It's hard to ignore the media attention that sweatshops have been getting lately, from the documentary Sweat Shop - Deadly Fashion, to the factory collapse in Bangladesh that rocked our North American dreams. It's almost impossible to ignore the reality of exploited workforces around the word.
What is difficult is knowing what we can do about it. When you just need to grab something for an event, or you realized it's summer and you have no shorts that fit (oops, time to hit the gym!), it's easy to forget the plight of the faceless garment workers and to go to the nearest shopping centre, where you enter a paradise of marketing schemes. It's easy, it's convenient, it's affordable and it's fun!
Most people I know who don't shop ethically say it's too difficult, and I'll admit that I can spend hours (yes, hours) researching before I make almost any purchasing decision, but that's who I am. I have a personality that cares about the "why" and the "how" of things, which is probably why I don't buy things that are made unethically in the first place.
Luckly for you, I do spend hours doing research, and if you aren't me, but you just want to get a new pair of shorts (and maybe some gym shoes) here's a breakdown of how I shop.
1. Buy it fair trade
I LOVE when I can actually support the companies that are dedicated to making this world a better place, and there's nothing better than actual third party certification for putting your conscious mind at ease. Fair trade has gone a long way, and you'd be surprised what cute stuff you can find, if you're willing to hunt.
2. Buy it handmade
Etsy or the local market are my next stop when I'm looking for things I can feel good about using or wearing. It's great to connect to the people who make your clothes and you can bet that the conditions are pretty good if it's someone's personal basement studio.
3. Buy it used
Second hand is by far one of the most ethical and sustainable ways to go. If you want to buy whatever you want, totally guilt free, this is the way to go! BUT WAIT, there's more! It's often significantly cheaper than the cheapest retailers. NO EXCUSES about ethical shopping being too expensive! Thrifting can be stylin', and if you love shopping, it always includes the thrill of the hunt!
4. Buy it from an outlet
If you're looking for things that you aren't comfortable buying second hand and can't find handmade or fair trade, then outlets are usually a safer bet. By the time an item has made it's way to Winners or the outlet store it's not going to profit the company as much anymore. Outlets are usually the "cut our losses and run" part of the marketing lifecycle, so while it's not ideal, it's better than buying that same item full price from a mall (and your wallet will feel better too!)
5. Some research may pay off
Some companies that have stores in malls actually have very stringent guidelines for what factories they use and where their resources come from. Do some research on your favourite brands, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find (but try to find outside sources, every company has policies in place, but not all of them actually stick to those policies).
6. Buy timeless, buy less
Conscious consumerism is not as constricting as you may think, to me it actually brings a lot of freedom. I don't like chasing trends, and because I buy consciously I don't have to! Get off the trend treadmill (or trendmill) and focus your buying power on personal expression. Find your style and stick to it, if your clothes compliment your shape and personality they'll stand the test of time. Find your own inspiration and have fun!
7. Baby steps
What choice can you make this week for the better? Could you hit the thrift store before the mall? How about check out the local markets - meet some crafty people close to home? It's not that hard if you take baby steps.
Maybe it's as simple as going to the park instead of the mall when you're hanging out with a friend (if you and said friend happen to buy every time to go to said mall). If you see sweatshops as a complex global crisis, one that you must single handedly fix, it can easily cause paralysis. So we're not going to do that. Instead, I want you to take a deep breath and think about the one thing you can do this week. Then maybe one other thing you can do next week, and so on and so forth. It won't be one person or one organization that will change the world, it will be lots of people making small choices - what's yours?
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