Notes on Kate Black's Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion & Non-toxic Beauty

Kate Black has been researching and writing about eco-fashion and sustainable living since she started Magnifeco as a blog in 2008. Now a brand unto itself, her new book, Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty, compresses Black’s years of experience and findings into one comprehensive resource.

Covering head-to-toe ethical fashion and non-toxic beauty, Black’s introduction warns, “The content in the coming pages can be a little heavy.” It's heavy content on heavy topics, but Black's writing style is approachable and breaks the subjects down into readable categories.  

Despite Black's careful organization (or perhaps because of it), I urge you to use Magnifeco as a reference book rather than a read-through. Taken in digestible bites—on page 154 find out about seaweed fiber, on page 123 learn about lab-grown diamonds—you will collect a wealth of knowledge from one of the foremost authors on eco-fashion. Using the guide as a reference when you are in the market for a new item or want to dive deeper into a specific subject will allow you fully absorb Black’s attention to detail and heed her professional advice.

While this book would have been enormously helpful when I first forayed into ethical fashion and beauty, I still gleaned plenty of new information even though I’ve been doing this for several years. The handily organized chapters will lead you through history, considerations, warnings, standards, and a smattering of shopping options. Black leaves a wide berth for personal ethics, for example veganism, while laying out the facts for each topic of interest. 

My favorite organizational feature is Black's acronym V.A.L.U.E. The letters correlate to core ethics—vintage, artisan, local, upcycled, and ethical—and are meant to help guide you whenever you are shopping. The simplicity of this system should appeal to consumers and the rest of Magnifeco supports this pragmatic structure. 

Magnifeco is an extensive guide, but it exists in the space between production and consumption. The guide is aimed at consumers and while I know firsthand how difficult it is to encompass the complex issues in supply and labor chains, I would have liked to have seen even a brief explanation of why we have some of these issues. Too often Black bypasses the origins of our woes instead of pointing them out.

"Personal care and beauty products use about 12,000 different chemicals, and nearly 90 percent of them have never been assessed for their impact on long-term health."

Chapter 1, Beauty, sufficiently explains chemicals, body burden, and bioaccumulation, but not why these harmful chemicals are allowed to persist in consumer products. The EU tests and bans far more chemicals than the US, to the point that they receive different formulations in their markets, but Black only offers a lack of consumer outcry and cost as explanation.

It’s here that I would have liked to see reference to the impotence of our federal consumer safety organizations. According to the FDA, “Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing.” Conventional beauty and personal care brands have not proven capable of that trust or consumer safety and I view this as a fatal flaw in our system. Research is both time-intensive and costly, but instead of the burden falling to consumers and nonprofits like the Environmental Working Group, shouldn't it fall to the companies creating the products (or a regulating body that oversees them)?

I'm uncomfortable putting the onus on consumers to discern what is safe because not only is no one is protecting us, but ingredients are not always listed. The fact that carcinogenic chemicals can be found in umbilical blood shows that the situation is out of our control from birth. Most consumers will continue to buy what’s on the market thinking it's regulated and safe, not having the knowledge to know the difference. I hope consumers will use this book to help guide their immediate purchases, but will urge their senators to support the new Personal Care Products Safety Act as a longer-term solution. 

Magnifeco abridges Black's expertise into an understandable guide that will help readers ease into the eco-fashion and non-toxic beauty industries. While it doesn't always answer the whys, the whats in this foundational book are a wonderful reference for those who are new to sustainability. 

Many of YOU are new to sustainability, so Kate Black, New Society Publishers, and I are giving away a copy of Magnifeco! Just sign up for my newsletter below for a chance to win. If you are already subscribed, you are already entered. A winner will be announced March 15, 2016.