Fair Trade and ethical shopping have gotten a bad rap for two reasons. One, it's more expensive. It's the cost of paying people what they're worth and ensuring that employees have safe working conditions. Two, people who try to consistently like this often come across as condescending instead of encouraging.
In this post, I am in NO WAY trying to shame anyone into purchasing ethically. Shame is the very tool used by people who exploit others which is the very reason we shouldn't be using it to encourage fair trade and ethical products. This post is to show others there is a way to shop fair trade and ethically at every price point.
Why ethical shopping?
I've said I'm not intentionally trying to shame anyone, but I want to share with you all how I got to this point.
When I first started blogging, ethical shopping was not high up on my priority. I was about to start my bachelors in social work and had been familiar with human trafficking. But I was a sucker for a good deal. I had an entire wardrobe of clothes I purchased on sale or for a good deal. The crazy part was that I only wore about 20% of the clothes in my closet. This realization was when I started pursuing a more intentional approach to my life.
As I started researching minimalism, I was revisited by the fair trade movement I learned about when I was working with trafficking survivors. I had suppressed this industry because I liked spending my money on good deals. But minimalism and ethical shopping go hand in hand. Shopping less often means you are spending your money more intentionally. Ethical shopping means you are spending your money at businesses that pay their workers fairly and provide safe working conditions.
As a social worker, my personal experience with my profession and beliefs caused me to become more conscious about who I was giving my money to. It's not fun to admit, but by purchasing from retailers who intentionally exploit people, we are helping fuel the exploitation of people.
Not everything I own is from ethical sources, but when I am purchasing new items, I search for ethical alternatives first. If that's not available, I purchase higher quality items that will last longer. While I'm still rebuilding my closet after a major purge, my hope is to add to my wardrobe as needed. The idea is to spend money on clothing, intentionally.
How to shop ethically
Know what you HAVE.
Ironically, ethical shopping starts with you doing an inventory of your clothing and seeing what you have. Look at the things in your closet that you go to on a regular basis. What color are they? Do they reflect your personal style? Does it fit? Is still in good quality? Those that don't fit correctly, can they be altered to fit? Put those items aside in your closet (or hang them up!). Anything else that doesn't fit the bill needs to be removed from your closet. All those ratty, too small, or “just not you” clothes need to be donated, sold or trashed based on the current condition.
Know what you NEED.
Now, take an inventory of items you need, items you want. Think of items that will last for a long time or emphasize your personal style. Make a tangible list and write the item down. From there, it's time to start searching.
Know your BUDGET.
I am NOT telling you to spend a bunch of money or take on a bunch of credit card debt. I AM telling you that with the money you have, spend it on higher quality items. Yes, this limits the number of items you can buy, but this means that the items purchased will last a long time. We often spend more money when there are sales and deals. Knowing your budget will help you keep your costs to what you've planned for.
Check resale first!
The easiest way to cut costs drastically is to shop second-hand. I'm not talking garage sales (although you can find some awesome things). Check places like Poshmark, eBay, ThreadUp and Asos Marketplace before hitting up the latest and greatest. You never know what you'll find!
Search for ethical alternatives.
Know about stores like Accompany (a global, Anthropologie feel), Everlane (a fashion-forward J.Crew alternative), Nisolo (excellent leather products that give Madewell a run for their money!) and Pact (your one-stop shop for fair trade cotton). When I was debating on getting the Madewell Transport Tote, I decided to do some research first. I was able to buy almost the exact tote from Nisolo for the same price, only ethically made. There are almost always ethical alternatives.
Shop high-quality items.
If all else fails, it's okay. Right now, the market doesn't support ethical shopping because the demand hasn't changed. If there's no ethical alternative, it's okay to purchase from mainstream stores. Remember, I said not everything I own is ethically made. Shopping ethically is a change in your mindset of shopping. Shopping less often for more quality things will cut down on how much you buy.
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