Sustainable Feature: Stella Soomlais Studio

I am so excited to share this post today. As many of you know, I spend a lot of time researching my topics. One of which is sustainability in the fashion industry. Sometimes, I manage to find a business that is doing some really cool things! When that happens, I always do my best to make contact and get the info so that I can share it with my awesome readers.  This is not a sponsored post. This is a feature post created because I found a company that is doing great things and I wanted to share it with you.

Not surprisingly, most of the businesses that are making change and doing good things, are small businesses. Those of you who have been long-time readers already know what I am about to say. As much as it may seem like corporations and marketers dictate to consumers what we would like to purchase, the truth of it is that we, the consumer, hold all of the decision making power. We hold the power of purchase.  A belief that I hold close to my heart is that of supporting small businesses.  Especially small businesses that given the chance, could become fore-runners in their field, like Estonia-based  Stella Soomlais studio, the business I have chosen to feature here today. I understand that these are big statements that I am making. But this is why I want to feature these efforts. Because all too often, we are not even aware of these businesses, the strides that they are making in sustainability and the options that are out there. Not only is Stella Soomlais a sustainable company, but all of their items are made-to-order in their studio, and they believe in pricing transparency!

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If you look closely at this, you will see that their profit percentage is actually less than their tax percentage.  I cannot complain about the pricing of a good when it is explained to me like this. Respect!

I have been very fortunate, in that I was able to speak directly to Stella about her company. She has been very generous with her time and information. I must admit that I have learned so much in the process of writing this feature and for that, I am very grateful!

This interview with Stella was one of the best interviews I’ve had in my several years of blogging.  She is just the type of person you want to be friends with. She is very friendly, confident in her ability, has a solid vision and answered every one of my questions as honestly and thoroughly as was just possible.  It was the type of conversation you leave feeling excited about. It was quite refreshing to speak to someone in this industry who is on the same page as myself. Stella loves natural materials such as wools, leather, etc. She appreciates the touch and feel of them, as well as the fact that these materials gain character as they age.

Why Leather crafting?  Stella studied leather design in University. While she was studying, she realized the sustainability issues. During her masters degree and the practical work, she learned more about the economics and environmental side of things. She understands how good of a material leather is and it is plentiful because as she says ‘As long as people eat meat, there will always be leather.’ (I love this quote because it simplifies the issue, as well as confirming that the leather used is a by-product of the meat industry and is not, as many people assume, the product for which any animal is killed.) The sustainability factor goes even further than making use of by-products, but also because leather is biodegradable so it goes back into the natural cycle. She says that ‘In a way, using leather is this circular economy’.

‘Consumers seem to want very shiny, non-marked leather that looks the same in 2 years as it did when they bought it. And what people don’t understand is that it is no longer biodegradable. The base is, but the cover is coated in a plastic-like material, so it isn’t. But of course, when you don’t know the differences in the leathers, how the leather is made, then you don’t know how to select the leather. That’s why she uses natural finish leathers. And that’s why one of her communication challenges is that when there are scars, its ok. Every leather is different. Leather changes in time and it’s cool.’

 

There is much discussion about animals being harmful for nature…the tanning process itself being harmful for nature. Which is true. But at the same time, it’s also important to compare the lifecycles of other items.  How long you can use the textiles, and how harmful those are to dispose of? This is actually something they are researching to understand the parallels between them.  This has its own challenges, as she uses water consumption as an example. I have myself never considered the after effects with water.  But she raises a good point in regards to water consumption. Water consumption is usually measured throughout the manufacturing process, but stops once the item is sold. One measure we do not take into account is the amount of water used in washing. Textile bags are usually washed quite often which uses a lot of water. And leather, well its leather, I have never washed a leather bag. So it’s not a black and white issue.  There are many unanswered questions in this regard. Stella continues to learn about sustainability by reading endless amounts of research and attending workshops. Varying and conflicting information makes this continuous research challenging.

Can you describe your creative process? Stella describes her creative process as ‘…an assignment in mathematics’.  She takes into account the function that people say they need, then the topography of the leather. The shape of leather is always unique so you can never truly tell what kind of material you will get from the producer. So there is a lot of taking account the shape, in what direction the leather stretches, how many bags you can get out of 1 leather, etc. All those things must be taken into account when you produce while designing. Her production is in-house so that means that she also must consider the level of the crafters. One crafter may not be able to produce the same as another. When the new crafters are learning and creating new bags, there is a risk of faulty items and she must reduce that risk with design. So these are things that must be included into the calculation of the designs. An important factor to take into consideration is to make the items with the possibility of repair. As expensive and long lasting items, Stella feels that she has a responsibility to make it possible to repair the items.  Many of the details wear out quicker than the bag. So, the zipper, handles and metal details need to be made in a way that they can be replaced. Also, in the design, she needs to consider how many items she can make from the leather and how to minimize as much as possible any material left-overs. For example, the blueprint can me made that if a large cut needs to made for an item then the smaller space remaining can be used for a key ring or something in order to avoid material waste.

Once all of these calculations have been made, the design begins to make itself clear. The size comes from the function. Then you need to consider the technology needed to make it and add the details – in a way that they can be repaired, and then finally you go over all the details again to make some changes like creating a better shape. Then you see ‘how does it look?’ and that’s the design. Usually when you add all these things, the look is already there.

She has the vision in her head alone and then she takes the details and works together with her assistants to make the prototypes. Then it is ready. But the design doesn’t end there, she says. Because they offer the aftercare for free within 1 year (after that it has a small fee), they get many bags back for the spa aftercare treatment and with that they can see clearly how people actually use the bags. They can see if they need to change some bits or make it easier to repair. They also get feedback from some clients. So actually, the bag is never ready. The habits of the customers change also so even their most popular bags they have done them in the 100’s, but they are still improving them. The workload is tons. It’s a constantly evolving process.

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Do your designs lean toward trend or classic?: Classic. Classic and function that is in balance with the circular economy and aesthetics. Function speaks to her more than anything else. Amazing because her designs are so beautiful. Take the  Go to the library backpack which has a clean look.

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People love the clean look. Which is possible due to the decision that nothing else is added there. Which would be more functional, but not the clean aesthetics and not possible to re-use the material. As a creator, she will not look at trends or the works of her colleagues in order to make sure that she is not even subconsciously influenced. She understands that we are so influenced on the daily by just seeing other people that she does not want to influence herself or her designs even further by following the other options available. I admire this and think I will borrow her theory in my own daily life.

What has been your biggest challenge?: ‘It has been difficult to achieve the things that we have achieved. Like running a marathon. You succeed in this area when you are durable and resistant because there are many daily challenges. In time, you learn not to take them so emotionally anymore which makes it easier to work towards your goals. And when you have the goals, and when you are working slowly towards that, then you achieve it.’  When she was applying at University, she had to write about her dream goals. Stella has not only achieved those goals, but surpassed them! Stella describes herself as a person who is never satisfied. She continually sets news goals for herself once she has achieved her former goals.  Hilariously, she realizes how annoying this habit can be for those around her. As an obstacle, she wants everything to be the best, now. She gets quickly excited about new ideas. Stella’s biggest obstacle seems to be that she makes so many plans for herself that she loses focus.

Zero waste goal: The technology is there for Stella to reach her goal to create zero material waste. She explained several of the options to me such as; adding adhesive to scraps and make it into new material to strengthen soft leather. This would require shipping the small amount of scraps to Slovakia. The shipping would make this a less sustainable option. Not to mention, the current adhesive used is not 100% natural. Option 2 would be to sell the scraps back to leather production to add to the tannery. Due to the varying chemical processes, it’s difficult if the leathers are not all with the same original tanning process. Another option is to go in with a local start-up to make a new material. This has already been tested, but the material is not proving durable at this time. So this requires continuing testing.

Currently, Stella Soomlais is sending their scraps to hobby classes so that children can use them. Many cool things have come out of there, she says. She does admit that some material waste does go in the bin, regardless of how hard they are working to prevent this. Fortunately, it is biodegradable.

Colour: I really wanted to know if there was a difference when working with or caring for coloured leather goods. I have an infatuation with their green leather items (I am happy to discover that Stella really likes the green leather also, as it ages beautifully) and was curious why it is rare to see green leather goods. Does it scar easily? Is it difficult to care for? Apparently, there is nothing different with it. Maybe it just has not been trendy. Maybe the big brands statistics show that it is not enough interest to put the money into the green leather items.

Stella told me that green is a well-loved colour among her clientele. It is vegetable tanned leather and vegetable tanned leather ages quite nicely so that it goes darker.  When they were testing their designs in Japan this past year, there was also the feedback from the people there that the vivid colours like the red and green were well liked. You should check out the Stella Soomlais IG feed if you have the time. Some of the custom order colour combinations are unbelievably gorgeous!

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This bag is already on my wish-list! I am loving their greens, and they have wine red and lemon yellowwhich are gorgeous!

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Leather care:  There are many things that customer can do to care for their leather items. Because Stella Soomlais offers after care service, they can see if customer has been really nice to the bag, because the bag looks really nice. Also when the bag has been thrown around or overstuffed and hasn’t had any cream, they can see that too. Example, when the bag is so stuffed that the zipper doesn’t easily close, in the long term that is a problem because it will eventually break the zipper. Also, leather is a bit stretchy, when you use items that have a very direct shape. So, if every day you have many books there, eventually the bag will start to take on a book shape. When putting things in the bag, there are some little tricks that you can do. For example the bookbag, when you pack your bag, consider the corners which need stuff also so that the shape will last longer. If it gets wet in the rain, do not dry it near heat. Vegetable tanned leather does not like water and heat so when you get water and heat together, it goes bad.  Marks from water drops will go away eventually.  Natural vegetable tanned leather also wants cream from time to time. The experts suggest you use it monthly, some say 2 times per annum. So lets say every few months you add cream and when you do add cream, then it’s good to have a little damp cloth to wipe the dust and dirt away before applying the cream, otherwise there is grit between the cream and the leather. Not all creams are good for all leathers. She recommends only natural creams. There’s really only one 100% natural cream in the world. But natural ones. Because many creams have this colour effect and water repellent which adds this coating which doesn’t really help the leather and some of them can dry the leather. Also the sprays – never put the spray directly on the leather without putting this natural cream with it, as the spray also dries the leather. If it’s stained, it’s always good to have a leather cleaning specialist that can help. Take it in as quickly as possible if it is stained. Some stains unfortunately don’t come out. In that case, with their bags it is then possible to add a pocket there or something in worst case scenario. In some cases they have done so that the bag was really clean and then there was something like a paint spot. They couldn’t get it out so then we put a pocket there and it looked really cool. But that’s not something that’s done as a first option. Its like the 2ndstage of one bag that you can put those things and then prolong the life. Never put the leather in wash machine. Certain leather types might survive it, but if you aren’t a specialist, then don’t experiment.

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If you have a vegetable tanned belt that gets a wine spot on it or something, do not use very hot water for cleaning it.  When  the leather comes in contact with water hotter than 70C then the leather shrinks.

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Beeswax is always good for leather. Almost always, but not for oil tanned leather. (So be sure to find out if your leather item is oil or vegetable tanned) When you put beeswax on oil tanned leather, the oil kind of pushes it away so it would be the same affect as if you put candle wax on it. You can get it out by putting it to refrigerator when it gets cold and then wipe it away. But it is not the same effect as when you use beeswax on vegetable tanned leather.

Renting bags to try before purchase. Has it increased sales?  They introduced this possibility when they launched the service. Stella says this is quite popular because it really helps to understand whether the function is the right thing. ‘Even if customers don’t use the rental service, they can still see that we are trying to understand whether the product is right for them. We would rather be sure if this is something that they really want. And its also with sustainability, an issue to buy one item in a longer period of time but buy something that you really love and then you also take better care of it and are more satisfied with it.’ That’s their logic behind it.  This idea originated with her Masters thesis where she wanted to launch a service that would be more like a subscription service where they would offer the bags, and then the customer could rent them and choose colours, and every 3 months a different bag would come. And then when the bag is in not good shape, that’s when they give it the 2ndlife. Clean it, cream it and make it into other products. The market was not ready for that at the time. But they will be doing a new testing for this again in 2020.

Why should people shop Stella Soomlais? ‘We are not going to disappear after the purchase. We offer the aftercare and will be there to support with care and advice. Of course, the initial decision comes with do you like the bag or not? If you do not like the design, then all our other efforts are not important. You should choose us because we do our best to work in a sustainable way. We really try to dig deep into supply chain and to rethink all those design decisions along the way when it comes to our production. And all of the circular economy possibilities. Old habits can be changed and we try to offer an alternative. ‘  This quote is a great way to wrap up this informative interview! I have to add to this that their worldwide shipping rates are incredibly reasonable. Yay! Throughout the process of learning about Stella Soomlais studio, they have gained me as a loyal customer. This is my first purchase and I cannot wait to receive it!

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This is my purchase, in green (of course!).  I think using them as a gift bag that can be used afterwards as a clutch, is a brilliant idea! As for my order however, the bag (Made by Stella’s own hands!) is the goody so I will be clutching-it from the time I open my post package!

Also, just for those who are interested but worry about shipping, Stella’s  EU and International shipping rates are beyond reasonable. (4-8 Euro!) Better rates than even domestic postage is sometimes. Really!

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you learned as much as I did!

-Mliae

My unsolicited advice to beginning bloggers

Hi there, and thanks for stopping by to scan my unsolicited advice for beginning bloggers post! Now, I am well aware that this post is a bit of a risk. I am not a professional blogger, and I absolutely do not claim to have a plethora of knowledge on the subject. I definitely don’t want to come across as saying ‘blog like me’. The reason I felt compelled to write this post (and am a bit nervous as to how this will be perceived) is that, well, honestly, I’m big on  etiquette. As in – saying ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘May I’ and telling someone when they have something in their teeth. I’ve spent a lot of time cringing at posts with something in their teeth. Although I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who cringe at some of my posts with the same vigor.

As a blogger – that seems to have been around for awhile (comparatively speaking, as this article from 29 August, 2016 states that the current average lifespan of a blog is only 100 days…That is dismal.) This article has a few theories on why blogs don’t seem to last so long anymore. Anywho, I digress….

A bit about me: When I began blogging, I didn’t really know if anyone would even be interested in what I have to say. After all, it’s a mishmash of all things ‘my life’. Travel, thoughts, home reno, shopping, spa days, book & product reviews, and just life in general. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for me to make some golden friendships here and honestly, without their help, support & guidance, I think I would have easily foundered by now.  I don’t usually write posts about blogging, because well, I am no expert. Just like most everyone else, I have had to learn by trial and error, ask for tons of help, read better blogging posts until my head hurt, and just see what happens over time.  Aside from my own mistakes, I have seen several ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ that seem to be a recurrent issue in many of the blogs that I peruse. So, as your sister in the blogosphere, I feel obligated to share my thoughts on things that might help you out a bit. Agree or don’t, its completely up to you. I’m not telling you what you should do with your blog. It’s yours, keep it yours.  I know that I scoured thousands of articles on this topic when I was starting out – and continue to today. So here’s a few lessons I’ve learned and would just like to pass on:

Please DO, I think it will help:

  • Be yourself! Everyone is different and every blogger has their style & preferences. If you do what everyone else does because you think that’s the way things should go, then all blogs would be the same and … that’s no fun.
  • Write what you are passionate about!  People can see your passion and expertise in your posts.
  • Proofread your posts!  If you can’t spend the time to review your writing before hitting the publish button, why should people spend the time out of their lives reading it?
  • Publish regularly. It doesn’t have to be daily, or even weekly. But you should maintain some sort of schedule. Personally, I now post at least three times weekly. More often if I have more to say. When I began blogging, I posted once weekly. That was enough to slowly build my blog and have the time to learn about what I was doing. Your followers will appreciate your consistency. (It is one of my blogging pet peeves when a blog I follow posts daily, or multiple times per day, and then drops off the planet without any reason given for two months, returns with an apology & 5 posts on the same day. It IS however completely understandable & acceptable if life gets in the way. We all have things to do. Just let people know and it seems to go over better if your posting schedule isn’t totally erratic.). Slow and Steady wins the race.
  • Set reasonable, yet challenging goals for yourself. For example, my goal was to reach 1,000 WP subscribers in my first year. Not easy, but I knew if I could do it, it was sign that I could continue blogging. It took almost a year to achieve that goal, but once I did – it felt like nothing could stop me. Thanks everybody for THAT! 🙂 🙂 
  • Make sure your Gravitar profile is on-key! Many people will find you through this, so make sure its updated and well kept!
  • Sync all your social media accounts. I can’t tell you what a time-saver it is to have my posts updated on all accounts the moment they are published.
  • Make your posts worthy of a life/time investment! There is spending time (wasting time) and there is investing time. The point being, that people are spending time in their lives that is gone – never to return- once it’s spent, reading our blogs. Do we want this to be a waste of their time in life? OF COURSE NOT! This is where the term time investment comes into play. The difference? An investment implies ROI – or return on investment.  If someone invests their time reading your article, and comes out of it enriched with something – be it motivation, knowledge, awareness, a smile, an idea or increase in blog traffic – then they have received a solid return on their investment. Well done!
  • Enroll in everything! Learning is the best way. WordPress Blogging University offers free online courses on a regular basis: Blogging 101, blogging 201, commenting bootcamp, branding & marketing strategies, photography, et al. Follow the link above for the sign-up page. Personally, I never stop learning. I’ve found that the more I learn about blogging, the more I realize I don’t have a clue and need to learn more.
  • NETWORK! There are constantly sites hosting meet and greets, networking parties, drop your link posts, et al. Do it! This is a great time investment for you! Get to know other bloggers, leave your link, repost the parties and socialize, socialize, socialize! This is hands-down the best way to get your site out there. Personally, I have followed hundreds of new sites I found on these parties that I never would have known existed otherwise.
  • Be considerate of your fellow bloggers. New, old and indifferent – we are ALL here to accomplish something. A large percentage of your subscribers are fellow bloggers. They are investing in you, you should invest in them. Take the time to check out their sites. Like or comment if you find a post you like.
  • Sharing is caring. If you stumble across a blog post that is wonderful and you think your followers would love to read it, share! However, please always ask in the comments section before you reblog or wp it. Some bloggers love to be shared, some don’t. So make sure first. Personally, I love it when someone deems my work worthy of a good share 😉 Also, when you share the post, make sure to thank the original blogger in the additional area for an introductory comment. Respect for others is key!

Please DON’T:

  • Sweat SEO. The search engines will pick up your articles at some point. I’m still pleasantly surprised when I see search engine views on my stats page.
  • Post more than twice daily  (Unless you are an incredibly popular site (in excess of several thousand followers) news site or a massive site which has multiple bloggers publishing articles – then it’s a whole new ballgame and post away!) The reason for this is that it appears (to me) as though you are only inundating the web with links, photos or little snippets in order to attract more traffic to your site. Trust me, its obvious. Quantity does not mean Quality. Not to mention it gunks up people’s email inboxes. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. There are at least 5 blogs that I follow which post good quality posts, multiple times a day. But I can tell you as someone who spends a lot of time reading blogs, that this is the exception more than the rule.
  • Post the link to your site in the comment section of other blogs, unless it has been specifically requested. (My other major blogging pet peeve) It’s spammy, and many bloggers, including myself, will just delete it. Other people’s blogs are not your free marketing arena. People can find their way to your site via your profile name and gravitar profile which is displayed with your comments. Plus, there is always a networking party to be found where you are encouraged to drop your link. But as for comment spamming: Seriously, please, don’t do it. Send an email if you truly want to thank people for following. Comments are great! Please just don’t use them to direct traffic to your own site.
  • Put all your stock in numbers. True, stats are important. And the difference between 200 followers and 2,000 is huge. However, its the quality of traffic that really matters. Go with the 10% rule (personally, I think more like %6 is more realistic). Meaning: Only an average of 10% of your subscribers will actually see or like your post. Interaction is huge! If you have a higher ratio of views, likes and comments – then you have high quality traffic. A person with 200 followers can get 70 likes on a great article and a person will 2,000 followers can get 30. This is what I mean.
  • Let your ambition turn you into a naive nut. This is the internet. There are predators out there and we are prime prey. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a company you’ve never heard of contacts you, do some research before replying. And NEVER-EVER pay to be an ambassador or freely hand out your personal information for anything! Companies will contact you in time, don’t you worry. Looking for fresh talent is what people do for a full-time job.
  • Play the follow/unfollow game. This is not instagram. You can’t expect likes & follows in return, although many people respect others enough to do so. But also because professional and business bloggers, as well as those who have popular blogs are paying a small fortune for self hosting domains with all the bells and whistles – which include google analytics. Many watch the numbers very closely, as it tells what we are doing wrong: navigation and the like. So, WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Nobody likes a cheater, so please stop doing it. Be legit, or be gone. (Another pet-peeve: on all platforms, the people who do this are kind of A-holes, in my personal opinion. I always make sure that I do NOT follow or like any of those who play this follow/unfollow game…I don’t care how great your content is.)
  • Invest too much money until you know where you’re going with this. I realize that this is difficult at times. We all need hosting, new programs, cameras, products and the like. Fake it, till you make it…right? BUT what happens if you spend yourself into oblivion and then decide 4 months later that blogging isn’t for you? Remember your ROI. You are left with a pile of investment and no return.
  • Drink and blog. Seriously. Yes, you will regret that rant in the morning. We all know you were wasted because it looks like you were typing with your face. Sleep it off and rant in the morning.

Please Remember:

  • Quantity is not Quality. Quality is better.
  • Remember who your friends are, they are golden.
  • Gain a thirst for knowledge
  • Sharing is caring!
  • ROI on your followers time investment.
  • It’s not all about numbers
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Be legit, or be gone
  • Respect for others is key!
  • Enjoy yourself!

Thanks for reading, everyone! If you have any more advice you would like to add, please leave it in the comments section so we can all see!

Feel free to share this post if you would like 🙂

– Mliae

WWWOOOOHHHOOO!!! Winter Slim down goal achieved!!

After a very long battle with my weight…I’VE DONE IT!!

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This has really been some sort of journey! I started out at 76 kgs (168 lbs) and more than 2 yore than a year later, I’m now at 59,9 kgs (132 lbs)! I picked up on my attempt at shedding those last stubborn 20 lbs of weight while blogging. Those were absolutely the most impossible and stubborn to shed! But today, I’m here to celebrate meeting weightless goal! I’ve tried and failed, tried and succeeded with so many different things and I’d like to go over some of those now.

To recap some of the alternatives I tried:

  • No sugar
    • This actually helped a lot but I was astonished to discover that everything we eat has tons of sugar in it! I mean seriously! Take a look at your ketchup bottle. Now divide the grams by 4 and thats how many tablespoons of sugar are in 1 serving of ketchup! If you can curb the sugar, its a great feeling. You know your body is starting to get over it when you feel like someone has hit you head with a sledgehammer.
  • No booze
    • This was a no-brainer. Booze has tons of hidden calories in it, and I always get the munchies when I indulge. So, I limited my intake to 1 or 2 glasses of wine or a small cognac on only special occasions.
  • Dramatically limiting my calorie intake
    • Great in theory, horrendous in practice. No doubt. I was hungry all the time, and completely lost my senses – resulting in The Nacho Incident. If you scroll down to the bottom of the linked post, you’ll see a list of low calorie foods and their serving sizes in 100 Kcal increments.
  • Strict exercise regime
    • When I finally realized that I desperately needed some outside help, and someone that I trust to hold me accountable for my own failure or success, I was fortunate enough to get David from Chape Personal TrainerChape Personal Trainer to work me into shape! David has been awesome! He takes the time to explain things to me that defy logic, listen to me whine about my bad diet days, patiently listens to me bitch about muscle soreness, and has supported me with friendship, consistently updating new workouts for those  soft cushy spots on my body that are driving me mad and always adjusting whatever need be to make sure that I had a positive and successful experience with him as a personal trainer. Thank you, David! You pushed me to meet my weightless goal and I DID IT!!
  • A not so strict, gradually increased exercise of convenience regime
    • This was at the beginning and I…sucked at it. I’ve discovered in this process that I have zero will power if I allow myself even a millimeter of lee-way.
  • Diet soups and green teas
    • Green tea helps a lot, but really only by getting rid of water weight. Green tea is super healthy though, so I say go for it! The diet soups worked well…for awhile. But then I was just – HUNGRY! The lack of vital nutrients made me feel really run down and basically worthless. The hunger turned me into a monster.
  • Vegan and vegetarian
    • This, I highly suggest – if you make sure to have enough protein. Always have a backup though because when Chape suggested I lose the tofu, tempeh and cheese for a week – I lost my mind.
  • Only eating fresh fruit and veg
    • This, I loved! It was a bit more time consuming to cook and clean, but I felt really great, higher energy and less hunger!
  • Consulting Chape Personal Trainer
    • BEST MOVE I MADE!  I seriously could not have done this without David’s help! Super simple – All I had to do was consult daily. I kept a daily/hourly food and drink journal, David posted workout regimes, times, weigh in days, measurement days and scales for me and then would adjust the workouts to fit my needs as he saw fit. This took all the stress out of trying to figure out what was best. I just trusted him, and on occasion listened to him tell me things in a quite loud voice, and IT WORKED!
  • No fizzy drinks
    • This was easy, and I suggest it as a first move to anyone who’s trying to shed some weight. Fizzy drinks have TONS of sugar and other bad stuff for you and cutting back on just one a day can make a massive difference! I went to mineral water, hot teas, black coffee and the occasional juice. Also, shocker: cutting back on fizzy drinks actually reduces your thirst. Fizzy drinks dehydrate you – making you thirsty.
  • Eating my carbs in the morning
    • This was actually a great suggestion by a fellow blogger at Olivier fiction. And it actually worked out pretty well! At least when you eat your carbs in the morning, you have time to burn them off throughout the day and you don’t crave it so badly. Not exactly sure how it works body-wise, but it helped ease the pain of the carb and sauce cut down.
  • Cutting carbs completely
    • Oh Atkins, how you mutilate my mainly vegetarian diet! This just wasn’t for me. Granted, broccoli has tons of protein. Buuuttt, do you have any idea how frustrating it is to be a herbivore on a carnivores diet and still manage to find something yummy to eat? No fun…no fun at all.
  • Going yeast free for 1 week
    • This was actually something I did not share on the blog. I wanted to see if I could actually even pull it off. I did! Surprisingly, yeast is in lots of baked foods which one would not expect. After what I thought was a sly move on my part when I bought a weeks worth of tortilla wraps as a substitute, my fiancé took one look at me and said ‘you know thats made with yeast, don’t you?’. I didn’t believe him. I was wrong. Gggrrr…I hate being wrong. The yeast free week was a long one – especially when I got to watch everyone else enjoying my wraps. But you know what? At the end of the week, my belly looked pretty flat! I never realized how much yeast containing products contribute to belly bloat! So, if you’re working on that beach bod, I’d give this a shot!
  • Reducing portion sizes
    • This was quite easy. Stopping myself from getting seconds was the hard part.
  • Eating earlier in the day
    • Great in theory, virtually impossible when you are eating in a household setting and with others who actually have schedules to contend with.
  • Guzzling matcha and cutting back on the sauces
    • Matcha, I love you. Sauce, I love you too. Putting a few drops of salad or hot sauce on my food just didn’t cut it. Sorry.
  • Drinking more water
    • I’ve been told to do this on countless occasions. But I just don’t like it. I try, but I float. I’m a chic. I’m already running to the Loo every chance I get. Add a preliminary water consumption minimum and I might as well set up shop there. Tried, and failed. However Im drinking more than I was – so maybe not totally failed.
  • Eating more
    • When David suggested this, Thought he had lost his mind for sure. After he explained it to me, I thought – great, I’m going to go on an eat more diet and turn into a blueberry. But, I tried it. And you know what? IT WORKED! How the hell???
  • Drinking Yerba Mate before meals 
    • This is actually something a girlfriend of mine from Argentina suggested when I very first trying to shed the weight, weighing in at 76 kg or 168 lbs. I was desperate to lose some of the flab before I turned into a ball. She suggested drinking a full glass of heavily steeped yerba mate before every meal so as to reduce my appetite. It worked! I will never again have a home without this stuff in it.
  • Fasting
    • Intermittent fasting wasn’t actually bad at all and I managed t0 pull it off for like 2 weeks. However, eventually my body began to expect food at 4 and to not be hungry after 7, but the weight loss stopped. When I stopped fasting, I re-gained the weight.

Moments when I went totally off the rails:

  • Christmas and New Years
    • I decided I would allow myself some holiday indulgence. What a terrible idea this was…I actually gained back all the weight I’d lost (while trying to shed this last bit) + 2kgs/5lbs! Nothing like starting all over again 😦
  • The Nacho incident
    • I don’t even know what happened on this day. It’s like I was being a nice normal chic in the supermarket and then…insanity struck. I kid you not when I say that I barely even remember grabbing all requirements for an amazing set (or 2 – YES, 2!) of nachos! Including a solid weeks worth of my calorie intake. Boy did I ever regret that move!

Some of the exercises that worked really well for me:

  • I used forearm planks and flute bridges as warm ups and to tone my core:
    • Forearm plank – I find myself doing extra of these randomly and mixing with ->
    • Glute bridge – Doing flute bridges feels like a bit of a break after planks. Mixing these is awesome and its really simple to just jump off the sofa and do a set!
    • Bird Dog
    • Dumbbell Shrug – I love this one! Simple and really effective 🙂
    • Reverse fly – Great for arms, shoulders and back. You get used to it, but at first = Ow ow ow! However, it’s a REALLY important exercise so I suggest you try it if you are doing any for of weights.

Some of the exercises that were difficult:

  • This reverse crunch is a great exercise, but hard, hard, hard!!
  • This Alternating Shoulder Tap Plank made me feel like I was going to land on my face. But its super effective, and to tell you the truth, I was incredibly proud of myself when I finally nailed it!

In addition to all the exercises I received from Chape (there are many), I also go on several dog walks daily, which aids in burning some calories. I have been intermittently trying to conquer the kettle bell swing. I look like Mr Magoo trying to do it, but I will nail it down eventually.

Although I have met my weight loss goal – YYYYEEEESSSS!!! – I do plan to continue eating well and utilizing these exercises. I would like to at least maintain my weight and would be very happy to take up more! Besides, I want to look fantastic in that bikini and I have a wedding dress to fit into! I will, of course keep you updated on my progress and pitfalls.

I am SSSSOOOOOO HAPPY! I was seriously starting to doubt that this milestone day would ever come! Just consider me living proof that a woman metabolism does not come to a screeching halt in her 30’s 😉 Thank you all so much for following me and my journey, for all the support and ideas, suggestions, encouragement and motivation! Thank you David, for all the time, effort and energy you put into getting me into good shape! And a special Thank you to my fiancé for putting up with my whining about sore muscles, midnight rampages about being hungry and not having suitable food, and for laughing at me when I’m acting like a total psycho.  We did it!!! 🙂

Thanks for reading!

-Mliae

Senseless ramblings about love

Oh yea, here we go…A rambling, somewhat indecipherable post about love, chemicals, insanity and the like.

I guess we can start by asking ourselves: What IS love? (apparently the most searched phrase on google in 2012…some senseless trivia knowledge for you) Is it chemistry? Is it Hollywood? Is it a natural drive to reproduce and rear our young? Is it an Edwardian concept, poeticized and fantasized until it became our ‘reality’?  Infatuation in sheep’s clothing? A survival instinct? Or getting to know and appreciate those who surround you for most of your life?

Without fail, every single time I subscribe myself to a theory regarding love…just around the bend an exception to my new rule presents itself.

ROMANTIC LOVE v. ARRANGED LOVE

Take for instance romantic love. (Thank you Hollywood for setting mainstream standards that no human could possibly live up to…) I got on this bender in my early 20’s. Girl meets boy, boy falls head over heels in love with perfect girl, does everything in and beyond his power to get noticed, spoil her, respect her, be perfect to her family, makes (insert monthly paycheck here) amount of money, is willing to pay all the bills, pick his socks off the floor and indulge his girl in the occasional shopping spree. All the while, refusing to get upset when girl comes in at 4 am, drunk as a skunk with girlfriends in tow. Yea…right. Then, start thinking to yourself; if this is really love, then what about arranged marriages? With a higher than 50% rate of divorce in Western countries, how is it couples, for the most part, who are in arranged marriages (Just FYI- the divorce rate for arranged marriages is stated to be a whopping 4%) have, for the most part, managed to figure out a way to ‘love’, respect and co-exist together for the remnant of a lifetime. Of course, the statistics related to arranged marriage divorces are debatable since its culturally embedded that you wed, and stay that way. Divorce, although possible in many cases, is frowned upon and there are always other societal factors at work. But I digress. The question here is; When you see a couple who met just before approaching the altar, and they are happy together 50 years later…how does this happen? There was no romancing. Certainly no physical contact to blur up one’s brain with chemicals. Is it that both bride and groom (though nervous as knots) have been waiting for this pivotal moment all of their young lives and are determined to make it work no matter what? Is it a ‘love the one your with’ situation? Are these 2 people so utterly open-minded and accepting that fighting tooth and nail over trivial aspects of life together …just doesn’t happen? Or that there just exists enough self control to only go to bed grumbling under your breath about the things that annoy, but having enough respect for the life partner to not air grievances?

BIOLOGY

Drugs? Love drugs?? YES, PLEASE! Who says nature doesn’t have a sense of humor? Seriously! Our brains get so doped up from a rush of neuro-chemicals that we find ourselves bouncing around like a bunch of drunk college students doing really doofy shit.

There’s 2 stages to this. The ‘honeymoon’ stage (usually lasts about 3-6 months). Enjoy it, because it’s the only time in your relationship where you can do NO wrong…even if you accidentally take out his mailbox on your way out the drive. These are the GOOD chemicals. The morphine drip of love, if you will. This nifty little cocktail consists of phenylethylamine, norepinephrine (or noradrenaline),serotonin and dopamine. According to scientists, there is also another Love dose later in long term relationships which consist of oxytocin and vasopressin.

This is a continuing cycle. Dopamine starts this whole mess. The love based adrenaline rush cannot happen until there is a sufficient amount of dopamine. This chemical triggers the pleasure receptors in the brain. Resulting in a WHEEEEEE, Happy Happy Joy Joy- I want more of that, please. Seratonin levels drop in reaction to increased dopamine, and this is said to be responsible for the anxiety, nervousness and overall dating OCD that occurs. Norepinephrine comes into play. This chemical kicks off a chain reaction in the brain, to the nervous system which stimulates the receiver into feelings of joy and a suppressed appetite. (Just a side note: When this hits us ladies, the result is a slightly skinnier, happy, confident person! We think we’re completed by our lover which makes us feel so ….AWESOME! Truth is, we are. But could there be other ways to stimulate this reaction in our bodies so that we could always be so AWESOME?) Last but not least is phenylethylamine. This is good stuff. It creates our spinny – can do – happier than a puppy with a biscuit – must have more, moments. It also kicks off another round of dopamine and the whole process starts all over again. Hence, being ‘addicted to love’. Literally. This is usually the stage when we’re texting instead of working, friends get put out to pasture, house plants die, and we suddenly find ourselves with an over-run of lingerie and pancake breakfasts. Oh yea, and everything our partner does is cute. Even the horribly irritating disgusting habits, are adorable…or worse, fixable. (NEWS FLASH: Fixable doesn’t happen)

Oxytocin and vasopressin are said to create feelings of security and well-being which explains why this usually kicks in during a long term relationship. New question: Does this chemical reaction cause us to feel secure enough in our relationships to continue happily along, or does our happiness in the relationship cause this chemical reaction which encourages us that we’ve made the right move and carry on? (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?)

SURVIVAL

Okei, so survival and brains go hand and hand…sort of…not really. In order to serve my purposes here, I’m loosely defining the survival genre as our body’s involuntary drive to ensure its survival. Mate presence; here we go! Men recognize women’s hips and youthful appearance as a clue to how capable she is to procreate. Women recognize either facial/bone structure and agility (physically) – Someone must protect the cave and bring us dinner! OR The clothes, car, job and house – Societal ability to afford the same protection and welfare, but only from a modern day standpoint. This falls in line with Darwins theory on sexual selection; meaning that people will evolve traits that attract members of the opposite sex. Don’t knock it – it’s real. I’ve also heard of the mirroring phenomenon, where individuals subconsciously choose mates which resemble themselves in order to better insure reproduction or status. If you don’t believe in the collective conscious, here’s a little factoid for you: Did you know that stocks will always gain profit in the cosmetics and women’s clothing industries right before a recession hits? It’s true! Lipstick and mini-skirts. Years of micro economic research has shown that lipstick and mini-skirts drastically increase in purchases made proceeding a recession. The explanation for this? Women’s collective conscious somehow mysteriously know that hard times are ahead and invest in the 2 items which make us appear more attractive to potential mates. Shocker, huh?!

OUR BRAINS

Enter the three brain system theory. This is a fun one… I’ve been reading up on student research papers on this and it might explain a few things.  This theory is constructed based on an evolutionary form of animalistic behaviour. According to Dr. Helen Fisher (cited) there are 3 ‘brains’ or sections of the brain regarding love working together, or separately. These sections are “sexual arousal, romantic attraction and emotional bonding”. It is said that because all 3 of these are able to work independently of each other, it would explain why you can be in an intimate relationship with one person, have a huge crush on another and be emotionally bonded to yet another. If that’s how you choose to roll, then there you go. Apparently, the oxytocin and vasopressin which trigger feelings of security during long term relationships is the situation in which all 3 of the ‘brains’ work together as they are all needed.

SOCIETY and CULTURAL NORMS

Many societies, especially the west, subscribe to the theory of marrying for love. If you love them, give them something that you’ve given to none other  (or few others) – marriage. But to bring us back to the beginning…what is love anyway? What sets one person apart from the other? I do also think that the view of ‘he’s single, whats wrong with him’ comes into play unwittingly.

In some cultures, singles are seen to be outcasts. Somehow unfit, inappropriate, or otherwise unable to reach the social construct of acceptability. In Japan, boys are groomed for marriage. No mother wants her son to be a ‘bare branch’.

In some cultures, marriage and family is the lifetime goal. Take Russia, for example, where  new births are greeted with a financial benefit from the state. Another factor which comes into play is demographics, where the ratio of males to females is 86 to 100. Talk about competition! This is exactly opposite of Alaska, where there are approximately 10 males per every 1 female. Talk about choices! Or in China, where the ratio is approximately 106 males to every 100 females.

To wrap up this extra long read (sorry about that, I got carried away). Regardless of culture, nationality, chemistry, survival, or a simple desire not to be alone…love exists. For all of us. My advice is to take a deep breath, try to keep your wits about you and in 7 months, if you are still swooning, laughing, playing…and aren’t ready to kill each other over the dishes, then stick with it. If after a few months, you begin to realize your needs aren’t being met, you’re being ignored for the tv, used, cheated on or the like – move on. We all want to be loved and everything in us and the world is working in our favour to achieve this lovely goal.

What does LOVE mean to you?

Thanks for reading!

-mliae