Tag Archives: Product

Parenting Product Review: Solly Wrap

I strongly believe that, as consumers, every economic decision we make leave a moral trace behind it.  As a parent, I strongly believe that every purchase made for our children influences them from the very beginning of their lives, long before they understand the concept of “shopping”.

It hasn’t been easy or always possible to find items for our child that combined the ethical values we stand for, the budget we have, and the needs that emerged as we walked the path of parenthood, one step at a time.

Why a Baby Wrap

One of the items that was easy for us to identify as an essential was a baby wrap.  When reading about the relationship between a mother and the baby she carries in her womb as described in the Bahá’í Writings, my husband and I came to appreciate that the relationship is even closer than science leads us to believe: it is a deep, spiritual connection.  And because, in a way, the wrap would be giving our baby and I an extension of sorts of the closest physical bond we would ever share.

There are a lot of other reasons why a wrap is a good idea:

  • It promotes bonding between parent and baby;
  • It may help reduce postpartum depression;
  • It frees up your hands but not at the cost of leaving baby behind;
  • It helps calm fussy babies by making them feel safe and warm in a womb-like environment;

Using a wrap was good for both baby and I especially in the first weeks post-partum.  My little one would only be happy and relaxed when she was on me, and I felt the most happy when she was with me.  And so, wrapping her allowed me to go on walks, able to enjoy the beautiful Canadian summer and basking in the joy of having a baby.  Both having her on me and exercising so soon after delivery in the form of walks no doubt helped keep away any form of postpartum blues I might have potentially been at risk of.

Why a Solly Baby Wrap

The Solly Baby Wrap also has the added—but not exclusive, mind you—benefit of distributing baby’s weight evenly all over the carrier’s upper body, which means no extra pressure on the carrier’s shoulder or the baby’s joints and spine.  The fabric is it made of is far thinner than—but just as strong as—that other similar wraps are made of.  It makes a huge difference when it comes to comfort; be it winter or summer—but especially summer—it makes for a far more comfortable baby wearing experience.

Supporting Small Businesses

It’s short-sighted to claim that all big businesses are bad and that all small businesses are good.  It seems that, at this point in time, getting the things that we need for our baby and staying within budget requires balancing out purchasing items from both small and big businesses.

My husband and I do, however, have a soft spot for small businesses for many reasons, including:

  • Small businesses can be held accountable a lot more easily than big businesses, and many small outfits hold themselves accountable in away big ones—the consequences of whose decisions are so far removed from the decision-makers that they are easy to ignore—just can’t.
  • Small businesses usually remain more connected to the grassroots and usually give more than they take.
  • Shopping small businesses encourages the development of a broader variety of products; the better suited an item is to our needs, the less we will buy overall in search for the best product.

Buy Made in North America

Every other argument else aside, the environment is why I prefer, when possible, to shop for items made in North America.  On the one hand, the item has a lot less distance to travel.  On the other hand, the manufacturing industry here is regulated with standards far friendlier to the environment than those of other countries.  Granted, it means that items are usually more expensive, but it’s money well spent, in my mind.

Lenzing Modal Textile

The Solly Wrap is made of Lenzing Modal, something I hadn’t heard of until I was researching what wrap to purchase.  The fabric is manufactured in Los Angeles from Austrian beechwood trees (not sure if the pulp is imported from Austria, or if the trees are planted in California).  The fabric itself is lightweight yet strong, cool to the touch even in hot weather, gets softer with each wash, and can handle being dried in a conventional dryer on low heat.  And it seems that its carbon footprint is a lot less than most fabrics other wraps are made of (here and here).

Customer Support

Although I didn’t have much luck personally getting extra information or support from the Solly Baby team, they have really thought through how it could provide parents with the help that they might need as they try to master the art of wrapping their baby.  A series of well-shot tutorial videos make it crystal clear how to do just that.  The lookbook is chockful of gorgeous pictures of mothers carrying their babies; I have to admit that the reality is quite far from all those shots—I didn’t manage to feel anywhere near as polished, rested, well-dressed, clean, and well put together as the mothers in those shots do.  Maybe the Solly Baby team could provide support in that regard, too!

Verdict

For balancing eco-friendliness, usability, a relatively good point price, and just plain prettiness: recommend.

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: 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: ‘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: 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.

Product Review: Moleskine Hard Cover Ruled Large Notebooks (Part 1 of 2)

Since reading about my love for journals, many Sahar’s Blog readers have reached out to me to ask me about the ones I use.  Others reached out to share thoughts about the journals they prefer to read.  While I listed three types that readers and I love, many readers wanted more information about each option—so I figured that I might as well dedicate a whole product review to the journal I use the most, i.e. Moleskine’s hard cover ruled notebook.

I have to admit that, over the last few years, I have focused on just one type of journal, so this a pretty biased review of a product I have been using almost exclusively for at least the last 8-9 years.  I have started branching out lately for the sake of being open-minded, as well as because I have received a couple of gorgeous notebooks as gifts (including a beautiful pink on white number from Èccolo).  So you can expect, in a couple of months, a review of at least one other type of journal.

But for now, Moleskine rules.

Some Moleskine History

There is quite an interesting history to the Moleskine line available on Wikipedia, so I won’t tarry too much about it here.  Suffice to say that I know many people who were enticed to start using the brand because of this history—they were seduced by the imagery of using these journals more than anything else.  So there is a definite danger when it comes to Moleskine that we being taken in by the story of the brand rather than the quality of the product.

And as you can imagine, this isn’t easy for me to acknowledge!

Sahar's Blog 2016 03 23 Product Review Moleskine’s Hard Cover Ruled Large Notebooks Part 1 of 2

More about the Company

I have to admit that before preparing for this post, I never researched Moleskine’s ethics and effects on the environment.  I was a little apprehensive about embarking on this research—what if I found out some pretty terrible things about my favorite notebook?  Then again, it would be rather hypocritical of me to claim that I am trying to “constantly and consistently better [myself] spiritually and materially” if I choose not to embark on this journey, no?

Moleskine’s website includes quite the extensive code of ethics.  This includes a set of fundamental values under which we can find “social and environmental responsibility”.  There is also a statement about engaging in “fair competition” which explains that the company’s intention is to “outdo the competition in performance terms, with fairness and honesty”.  Under its “principles of conduct in relations with stakeholders”, Moleskine states that “The environment is a primary good that the Group is committed to protecting and, for this reason, when planning its activities it seeks a balance between economic initiative and environmental protection, developing its business with the utmost respect of current environmental regulations, and always bearing in mind the rights of future generations. Following an initial environmental analysis aimed at identifying critical environmental situations, Moleskine has implemented an improvement programme, the purpose of which is to pursue the following environmental goals: Decrease in the usage of raw materials, in particular paper -Increase in heat and energy efficiency of buildings; Utilisation of certified ecological, biological and ethical products; Decrease in/separation of waste produced; Worker awareness and participation.”

It all seems well and good, until I noticed, written on the paper band all Moleskine notebooks come wrapped in, that the notebook is manufactured in China.  I don’t know enough about the situation in China nor about the specifics of how Moleskine produces its notebooks in said country, but because of what I have read so far about this matter, this raises a big red flag for me.  Then again, in the context of trying to be as ethical as possible, a quick look at notebooks available at Chapters indicates that they are all made in Chine as well.  So one question that I have is: does the overall code of ethics of the company balance out the fact that its products are manufactured in China?  And does the company, despite the fact that it manufactures its products in China, still adhere to high environmental and human rights standards?

Product Review

I usually go for the hard cover, 13 centimeters by 21 centimeters “notebook” in whatever colour or special edition that catches my fancy.  While there are smaller journals available, I find that this size fits well in most of my purses and is easy to carry around during meetings.  They also allow me to cram most of the information in a 2-hour meeting on two facing pages, which makes referring back to my notes a lot easier.

The paper is very smooth—most pens and pencils I have used on Moleskine notebooks glide smoothly on the paper’s surface, which means less wrist and finger pain after spending a long time writing.  Sharpies, even the extra fine point ones, tend to bleed through, but normal pens (ball point, ink, or felt tip) don’t.  The paper also works well with washi tape—while some people pre-divide theirs, I use my notebooks one page at a time, then line each page with a different colored washi tape to make specific themes/topics stand out.  For example, as part of the regional community building process I am a part of at the moment, there are three major things in my service notebook: studying what community building is, notes from meetings with my other team members, and my to-do list.  I choose to washi tape in blue all pages on which I jot down my to-do list, making it a lot easier to flip open to that page when in the middle of the action.

I prefer the hard cover version as they make for a much more comfortable writing experience pretty much anywhere, something that is important to me—I pretty much whip open my journal anywhere and everywhere.  When opened on a hard surface, it opens easily at a 180-degree angle without any strain on the spine and any paper tears.

The elastic closure is really practical and long-lasting—I can stuff my journal with random bit of paper that will not fly away without the elastic stretching.  It does become a little loose after 5-6 months, but it still remains usable.  The ribbon bookmark is really practical for obvious reasons.  It does tend to fray at the bottom but not so much; also, a regularly applied dab of clear nail polish takes care of that problem easily.

On top of its regular line of hard cover ruled notebooks, Moleskine regularly releases special editions journal collections, including Alice in Wonderland, the Audio Cassette, Lego, Coca-Cola, Le Petit Prince, The Simpsons, Minnie Mouse, Peanuts, Hello Kitty, Batman, and the seemingly ever-expanding Star Wars collection.  All the ones I have purchased come with stickers, which makes the child in me quie happy.  I’m currently intrigued by the new Blend collection, which seems to be journals that come with a fabric-based cover.

Recommend?

As you can tell, I love Moleskine, but enough questions have been raised during the writing of this post that I can only recommend them temporarily, until the second part of this review at least when I try to find the answers to the questions in this post.

Important diclaimer: 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.

Image courtesy of Moleskine’s official website.

Product Review: ‘This Just In’ Sticky Note Set, by Kate Spade

I have to admit that I have been lusting over Kate Spade stationary ever since I discovered the brand. As a writer, I focused my attention over their notebooks and sticky notes. When their This Just In sticky note set went on sale, I swooped in and got myself one, sure that I was getting the better end of the deal.

Review 2016 03 09 Product Kate Spade Sticky Note Set Rachel George

Sticky notes are an essential part of my life. I am quite content with simple colorful ones—they add a pop to my paperwork while offering the largest surface area possible. But when something cute comes along at a really good price, I can’t resist combining practicality with cuteness.

Review 2016 03 09 Product Kate Spade Sticky Note Set Greer ShopifyThere are two super important things to look for in a sticky note. The first is the quality of the paper used; no one wants their sticky notes to be curling up, nor do they want the ink to either bleed through or smear. The other essential factor is the stickiness of the note; too much and you can end up tearing important documents; too little and you might lose the note (and, subsequently, your mind).

The Kate Space This Just In sticky note set ended up being mostly disappointing after the initial thrill at how beautiful the presentation is. Set within a hard cardboard, white on black polka dot case, the seven individual packs are all white on mint with gold etched details. While some of them have designs on them that would make them distracting, the light colours used makes the design fade into the background with even a pencil scribbled note.

Review 2016 03 09 Product Kate Spade Sticky Note Set Just Gorgeous GiftsWhere this sticky note set loses all credibility is in both the quality of its paper and its stickiness factor. The paper bleeds through when using liquid ink based pens or felt tipped pens like Sharpies and the sticky part of the note barely sticks, curling up mere second after application, making this set pretty but pretty useless.

Verdict? Not worth it, even on sale.

Product Review: Bioré Baking Soda VoxBox (Part 2 of 2)

It’s been two weeks, and as promised in the first part of this post, I have an update on both the Bioré Baking Soda Scrub and Cleanser.

Now I don’t know if it’s because of winter or because I have been really tired lately, but after a wonderful beginning with this product, it started irritating my skin a little. The irritation is limited enough for me not to want to give up on it in the long-term, but enough for me to reconsider using it at this time. I have also considered the possibility that it is just too harsh for the recommended usage of 2-3 times a week for the scrub and daily for the cleanser.

I have also been thinking a lot about using a product from a large company like Bioré and a smaller one, however great the larger company may be. I have been reading up on companies such as Stowaway Cosmetics which, because they are smaller sized, seem to have a better ability to read their reality and adjust to it. Meaning that a small company is much more agile and able to stick to its original principles. So while I trust that reports that Bioré’s parent company has the desire and the will to be a leader in ethics, I trust that smaller companies like Stowaway Cosmetics to be able to more quickly and efficiently make the necessary changes in remaining at the forefront of ethical practices. There are also a lot of implications at the level of the community that I’m still struggling to sort through. In short, wouldn’t a number of smaller cosmetic companies spread throughout the world be better suited to respond to the needs of the members of the community they are located in? These needs would be both personal—a certain range of skin types within a certain specific climate—as well as community-based—using local ingredients, decreasing pollution, creating local jobs and, with people from the same community working on a home-made product, creating stronger bonds of friendship.

More thinking needs to be done about this…

Where does this leave me? I will reduce the frequency with which I use both cleanser and scrub to see if it helps my skin feel less irritated and, instead, just as soft as the first times I used it. If I see no change in my skin, I’ll put them both away until summertime and test them then again.

Recommend? Yes, for now.

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. I received these two products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.