We met Rupa last year when we were working on this story about Fashion Revolution Day, and we’ve shopped 100% ethically ever since. It was so life-changing that we asked her to write up something that might help our readers buy with the same principles they hold close in other areas of life.
Think about the last thing you bought. What were the three factors you considered before purchasing that product?
Got them? Good. Hold on to that thought…
I believe that each of us have impactful purchasing power, and that our choices matter. We are all consumers with an increasing responsibility to purchase thoughtfully and to minimize the harm caused to people and our planet.
The key to making this choice is knowledge. Getting that knowledge takes just a little bit of effort (thank you, Google), but the reward is worth it.
Let’s say, you want to buy a white T-shirt. Easy, right? Most stores carry plain white tees. But what’s the real story behind how each one is made? You can find out in three easy steps by reading the labels, the tags, and researching the brand.
- Does your shirt’s label tell you what country it was made in? Probably, and you should care because the country is the starting point of the journey the shirt took to get into your hands. And knowing that will help you start thinking in terms of real people. A person, an actual person in an actual country made that T-shirt.
Different countries have different regulations on manufacturing, and often, clothes are made in countries with the least amount of red tape. In other words, the working conditions many American companies encourage in developing countries to bring us cheap clothing wouldn’t be tolerated in our country. Why tolerate those conditions in others?
- Does it tell you how it was made? Maybe. If it says Fair Trade Certified, you know the person who made that garment is being treated with respect and dignity. If it says nothing, then you want to make sure the person who made that tee is not suffering in some way. Working in an unsafe working condition where the building could collapse, getting paid far below a living wage, being underage or separated from their family to make ends meet are just a few examples of sacrifices and suffering endured by the people that make our clothes.
Unfortunately, the apparel industry is plagued with these types of issues, and taking a look at the brand’s Code of Conduct/Ethics page available on their website will give you insight. Make sure the codes are self-enforced and not something to which the brand must adhere. Transparency is the key, and the more detail they give, the better. Brands who have made a commitment to ethical manufacturing are very proud of that fact, so you should have no trouble finding ethical information, if there is any to find. If you’ve been searching on their website and coming up short, that’s not a good sign.
- Does the shirt’s label tell you what materials it was made from? This is almost a given, and it tells you a lot. For example, 100% organic cotton is A LOT different than just 100% cotton. If the label says “GOTS certified”, then you know the cotton is chemical-free and the water was properly treated, which creates safe conditions for farm workers. Conventional cotton uses large quantities of insecticides and pesticides, nearby water supplies are often polluted from the dyeing of textiles, and farm workers suffer from serious health problems due to overexposure to chemicals. Get to know your materials, because there is an increasing appetite for sustainable materials that use fewer natural resources and generate lower impact on our environment. If you don’t know the material (or even if you just need a refresher), take a few minutes to educate yourself on how it is made!
Now, let’s go back to the three factors you considered before purchasing your last product. Let’s assume that both cost and quality made your list, or some similar factors. Now, take whatever you had for the third option and replace it with “IMPACT”. Everything we purchase, from toothbrushes to T-shirts, makes a positive or negative impact on the environment and people. I believe that if everyone were given a choice they would always choose to make a positive lasting impact.
Buy within your budget, buy things you truly love, buy knowing you did good. Next time you need to purchase something, make a thoughtful choice to find out the story behind the product by reading the labels, the tags, and researching the brand.
Ethical shopping involves one or two extra steps, but each of us has the knowledge to succeed literally at our fingertips. Make a commitment to buy responsibly this year, and vote with your dollars.
Love This is a mobile boutique out of a vintage Airstream Trailer inspiring consumers to make ethical shopping choices. Curators of goods that do good, we highlight brands that place equal value in the design of their products as they do their social, environmental, + economic impact.