Sustainability For Beginners: A Tried and True Guide To Shopping Smart

Stacks of shoes greeted me from floor to ceiling as I sauntered past the hallway in my apartment. Though I’ve had great city views of Marina del Rey, I was accustomed to the familiar sight, an array of funky footwear that I bought from Dolls Kill and Nasty Gal, coupled with a few from Miista, Doc Martens and secondhand vintage footwear from Depop. While my early 20s identity crisis was at its peak, I was constantly shopping to help myself fight against teenage body shaming.

My closet was filled with racks of Reformation dresses, Nasty Gal crop tops and leggings, a handful of cute trendy pleather overalls by LF, Rag & Bone skinny jeans and at least 50 percent of dope vintage purchases from Etsy. A few stacks of Uniqlo sweaters sat inside my closet, too. Ditto with a few cool unique vintage purchases from Tunnel Vision, a cult vintage boutique that also stores under-the-radar LA-based designers. At 22 on the brink of 23, how was it possible that a soon-to-be college graduate could accumulate *this* many things?

Now with the apparel business at a 50 percent slump since Miss Rona took over the world, it’s made me wonder if any of my past shopping habits truly changed. While it’s great that I am taking accountability for my own habits, I am beginning to realize that when it comes to sustainability, I haven’t shopped smarter. Although I still want to have fun with fashion, it doesn’t mean that I have to give it up altogether. Given that we still need to shop for essential apparel, we can do our part to still be supportive of the business, but be more responsible on where are contributions are going.

Here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about shopping sustainably:

Continue reading “Sustainability For Beginners: A Tried and True Guide To Shopping Smart”

Real Girls Talk: Keeping Up With Faith In Chaos

At the beginning of the year, I had high hopes that 2020 would be my year of more optimism and adventures. I also had hopes that I’d be able to get more dough, land a stable job (in the office) and get a boyfriend. But, the radical shifts that were suddenly introduced shook up my life.

Thanks to Miss Rona, I had to work from home, abandon grand travel plans and celebrate a quarantine birthday. Though the effects sounded negative, the most surprising things always came out to be more positive than I expected. I became more active in doing household chores, got creative, sewn face masks out of fabric scraps for charity, set deadlines, continuously kept in touch with the friends I truly connected with, spent more time with my parents and reached out to cousins I haven’t talked to in AGES. While I appreciate the special moments from creating magical memories whenever I was outside, I realized that when I went out on a near daily basis, it has made me become selfish, irresponsible and lazy. By being plugged into my phone, I also realized that the majority of the time I spent was mainly for the ‘gram, getting money on Vestiaire Collective, WhatsApps, e-mails and/or dating apps. I wasn’t aware that I sought SO much validation by burning my energy on it until I saw my screen time. But if there was one thing that continuously lifted me up on the bad days and taught me gratitude for the good days, it was my faith.

Raised as a Baptist at 8-years-old, my relationship with God wasn’t always the strongest. Getting to know my spirituality felt so foreign to me as I was told to go to Sunday school and youth classes, which I heavily disliked because of being around other kids (except for my best friend). I only read Bible stories for the sake of pleasure during my childhood. Instead of meditating on the Bible, I used free time to read Perez Hilton as the way, the truth and the life to escape the reality of being a socially awkward misfit in high school. Though I did attend church throughout my teens, I really didn’t feel *that* connected to The Word as I saw church as a weekend ritual with my family.

One day, I met a really cool gal in church when I was in LA. She asked me to hang out with her. Little did I know that God sent in an angel into my life to walk me though faith and humble myself. We’d read the Scriptures at each other’s apartments, have deep conversations about Jesus and hang out for HOURS over coffee, did our homework together, etc. From there, she introduced me to Jessica Tanoesoebibjo, a mutual friend/fellow Biola babe who has a Master’s degree in theology.

Fervently passionate about her faith on her blog, Jess inspired me to be open about keeping in touch with our spirituality since the day we met four to five years ago. Now that we are coping with the world’s weariness over social injustice, a global pandemic, crippled economy and lack of job security, I feel that nothing is more important than wanting to build your faith. Whether you’re a believer or non-believer, you have the freedom to choose what you wish to believe.

Here, we catch up about how faith has uplifted her, what it means to have faith, the struggle to balance faith vs. life, why we shall fear God and how you can encourage your friends to build up on their spirituality.

Continue reading “Real Girls Talk: Keeping Up With Faith In Chaos”

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: A Letter To Reformation

Dear Reformation,

In light of this collective social awakening that’s been shaking up algorithms on Instagram, it has given us the opportunity to speak up without fear. While anyone’s quick to say what they wanna say, the flip side is that sadly, the true colors of a brand comes out the moment comments pop up like a snake from a bush. As a consumer that has the privilege to spend on a brand, it’s been cropping up on my radar that you, a brand I once actively supported, have fallen short on your actions.

You’ve been plagued by workplace racism, testimonies of bad pay, unsafe working conditions, cultural appropriation and a good, but misguided sustainability campaign that’s been accused of promoting racism. A few members of staff past and present have been exposed for making irresponsible and insensitive posts on Instagram. Shortcomings aside, you’ve gotten clout from Net-A-Porter (who even granted your Founding Mother an interview), Selfridges, Shopbop, Vogue and Rookie Mag, plus the investment from Karlie Kloss and endorsement by celebrities from Rihanna to Taylor Swift. A senior analyst from Global Data dropped a quote to BBC that your premium brand image has successfully persuaded shoppers like me to buy into your hot girl sustainability mission. Even your cult status has afforded you to have the power to create hype among resellers on Carousell in Singapore as residents like myself don’t have access to your brick and mortar stores across the States, Canada or London. (Plus it’s much easier to deal with local vendors here as opposed to having to wait forever for a package to arrive from LA!)

The demand is red hot.

Though it’s completely normal for a brand like you to make mistakes, I don’t expect you to be perfect. While your ex-employees have spoken about their past grievances with you on Instagram, it’s inspired me to do the same. Though I have not experienced much racial discrimination from any of your staff, I feel that I, as a customer, have had a fair share of less than positive experiences with you.

When I was in my early 20s and fresh off the boat in Los Angeles, you were one of the brands that have helped me define my style. As a college student from 2014 to 2016, I was on the hunt for sustainable, but ethically made apparel. Chic, but practical clothes that can take me anywhere from class to a dinner with my girlfriends. A vintage soul made for the modern girl. A walk in the park that bridges the gap between luxury prices and affordability. Because you checked off all the boxes on my list, it’s drawn me to your energy.

At the beginning of our relationship, you were great. I never had any issue with the fits of your cute little dresses, the deadstock fabrics you used felt awesome and I liked that the designs always had a hint of sexiness that felt playful. Though I couldn’t make any returns from the online store, I knew that some way or another, they had the potential to make great gifts for my sister, whose style erred towards conservative. The selection of vintage fabrics you found for the dresses I’ve worn in the past were phenomenal: I got zero discomfort from wearing every single deadstock surplus fabric that hugged my curves. They also photographed well to the point where it justified the price point. However, my only beef is that you could’ve hired a fabric expert to break down what a certain fiber was made out of in your deadstock fabrics.

This was a common tag sewn into garments that reused deadstock fabric

Ditto with having to figure out how to properly care for a fabric as most garments are sewn with a “Dry Clean Only” tag. Point is, I liked how you were able to reuse leftover fabric into making cute fun dresses. For example, you know how you made a little leopard print A-line t-shirt dress? Well, I’ve decided to include a photo of myself wearing a Nasty Gal dress from an Abercrombie store visit on the left versus me wearing your Mars dress on the right. Though both styles were different, the poly/rayon blend fabric had the same thickness and identical print. Similarities aside, you did the right thing by reusing leftovers from the factories.

Apart from the deadstock fabric, I’ve had positive experiences wearing your Tencel and viscose fabrics. The former, which I previously wore in the form of a backless bodysuit, helped me to survive two very hot summers.

This was me wearing the black version of the backless Jessa bodysuit from Reformation with Bebe Rexha at the Vans Warped Tour in 2015

Your viscose fabrics, which ranged from a classic black dress, sweet off-the-shoulder polkadot dress and a pair of funky checked flared pants has helped me stay cool during hot weather and simultaneously create iconic style moments. Not only was I able to wear them again repeatedly over the years, I felt that those two dresses performed the best as I found unlimited styling options.

This was me wearing the Leaf flared pants in Southern France in 2015

Even though I supported your mission in using eco-friendly fabrics, there were moments when the quality of the garment has not performed well over the years.

This was in 2017 when missing fibers were starting to happen || Photo by Hallie Geller

Exhibit A: The blue faux fur coat. Do you remember how you wanted to refrain from using real fur into your products? Well, as someone who owns vintage fur products, I was thinking of trying out the pastel faux fur trend and you were the top brand on my list. I made my score at the Melrose boutique in 2014 and I didn’t regret my purchase at that time. Your coat kept me warm from the LA winter. It was easy to clean, too. Three years later, the fibers started shedding faster than a dog losing its fur. At that point, my mom pointed out to me that something was wrong with your quality, which brought me to sell it on eBay. In spite of my sadness, I had nothing but happy memories.

This was in 2015. See how opaque it was?

Exhibit B: The glitter striped tee. Your expertise was on making everyday basics with a sustainable angle. At the same Melrose boutique in 2015, I walked out of your store with a bluish purple with silver striped glitter boyfriend tee. I bought it because not only did it make me feel comfortable, it reminded me of this vintage Angelina Jolie photo. When I first wore it, the fabric was evenly covered. But over the years, it started having a burnout effect, which I did not anticipate. It was then I realized that your fabric started to lose its quality. Though it’s sitting in my closet now, it breaks my heart to think about how it aged horribly.

Five years later, same shirt, but semi-sheer.

While the clothing quality isn’t the most major offense that you’ve committed, I’ve been beginning to reflect that you, as a brand, have been misleading a customer like me for years with a glimmer of false hope when it came to how you wanted to dress bustier bodies.

Whenever I shopped at your boutique in Melrose between 2014 to 2016, I remembered that the space was expansive and filled with great lighting. The dressing rooms had enough space for me to put down my bags. I loved that you had mirrors that made me look like I was a movie star. But the issue that I had was that a 5’2″ and a half big breasted woman like myself could only walk out with one garment inside a black REFORMATION tote as most of the dresses and tops you offered were either too big (at the waist and shoulders), too small (for my perky 32 DD boobs) or too long (to the point where it blanketed my feet or stopped awkwardly at the widest point of my ankles). With exorbitantly high prices slapped on your tags for the items that fit me well, I was sometimes reluctant to buy it.

Conversely, I happily spent my money on a dress when you dropped the “I’m Up Here” collection. When I first saw it six years ago, I was like, “Finally! A collection where I can have the opportunity to buy more Ref pieces!”. However, the reality of it pained me.

First things first, most of your styles from that drop were *not* bra-friendly. How can a person like me, who constantly needs a bra, wear a crop top that doesn’t look bra-supportive?

Courtesy of Reformation

Ditto with having to think of spending more money to find a decent bra to match with these kinds of dresses, which I didn’t buy because of how useless my regular bra would be.

Courtesy of Reformation

Even when I did wear a bra with the black square necked Cobra dress from your collection, the straps of my bra still showed up (see below).

This was me at 21, the age when I was at the height of my Reformation obsession

Drea, a former Reformation manager, said that the “I’m Up Here” campaign disappointed more people than anticipated.

And also, did you think that any of the fresh out of school designers whom you hired at that time had a good understanding of what it’s like to have to wear a normal size 32DD bra that has thicker straps at the back every single damn day? It seems like they didn’t when you released the dresses, which implied that I either had to wear a strapless bra, a bra with super thin straps and a low armhole or go for a non-supportive silicone backless bra.

I was hoping that you’d improve, but it still seemed like I had to ditch my bra when you released the lace-up top and this tie-front dress when you dropped a new collection for us big breasted ladies in 2015. Great marketing aside, I wish that you could have been more inclusive to show that your “full cup” garments could cover sizes bigger than DD and/or hire a busty and petite model.

Apart from marketing, the one thing where you truly needed to improve was your customer service at the brick and mortar stores. When I shopped at your boutique in Melrose, I remembered that you had two to three sales women. Though there were quite a number of girls at the store, I was barely given any service most of the times I went there. I had to grab two to five pieces of clothes off the rack myself, walk to the dressing room, then call someone over if I needed another size. Either you were understaffed or didn’t train your sales ladies enough to let the service be that bad. The bad service was appalling and I’m sure that I ain’t the only one as there were a couple of similar reviews on Yelp. Ditto with SZA, who is just as powerful as your other VIP clients.

Courtesy of Diet Prada

Though you had the potential to build a rapport among customers IRL as you do on the URL, it’s extremely disappointing when your employees on the sales floor mistreat us. In spite of that, I’ve had better interactions at your Soho store in NYC as the staff was more helpful when it came to assisting me.

Before I finish, your mission was originally founded on the fact that the fashion industry’s pollution made you cry, Yael. Like you Ms. Aflalo, I also felt the same, too. When you expanded your store abroad, I respected your ambition and mission because I agreed that you wanted to bring sustainable fashion to everyone. However, your goal to become the next Zara has strayed you away from being sustainable when the amount of deadstock fabric you used to frequent went to 10 to 20 percent as of 2019, a far cry from 50 percent in 2014. Viscose, a fabric you frequently use, ironically isn’t the most sustainable as the chemical inside it has been linked to serious medical issues (e.g. stroke). Carbon disulphide, a chemical that’s used to treat the wood pulp in viscose, has been linked to birth defects to cancer. That basically ties into outsourcing, which you’ve openly mentioned on your website, as most of the viscose factories are located in Asia, specifically India, Indonesia and China (as reported by The Guardian). Given that you had employees type the “sustainably made in China” line in one of your listings for a top (for instance), how is it sustainably made when the manufacturing process for viscose has been linked to horrific pollution in China, where the loss of aquatic life took place in Poyang Lake? Although I don’t know which factories you work with outside of your Instafamous factory in LA, it deeply saddens me that the sin of your greed for profit and quick sales has polluted your morals.

While your Instafamous factory has been the star of tours, Durbyn Galindo, a student of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, commented below on Diet Prada’s post about the vagueness of your answers.

Although I am glad that you openly disclose where you outsource now, my question is why would you want to work with vendors whom you’ve mentioned on your website with moderate/minor issues to safety/health/labor violations?

Frankly, I haven’t shopped at your boutique and online store for three years due to the aforementioned flaws. I was hoping that someday, I’d be able to return to you, but I can’t. Now that you’ve destroyed your reputation, I don’t think I will never, ever, ever, ever get back together with you unless you are willing to sincerely repent.

Yael, you as a leader have the power to change and you (alongside your team) can always count on us to do better because we, the customer, are trying to hold you accountable out of love. While releasing a poorly worded self-contradictory apology and setting your Instagram to private probably isn’t the best solution to run away from this scandal, you can pull up through action without needing to use social media to validate yourself. The same applies to your senior management, presidents, etc. whom you’ve chosen to lead with you. Unlearning isn’t easy. Though I am no influencer or celebrity, I hope that my voice will enlighten you to do better.

Sincerely,

A Former #RefBabe

Bursting The Privilege Bubble Pt. 1: An Evolutionary Journey Of Unlearning Prejudice

I am a minority in most parts of the world, a minority within a minority (i.e. Chinese and Christian) in Indonesia and a majority in Singapore (or any other Chinese-speaking/dominated country). I have attended private schools all my life, been sheltered in well-decorated places, travelled the world (except for Africa, Antarctica and South America) and I can afford to get proper healthcare, plus insurance. I have the luxury to treat myself to Sephora or a nice vintage designer apparel I happily discover on consignment sites or bazaar sales. Ditto with being able to survive on unpaid internships. While the perks I have were things that I used to take for granted, what I didn’t realize until today is the fact that my privilege has been a ticket that got me to do well in life since I was born. With the current crisis that is unfolding across the States as well as the centuries-long systemic racism, it’s made me wonder if I have done my part to be a better human.

Continue reading “Bursting The Privilege Bubble Pt. 1: An Evolutionary Journey Of Unlearning Prejudice”

27 Things I’ve Learned As I turn 27

The first quarter of 2020 felt like whirlwind and as we’re all entering in the last month of the second quarter, I also realize that at this point, I’m about to enter another year around the sun at 27. While it’s the most dreaded number of your twenties thanks to the 27 Club, I have to accept that this is the reality that I’m about to walk in. Not only do I feel that this is where I have to face crucial decisions in my life due to the return of Saturn, I am at a point where I have never felt more comforted with working on building my sense of self worth and bettering myself.

Inspired by Taylor Swift’s “30 Things” for Elle, here are the top 27 things I’ve learned:

Continue reading “27 Things I’ve Learned As I turn 27”

Real Girls Talk: Sustainable Organization With Beauty Pantry

Staying in has never felt sexier. As someone who loves to go out, the mere thought of having to lock myself at home scared the hell out of me when I first found out about the circuit breaker on April 7th. However, I’ve came to accept that after all, having to stay at home means making the most out of things I never really paid much attention to such as organizing. Given that frequent sales – especially on beauty products – are happening so often, it means having to struggle with organization, which is a weak point for myself.

I decided to get in touch with the girl bosses behind Beauty Pantry, Kimberly Ong, a digital writer, and Sarah Bennett, a design engineer. Ong and I were previously co-interns at Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore two years ago. Since we bonded over our love of being green and beauty products, I have seen her passions blossom into an educational Instagram account/shop, Beauty Pantry, which used to be Beauty Uncovered. While Beauty Uncovered schooled us on the effects of consuming mica to harmful ingredients like SLS, Beauty Pantry is a marketplace where you can shop for unused to lightly used beauty products.

Though sustainable consumption and education are still a priority for the BP team, I decided to check in with Ong and Bennett to talk about organizing beauty products, what clean beauty products to start with, which ingredients to stay away from and solutions to fixing face mask acne.

Continue reading “Real Girls Talk: Sustainable Organization With Beauty Pantry”

5 Non-Basic Ways To Wear Black

Striking, iconoclastic and sophisticated, no other color can make me smile more than black. Like second skin, it’s naturally part of my DNA as I cannot live without wearing it. It’s also my default color when I run out of ideas on what to wear.

Please watch this video on how to I wear black:

Follow me on TikTok @michyvari!

Unlearning Toxic Femininity

Being stuck at home sounds like the worst thing to ever happen to anyone who’s been living in the developed world and the thought of going stir crazy is always just a minute away. However, the silver lining of being in quarantine – whether you’re alone or with family members – is being able to have some alone time and reflect when when you truly need to disconnect from your phone, laptop and TV.

Though staying connected is an important aspect for me, I’ve been chipping out my time to binge watch dating reality TV shows on Netflix, namely Love Is Blind and Too Hot To Handle. As someone who is all about wellness, compassion, speaking up and creating a new space for us (via this blog) to share about having to battle gendered issues, I realized that there is SO much about myself I needed to unlearn.

Since young, I was conditioned (via movies and TV shows) to subscribe to this image of a girl who needs to change herself for a man. On top of movies and TV shows, the fashion magazines that I admired growing up always told me to dress for a guy. Not only was I conditioned to change my personality and dress sense for a guy, I was being advised to act too hard to get if I had to date a crush. From peers to adults, that was the most useless advice I was ever given because trying to play that part ultimately failed me in landing proper dates outside of the Bumble, Hinge and Tinder convo.

However, the flip side was actually trying to control the guy. In this case, it meant either playing with his feelings (either if you’re dating or played hard to get to pretend to be interested in him) or trying to change him. Thankfully, I am not like that as I believe in honesty and value one’s right to exercise their freedom; however, I saw this get revealed in Too Hot To Handle when one of the girls admitted to being called “controlling” all because she wanted to change the guy. Sadly, this behavior was and still is all too common, especially when I’ve heard it from male friends who told me that the girls they dealt with were like this.

Though the trend of ending toxic masculinity has been spreading like wildfire on social media (which I am very happy for), I feel that toxic femininity has been underrepresented on social media. Inspired by David Birtwistle’s TikTok video on “How To Get The Girl”, I decided to play my own spin on “How To Get The Guy”.

Looking at this now, I’m nearly approaching my Saturn Return, which makes me become more reflective into taking account of what I can do to change myself and unlearn dangerous patterns of toxic femininity before I can date again. Since this is still a process of discovery for me, I have not yet fully figured out what I can do to unlearn as approaching 27 in a month still sounds scary. Relearning healthier dating habits are things I have yet to fully acquire, but I hope that this 15 second video and post can be an inspiration for you to learn how you can be better humans once you return to the post-corona dating world.

Man Crush Monday: Shaun TUpaz

Last year, I was attending a Lacoste event stuck in the middle of the atrium at Orchard Central. Though we were in an enclosed space inside a mall, this little cozy spot was a playground for extroverts like myself to meet people. Tabitha Nauser performed that night, my best friend and I took photos with her, then we both of met an unexpected character whom none of us ever heard of. With jet black hair, a warm smile and dressed in a black tee, the man who caught our attention was Shaun Tupaz, a radio host/actor/stand up comedian. From that night, we swapped Instas.

Fast forward to fall 2019, I attended two Tupaz stand up shows and realized what it was that drew me to feature him: his sense of humor and friendliness. There was zero artifice. Born and raised in Singapore, the 33-year-old Scorpio is also – his own words – S.I.N.G.L.E – Strong, Independent, Noticeable, Generous, Loving, Enlightened. Though he’s “not so” single, the self-described “raised on Netflix and Spotify” comedian is also a spinning instructor.

We chat about comedy, why having a sense of humor is sexy, body shaming, being a “fatness influencer”, why we shouldn’t go back to toxic people.

Continue reading “Man Crush Monday: Shaun TUpaz”

MY AM and PM Skincare Routine

Staying in, forgoing the makeup and barely going out is great to let your skin breathe. On the flip side, when you want to wear a mask while exercising, the sweat around your mouth area gets active, causing you to break out or get a bad case of clogged pores (it has happened to me!). Alongside the change of weather from winter to spring (or summer to fall if you’re in Oz), that also triggers a new set of skin issues. Ditto with moving into a new place, too.

Since my skin has been through hell and back, I’m just so thankful that it’s been treating me well (save for the hormonal acne I get when it’s near that time of the year – ugh!). Even as I experiment with new products, I have to admit that I never got one too many issues with it as I mainly stick to using clean beauty brands. My friends have always asked me to how I get good skin and my sister calls to ask me which products she must use.

The secret? It’s all about being informative about which products suit your skin. In that case, it means using products that DON’T contain: parabens, artificial fragrances, alcohol, silicones, BHA and other skin unfriendly preservatives that damage your poor precious canvas. By being clean with your skin, it will also be clear as well!

Ditto with kicking gluten, dairy, processed foods and alcohol* (except for wine). (I’m sorry, carb, beer and fast food lovers!) Same with cigarettes and vaping as the heavy metals and other pollutants inside the secondhand smoke age you like CRAZY! (DISCLAIMER: I have socially smoked and vaped on/off in the past and those are the things I don’t do anymore. It’s just gross, period!) Same with eating too much meat, sushi and eggs as those things ARE linked to acne due to vitamin B12. (Heck, even my old derm Dr. Lancer has even advised me to AVOID eating sushi!) Like any other Indo girl, my addiction to fried food is real and unfortunately, I had to kick that to the curb as the oils from all that frying DO cause acne.

Regardless of some products, I do the best I can to stick to a clean beauty brand as those have greatly helped my skin. To be honest, most of these brands happen to be things I discovered during my travels, Sephora trips or Instagram. I have to admit that sometimes, some brands don’t ship to Singapore, so that kinda made me extra stingy about using these products generously! (Sadly, that includes CBD skincare as I was only able to try them abroad in Europe or the States!!)

Alright, here is a breakdown of my AM and PM routines:

This is my secret to how I get ready in the morning!
This is how I get ready for bed!

*Speaking of alcohol, grain alcohols such as vodka and whiskey are quick fix exceptions as that helps to kill the germs. It might not work for everyone, but it has worked for me!