Tips & Tricks for Ethical Shopping
One reminder that helps when I feel overwhelmed at the amount of injustice being done by clothing companies: one person can make an enormous difference.
When I started Sister House Collective, my goal was to share my love of beautiful, handmade things while helping some communities in Cambodia where were jobs were being provided for women living in poverty and disabled people who were shunned from society. This may be repeat information for those who know me or have read previous posts, but I truly wanted to live in Cambodia for some time and help with the production of goods and rehabilitation of women/ children who had been trafficked. Once there and seeing the programs that existed, I couldn't think of anything but coming home and sharing the stories of these incredible programs and the people behind them; I wanted to sell their beautiful handmade things in the US, where people throw money around at the drop of a hat. How much rehabilitation and growth could take place in these communities if people here had the education of how most of the world's population lived and were choosing to support efforts for sustainability in devastated communities?
Fast forward almost two years and here I am meeting people in my own community who want to see change- in the way we think, consume and spend time and money. In a society where shopping is a social activity and consumption has become thoughtless beyond what's tangible, here are some things that have helped me shift my perspective:
1. Shopping ethically often does not happen overnight.
It takes time to learn what brands are reputable and what stores have more ethical guidelines. It has taken me many long nights in front of the computer, reading article after article- feeling guilty for my part in blindly harming others in my "need" for all of the things that were never actually needs. If you become overwhelmed with guilt, the natural reaction is to throw up your hands and say, "well this is too much. I can't change. This problem is too big. How could I possibly make a difference?" But you can. Slowly, and give yourself credit for trying. Being a more conscious consumer forces you to ask yourself, "do I REALLY need this (fill in the blank)?"
When I started shopping more ethically, I thought I would spend a lot more money. I assumed the only ethical clothing or make up I could find would be SO much more expensive than what I had been buying, that it seemed daunting. I found out that is so untrue- and I hope to make it easier for you to find this truth out too. If you buy items that are made better (and as a result, last longer!), no doubt you will not need to be buying as often. I have actually been saving so much money since I began to shop more ethically. It does take time though so go easy on yourself. In my experience, I began to make small changes in my habits and routines and realized things I could live without (like excessive amounts of cheap make up), and things I could do some research on and feel good about supporting, like companies that provide education, counseling and new life to people who have been abused.
2. Shopping doesn't have to be the enemy. It can still be a social thing!
I still go shopping with friends or family on occasion. I grew up thinking that shopping was just something you did for fun with the girls. (And let me tell you, I was that girl who went shopping a few times a week because I was always on the hunt for a bargain- buying lots of cheap things because I was sure I couldn't afford anything better.) In learning more about WHERE to shop, (Nordstrom Rack, TJ Max and Marshalls being some stores that carry USA made clothing which is almost always more ethical than clothing made anywhere else), I feel empowered to make conscious decisions about which companies I support. And shopping with that in mind, I'm able to share what I know with whoever I am shopping with.
Will I still walk around the mall with my sisters and mom around the holidays? Probably. But that's the point- I can do just that. Walk. And talk. And enjoy the company without needing to consume things I don't need. Like more shirts, skirts, jackets that will just end up taking up space in my closet, maybe being worn a few times. If you're like me, you've probably emptied your closet every few seasons and thought, "well look at me! I'm going to do some good. I'm going to take my enormous trash bags full of clothes I never wore to Salvation Army and they are going to go to a good home." And in the back of my mind, I was kind of thinking, 'well now there's room for me to buy MORE cute stuff I'll never wear and do this all over again!' Okay, I'm joking a little. But really, many of those quick "Oh, I need that!" purchases are just our brains telling our hearts that we will feel a little more fulfilled with a new purchase. Once you start making more conscious decisions, that little signal in your brain will start rewarding you for making SMART shopping choices, like saving money by only buying what you actually need- or paying a little more for something that will last you a lifetime rather than saving a few dollars for something that will only last a few wash cycles.
SHOPPING TIP! Thrift stores are pretty darn awesome. If you like to 'hunt' for deals, these are great for doing just that. Usually, you can easily find out which thrifts in your town value their employees by providing transitional housing/ vocational training/ counseling/ youth guidance- a lot of times there are various opportunities provided to employees of different thrift stores; find one you believe in and support them by shopping there!
3. You don't actually "need" all the things.
In the last year, I've become more aware of the clothing industry in particular and as I've learned, more and more I feel in my gut when I actually need to buy a new article of clothing. Before, I would buy something for the sake of it being cute, or for a certain occasion, or because I was stressed out, or I needed a pick-me-up..the list goes on. Now, I only buy something if I actually need it, and when I actually need it, it's important enough to me that I find it made ethically.
Unfortunately, things like lamps and cutting boards and lots of little household necessities are very hard to determine ethical. But there's part of the transition that will likely always exist- knowing that even your smallest efforts of shopping more ethically make an impact to someone, somewhere. It may be near impossible to be a completely ethical consumer, but anyone can be conscious of their purchases and the impact that they have. My suggestion is to do a little research; find clothing brands whose style you admire. Or your favorite store, what companies are they buying from? Are the items made ethically? If not, is there a company that exists that produces something similar but has created an ethical model?
I want to help you find these brands, make information and education more accessible and inspire you to take small steps to a more ethical lifestyle. Keep your eyes peeled for the ethical resource guide that will be coming soon! I am currently compiling ethical brands for all sorts of goods to create a shopping guide for those of us who want to impact the world in a positive way with our purchases. Want to join me by sharing your favorite ethical brands? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Change is on the rise,