Ethical shopping isn’t just about, and I quote my dissertation tutor here, bamboo socks and taking your tote bags to the supermarket with you (although bamboo socks are great and always take your tote bags to the shop). Ethical shopping is about making informed choices in your everyday life to be a responsible consumer, depending on your stance this can mean different things for each person.
It can mean favouring ethical products such as Fair Trade, cruelty free, organic products over say, battery eggs or GM food. But this can also stretch to positively buying clothing with the human rights of the garment workers in mind.
In recent years consumer culture or the fast fashion market has grown considerably with consumers under increasing pressure to participate in this lifestyle by purchasing based on desire rather than need. Media influences feature the latest fashions and in season looks which puts consumers under pressure to look a certain way and not been seen in the same clothes.
This fast fashion culture has reduced the price of clothing dramatically with 18 – 25 year olds spending up to £200 a month on clothes yet only wearing on average 10% of their wardrobe. Oxfam states that its research showed that 2 million garments are bought and never worn each year in the UK alone.
So… why should you be bothered about this, apart from it probably saving you a whole load of money? Well, issues surrounding the clothing industry can be considered a feminist issue with over 80% of the worlds garment workers being women. These women are regularly under-paid, forced into unsafe working conditions and often physically and mentally abused. The factories take on contracts for high street retailers but often can’t fulfil the demand with their workforce which increases the pressure on these marginalised women.
If clothing hadn’t become so disposable in the time of fast fashion this added pressure wouldn’t be put on the factories and in turn their garment workers would have better working lives. There is also environmental impact factors to consider within the garment industry for example it takes up to 10,000 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans.
What can we do about this? Luckily there are lots of things we can do to become a more ethical consumer. I have listed 5 tips below to get started:
Charity or second hand shops – This is the old favourite for ethical shoppers and I have spent many a Saturday perusing the local charity shops looking for dresses, they never disappoint and you get some great bargains.
Its also great that the money goes directly to helping the charity and the shops often give opportunities to people who are finding it difficult to get into employment again, a really positive thing to be a part of. Charities also often have good ethical and environmental policies for their practices like treating their workers fairly and having responsible ways of reducing and disposing of waste.
Participate in clothes swaps – There are so many reasons why clothes swaps are a great way to be an ethical consumer. The clothing is often of good quality and the old cliché is true; one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. I, personally have found some great and unusual pieces at clothes swaps, in my experience its great for big, colourful winter jumpers. There is something quite special about giving a piece of unwanted clothing new life.
You may even get to meet the people you are exchanging your clothing with and hear a story about where the clothes came from or where they’ve been. The friendly, open atmosphere at clothes swaps are in stark comparison with the infamous scenes of sale shoppers. They are a really good experience to have and an opportunity to share ideas and skills with like minded people. This is the beauty of clothes swaps!
Its a new way of shopping which closes the loop in the life cycle of a garment and its just a really fun way to shop. Come swap some of your old clothes with Girl Gang Leeds on Sunday 13th August at The Social, Merrion Street, click here for the event page.
Shop locally from independent shops with good ethical policies and supply chains – Now this one may take a little more commitment and require some research but buying from local shops reduces carbon emissions from the transportation of products.
Reductions in food miles and processing of the products will mean that they are healthier to consume too. Also these shops tend to be more transparent in their supply chain and you will be directly supporting a small business which will be great for that area, again another plus point!
Think about what you are buying – Changing your buying habits is something that will most likely come in time. It can be difficult at first to change behaviours that have governed your purchasing choices for so long.
When you are shopping try asking yourself questions like “Do I really need this?”, “Why am I buying this?”, “Where has it come from?”. Take a step back and be objective.
This isn’t to say that shopping on the High Street is totally unethical but try taking a look into their policies on the Corporate Social Responsibility section of their website. There has been lot of work done by organisations such as Labour Behind the Label to make these large corporations be more transparent with their supply chain information so that their consumers can make informed choices. Make yourself informed and you can make a more positive decision.
Upcycling and skill sharing – Learning a new skill will allow you to be a more ethical consumer, as you gain knowledge on how to sew up clothing, give new life to old furniture and maybe even grow your own fruit and veg you will find yourself buying less.
Girl Gang Leeds are setting up a series of skill sharing session for women and non-binary people so if you have a skill you’d like to pass on to others then sign up here. Alternatively, if you’d like to learn a new skill then keep an eye out on our social media (@GirlGangLeeds) for announcements on these skill sharing sessions.
If you would like to learn more about the issues discussed in this article here is some further reading:
To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World By Lucy Siegle
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline
Or watch The True Cost documentary directed by Andrew Morgan (available on Netflix)