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Living life with good intention, loving with soul, and consuming with a conscience

September 13, 2019

My Positive Birth Story

So... that's my son. Son. That is a word I cannot believe I get the pleasure to use and it's going to take me quite some time to get used to it. It's been a little over 4 weeks since he decided it was his time to come earthside and I now feel ready to share my birth story here. When I was pregnant, I loved reading positive birth stories and watching positive labour videos on YouTube because honestly? I was shit-scared of childbirth. Finding out I was pregnant resulted in me immediately stating I wanted a cesarean no matter what but thankfully through reading and watching positive stories and practicing hypnobirthing, I became comfortable and confident with the idea of labour - in all forms - and had a positive experience myself as a result of this change in my outlook on the procedure.

I feel like I owe it to others to share my labour story not because people have to share (it's a very personal experience and it's fully understandable that some individuals have experiences they don't wish to mention again or divulge on the internet), but simply because I gathered so much knowledge, strength, and inspiration from others who had shared, I'd like to give back in case I can provide the same for anyone else. So, here is my story (trigger warning: discussing labour in detail, blood, and postpartum care)

It actually all started early on Sunday 11th August morning. I woke up at 2:06am with really bad cramps. After lying in bed in discomfort for a little while, I waddled to the bathroom and back and decided that I was having more obvious Braxton Hicks than I had had up to that point. The fact that they had managed to wake me up made me feel a bit concerned but also extremely excited in case it was "the real deal". After managing to go back to sleep, I realised in the morning it had all been a false alarm and felt a bit disappointed. This happened again in the early hours of Monday and Tuesday morning bizarrely, at exactly 2:06am again both mornings. 2:06am Wednesday 14th August I woke again, with cramps that felt incredibly strong compared to the past few nights. I assumed, again, that they were Braxton Hicks or an upset stomach and if I walked to the bathroom for the gazillionth time that night that they would subside. Oh how wrong I was.

Sitting on the toilet, I made the distinctive "mooing" sound that pregnant women make during established labour. Now, I had only just woken up and was still convincing myself that I was just having a rough time i.e. the shits but when I made that noise that I had learned so much about, that noise that is completely involuntary and just seems to come out of its own accord, I shouted to Matt who was still in bed that I thought it was actually happening this time around. He brought my phone to me so I could use my Positive Birth Company Freya app to keep track of my contractions or "surges".

I decided to hop into the shower in case it really was happening - because god forbid I went to the birth centre with greasy bed hair - and the hot water helped me focus and collect my thoughts that felt like they were bouncing around from panic to dread to overwhelming excitement. It took me too long to dry my hair due to the surges and when Matt returned from having a shower himself, I stood up to speak to him and my waters broke. I stood in the middle of our spare bedroom shouting "I'm not wetting myself on purpose I can't make it stop!" as if that made it any better. I decided to perch on the toilet again if nothing else but to save our carpets from devastation and my waters kept coming.

I called the labour line at that point and was told to try to go back to bed and see how I was feeling in 24-48 hours. I was frustrated when I got off the phone because my app had been telling me to go to the birth centre for the last 10 minutes because my contractions were coming thick and fast. I lasted maybe 10-15 minutes longer before asking Matt to call the labour line back again because I didn't want to speak to them unless I really needed to and in that time, I'd started to lose my mucus plug and felt like I'd never be able to leave the toilet ever again.

By around 3am, Matt and I were clambering into a taxi that bumped and rocked us all the way to the birth centre. I had put my headphones in and was still using my Positive Birth Company Freya app to track my surges - not because I needed to anymore, but it was helping me time my breathing and the positive affirmations in-between each surge helped me feel really calm and in control. Matt was amazing and took it upon his shoulders to be my voice for the most part and ran into the birth centre (alongside the taxi driver!) to let them know I was outside but finding it hard to get inside because the surges were so strong. I finally got inside and needed to have an assessment.

The midwives I had during my labour were fantastic. I'm sure they thought I was being dramatic during my assessment because I went from occasionally bending over the desk/chair in the room to breathe through a surge to crawling on the floor to breathe through one. For whatever reason, my body wanted to get as close to the ground as possible and I seemed to gravitate towards being on all fours and facing away from everyone. It turned out that little man had decided to have some of his first poo during this time and thus the midwives wanted to check how dilated I was as if I was under 4cm, they thought it would be better for me to go to the main hospital and labour ward because of little man's - literally - shitty antics.

I struggled to lie on the examination bed long enough for them to examine me but next thing I knew, I had asked how dilated I was and I was 10cm. 10cm! The midwife could see my baby's head! I can't lie, I was elated because a speck of doubt had started to creep into the back of mind that I wasn't going to be able to cope with labour. I started to think that if they feeling got any more severe and I was only 4cm dilated or less, I was going to have an awful time, so hearing "10cm - we really need to get you into the birthing room!" was the *best* thing I could have heard.

The rest of the labour was a bit of a blur to be honest. Because I had had headphones in for the majority of the time, I wasn't really listening to what was being said and Matt was answering most of the midwives' questions. When we got into the birthing room (somewhere between 4:30-5am), I noticed they weren't running the water for the birthing pool and realised that I had overheard a conversation that they had had with Matt correctly; because my waters had gone a green shade meaning they suspected Teddy had pooed, getting in the birthing pool was no longer an option. Due to how quick things were moving, I didn't really mind.

I didn't have time to put on my playlist of calming music I had created, I didn't have time to turn on my battery powered tealight candles, I didn't even have time to take my poorly chosen white t-shirt off. I simply got on all fours on a old-school-style gym mat on the floor whilst Matt was advised to sit on a birthing seat so I could lean on his legs whilst I pushed through the surges. Again, the midwives were amazing and encouraging - leaving me to do my own thing and just encouraging me through positive affirmations which I really appreciated. It helped me keep in the zone I'd managed to get into listening to my positive affirmations via my hypnobirthing app and I decided to continue to have that playing loudly as getting my playlist on was no longer a priority.

Everyone always says it but, it's truly amazing what the human body is capable of and how little of a shit you give during labour about various strangers staring intently into your vagina. Whilst I was hunched over on all fours, I had 3 of them with a torch behind me checking everything was moving along okay and it was still a sort of blur. Every single birth is so very different and there's absolutely no shame in anyone using pain relief during labour, but I was so shocked and surprised that I didn't stop to ask for any at any point. I honestly believe that practicing hypnobirthing and getting into such a positive mindset about labour aided this.

I had a 2nd degree tear as well as some grazing all of which needed stitches afterwards yet even during that, when I was advised to use gas and air, I was on such a euphoric high cuddling my baby that I simply didn't need it. Of course, it wasn't painless and it was certainly uncomfortable, but it was oddly manageable due to the outlook I had on the whole experience.

6:25am on the clock and Teddy was finally here. I've never felt such raw, animalistic instincts and emotion as I did during the last couple of hours of my birth and when he finally arrived. I remember hearing the midwives shouting "well done! Amy pick him up! That's it!" once he'd arrived and I scooped him up off the ground.

Remember what I was saying about my poorly-chosen white t-shirt? Well, something people failed to mention to me about labour was the amount of blood you can lose during the process. I didn't actually lose a lot, but I lost the "standard" amount really quickly as soon as Teddy arrived and therefore I was hurried onto the bed to have skin-to-skin contact with him and also advised to have the injection that can hurry up the second birth (of the placenta) and slow down the bleeding. I was happy to receive this because now I was just truly in a state of euphoria that I was actually holding my baby. My son.

Matt had the pleasure of cutting the cord after Teddy had received all of his blood back. Once it was cut and once I'd received my stitches, it was Matt's turn to have some skin-to-skin contact with our little boy whilst I ate some toast and a grotesque cup of tea but at the time, it tasted delightful.

Although I had a fantastic labour and couldn't have asked for it to have gone better, my aftercare wasn't so great. I had specifically chosen the birth centre as I was a low risk birth and I knew they were keen to help mothers with breastfeeding. It turned out that breastfeeding just wasn't right for us due to Teddy's tongue tie, his difficulties with staying latched, and then the stress of me not producing anything. The latter started happening because I was constantly being manhandled by staff and was getting upset.

The first night staying there, Teddy hardly ate anything and had to be syringed colostrum (first breast milk) because he couldn't feed directly from me. As you can imagine, it wasn't a smooth-sailing night for the two of us and it certainly wasn't helped by staff. If they weren't pushing his face hard onto my breasts when he was hysterically crying and distressed, they were instead nowhere to be seen despite their "concerns" over him not feeding. The next day when Matt returned to the centre, we spent all day waiting for someone to come and help us. We had one midwife who came and asked "has he managed to latch at all?" twice over the course of the day but that was it. No advice, no support.

In that time I had watched one woman come in, have her baby, and be discharged, and another woman who had been transferred from another hospital getting special treatment despite her openly saying that there were no complications with her birth or her or the baby's health afterwards. In such a small centre, I was a priority patient and wasn't being treated as such. It was incredibly frustrating and absolutely heartbreaking that my baby was screaming due to hunger and I simply had nothing to provide for him.

Once it got to around 7pm, I had fully lost my temper and will to stay there. The straw that really broke the camel's back (and my polite British-ness) was when I finally had the chance to speak to a midwife and said I wanted to go home, I was met with the rudest "and how do you expect to feed your baby at home when he's not feeding here?". "Well none of you have fucking helped me since 3am this morning so I guess I'll carry on figuring it out by myself?" is what I should have said. I was too tired and defeated by that point though and just repeatedly said "I'd like to go home" instead, in fear of bursting into tears in front of this clown who was supposed to have some bedside manner. By 8pm we had been discharged and as soon as we got home, I burst into hysterical tears in relief. I instantly felt calm and in control and Teddy had stopped seeming so distressed too.

I'm very proud and pleased to say that one month on, he's thriving, feeding well (albeit not the way we planned), and growing with no issues. He's a healthy, happy, and very active boy and I only wish it wasn't totally bitter to visit the centre one last time to give some of the staff a big middle finger because my little family have flourished all on their own. Despite the poor aftercare, my labour is something that I already look back on fondly and I'm just *so* pleased with how the whole process went. Whether it was luck or just normality, I had a good experience and I know not everyone does. And that's where my little slice of "miracle" lies.

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September 09, 2019

#SecondhandSeptember: Staying on Trend without Buying New Clothes

The title of this post is making me feel a bit queasy because I wouldn't really count myself as someone who stays up-to-date with trends and I always seem to be a few seasons behind if I've got my finger on the pulse at all. If you looked at my Etsy recent searches, the fact that I'm constantly on the scout out for some WWII era vintage clothing might give you an idea of how much of a mish-mash my personal style can truly be. Last week I shared what my journey has been like so far with ditching fast fashion purchases but something that can make that lifestyle change all the more difficult is the trends and changes we see in heavy rotation in high street stores and on our favourite social platforms.

I follow a wide range of accounts on YouTube and Instagram but many of those are fashion-based. I like to see what people are styling up and how and get inspired for my own outfits and wardrobe this way so it's all positive for me. The problem with this though can be that that awful little lust devil can spring out and make me want to purchase *that* specific dress or *that* pair of shoes but of course, if they're from a fast fashion brand, I find myself in a dilemma of my ethics fighting my desires. Thankfully, my ethics override my lusting 99.9% of the time but it got me thinking; how do I usually get around this so I can still enjoy "on-trend" items if I want them but stay true to my slow, secondhand, sustainable fashion ways?

Is it the item or is it the style?
One thing I try to work out from the start is whether or not I'm lusting over the item itself or is it something about the cut, colour, styling etc. If it's a flowing midi dress of some description, it's probably the silhouette that's caught my eye and thus I can look out for items that have a similar cut in charity shops or online secondhand. I can cross-reference the dress with sustainable brands I follow and see if they've got something similar in their collections or better yet, can make me something similar as a commission piece (if I'm feeling flush).

Although some people believe you shouldn't have any fast fashion brands in your wardrobe if you're being a conscious fashion consumer, I'm all for secondhand purchases because you're giving that item a loving home where it will be worn (probably too much) and that's never a bad thing. Therefore if I've worked out that it's actually the unique print of a piece that's attracted me or if in three months time, I still haven't managed to find anything like the item in question, I'll start searching eBay and Depop for that specific item. Fast fashion has such a quick turn-around in terms of what's on-trend, but purchasing secondhand like this can always help you stay relevant with those trends without buying direct.

Try things on in store
If you're someone who can resist the urge to just purchase a fast fashion item, trying things on in store is always a great idea. If you're not apposed to picking up fast fashion items secondhand, trying them on in store can ensure that the silhouette/cut/fit suits you and is actually something you want to own. Part of shopping secondhand/living a slow fashion lifestyle is trying to not have too much in your wardrobe just for the sake of it. Over the last couple of years I've tried my upmost to make more considered choices with my purchases and even if I'm buying into a trend, I want to purchase items knowing that they'll actually get worn. Trying items on in store helps me decide if I will actually wear that dress I've been lusting over and it also gives me a chance to wear it with items already in my wardrobe such as shoes/a bag that I envisioned it looking great with.

Remember, trends come back around
Trends always resurface and the speed in which they are doing this doesn't seem to be slowing down. For example, I bought a lot of my woven straw/rattan bags a few years ago from the likes of Bohemia Design and surprise surprise, this summer they've still been something that's on-trend. I can just pull out those bags in summer and there's been no new purchases in sight. Always shop your wardrobe first to see if you have something similar already that maybe you can just update or wear slightly differently before you feel you need to purchase something new. For instance, if you've been lusting after a red midi dress you've seen popping up everywhere, why not see if you have another midi in your wardrobe you've been wearing less that could be dyed and revived? Not only will it save you some money, but it'll give that item a new purpose and you'll have something unique - not everyone is happy to wear *that* Zara polka dot dress if everyone else is wearing it too.

If it's a trend item that is from a previous generation (i.e. 70's crochet handbags, Y2K denim etc.), searching online for genuine vintage items or in vintage stores is a great option because not only are you avoiding fast fashion that - let's be honest - is probably badly/cheaply made, you will also be getting a more authentic item that will still have an element of uniqueness because it's not from Asos or Topshop's current season. Investing in vintage items that have come back around in trends is always a good shout because they're usually better quality and you can sometimes find a gem for a fraction of the price of the current fast fashion season equivalent!

Create a list and stick to it!
If you're a regular reader around here, you'll know I always suggest creating a list for almost all situations so there should be no surprise that I'm suggesting it again, here. If you're someone who curates fashion inspiration via Pinterest, Instagram's "saved posts" function, or simply folders on your laptop or phone, check out what trends are reoccurring for you. When you then feel the need to shop or need to pick up some new items at the start of a fresh season, you have the ammunition to pick out exactly what you want. This not only helps you pick out the trends you actually want to invest in, but it also stops you from impulse buying and being wasteful. For example, for me this Autumn/Winter, I want a pair of black heeled boots that are smarter to wear than my Doc Martens, a wrap belted winter coat, a specific handbag that I seem to be seeing everywhere and I'm disappointed that I don't own - yet. Therefore, these are the items I'll be hunting for in charity shops and online on eBay, Depop, and Etsy (mostly).

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September 04, 2019

Saying Goodbye to Fast Fashion: My Journey so Far

Back in 2017, I decided to say goodbye to fast fashion. Getting older and learning more about the industry I so heavily invested my time and passion in made me realise that it wasn't as nice of a place as I once thought that actually, the fashion industry can be damaging and how I was consuming it was adding to that damage. I wanted to consume less. I wanted to consume smart.

It's been almost two and half years now since I pledged to ditch the fast fashion world and reflecting on the changes I've made in that time and the things I've learned is great. I am very aware of what I've managed to achieve, what I really truly failed to, and what things I could and hopefully will still improve. It's a huge lifestyle overhaul and that shouldn't be overlooked when transitioning to a more sustainable or conscious-consumer lifestyle. So, for all of you out there who might be trying to switch things up and you feel like you're not doing it right or you've had a setback or you just simply want to join the conversation - this post is for you so you know that everyone fucks up. Me included and in a variety of ways (it's cool, we can all drag me together).

I've slipped off the wagon
I would be straight up lying to you all if I sat here and said that I've not bought directly from a fast fashion brand at all over the past 2.5 years. There's been times when that convenience, accessibility, and sheer overwhelming choice of options have won me over and honestly? It's something I know I can't beat myself up about too much. I've mentioned it before, but choosing to shop slow fashion in any capacity can be a shock to the system, particularly if you are or were someone like me who would buy a few items from Asos every. single. week. If you are/were on first name terms with the Hermes delivery driver and could ask him how the wife and kids were that week, then yes, suddenly curbing the spending would be a huge change.

I now know that it hasn't been the end of the world that I have done this over the last couple of years but instead, I can take away learning curves from it and assess why it is that I felt the high street fast fashion labels were my only option and ensure that I don't make the same slip ups in the future. A couple of areas that stick out for me is buying underwear (I had zero idea where to shop sustainable brands and I'm a girl who likes some underwire and support - a lot of ethical/sustainable brands seemed to have comfy triangle bras but not a lot of the industrial-support I was looking for) and maternity clothing. Oh my my, when I found out I was pregnant, I had all these grand schemes for buying ethical handmade dresses and stretchy items but it just wasn't feasible. I've literally woken up and not been able to fit into a pair of leggings that I had on the previous day and I've had to panic-buy something so I could go to work on Monday, not wearing my pyjamas. I also haven't been able to justify buying a £200 ethical dress when I've had to compare that to buying 5 for the same price because again, having one item that fits when you're a clumsy pregnant woman who constantly spills things down herself just isn't feasible. I know that these decisions haven't been made with no thought or consideration and I know with better planning, research, and now experience, they are unlikely to happen again in the future and that's good enough for me.

It really is a complete lifestyle overhaul and it's not linear
Again, I've mentioned how overwhelming the change of the transition can be, but it's because it's not just a case of changing your wardrobe - it's breaking old habits, changing how you have consumed fashion for years, and feeling confident in doing so. A huge learning curve for me has been assessing my shopping habits. Previously I shopped often. I'm talking spending hours each week scrolling through sites such as Zara and Asos and always picking at least one item up. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that a transition into slow fashion and only shopping secondhand or sustainably meant that I couldn't maintain that attitude to consuming. Trying to be a conscious consumer meant that I needed to put my shopping under more scrutiny. Buying 10 items on Depop instead of having a my very own weekly Asos haul wasn't being a conscious consumer - it didn't mean I was I doing the whole slow fashion thing right. Although my best intentions were there, it took me time to realise that my actions weren't mirroring the impact I wanted to make and I had to give myself time to realise that and change it.

There's some areas of your consumer personality you don't need to change
Changing to slow fashion, I initially detoxed all of my social media and YouTube subscriptions over a few days. I stopped following people I had for years all because they did weekly fashion hauls or really loved certain brands etc. and that was actually a bad move for me. I realised I could still be inspired by these influencers I enjoyed watching or reading about whilst changing my own outlook. Don't get me wrong, if you're someone who has very little willpower or you're easily tempted, following loads of fast fashion YouTubers probably isn't wise, but I found a happy medium between following influencers who are sustainable/ethical/slow fashion aficionados and promoters and then influencers who's personal style I just love and therefore look to for inspiration. It doesn't mean I have to go out and buy that sold-out Topshop skirt because they're wearing it in a really nice outfit, it just means that if I'm still lusting after that item in a couple of months time, maybe I can look for something similar on eBay or in my local charity shops.

*Do* follow some slow fashion inspiration though
It's definitely all about balance and following individuals who are also passionate about slow fashion or conscious consuming in general can really help you keep focus and also learn so you can continue to grow on your own journey. Instagram and YouTube are my two biggies for this and I enjoy following such a range of accounts that either share important climate change information (which helps me remind myself why I've made the changes I've made) or who buy exclusively from sustainable brands (so I find new shops I've not heard of before) or who simply shop completely secondhand (so they inspire me to keep that aspect of personal style and wear whatever I want, sourced in a more circular way). Following these positive influencers helps me when I'm feeling tempted by something I've seen or if I'm feeling in a "treat yo' self" mood to take a step back and ask if I a) really need this and b) if I do, does it really need to come from this awful brand with awful ethics?

Get informed - you won't know everything right away!
Lastly something that I *need* to get across to anyone worrying is that you won't be perfect and you certainly won't be at the start of your journey and that's *more* than okay! When I first decided to make the switch, I hadn't actually done all that much research in the grand scheme of things - I did a bit of reading, donated and sold a lot of my unworn clothes, and tried my hand at creating a capsule wardrobe to try and get things moving. These things did help me start the process, but I've learned so much more since then about fast fashion, ethical practices, my consuming habits etc. and I'm well aware that my approach and attitude to this lifestyle choice will continue to change and alter course and content as the years go by. Rather than worry about that and see it as something I haven't perfected yet and therefore it's a failure, I'm seeing it more exciting steps in the right direction and my journey will continue to improve over the next few years.

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August 29, 2019

A Self-Care Routine you can Stick to

Self-care is something that I've always advocated here on NB and I'm a big fan of self-care involving anything you want it to that makes *you* feel good. Whether it's bath bombs and face masks or a walk out in nature - self-care is very personal and unique to us all as individuals and in my humble opinion? It's central to having striking some sort of balance and happiness in your day-to-day life. It consists of those daily or weekly "rituals" that help us feel relaxed, feel like we've got our shit together, or that help us reach our goals. They are the tasks that can make you feel a little more whole and "with it" that can distract you from the negatives and any stresses that you're currently experience. If it makes you feel good, label it as self-care.

One of the major problems with self-care is sometimes it's hard to keep it up. I know for me, activities such as drawing, yoga, and playing ukulele are great self-care but do I regularly do them? Not really. I fall in and out of good routines with all of these tasks and more and it leaves you feel under-accomplished. I find that not sticking to a self-care routine or being lazy with it then makes me feel even worse than having no self-care going on at all. Half the battle seems to be striking that balance right and actually actively looking after myself and striving to make myself happy and content. But you know what? I think I may have finally cracked a way to make sure my self-care routine is never broken ever again (or at least not quite so regularly with such disastrous effect!):

1. Make a list of everything that makes you feel good:
You can't practice self-care if you don't know what that actually means for you. As I mentioned earlier, creative outlets such as drawing and also some gentle exercise is great for making me feel good about myself or making me feel more positive, but some other self-care that I seemingly manage to practice more often involves embroidery, blogging (hi!), getting out in nature, reading, and a good thorough skincare routine every evening. By taking notice of what it is that makes you feel well within yourself, you can create a list of those things so that you can refer back to the list whenever you need some inspiration. It doesn't matter if it's something you do often or something you do only occasionally, having it written down in a list may prompt and motivate you to partake in a specific activity that you may have forgotten about.

It's also important to take stock of what brings you down or effects your wellbeing. Is it usually after work that you feel stiff or achy? Is it usually at the weekend that you feel stressed and helpless? Identifying when self-care would benefit you might help you create new links between what you want to do and what would benefit you. For example, I know work stresses me out so some of my very simple self-care when I get home each working day is getting straight into my PJs, making a cup of tea, and doing some embroidery. Knowing that this is kind of a safe way for me to dispose of those stressed thoughts means I will continue to go back to it again and again, no matter how many times I have a break from it in between.

2. Identify the core self-care activities:
Now that you have your list, it's time to actually analyse which ones are the top priorities for you. You should choose the sort of things that will impact you the most and in the most positive way, but you may also need to consider which are the easiest to put into regular practice, which are possibly already in your normal routine they just need nurturing some more, or any number of other things. Again for me, having an evening skincare routine isn't always easy for me to stick to - particularly when I'm really tired (joke that's all the time) - but I never miss my full ten step Korean skincare routine every Sunday evening. Doing this routine helps me have a hard reset for the week ahead and makes me feel more collected and calm about the start of my week. Reading in bed each evening also helps me feel more calm and helps me try to get a better night's sleep, and my previously mentioned embroidery each week also helps me just escape for a little while. Whether it's just not skipping a particular meal or going to the gym, taking a walk, or visiting the charity shops every Saturday morning - make yourself three tasks that you can stick to that won't just be another chore for you to tick off your to-do list.

3. Having a schedule will really help:
I know some of us out there like to be spontaneous and not be tied down to timings or promises you made yourself the previous day, but having a schedule for your self-care helps you make time for it; especially if you usually struggle to fit it into normal day-to-day life. 20 minutes is not a long time. 20 minutes is a great amount of time to complete some sort self-care no matter what it is. Experiment with scheduling your different self-care acts at different times of your day or week and see what makes you feel good. It might be that actually, you need to get up those 20 minutes sooner to fit in your work out because you feel great if it's the first part of your day. You might need to step away from the computer or your phone on your lunch break at work and just read your book because it relaxes you for your afternoon of cramming the last of your to-do list in in the office. Whatever time of day/week works for you, let it just take over. If you're constantly skipping a task, the chances are it's just not sitting well into your usual routine and needs a new place to slot into. Self-care should always be flexible and suit you because it's all about you so play around with every tasks' adaptability and see what works best for you.

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August 25, 2019

Real Talk: Postnatal Body Image

In case you don't follow me on any social media (and if not um, why not? I'm an absolute hoot - particularly on Twitter,) you won't yet know but I gave birth to a happy and healthy little boy on the 14th August; 9 days before the little guy was "due". It's almost been a couple of weeks since then and it's been a whirlwind for me settling into my own family and adapting to so many changes. This period of pregnancy - the fourth trimester - is something that is often forgotten about and not discussed. It gets overlooked and I assume a lot of that has to do with the fact that everyone is excited that there's finally a baby here, earthside, to fuss over, but it's something I want to talk about here, especially in relation to body image.

I aired my thoughts and feelings on body image during pregnancy a few months ago as part of Mental Health Awareness Week and I talked about how accepting the rapid changes pregnancy thrusts upon the body can be quite challenging. Now I find myself on the flip side of pregnancy and I'm left with the body "aftermath". If I'm completely honest, I've surprised myself with just how accepting I have been of my body over the past couple of weeks. I convinced myself that once I'd had my baby that I would be unhappy with what I look like but I truly feel content and somewhat motivated to "fix" the areas that I'm not 100% happy with - but that can wait because it doesn't need to be prioritised right now.

For anyone who has been through the fourth trimester, y'all will know all too well the range of hormones your body will cycle through on a sporadic yet very frequent basis. I've found myself hysterically bursting into tears over absolutely nothing, feeling euphoric minutes later, then feeling inconsolable right after that. There's a huge focus on the aftercare of the mother after birth in terms of mental health, but from my experience so far, there isn't so much focus on how the body can impact that. The body has gone through *so* much in the past 9~ months and it is still not clear of any further changes and thus it's a lot to take on board. During the previous trimesters, I saw and felt so much love for my body from others - whether it was a colleague or someone on Instagram just saying something nice - my body was celebrated and praised for what it was doing and how I was carrying it off. Now during fourth trimester I don't see or feel the same admiration and support.

That isn't meant to come across as "woe is me. Compliment me please!" but I simply feel like the postnatal body isn't as celebrated. Take Meghan Markle and the shit she was dragged through after birth. I saw so many comments, tweets, and online "articles" talking about her "pooch" and how she hadn't somehow snapped back into her previous figure. It made me so angry but then I realised the reason people were saying these things was through a lack of education. It was because this ideal has been created that you somehow just pop a baby out and everything goes back to where it was. The human body can be amazing but it has it's limitations!

Lingerie set from Organic Basics - gifted | AD*

The lack of education made me feel more confident about my own body though. I spent time every morning and evening rubbing oil into my pregnant tummy in the hopes of keeping the stretch marks at bay - did it work? Of course it bloody didn't but I'm thankful that now I have them, I have accepted them and actually find them quite empowering. They're already a memory of what my body managed to do; what I managed to accomplish and actually? They're no where near as ugly as I previously thought they would be.

I went from being a size UK 6 to a 12 during my pregnancy. Of course, a lot of that was to do with the fact that I had an extra human strapped to the front of me but it also means that now post-pregnancy, I have some extra pounds I didn't have previously. I have more than a "muffin top" as my uterus slowly shrinks back down to it's original size. I can't just pull out all my old clothes and pretend nothing ever happened. What I can do however is celebrate what I achieved and be confident with my "mam bod". Although I'm desperate to get exercising again as soon as I am able (downward dog and my yoga mat are calling me), I want to do it to feel healthy again; not necessarily for weight loss or to "transform" myself.

Becoming a mother is a gift. The body it leaves behind should be the celebration.

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August 15, 2019

Prepping to be a Sustainable, Low Waste Parent

As I'm nearing ever closer to the end of my pregnancy (excited and nervous do not even begin to cover it!), I thought it was high-time I talked about something that y'all know is close to my heart and part of my life ethics - sustainability and trying to be more low waste and eco-friendly in my day to day life. I'm no stranger to these topics here on Northern Blood, but something that I've had to battle through has been preparing to be a parent and still maintaining this lifestyle choice.

Sustainability and being pregnant/preparing to become a parent doesn't necessarily go hand in hand. Something that became obvious very quickly for me was just how many baby products are disposable/throw away items and how it can be difficult to find sustainable options - particularly in a price bracket that's actually affordable for the average person. I'm very lucky in the respect that most of the time, I can live a comfortable life in which I don't need to worry about money between pay cheques. I can absolutely get by. But when I found out I was pregnant and starting working out things such as my maternity pay then wow, suddenly the thought of buying certain sustainable products for baby that I had lusted over needed to take a back seat and I needed to work out exactly how I was going to navigate my lifestyle ethics and also live comfortably without money worries. I've since discovered that it's not impossible to prepare to be a sustainable parent - it can be simple in some ways and it's all down to preference in where you want to invest (if you can) and where you're happy to compromise. So here's some ways in which I have chosen to make low waste or eco-friendly choices in preparation for my babe showing up earthside:

Buy baby clothing secondhand
Okay straight up the first thing that might be obvious but definitely shouldn't be overlooked is buying your baba's clothing secondhand. I have gotten *so* many gems on eBay and Depop especially over the past few months for a fraction of the price the items would have been brand new from a high street store. This is a great option for not only helping you save some money already, but also for reusing clothing because surprise surprise, baby's grow quickly and they can get through a lot of clothing. You can rehome brand new clothing that hasn't been worn or get those all important white vests/bibs etc. essentials and feel good about giving these items a second chance of use.

Don't just stop at clothes - secondhand furniture is great too
Again, it won't be much of a surprise to you all that babies go through things quickly due to growing and developing and it doesn't just stop at clothing. Websites such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace as well as your local charity shops are a great place to find furniture you may need for your baby. Pushchairs, strollers, car seats, and Moses baskets always seem to be in the shop windows of my local charity shops and all they need is a good clean and they'll serve their purpose. As I live 300+ miles away from family and use public transport to visit them, they've gotten all sorts of "back up" items from pushchairs to high chairs that can be used when we visit so we haven't got to lug everything with us. If you're on a budget or you want to just try and keep to Reduce Reuse Recycle mantra, you can certainly apply that thinking to the bulky items that you need to purchase for baby.

Reusable and/or eco-friendly items for baby's hygiene
Back in the day, towel nappies and were the norm then the dreaded disposables came along and now they sit in landfill for 200 to 500 years until they fully decompose. That statistic is always so alarming to me when you think on average a newborn can get through 10-12 nappies a day on average! Not only does each one outlive you, your baby, and your baby's potential baby to degrade, but the production of them uses 3.5 times more energy and 8.3 times more non-renewable/90 times more renewable resources than reusable options do. The debate between reusable and disposable options have lots of layers though - convenience, accessibility, price etc. - so it can be difficult to decide what is best for you. For us, we unfortunately have no choice but to go down a disposable route because upon initial purchase, it's more affordable for us. Of course using reusables works out *so much* cheaper when you think of cost per use, but for us, they are an indoor "we're at home" option and disposables are our "we're out and about" option. There's so many great brands out there for both reusables and biodegradable disposables however, so there's something that suits everyone:
Reusable/washable brands: Bambino Mio, Little Lamb Nappies, Bumgenius, Charlie Banana,
Tots Bots, and Babipur
Biodegradable disposable brands: Kit & Kin, Bambo Nature, Mum & You, Naty by Nature, Moltex,
and gNappies - the reusable/disposable hybrid!

Of course the same issues are surrounding wipes. We all know by now the damage baby wipes/face wipes can do; sitting in landfill taking around 100 years to degrade due to things such as polyester and other non-biodegradable plastics being in their make-up, but there's so many great eco-friendly brands out there now that whether you're still wishing to use disposables or reusables, there's a wipe out there to suit every smelly or sticky mishap and the best part? They're all pretty reasonably priced. Some great options that I've looked into or plan to use include: Cheeky Wipes, Mum & You, Aqua Wipes, and Natracare - also make sure to check out your local supermarket as Sainsbury's and the like are stocking some great eco-friendly brands!

Reusable and/or eco-friendly items for your hygiene
Okay let's get real. After labour and giving birth yes, the human body is a wonder and gets through one of the most primal, raw, and magical events, but not without some collateral damage. I'm talking leaks of all kinds and it's something that I wasn't really aware of until later in my pregnancy when I started to research things properly. Some things I've invested in in this area are reusable/washable breast pads, period panties, and also reusable/washable maternity pads/towels. If you're someone who plans to breastfeed, leaks are imminent and buying reusable pads seemed like a no-brainer for me as they're the eco-friendly option and can be donated/passed on after I'm done with them if someone is in need of them and can't afford some. I mentioned how intrigued I am by period underwear a couple of months ago and post-labour is a great opportunity to finally try some out. Post-labour can leave you sore, bleeding, and leaking and thus period underwear seemed like an obvious choice to me. I can use them alone or use them as a back-up extra peace of mind option alongside reusable maternity pads/towels.

Sustainable and ethical brands are out there
If buying new baby clothing is within budget for you, there are so many wonderful brands out there who use organic sustainable materials, have ethical production methods, and who want to have a positive impact on our planet rather than continue to contribute to this throwaway culture that certainly circulates around babies/toddlers. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I couldn't help but research and swoon over so many fab brands who are doing good things but I didn't just stop at clothes, oh no. There's also some fantastic small businesses focusing on making toys for babies and toddlers that are not only ethically made, but that are created using sustainable materials such as wood or recycled material to curb the excessive amounts of plastic that seems to come along with baby entertainment/development. Some of these lovely brands are fairtrade and donate to charities with each purchase, too. Here are some of my favourite brands that I've purchased from or plan to when bambino is old enough:
Clothing: MORI, Little Green Radicals, OYA Goods, Tilly & Jasper, and Piccalilly
Toys: Pebble, Tikiri, Oli & Carol, Cuddle & Kind, and Chunki Chilli

Of course there's enough to worry about when becoming a parent and I'd be a straight-up liar if I said everything that I've done throughout my pregnancy and everything I plan to do throughout transitioning to my title of "parent" is going to be sustainable or completely low waste. However, I'm proud that I've managed to stick to my lifestyle ethics enough that I'm happy and content with my choices. There's more I can do and the more I learn and the more confident I become with the role, the more I hope to adapt and change to continue to make even better choices.

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August 09, 2019

Low Waste Eco-Friendly Transitioning Tips: On the Go

When we're out and about shopping, commuting to and from work/college/uni, we all tend to spend money on some things that we need in the moment but don't keep: bottles of water, food in single-use plastic (you catch my drift). Being more eco-friendly and low waste when you're on the go is actually really simple to do and all it takes is some investment in the start and a reminder or two to yourself to pack what you need before you leave the house. It's all about thought out simple swaps for things you know you will use and need and you can reap the benefits in knowing that you've really limited your waste and saved yourself some money long term too. Remember what I said in the first post in this mini-series about only using what you need? It totally applies here. It's easy to get sucked into this idea that you need to buy lots of eco-friendly items but that is obviously hypocritical of the movement so please bear that in mind with all the following suggestions - if you don't need them, don't buy them!:

Reusable water bottles:
A really obvious pointer but, it's obvious because it's the one thing we can all use: buy a reusable water bottle. Although a lot of brands are reusing and recycling their water bottles and there are options available now such as tinned or carton water, having a reusable bottle will save you *so much* money and of course, you will be having zero impact in terms of waste. Reusable bottles have become so popular that you can get them from pretty much any high-street store, so many places online, and in independent stores so they're not hard to come by. There are some great brands out there too who do schemes where they donate bottles to areas of need based on their sales or help build wells - so you can do some extra good with your purchase too. If you're limited with your funds and want to be resourceful, why not use that 8 R's mantra I talked about in the Breaking Habits post and repurpose an old glass jar and use that for water? You can get some really nice looking glass jars with secure screw top lids so why not just use one and get creative!

Reusable coffee cups:
Another "big one" everyone thinks of when making eco-friendly changes is reusable coffee cups. I've talked about this before on NB, but I cannot stress enough how great it is to invest in a reusable coffee cup if you're someone who frequents cafés on your commute to and from work/college/uni or just like to grab a hot drink whilst you're out shopping or seeing friends. Reusable cups are really affordable considering the quality and longevity of them and will also save you money in the long-run too. Most coffee shops will give you a discount on your drink if you use your own cup and those 25p discounts soon add up after a couple of months. Just like water bottles, there's some great companies out there doing some fab reusable and eco-friendly things so shop around and find a cup that suits your needs. There are also some great brands who sell collapsible options too so they can save space in your bag so no, you don't need to be travelling and commuting around with everything but the kitchen sink!

Cutlery and straw compact kits:
Cutlery or reusable straws may not be something everyone needs but they are of course out there as options for maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. Whether it's bamboo, recycled plastics, or stainless steel, there's so many great options out there. Obviously if you never use straws or think you'll never find yourself needing your own cutlery, these are objects you don't need to invest in. If you're ever going out somewhere and you're unsure of whether or not you'll need your own cutlery, simply pack a set from home just in case and at least you're covered and can refuse the plastic throwaway cutlery you might be offered!

Going back to those glass jars...:
I know I mentioned reusing glass jars for water earlier, but they really are a great option for smoothies, homemade juices, and salad containers. If you happen to use ones such as the classic "Ball" range, some of their styles have measurements up the sides of them imprinted in the glass which makes them extra helpful for either bulk shopping (find out more about that here) or ordering cold coffees, smoothies etc. when you're out and about. Carrying a glass jar might seem excessive but it's just the same as carrying a full bottle of juice around; it's just going to be a little heavier.

Pack your lunch:
I know I mentioned how great meal planning can be for not only lowering your food waste but also for your finances in the last Low Waste Tips post, but it totally applies to being on-the-go too. I used to be *so bad* at not preparing my work lunches and I used to regret it as soon as everyone was getting out their yummy homemade meals during the lunch break at work. You can make some really scrummy and nutritional things to sustain your hunger whilst at work and it doesn't have to be ground-breaking if you're not a confident cook. Simply boiling up some pasta, stirring through some pesto, and adding some cherry tomatoes can make a really nice meal and it's saved you a £3 meal deal that would have resulted in yep, lots of single-use plastic. Creating your own lunch at home minimises your plastic and food waste so much as you can have leftovers from the night before and of course, you're popping them in a container that you will take home at the end of the day and wash and reuse. Any sort of Tupperware you have lying around will do the job or investing in a tiffin box for your lunch can be life changing (dramatic, I know, but that's honestly how I would describe mine). Although mine is plastic, I can reuse it for years to come and there are of course metal options out there that tick even more eco-friendly boxes and they can keep your food warmer/cooler for longer too.

Reusable bags:
There's a running theme here so there should be no surprise that there's another reusable item suggestion to keep in your bag. That's right, another bag! We all know by now that plastic bags are so damaging for the planet but if you have a reusable one already, keep it handy in your usual bag in case you buy anything in a store and that way you're not having to pay extra for yet another bag or just ending up with more plastic than you ever wanted! If you don't have a spare bag to pack, investing in a canvas tote bag can be a good option as many are ethically made from natural fibres which keeps you in check for your eco-friendly code or a bag from brands such as baggu are also a great choice as they store a lot in them, they're durable and they have their own little storage pack to fit into so they take up next to no space in your bag. You can use your reusable for anything from groceries to clothing - just think how low the cost per use will accumulate in such a little amount of time and of course, you're creating no additional waste.

Don't be shy to say no:
Lastly, a really simple choice can help you minimise things so much and that is refusing products you don't need. How many times have you been in a bar and they've instantly put a straw in your drink or you've been given plastic sachets of condiments that you don't use then put in the bin, or you've been given plastic cutlery that you don't use for you fish and chips because you're a fellow animal... When you place your order in so many instances, just kindly add to the order that you don't require any of the previously mentioned. It's not rude, snobbish or any other rubbish someone claims it is. It's exactly the same as if you need those items for mobility issues etc. then you have the right to request them and for the service to deliver. If you don't need something, a simple polite decline will cut down your waste surprisingly quickly.

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August 03, 2019

Becoming my own Mother

I've talked about just how much I don't have an "off" switch at times on NB before, but now that I'm in my third trimester of pregnancy, that fact couldn't have caught up with me and my bullshit quicker. I've been in tears on more than one occasion due to exhaustion and yet still I've tried to push myself and not realised how silly this is until it's a bit too late. I tend to be the kind of person who will take on too much (*insert all of those "yeah I don't mind/yeah I can squeeze it in" memes*) who doesn't like to let people down. Having the revelation that no one is going to take care of me except me is something I have frequently but it's really stuck this time around. Don't get me wrong, I have some very supportive family, friends, and partner, but realistically, it's true that only you can dictate and manage your own limits and expectations of yourself. It's only you that can really provide yourself with some true self-care.

I've also talked about that phrase - self-care - a hell of a lot over the years on this ol' blog. In my mind, I always picture self-care as something indulgent that you spend time investing in in some capacity and whilst I preach that that doesn't necessarily need to be the case, I fall short of following my own advice. I've realised I've been in need of some true self-care. The mothering kind of self-care that ensures you're running with enough juice and are nourished, looked after, comfortable... Basically all the things I've been lacking.

I know this feeling of self-care absence has only been amplified by the fact that I'm currently pregnant and not putting myself first always. What I mean by that is that I've already noticed that I'm still trying to keep others happy whether it's family members or in my job whilst also trying to put my unborn baby first (which often results in dreaded afternoon naps instead of a facemask). I guess on the one hand, I'm happy to see that some of my own mam's unselfishness has filtered through to me but, that also terrifies me. My mam is admirably strong, robust, kind and giving yet she very rarely shows herself the same generosity and I don't want to let myself get to that stage. I want to make sure I take care of myself - as I should - otherwise I worry that I'll burn out and won't be able to be the support mam I want to be for my own child.

lingerie set: Organic Basics* gifted, cardigan: secondhand, mug: Waitrose

So, I'm trying to get myself to a place in which I become my own mother. I don't want to replicate my actual mother, but I want to demonstrate to myself that I'm capable and deserving of that title. When I think "mother" I think of someone who has their shit together but who looks out for loved ones - and actually? One of the main "loved ones" she should be looking out for is herself because as the cliché saying goes: you can't pour from an empty cup. So here's the ways in which I'm trying to mother myself to make sure I am fulfilling this self-care to the maximum and how you can too:

Look after your MIND
One thing I keep thinking about already is "how on earth did my mam stay so patient with me when I was younger" (I mean, I still wonder how she does it now), because it's a gift that only parents can muster I swear. But making sure you're in a good headspace is always helpful for self-care. It obviously not only prevents you from feeling low etc. but also can make self-care seem like a nice, enjoyable experience rather than a chore. So many things work for so many different people, but some of the simplest ways to feed a happy mind include:

- Limit your screentime. I used to be pretty good at this and I've slipped off the wagon a bit and need to hitch a ride again. Mothers every where limit iPad and TV time for kids and we should absolutely do it to ourselves as adults too. So many of us stare at a screen all day at work and our eyes and mind need a break. Limiting screentime can stop us wasting time, comparing ourselves to others, and losing sleep. (Don't worry, the irony isn't lost on me that I'm saying all of this on yep, a screen).
- Challenge your mind. Whether it's brain trainer activities and puzzles or a new creative outlet such as writing poetry or painting, stimulating the mind helps us feel accomplished, knowledgeable, more skilled, and simply happy.
- Read read read. Of course after saying that I was going to tell y'all to read. Read books. Read articles. Read blog posts. Whatever it is you're into that gives you an escape or helps you feel a little more relaxed and brings you enjoyment - do it.

Look after your BODY
I've quickly realised how important it is to not burn out. You'd think, after years of repeatedly doing it I would have learned by now but it has taken trying to bend down to pick up a pen during my third trimester to finally understand what it's like when your body is just exhausted and can no longer deliver even the simplest of tasks to fulfilment. So look after that body inside and out by:

- Soak up that vitamin D! Who's parents/grandparents made them play outside no matter what? There's a reason children are usually so happy and this is definitely one of the culprits. Get outside and enjoy nature, the sunshine, and the fresh air. It'll work wonders on your mind too!
- Feed yourself good food and plenty of water. It's a no-brainer. Eat fruit and veggies (and most importantly, a healthy balanced diet - everyone's bodies operate differently and react differently to food groups. Eat what's good for you). Drink plenty of water every day. Feed your gut and digestive system probiotics. Nourish yourself from the inside out and I promise you will see a difference in your energy levels, your skin, hair, mood etc.
- Get a good night's sleep. Every night. Okay so har har, am I actually kidding when I'm currently riddled with insomnia and about to have a baby but, sleep is *so* important and for the longest time, I used to fight it because "I could be doing other things". Forge a good routine and try to stick to it. It'll benefit you in the long run.
- Exercise however you can. Whether it's a walk to the post box, lifting some weights whilst you sit and watch TV, or some simple squats whilst you're brushing your teeth, all physical activity has significant health benefits. I'm not even talking about it from a weight perspective, but more so from other benefit avenues such as keeping your blood sugar levels in check, keeping your heart and lungs healthy, and better yet, releasing those endorphins that make you feel on top of the world.

Look after your SOUL
Your mind and soul are completely different entities in my opinion and both need different nourishment because of this. You can have a calm and content soul with a mind still racing and I feel like if you have the soul in a chilled-out space, other hardships will ease up and things can fall into place more easily and comfortably. Feeding a healthy soul can have a domino-effect on everything else and here's some ways to ensure that can happen (and FYI, they're things that can be easily slotted into day-to-day life and take up next to no extra time):

- Spend time with yourself. One that might be hard to do if you have a baby around, but even just having a couple of completely quiet minutes with yourself can really help you centre yourself. Whether it's a full on "me time" session or a couple of minutes peace in the bathroom, feeling comfortable with yourself isn't always easy to do but it can help you feel oh so content.
- Meditate if you can. Remember being given "time out" from your parents? I like to think of meditation as the adult version of that reflection time as it allows you to reconnect with yourself and most importantly relax. Use an app, do some stretches, or just enjoy the quiet - extend that quiet time with yourself to a meditation session every now and again and it will help you shift those negative thoughts that may have been running circles in your brain for the last few days.
- Make sure you're interacting. I'm certainly not a social butterfly and I've talked about how much I enjoy my own company on NB before, but we are social creatures and having that time to connect with others can lift our moods and help us get out of funks, see new perspectives etc. etc. Parents encourage their children to have "play time" so much as they grow up and it shouldn't really change once you enter adulthood!
- Practice that self-love. Possibly one of the hardest things to do, but if we're going to mother ourselves, surely one of the most obvious things we are going to do is praise ourselves and point out the great things about ourselves to well, our selves and others! As a child, I was completely carefree and didn't have any hang-ups that hindered what I was doing, what I was enjoying, and who i was being. It was much easier to love myself and let my self-esteem blossom. My mam constantly reminded me to treat myself the way I wanted others to treat me and vice versa and as adults, we're really hard on ourselves and forget that that kindness we may show others should stretch to ourselves also (in fact, it should cover us first and foremost). Practicing self-love isn't easy and it can feel incredibly cheesy to do, but with practice, we can empower ourselves and feel truly proud of the people we've become.

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July 30, 2019

Greenwashing: Why Brands Need to Stop & How to Spot it

Over the past week, I've been reading articles about the fast fashion powerhouse Zara's bold claims to use "100% sustainable fabrics" by 2025 and although I already wanted to write a post on this topic, it's fair to say these endless articles was the final kick up the butt I needed to write this and hit publish.

Zara isn't the first brand to make big claims to be more sustainable - it was only last year (2018) that many brands made pledges and agreements to work towards UN sustainable goals - it all seemed very positive and as if major brands were making a conscious effort to make a change for the good. Some brands are making changes but in these times of change, greenwashing is breeding at an alarming rate and frankly? It needs to stop.

What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing isn't something new, but it seems to be developing amongst brands at an alarming rate. It applies across the board for us as consumers as companies of all sizes and types use it to trick consumers into thinking they are making healthier, more eco-friendly, more sustainable etc. choices when they're not. Think about the food/grocery industries advertising "all natural" or "free range" produce or telling you where it was grown/harvested (this video scrutinising marketing techniques is still a great example of this); the beauty industry with brands such as Garnier selling "vegan" products despite them testing said products on animals; the hotel industries leaving you those little cards asking you to "think about the environment" and to not ask for fresh bed linen/towels each day when in reality, they're doing absolutely nothing to be sustainable outside of that request; even oil giants BP using green as it's primary logo colour y'know, on a logo that's a flower; and my main focus and gripe today: the fashion industry.

Unfortunately, greenwashing isn't illegal but it is incredibly misleading and during a time when we are asking fashion houses and brands to be more accountable and transparent about their processes, ethics, and supplies, it is more prevalent than ever. A poll in 2015 revealed that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products (this increases to 72% in the millennial age range) so it's no surprise that brands are seeing dollar signs when they think of the equation:

"Vague Sustainable Promise & Misleading PR + Interested Millennial Consumers = More Money for Us"

The worst thing about greenwashing is that it's all essentially empty promises that acts a little like a wolf in sheep's clothing - it lures us all in as consumers with the best intentions and does absolutely nothing to actually change what needs to be changed. It's just manipulative marketing that makes a brand seem like they have environmentally friendly products and policies when they simply don't.

How the Fashion Industry is Using it
Brands are coming under fire more and more for using terms to describe their products or ethics that aren't 100% true or that don't represent what they're truly doing but greenwashing can even go beyond just the use of the language we all search for. Think beyond words such as sustainable, ethical, conscious etc. and instead think about how a brand chooses to present themselves. Think natural decor in their stores using plants and wood, think new release and collection campaigns being shot in the highlands of Scotland or surrounded by animals... All of it is creating an image that is not reflective of their practices. Brands blur these lines in the hopes that there'll be enough to visually and mentally over stimulate you so you won't ask questions and let's be honest - most of us don't think to when we've walked into a store to look at an item. It's only now that sustainability is under such scrutiny that us as consumers are picking out the red flags of misinformation and wanting straight answers.

The most popular high street and online brands have a range of tricks up their sleeves from recycling schemes to dedicated conscious/eco-friendly/natural lines to promotional projects focusing on those sustainable buzz words we look out for as conscious consumers. Of course I'm not going to sit here and slate a recycling scheme for example, because it's doing good still, right? Well, not exactly. I championed H&M's recycling scheme myself just last year as I felt it was a good way to get your foot in the door when starting to make more sustainable choices in fashion and whilst I still believe that to a degree, I've realised the error of my ways and how much I got suckered into some more pesky green marketing. In 2016, H&M held a Recycling Week and in that week, people donated their unloved items to the store for them to recycle but it meant the brand had enough garments that it would take 12 years to actually recycle it all - now, call me a pessimist, but I don't think all of it got recycled. It's particularly alarming that the amount of garments that were pledged during this time takes H&M just 48 hours to pump out and sell in comparison and with the promise of the vouchers to then go and purchase even more fast fashion, I've realised that "scheme" isn't as nice as it seems.

Another tactic H&M has been criticised for in the past has been their boasting over cotton being their most used fabric. Cotton is biodegradable and has a lighter environmental impact right? Well it does if it's organic, but as the brand's cotton use is only 13.7% organic, it kind of cancels out those eco-friendly boasts. Much like Forever 21 claiming that they were going to have the largest solar power panelled rooftop area in LA yet in the same breath stating they were opening another 18,000 sq ft mega store that would have "even greater discounts" on it's already ridiculously cheap clothing. That's just a couple of examples of ways in which green marketing is just thrown around to attract customers and in the hopes that no questions will be asked, but when brands such as Zara make bold claims to only use 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025, it's easy to see why cynical old gits like myself are eyerolling before they've even finished reading the statements.

Ways to Stay Wise to it
Of course it's a bit of a minefield trying to navigate through all these claims and promises and you're not alone! I'm still finding I get suckered into various schemes and new lines that brands release then I take time reading between the lines and realise it's all a load of bull. It can be hard to do and particularly if you're someone who relies on the high street for the convenience, the price, the accessibility etc., it can make it all the more difficult for you to make more conscious choices when greenwashing is occurring left right and centre.

Some things to look out for when you are shopping to keep your conscious feeling clearer and not feeling guilty after a purchase include:

- just because packaging might be recyclable doesn't mean that a brand is "reducing their waste". Surplus clothing at the production stage is still a major problem. Burberry got into trouble for burning 28 million quid's worth of their unsold products and unfortunately, they're not the only ones who do this.
- fast fashion brands who follow trends are encouraging throwaway culture, even if the trend items are sustainably made. If they're big on saying their pieces are "timeless" and not trend-led, check if the quality is actually there because if it's not and you're getting mass produced low quality clothing still, it's not going to last you and it's going to end up in landfill.
- brands doing pretty much anything but not addressing their supply chain makes their movements a little null and void. There's many out there that will give you immediate delivery (looking at you Zara with your same day delivery in London or Asos with your next day services). 70% of carbon emissions from the fashion industry are a result of production and thus, if a brand want to be truly eco-friendly, they should be looking at their production facilities, transport, and shipping methods. If they're offering a variety of special deliveries, that alone should ring some alarm bells on the carbon footprint front.
- if a brand is sharing targets that are pinned to a date, be sceptical. "we're aiming to reduce our emissions by X% in the next 5 years!" sounds like they're making steps in the right direction, but a lot can happen in 5 years that can mean that impressive sounding number won't actually seem that impressive when the date rolls around. Plus, how many people are going to pencil in the date in their calendars to check up on all these promises?
- greenwashing applies to ethical standards of workers too. Brands shouting about everyone being paid a minimum wage who works in their lines of production seem like they're doing a good thing, but a minimum wage isn't the same in every country. Some factory workers in Bangladesh for example might receive minimum wage but that minimum wage doesn't actually cover their living wage and thus, they're not fairly paid because they can't afford to live and support themselves or others who they may be responsible for. Look out for brands who are completely transparent about where their factories are located etc. and if they're trading under Fair Trade standards then you can rest assured they're doing good things.
- lastly, don't be fooled by those "sustainable/conscious/eco-friendly" lines big-name fast fashion brands are pumping out right now. Take Asos as an example - it's a good move for them to have an eco line or allow consumers to browse their site using tags such as "natural materials" "sustainable", but when those items only make up a tiny proportion of their overall products? It's greenwashing. If they overhauled their business model and at least 50% of it was completely sustainable in the true sense, then yes, they're making improvements but if there's just some organic cotton tees thrown in amongst the thousands of new items they release every month? They're just greenwashing us.

Obviously it's easy for me to sit here and be a misery guts, saying everything brands are trying to do to improve things is just a farce, but in reality, brands are consumer-led. They need us - their loyal customers - in order to make money and so if they can do things we approve of, they will continue to do those things and more. However, if we're being fed false information and being manipulated, all we're really doing is continuing to support unethical practices so they won't ever truly change. Movements such as Fashion Revolution are constantly pushing for consumers to be given all the information needed to make an informed decision. They call out brands to be more transparent and truthful and in their annual reports, they grade 150 major brands for anything from fair wages to valuing diversity and so on. In 2018, the average score was just 21% for a brand. It just goes to show that all the singing and dancing "we're making changes" statements and pages on fashion brand websites that include all those buzz words and promises we seek aren't actually backed up with any evidence or tangible actions.

If fast fashion is only ever going to adhere to what the market wants at any one particular time (for example, sustainable options because it's "hot topic" right now), they're never going to fully commit to that change because it won't serve a purpose in 5 years time if people have forgotten about it or moved on from it. Avoiding greenwashing can be impossible at times, but being more aware and wise to it can help demonstrate to retailers that actually? We want some clarity and honesty from them otherwise we can and will go elsewhere. How else are we going to motivate them to change?

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June 19, 2019

Book Club No. 20

It's time for another Book Club post gang and this time around, it's a total mixed bag in terms of genre and my ratings! Reading has kind of taken a backseat for me recently and I really need to get out of the funk. Myself and some friends were talking about this recently and we all said that we find it *much* easier to read more when we're away from home and therefore away from other distractions such as Netflix, scrolling through our phones for hours at a time... Can some of you relate?! That being said, I did finish these two very different books over the past month and thought I'd share my opinions on them in case you're looking for a new read:

Sons of Cain - A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present | by Peter Vronsky
If you're new around here, you might not know my strong interest in serial killers and true crime. I've blogged about some of my favourite true crime books before but I'm always open to reading many more! This one came to me in the form of a Christmas present from Matt and I was intrigued from the outset. I'm aware of Peter Vronsky and his true crime/serial killer publications but this one seemed so unique as it spans the full extent of serial killing. It explores cases and recorded incidents throughout history that were not deemed as "serial killings" at the time as the phrase and definition had not yet become "a thing", but that could fit the mould now now that we know more about the term and what it defines. As a qualified archaeologist, this instantly peaked my interest as the promise of looking at historical accounts that predate the "well known" killers, as far back as the stone age, just sounded too good.

Sons of Cain does a great job of covering so many historical cases that I otherwise wouldn't have heard of (think "werewolf" reports from the 18th century and more) and also talking about the psychology behind serial killers. It talks in depth about how and why there was such a spike in serial killers in the 70s/80s and it was interesting to learn how other historical events could impact the most famous individuals we think of when we consider this topic. Although I did enjoy this book, it's not receiving a totally a 5/5 star review. A running theme I find very common in true crime writing is the author dropping their other released work all over the place. Vronsky refers to his other works quite regularly throughout the book and whilst that's absolutely fine and makes sense to do, if I find it really noticeable and it distracts me as a reader from the actual content of the book, that's when I just find it frustrating and unnecessary and unfortunately, that's level of name-dropping Vronsky hit for me. Sons of Cain is very well researched with mentions of other books or source materials throughout but I found sometimes that it went almost into too much detail. For example, if Vronsky mentions some magazines from the 60s/70s that were blamed for influencing some serial killers, he literally lists every single magazine - even if there's 30 of them - and thus I totally switched off mid-sentence more than I thought I ever would with any book. He uses quotes and information from these sources he has evidently read which again, is a positive thing but, they're very rarely paraphrased or used just to emphasise a point being made. Instead it almost comes across as if Vronsky had a certain page number to aim for and just bulked out chapters by including a two-page long quote every now and again. The quotes themselves I started to skip over because it just seemed to pull me away from the content more than it added to it so it was a bit lost on me.

One last gripe I had with the writing style was Vronsky's seemingly limited vocabulary, particularly towards the end of the book. I noticed more and more as the chapters went on that he referred to male serial killers as "male reptilian" when discussing their mindset, thought process etc. and I honestly shut the book in frustration and stopped reading for the evening on more than one occasion because of this. When you're writing a book, surely a variety of language and wording is something that you want to strive for to keep the reader engaged, not simply use your most favourite phrase to the point that it pisses off the reader, y'know? All in all, I would recommend this book despite it's few flaws in the way it is written because you are getting that unique insight into serial killers and historical accounts that are not usually mentioned in other works. You're also getting more information about the psychology behind the killers and statistics that show traits and developments in this topic area whereas I find many true crime books I've read focus on particular individual cases rather than producing general information about how those individuals are actually categorised and analysed by the police and other professionals. Sons of Cain is available for around £9.43 here

More Than This | by Patrick Ness
At this point, I wouldn't even be that surprised if a Patrick Ness book makes its way into each Book Club post for the foreseeable future because by now, y'all must know how much I love his writing. More Than This is my most recent read of his and surprise surprise, I thought it was bloody brilliant. It centres around a young teenage boy named Seth who drowns in the ocean and wakes up on an empty, abandoned street in England. He can remember the feeling of drowning, his bones breaking and the injuries he endured, but wakes up absolutely fine with no signs of the injuries he sustained and what's stranger is he drowned in America - how has he ended up in a desolate street in England? A street that seems to have seen no life for a considerable amount of time?

Seth believes that he must have woken up in hell because nothing else makes sense to him at this point. He comes to realise that he's actually back in his childhood street which he lived in with his mum, dad, and younger brother many years ago before they moved to the USA and it raises so many developing questions for him. I feel like if I say anything more at this point, it will completely give the whole plot away so instead, let me say what I liked about this book because yet again, I fell in love with Ness' writing. I read More Than This in three days and struggled to put it down. It's a very easy read (which is a bold statement for me to make as someone who is a very slow reader and who is easily distracted) and I believe Ness' fast-paced but slow revealing writing style was responsible for this. The story creates such a great sense of urgency and action needed with each page turn whilst somehow developing the characters well and giving them and the overall story and world a great level of depth. I enjoyed the fact that we jump from Seth in the present - in the "English hell" that he's woken up in - to past Seth and learn more about his life, why he drowned, his friendships and more. Ness manages to create a world in which you as the reader of Seth's journey can feel the isolation he is experiencing and the freedom of time and not having commitments in this new world he's woken up in but also desperation of needing answers and a sense of familiarity to stay sane.

The book builds so well in my opinion and took on twists and turns that I wasn't expecting and couldn't predict so it kept me on my toes from start to finish. The story escalates in the last third of the book in such a way that I found myself feeling really attached to the characters and wanted the best outcomes for each of them, no matter what was happening. There's an element of almost humour from Ness in the fact that he writes Seth as quite a sarcastic guy who seemingly predicts what's about to happen next which, almost threw me off the scent of what was actually going to happen next because Seth had already suggested that so you assume that's not what will happen but then - bam! Sometimes that's exactly what happens. You feel part of the plot as you read along as the characters are so palpable through the pages and like I said, I found myself wanting them to succeed in each of their individual stories. With the characters in mind, I laughed out loud at times due to their interactions as a group and thought that Ness does an astounding job of discussing difficult themes such as suicide, violence, abuse etc. in a way that is incredibly mature given the book's target audience. It's has incredibly sobering themes running throughout shrouded by the overall sci-fi feel and I honestly think very few authors would be able to pull of something similar.

Although I did love reading this, it's not my favourite book from Ness purely because I had some questions throughout it that aren't answered at any point or they felt a bit like a plot hole. The book ends on *such* a huge cliffhanger as well and is comes swooping so bloody fast that I was almost pissed off that I was finished the book. In an odd way, I don't totally hate that it got that reaction from me, but it does mean I'm now sat in this limbo between wanting a sequel so my many questions are answered whilst also hoping the book is left as a standalone and the mysteries it doesn't answer become the best qualities about it. If you want to read something that's incredibly gripping but easy to lose yourself in for just a few hours or days, definitely grab More Than This for as little as £6.48 here

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