Things I've Bought That I Love, Vol. 3

After a hiatus of a few years (!), it's time for another roundup of recent material acquisitions that have made me happy. You can read earlier entries here.

Body Time Antioxidant Hydrating Serum

I have dry skin, so I moisturize, big time. My husband calls my bedtime ritual of slathering my face in cream "the oil spill." But thick creams and oils aren't great underneath daytime SPF and makeup, so I had just gotten used to having a slightly parched face by the end of the day.

Until I found this! This stuff is so great. It soaks in quickly, so it is both lightweight on the skin and deeply moisturizing. All killer no filler. It smells nice, but doesn't have any artificial fragrance -- just a nice botanical scent from the actual ingredients. It's not cheap cheap ($34 for a small bottle) but it's way less than you'd spend on something similar at Sephora. A little goes a very long way, and once you have the pump you can buy refill bottles. I like how you can actually open it and get every last bit out (no overly clever packaging here.) 

Body Time is based in Berkeley, and going into its store is basically like I'd imagine it was to visit the original Body Shop back in the 1970s, before it went all corporate. Just plain packaging and good all-natural stuff. Oh also! They make this fragrance called China Rain, which JLo is pretty much understood to have ripped off when she created Glow. I have the refresher. It smells fresh and cleanly attractive, and you can spray it everywhere, in rooms and on clothes, whatever. Like Glow but way better.


American Apparel Tri-Blend Leisure Pant

These are a great pair of what my friend Laura calls "inside pants." They are super comfortable while being decently cute -- they hug your hips a bit, are just baggy enough in the legs, and come in at the ankle so they don't drag on the ground or look sloppy. (The picture on the right makes them look both tighter and higher-waisted than they are, FYI.) I have the gray ones and the tri-black ones -- the latter can even pass as very casual outside pants, for grocery runs etc. They're made in the USA, which is a huge plus. Overall, a big upgrade from the $5 Forever 21 leggings that I wore for 10 years until they became see through.

Brooklinen sheets

Long story: One of the weird things about getting older has been developing a keen interest in things I'd previously found terribly boring, like upholstery. And bedding. In college I was happy with pilled "t-shirt sheets" that I was lucky if I washed once a quarter. These days I'm a stickler about washing my sheets weekly, and daydream about the perfect bed. I look at pictures of Yolanda Foster's Malibu mansion and rather than focus on the view (and the absurdity of a $30 million house) I zoom in on the bedrooms, trying to figure out what sheets she uses. It's an obsession.

To my dismay, I've discovered that top-tier sheets cost way beyond what I could ever justify as a "splurge." Like, $2740 for an Italian-made queen set. The best deal I could find was around $800. Just way beyond too much. 

Brooklinen to the rescue! Brooklinen is a startup that promises the type of luxury bedding you'd find at a hotel like the Four Seasons for the relatively lower cost of $100 a set. According to the company, the lower price is possible because Brooklinen employs the kind of lean business model made famous by Everlane.

At first I was dubious. Since its website did not say where the sheets were made, I wondered if they were contracted from East or Southeast Asia, which is a concern to me because of the various labor and human rights issues with the garment business there. Nosy nebby that I am, I called Brooklinen's customer service department, and a man named Rich answered, who happens to be the CEO! He told me that Brooklinen makes its sheets in Israel, with Egyptian cotton. (I'm not sure why this info isn't on the website, but perhaps the company wants to stay out of political discussions.)

Rich told me: "When we sourced our sheets we wanted to be in the $100 to $200 range with the best possible fabric, and ruled out East Asia, as we didn't want to let our customers down by implying we went with the cheapest production strategy possible... We explored Italy and found that most of what you pay for there are legacy costs of older infrastructure and workers, in addition to the 22% tariff on woven goods exported from Italy. We could have gone there, but felt the product would be inferior and price would be higher." 

Long story short: I ordered a set of these classic percale sheets, and they are easily the best I've ever owned: Crisp, cool, soft, luxurious. My husband recently said unprompted in the middle of the day, "Those new sheets are the best" (maybe he is catching the bedding obsession too?) I just ordered another set, and will probably get rid of my old sheets altogether, since now I only look forward to sleeping on the Brooklinen ones. Highly recommended.

Kobo Candle in Orange Amber and Anisette Orange 

I will be so sad if either of these candles are ever discontinued! Both of these scents are good year-round, and smell distinctive in a vaguely expensive way -- not just a simple floral or fruit -- without being overpowering. At $38, they are not cheap, but they last a very long time, are made in the USA, come in a pretty box along with matches, and are a nice indulgence for yourself or as a hostess gift. It is soy, so it burns nicely and you can easily clean it out at the end and keep the glass.


South of France Lemon Verbena soap

When I was buying a few more bars of this recently at my local grocery store, the cashier said, "Wow, these smell amazing! Ooh, I'll have to buy some." It's also all vegetable and free of stuff like parabens, so it lathers well and is not too drying. Another of of those things I like so much that I'm scared for it to ever be discontinued.

Things I've Bought that I Love, Vol. 2

A little roundup of recent material acquisitions that have made me happy. For previous entries, click here.

Shopsin's General Store 5-year diary

To be fair, I didn't buy this-- it was a going-away gift I received from my former office-mates last year. It's a 5-year diary that lets you view past entries as you write new ones (so five years' worth of February 9ths are all on the same page.) There's also a space to log the places you've traveled and the books you've read.

I started filling it out with my simple daily activities on January 1st, and I really look forward to keeping it up. It's a great gift, especially for someone embarking on a new phase of life.

Everyday Shea Moisturizing Body Lotion

Paraben-free, all natural, free trade, independently owned, pleasantly scented, and cheap enough ($14 for a huge 32 ounce bottle) that I can use it all over, every day. Plus they give 10% of revenue to charity. Basically the holy grail of body lotion.

Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey

Did reading those words just give you flashbacks to the mid- to late-nineties? I know, I know. But trust me, I just bought a tube of this, and unlike other relics from that era (wide leg jeans, Tommy Girl perfume, Mike's Hard Lemonade, the Dixie Chicks) I actually liked this more the second time around. It's like the makeup version of the movie Clueless-- definitely worth a revisit.

Mary Green Sleepwear

I know it's a white whine, but even if you're willing to spend some cash, it's hard to find actually nice things. I've been bummed to venture into fancy lingerie boutiques and find that European luxury brands have taken to using synthetic fabrics and outsourced manufacturing (i.e. this $100 La Perla bra, made in China out of polyester.)

Thank goodness for Mary Green! Mary Green is a San Francisco-based designer I discovered a few years ago when searching for a nice slip to wear under skirts, and I've been a huge fan ever since. She has a refreshingly basic website (no flash! no music!) and her prices are very reasonable for 100% silk. I don't love all her designs, but she has a huge selection and some really beautiful basics. She makes men's stuff too.

I recently bought a bunch of Mary Green things during a big after-Christmas sale. The silk romper and kimono are my new favorites for lounging around the apartment, and I'm feeling very Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8.

Her products are made in China, but at least she passes on the money she saves in manufacturing to her customers with low prices. It's also not a sweatshop situation: Mary Green was recognized by Congress in 2008 for "ethical and sustainable entrepreneurship" and a "commitment to creating better lives for people living in the shadow of poverty and deprivation throughout the third world."

Custom Probiotics CP-1

If you don't care about probiotics, you can kindly skip to the next item. But if you do (and if you've ever taken antibiotics, you should) you ought to know about Custom Probiotics. I've been taking acidophilus since I was a kid, and the CP-1 formula is the highest potency I've found anywhere (50 billion micro-organisms per capsule, ten times more than Jarro-Dophilus' 5 billion.)

Nexus S Android phone from Google

I'm pretty sure I was one of the last people in San Francisco without a smart phone (prior to getting the Nexus S in December, I was still using the Nokia that came free with my calling plan in 2006) but it was worth the wait. I've been really happy with the device and really have no complaints about it.

I didn't technically buy this either (it was a gift) but I am paying for my calling plan, so it halfway counts? Anyway, it's a product I've acquired that I love.

Things I Used to Buy That I Don't Love Anymore, Part 2

RIP, my unconditional love for 7 for All Mankind jeans. We had a good run.

Poking around some shops yesterday, I looked into buying another pair of Seven jeans. Sevens are definitely pricey (around $165 a pair full-price) but in the past I've always found them to be worth it. The denim is really high quality- thick, soft, really luxurious feeling- the colors are rich, the fit is flattering, and they hold up for years and years.

All the Seven jeans I've owned were made in California. I was under the impression that the primary reason Sevens are so expensive is because they're made here in the US. As you may know, I'm happy to pay a premium for things that are made here.

But the Sevens I saw for sale yesterday felt very different from ones I've seen before-- the material was flimsy and rough, and something about the fit was off. They just seemed cheap. Then I looked at the tag, and cursed out loud.

The Seven jeans at the store (apologies for blurry camera phone photo)

I was really surprised to find that Seven has started making (or "assembling", whatever that means) at least some of their jeans in Mexico. 7 for all Mankind has been in business since 2000; why would they start offshoring to boost profits now?

Well, a quick web search confirmed that Seven has gone the way of Nature's Gate: In mid-2007 the company was acquired by VF Corp., a publicly-traded apparel conglomerate, and cost-cutting changes ensued (stock market shareholders can be a pretty demanding bunch.) Of course, Seven hasn't passed down any cost savings to the customer-- the price tag on this pair still read $165. VF doesn't break out profits brand-by-brand in their earnings reports, but I have to imagine that they really started making a killing, margins-wise, when they shifted Seven's production south of the border. I mean, most Levi's are made in Mexico, and those retail for $50 or less.

Apparently there are still some Seven brand jeans made in California, but they're sold mostly on Seven's website and in the brand's own boutiques-- which makes sense since they don't have to pay any retailer fees there. I guess it's good that some pairs are still being made here, but it's a bummer that I'll have to be a stickler about checking tags going forward.

So the search for ethically-manufactured jeans that I enjoy wearing resumes (sorry, American Apparel, you fit the former requirement but definitely not the latter.) If anyone out there is interested in starting a company and sticking to their original principles, I swear I'll be a loyal customer!

Things I Used to Buy That I Don't Love Anymore

I recently read a few scary articles about all the bad stuff in normal sunscreens and shampoos.  Please note: I've linked to the articles there for reference, but if I were you, I wouldn't read them.  Ignorance is more blissful (and a lot less expensive) than obsessing over ingredient lists and buying only all-natural personal care products.

Anyway, I didn't think it'd be too hard to find all-natural hair products I liked. For years, I almost exclusively used conditioner from an all-natural brand, Nature's Gate, not for fear of chemicals but because I just loved the smell and how shiny it made my hair.  I'd kind of forgot about Nature's Gate and hadn't used it in the past couple of years, but I figured it'd be easy to buy a couple of bottles at my trusty neighborhood health food store and get back on the wagon.

Well, they had Nature's Gate products, but they definitely weren't the same.  First of all, the brand has a new slick look, which was disappointing, since I loved the old hippie bottles. 

But the really awful part was how much they've changed the formula. This is the ingredient list from the old Nature's Gate conditioner:

Purified Water, Extracts of Chamomile, Nettle, Ho-lien-hua, Nelumbo Nucifera, Comfrey Root, Cherry Bark, Schleichera Trijuga, Kusambi Bark, Burdock, and Yucca, Vegetable Emulsifying Wax, Coconut Oil, Methylparaben, Myrrh Oil, Lavender Oil.

This is what goes into the stuff that's now sold under the Nature's Gate label:

Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Quaternium-87, Polysorbate 60, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Prunus Serotina (Wild Cherry) Bark Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Flower Extract, Arctium Lappa (Burdock) Root Extract, Yucca Schidigera Root Extract, Lilium Candidum (White Lily) Bulb Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera (Sacred Lotus) Flower Extract, Quercus Alba (Oak) Bark Extract, Butylene Glycol, Glyceryl Undecylenate, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance, Caramel.

What's up with that?  Well, a little digging seems to shows that the formula changes got under way in August 2006, about a year and a half after Levlad, the company that's always made Nature's Gate, was acquired by a private equity firm. Surprise, surprise.

Don't get me wrong: I know M&A can often be a great thing for brands, but what the acquirer did here puzzles me. Why would they buy Levlad only to make so
many unpronounceable additions to its flagship product right now, as more and more people are scrutinizing ingredient lists?  The new formula may be cheaper to make, but I'd personally be happy to pay double what I used to pay for Nature's Gate just to have the old formula back-- and I'm sure I'm not the only disappointed former fan.

Oh well, it's back to the haircare drawing board for me.  Any suggestions for *truly* all-natural shampoos and conditioners are very welcome!