On World Environment Day, as we focus on the theme "Reimagine. Recreate. Restore", let's pause and reflect on our shopping habits. Decoding the ethical aspect of shopping can be confusing and complicated. Read on as Cosmo helps you get started on your ethical shopping journey.
So, being this kind of shopper has always been important. But in the COVID-19 era? Crucial. Because, just a li’l reminder: on the other side of that checkout button are essential workers who may or may not have protective gear or paid sick leave, who still have to pack boxes in potentially crowded warehouses, and who have to deliver that sequinned blouse to your door. And before the said blouse exists for you to impulse-buy, there’s a whole other supply chain of people who make it.
Even if you always pause to think about that whole system before spending your money, it can be hard to tell what’s a truly ethical purchase and what’s not. Also, there’s kind of a lot of jargon involved, and not all of it is actually meaningful.
At its core, ethical shopping is about two things: looking for companies that consider their impact on humans and the planet, and choosing to buy from places that treat all their employees well (which means fair pay and safe working conditions). Here’s how to tell if the brand selling your next pair of tie-dye PJs really deserves your business.
First: Just Because It Is Sustainable Doesn’t Mean It Is Ethical
A brand billing itself as ‘sustainable’ is probably focused on reducing its carbon footprint and doing things like minimising water use and avoiding hazardous chemicals (which is great!). But even a place that checks these boxes might struggle on the people front—as in, it might not have transparent labour practices, and/or may not pay livable wages or prioritise worker safety.
Seeing bold claims but no receipts?
Yep, red flag
Marketers can—and do, unfortch—take advantage of buzzy causes to ‘greenwash’, that is, make a company seem more ethical than it actually is by, say, adding a leaf graphic to a product. For proof, dig through a site’s About Us, FAQ, and Info pages to judge for yourself—the more deets, the better. Do you see a step-by-step explanation of their supply chain? Is there a paid sick leave? Or even better, are they rocking one of the ethical certifications at the bottom of this page?
Those official-looking seals do matter
Especially ones that come from respected outside orgs with super-intense vetting processes (B Corp’s scoring system usually judges companies based on roughly 200 points). Basically, you need to be legit legit to nab one of these certifications, so keep an eye out for the common ones below.
Still have Qs? Slide into those DMs
Make the first move with your fave labels to get answers. This includes 1:1 messages, @-ing them on Twitter, or chatting with their customer service to push for more specifics. Be nosy and ask things like: ‘Are your workers unionised?’, and ‘Where are your materials sourced from?’. IG comments, e-mails, and other feedback can pressure businesses to Do! Better!
Shopping small is an excellent place to start, BTW
When in doubt, buy locally or from smaller labels. They have less inventory and more personal interaction with members of their teams, meaning it would be harder to be a truly sh*tty boss. This is especially apt during the pandemic—with fewer people involved and lower sales volume all around, it’s actually possible for tiny brands to pack and ship products while social distancing.
really = a big difference
TBH, it’s never gonna be as black-and-white as ‘you shop ethically or you don’t’. So, incorporating even small, responsible moves into your current routine and doing the best you can sets the good guys up for success, even as the standards evolve for the better. Consider your next ethical purchase a new form of social activism...with something really pretty to show for it.
SOME BRANDS TO GET YOU STARTED ON YOUR ETHICAL-FASHION JOURNEY
A Big Indian Story
An all-natural brand, their footwear, bags, and accessories are all created from cruelty-free and sustainable materials. They work directly with artisan groups, to ensure them a fair price for their skills.
With a rational outlook towards fashion, they have an eco-friendly approach towards producing garments, made of organic fabrics such as hemp. They also focus on reducing factory waste.
House of Anita Dongre is more than a fashion brand. It has been involved in reviving and sustaining Indian handcraft traditions for decades now.
Based in Jaipur, the brand produces eco-friendly textiles, which boast a range of natural colours, an array of clothes, and excellent artisanal product quality.
Their trendy, handcrafted, and highly functional range of bags are 100% vegan and a tribute to the Indian culture. They are also known to use sustainable materials like ikat, jute, and khadi for their products.
More on those certifications tho!
Kind of the gold standard, this rigorous assessment scores a company’s impact on workers, customers, the environment...the list goes on.
Global Organic Textile Standard-compliant businesses use at least 70% organic fibres, provide safe conditions for employees, and do a lot more.
Fairtrade Cotton Standard
Implemented by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, it applies the Fairtrade principles to the cotton farmers in target countries (including India and various African nations).
Finding animal-friendly clothing, accessories, and retail products has become easier, thanks to the ‘PETA-Approved Vegan’ logo. All companies that use the logo must sign PETA’s statement of assurance verifying that their products are vegan.