photo via Made in a Free World
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that Lauren is passionate about fair trade. The first time I heard of human trafficking was in high school, researching for an essay about “problems in our world.” I was shocked to discover that slavery was alive and well today. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any time in history. Some estimate the number of those enslaved is around 27,000,000, including forced labor, sex slavery, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking.
I discovered the link between human trafficking and fashion last fall, when my journey towards becoming a conscious consumer began (it’s still very much in progress!). Unlike the fashions of the past that evolved slowly, today’s industry revolves around “fast fashion,” frequently changing styles that consumers are encouraged to purchase every season. Because the styles are constantly changing, companies seek to manufacture their clothing for less and less.
Some companies have responded with ethical fashion, which “aims to address the problems it sees with the way the fashion industry currently operates, such as exploitative labor, environmental damage, the use of hazardous chemicals, waste, and animal cruelty” (Stop Traffick Fashion). You can find out more about the impact of ethical fashion from Stop Traffick Fashion’s resources. By shopping with ethical fashion companies, every dollar spent equals a vote for better business practices.
But changing the way you shop is hard. I took a month-long fast in which I wore only ten items of clothing, to help myself break shopping habits and recognize how little I actually need. Since then, there’s basically four ways I’ve continued to shop ethically.
One: Maintaining an edited wardrobe.
The first way I shop ethically is by not shopping! From 354 items in my closet when I started the ethical fashion series, I now have right around 100. The ebook, A No Brainer Wardrobe greatly helped me clear out the clutter, and now I hardly ever have to deal with the I-don’t-have-anything-to-wear syndrome even though I have fewer choices.
An added bonus: saving money! Fair trade fashion is expensive, which of course, is kind of the point, since the people making the clothes are actually getting paid a fair wage. But for a girl on a budget, it’s hard to afford. So by refusing impulse buys, I can save money for the pricier fair trade products.
Two: Buying thrifted.
Second hand and vintage clothes are ethical because you’re recycling what’s already out there. I majorly love thrifting, but I know for many people, thrift store shopping can be overwhelming. I could write an entire post of tips to make it easier, but other bloggers already have, so check out their advice. One tidbit: here’s how Pinterest can a great tool for purposeful shopping, whether at thrift stores or any stores!
Three: Buying “better.”
Brands usually aren’t all bad or all good; sometimes they have some policies in place to protect their workers in some stages of development but not in others. Thankfully, most of the work of finding out which companies are ethical is done for you. Free2Work gives brands a letter grade based on how they score in several areas, which makes it easy to compare similar products from different brands.
Not all brands are listed, but I’ve found that by digging around on company websites, you can sometimes find out if they have social responsibility policies to protect people in place. For example, here are J.Crew’s policies and Target’s policies.
Four: Investing in fair trade and handmade products.
I buy some things from the “better” companies that rank high with Free2Work, but when it comes time to buying an investment item, like a special occasion dress, or a staple that I’ll use often, like a pair of jeans or a bag, I look for a fair trade version. By buying less, as I mentioned in my first tip, I can afford to spend more for a fair trade statement necklace.
I didn’t buy an Easter dress this year. I’ve had a new outfit for Easter religiously for as long as I can remember, so this year was a first. I wore last year’s Easter dress, and ironically, I received numerous compliments on it!
I’ve wanted to add a striped top and a big black bag to my wardrobe for a long time, and I was able to find both at thrift stores!
When I needed red, short-sleeved tees for work, I looked at thrift stores first, and then I went to Old Navy. Since Old Navy has a solid grade of “B.”
I recently bought a tee from Sevenly, a company that donates to a different non-profit every week from the proceeds of their apparel. Their tees are fair trade certified, plus, I made a difference by giving to a cause I care about, adoption for orphans. A comparable tee at Target would cost $10, but the $24 I spent on my tee was more than worth it to me.
As part of the Fashion for Freedom series, I compiled a list of companies to shop from by occasion. Here’s where to buy casual clothing; special occasion clothing, cosmetics, and jewelry; and shoes, underwear, accessories, and children’s clothes. It’s not comprehensive by any means, so I recommend following the fair trade board that Lauren and I pin to for more ideas.
How do you shop fair trade? Share your experiences in the comments!
// written by lovely guest writer Emily of Scribbles from Emily, a faith. lifestyle, & creative inspiration blog. Emily believes in making life beautiful, changing the world for the better, and celebrating everyday.