2018 - The Surznick Common Room

Monday, April 16, 2018

What I Bought on thredUP

I've been sharing a bit recently about my desire to make clothing purchases from companies with firm ethical and sustainable policies. In this post from February, I talked about some companies I want to buy from, like PACT Organics, PeopleTree, Everlane, etc. but also about my love of buying secondhand from thredUP.

If you're not familiar with thredUP, it's like an online thrift store, except pretty well curated, organized, and full of name-brands at an extreme discount. I've been shopping there for the past year and have found that searching the site and discovering pieces I love has become like a game for me. It's certainly more challenging than shopping a traditional store or website - but it's FUN. Finding an item that fits your style, in a color you like, in your size, and buying it before someone else gets to it... it's exhilarating and so rewarding. I love opening that box of clothes and trying on the new-to-me pieces, and falling in love with new clothes that I can feel good about buying.

The other day on Instagram I shared an outfit that was entirely made up of thredUP purchases and a couple people asked me to share more of my thredUP finds, so today I thought I would put together some of the items I've purchased, along with the estimated retail price vs. what I paid. Here we go! (Note: I'm linking everything so you can see better product photos, but it's all going to be marked as sold since, well... I bought it. But you can use the links to find similar items!)

Madewell top - $89 retail; $20 thredUP
Madewell jeans - $89 retail; $29 thredUP
Target booties - not via ThredUP

Zara top - $48 retail; $15 thredUP
Kimchi Blue skirt - $45 retail; $11 thredUP
Vince Camuto booties - $95 retail; $26 thredUP

J. Crew top - $32 retail; $12 thredUP
Zara skirt - $36 retail; $11 thredUP
Warby Parker glasses - not via ThredUP
Bonnibel shoes - not via ThredUP

J. Crew top - $88 retail; $17 thredUP
Madewell skirt - $89 retail; $14 thredUP
Jessica Simpson shoes - $60 retail; $10 thredUP
Warby Parker glasses - Not via ThredUP

Old Navy Active top - $17 retail; $6 thredUP
Old Navy Active sports bra - $27 retail; $10 thredUP
Under Armour pants - $45 retail; $18 thredUP
Allbirds sneakers - not via ThredUP

Everything you see here was purchased from thredUP over the last year, unless otherwise indicated. ThredUP's total estimated retail cost for these pieces is $760 and I paid $199 - a savings of $561 or 74%! (To be honest, I bet the savings are even higher because I know Madewell jeans cost at least $120 brand new... not too shabby.)

While it's still my desire to shop for clothing directly from brands that support fair trade, ethical practices, are environmentally friendly and sustainable, I feel like thredUP is a great stepping stone to get there. I also recently cleaned out my closet and sent thredUP a huge bag of clothes I no longer wear, don't fit, aren't my style, etc. They went through my bag and selected about 30 pieces to be listed on their site for resale and they responsibly recycled or donated everything else.

If you liked this post and want to see more like this, let me know! Also, if you've never shopped from thredUP before, you can get $10 off your first order by signing up here. They run promotions relatively frequently, so you can almost always get additional discounts on your orders. I just recently made my first order through their app and saved 20%.

It's been while since I've done a fashion post on the blog and I'll be honest when I say that it feels a little weird for me, but shopping secondhand and using thredUP has been a fun adventure over the past year. I hope that this inspires you to try out the site, find some pieces you love, and realize how great secondhand shopping can be.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, April 6, 2018

Brussels, Belgium

We're back today with the second leg of our honeymoon adventures - Brussels, Belgium! If you missed our post about Amsterdam, you can check it out here.

To be honest, I don't think either of us would have really picked Brussels as one of the first cities for us to visit in Europe. We didn't really know anything about it, and we primarily picked it because it's perfectly situated between Amsterdam and Paris. As it turns out though, Brussels is great! It's small, but packed with plenty to see and do, and we ate some of the best food of the entire trip. Here's a little recap of our time in Belgium.

Day 1
We took an early train in from Amsterdam and arrived to Brussels in the early afternoon. If you'll remember from our Amsterdam recap, I caught a cold pretty early in the trip and unfortunately it seemed to get worse as we got into Belgium.

We checked into our hotel, the Radisson Red Brussels, which was truly amazing. We had the best experience with our Radisson Blu hotel in Iceland last year and this Radisson hotel was no different. It's comic book/Alice in Wonderland-themed and everywhere you looked was perfectly decorated and colorful. We stayed in one of the corner rooms that had a huge curved window with views of the city. They were also the only hotel we stayed in that offered complimentary breakfast every morning - fresh baked croissants and other pastry goodies... so good. We didn't work with them on this trip, but damn I wish we had, because we would totally have moved in.

Anyway, after settling in, we ventured out for an early dinner down the street at The Beer Factory. It was a good place to try a few local Belgian beers, but the food was pretty mediocre with little vegetarian options. We probably would have ventured out further if I had been feeling better, but this was perfectly sufficient to fill our bellies.

We stopped at a local grocery store for more Belgian beers to enjoy at the hotel that night and then stayed at the hotel the remainder of the evening. A quick and easy first day in Brussels!

Day 2
We woke up early on Saturday morning, debating whether or not we should go to Bruges, a beautiful town about an hour from Brussels. It was our tentative plan for day 2 in Belgium, but ultimately we decided more travel was probably not for the best since I was already feeling so sick.

Instead, we grabbed breakfast at our hotel and walked into town to see Grand Place and everything Brussels has to offer. Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and is truly spectacular. Every building is so beautiful with the most intricate detailing - you could just stare at them all day. We walked around town for a little bit, admiring the murals and scouting out places we'd want to grab food later in the day.

We went in search of Mannekin Pis, which is the famous statue of a peeing boy (yes, you read that correctly.) And finally when it was an appropriate drinking hour (although, we're honeymooning so I think any time is appropriate?) we visited Delirium Cafe for some Belgian beers. Belgian beer is not something Nick and I typically gravitate towards, but every beer we drank was so wonderful. Also, we realized that every bartender dips your entire glass into a bucket of water to ensure it doesn't get sticky with beer. Just an interesting little thing we noticed that we don't see in America.

After drinks we headed back towards Grand Place to find a stand that had Belgian frites. We found a small shop with a long line, so we figured it was one of the best. I ordered my frites with the traditional dollop of mayonnaise on top and they were fantastic. Nick ordered the Maffiasaus (mafia sauce), which he loved but was probably a little too spicy for me.

We headed back to the hotel early and had some drinks at our hotel bar while we decided on our plans for the rest of the day and evening. Because we're incapable of going like two days without pizza, we decided to venture out for a couple slices of 'za as a late afternoon snack. Unfortunately, they were incredibly over-baked and nearly inedible, but it was nice to take a stroll around town. Later that night we ordered more pizza from UberEats and settled in for 6-hour binge-athon of The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

Day 3
For our last full day in Brussels, we decided to take the train to the Atomium Museum. The Atomium is a huge building that looks like an atom (magnified by 165 billion) - it was built for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair and later turned into a museum. It was actually a really fun visit! There are a lot of historical displays and art exhibits inside, and you can see panoramic views of Brussels from the top.

After checking out the Atomium for a couple hours, we took a train back into town and went to Peck 47 for lunch. This was the only restaurant of the trip that I planned to go to ahead of time and it certainly did not disappoint. Nick and I ordered the same thing (happens more often than it should) - poached eggs and cheese over a leek waffle. To die for. And because we hadn't had our fill of waffles yet, we stopped at a shop and got our first true Belgian waffle. Can you tell this was by far our best food day?

We strolled around town a little while longer and later headed back to our hotel to settle in for the Steelers playoff game. We shared a cheeseboard (good) but the Steelers lost (bad.) All in all, Brussels is a fantastic city with great food, great beer, a great hotel, and a great peeing statue. We highly recommend a visit on your next trip to Western Europe! And in case you want to see this trip in video form, we put my Instagram stories together below.

One more leg of the trip to go and it's the big one - PARIS. Coming soon-ish.

Sarah & Nick

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lately... (XIII)

Hi - happy Friday! We hope you're all doing well. Just wanted to check and in and let you know what's going on with us lately and what's to come here on the blog (we haven't forgotten about it, promise.)

First of all, I wanted to say thank you for all of the positive feedback on my last post about my current thoughts on buying clothes. It's a topic that I'm thinking about constantly, and I really appreciate all of the kind and encouraging comments and messages. I'm discovering new places to shop all the time and still scouring ThredUp frequently for second-hand items to add to my closet. In addition to buying clothes from ThredUp, you can also send them your clothes for resale via one of their closet clean-out bags. I will be doing that this weekend and am looking forward to heading into spring/summer with a lighter wardrobe. If this topic is something you'd like me to talk about more, or if you want me to share any of my recent clothing purchases that are ethical/sustainable, please let me know.

On a kind of similar topic, I've been spending the past several months slowly switching over to more natural home cleaning, skincare, and beauty products. This is a topic that I'm seeing discussed a lot on other blogs/social media and it's been so helpful having that wealth of information out there. In 2017 our new year's resolution was to stop purchasing/using paper towels in our home, and we completed that successfully. This year I'm focusing more on switching out other products - so far I've replaced our dish soap, hand soap, all-purpose cleaner, shampoo, body wash, face wash, deodorant, foundation, mascara, lipstick, and blush (whew - I think that's it so far.) I'm trying to find products that are not super pricey and are widely available. If you want me to share more about this in a separate post, again, please let me know!

Progress on our house renovation projects has been slow. You may have seen a peek at our in-progress bedroom makeover on Instagram, but we still need to finish several tasks in that room before we deem it ready for a before and after reveal. I'm hoping that upcoming warmer weather will get us feeling invigorated and ready to tackle more home projects again. Nick will be on spring break next week, so that will help to knock out some final tasks too! Last weekend we started ripping out the hedges in our front yard, and it's my goal to continue working on our yard and garden this spring/summer we can have an awesome outdoor spot to relax.

We've also been spending a lot of time exploring this city we love. Since getting back from our honeymoon at the end of January, we've been trying to visit a new-to-us Pittsburgh restaurant every weekend. I started listening to the Good Food Pittsburgh podcast and discovered that over 50 new restaurants opened in Pittsburgh last year and most of them I've never even heard of! So we have a wish list going of everywhere we'd like to visit and these are the places we've checked off already:

Pear and the Pickle
Gluten Free Goat
Threadbare Cider
Michigan and Trumbull
Madeleine Bakery and Bistro
Bitter Ends Garden and Luncheonette
Floor 2
Condado Tacos

And in case you're wondering, our favorite restaurants that we go to constantly are B52, Relish, Iron Born, and Kelly's. We also purchased Pittsburgh coffee passports and are working our way through those too! It's only $20 and you get to go to 10 different coffee shops and get a drink from their special coffee passport menu. Nick has been exclusively getting black coffee so he can compare and pick his favorite, but I've been trying out different lattes pretty much everywhere. A latte for only $2? Yes, please!

So now let's do a 180 and talk about the opposite of delicious food and drinks - exercise, ha. I joined ClassPass last month and have been enjoying checking out new fitness classes in the city. I took a few spin classes in the fall and really liked it, so I'm glad to be getting back into it. The plan I do is 5 classes for $30 per month. If you have any favorite classes or studios, let me know! And if you want to try out ClassPass, my referral link gets you $30 off (so essentially one month free!)

Finally, if you've been following Nick on Instagram (@nmalburg), you know he's been doing a lot of bread baking. If you're in the Pittsburgh area and are interested in purchasing a loaf of his sourdough, be sure to send him a message!

So that's about it - we have our wedding photos back so we will be sharing some wedding posts really soon, and more honeymoon posts (promise!) Thanks for reading.

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, February 15, 2018

My Current Thoughts on Buying Clothes

I've been thinking about writing this post for awhile, but haven't been sure what to say. A lot of my thoughts are still evolving, and to be honest, I don't want to come off like a snobby jerk or an idiot that doesn't know what she's talking about. But I really can't stop thinking about it, so I'm just going to let it all out. Please understand, however, that I am by no means an expert and while I am trying my best to base all of these thoughts on thorough research, I know not everything online is 100% accurate so please forgive me if I'm incorrect on anything.

For the past year I've been thinking more and more about where my clothes come from, the conditions they're made under, what they're made with, how they're affecting my health (both physical and mental), how much waste it's causing, etc... so much to think about.

I'm not really sure what started it, but I think it might have been when I was shopping for a warm coat for our trip to London/Iceland. I had just recently listened to the How I Built This episode with Yvon Chouinard, creator of Patagonia. I looked into the company more and learned that they have one of the best reputations in the business for their policies on being environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and fair-trade certified. Nick and I both purchased our coats for the trip from Patagonia.

Then I fell down the rabbit hole of looking into what other brands have similar policies, and more importantly, which do not. Frankly, it's pretty overwhelming - basically all I've ever known about my wardrobe was tarnished. I did ALL of my shopping at fast fashion brands, like H&M, ASOS, Forever 21, Old Navy, etc. or online retailers based in Asia like SheIn, Oasap, etc. and now I felt weird and sad and uncomfortable.

H&M rehearsal dinner dress, purchased via ThredUp
Before this happened, I had finally gotten in a good place of knowing my personal style and what types of clothes I looked for. Now I felt guilt-stricken for even considering making a purchase from one of my go-to stores. The stores with solid reputations for their ethical practices and sustainability are SO expensive compared to what I was used to, and just didn't offer anything that reflected my personal style. I definitely slipped up a few times over the past year - letting my desire to dress cute dictate my purchase over my personal ethics, and I still feel guilty about it. My top Instagram photo of 2017 was a SheIn shirt that I purchased on Amazon - I still feel conflicted every time I wear it.

So here are the main issues that I'm grappling with:

1. Conditions of the factories where the clothes are made. Everyone knows about sweat shops, but because it's so far removed from our day-to-day lives, we don't consciously think about it when we're making purchases. Watching the documentary The True Cost was an eye opening look at some of the factories in Bangladesh and the real people that have to work in them.

2. What the clothes are made with and what chemicals are added to them. I saw a post from a clothing tailor on Instagram several months ago - she said that her doctor told her he found traces of formaldehyde in her blood, likely from the clothing she was handling for work. I thought, "Is this even real?" and YES, IT IS. It's not uncommon to open a bag of cheap clothing you purchased from a website overseas and found that it had a bit of a chemical smell. That's because a lot of the clothing we purchase is given antimicrobial and chemical treatments to make them mold-resistant for storage in warehouses and shipping overseas. The skin is the largest organ in the body. What am I doing to it when I wear these clothes?

3. The insane amount of waste that's created by the clothing industry. If you go to the website of any fast fashion retailer, you will find the "New Arrivals," which will change weekly, if not daily. We just buy and buy and buy and never stop to think about whether or not we need something. This is extremely prevalent in the fashion blogging world, where bloggers constantly need to have the latest and greatest so they can share the new clothes with their followers, cash in on clicks and sales, and earn their paychecks. I'm not necessarily blaming them - that is their job, but how many fashion bloggers do you know that re-wear their clothes (at least in photos)? Very few, because it doesn't keep followers interested or generate sales. (I know we're not entirely innocent - we too have affiliate links on this site.)

Okay, so what am I doing to try and be better? Well, I think the biggest change for me has been that I'm buying a lot less. The clothes I used to buy were so cheap that it was not uncommon for me to order something from a fast fashion retailer every other week. Now before I make a purchase, I think a lot (A LOT) more than I used to. If I don't need it or don't feel good about where I'm buying it from, I just don't get it. Of course, like I said before, I'm not perfect and I'm still adjusting, but I'm getting there.

Madewell shirt & jeans, purchased via ThredUp
I'm also buying a lot of clothing second-hand from ThredUp. As much as I want to purchase clothes that support sustainable practices, have fair-trade wages, etc. I'm not in a place financially where that's possible for every item of clothing. Retailers like Reformation, Eileen Fisher, and PeopleTree all have good reputations but are out of my price range. I can, however, buy clothes second-hand, preventing them from ending up in a landfill somewhere. While it may be only a small impact, at least I'm one less person that's giving my dollars to the H&Ms and Zaras of the world. Another advantage to buying second-hand is that I'm still able to find pieces that reflect my personal style, without breaking the bank or directly supporting companies that I don't want to support any longer. I'm a short, curvy girl and high-waisted Madewell jeans have become my best friend, but I feel better about buying them second-hand.

I also learned of the Google Chrome extension and website DoneGood a few months ago. When you visit a retail website, the DoneGood extension will show you socially responsible websites that sell similar products (i.e. if you're shopping for a book on Amazon, the extension may show you Better World Books.) The website is still in beta, but I have poked around on it a bit and found some new retailers that I've used and loved. You can filter by the various causes these companies support (i.e. toxin-free, women/minority owned, recycled, eco-friendly, etc.) It's a good resource for someone that is diving into all of this for the first time.

So that's where I'm at right now. I have made some clothing purchases from new-to-me retailers that I'll list below, but I'm always looking for new places that people have purchased from and liked. If you have any sources for clothes that are produced ethically, better for the environment, etc. please send them my way. All of these retailers I'm sharing below have information on their websites about their production policies and company responsibilities.

Allbirds shoes, Madewell jeans purchased via ThredUp
Pact: Sustainable, fair-trade certified, organic cotton clothing. I've purchased tank tops/camis to wear under shirts, as well as underwear for both Nick and I. Great for cotton basics, but obviously a little higher priced than an typical t-shirt. They have frequent sales and I will continue to buy basics from them.

Allbirds: Sneakers made from ZQ-certified Merino wool, which means it was obtained through sustainable farming and animal welfare practices (no sheep were harmed.) I wore these sneakers frequently on our honeymoon - they are SO comfortable.

Everlane: Wardrobe basics with "radical transparency" and ethical production processes. They share their factory locations and the true cost of their products on their website. I purchased a few shirts and a dress for our honeymoon during a sale. They've been advertising on podcasts recently, so you may be able to find a discount code.

Patagonia: Outdoor clothing that's made through fair labor practices and safe working conditions. As mentioned above, Nick and I both purchased coats for our trip last year and still wear them regularly. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, they recently opened a retail store in Shadyside.

ThredUp: All throughout this post I've shared photos of me wearing clothes that were purchased second-hand through ThredUp. Just like shopping at a traditional thrift store, it may take some digging to find gold, but it's out there. Most of the clothes I've purchased from ThredUp are from fast fashion brands that I'm already familiar with.

I know this has been a long post and I appreciate it if you've made it this far. This is a topic that I'm still exploring and learning more about every day, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts in hopes that I can learn from some of you too. Again, if you have anything you'd like to share, let's have a conversation in the comments below. If you have any shopping recommendations, I'd love to hear them. If you're on a similar journey, let's chat!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, February 5, 2018

Amsterdam, Netherlands

We're excited to share the first leg of our European honeymoon - Amsterdam! We visited three countries/cities on this trip; first Amsterdam, then Brussels, and finally Paris. Our flight out of Pittsburgh was delayed, so unfortunately we lost a day in Amsterdam, but we made up for it during the rest of our time there. It's a beautiful city, even in dreary winter, but we'd love to go back during the spring or summer when the trees are in bloom and the sun actually shines.

Day 1
After arriving to Amsterdam 8 hours later than anticipated, we took the tram to Lloyd Hotel, where we would be staying for the duration of our visit. The Lloyd Hotel is awesome - it's a cultural embassy that offers 1 to 5 star rooms. When you book your stay, you can select the star level you want and pick a specific room if desired. All of the rooms are different - we requested a 5 star room, but wanted to be surprised of the specific room upon arrival.

Our room was on the top floor of the hotel, with lofted wood ceilings, a huge bathtub, and a hanging hammock right in the middle of the room. It was rustic and cozy and the perfect place to wind down after a hectic day of travel. After checking in, we went across the street to De Cantine for falafel burgers, nachos, and local beers. Day 1 in Amsterdam was short but sweet.

Day 2
Our second day would be our big adventure day. We grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at Anne & Max before walking along the canals to Amsterdam Centraal and the more populous part of town.

We decided to check out the De 9 Straatjes, which are streets of local shops, cafes, and restaurants. I'd been wanting to visit Pluk for coffee every since seeing the gorgeous interior on designlovefest's Instagram. It certainly didn't disappoint, especially since they had a beautiful white cat greeting guests upon entering.

We checked out Vegabond for a vegan lunch and hit up a local bar for Heinekens before our visit to the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House is a must-do in Amsterdam. I read Diary of a Young Girl a few years ago and was so inspired by Anne's writing, even though the story itself is so tragic. Being in the annex where Anne, her family, and others hid for two years was moving and heartbreaking.

Later in the afternoon, we journeyed through the Red Light District, which is famous for its "coffeeshops" and window prostitutes. Cannabis, other drugs, and prostitution are all legal in the Netherlands, and the Red Light District is where this is most prevalent. We visited a couple different bars for local beers until our big reservation for the day - our pizza tour!

Amsterdam is a city built on canals, so I'm sure you can imagine the sheer number of cruises you can book during a visit. It was honestly a little overwhelming to pick one, but when we saw "Pizza Cruise" we were sold. We boarded a boat as the sun was setting and cruised through the canals, admiring the beauty of Amsterdam at night. There were endless drinks, and halfway through the cruise, we were each delivered a pizza all to ourselves. Pretty sure it was the best way possible to end our first full day in the Netherlands.

Day 3
Unfortunately on day 3 I started coming down with a cold, but we were set on making the most of our trip, so we woke up early and walked to G's for a delicious breakfast. We visited the I Amsterdam sign, which was nearby but super crowded with tourists.

For lunch we visited Vegan Junk Food Bar where we shared truffle fries and Amsterdam bitterballen, which are a famous Dutch snack typically made with meat, but were vegan in this case. After lunch we walked to the Jordaan and Westermarkt areas of the city, but went back to the hotel early in hopes of kicking the cold I caught.

The next morning we had an early train to Brussels, but first stopped for breakfast at Pancakes Amsterdam. I had the traditional Dutch apple & cheese pancake and Nick had the goat cheese pancake - they were HUGE and so delicious. Not a bad way to end our time in this awesome city.

There are more photos and videos from our trip on my Instagram (@sawissinger) - I have an Amsterdam highlight saved. It was such an awesome place that we would love to visit again. If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment letting us know! We'll be back soon to share our visit to Brussels!

Sarah & Nick