5 Ways to be an Ethically Responsible Shopper

A few months ago I wrote a post on how to plan your wardrobe intentionally, but in doing so I feel like I missed out a lot of important points about shopping and materialism. Honestly, I’ve learned a lot since I wrote that post, and my views about clothing have changed even since then.

I’ve gradually become more and more minimalistic and more concerned about the ethical side of fashion, and I want to encourage people out there to get informed about fast fashion.

If you’re interested in activism and want to make a positive impact on the world, your clothing is a surprisingly good place to start. In this post I want to talk about how you can not only shop more intentionally, but how you can be an ethically responsible shopper.

In our culture, we’re often shown the pretty and presentable side of consumerism and fast fashion. But in reality, there’s often a side we don’t see, one that involves questionable ethics and a lot of exploitation.

People are selfish, and as a culture, we’re so obsessed with consuming that we often don’t care who is negatively affected in the process. In our capitalistic society, we’re practically conditioned to turn a blind eye to inequality and exploitation.

Because so few people talk about these issues, many of us aren’t even aware of what’s going on and would be horrified if we only knew the nature of the industry we’re perpetuating through our purchases.

I totally recommend checking out a documentary called The True Cost. It’s all about fast fashion and how unethical the fashion industry is, and it will change how you see shopping. This documentary reveals how the fashion industry is negatively affecting both people and the environment. Watching it is so sobering and will make you want to stay the heck away from fast fashion brands. Working conditions and wages are often appalling for the people who make many of the clothes we wear every day.

It is essential that we reject the fashion industry’s corrupt way of doing things rather than condone and contribute to these methods. We need to be aware of how our seemingly personal lifestyle choices can negatively impact other people, specifically those who are the most vulnerable to exploitation.  We should be more concerned about helping those in need and relieving the suffering of those who are being exploited than accumulating more for ourselves. We should also be wholeheartedly against destroying the environment.

So I’m going to share some simple ways you can shop more responsibly and ethically and avoid the traps of consumerism.

Stop shopping (or at least shop less)

Okay, so I am aware this isn’t a simple solution. In our culture it’s really difficult to stop buying new things. We’re always told that shopping will make us happier and that we need to keep up with the latest trends. But I think most of us know by now that this is bull. The excitement of buying new things wears off pretty quickly, and then we find ourselves caught in a cycle of buying more and more things (and all the while becoming more and more empty inside).

If you’re a creative and artistic person and care about fashion, I know it can be difficult to see new clothes you like and not buy them. I have to admit I love pinning outfits on Pinterest. But always longing for more clothing can create a lot of discontentment, and simply stopping buying fast fashion is a responsible decision that will have an impact, even if it seems minute.

If you don’t want to make a full-on shopping ban, you can at least limit how much you go shopping. Maybe only go shopping when you need a specific item or at the beginning of each season. The less you shop at popular stores, the less you contribute to the fast fashion industry. You do have some power.

Keep old clothes

Have you ever really loved an item but felt like you couldn’t wear it anymore because it was x years old? There’s so much pressure in our culture to always wear new clothes. But if you like something and it hasn’t become incredibly frumpy (or hey, even if it has), there is nothing wrong with wearing it for years. I have several items that I’ve had for years and still love. This is especially true with timeless basics.

I recently discovered some articles about what actually happens to the clothes that you donate to places like Goodwill (here’s a good one from Darling magazine), and I was genuinely surprised. Buying so many clothes that we have to constantly be getting rid of old clothes isn’t very responsible. A small percentage of donated clothes even end up in thrift shops. The rest either get sent abroad (therefore destroying textile industries in developing countries) or sent to landfills. We just can’t keep up with the amount of clothes we’re producing, and it’s having disastrous results.

Avoid unethical fast fashion brands

It’s so easy to want to go on shopping sprees in certain stores just because they’re really fashionable and really affordable. While decent prices aren’t always a bad thing, low prices can often mean that the process of making these clothes wasn’t exactly ethical. However, high prices don’t necessarily mean anything, as higher end stores can also most definitely be unethical.

There’s this really awesome website and app called Good On You that evaluates how ethical clothing brands are and rates them out of five depending on how environmentally aware they are, what labor conditions are like for the workers, and if they engage in animal testing. You’d probably be surprised to see that a lot of the most popular stores don’t get very good ratings.

You can also buy from brands that are known for being fair trade and ethically made. You might pay more for these clothes, but I actually think spending more can be a good thing. When clothes are dirt cheap, it can be easier to shop irresponsibly and buy things you don’t need. However, if you don’t have a ton of money and you only buy high quality items that cost a little more, you’ll put more thought into every single item you buy, and you likely won’t buy as much.

When you spend a ridiculously low amount on clothing, unfortunately that often means there’s a reason the price seems too good to be true. I used to judge people for spending too much on clothing and used to be proud of the fact that I would look for the cheapest items, but what I was blissfully unaware of was the fact that we can actually end up contributing to unethical practices when we buy clothes dirt cheap. It’s totally worth spending a bit more on clothing from a company you know is ethically responsible. However, there are some affordable ethical brands out there too.

Buy secondhand clothes

I have to admit that this is something I really struggle with. I hate the thought of strangers wearing my clothes. I want my clothing to be clean, and it freaks me out to think some person I don’t know wore my clothes before me. But if you wash clothing well, this really shouldn’t be an issue. You can find some really cool clothing at places like Goodwill if you look properly.

There are also some popular websites now where you can buy fashionable clothing in good condition secondhand (like thredUP, for instance), and I think these are great for people who want to be more sustainable and ethically responsible with their clothing. We make too many clothes to be sustainable in America, and when you shop secondhand you are taking a big step towards living a sustainable lifestyle.

Shop at places where your money is going to a good cause

There are some really awesome stores out there that support charities or that are non-profit charities themselves. As these companies are created in order to make a positive impact on the world, you know that they’re going to care about ethics more than fast fashion companies that only care about profit.

I recently discovered this organization called Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself, and it is such an awesome charity. It’s not a big store, but they have really great products (like this t-shirt), and all the proceeds go towards the organization itself, which helps the homeless and the poor. I just bought a wallet (they had an insane sale) and this really cool mug, and it was great to know that my money is supporting an organization that I really respect.

When it comes to these issues, so many of us are either completely ignorant of the facts or just don’t care. It can be too easy to think that you can’t make a difference or that it’s next to impossible to make an impact, but spreading awareness and changing your lifestyle does make a difference.

So I hope that this post at least got you thinking and inspired you to make some changes. Maybe this is old news to you and you’ve already been aware of this stuff for years, or maybe you’re like I was and were totally ignorant of the reality of fast fashion and this is all new to you. If so, I hope this piques your curiosity and causes you to look into this stuff more and make some changes.


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