I like to shop.
However, my desire to find fun, new items long conflicted with my desire to save the planet. As a result, I often felt torn between these two worlds, and my self-image suffered greatly.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon the concept of ethical consumerism several years ago, and it made a huge difference in my life.
Most of us want to do everything we can to make the world a better place. At the same time we also want to fully enjoy our lives. As crazy as it might sound, these two things aren’t at odds with each other.
All the time, effort, and personal restraint that goes into making ethical, eco-friendly choices sounds draining. Instead, I discovered the opposite is true. I’ve honestly never felt lighter or more enthusiastic about my purchasing decisions. Though, I do make fewer of them.
If we all switched to ethical consumerism, we’d raise the wages and working conditions for people worldwide. At the same time, we’d offset some of the tremendous damage that is done to our planet on a daily basis.
Should ethical consumerism be considered a charitable practice? Considering how much it helps our planet and promotes fair labor policies, I think it’s easy to argue that it absolutely does. After all, helping others is a charitable activity.
Doing the right thing feels really good and boosts our self-image. Studies have proven that giving to others provides us with better brain activation, which in turn improves our mood and overall mental well-being.
For me, doing the right thing by shopping based on ethical concerns instead of a quick superficial burst of happiness, actually led to a much more sustained sense of well-being. The secret to success is allowing ourselves to fully grasp the potential consequences of our actions, so that we can feel tremendously empowered to make ethical choices instead of harmful ones.
Fashion is something I’m passionate about, but it has long saddened me that there’s so much waste in the industry. Even worse, it’s well-known that many top clothing companies get rich off of sweatshop labor. I decided that this was something I could no longer afford to support.
Fortunately, there are many resources that can help us all maintain a fashionable wardrobe without supporting unfair labor practices.
I was pleased to find Marks and Spencer, New Look, and Monsoon are generally considered ethical high fashion companies. Of course, it’s also possible to get amazingly fashionable and ethical looks for less from many other places.
Although I love all of these brands, my personal favorite is Thought Clothing, because of their styles and pricing.
Unfortunately, all of the previously mentioned brands ship from outside the United States and it’s important to consider the negative impact on the environment for anyone stateside. To help offset this problem, I only place an order when I’m ready to buy multiple items from the same online store.
Another option for those of us in the United States is Where Mountains Meet. This New York-based company is a collaboration between eco-friendly designers Corissa Santos and Genevieve Saylak.
All of their clothing is either made in New York City or created by global artisans. I enjoy being able to sort through their collection based on where the items were made, and whether or not they were tailored specifically to meet eco-friendly concerns.
I’ve discovered something truly wonderful about choosing ethical designers such as Santos and Saylak—not only do I feel better about not supporting the evils of consumerism, but I’m getting products that last much longer.
In other words, if I spend $100 on an item I’d normally get for $25, I’m getting a useable life that lasts far longer than the cheaper item. On top of which, I’m voting with my dollars for a clothing industry that can afford to provide every employee with a fair living wage.
Quality over quantity is important, but that doesn’t mean having to pay an arm and a leg for our clothing. For example, we can all go to our local discount store. Those of us who aren’t obsessed with the latest trends, can also find great items by shopping from closeout racks.
This is especially important when we want to purchase something that probably wasn’t made in the most ethical way possible.
I look at it this way: if an underpaid worker suffered to create an item, the least we can do is keep it out of the landfill after someone else buys it. Whenever possible, keep these items serving a practical purpose.
Ultimately, this reduces the amount of money that’s spent on buying new, inferior products. It also allows people like me to indulge in a specific fashion weakness. For example, I love the way Gloria Vanderbilt jeans fit, but I never buy them outside of a thrift store.
Another thing that means a lot to me is steering clear of products that were tested on animals.
That’s why I only use makeup and soap from companies that pledge not to do animal testing. e.l.f. is my go-to favorite for inexpensive, ethically-produced makeup. I also turn to Cellar Door Bath Supply Company for vegan handcrafted soap that smells amazing and rinses away completely, unlike many unethically made bar soaps I’ve tried in years past.
All of these choices enable us to send the message that quality items and livable wages are the best option for companies who want to be successful.
If we all start smart shopping with our dollars, we can truly improve the world for everyone. Ethical fashion is a great way to help others—and may also make for a happier life and a better self-image.
Author: Holly Chavez
Image: Image by Michael Dam/Unsplash and Author’s own
Editor: Kenni Linden
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis