ways to spend that kind of cash. 

So were two in-love conscious consumers to do? We looked around a bit and found a solution that we felt good about: my engagement ring is an old 1920's vintage piece, and Andrew's band was made by an independent artist from recycled silver. 

My wedding band was the one slight dud- I just got a $30.00 little silver band off Etsy to pair with my engagement ring... It worked for awhile, but over the past 3.5 the design on the band has gotten a bit worn. I'd started looking for a simple replacement (but heirloom quality this time!) when I came across Northwood Rings.

Northwood Rings makes alternative wedding, engagement or just any-occasion rings from a combination of bent wood, precious metals, and stones or shells. Prices range from under $200.00 to around $600.00. Northwood offers care for life, ensuring that your ring will last. 

My band from Northwood has a sterling silver liner and a malachite inlay set in in ebony wood. It's a beautiful and eco friendly alternative to a traditional band, and I love the smooth glossy finish! 

Check out all of Northwood Rings' eye-catching designs on their website! If you're in the market for an ethically made engagement ring that fits your values, Northwood Rings might be the right choice for you! Use code LSJ2017 for 10% off your order at Northwood Rings until Feb 6, 2017.