Category Archives: Product Review

Product Overview: Alterre Shoes

The sustainable enjoyment of the amazing material benefits the world has to offer us is a question I often address on this blog.  I believe that the benefits of the world are meant to be enjoyed as part of a life focused on personal development and of contributing to the betterment of the world.

Over the years, some people have challenged the fact that I love fashion and owning pretty things while at the same time “portraying myself” as a do-gooder.  But I think it is important to realise that it is not a dichotomy to enjoy the material benefits available to us while living a life of service.  I also think that it’s important to acknowledge that we are all attracted to beauty in all of its shapes and forms; choosing to surround yourself with items that you not only need but find beautiful is another way of appreciating what the world has to offer.

I do believe however that the things we surround ourselves with are not an end but a means.  In other word, that that we shouldn’t just get stuff for the sake of getting stuff.  Rather, we should get stuff we need to lead a fulfilling life of personal development and community building.  This leads quite naturally to the broader questions surrounding consumption: when in need of a certain item, how can I ensure that the item is at the same time useful, attractive to me, and that the way it was produced does not lower the quality of life in a community (through for example the use of sweat shops)?

This is why, when I discovered a Kickstarter campaign supported by BrandBacker is currently backing up a campaign about a brand that seems to be focused on balancing out beauty, practicality, and ethics, I was immediately intrigued.  And so, although I have never tried shoes by Alterre, I’m definitely going to be following the company.

Alterre is a line of modular shoes for women that aims to create shoes that remain comfortable throughout the day, are versatile, and remain light on one’s feet.  They combined these traits to create shoes that can be interchanged into over 125 combinations.  The thought of 125 looks using a relatively minimal number of pieces is already quite intriguing to me.

Those of you who follow my product reviews know that I try to look into purchasing things that are as ethical as possible.  The best part of Alterre’s approach is that while their shoes are designed in their New York Studio, they are made according to fair labor laws in Brazil with locally sourced, genuine leather.  They also choose to source other components in Brazil as well to reduce their overall carbon footprint.

And just because, why not, the company donates 5% of the proceeds to the women’s abuse shelter Restore NYC.

Pretty clear, no, why I am planning on following this brand to see where it is heading to?  If you want to do so as well, you can follow them on Facebook.  You can also support them by contributing to their Kickstarter campaign.

Although I discovered this product through BrandBacker, no compensation or samples were provided; all opinions are my own.

Taking the Plunge: The Launch of Product Reviews on Sahar’s Blog

As a writer and blogger, I have always been told to write about my passions and what I know. What I am at my core is a Bahá’í who believes that this world is transitory, a preparatory phase for the next world, much like our mother’s womb was transitory and meant to prepare us for this world.

One of the things we need to learn about in this world is how to balance out material and spiritual progress. There is no such thing as depriving yourself of the benefits the material world has to offer. Quite the contrary: all that surrounds us has been created for us to enjoy. One very visible and obvious testament to the concept of entwined material and spiritual progress is the development in Haifa (Israel) of the administrative centre of the Bahá’í world over the last hundred years. Our “Vatican” of sorts is both practical in that it administers our affairs and inspiring in its simple, striking beauty.

So What Does This Look Like in Our Day-to-Day Lives?

Confession: my understanding of tis concept is quite superficial at this point in time! I struggle, just like so many others, to trace the line between materialism and enjoying the benefits of the material world. I find that this line is all the tougher to trace when living in a society that equates happiness with having more and more stuff. Sometimes I tend to veer on the completely opposite side by not shopping for long stretches of time, which of course is an over-reaction. At other times, I find myself buying way, way too much, so much so that I run out of space. However, I found out that if I keep the following two principles in mind, I tend to avoid these two extremes.

Pursing Material Progress Can Enhance Spiritual Progress

By pursuing material progress, we learn about spirituality. So for example, the more we have, the more we can share and learn about generosity and detachment. Or the more financial leeway we have, the more we can pour into creating beautiful physical spaces that inspire us to beautify our spiritual life. These beautiful spaces can also help us learn about hospitality and detachment from, say, a child’s sticky, jam-laden fingers meeting the pale upholstery. Similarly, the more material means we have—a car, books, agendas, notebooks—the more we can learn to use it to contribute to our community’s development.

Pursing Material Progress Teaches Us Lessons We Can Apply to Spiritual Progress

It takes certain character traits to progress materially. For example, to have a good career, you have to work for it, which requires discipline, focus, and detachment from the things that would distract you otherwise. These are all character traits that are very much needed to progress spiritually. Similarly, all the energy and discipline that goes into taking care of our bodies—from beauty regimens to diets, from workouts to fashion choices—can be poured into taking care of our souls.

What Does This Have to Do with Product Reviews?

I’ve been mulling over the idea of product reviews for quite some time now. But I was concerned about being swept up by the powerful materialistic influences that surround us. I mean come on, let’s be honest: it’s MUCH easier to take care of one’s body than one’s soul, and the results are so much more immediate and obvious! You can spend an hour at a hair salon and come out transformed, while you can pray and meditate for months trying to change an aspect of your character and not see a blip on the radar.

Unsure about how strong I would be, I have been somewhat hesitant to start reviewing things. But avoiding something potentially dangerous just punishes me from enjoying its benefits. I’m hoping to have balanced and fair conversations on the use of material things within the context of a life dedicated to the spiritual and material development of our own selves and of the community. Because although the large lines of this kind of life are obvious, the finer the lines get, the more difficult they are to draw.

An Emerging Framework for Reviewing Products

In the coming weeks and months, I will post reviews to various products on this blog on Wednesdays. The framework that I will use will be posted for now on this blog’s “About” page. I’m very excited to see where this experience is going to take my readers and I, and to witness how it will change the nature of our conversations on material wealth and progress.

Header image courtesy of Death to Stock.

Product Review: The Honest Company’s Free Discovery Kits (Part 1 of 2)

When a company chooses, in the context of the current climate of distrust towards all things corporation, to use the word “honest” in their name, either they are supremely arrogant or they are extremely dedicated to creating a new kind of corporate culture.

The overall feeling one gets from The Honest Company’s website is one of safety, coziness, and confidence.  The sky blue and warm orange on white theme, the simple fonts, the light and light-hearted pictures—all seem to want to convey trust in them.

As a certain beloved fictional character is often heard saying, I want to believe that The Honest Company is, well, honest.  So I decided to give them a two-pronged trial run: on the one hand, I would look them up and on the other, I would order their free “Discovery Kits” to test out.

In this, the first part of a two-part review, I will share some of the results of my research, the experience of ordering from The Honest Company, and my initial reactions to the samples.  Once I have tested all their samples a couple of times, I will post the second part of the review.

The Honest Company

Founded in 2011 by Jessica Alba and Christopher Gavigan (who also serves as Chief Product Officer), The Honest Company (THC) states on it’s website that it’s founders “both wanted an ideal: not only effective, but unquestionably safe, eco-friendly, beautiful, convenient, and affordable – everyone should have it. [They] believed every baby deserved the best [they] can create for them.”  Another page of the website claims that customers can expect the following from THC: honesty, social goodness, support, peace of mind, and delightful designs.

To me, honesty means both celebrating the positive while acknowledging the negative.  And so, I was surprised that the site’s press section did not mention any of the negative press THC has received.  Doing so would have, to me, better reflected the company’s promise that “[w]hile [they] really do try [their] best in all regards, if [they] make a mistake or can’t live up to your expectations, [they]’ll fess up and keep trying to do better, no matter what it takes.”

Ordering and Cancelling

Ordering the free discovery kits online was very easy; the website features them clearly on its home page and is clear on what will happen once the order has been placed: that there will be a shipping fee, and that seven days after receiving the free discovery kit, customers are automatically registered for monthly bundles.  These can be cancelled only through a phone call, which I found a little annoying—I assumed it meant I would have to dial through a complex menu, be on hold for ages, and deal with a customer service agent trained to convince me to keep the bundle.

I almost didn’t go through with ordering the free discover kits because of stories I had heard about cancelling the automatic bundles.  But I didn’t feel comfortable signing up for something without having tested it thoroughly beforehand; and so, either I would get the kits and take the time to test them before ordering a monthly bundle, or nada.

Guys, the worry was, in my case, for absolutely nothing.  I called the number and it goes straight through, no complex, multi-layered telephone menu to navigate.  Waiting time was less than five minutes, after which a friendly agent suggested to move the date of the shipment by a couple of months so that I could both have the time to test the products and not lose the discounts that came with the kits.

Packaging

Packaging is always a concern when dealing with any product that ships directly to one’s home.  The two kits were sent to me in the same box, a move I greatly appreciated.  The box is made of 65% recycled materials and is 100% recyclable.  A message at the bottom of the box encourages reusing and the flap style makes it easy to use as storage.

For the discover kits, a lot of packaging relative to what you get.  The diapers were wrapped together in plastic; the essential kit products in a little box also made of recyclables and recyclable, but not really reusable; and no extra filler was used because none of the items were breakable, which I also appreciated.

Despite all this care taken to decrease packaging, I can’t help but wonder how many boxes are sent out a month and how this affects the environment comparatively to picking up supplies at a store—which comes with its own environmental issues, including packaging.

Controversies Linked to the Company

A number of controversies have been linked to THC, including:

  • Using fear based advertising to make people buy their products; to be fair though, a lot of companies selling products to parents do the same. I personally feel that the website isn’t alarmist as much as it is bluntly informative, something I find very useful when shopping.
  • Using false advertising: that THC’s products might have less chemicals that others but that they contain chemicals nonetheless.
  • A subpar sunscreen: although supposed to have a SPF of 30, THC’s sunscreen was inefficient with users posting pictures of sunburns the product did not prevent.
  • An organic infant formula that contains 11 synthetic substance prohibited under federal law.
  • Several items, including the hand soap, the dish soap, the multi-surface cleaner, and the diapers, are marked as having only natural ingredients when they also include chemicals like synthetic preservatives and surfactants.

All of these allegations are sourced below.

THC has been standing by its products and claims that it is adhering, with regards to its organic products at least, to the standards set by the government; if customers have a problem with those standards, they should address the government and not them.  This really raises an excellent point: what is THC honest about?  If it is being honest about following governmental standards, which we know are deeply affected by lobbyists, why would we trust THC more than any other company?

Final Thoughts (For Now)

I don’t feel I have enough information as of yet to be able to make a firm decision about the company or its products.

I really want this company to actually honestly be trying its best, and if I knew that it was, it would have my full support no matter what mistakes it made.  Because in my mind, a company is allowed to make mistakes, as long as it is not being deceptive.  Not enough alarms have been sounded in my mind, neither have I yet to find enough red flags to believe that there is an actual layer of dishonesty that rules the company’s policies.

I do have a certain disdain for alarmist approaches and fear-mongering, but the way the messages are crafted on The Honest Company’s website were, although influenced by a drama-riddled society, not more alarmist that any I have come across.

The packaging is of concern but I could just go to places around here and actually purchase the products.  In Canada, Chapters for example carries products, as does sometimes Costco.  But again, because there are other environmental concerns when it comes to brick and mortar stores, I don’t know if that would be better for the environment or not.

Sources

{ Disclaimers }

I was not compensated for this review in any shape or form and received only the free Discover Kits that all customers are entitled to for the price of shipping.

I am not an expert when it comes to the health effects of a product on an individual or the environmental effects of products on the environment; I am just a concerned consumer trying to have the least negative impact on the global community.

Product Review: Blank Cards, Thank You Cards, and Note Cards

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece on how cards can help build a stronger community. Pleasantries, I wrote, “have been previously defined on this blog as the hydrogen bonds of community building” which although “are not in themselves strong enough to hold a molecule together, but can still change the properties of elements such as water.” I argued that while they “might seem superficial, pleasantries—which do not, alone, create cohesion—strengthen an already present community, affecting the way it looks. Pleasantries, then, are an essential part of community building, even if they are not enough on their own to create a community.”

One such pleasantry identified was old school, paper-and-envelope, card writing. After all, “there is something to say about a handwritten card. Maybe it’s knowing that the card you are holding was specifically chosen for you by someone who took time and made the effort to either go to the store or order it online; maybe it’s the thought of how the card you are holding was held by the person who gifted it to you, or that the words you are reading were carefully put together and then just as careful transcribed. And that the person took the time to go through all of this in an increasingly busy world means even more.”

Since then, I have discovered so much more than I ever thought possible about cards. I still love Fox & Velvet, Anne Garrison Studio, and Cove Home, three great Etsy stores. And, if you are the kind that likes to make their own cards, I have also put together a Pinterest board filled with the ideas of some really talented people out there. I purchased a few sets of cards myself; during the process of reviewing them, I also learned that I really should take photography lessons, because I couldn’t do any of them justice.

Capital Flat Correspondence Cards, by Crane & Co (Set of 10)

Crane & Co has some of the most beautiful quality cards I have yet to see that are not over-the-top expensive. They typically use thicker cardstock on their cards, the envelopes are smooth to the touch and embossed with the company’s name, and the sizing is impeccable—as far as I know, you will never fight to slip a Crane & Co card into the envelope! Their simplistic designs make them much more readily accessible for a broad set of occasions. The Capital Flat Correspondence Cards are very easy to write on; all types of ink leave behind little to not bleeding and dry quickly. I use these cards for unique, super special occasions—weddings, births, the like—or more serious ones—death.

Live Colorfully Foldover Notes and Gift Box, by Kate Spade New York

While I love almost everything Kate Spade has to offer, I feel that their stock is overpriced—including this gorgeous card set. The quality is excellent, although the card doesn’t slip as easily into the envelope as it does with the Crane & Co cards. The envelope’s yellow interior is a particularly appreciated touch. I use these cards for happy occasions—births and cancer remissions, for example.

Mint on Pink Blank Foldover Card, by Mudlark

I discovered the Mudlark brand at Papyrus and have used cards from their collection a few times over the last couple of years. They are typically printed on thick cardstock in vibrant colour which feels textured to the touch and usually come in a box like this. This same texture though that makes for a great sensory experience makes the cards a little difficult to write on except with felt tip writing devices. I’ve been using these cards when I want to show someone my gratitude for either something they did or for just being themselves.

Hello Notes, by Andrews + Blaine

Available at Chapters, Andrews + Blaine cards tend to be more modern and minimalist. The Hello notes I purchased make for great random mailings that I send to people just because I want to—usually people with whom I have had recent online conversations lasting hours and hours that I almost want to transfer into the material realm through this card. There are two things though that I don’t like about this particular set. The golden polka dots seem to have been stamped onto the thin cardstock, making circular impressions on the inside that requires an extra steady hand to navigate a pen around. Also, the paper is glossy and slippery, making the good old ballpoint pen the best option so us. I love that the envelope matches the peach colour of the font rather than the white of the card.

Black and White Note Cards with Envelopes, by Target

These were by far the cheapest cards that I purchased and I have to say, I got what I paid for. The envelope is so thin that almost all inks bleed through; the cardstock is so slippery card that it doesn’t take well all the inks I tried on it; and the print quality makes part of the card’s design look blurry. I’ve been using these cards for daily, almost routine thank yous, such as dropping off a homemade loaf.

Black and White Thank You Cards, by Spr!tz

It seems that Spr!tz cards might be a good balance between price and quality for those of us who cannot afford the higher range cards. The envelope is thick enough, the cardstock is sturdy enough, matte and easy to write on with pretty much any pen, the printing is clear—making for a card both affordable and a pleasure to send.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! Some thoughts on the cards I have been using in the last year. I’m also looking into reviewing the experience of card-writing, so stay tuned for that post in the coming months!

First published on 24 February 2016 Sahar’s Blog.

Product Review: Carrington Farms’ Virgin, Cold-Pressed, Organic Coconut Oil

It often feels like we in North American are caught in the middle of a coconut craze, and I have to admit, what with the number of personal anecdotes that abound, that it isn’t without reason.  While I don’t think anything is a magical cure-all, there are many great uses to coconut oil that warrants purchasing a jar of it—or even a tub.

But just like with any craze, it felt important to me to take a closer look at coconut oil.  Does it actually do what fans claim it can do?  And at what environmental and social cost?

What is Coconut Oil?

I found a great definition of coconut oil on WedMd (go figure), which states, quite simply, that coconut “is the fruit of the coconut palm. The oil of the nut (fruit) is used to make medicine.”

The website continues: “Some coconut oil products are referred to as “virgin” coconut oil. Unlike olive oil, there is no industry standard for the meaning of “virgin” coconut oil. The term has come to mean that the oil is generally unprocessed. For example, virgin coconut oil usually has not been bleached, deodorized, or refined.  Some coconut oil products claim to be “cold pressed” coconut oil. This generally means that a mechanical method of pressing out the oil is used, but without the use of any outside heat source. The high pressure needed to press out the oil generates some heat naturally, but the temperature is controlled so that temperatures do not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Why Coconut Oil?

Again, WebMd’s page on coconut oil came in quite handy: “Coconut oil is high in a saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides. These fats work differently than other types of saturated fat in the body. However, research on the effects of these types of fats in the body is very preliminary.”

How Popular Is It?

A Google search for “coconut oil” on 18 May 2016 yielded “about 30,500,000 results”, which was, understandably, a little overwhelming to start sifting through.

Looking under the “Coconut Oil Uses” category on Pinterest was very eye-opening.  The board in question seems endless—with what looked like over a thousand pins.  Pins are dedicated to its beauty benefits, including making one’s hair stronger and shinier and making one’s skin smoother and healthier.  A search for recipes based on coconut oil yields a pretty big board as well, where one can find coconut oil used in cooking (sweet potato quinoa fritters), baking (chocolate chip cookies and brownies), snacks (raspberry coconut oil bites), and drinks.

WedMD explains how coconut oil “is sometimes applied to the skin as a moisturizer and to treat a skin condition called psoriasis.”  It also goes into the medical uses of the oil, which is “used for diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Alzheimer’s disease, thyroid conditions, energy, and boosting the immune system. Ironically, despite coconut oil’s high calorie and saturated fat content, some people use it to lose weight and lower cholesterol.”

Interestingly enough, this website also states that there is “insufficient evidence” for the use of coconut oil in the treatment of the following health complaints: head lice; psoriasis; heart disease; obesity; newborn weight gain; high cholesterol; diarrhea; dry skin; Alzheimer’s disease; diabetes; chronic fatigue; Crohn’s disease; irritable bowel syndrome; and thyroid conditions.

And yet, a Pinterest search for “health benefits coconut oil” includes so-called “proven” benefits for pretty much of all these health complaints.

How Sustainable Is It?

The website Statistica reports that the sale of coconut oil went from 446 thousand metric tons in 2000 to 524 thousand metric tons in 2015.  I was surprised; I thought the increase would be sharper and more recent, for some kind of reason.  Similarly, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated the world coconut oil production to have actually gone slightly down, from 5.58 million tonnes in 2003-2004 to 5.49 million tonnes in 2016-2017, with a peak of 6.65 million tonnes in 2009-2010.

Human rights concerns

Just like with so many other raw ingredients, coconut farmers seem to not be seeing, for the most part, any increase in their income, despite the fact that their product is making its way to the much more lucrative Western Market.

Farming concerns

Ethical Consumer explains that deforestation techniques are not associated with the coconut industry, thankfully.  However, the yield and productivity of coconut crops are low, which makes the cost of maintaining and harvesting coconuts very high.

Processing concerns

Cold-pressed oils seem to be the best in terms of processing, both because the benefits of the raw ingredient are not affected by heat, because no extra ingredients or chemicals need to be added, and the same presser can be reused ad nauseum.  However, there is the question of by-product.  I understood that whatever is leftover from cold-pressing coconut to extract its oil can be used to feed livestock

Transportation concerns

This is of course a concern when it comes to all sorts of products from around the world.  It seems that the only things that as consumers we can do in this regard is to reflect on our usage of local versus international products, and on minimizing our consumption.  In the case of oil in general, it seems that we do not have much of a choice, as most (if not all?) oils are shipped to North America rather than produces locally.  I will have to do more research on this matter.

Packaging concerns

This is yet another general concern when it comes to any product: what packaging is used?  Is it reusable?  It is recyclable?  Consumers can choose to pick up coconut oil in jars in all kinds of sizes, which gives them the power to pick the ones they can then reuse as general containers before they eventually toss it into the recycling bin.

Carrington Farms’ Virgin, Cold-Pressed, Organic Coconut Oil

Carrington Farms’ Virgin, Cold-Pressed, Organic Coconut Oil as sold in Costco is one of the best deals I could find where I live (it looks like the 78-ounce version of this product).  One of the reasons I shop at Costco is that I like their staff-related policies.  I didn’t find anything about Carrington Farms’ staff policies, I did find out that the company apparently “engages in ethical business practices, ensuring human workers are properly compensated for their work.”  More specifically, it is one of companies that does not “use monkeys or human children to harvest coconuts.”

Although Carrington Farms’ coconut oil is organic and non-GMO certified, I couldn’t figure out if it specifically was fair trade certified.  The label doesn’t have a mark stating that it is; however, it does state that the product is from the Philippines, where most fair trade coconut oil seems to come from.  It might be, then, that either this coconut oil is indeed not fair trade, or that it is but the company is stuck in the legalities of proving it because they can put it on their label.

The product comes in a big plastic container, so you only need one tub for a family that will last quite some time; this contributes to a decrease in packaging.  Furthermore, the container is quite useful for other uses when the oil has been completely used—I know someone who has a few from various friends and family members to store stuff in their garage, another friend uses it for art supplies, and yet another uses it for things like dry rice and quinoa storage.

Final Thoughts

Crazes make me, well, crazily careful.  I find it scary how easily people seem to jump on a certain bandwagon without deeper thinking.  While personal anecdotes of the benefits of coconut oil abound—I have a few myself—I find that, just like with everything else, we seem to have forgotten that it is not a cure-all.  It’s impossible that one product be the solution to all the woes of one person; it’s also impossible that one product be the solution to the woes of an entire population.  It’s also not sustainable to put pressure on one industry—in this case, the coconut industry—in the search for the “magic pill”.

It doesn’t mean we should stop using coconut oil!  Quite the contrary, chances are that a moderate use of it as part of an overall healthy lifestyle can bring unique benefits.  But I would search for fair trade coconut oil and make the effort of differentiating between personal anecdote and rigorous scientific research, be it modern or traditional.

Recommend?

This specific brand?  No, until I figure out if it is fair trade or not.  This general product?  Yes, with caution, and only if it’s fair trade.

Product Review: Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Cream

The long an often arduous Canadian winters make moisturizers for every part of one’s skin an essential part of one’s personal hygiene regimen.  I’m sure a couple of tons of the stuff is slathered on every winter in a desperate attempt to avoid the discomfort of tightening dry skin.

Which makes it all the more important to find a good moisturizer both with regards to the effect it has as well as the effect of its production and use on the environment.

The latest in the line of hand moisturizers I’ve used is Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Cream.  I’ve felt very confident in using this and other Burt’s Bees products, as the company, from what I could tell, was bent on minimizing its negative impact on the environment as well as committed to providing customers with healthy products.

Why Burt’s Bees?

Reviews 2016 05 10 Product Review Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand CreamI’m always trying to figure out how to align my material needs with my moral and spiritual beliefs.  One of the reasons I chose to invest in Burt’s Bees products is the company’s self-describes mandate to create products that are earth-friendly.  To do so, the company makes products with natural ingredients and try to use minimal processing to maintain the ingredients’ purity.  I particularly appreciate the scale of “naturality” (my word, not theirs) that gives a product’s percentage of natural ingredients, a tool which allows customers to make a more informed decision about what they apply to their skin.  The company also has quite a bit going on with regards to sustainability and the environment.

However, Burt’s Bees is now owned by The Clorox Company, which has had to deal with a few dealings that raised some eyebrows.  For one, the company has been questioned as to its limited and mostly financially motivated foray into “green” cleaning products.  For another, the company has apparently made false claims as to the effectiveness of these same products.  The Clorox Company has also been named one of a dangerous dozen chemical companies by the Public Interest Research Group, albeit in 2004.  Other issues are mentioned here, here, and here.

All of this makes the case for finding a hand cream from a company that does not belong to The Clorox Company.

How did it fare this winter?

Reviews 2016 05 10 Product Review Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand CreamThe cream is very greasy but absorbs quickly and efficiently into the skin; what worked for me was applying a little bit a couple of times a day instead of a big glob only once or twice a day.  I also noticed that it helped strengthen my nails.  Although they usually crack so much by the end of winter that I tend to keep them short, I was able to keep them long throughout the winter season.

The format—a 5 cm x 5cm cylindrical glass jar with a thin metallic cap—lends itself well to being left on one’s desk.  It was very easy to adopt a routine by which I would put a bit of a cream on a couple of times a day and massage it in while reading something on the screen.

The materials of the jar make it recyclable—another plus—but I kept mine to use as a paper clip holder, decorated of course with a little bit with washi tape.

Final Verdict

While Burt’s Bees is a company whose policies and approach I like, and while this hand cream did perform admirably well, once my current stash is empty, I will start looking for an alternative that is less ethically murky.  It’s quite unfortunate, as I really love their lip balms as well—but continuing to support, even indirectly, a corporation I can’t fully trust and has a huge potential to negatively harm, doesn’t feel coherent with my desire to contribute to the betterment of the world.

Product Review: Goodreads, A Social Media Platform Catered to Readers

So I just might be a bit of a book lover.

OK, fine, that’s the understatement of the year.  I love reading and can’t imagine life without books.  I usually find something to read quite easily—a walk through my library, any bookstore, or even scrolling through an online book seller will yield at least a couple of options for me to purchase based on the title, the cover, the blurb, the synopsis, and the book’s first couple of pages.

I always took it for granted that this is something everyone did.  But recently, one of this blog’s readers reached out and asked for tips on how to find great books, inspiring this week’s product review: Goodreads.

What is Goodreads?

Think of Goodreads as a way to create a digital version of your own library in which you have ranked and even reviewed books.  Goodreads also allows you to give your friends access to your library and gain access to yours.  By adding friends on Goodreads, you gain access to their library and can browse their shelves and pick out something to read.  This comes in quite handy when you have friends whose reading preferences closely match yours.

Goodreads also has a recommendation feature.  By plugging in information about what genres you like to read and inputting the books you’ve read and, at the very least, adding your rating (a simple system that goes from 1 to 5 stars), a list of recommended books automatically pops up.  This makes the process of finding a new book to read a lot less daunting and a lot more accessible.

An Incentive to Read or Another Incentive to Buy?

Especially since Amazon purchased Goodreads, I do feel that we are encouraged to buy a lot more than before.  And while carefully chosen books can be a gateway to opening minds—something very much needed in these turbulent times—Goodreads can become a way of getting dragged into reading books that are just about filling time rather than filling minds.  This is the main trap one has to watch out for when using Goodreads.

I myself have chosen not to input some of the books I have read that were of a genre or type I do not wish to read again; that way, my list of recommended books remains within the boundaries of books that I feel have filled my mind rather than only my time.  I have been told that this is cheating, but just like I give away books from my physical library, I see it as keeping my digital library clean.  Since I deleted the “time-filling” books from my Goodreads library, the number of recommendations I have gotten for books that blew my mind has increased significantly, so I have no regrets.

Reviews 2016 05 04 Product Review GoodreadsAnother feature I greatly appreciate is the yearly Goodreads Challenge.  You basically set a number of books you want to read during a year and, as you input the books you have read, the counter increases.  For people who wish they read more, it become a fun and surprisingly engaging way, despite its simplicity, to encourage you to read more.  You can set as few as 1 book as your goal or as many as 1,000 (the maximum I have seen, although I have a feeling the number can be even higher.)

Where to Start?

Well I’m sure most of you know exactly how to begin: by signing in for the service on the Goodreads website.  And it will sound familiar how Goodreads allows you to import your friends from various places such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Twitter.  The benefit of being connected to more friends on Goodreads is that you are exposed to more books and, more importantly, to your friends’ rating and reviews.  Another nifty feature: if you are an Amazon user, you can also import all the books you have rated/reviewed there into Goodreads.  This helps Goodreads recommend books for you to try out (bottom right of the screenshot below.)

I Signed Up; Now What?

Set up the details of your profile by clicking on the first icon on the top right hand side of your screen.  I recommend starting there so that Goodreads will look less like an Artic desert and more like a warm and cozy library or bookstore.  However, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time and sweat filling out details that do not have to do with reading.  The most important things to focus on are, of course, the books that you have read, the genres that interest you, and books that you have on your “to be read” list.

Reviews 2016 05 04 Product Review GoodreadsImporting friends and your Amazon ratings and reviews is one of the most important things to do.  To import friends, click on the second icon on the top right hand side of your screen.  A prompt should be included on your landing page offering to help you import your Amazon books, on the right-hand side of the screen.  A few clicks and voilà—you’ll start to see you first few recommendations.

The next thing I recommend you do is, if they are not already added, to plug in manually a few of your all-time favorite books.  Again, this will help Goodreads recommend similar books (bottom right hand side of the screenshot.)  The easiest way to add books manually is to use the Reviews 2016 05 04 Product Review Goodreads“Search books” feature at the top of the screen or, if a book you have read appears on your feed, click on the green arrow beside the “Want to Read” button and select the option “Read”.

Different ways of using Goodreads

There are a lot of tools and options you can use on Goodreads, but I limit myself to only a few as a way of not losing even more time on social media.  For example, while you can plug in the book that you are reading as you start reading it and update your followers on the number of pages you have read, I personally choose to add read books in bulk.  While I get the date I finished reading them wrong (always a little later than when I actually finished them), it keeps me from spending too much time on the platform.

Final Thoughts

I can understand the hesitation in signing up for yet another social media platform; we are already quite overwhelmed with just what we can find on just Facebook.  But if you are looking into easily finding new books, Goodreads is a great way to build a community of readers around you.

Verdict?

A great resource and way to connect with readers, but like with any other social media platform, you’ll have to exercise a lot of self-control to not waste time.  You might also consider carefully curating your library to make sure the recommendations you get are for the type of books you want to read rather than books of the type you regret reading.

If you have or get a Goodreads account, I’d love to connect!

Product Review: ‘Le Pavillion’ Tumbler by Kate Spade

I love most of the designs I have up to now spotted, over the last few years, on the Kate Spade website.  Alongside the ‘This Just In’ sticky note set, which I recently I reviewed, I purchased a ‘Le Pavillion’ white polka dot on black background insulated tumbler, which comes with a bright pink straw.  Holding 20 ounces of water, it became a permanent desk accessory.  Six months later, is it still worth the money?

Who is Kate Spade?

Kate Spade’s story is quite inspiring, to say the least.  She seems to have started off as a very ordinary, typical American female, working hard to make a good living.  She came up with a good idea: to create “stylish and sensible handbags” which the market wasn’t offering at the time.  (Source)

The company’s website states that Spade debuted “with just six silhouettes”, but that the way “she combined sleek, utilitarian shapes and colorful palettes” was “entirely new.”  Today, there are some 140 Kate Spade stores across the United States and more than 175 internationally, with even more shops carrying a selection from the brand (such as Canadian bookstore Chapters).  The brand is now a lifestyle brand inspiring “colorful living” through “handbags and clothing to jewelry, shoes, stationery, eyewear, baby, fragrance, tabletop, bedding and gifts.”

The Kate Spade & Company website reflects a commitment to corporate responsibility, stating that the company “is committed to responsible corporate citizenship and giving back to the communities in which [it works and lives] through a variety of avenues,” with “programs that support the long term well-being and vitality of [the company’s] consumers, major operating communities and citizens of the world at large.”

The Benefits of a “Stationary” Reusable Cup

While there are obvious benefits to getting a reusable cup one to carry around—namely, not using disposable cups at coffee shops—what would be the benefit of getting such a cup for one’s desk, seeing that one could just make good use of any good old glass?

It definitely is an item that one doesn’t need; rather, it comes in quite handy.  For one, it contains 20 ounces, which means less coming and going for refills, meaning more hydration on days when you just can’t leave your desk.  It also allows to decrease water waste—the lid keeps dust out of your water even overnight.

I find that using a straw increases the amount of water that I drink overall.  An insulated cup keeps any ice used cold longer which helps decrease energy usage.

And it’s pretty!

How is the Tumbler Holding up after Six Months?

Reviews 2016 04 20 Product Kate Spade Le Pavillion Tumbler 01I was really excited to take this puppy home and after a quick wash, it immediately took residence on my desk.  Sleek, simple, practical, and pretty, I immediately started drinking a lot more than previously, when I was using a glass.  I didn’t get up as much anymore for refills, so I did have to remember to do stretches at my desk more regularly, but that was the only drawback of switching from glass to cup.

The bottom of the cup is lined with a ring of rubber, which means that it doesn’t slip as much as my glass used to.  I did knock it over a couple of times, but the seal that runs under its lid kept all the water in; a couple of drops came out of the straw and some from the lid where the straw goes in, but it was nothing compared to what would have happened with a glass.  ::shudder::

The cup is said to be isolated and boy does it keep my ice water cold.  I would have to refill ice a couple of times in the afternoon when using a glass; with this cup, the ice only melts completely after a good 3-4 hours.

Reviews 2016 04 20 Product Kate Spade Le Pavillion TumblerIt seems like this cup was turning out to be perfect, until I started noticing the polka dots scratching off, however careful I was with it.  People who know me can attest to this: I really take good care of my things.  Like, really good care of them.  But whatever I did with this cup, the scratches keep accumulating.  If my nails—which I keep short—scrape the cup even gently as I reach for it; if I place any item too close to it; or if it tips over—it will have at least one more scratch on it.

Verdict?

If you take as good care of your things as I do and like them to stay as pristine as possible, then no; whatever you do, the dots on this tumbler will scratch off.  But if you don’t mind that, then you can definitely add it to your list of cups to consider purchasing.

Product Review Nine Inspirational Prints from Three Etsy Stores

Mantras have been a large part of my personal development tool kit for quite some time.  I’ve discussed them a few times on this blog over the last few years as a way for example to deal with the ego, as a way of faking it until you make it, and as a way of sticking to new year’s resolutions.  I thought it quite à propos to do round-up of my favorite inspirational prints, the ones that I would purchase for myself or for a friend in need.

I must share with you from the get-go that I have never seen any of these prints in person, so there is nothing I can personally say about their quality.  What I am commenting on is what they look like and how, if the images I found online and the reviews are to be trusted, they should look in person.  I am also mostly commenting on their usefulness as a source of inspiration on a path of self-improvement inspired by the Bahá’í Writings.

I do hope to own a couple of these myself in the future (sooner rather than later!) and when I do, I will definitely be posting a follow-up review.

Why Such Love for Etsy Stores?

I have been asked quite a few times over the last few years why I love shopping so much on Etsy.  It’s not Etsy per say that I love, but rather the concept of buying from small businesses.  Small businesses tend to be more in touch with the reality at the grassroots, which can translate into more ethical choices, contributing to the community, and creating a sustainable supply chain that works harmoniously with currently available resources.  I also find a lot more diversity of supply amongst small businesses that I would in a chain—I’m thinking for example at cards I recently purchased at various stores versus those I found in various Etsy stores.

First Featured Etsy Store: Safarista Design

I have never reviewed Safari Design on this blog before and I am not sure why.  Her designs are colourful but remain simple—and they are downloadable purchases you can print in whatever size you choose.  While she tends to have longer quotes on her prints, she designs her prints in a way that they remain clean and fresh-looking.  My three favourites are:

Amanda Catherine Designs

I have been an ardent admirer of Amanda Catherine Designs for quite some time now, and am not surprised that her Etsy store has 1,886 reviews averaging 5 on 5 stars.  I am also not surprised that she has been featured in Marie Claire, Shop Til You Drop, and Matchbook magazines, on the websites of Oprah, Lucky Magazine, ELLE Interiors, Martha Stewart Living, Fossil, Lauren Conrad, The College Prepster, Glitter Guide, Cupcakes and Cashmere, The Everygirl, Apartment Therapy, New York Magazine, and Levo League amongst others.  The best part?  Amanda Catherine Designs is a proud partner of Love146, an organization dedicated to end child sex slavery and exploitation; proceeds from every purchase made will go to fund the meaningful work Love146 does.

Of the prints currently available (some of my favorites are no longer available quite unfortunately!), my three favorites are:

Anne Garrison Studio

She might not have as many reviews, but she is still averaging 5 on 5 starts on the 282 reviews that she does have (of the total of 1,363 sales she has) with good reason, my three favourite of which are:

  • Make your own magic” (black cursive writing on white background surrounded by gold stars)
  • It’s What You Do Next That Counts” (black cursive writing on white background with golden rays emanating from the top and bottom of the quote)
  • Choose joy today” (black and gold cursive writing with golden rays emanating from it on white background)

Own any of these?  Or have other recommendations of prints?
Let me know, I’d love to discover new inspirational
prints to add to my gallery of favourites!

Product Review: The March 2016 Glam Bag by Ipsy

Everyone loves getting mail (except for bills and paperwork, of course…) and most girls love trying out new beauty products.  And in a world where so much is geared to go increasingly faster, finding time to just sit and enjoy opening mail can add quite a ray of sunshine to one’s day.

For these reasons and more, I have been attracted to the idea of subscription boxes for awhile now, especially the ones sent out by Bookish Box (seemingly catered for the geek girl and book lover known as Sahar).  But I have a lot of questions as well related to the entire concept, which have mainly to do with their effects on the environment as well as on their effect on the users’ consumeristic side.

I mentioned this to a friend who kindly let me open up her latest Ipsy Glam Bag as part of my reflection on subscription boxes.

What is Ipsy?

Ipsy logoIpsy is a monthly beauty sampling service; for $10 a month, Ipsy sends users a “Glam Gab” filled with five sample-sized, full-sized, or even sometimes deluxe-sized beauty products in a small, fashionable makeup bag.  Apparently, a few hundred thousand beauty products are submitted to Ipsy for consideration each to be added to the bag, which says a lot about the bag’s perceived marketing value for a brand.

The process of becoming an Ipsy user can apparently be a little bit painful, to say the least, some of it usefully so, some of it not quite.  You begin by filling out a survey about your beauty and makeup needs, share details your style and preferences as well as the type of products you are looking for.  When you have received and tried your products, you can leave reviews for each of them on the website, which helps the company better tailor its product selection to you.

Some people have told me that, once they signed up, they were put on a waiting list; that during this time, which seems to last between a week to three months, potential users were strongly encouraged to share information about Ipsy on their social media accounts in a seeming bid to be bumped up the waiting list.

There might seem to be a lot of negative aspects to the Ipsy Glam Box, but there is also quite a bit of positives as well, especially when the bag reaches its destination.

What does the Glam Bag typically contain?

According to its website, Ipsy does not send all users the same five products; at least over the last six months (if not more; I stopped at six!), it sends subscribers a selection of five products from a collection of some 20-40 products.  The last six makeup bags are all quite different one from the other; I can see how at least one of them, if not two, would suit the personality and style of a user.

Reviews 2016 03 30 Product Review Ipsy March Glam BagI’m told that Ipsy went through a phase of sending users products that neither reflected their user profiles nor of brands that were deemed worthwhile.  But apparently in recent months the company has upped its ante and subscribers are being treated to brands and items that they seem to be quite satisfied with, for the most parts.

Effects of the Ipsy Glam Bag on the Environment and on the Individual

According to an article posted on Entrepreneur.com almost exactly a year ago, March 2015 marked the 1,000,000 Ipsy subscriber milestone.  I assume that these ladies are spread throughout the United States and Canada and that each month, they each received a bright pink, bubble lined envelope with one make-up bag, one post-card sized note from the company, and five beauty products.

A million envelopes and a million post-cards.  That’s making my environmental side cringe a little.  There is of course the possibility of reusing the bag, but I’m not sure if they are recyclable.  There is of course also the whole transportation issue—how much oil is burned lugging these million bright pink envelopes around?

But then again, if this means that a million subscribers will not have to go from store to store to find and buy beauty products, maybe the offset is well worth it.

Unfortunately, how sustainable is it to receive full-sized beauty products every month?  According to a survey by Stowaway Cosmetics, “the average consumer owns almost 40 makeup products but only uses and carries 5 of them daily.  That means that the average person owns 8 times more makeup than they use!”  Even if the Ipsy Glam Bag only contains two full sized products a month, this means that by the end of one year, a user will own 24 full-sized makeup products than she started the year with—almost 5 times more than she would use.  This would mean 24,000,000 products lying in bags around the two countries, of which 19,000,000 are not being used.

Woah.

And what about the products that users end up not liking?  This is of concern especially in light of reviews stating users are not receiving products reflecting the results of the survey they filled when signing up for the service.  Even if one product a month doesn’t suit the needs of the user, that’s 12,000,000 products that are deemed useless.  I’d like to think that most of them are passed forward, but I can’t help but wonder what the reality of the situation looks like.

Another challenge is that being detached and buying what one needs and will use is really difficult.  I personally have to exercise great self-control when it comes to shopping and I know that is the case with many of those around me.  There is something about getting a new item that is unique and amazing; we are pushed in that direction with all the marketing that surrounds us; could receiving a shiny bag with brand new products every month be healthy for even a casual addict?  Isn’t it like sending chocolate to someone who developed type 2 diabetes because of an overconsumption of the stuff?

Recommend?

While it’s a lot of fun to receive a bag of goodies every month and I could see myself easily getting addicted to it, I don’t see how this subscription is sustainable for one person, but maybe a group of 7-8 friends would make good use of it.

I have also been thinking a lot about what else can be done with one’s beauty and make-up regimen with $10 a month.  What if a user spends that amount on a product she researched?  It would increase your beauty budget to $120 a year, for which you can not only get enough beauty and makeup products to replace what you have finished using (if even, in some cases), but can consistently buy high-quality and personalised products with the help of highly trained cosmeticians.

So although I would love to receive a monthly little gift as I am sure many of you would, as well, I can’t recommend the Ipsy Glam Bags.

Important: I am not an expert when it comes to the environmental effects of products on the environment; I am just a concerned consumer trying to have the least negative impact on the global community.