What Does It Mean To Shop Ethically?

Shop ethically. Shop responsibly. Shop slow fashion. What exactly does any of that mean??

The deeper I dive into this subject, the more clear it is that shopping responsibly is not black and white. It is a whole lot of gray. 50 shades of gray. And with all of that gray, it makes it really hard to perfect ethical shopping. So what’s a girl to do?

My opinion? If you can’t commit 100% (and that’s ok - it’s hard!), pick the values that are most important to you. Below I’m going to lay out some of the most common ways to “shop ethically” and what each of them mean. Then you can decide for yourself in which way you want to support ethical/sustainable/slow fashion.

1. Support American Made. Here in the good ol’ US of A, we have higher standards for our workers, as well as regulations that require codes to be up to par. That includes safety standards as well as minimum wages. So workers in the US are being looked out for more than their third world counterparts.
2. Buy Fair Trade. Support companies who respect human rights and believe in a  living wage for their workers. Not all overseas manufacturing is bad. Do a little research and see which ones are enforcing fair trade regulations, especially in developing countries.
3. Look for Chemical Free/Organic Items. The chemicals and dyes in the majority of our clothing is harmful not just to the environment, but to the workers creating the garments as well as the consumer who is wearing the clothing. Shop for items made of organic material and natural dyes to avoid harmful side effects.
4. Go Eco-Friendly. Buy items mad of natural fabrics that don't harm the environment. You want to look for textiles that will naturally decompose instead of sitting in landfills for decades.
5. Pick Vegan or Cruelty Free. Buy cruelty free items and support the rights of animals.
6. Thrift. I’ve written a lot about thrifting, so if shopping on a budget and avoiding massive amounts of clothing ending up in landfills are your priorities, shopping resale is the way to go.
7. Upcycle and Sew. Use deadstock fabric to re-sew and re-create old garments into something new. Or if you have sewing skills, design and make your own clothes.
8. Shop Local. By supporting the small businesses in your community, you are keeping your money in the local economy. Living in Detroit in particular, I believe wholeheartedly in supporting the local retail scene, which not only supports local jobs but also puts my tax dollars to good use.
9. Wear What You Buy. A Lot. Currently there is a campaign, #30Wears, that encourages you to wear new purchases at least 30 times. This campaign supports quality items over disposable fast fashion. Before purchasing, ask yourself if you will get at least 30 wears out of the item. Can you mix and match it with current wardrobe items? Is it versatile enough to last. The theory is anything you wear 30+ times is sustainable.

A lot of these overlap each other and several others contradict each other. Supporting cruelty free products and buying vegan often means buying products made out of synthetic materials that sit in landfills without decomposing. Those items are hard on the environment. Shopping local shops may support your community and its makers, but the items might not always come from fair trade manufacturers. Lots and lots of gray. Instead of being overwhelmed by this, it’s up to you, the individual shopper, to decide which is the best personal choice based on the values that are important to you.

Where are your priorities when it comes to shopping ethically?

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