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Moreloop: Making Circular Economy a Reality

Deadstock fabric is quickly becoming an increasingly popular material choice for up-and-coming sustainable fashion brands and designers. Deadstock fabric is any uncut and still usable material that is leftover from normal garment factory production. This waste occurs for several reasons, the most common being a 1-2% tolerance that is standard for factories to order in case of mistakes or defects. Another factor that contributes to waste is a high minimum order quantity (MOQ) when ordering fabric that forces factories to purchase more of one type of fabric than they truly need for a given order.

It’s incredible how quickly fabric loses its value. In the fabric warehouses here in the Philippines where factory surplus fabrics are dumped, you’ll literally climb over piles of fabric laying on the dirty ground. Much of it will inevitably be ruined and tossed out. It’s a shame to see such a waste of resources. Much deadstock fabric continues to sit wasted and unused, simply because it’s more difficult for designers to incorporate into design/production than simply ordering new fabric in the exact color, weight, and material needed. It’s a struggle that I’ve been hassled through myself: If a TELAstory client wanted a batch of purple tee shirts made from deadstock fabric, I’d spend hours commuting to the warehouses and combing through messy piles in hopes of finding what the client is looking for. Many times, I’ve been unsuccessful in finding exactly what’s needed. Another con when using deadstock fabric is that once the textile you source is gone, it’s gone- no chance of finding it again for another batch of the same product or a re-order.

A typical scene in a fabric warehouse where excess/waste fabric is sold by the kilo.

Looking for a specific type or color of deadstock fabric is like finding a needle in a haystack.

It’s definitely more environmentally kind to use already-existing deadstock fabric rather than contributing to the production of new textiles (especially synthetics). But there’s got to be a way to make this method of sourcing easier and more accessible in order for it to truly be a viable option for many brands. Enter brand-new startup, Moreloop.

I first learned about Moreloop last year when I was speaking at a government conference on promoting circular economy within the textile industry. It was there that I met the two brilliant young entrepreneurs from Thailand, Amm and Amorpol, who created the company. Moreloop aims to promote the use of deadstock fabric through connecting factories with buyers for their waste fabric.

Amorpol, myself, and Amm on the day we met.

On the consumers’ end, Amm and Amorpol have made sourcing deadstock fabric streamlined, efficient, and easy through creating an online marketplace where buyers can shop for available textiles by color, material, and quantity. Unlike the normal experience of purchasing deadstock fabric, Moreloop’s textiles are conveniently labeled with their exact fabric content, weight, and price. It’s a game changer for factory owners and ethical designers alike. I love that Moreloop’s website gives me the ability to filter results to search for only fabrics made with natural fibers, or to look for a specific color.

A screenshot from Moreloop’s website. Deadstock textile sourcing made easy! Find what you’re looking for in just a few minutes with a few clicks of your mouse.

I asked Amm and Amorpol to share a little bit about the background behind Moreloop, and the specific problems they’ve seen in the fashion industry that they’re trying to solve. Amm grew up in textiles, and helps run the family business, a garment factory in Bangkok. Amorpol comes from a background in the corporate world.

LSJ: Without a background in textiles, how did you get interested in sustainable fashion?

Amorpol: Originally, I wanted to make an online space for leftover industrial waste, mainly leftover / surplus materials from all industries. While i was testing my pain point assumption , Amm said there are surplus fabric piled up inside her factory. I realized that was a perfect starting place as it fits the criteria assumption; sunset industry, sizable (scaleable), there is an existing market and the waste is in a readily logisticable.

Then, when we try to find the environmental impact from fashion industry, it turns out to be enormous and there is already an existing term for this subject, sustainable fashion. As a result, I became passionate about the subject and tried to absorb any information available in order to use it to promote the idea that our business’ impact on the environment and profit and go in tandem.

To learn about a subject that makes a real impact makes me love solving this problem every moment.

Organized and labeled deadstock at Moreloop HQ waiting to be purchased and used!

LSJ: What is the problem in the fashion industry that you are trying to solve with Moreloop?

Amm and Amorpol: On the demand side, we want to improve accessibility to quality resources. Moreloop can enhance small or starting businesses’ opportunity to access a variety of quality fabrics at affordable prices and low MOQ. We also want to educate on fabric construction. Most local designers and fashion entrepreneurs lack fiber and fabric construction knowledge. By labeling out our textiles correctly, we ensure that they can learn to differentiate each type of fabric and select items to suit their design objectives. We also believe that the material  knowledge can entail better design overall. On the supply side, the main motivator is the environment. We want to reduce the existing material usage within the “fast fashion” system and help to curb new material production which not only consumes a vast amount of resources (water, energy), but also releases vast amount of pollution (chemical, CO2) in the process.

LSJ: Why should designers and brands choose deadstock? What are the positive aspects of choosing to buy deadstock and are there any drawbacks?

Amm and Amorpol:
Pros:

  • Firstly, using existing resources is environmentally friendlier as making new fabric which consumes a lot of resources such as energy and water, while releasing toxins such as CO2 and harmful chemicals in the dyeing process.
  • Secondly, “deadstock” or “Surplus fabric” that Moreloop puts on our platform is curated from standard garment manufacturers so all the fabric has complete information on it’s composition, characteristics and function unlike those in the local market.
  • Finally, Moreloop’s textiles are more accessible to a higher variety of clients (especially smaller brands) given our lower MOQ.

Cons:

  • The quantity is limited once it’s gone there is not repeat at the given MOQ. However given the composition, the designer can request the mill to weave it at higher MOQ or simply search for another similar textile in Moreloop’s database for reorders.
  • With deadstock, the designer may not find the exact match of the fabric they imagine during their design stage (if the design is very specific).

LSJ: Have you been able to connect with a lot of other factories to sell their deadstock fabrics? What have the reactions of other factory owners been like regarding your project?

Amm: Yes, I have connected with over 10 factories currently. The owners are quite interested in the idea because they also want to sell their fabric at its original price or as close as possible.  However, given the factory structure, they can’t open up textile sales personally to every small brand or individual designer so we are their solution to show their surplus fabric to others. We now have around 500 different type of fabrics on our platform and are continuing to add more!

LSJ: What is your hope for the future of MORELOOP? What impact do you hope the business can have on the fashion industry over time?

Amorpol: In the short term, we hope that Moreloop can prove that an online circular market such as Moreloop can become a sustainable and scalable business. In the long-term, we hope that, by using circular economy principles, we can create a new sustainable business model that makes multiple wins to all business stakeholders and the environment. Also, we hope the latter will incentivize consumers and businesses in the fashion industry to adopt the circular mindset as a norm, leading to a positive contribution towards sustainable fashion.

Visiting Moreloop HQ in Bangkok, Thailand January 2019

Interested in learning more about Moreloop or sourcing fabric with them? Reach out through the company’s Website , Facebook, or Instagram. Alternately, shoot me an and I’ll connect you to Amm and Amorpol personally.

For companies interested in more information about purchasing Moreloop’s available deadstock, I’ve got the details for you:

o A swatch (2”x1”) will cost you THB20/pc (less than $1.00 USD) excluding shipping fee.

o Sample yardage costs x3 the original price listed on the Moreloop website.

o Bulk MOQ is 1 roll (for small quantities available) or at least 50 yards or 20 kg. (for big quantities available) For example: If the platform shows 46 yds available, buyers are expected to take a whole roll. On the other hand, if the platform shows 500 yds available, a buyer can purchase at least 50 yards without surcharge (no need to take all 500 yds).
For additional information, visit Moreloop’s website.

Moreloop also has production capacity for men and women’s knitwear made from deadstock. I’m excited that Moreloop exists, and hope that it’s the start of an even bigger push in the fashion industry to move toward a circular economy model and use up the waste we’ve created before choosing new resources. Let’s all support Amm and Amorpol’s efforts as innovators and agents of change!

The Fabric Social Makes Ethical Clothing and Clears Minefields

This post is sponsored by The Fabric Social (read more about my guidelines for sponsored post in this recent piece! All opinions are my own.

Every once in awhile, I come across an ethical brand, look at their website, and think “I would wear every single thing in this shop!”. That’s the case with The Fabric Social. Natural fibres? Check. Neutral colors (I pretty much only wear black, grey, and navy blue)? Check. Simple, clean, modern cuts? Check.

Each style in The Fabric Social shop is named after a notable female activist- Warsan Shire, Arundhati Roy, Clementine Ford- and The Fabric Social is quite vocal about their own causes and values as a company founded by female activists! Each clothing or accessory purchase sends a donation to non-profit organization Apopo, which in turn results in one square metre of a mine field being cleared for good (by trained rats!).

The manufacture of The Fabric Socials’ clothing is, in a way, an act of activism as well. The beautiful silk and cotton handwoven fabrics that are used to make the garments are handwoven by women around India, many in areas of unrest, and then dyed and sewn at a Fair Trade workshop in Kolkata.

In this post, i’m wearing the Charcoal Roy. I’ve recently discovered a love of crop tops (as a short girl, crop tops allow me to feel a bit less drowned in fabric while still professional and covered up). I enjoy how the Roy allows me to wear that every popular “boxy” silhouette, but I don’t look like I’m wearing a flour sack. The Roy is made from a delightful fabric that is somewhat stiff (which means that it holds its shape nicely), while still very soft and breathable.

The Roy is available in two additional colorways- olive and navy- and is currently on sale for nearly 50% off!

Check out The Fabric Social’s instagram for behind the scenes photos of the women behind the brand, and learn more about them on facebook!

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.

While visiting Sri Lanka earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Vikum and Nadishan, co-founders of Kantala, and to learn more about the process used to manufacture Kantala bags, which are are comprised of four different materials: handloomed cotton, Pinatex, coconut shells, and hana, or agave plant fibers.

The best fibers come from plants that grow in a rocky, drier area, as the water content in the plant’s leaves will be just right. The hana leaves are harvested, and then scraped by hand with a wooden tool that removes the green, pulpy parts of the leaf and leaves behind strong, white, thread-like strands.

The fibers are then dyed and prepared for weaving. Weaving is still done on the same type of wooden loom that has been used for hundreds of years.

The resulting woven “mat” is sturdy, flexible, and soft, the perfect material for Kantala’s line of purses, clutches, and bags.

Much like the situation here in the Philippines with traditional weaving techniques, the Sri Lankan weaving industry is struggling as many weavers grow older and few younger artisans choose to learn the craft and follow in their footsteps.

Vikum and Nadishan are hopeful that by providing better wages and “modernizing” the products made with traditional weaves, Kantala can be a part of revitalizing the weaving industry. The hope is that when weaving becomes a more valued and profitable form of work, a new generation of weavers will commit to keeping the art form alive.

Kantala is currently raising funds on Indiegogo to scale up their production and launch a new line of bags. You can be the first to get your hands on a purse or clutch (in the color of your choice) by supporting the campaign!

After visiting Kantala’s artisans in person, I’m a huge supporter of the brand. I truly believe in and support what Vikum and Nadishan are trying to do through their company, and the products are beautiful and high-quality! I’ve been “field testing” the Kantala bags that I brought back from Sri Lanka and I’m impressed with the durability of the materials and the sleek look of the designs.

You can follow Kantala on Facebook and Instagram for updates and photos.

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

Everyone, 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.

I was lucky enough to connect with Megan and Gab over Skype, where we proceeded to have an hour and a half conversation that “felt like 30 minutes”. We laughed, we talked about deep and difficult questions, and shared our thoughts on the future of the ethical fashion industry.

First, I wanted to know what sparked the Walk Sew Good project. Megan, the initiator, had become passionate about ethical fashion after being enlightened to the poor treatment of garment workers. Recently, she decided that she was not doing enough of what she was passionate about. Inspired by an article that she read about a man who walked across the world, Megan cooked up the idea to walk across southeast Asia to promote ethical fashion and tell stories that matter. In Megan’s words, she “dragged Gab along”- but it’s apparent that Gab’s own interest in ethical fashion and social justice makes her the perfect partner for the job.

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So far, Megan and Gab have been on the road for several months, and have already managed to visit an impressive number of factories and workshops, like Dorsu in Cambodia (featured below)! I love that Megan and Gab have chosen video as a medium to tell the stories of the people that they meet, because it’s the next best thing to visiting and having a face-to-face conversation on your own.

I asked Megan and Gab if they had a favorite place that they’d visited, or if there was a place that stood out in their minds, as a good example of what fair manufacturing should look like. Pactics in Cambodia was a favorite with both, a large-scale manufacturer that mostly deals in active wear and those microfiber cloths that you’d use to clean your glasses or electronics. This factory is able to employ around 300 employees, paying a fair living wage. The facility boasts a library, green space, and solar power, and includes perks and benefits for their employees, even down to providing helmets for the workers who commute by motorbike.

My favorite story from Pactics was regarding their advocacy for their workers. The factory recently agreed to send several female workers to university to become engineers for the factory. They didn’t take “no” for an answer when told that those workers couldn’t enroll in the engineering program because they were girls, and the workers were able to get their education and move up in their careers.

Beyond just talking about the places the Walk Sew Good girls have visited, I wanted to pick their brains on what they’ve learned thus far on their journey. I drew out a few main points from our conversation that I thought would be interesting to you, dear readers:

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There are no easy answers.

We simplify “ethical fashion” so much when we talk about it -“why can’t garment manufacturing facilities just pay everyone fair wages?”- When it’s really much more complicated than that. A “fair wage” in one area might not be a fair wage in another, factories are often struggling to get the companies that send them orders to pay high enough per piece the pay a decent wage, while still attempting to not lose the huge contracts that employ their workers to a competing factory. When we discuss ethical fashion, we can’t be too wide-eyed and idealistic, we must consider the realities of how the business world works!

Wages are… complicated. 

I asked Megan and Gab if, in their travels, they’d been able to gather a lot of specific information on wages. I was curious about the actual dollar amount that workers in the ethical fashion sphere in Southeast Asia are making, and whether it is all across the board or somewhat consistent. As I suspected, it’s sort of all over the place. Similar to the Philippines, many countries have two seperate “living wages”- one for the city and one for the countryside. We talked about whether “fair trade” should standardize wages- a tough question with many pros and cons to consider. As Gab stated, “If I was being paid less than my counterparts for the same job, I wouldn’t feel that that was fair”- but it is true that the cost of living is drastically lower in the country than in the city. Megan offered, “I don’t know if there should be a set standard amount because it makes it difficult to actually set fair wages in different situations and locations. I think that the questions that should be asked are; ‘Is this enough to break the cycle of poverty, pay for food and housing comfortably, and allow for growth in the future?'”.

Let’s stop pretending every ethical fashion company is perfect.

During our conversation, Megan said something that really resonated with me: “What I think is missing in the ethical fashion world is honesty- not pretending everything is perfect. It’s actually so hard to get information from brands. They may be ethical in some ways but that doesn’t give them a free pass to withhold information about the other areas they’re not being super sustainable in”. I think that many ethical companies are intimidated by sharing honest details about wages, production, etc because they feel pressure to be perfect. Let’s acknowledge that 100% ethical is rarely a thing- a company may use hand-dyed, hand-woven, eco-friendly fabric but also package each garment in plastic and use zippers that come from a sweatshop-type factory in China. Maybe then, we can start to have open dialogues about what “ethical fashion” really looks like!

Thanks so much, Megan and Gab, for taking the time to chat about your project and the future of ethical fashion with me!

For more insights and inspiration + beautiful, positive stories, follow the Walk Sew Good project:

WebInstagram Facebook | You Tube |

All photos in this post are courtesy of Walk Sew Good’s Instagram account

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.

And in the space of these past three months, I’ve gone from a generally-positive ethical-lifestyle promoter with a “yes! We can do this!” attitude to a pretty angry and slightly more angsty tortured social justice warrior (that’s only half tounge-in-cheek). I find myself wanting to post long facebook rants about greed and capitalism far more often than I want to post about a brand or a new ethical living find.

 

Why? Because now things are getting more personal. I’ve cared about the people behind my clothes ever since I started this ethical consumerism journey, but It’s different, more intense, now that those people are my friends, now that they are people I’ve sung karaoke with and joked with and shared meals with.

Last year when I launched A Beautiful Refuge I sat with my new friend M over steaming bowls of tinola and learned about how she was just a teenager when she started working in clothing manufacturing for brands like The Disney Company and Victoria’s Secret. She made very little, and by the time she’d paid for her jeepney fare to and from the factory and for food there wasn’t much left.

A few weeks ago I talked with K, another friend who worked in the garment industry before she was sucked into a life of commercial sexual exploitation through promise of more income and an easier method of survival. I felt a wave of hot anger pass through me as I thought of the wealthy high-level employees of the same multi-billion companies that “couldn’t afford” to pay my friend and countless workers like her a few more dollars a month. “How can they live with themselves when their success comes at the expense of the broken lives of others”?

I grabbed coffee in a mall recently with another new friend, C, who worked in the garment industry in the Philippines for two years before quitting just last week to form her own label + employ at least a few of the seamstresses she saw being treated unfairly in the factories where she worked. Here in the Philippines, the garment manufacturing industry isn’t as large as other countries in Southeast Asia. Do you know why? Because big fashion companies don’t want to pay the required minimum wage. And the required minimum wage here is not even a living wage- it’s under 10 dollars a day! C told me how Express, one of the larger international fast fashion brands that has been manufacturing here in the Philippines for 17 years, is pulling out of the Philippines and moving their factories to Vietnam “because there are even less regulations there, and because they can pay an even lower wage”.

I mean, this is nothing new. I knew before moving here that Express didn’t pay fair wages and that factory conditions weren’t great in the Philippines… but moving from “I read some info on a website” to “my friend shared how this is affecting her life” kind of increased my level of investment.

And anger.

So, what do I do with this anger? How do I turn it into something constructive?

I can, for starters, continue paying fair wages to the women at A Beautiful Refuge (twice what other “fair trade” businesses I’ve visited here pay). I can continue tirelessly working to expand the business so that we can hire more women.

Maybe, in the future, I can help start a factory. An actual fair wage factory, a completely transparent factory. One that can employ all of the skilled garment makers who are losing their jobs here in the Philippines. It’s a dream that I’m actually taking (scary) steps toward with some friends.

Aside from that, I can continue to take steps to weigh my own consumption, finding balance, and contributing my spending to worthwhile companies.

Because that’s all I know how to do, for now.

Thanks for listening/reading.

Life In The Philippines: Colors Of Manila

I often get asked “WHY do you live in Manila?”. I get it- as a foreigner there’s a perception in others’ eyes that I have the resources to live anywhere I’d like. Taking into account Manila’s pollution, traffic, and corruption, it’s a fair question.

The truth is, I love Manila. I love her history, her quirky, eclectic food scene, her people with their quick smiles and fascinating stories. I love discovering the hidden gems that you’d miss unless you spent time hanging out with the locals and allowing yourself to slip into their world.

My love for Manila in recent years has been stoked by my self-proclaimed “history and culture nerd” friends, Dustin and Noni. Dustin owns Manila For A Day, a no-bullshit tour company that he started after growing tired of telling a “sanitized” version of the Philippines’ history as a government employed tour guide for foreign VIPs. Dustin is the reason I can show up many of my local friends when it comes to history knowledge- I’ve been on multiple tours with Dustin and he’s been the only person I know who could explain the origin of certain elements of Filipino culture to me. Noni is a Manila For A Day guide- or “cultural navigator” and the creator of Manila For A Day’s newest offering, “Colors of Manila”. Colors of Manila brings travelers and locals alike through one of my very favorite areas of Manila- Quiapo.

Quiapo streets. Don’t laugh at my tourist hat unless you’re also lily-white and can burn painfully in 5 minutes.

Quiapo is home to the world’s oldest Chinatown. Once, it was old Manila’s central business district and “downtown” area. Today, it’s still a bustling hub for commerce, but you’ll see streets full of roadside vendors instead of men in suits with briefcases. Everywhere you turn, there’s vibrant color, chaos, and an explosion of life.

There’s also a beautiful cross-section of diversity in Quiapo. Here, one of Manila’s few mosques exists just beside an iconic old Catholic church. You’ll meet hijab-wearing women selling halal food, vendors selling prayer candles, and fortune tellers offering up a dose of mysticism.

Sampling as many different fruits as possible.

You could stroll through this area on your own, taking in all the sensory stimuli and exploring- but if you want to take a deep dive into the neighborhood, go with Noni or Dustin.

Piles of fresh gulay brought into the city to sell from provincial farms.

Noni and me buying suman- rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves.

Quiapo church

Tribes and Treks: A Tree-Planting, Culture-Sharing Experience

I’ve wanted to join a Tribes & Treks excursion ever since I moved to the Philippines. Nearly two years later, I finally made it onto a tour. Was it worth the wait? Yes. Should I have gone sooner? Also yes.

My friends at MAD Travel (“Mad” stands for “make a difference”) carefully developed the Tribes & Treks tour as an experiment in sustainable community tourism that would offer support to the Aetas, an indigenous people group who call the mountains of Zambales home.

Environmental catastrophe struck this beautiful region in 1991, when volcanic Mount Pinatubo erupted violently… killing hundreds (including many Aetas), and spewing ash into the atmosphere that reached as far as North America and Russia. Eventually the Aetas resettled the surrounding land, but they are still dealing with the aftermath. A lack of trees – once heavily rainforested hillsides are now dotted with just a few scraggly saplings- mean that the Aeta community is extremely vulnerable to flooding and has less abundant natural resources to make a livelihood.

MAD Travel has the ambitious goal of harnessing responsible tourism to reforest 3000 hectares of land (about 11 square miles). Aside from the obvious draw of visiting the Aeta community (I’m always a fan of learning and respectful cultural exchange through well-planned community tourism), that’s what piqued my interest.

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Arriving in Zambales, as always, felt like coming home. I lived in Zambales in 2009 while working at an NGO so the beaches, the mountains, the people feel warm and familiar.

Andrew and I bused from Manila to the jump-off point for the tour, Circle Hostel. There, we met up with Andrea, our MAD Travel guide, and the rest of the travelers who were joining the trek. After a quick jeepney ride until there were no longer any roads to travel on, we set off on foot through flat, sandy terrain with tall, feathery-plumed grass waving above our heads. We’d been joined by members of the Aeta community driving two Carabao carts, which we’d be grateful for near the end of our trek under the blazing sun.

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Our first destination was the nursery where MAD Travel guests and the Aeta community work together to bring life back to the surrounding mountainside. After Andrea told us the story of the area’s history, MAD Travel’s goals in creating a better future for the area, and answered our questions about the reforestation project, we set to work.

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Our group of travelers was small, but competitive, and planted 525 trees in just a few hours. They’ll stay in the nursery until they’re strong enough to thrive, and then they’ll be planted in the ground by members of the Aeta tribe (who are, of course, paid for their work as planters and caretakers through proceeds of Tribes & Treks tours).

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As it neared the middle of the day, it was time to set off again- this time even further down the riverbed to the Aeta community. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed with an enormous feast prepared by the local women.

There are a few factors that give me a huge amount of respect for the way that MAD Travel has chosen to operate. First, there’s no “poverty porn” or gawking allowed. Guests are schooled in the proper way to interact (be polite, don’t snap photos without permission, treat your fellow human beings with respect and equality) before arriving in the community and care is taken to protect the community against carelessness on the part of visitors.

Second, it’s obvious that the input of the Aeta community has been valued in the creation of the program. Trust has been built. When the program first started, rather than coming in as outsiders and telling the community what they needed to do to revitalize their land, the MAD team sent Aeta tribal leaders to pay a visit to another indigenous tribe that had successfully re-grown their forests. No one is coerced to participate, and some community members choose not to.

After lunch, members of the tribe introduced us to various elements of their traditional culture. Andrea explained to us that before MAD Travel began developing Tribes & Treks, only the very eldest members of the Aeta tribe remembered their traditional songs and dances. Through the program and being encouraged to share their traditions with outsiders, the children of the community have now picked up the remnants of these cultural expressions.

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We were encouraged to try our hand at shooting the tribes’ handcrafted bow and arrows. I didn’t manage to hit the target (in my defense, it was a narrow tree trunk!), and don’t think I would be much good at hunting for food in the mountains.

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The children and a few of the adults performed traditional dances and a few songs for us, pulling us out of our seats to join them. We were encouraged, in turn, to share our own “talents” so I whipped out my best rendition of “hawak kamay” and taught everyone how to play “duck, duck, grey duck” (what could be a better representation of a childhood in the midwest).

The entire encounter was wildly joyful- it was easy to see that the community enjoyed their visitors. The men chuckled at our archery and dancing attempts, and the women introduced us to their kids and sold us produce and wild honey and bamboo straws.

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As we said our goodbyes and headed back to town after our long day of adventure, our group laughed and chatted and basked in that warm glow that one gets after doing something concrete to help out Mother Earth. Our trip only lasted a day, but the trees we planted will be there for many, many years, helping the land and the people who inhabit it to thrive.

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Tribes and Treks Zambales is a joint partnership of Mad Travel, The Circle Hostel with the Municipality of San Felipe, Zambales and the Hineleban Foundation.

Brands I Believe In: Fair+Little

Welcome to a brand new series on Lifestyle Justice: Brands I Believe In. Since I stopped doing sponsored posts, I haven’t been sharing many clothing or goods recommendations. I want to start popping in to this platform from time to time to share un-sponsored reviews of products that I love from truly ethical brands that I believe in. For this first installment, I reached out to my friend Molly to let her know that I’d like to write about her brand Fair+Little. She was kind enough to offer an artisan-centered discount code to you all- read ’til the end for more details on that.

Molly and I first connected over her online shop, Fair + Simple: a boutique full of carefully sourced and fairly made gifts from all over the world. I loved the business model: You buy someone a Fair + Simple gift card, give it to them for their birthday/Christmas/wedding/special occasion, and they can go to the website to choose any gift they’d like. It’s ethical gift-giving made easy, in a way that lets people choose the object they’ll love, cherish, and use the most. I loved it. Molly has been sending work to the women at A Beautiful Refuge for years now: custom screen printed totes and wall banners, and, more recently, a linen home goods line. The women in the shop love “Ate Molly”- they’ve facetimed, swapped photos of kids. The ABR women are so proud every time I pull up the Fair+Simple website and show them one of their products listed for sale with beautiful professional photographs.

I’ve always found it easy to talk to Molly- it feels like we’ve got hearts on the same wavelength. On one phone call, Molly shared her dream of creating an ethically made children’s line, and I shared my goal of beginning to manufacture not only home goods and screen printed tees, but garments here in the Philippines. And so, Fair + Little was born.

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Molly’s main vision for Fair + Little is to open up the conversation of ‘who made my clothes’ with children: “I personally hadn’t given a thought to who made my clothes until I was in my early 20s.  Once I started asking questions, my purchasing practices made a big shift as I began to realize the negative impact a clothing item can make on people and planet.  If we teach our child to turn over a tag and consider the person behind the product, awareness can happen very early.  It can be as simple as noticing the country of origin, pointing out a seam that was made by a human, and looking at the material content.  We don’t have to teach children all the answers, but at least they can start to ask the questions themselves.”

Fair + Little includes skirtspantscapris, and the sweetest little dress, all made of 100% linen. There are also 3 tee shirts (all made from deadstock fabric sourced here in the Philippines, and illustrated by my favorite artist in the Philippines, my good friend Elle). One of the things that I love most about Fair+Little is the fact that the prices are affordable. It’s really important for me, personally, to work toward more inclusive ethical fashion choices and at $16-$36 these pieces fit the bill. I know personally how hard Molly worked to crunch the numbers to buy really beautiful quality fabric, pay fair wages to the women who made the garments, and cover all the expenses that come along with manufacturing, and still offer prices that many parents will easily be able to afford.

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Molly designed and graded each pattern herself, wear-testing each design on her own kids. She chose a nature-based, treasure hunting theme. There is also an undercurrent of gender equality present in the design. Molly says It’s always bothered her how girls clothing often comes with fake pockets, but this is rarely found in boys clothing.  “Girls need pockets too, and not everything needs to be pink or purple with a princess on it”.

I have to admit that I teared up a little when I say the images of the garments when they made their way from the Philippines to the Oregon coast for a photoshoot. These clothes are everything I would have wanted as a child. I lived outdoors, building forts in the woods, collecting pressed flowers, insects, rocks, and fossils, picking berries and fresh veggies from my families garden for snacks. I wore boys’ camouflage cargo pants because I wanted pockets to carry my pocketknife and other outdoor survival tools, just like my younger brothers. It’s beautifully nostalgic for me to see wild and free kids stuffing the pockets of their Fair + Little garments with shells and treasures.

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I’ve struggled in the past year with finding the information I want about ethical brands. That’s why I took down my shopping directory here on Lifestyle Justice: I just didn’t know that I could guarantee that the brands I were recommending were 100% up to the standards that I want to see for wages, materials, and more.

That makes sharing Fair + Little SO satisfying. Because I worked so closely with Molly on this project, I know the details behind every aspect of production. I know exactly the amount that each seamstress was paid. I know where each material came from- I could take you to meet the vendor in a tiny stall in the market in Binondo where I purchased biodegradable coconut-shell buttons, and I could show you the warehouse where I found the tee shirt fabric- discarded from a local factory.

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Because Molly wanted to produce Fair + Little in the most sustainable and impactful way possible, she definitely didn’t choose the easy route. It was a TON of hard work and problem-solving! I asked Molly what the “worth it” moment was, for her, in creating Fair + Little, and I love her response:

“It has not been an easy road to bring Fair+Little to life, but seeing children learn about who made their clothes has been worth it.  It is a privilege to be the first encounter with shopping for good in some cases.  It is so rewarding to hear stories of kids telling others people about what makes their pants or dress with big pockets so special.  Change in the apparel industry happens slowly, but it can also happen EARLY.”

Each Fair+Little purchase comes with an information card designed for kids (yes, this also made me cry, because it’s so beautiful and pure).

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In order to keep ethical items affordable and impact great, Molly is keeping Fair + Little margins tight and almost non-existent in advertising and promos. For here, It just doesn’t fit within her “why” and who her customers are.

Molly wanted to offer something special to Lifestyle Justice readers, and you can get free shipping when you use the artisan centered promo code: LIFESTYLEJUSTICE

What’s an artisan-centered promo? It’s a way that Molly is cutting an even bigger slice of the profit pie for the women who made your kids’ clothing. Instead of 40% off the price to you, the customer, 40% of your purchase goes to the artisan. I’ve never seen a brand do this before, and I love the concept.

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If you have any questions at all about Fair+Little, leave them in the comments below! Either Molly or myself can share whatever additional information you’d like to know about the brand.

Thanks so much for reading, and I genuinely hope you’ll follow and support the work that Molly is doing to bring ethical shopping to kids!

Some images in this post are by Betsy Blue Photography

Conscious Travel Guide: Bohol Philippines

No, I’m not a travel blogger… But responsible and eco friendly travel is a big part of my conscious lifestyle. Living here in the Philippines, I regularly observe both the positive and negative effects of tourism on these beautiful islands.

As long as I’m here, I want to help create resources for other travelers to use to maximize their positive impact while traveling, support the tourism-powered businesses and initiatives that are doing good and giving back to local communities, and reducing waste and environmental destruction. Consider this post the first of (hopefully) many guides on specific locations around the Philippines from this perspective.

Let’s talk about Bohol! One of the Philippines’s 7,641 islands, Bohol is famous for its “chocolate hills” (perfectly rounded geological formations), tarsirs (the world’s almost-smallest primate), and starfish-studded white sand beaches. Tourism on this island has boomed in the past half-decade. While the increased tourism has boosted the local economy, it’s also created some wear and tear on the natural wonders of the area, increased the trash making it’s way into the ocean and coral reefs, and resulted in the exploitation of local wildlife. While visiting Bohol, Andrew and I packed our zero waste travel kit (reusable containers and bags and utensils), and made a point of spending our dollars on businesses and experiences that we could feel good about.

 

Things To Do

Experience the Magic of Thousands of Fireflies

On one of our first nights in Bohol,  spent several hours quietly paddling down the Abatan River, in pitch black darkness. The only lights were the stars and a tiny dull red beacon light on our guide’s kayak. Our eyes gradually adjusted, and our senses heightened. I wish I could show you what we travelled silently down the river to see, but a photo wouldn’t do it justice (nor could I take one in the darkness)… thousands of fireflies filling the mangrove trees (they’re attracted to the scent of the tree), lighting up the night sky like a moving constellation. Our guide taught us all about the habits and life cycle of the bugs, and regaled us with Filipino folklore about lightning bugs. It made me sad to see several motorized boats whiz past us on the river- if you try this experience for yourself one day, be sure to use a tour guide service that doesn’t use lights or motors so that you won’t contribute to harming or disturbing the rich ecosystem of the river and the mangrove thickets. We went with Kayak Asia Philippines and loved the experience.

See a Tarsier…

But not the way that we did. Let me explain. Tarsiers are nocturnal and territorial animals, and highly sensitive. In fact, if they become too stressed they will actually commit suicide!  I knew before visiting Bohol that I didn’t want to go to one of the “Tarsier sanctuaries” put up for tourists, where Tarsiers are kept in zoo-like cages and forced to stay awake for photos with tourists.

 

I did a bit of research and found the “Philippine Tarsier Foundation“, a small and more out-of-the way establishment further from the more tourist-populated areas of the island. The Foundation was created by a local man who has assisted with a lot of research and preservation efforts on behalf of the tarsier population, and the information I found online promised that the animals were free-roaming and that the staff would silently guide you through the trees to try to catch a glimpse of the sleeping creatures.

 

Swim and Snorkel

Bypass the tourist island hopping package tours and just hire a local guy with a boat to take you around to the snorkeling spots (mostly located on smaller islands off the coast of Bohol). Our boat driver jumped into the water with us and helped us spot lots of fish and a beautiful sea turtle! Message me on social media if you’re planning a trip to Bohol and would like to get in touch, as I don’t want to publish contact information on the internet.

While in Bohol we visited Balicasag & Virgin Islands, two of the most popular island hopping sites, but went in the late afternoon and Andrew and I plus our Friends Mark and JP were the only travelers in sight. Next time I want to try visiting a few other islands that aren’t as frequently visited.

Keep in mind that while snorkeling, you should take care to wear a reef-safe sunscreen (like this ethically-produced formula from Manda), and avoid touching anything or disturbing the coral or fish. Feeding the fish while snorkeling is a popular tourist activity and your guide/driver might offer you some bread. While feeding the fish might seem like a cool wildlife encounter or make for awesome underwater photos, it is quite harmful to the ecosystem within a coral reef. By introducing a new food supply, fish may eat less of the algae that they normally consume, causing the reef to become overtaken. Feeding can also make fish conditioned to be less aware of predators, and harm their digestive systems.

 

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wow under sea

Visit the Man Made Forest

This 2km stretch of stately mahogany trees is actually a reforestation project started in the 1960’s and 1970’s, to replace trees that were cut down and burnt for farming purposes in Bohol during WW2. The moment you enter the forest, there is an intense temperature drop- it almost feels like walking into a refrigerator, contrasted with the hot temperatures outside.

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Beach, Beach, Beach.

The Beaches on Bohol, especially Panglao island (a smaller island attached to the mainland), are amazing! Because of the reef flat surrounding the southern part of the area, the white sand beaches are shallow for ages before you come to a steep, coral-reef drop-off.  I didn’t much care for the famous Alona beach area, and I much preferred Dumaloan Beach Resort. Entrance is about a dollar per person, with the option of renting a bamboo hut for shade and to keep your stuff from getting sandy. There were far fewer tourists here and more locals, the beach was lovelier, and you can order lots of delicious food options. I had no problem requesting no single use plastic, and brewed coffee for Andrew instead of the instant kind from plastic sachets

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Rent a Scooter and Explore

Andrew and I rented a scooter from Anne Blue’s for $8 a day, and set off to drive around the island to explore. Honestly, this was my favorite thing that we did! We stopped off in little roadside eateries to refill our water bottle or eat a pastry, waved at countless local kids, chatted with new friends, and stopped to take in amazing rivers, rice fields, ocean views, and waterfalls.

Places To Eat

Shaka Cafe

Vegan food is admittedly a bit hard to come by in the Philippines (much local cuisine is meat-based), and Shaka Cafe is a heavenly oasis of delicious, healthy options.

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Shaka Is committed to keeping plastic out of the ocean- you won’t find any single use plastic here, your drinks will be served without a plastic straw, and you are encouraged to bring your own containers!

Andrew and I loved everything we tried, here, but especially the Bom Dia smoothie bowl topped with mango and coconut. Yum!

Yum

Bohol Coco Farm

Bohol Coco FarmMuch of the food served at Bohol Coco Farm is grown within the farm itself! The goal by next year is for 60+ percent of ingredients to be grown on the premises. Vegan options are abundant, prices are super affordable, and your smoothies will be sweetened with coconut nectar collected from the trees just a few paces outside the restaurant pavvillion, not sugar.

You’ve got to try the coconut noodles and vegan burgers! You won’t have to worry about single use plastic here, either, and Bohol Coco Farm is making great strides to reduce the amount of trash generated by the business. A+ all around and I can’t wait to go back!

 

 

 

 

Bohol Bee Farm

The Bohol Bee Farm is not just a fun place to visit and learn about sustainable farming and livelihood programs, it’s a delicious place to get meals made from local ingredients. There are quite a few vegan options, I recommend the salad covered with edible flowers! You can even get ice cream in all sorts of funky flavors here- avocado, spicy ginger, durian, and more- contained in handmade cones that are made from cassava flour (gluten-free friends, rejoice!).

Places to Stay

Pahiluna Guest House

Andrew and I were so lucky to be able to stay in this gorgeous oasis of a guest house. Tucked away in a quiet little neighborhood, yet super close to most of the places I’ve listed in this post, it’s really the ideal place to stay if you want to rest and recharge.

Pahiluna is owned by the family of a friend, and I can vouch for the care taken to ensure environmentally friendly lodgings for conscious travelers- though hot showers are provided you can also pump your own water in the bathrooms with a manual pump to save extra water. There’s a common-use kitchen so that you can cook your own food (just buy some veggies at the open-air market in the nearby town.

The design of the building is beautiful- light spills in through lots of big windows and the wooden furnishings at warmth against a white backdrop, and the rooms are extremely comfortable. You can opt to use a fan or just enjoy the natural breezes.

Pricing is amazingly affordable- book a room here and get ready to relax!

Bohol Coco Farm

If you’re into a hostel vibe, rent one of the simple, eco-friendly bamboo cottages at the Bohol Coco Farm! There’s a lovely community vibe, here, with guests from all over the world connecting with each other and sharing experiences.

EJ is also a wealth of knowledge regarding the lesser-known haunts to explore around the island, and is happy to help travelers arrange adventures. On my next trip to Bohol, I can’t wait to visit Pamilacan Island, as EJ let me know that the local community there has set up their own hostel (meals included!) to supplement their income and share the beauty of the island.

Ready to plan a trip to Bohol? Shoot me a message if you have any questions on the specifics of my favorite places and enjoy tropical paradise while living sustainably!

I guess I’m writing about politics and religion now, Damn it.

I woke up this morning to a flurry of posts on my social media feeds that made me sick to my stomach. While I slept, hundreds of white supremacist terrorists with tikki torches gathered in Charlottesville. Met by counter protestors, violence between the groups escalated and resulted in injury and even death for one demonstrator. The president of my country failed to condemn the terrorists’ actions, instead issuing a statement that basically said both sides (white supremacists and peace activists alike) had behaved badly.

I should mention that the “flurry of posts” I mentioned above mostly came from news outlets, activists, peace organizations that I follow, and one or two white friends. Mostly, though, silence from my 550, predominantly white, predominantly Christian, predominantly American facebook friends.

So. While this platform is usually used for writing about ethical fashion and postive, upbeat stories of good stuff in the world… this is the platform that I have, and I have to use it to talk about this stuff, too.

This post is written from me, an imperfect white-woman-“social-justice-warrior”, to the “silent majority” that I see. People like me.

Let’s CONSIDER OUR HISTORY.

In his essay, “The Souls of White Folk“, Author Stephen Jamal Leeper asks a thought- provoking question: “How has centuries of seeing one’s self as savior but operating as oppressor shaped white identity?”. I have alot of thoughts on that subject, and someday (perhaps) I might write a longer post focusing on it. But for today, I just want to talk very personally about how “seeing one’s self as savior but operating as oppressor” is a part of my life.
Growing up, my family was loving and tolerant. Our lives were focused around “doing good” and loving people in many ways. I was just a tiny kid when my parents started bringing me to the local nursing home to sing and play the piano and spend time with the elderly. We volunteered. We talked about the value of putting the needs and well-being of others above our own. I can not recall a single instance of my parents showing prejudice or any kind of altered behavior toward people of color/people of different faiths/people “different” than our family. I have a distinct, early memory of my dad calling out and condemning a racist joke that he heard another family member make- that stuck with my impressionable young mind. However, it also needs to be understood that also I didn’t have any non-white friends growing up (this was rural Minnesota in the 90’s) and very little exposure to cultures outside of my own beside what I learned from books, from school, and from “Sunday School” at church.

When I was a child, I had an entire set of “missionary story” books. I pored over accounts of the lives of David Livingston, Amy Carmichael, and others. While I was inspired in a good way by some commendable actions (Most notably Amy Carmichael’s early work combatting underage sex trafficking and her feminist tendencies in the 1800’s), I was being programmed to admire and see as heroes people who ascribed to an idea of “missons” that I now see as inherently un-Christian and oppressive. I started to internalize at a young age that white people had a “mission” or responsibility to “save brown people”. Of course, this has traditionally been done by forcing people of color to assimilate to white Christian culture. These missionaries that I was reading about as heroes were marching into foreign countries, “converting” the native people, forcing them to dress, talk, act, and even sing like white Americans- thus conveying the idea that white culture is somehow more “moral”, superior, desirable. The Christian missions industry still largely operates in this way today, and these subtle perspectives were reinforced in me as I grew up in a church that raised thousands of dollars to send out “missionaries” on glorified vacations to prosthelytize the locals (often in already-predominantly-Christian countries, funnily enough).

In school, Columbus was presented to me as a Christian hero and a great man, rather than a cruel, racist, genocidal maniac. Quotes like “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold” were conveniently left out of books, and illustrations of Columbus kneeling in prayer were plastered on the pages.

My history books skimmed over many of the atrocities committed against the Indigenous people of the Country I call home. I didn’t know until I was twenty-seven years old that my country spent such a HUGE number of years actively at WAR with the original inhabitants of this “nation founded on Christian values”. No one who taught me (even in college) really batted an eye at the fact that the most famous document in American history, the Declaration of Independence, STILL TO THIS DAY states that “all Men are created equal,” except, of course, for the “merciless Indian savages” mentioned within the next few lines.

HIS SPREADSHEET LISTS EVERY YEAR IN THE USA’S HISTORY. THE RED FIELDS INDICATE YEARS THAT WE WERE ACTIVELY AT WAR WITH NATIVE AMERICANS. FROM A TALK GIVEN BY ACTIVIST MARK CHARLES

I, like most white Americans, would definitely say that “I am not racist”, but the subtle influence of white supremacism is present in my life- and I believe that this holds true for most people with a similar history to mine. Even as an adult who has tried to become de-programmed from the wrong perspectives that I was fed, and who has soaked up as much knowledge as I can from non-white leaders and thinkers and activists who offer an antidote to my areas of ignorance, I am not completely free of ingrained prejudice.

Does that make you as uncomfortable as it makes me?

Let’s EMBRACE OUR DISCOMFORT.

And let’s not be ashamed of it. I really think that so much healing could take place, so many wonderful conversations could be had, if we would just stop worrying so much about “saying something wrong” or being misunderstood or being judged. Let’s just be honest with each other. We need to be able to be honest in order to get down to the roots of racism and hatred. We need to be able to get down to the roots to eradicate it.

Let’s CALL OUT RACISM.

I am ashamed to admit this, but it’s important. I have had so many opportunities to speak on behalf of justice, and I haven’t done so.  Here’s the thing. I don’t get to be “too tired”. I don’t get to be embarrassed. I don’t get to say “not today”. I have a personal responsibility to live out what I believe regarding equality, love, and justice. Not to mention, my faith requires it (“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”- James 4:17). You have this responsibility too, if you are a white person who professes a belief in social justice. Let’s face it- the most powerful and effective thing that we can do to fight racism isn’t necessarily to to write about it or to speak publicly about it. It’s having deep, personal conversations with the people in our own immediate sphere of influence. It’s easier for me to write this post than it is for me to sit down with a racist relative to talk about our differences… but I recognize the latter as being even more powerful than the former in the long run.

Let’s LISTEN.

Let’s not talk over people of color. Let’s not speak FOR people of color. Let’s listen, let’s honor, let’s lament, and let’s have hard conversations.

That’s enough words from me. To finish this post, I want to share some raw, real words from people I follow and learn from.

“It’s easy and even gratifying to point a self-righteous finger at the KKK/Alt Right marchers in #charlottesville. But their activities simply distract White America from doing the real work of excavating the white supremacy that is rooted deep down in every American institution, church, seminary and community. Everyone who participates in and benefits from whiteness is complicit in the hateful atrocities in Charlottesville. The same evil at work in Charlottesville is at work in American churches, seminaries, and communities.” – Christena Cleveland

“Black folks aint hung up on the past. We mad about right now. THIS was last night. A mob of racists chanting “White Lives Matter” and “You Will Not Replace Us”. The people in this photo (and those who sympathize with them) are not small in number, neither are they only in the south. They are in Orange County California and Portland Oregon. They are our classmates, teammates and neighbors. They are pastors, engineers , university professors, police officers, lawyers and judges. They are our crush’s parents and siblings. THIS is why I lament for America. This is why I can’t shut up” – Micah Bournes, Poet and Activist

“Does it bother you that unmasked members of the Ku Klux Klan will likely be in someone’s church singing worship songs, praying, attending a church plant conference, or worse, policing our neighborhoods, teaching our children? Is there not an outrage from white-led churches and organizations to identify these KKK members and warn people of color? Does not the Holy Spirit compel you to preach a message this weekend to convict their hearts and transform their minds? Or are you still silent and complicit as the white nationalist power publicly terrorizes the rest of us?” –Rev. Michael McBride, LIVE FREE

Let’s talk. If this resonates with you, if you hate it and disagree, if you feel your conscience nudging you…. I’d love to have a conversation

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