My Journey to a Sustainable Existance

I tried to start this written journey almost a year and half ago…and then life got in the way.

Living a life wearing clothes made in a sustainable way, eating food grown and nurtured on organic pastures, travelling around the world by car, plane and train without a carbon footprint  – well it seems virtually impossible and a massive inconvenience in a world where we barely find time for dinner let alone actually understand the supply chain of our clothes and roots of nourishment.

But I have a thirst for knowledge

And over the last three years I’ve been unable to ignore the nagging inner voice that demands responsibility for the dollars I spend.

What do my purchases say about me? Am I merely supporting a perverse form of 20th Century Slavery that hides behind clothing and electronics?

You’re not going to find fair trade shoes at basement bargain prices – though they do have sales all the time – but as Globe and Mail writer Sujeet Sennik asked – Shouldn’t a T-shirt cost more than a Latte?


In the wake of the disaster in Bangladesh the imagery is haunting, the loss tragic, real and avoidable. I hesitated to put this photo up but I think only images of people can allow us to understand the impact of our financial choices. Bangladesh is only the most recent horror show in the long road toward the modern economy.

I’m not perfect  – and I won’t pretend to be – but this blog is an outlet for you to join me on that journey.

Right now I find myself in the market for business clothes – head to toe but I’ll start at the toe.

There are two great companies that I have found so far that offer a variation of what I need

I love everything Oliberté stands for. They make premium leather shoes and gear in Africa. Their mission is simple: “We believe in pride and creating Long-Term Change. We dig the outdoors, smart people, and quality goods with a purpose.” That’s the short story


The long story – Oliberté, led  by founder Tal Dehtiar, believes in nurturing and contributing to the growing African middle class. A thriving middle class is the single most important stabilizing feature of a democratic and successful society. In August 2012 they opened their first factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their plant pays fair trade wages and women comprise about 60% of their workforce. They ensure their supply chain across Africa – in Kenya, South Africa, Muritius and Liberia – adheres to the same ethical practices.


Visual from

They don’t stop with ethical practices though… – Their water is certified, their animals have lived a long free range, hormone free life and their rubber is sourced straight from rubber trees. Once you’re finished with your shoes they will recycle them for you. Right now they are working on how to decrease their carbon footprint.

Oliberté has a stylish selection of boots and shoes (and a wallet that is just awesome!) but only a few pairs that “could” pass in the corporate world.


Nisolo follows a similar model but in Latin America. Their team, full of social entrepreneurs, are hoping to inspire what they call the “growing culture of conscious consumerism” by bringing together a group of talented and hardworking artisans and helping them gain access to US Markets, to understand sound business principles and what goes into creating a Brand.

If you have time the founders talk at the Clinton School of Public Service it is worth engaging with.

In essence, the path forward is not about giving our old clothes or fixing wells. It’s about a holistic approach to the problem and looking at the whole before attempting to “fix” one small part. Between 1980 and 2000 – It is estimated that the cause of a 50% increase in unemployment came from the huge surge of clothing donations from “Developed World.”

At the risk of moving too far off course – It is why I love the philosophy of the Me to We foundation who insist on a holistic approach while inspiring kids – like my young Hailey to build a school in Kenya. She raised the full amount and having just returned from helping to build a different school with her mother and grandfather they witnessed first hand the sustainable approach.

The old adage remains true. “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Back to Nisolo – In their current line-up they don’t have a black shoe but through Ethical Ocean (more on their site in another post) I was able to get this shoe – they look even better on my feet. (even if they did come with a $63.00 customs, tax and handling additional charge)


I’d much rather buy a product (or give a gift) with a story I can stand behind.

The next step is to find a suit with a story I can be proud to share. If anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear them…


  1. Reply
    Matt Baker July 26, 2013

    Why not try submitting this question to GQ’s Style Guy and former Andy Warhol Factory member Glenn O’Brien?

    • Reply
      Matt Symes July 30, 2013

      That’s a really solid idea! I think I will do just that! I have actually narrowed it to a few companies who are able to be pretty transparent about their supply chain.

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