Less Waste: Facial Skin Care with Aesop

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I’d be the first to admit that in an effort to rid our house entirely of plastic waste, I’ve been neglecting many aspects of skin care, and after a year and a half of doing so, it has started to show. In all honesty, walking down aisles of grocery stores in search of self-care products can be a bit nauseating for the environmental enthusiast. Almost every bottle promises some magical cure packaged in plastic capsules, listing a number of chemical compounds that stray far from being natural. Not a big fan of beauty products anyway, I decided it would be easier to rid my life of this added complexity by just ousting the need to buy. And while that has worked well with some aspects such as make-up routines, and substituting bars of soap and refillable aluminum bottles for daily necessities such as shampoos, conditioners, and lotions, I’ve found that when it comes to facial skin care, my skin has suffered and has started to rebel.

Admittedly, this past winter in California was the driest that we’ve had in a while. I woke up some nights with an itchy throat that needed clearing, and made a habit of having a glass of water by my bedside easily within reach. I recognized the dryness when our adopted toothless cat started to have asthma attacks in the evenings, waking us up and worrying us to death. And I couldn’t deny it any more when my facial skin started to itch, form a rash, and flake, when it has never reacted like that before.

Part of the irritation lies in the fact that I wear a dental mask every day, and the itchiness is localized around where my mask touches my skin. A visit to a dermatologist told me that it’s nothing that a good skin care routine couldn’t fix. She prescribed me a routine that required buying moisturizers, facial cleansers, sunscreens and ointments in plastic bottles, and at first I resisted. The resistance only lasted so long until my body signaled with fervor that it’s in need of some attention. Eventually, I did get her prescribed regimen, and I saw some improvement right away. My skin seemed satisfied, but I was not. I could not, in good conscience, bear to buy another round of plastic bottles filled with chemicals.

Then I remembered that when we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at an apartment that was furnished with only amber glass bottles. I quickly started researching Aesop and was quite pleased with what I found. Packaged in those amber bottles were little doses of formulations created with meticulous attention to detail for one’s body needs. Their focus was to source plant-based ingredients mixed with lab-made ingredients that have proven record of both safety and efficacy. Headquartered in Melbourne, I was glad to learn that they had a store here in Southern California.

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Searching for something to soothe sensitive, dry skin, the knowledgable staff at the store was able to guide me towards a selection of bottles lined up on their walls, but only after offering me tea and refreshments. They then helped me sample the products and the experience was akin to being at a spa and being waited on hand and foot. They massage the oils into your hands while talking you through the best treatment methods and tips. They detail the differences in ingredients and explain why each one has a purpose. Every item smelled heavenly, and best of all, they were packaged in glass! The only plastic to be seen are the caps and lids, which is much better than the alternative options. Plus, when you take them home, they are sent home in beautiful linen bags that can be re-purposed for such things as jewelry bags and stationary tool kits.

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Off course, the price point is a little bit higher, but to be honest, not much different from the prescribed routine by my dermatologist. And you may call it a misperception due to my obvious affinity towards the brand, but I do believe it worked wonders much better then the Western medicine that was prescribed. Either way, I received these as gifts and took them home with care. Using them in my own bathroom elicited the same type of spa-quality that I experienced in store due to the fresh aroma and high tactile quality of the products. Lighted candle use, optional.

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So here’s to new facial skin care routines. Mine specifically:

This Gentle Facial Cleansing Milk  – panthenol, grape seed, sandalwood. $35 for 3.5 fl. oz.

This Parsley Seed Toner – parsley seed, lavender stem, blue chamomile. $43 for 3.4 fl. oz.

This Primrose Moisturizer – sage leaf, rosemary leaf, lavender stem. $49 for 2.1 fl. oz.

Mr. Debtist also walked away with this hand balm, for hard-working hands.

 

Intentional Living: The Practice of Hair Humility

Every two years, around this time, I chop off my hair. I have been doing this since I was in my early twenties. It’s an act against vanity, as well as a reminder to be gracious, giving, and humble.

When I was a really young girl, I was always asked the question, “What do you love most about yourself?” Not socially aware enough to say non-physical traits (I wish I was wise enough to say “my smarts!” or “my courage!”), I always answered with “My hair.” Mostly, it was socially learned. Adults would always croon over my hair, begging to braid it or comb it. They’d exclaim how long, straight, and glossy my hair looked, how well it behaved. No one ever wanted to croon over my smarts.

In middle school during my pre-teen years, I would wake up at 6 a.m. every day and curl my hair with a curling iron. I learned how to curl my hair at 12 years old. It would take me an hour or so, which wasn’t bad considering I had so much of it and I had not-so-nimble child-like hands. My hair is stick straight, so by the time I showered after school, I would have straight hair again and I couldn’t wait to re-curl my hair the next morning. Oh the joy of being young and having so much time on your hands! When I started high school, I always had my hair done up. I would check my hair during every break to make sure it still had volume, and would curse the weather (or the gods) whenever my hair fell short. I took pride in getting haircuts frequently, every month or so, and changing up my hairstyle often.

At some point, in high school, I read the book The Little Women. When I read of Jo sacrificially cutting off her long locks in order to buy medicine for ailing Mr. March, a chord struck. I started noticing advertisements of children with illnesses, adults with cancer, elderly people suffering from alopecia. I felt oddly sickened by my own behavior towards my hair, the way I prize it, revere it almost. In a way, I was made aware of my vanity, and knew that I wanted to live a different way.

So I chopped off my hair. I packaged it neatly and sent it in to Locks of Love. The first time I did this was in my late teens.

In my early twenties, I decided to start making it a habit. I would dutifully grow my hair to a long length, only to cut it again. Typically, it takes me two years, and the yearning to cut it falls somewhere around the New Year. Sometimes, I want to cut it or trim it when it’s in it’s awkward stages, but doing so slows down the re-growing process, so I resist. Sometimes, when it’s short, I want it to stay short, but I don’t allow myself the luxury. And sometimes, when it’s long and I am heading in for a haircut, a small part of me wishes I could keep it long for a while longer. But the urge doesn’t last.

Cutting my hair keeps me grounded, and it keeps me humble. Additionally, it simplifies my life. I generally know when to cut my hair, and when to grow it. When I do cut it, the options are limited. Most times, the minimum required length determines the hairstyle I receive. I usually don’t care too much about it. I try to remember that hair is just hair and it will grow back. The act of cutting my hair reminds me to care more about who I am and how I treat others than about how I look. It’s an extreme form of intentional action. I am grateful for the gift of hair, but am even more grateful that I am able gift it and let it go. It’s all just another part of creating a lifestyle by design.

Getting to Know: Julia Ahrens from Miakoda New York

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Julia Ahrens and Laura Ahrens are the sister duo that started Miakoda New York. Julia is a fashion designer who turned vegan and had a new-found interest in creating a company that treats animals, people, and the planet equally well. Her yogi instructor sis Laura inspired her, and together, they co-founded Miakoda. 

What was the inspiration for starting Miakoda?

After going vegan, I no longer wanted to wear or create clothing that exploited animals and used animal fabrics/skins/fibers. I worked in the industry and felt so conflicted when asked to work with these materials. I tried to look for a company that I felt comfortable supporting and designing for, but there were so few 100%-vegan-companies and they weren’t hiring (and most were pretty small!). This was my initial reason for starting Miakoda. As I thought about what vegan fashion meant for me, I realized it goes beyond animals and includes the planet and other humans. I really wanted to work for a company that made me feel like I was making a difference by our planet in a meaningful way. I love fashion and I love designing, but design without purpose and reason felt extremely lack-luster to me and I really wanted to create something that felt meaningful and purposeful to me.

 

What values do you want to portray most in your company?

It is so important to us to portray the idea that humans, animals, and our planet are ALL important and it’s our responsibility to treat ALL of them well. With that message, we also want to encourage that NO positive action is too small. We value when consumers make a conscious decision. Whether you have learned to shop ethically and make sustainable choices, or if shopping with us is the first time you’ve ever heard of clothing made from bamboo… you’re making a difference and we value that!

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What are ways in which Miakoda practices ethics and sustainability?

All of our garments are made from organic and sustainable plant based materials. No animals are harmed [a.k.a. no wool, no silk, no fur, no leather, etc] and no toxic chemicals are used to grow our fibers [only organic cotton here!]. We choose to only work with fabric suppliers who are equally as committed to monitoring their supply chain, providing safe work environments, and paying fair wages. We cut and sew our garments in an ethical NYC factory that we visit regularly. We truly believe that happy fibers sewn by happy workers create happy customers!

 

Name  one thing that you love most about your work? What is the hardest thing about your job?

The thing I love most about my work is seeing people wearing and enjoying the clothing we create. It is so rewarding to create something that I am passionate about and seeing other people enjoy it! The hardest thing is reaching new customers and to make our mission reach more people.

 

How do you decide which factories you work with and how do you ensure that they are producing fairly?

We have worked with a bunch of factories in NYC. Before I work with them, I always visit the factory and check out what they’re all about. We are lucky to be based in NY, which is one of the safest garment centers in the world. Fair labor is hardly enforced overseas and there have even been instances of sweatshops and slave labor in California. We talk to the factory owner about labor and what they do to support the workers they employ. There a bunch of sure signs that a factory isn’t what they claim to be— when they don’t let you watch your garments be sewn [out-sourcing to cheaper factories while pretending to be making your garments is a real thing!], when you’re only allowed to stop in when the owner is there, and when they don’t welcome random visits to check-in.  It’s important to talk to the factory owner, talk to the garment workers, and to keep your eyes open to make sure what you’re being told is actually what’s going on.

What are some challenges that you see in the fashion industry and how does Miakoda try to improve the industry?

There are so many challenges in the fashion industry at this point in time. We are so much based in a fast-fashion model which focuses on how much can we get and how cheap can we get it for. Garment workers are paid cents per garment sewn and consumers expect garments to cost dollars. Miakoda’s effort is to educate why this is horrible—not only for the workers slaving away to make the clothing, but for the planet as well! Our workers are paid a fair living wage, work normal hours, and are treated with kindness and compassion in a safe work environment. Our materials are high quality… grown with love and compassion for the planet as well as the workers harvesting them and the workers knitting them. We believe in quality not quantity—and quality doesn’t just refer to the craftsmanship of the garment, but to the lives of the workers involved in bringing the garment to life.

 

Do you believe purchasing power goes a long way with changing the way the fashion industry currently is, or is there something else that you would like to see happen in the future that can facilitate the change away from unsustainable and unethical practices?

I totally believe that purchasing power goes a long way! We’ve seen how the dairy industry has been deeply hurt by consumers purchasing more dairy alternatives and plant-based milks. Supply and demand is very real—companies can’t afford to make something that people aren’t buying. The goal isn’t to put these unethical and unsustainably companies out of business [per say] but to show them that people WANT sustainable and ethical clothing so that they can shift what they are doing to create a better future for our planet.

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Why the focus on staple pieces and athleisure wear?

Whenever I bought specialty pieces in the past I saved them for ‘that special occasion’ or wore them a few times before my style changed and no longer loved them the way I did when I purchased them. Staple pieces can be loved for years and years no matter how your style changes. We choose to focus on athleisure because comfy clothes are the best clothing. I personally hate the feeling of getting dressed in the morning, leaving for the day, and an hour or so into the day feeling majorly uncomfortable in the outfit I picked. In the past I would look forward to going home so I could change into something comfy and take off my tight jeans, constricting t-shirt, itchy sweater, etc. I find that I am in SUCH a better mood when I wear comfy clothing—I feel more confident in myself and less irritable. Our goal is to make compassionate clothing, and personally, I don’t feel I can be the most compassionate human being that I can be when I’m super uncomfy in my clothing.

 

If you had to choose one word to describe your design style, what would it be?

Comfortable! 100% definitely. If it’s not comfortable I don’t want to design it or make it or wear it.

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Miakoda is one of the few companies I have seen promote body positivity in their advertising. I think that is awesome! What started this idea and how do you try to create a good example of confidence for women everywhere?

Thank you so much! I really think it’s so incredibly important for humans of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities to be represented in media. From a consumer’s point of view, I personally hate when I’m trying to buy a garment and I can’t even tell what it will look like on my body type. I think it’s so helpful for customers to see the garment on a bunch of bodies to be able to envision it on themselves. From a personal point of view—I am SO sick of black and white thinking that’s perpetuated in the media. The idea that only one body type is beautiful, or that only one hair color is beautiful, or that only one type of intelligence makes you intelligent, or that one lifestyle makes you successful. It’s simply not true and we don’t want to be another company falling into this mindset that you aren’t enough and perfect as you are! I’ve heard so many women say that they hate shopping online because looking at models makes them feel horrible about their appearance. Whether it brings up feelings of not being thin enough or not being toned enough or having smooth shiny hair or acne free soft skin… whatever it is, the thought that a beautiful, intelligent, kind human can look at the images we put out into the world and feel bad about themselves is horrifying to me [seriously!]. All of our models are beautiful… and not just because they’re “pretty” and because they’re “models” but because they are really wonderful humans [*disclaimer: we have been so lucky to work with really awesome models who are absolutely amazing!].

 

When do you feel most beautiful?

I feel most beautiful when I’m having a conversation with someone I love where I am just constantly laughing and so engaged in the conversation and enjoyment that it doesn’t matter if my eyeliner is running down my face from the tears in my eyes, if I’m making the “ugliest” laughing face, if my entire face is red from hardly being able to catch my breathe. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. The days I’ve felt the “ugliest” are the days when I try to make my outward appearance look the best. I can easily say that every time I’ve ever gotten my hair and make up professionally done and dressed up for a fancy event, I’ve felt horrible in my skin the entire day.

 

If you could teach a whole generation of younger girls one thing about the meaning of beauty, what would it be?

Beauty is immeasurable. It’s not black and white. It’s not a number. It’s not a color. It comes from being a good person. You can change your make-up, your body shape will change as you get older, you can cut your hair differently, but the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself and talk to others and treat others will make you feel more beautiful than anything else. I promise.

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What is your current definition of success?

This is such a tough question. I hate to think of success as a monetary accomplishment, so I’ll say my current definition is how much of a positive impact are you having. Do you practice mindfulness and implement sustainable practices in your daily life? And do you treat yourself and those around you kindly? Money is important to live a comfortable life, but living a life you can feel proud of and that can impact others in a positive way will leave a much more lasting impression. I’ve never been to a funeral where someone boasted “We will miss XYZ person because they had a great career and made a lot of money.” It’s definitely more common to hear “This person always made us smile”, “This person had a great sense of humor”, “This person always thought about others”, etc., etc.

 

What are your top favorite books, articles, or documentaries that shaped your lifestyle or way of viewing the world?

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and The True Cost take the cake for most influential shapers of my lifestyle.

 

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

I want Miakoda to be my legacy…. to be remembered for  making an impact on this world and on an industry [fashion industry] that so desperately needs reshaping.