all of my written work through college: week five

Written for Feature Writing class, (2013)

Is Sustainable Fashion Possible?

Ethical. Sustainable. Fair trade.

These terms, no longer restricted to holistic mommy blogs or college hipsters’ conversations about the latest Whole Foods product, carry more weight in the mainstream clothing industry more than ever. However, after two garment factory incidents in Bangladesh left more than 1,300 workers dead, retailers worldwide felt the heat from explosive media investigations and concerned, fashion conscious buyers.

At the center of the controversy surrounding these incidents is the factory’s absence of safety precautions. At Tazreen Fashions, workers could not escape via outer stairwells because none existed. Even the windows were bolted with iron frames. Four months later at the Rana Plaza factory, more than 1,100 workers died when the poorly constructed building collapsed. According to a report by the New York Times, developers blatantly ignored building codes.

If you think the fates of Bangladeshi workers have no relevance to you, a United States citizen, think again.

Companies such as Walmart, Gap and H&M use products directly from these factories, which means if you recently bought a color-blocked fall jacket at Gap, yes, there is a good chance an underpaid factory worker, now deceased, made it.

“It’s unfortunate, but sometimes people just need a wakeup call,” said Katie Barrow, the senior manager of integrated communications at Fair Trade USA. “It was a wakeup call to brands and consumers that they need to demand better.”

Labor issues are nothing novel, though. In 1911, a factory fire in New York killed 146 garment workers. Eighty years later, Kathie Lee Gifford’s eponymous clothing line for Walmart faced controversy because the production factory used child labor. Gifford subsequently worked as a spokesperson to end unethical worker conditions.

Janice Ellinwood, the department chair of fashion design and merchandising at Marymount University, says the ‘90s showed a resurgence of interest in sustainability and fair treatment of workers. Today, she says, Millennials are the driving force behind demand for sustainable, conscious fashion.

“[Millennials] seem to be more interested,” Ellinwood said. “[Sustainable fashion] is on the increase because [they] are perpetuating it. This is something we all can do [though] by reusing our clothes or making sure others reuse our clothes… This is in our hands.”

Kelsey Timmerman, 34, is almost a Millennial himself. Primarily, he is a world traveller, journalist, and author of “Where Am I Wearing?,” a book that follows his journey around the world visiting garment factories. And Timmerman, like Ellinwood, believes as far as sustainable fashion goes, things are looking up.

“There is a lot more awareness by consumers and the brands themselves,” Timmerman said. “Engaged consumers can’t mindlessly buy things. We have to consume in a way that provides people with opportunity. I always say, ‘Wear one thing a day that has a story, that you know where it came from.’”

In 2011, Timmerman spontaneously left for Honduras to meet the man who made his T-shirt, which then led to an interest in who made his shoes and his Levi’s jeans and… You get the idea. After multiple eye-opening experiences in Bangladesh, Cambodia and China, Timmerman realized there was more to his tee than the comfortable fit.

In Cambodia, he met the 20-year-old who made his T-shirt, Amilcar. In Bangladesh, he met Arifa, a single mother living on $24 a month who, for financial reasons, sent her oldest son to work in Saudi Arabia. In China, he met a husband and wife who worked 100 hours a week at the factory where his sandals are made; they haven’t seen their son in three years.

Finding the solution to end unfair treatment of workers is a long, complicated, multi-level process, Timmerman said. The change starts with consumers, though.

“We need to look at our purchases and how they provide opportunities to people,” he said. “The problem is extreme lack of opportunity and extreme poverty. We have to ask, ‘Is this an opportunity or is it an exploitation [of workers]?’ It’s awful that these completely opposite things blur because [working] has huge potential to provide people with opportunity.”

Companies like Patagonia, Oliberté and prAna are a few of the brands Timmerman says have traceability and transparency. In other words, they allow customers to see where their products are made, who makes them and how.

But shopping consciously comes at a high price. A Patagonia down jacket runs around $300; yoga pants from prAna hit the $80 range; and men’s loafers from Oliberté are $125.

Conversely, “fast fashion” stores, like Forever21 and H&M, sell blouses for $30, which is almost the same amount as the average Bangladesh factory worker’s monthly salary at $33.39.

“In an ideal world, we should be making quality clothing with sound materials and wearing them for a long time,” Ellinwood said. “…A lot of people think there is more value in manmade sources, [which] contributes to sustainability. When people try to make sustainable fashion, [it’s] going to be at a higher price.”

But Barrow says customers are willing to pay more for sustainable clothing. “They want to make sure the clothes they are buying are coming from a good place,” she said.

Factories that apply for Fair Trade certification are inspected just like any other Fair Trade supported brand. To be recognized as a Fair Trade partner, companies must: offer a fair price for products, invest in community projects, protect the environment, provide premiums, empower workers through training and social projects, give equal pay to women and reduce waste.

“The factories have become a lot more open to fair trade because of the media attention,” Barrow said. “They are feeling the market pull. Brands are realizing this is something they need to do to protect their reputation and satisfy their own customers.”

With Millenials at the forefront of the “market pull,” brands that target younger buyers fare better. The business world is tough, Ellinwood said, but because Millenials are responding positively to the shift towards ethical fashion, it’s a trend that will continue.

In a 2012 study by Harvard and MIT, researchers found that customers indeed prefer Fair Trade labeled garments. Sales increased by 14 percent on a $130 suit advertised as “socially conscious” at Banana Republic outlets.

Now, more than ever, consumers can easily find which companies offer sustainable, Fair Trade products. Websites like GoodGuide rate everything from shampoo to dog food so consumers can make conscious decisions about their purchases based on environmental, social and health factors.

“You as a consumer have a lot of power to change the way fair trade apparel grows,” Barrow said. “It’s important for consumers to shop their value. We all know the [workers’] conditions are bad. It’s really important to support companies that do the right thing.”

all of my written work through college: week four

Written for Feature Writing Class, submitted to Knoxville News Sentinel (2013)

Tomboy to Trendsetter

Ashlyn Kittrell shopped in the boys’ department until seventh grade. Clad in baggy basketball shorts and oversized tees, she joined the boys on the playground every day until she was 12. But in her last year before teenagedom, Kittrell ditched her tomboy ways for a more refined style. Now 20-year-old Kittrell runs a fashion blog, which averages 1,000 page views a day.

Triple Thread focuses on three specific topics: writing, photography and, of course, fashion. Originally, it was a typical fashion blog with daily outfit posts and writeups about the latest trends. Then, one day, burnt out from trying to cover too many topics, Kittrell snapped. Stores like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch no longer appealed to her grown-up tastes. A sartorially savvy shopper and blogger emerged.

With features in Seventeen and on TeenVogue.com, Kittrell is well on her way to making a name for herself. Finding a voice amongst the Leandra Medines (The Man Repeller) and the Emily Schumans (Cupcakes and Cashmere), of the blogosphere is frustrating. And yet, Kittrell is not intimidated by the ruthless, fickle blogging world.

“I’ve never been a sheep,” Kittrell said. “[As a kid] I just did my own thing. I’ve always done my own thing.”

Dressed in a killer cobalt blue J. Crew blazer, Bradley Hathaway band tee, high-rise black skinnies from Urban Outfitters, monkstrap oxfords and a gold watch, Kittrell stands out in a popular coffee shop near Maryville College where her peers nurse lattes and sport sweatshirts.

Her style today emanates effortless cool with a vintage edge, which is nothing like her look from a few years ago. She said she tried the preppy approach simply because readers were more drawn to that style. In fact, the now defunct blog Teen Fashionista, which Kittrell grew up following, had a distinctly classic flare. Sticking with one style for her blog, is, well, not Kittrell’s style. On being a one-note blogger she said, “It’s so boring. I can’t do it. I just can’t.”

Kittrell’s rebellious approach to fashion began with practically her first sentence. One morning, Laurie Lyza, Kittrell’s mother, laid out an outfit for her daughter as she did every day. Upon seeing the outfit, however, the opinionated toddler announced, “I’m not going to wear that.”

Lyza said her daughter didn’t show interest in fashion until later, but she always had strong opinions about what she would or would not wear. Kittrell randomly chose to abandon her tomboy style once she reached seventh grade. She stuck to that statement and never looked back.

“Her style is such a combination of the everyday and the unexpected elements,” Lyza said. “She is not just talking about the clothes but how they make her feel and give her confidence.”

Wearing clothing made in the USA is an important part of Kittrell’s shopping mantra. So much so that she dedicated an entire category on Triple Thread to outfits specifically “Made in the USA.” Since the economy’s 2008 downturn, consumers have demanded more homegrown products. Seeing a demand for conscious fashion bloggers and wanting to cut back on frivolous purchase herself, Kittrell incorporated ethical shopping into her blog’s focus. She promises on her blog that 85 percent of her annual purchases will come from local or independent companies.

“I just kinda snapped,” Kittrell said. “I realized I was shopping so much, and I was buying all this useless junk. Blogging can be really bad about that, where it just makes you feel like you have to buy all the newest stuff and all the best things. So, I just started to notice more and more [that] I wanted quality.”

The most impressive thing about Kittrell’s blog, however, is the exceptional photography. Scrolling through Triple Thread’s photography section reveals snaps of Kittrell’s travels to Savannah, Nashville, North Carolina and Texas. Shots of Kittrell at a traveling carnival, appropriately dressed in a whimsical red and white striped short sleeve dress, speak to her acute style and photography skills. Each blog post has a theme, a purpose and well-curated photographs to go with it.

“Seriously, my parents gave me a film camera in second grade, and I have been inseparable from cameras since that day,” the photographer-cum-blogger said. “It’s just been a progression of exploring that and getting better equipment. It was my favorite present.”

“I still remember how she looked when she unwrapped it,” her mother said. Kittrell’s position behind the camera came as naturally as getting dressed. A shy child, Kittrell used her camera to give her confidence and create relationships with others.

“That camera really transformed how she moved in the world.” Lyza said.

From working with wedding photographer Sarah McAffrey to shooting promotions for a local shoe store, Style of Civilization, Kittrell’s intuitive photography skills provided her with valuable professional experiences. And while she’s upgraded from a drugstore point-and-shoot to a Canon 5D Mark II, Kittrell’s aesthetic remains a true reflection of herself.

“She has a really consistent style,” McAffrey said of Kittrell’s blog and photography. “She has a vision. She knows the look that she wants, and it really makes her really stand out.” Browsing Pinterest one day, McAffrey recognized one of Kittrell’s outfit photos without even seeing her face. Having distinguishable style in a sea of style “pins” marks a true photographer and fashion blogger.

Nina Phalen, owner of the shoe store Style of Civilization in downtown Knoxville, found out about Tripe Thread and sent Kittrell an email about Style of Civilization’s opening. A friendship was born, and Phalen quickly took on Kittrell as a photography intern and, later, a shop girl.

“Because I know her off the blog, I know the blog is a true representation of her,” Phalen said. “Knoxville is really lucky to have someone who is talking about fashion in a unique way.”

Kittrell’s blog has certainly given her more professional opportunities and exposure than, say, a college degree. “It’s like a living, breathing portfolio,” she said. Blogging often comes first before homework, she admits, simply because more jobs have come out of her blog than school assignments.

Maybe surprisingly, Kittrell has no desire to be a professional photographer. Instead, she’s looking for a creatively fluid role creating advertisements for fashion companies or as a graphic designer for fashion magazines. Taking pictures under the direction of a supervisor is not how she could best serve the world, Kittrell said.

One thing is for sure though, as Phalen said, “[Her blog] is going to take her wherever she wants to go.”

For now, balancing school, blogging, and work keeps Kittrell busy. In the fall, she also runs cross country, which means 6 a.m. practices on Monday and Thursday and little time for taking outfit photos. As with everything she does, Kittrell is extremely dedicated to her cross country team.

While the end date for Triple Thread is more ambiguous than her running career, Kittrell is just fine with her blog’s direction — until something better comes along. Whether it turns into a book or TV show or something else entirely, she will continue writing and taking pictures regardless.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to stop,” she said. “There are days when I don’t [write], and it’s like a compulsion. I have to create, and this is what I’m creating.”

Finding the time to post outfit photos daily is challenging, but she does what she can to upload content consistently. Usually after grabbing coffee and breakfast in the morning, Kittrell strolls around campus enjoying what she calls “me time.” Then, it’s classes, lunch, more classes and cross country.

“Sometime during the day I try to fit in outfit pictures before I get sweaty,” she said.

Kittrell just can’t seem to ditch her tomboy past completely, though. What most of her fashion-seeking readers don’t know is she is a rabid football fan. As a young girl, Kittrell and her stepfather played football in the backyard. On Friday nights in high school, she was more than likely in the stands of a football stadium than scouring sales at the mall.

“Her pictures [on the blog] are so feminine and so reserved, but she goes crazy when she watches football,” Kittrell’s mother said. “Fashion is so important to her, but she is not one dimensional. She has so many other interests, and I think that’s what separates her from some of the other blogs you see.”

The 20-year-old blogger is full of surprises and contradictions. Unlike most bloggers, Kittrell does not receive compensation for featuring products on her blog. For her, it’s not a business as much as a creative outlet.

“I take it really seriously because it’s given me so much success and room to grow,” she said, “but I also know that at the end of the day I’m a girl from Knoxville, Tennessee. What influence am I really going to have?”

Kittrell humbly says the most rewarding thing to come out of her blog is the local recognition. Her peers at Maryville College take genuine excitement and interest in what she’s doing. Even readers outside of her demographic appreciate Kittrell’s work.

The junior in college cites neither her feature in Seventeen or on TeenVogue.com as the coolest thing to happen since starting her blog. Instead, Kittrell blushes when recalling an exchange with the president of Maryville College who asked her how his outfit looked at graduation.

Her success at a local level is indeed impressive. The owners of Nothing Too Fancy greet her by name on a casual shopping trip; Metro Pulse retweets and replies to, in Kittrell’s words, her “funnier” tweets; local stores frequently reach out to her to feature their products.

The past two years have been a whirlwind for Kittrell in terms of local and national recognition. And with graduation on the horizon, Kittrell’s future looks promising. One thing is certain, though: Kittrell will never forget her humble beginnings.

“My roots are that I’m a tomboy at heart. I love red lipstick as much as I possibly can,… [but] I’m still a girl who takes off her makeup at the end of the day to go run around in the woods.”

all of my written work through college: week three

Written for the Tennessee Journalist, TNZN Campus Style section (2012)

Campus Style: Katie McNabb is cute, comfy in bright red maxi skirt

Katie McNabbKatie’s simple, colorful look gives off an effortless, bohemian vibe. 

Fall may be upon us, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to retire the maxi skirt. Flowy, bright pieces, such as McNabb’s skirt, are perfect transitional pieces from summer to fall. (Not to mention they are super comfortable!) When the weather starts to turn, McNabb can simply throw on a leather or denim jacket for a complete fall look.

Vital Stats:
Name: Katie McNabb
Age: 23
Major: Hotel, Restaurant, & Tourism Management with a minor in Business
Hometown: Lenoir City, TN

What are you wearing? My skirt is Harper & Gray. It’s such a fun piece because I can wear it so many ways. The top is from Belk and is very light and comfy. Oh, and my watch is Michael Kors!
Describe your style in three words: Eclectic, Vintage, Chic
How do you dress comfortably and stylishly? Is it hard to be stylish and comfortable on campus?  I stick to pieces that are flowy and light. Skirts are my go to; they are just so comfortable! Other than that, I love to put on my favorite pair of jeans and a flowy top. I always try to buy pieces I can dress up or down. Versatility is what my wardrobe is all about! I don’t find it hard to be both [comfortable and stylish] – I want people to see my personality in my style. It makes putting outfits together all the more fun!
Where do you like to shop? Everywhere!! Online shopping is so much fun because you aren’t limited to local stores. I love going to places like Belk where I have lots of options. Cute boutiques are my guilty pleasure, if you haven’t been to Elle Boutique on Bearden Hill you need to check it out.
Where do you find inspiration? I love following all sorts of fashion blogs. I piece together my favorite looks to create my outfits!
Follow Katie on Twitter (@katielee214) and Instagram (@katieleemac).

all of my work written through college: week two

How to Decorate Your Dorm Room on a Budget

So you finally moved into your own place, be it dorm or apartment, but there is just one problem: you have no idea where or how to begin decorating. Pinterest and home decor magazines make decorating look easy, that is, if you have a budget that’s twice the size of your space’s square footage.

Since Pinterest and Tumblr’s rise in popularity, college students are taking more interest in well-designed rooms. It’s now easier than ever to gather ideas for paint, furniture and bedding. The fact remains, though, that students and their parents prefer to keep decorating budgets small.

Small budget, small space — the two should go hand-in-hand right? Not always, but as long as you prepare properly and make smart purchases, the pieces will fall into place.

To make the most of your money and time, interior designer Todd Richesin says to first, measure the space. It’s important to have a plan and dimensions before arranging or buying furniture. The design process takes time.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is buying things when they have to have them,” Richesin said. “When you are pressured into finding something immediately, you can make mistakes. Take your time, and get it right.”

Richesin’s advice is especially relevant when making expensive purchases, like furniture. To “get it right” invest in classic, traditional styles. “It may be the best money you could spend,” he says.

Shanda Hayden, a Knoxville interior designer, suggests scouring consignment stores, garage sales or thrift shops for classic, well-made desks, chairs and chests. HomeGoods and T.J. Maxx also top her list of stores with deals on one-of-a-kind items.

Once the basics are taken care of, buy fabric, Hayden says. Fabric adds texture to a room and can be used to make curtains or pillows and simple art when stretched over a canvas. Even hanging a shower curtain in front of a doorless closet adds personality and color to a bland dorm room, she says.

In addition to fabric, rugs, lamps, personal photos and mirrors all give cramped living quarters a more homey feel. Mirrors reflect natural light and make a space feel bigger, while rugs and lamps give off cozy vibes. Again, be sure to keep the room size in mind.

“If you are buying area rugs, the rule is the larger the rug, the larger the space will feel,” Richesin says. “The edge of an area rug is the visual wall in a room. So, don’t just put a rug under the cocktail table. Consider traffic paths, as well as other pieces that need to go in the room.”

While decorating a room or apartment has technical aspects, keep in mind that experimenting and discovering your personal style are also parts of the process.

“I think a young person doesn’t know what their style is, but that’s what makes it fun!,” Hayden says. “You can do whatever you want to do, within reason. It’s a chance to try new things.”

Browsing antique stores or retail shops, like Anthropologie, is great for inspiration and helpful when trying to narrow your tastes. Decorating is one of the few things in college without a deadline, so enjoy it!

“Don’t try to or feel the need to complete the entire house or apartment all at one time,” Richesin says. “Start with the basics that you absolutely have to have, and go from there. The accumulation process can be a fun one.”

all of my written work through college

I’ve written so many articles during my three and a half years as a journalism major, and now, I think it’s time to publish them. Most of these I just wrote for class with the hopes of publishing them in an established news media outlet. But I thought, why feel defeated just because some newspaper or website doesn’t have time to edit real writing? I’m proud of my work, and I want others to enjoy it. After all, that’s the whole point of writing isn’t it?

Without further ado, here is the first installment of a weekly series in which I share a journalistic article I wrote.

Written for a Feature Writing (Magazine) class in 2013

It’s a Tuesday night and Lauren Thomsen just walked in the door to her apartment after a six hour shift at Starbucks. She has a paper due Friday, laundry piled in a basket and a hungry, needy cat named Lemon eyeing her pathetically. The clock on her stove reads 7:15 p.m., and she hasn’t even started dinner.

Thomsen’s night isn’t even considered hectic by many of her peers. Between classes, work, social events and homework, students don’t think twice about ordering pizza two nights out of the week. But eating out regularly doesn’t make for a healthy wallet or weight.

In a 2012 suvery conducted by 21st Century only 9 percent of college students out of 100 buy groceries more often than eating out. That means the average student spent $735 on meals off campus in one year.

There is a pervading misconception amongst college co-eds that cooking is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. However, for a quick, healthy meal, fresh produce and a little creativity go a long way.

“Simply cutting an onion and a little bit of garlic takes little to no time, but it’ll make something easy like pasta, even if it’s pre-made pasta sauce, a little tastier and a lot more authentic,” Thomsen said. “You can even cut up fresh peppers and throw them in there. It’s a little bit of work for a lot of gain in the flavor department.”

Thomsen, not quite a seasoned chef but a cook all the same, worked at a barbecue restaurant and a catering company over the summer. It was there she learned the importance of prepping meals and using simple, fresh ingredients, she said.

For those less comfortable in the kitchen, Pinterest and food blogs provide tops and recipe ideas. However, that garlic chipotle salmon with mango salsa may be as hard to make as it is to say in one breath.

Brandon Cruz, the Sunspot kitchen manager, admits he frequently uses Pinterest for inspiration. The only downside? Some recipes don’t live up to their drool-inducing photograph. The safest bet is to make classic dishes with a twist.

“A good standby is a grilled cheese, but it doesn’t need to be plain-jane American cheese,” Cruz said. “Get a really nice loaf of bread from the bakery at Earth Fare, or add several different types of greens, like spinach, or heirloom tomatoes. Even throw some bacon on there!”

Popular college pantry items, such as tomato soup and Ramen noodles, are cheap but bland. Cruz suggests forgoing the Ramen seasoning packet for a simple, homemade tomato sauce, or amping up tomato soup with a dash of Tabasco sauce.

In fact, the key to getting the most bang for your buck is picking versatile foods and using them creatively. Rotisserie chicken for example is convenient, affordable and nutritious.

Alexandra Payne, the blogger behind Sweet Betweens, suggests using the chicken for three different meals throughout the week. Cruz ate a fair amount of pre-cooked chicken in his college days, he said, because of minimal prep time, budget-friendly prices and adaptability.

As far as appliances and kitchen tools go, the general consensus amongst foodies is quality over quantity. A sturdy chef knife, a cast iron or stainless steel skillet and a food processor or blender make up the list of basics every student should have on-hand.

Successful meals don’t have to be complicated or expensive. All it takes is a little creativity, fresh ingredients and the right instruments to make a simple meal special.

“On campus or off,” Payne said, “preparing quick and healthy meals with just a microwave or countertop appliance is something you can tackle quicker than that essay for Psych 101.”

decorating for a party on a budget

This is a guest post written by Heather Hewitt from Shutterfly. Heather Hewitt is a seasoned writer and guest author who enjoys connecting people with thoughtful products, services and ideas as they relate to crafting, photography, gift giving and personal expression. She reached out to me about writing for my blog.

Photo courtesy of Heather Hewitt

Photo courtesy of Heather Hewitt

Throwing a party – whether it’s a birthday shindig, a bridal shower, or a holiday celebration – can get expensive. You’ve got holiday or birthday cards and invitations to send out, food to prepare, activities to arrange, and a venue to book. In addition to all of that, you’ll want to decorate in order to present a certain theme or focus. But while there are certain areas of a party you can’t scrimp on – food and drinks, for example – decorations don’t have to break the bank. Here are four ways to save on party décor when your budget is tight:

  • Do it yourself. As in most cases, it’s much cheaper to make something yourself than purchase it outright. If you roam the aisles of your nearest party supply store, you’ll see just how expensive premade decorations can be, whether you’re throwing a dinosaur-themed birthday party, a Cinderella-themed bridal shower, or a casino night party. Get your creative juices flowing by checking out DIY party décor ideas online, recruiting your most crafty friends, and busting out the scissors and glue.
  • Shop at discount stores. There are certain themed items you’ll have to purchase, such as colored plastic tablecloths, plates, cups, utensils, etc. Your first instinct may be to head to the party supply store, since they’ll likely have exactly what you need. But first consider whether you have any dollar or discount stores in your area. In addition, some bigger stores like Wal-mart, Target, or Big Lots may have discounted party supplies during certain times of year.
  • Create favors that double as centerpieces. Why buy both favors and centerpieces if you don’t need to? Consider what would be a nice gift for guests to take home with them, and then make them as attractive – or theme-appropriate – as possible. For example, if you’re throwing a children’s beach-themed party, purchase tiny pails and fill them with treasures. These can be placed in the middle of the table (or tables depending on how many you have) and fill the space a centerpiece might normally have taken.
  • Use décor you already have. Before you go out and spend lots of money on decorations, consider what home décor you have sitting around that can be put to use. Are you throwing a holiday party? Then cover wall art with wrapping paper and a bow for a festive look that costs practically nothing. Throwing a pretty bridal shower? Move that vase full of silk calla lilies in your bedroom out to the kitchen and use it as a centerpiece.

It doesn’t matter the kind of party you’re throwing – it doesn’t have to cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, especially when it comes to décor. Get creative and use what you have, and your decorations will create the perfect ambience for the party!