What is ‘Ethical Consumerism’?

Ethical consumerism is having a moment. We see it in our fair-trade coffee, sustainably raised poultry and fish, cruelty-free cosmetics, and more. Buying these products should make us feel better about ourselves, right? Well, not entirely. Yes, it’s better to buy from a cruelty-free brand, but ethical consumerism is so much more than just a label it’s a way of life. That free-range beef you bought it packaged in plastic and will probably be bagged in more plastic unless you brought your own reusable shopping bag, that blush from your favorite brand was ordered online and used at least 4 plastic components plus labor and shipping to arrive at your door. It’s great to make small steps like this to buy better, but that purchase defeats the purpose of the meaning of ‘ethical’ if there are parts that are not. Maybe ethical consumerism also means an ethical supply chain? That can be addressed another time.

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Case in point: Everlane. The message behind the brand is ethical consumerism. I’ve sang praises of this brand for years, and I do truly believe they are doing what they can as a multi-million dollar company to minimize the waste in their supply chain. In the past 6 or so months, Everlane made the move to use poly bags to individually package their clothing items before sending them off to customers for web orders or to their 2 stores. This is where ethics comes in. Are there alternatives to using individual bags? Yes. And as consumers, we should be voicing the changes we want to see. Brands do listen.

Aside from this, ethical consumerism is the steps we take to change how and what we buy. Cut down on single-use plastics by purchasing a travel-set of flatware, mesh bags for produce, trying to purchase products that come enclosed in glass vessels for recycling or reusing, and so much more. I’m not saying “don’t buy that”, but I am saying “please buy better.”

The Effects of Over-Consumption

There is a psychological desire to want what we don’t have, and to become dissatisfied with what we currently have. Companies have profited off of this for years. It’s no wonder the single most important rule to creating an effective marketing campaign is to create a feeling; and that feeling is desire. It’s the same feeling that drives retail therapy and the thought that we should buy ourself a gift when we are sad. In the era of BuzzFeed posts “23 products under $10 to seriously boost your mood” and “25 cheap things to treat yourself to right now”, we are constantly told that we need this thing, and if we don’t have this thing then it’s the end of the world. An exaggeration of course, but after working 5+ years in retail, I sometimes believe it is truly the end of that person’s world if they don’t have that sweater.

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Sure, that watermelon-scented slime might boost your mood when you’re having a hard day at work, but in the next 3 months you will soon forget about said watermelon slime and then ultimately toss is out when cleaning your desk at the end of the year. Is this a real-life anecdote, you ask? Not anymore. Look, I am by no means shaming people who want things or who buy something that makes them happy; I do it too! The point I’m making is that the effects of over-consumption aren’t always positive. Think about it this way: the things that pile up at home or at the office that were purchased to temporarily fill a gap in your life are also temporary, but they last forever in the world somewhere. Even if you donate the thing, not everything that gets donated actually ends up in the inventory of the thrift store. The point is, you can buy that watermelon slime if you really want it, but just think, “is this going to make me happy in the long-term? Am I going to feel fulfilled and satisfied? Will I want this thing in 6 months?”

I went through a period in my life when I should have asked myself those 3 questions. Most of the answers to these was no. I did not feel better about myself after buying all those clothes, or eating all that food, or buying all those cute trinkets. I actually felt worse about myself, especially when I actually had to face the after-effects: cleaning and organizing my apartment. Here, I found all the clothes and trinkets I had bought at times when I was feeling down (or there was a sale). I learned the temporary satisfaction I felt wasn’t worth it. I was throwing out cheap, poorly made clothes, random household objects and more. Thinking about this on a large-scale is truly upsetting. It has made me step back and reevaluate my own practices as a consumer and realize that I don’t actually need that watermelon slime to de-stress at work. Instead, I could have some tea or take a walk or a quick break.

Okay, rant over. The purpose of this post was to point out that there is so much more to buying than just buying. It’s also about what happens after.

Take Two

After working five years in corporate retail, I fully realized the damage of mass consumerism. It was in front of my eyes for 30-40 hours, five days a week. Customers saying they need this, becoming upset because they can’t have that, it was exhausting. I became more aware of the effects of this after watching the 2015 documentary The True Cost. It was eye-opening. I felt that I was a part of the problem and as the sales person, I was an enabler.

This led me to leave the fast-fashion companies I worked for and aim for one that cared a little more about what they did. Although not perfect, it was better. After ultimately leaving that job, I was able to find a job for a company that truly cared about what they do.

So here I find myself again on a blog I haven’t attended to in several months, writing about a topic I still feel strongly about. What is the purpose of all this? Well, I hope to educate myself more, as well as bring light to a topic and an industry that has a lot of baggage. But not the fun kind, like Away. The bad kind that you never unpack after a trip. Also, my friends are probably tired of hearing me rant about sustainability.

I hope this ends up being as educational for you as it is for me.

Reflection

After absolutely fudging my Content Management Course, I find myself here again.

Why?

This topic is something I am still interested in about and ultimately want to continue to research. Also, I paid $50 for this domain and want my money’s worth.

Setting up this website the first time around was an absolute nightmare. But I still enjoyed it and it gave me valuable skills that I was able to use in my current job. WordPress is very different from Shopify, but also somehow the same.

Researching for these blog posts is a fun process. I have gathered so much information and it’s exciting to be able to have the opportunity to share it on a platform other than ranting to my friends.

I look forward to developing this site more over the next couple months.

 

Brand Spotlight: Everlane

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Everlane is quickly gaining popularity for a reason. Not only do they have high-quality every day basics such as your new favorite silk button-down blouse and well-crafted loafers, but they are taking an approach to retail that isn’t often seen: transparency in cost and manufacturing.

Factories

Finding the best and most ethical factories is a top priority for Everlane. Fair wages, safe working conditions, and donating Black Friday profits to improve the lives of their factory workers. Curious about the journey of your new shoes? Find it here.

Pricing

Sometimes with ethical manufacturing, a hefty price tag is attached. Everlane makes an effort to not mark-up their prices just to match the industry norms.

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Stores

Everlane CEO and founder Michael Preysman swore he would never take the brand to brick-and-mortar. But he did. Here’s why: even though the costs of running a storefront are high, people still want to touch and feel the clothes. They want an experience. So, he delivered one. With an open, airy feel that matches the website aesthetic, plus a streamlined online system that makes for easy purchase tracking (and no paper receipts!), lines outside the Prince Street location in New York and Valencia in San Francisco can have eager customers waiting for up to an hour. Worth it for the $100 cashmere. Although there are still kinks to be worked out, such as the whole “ever line” thing and frequently limited sizing for clothing items, it’s clear that Everlane has shown retail stores aren’t dead.

 

 

What the F is a B Corp?

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Eileen Fisher

A certified B-Corporation is a business that meets high standards of environmental and social performance, accountability, and sustainability. Did you know that your favorites, such as Patagonia, Athleta, Eileen Fisher, and The Reformation are all certified B-Corps? In this case, the B stands for badass brands. Out of over 2,000 companies worldwide, there is something for everyone; from men’s and women’s denim to food to small businesses.

The fabrics that hold us together

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Rayon (viscose). Polyester. Nylon. Silk. Linen. Tencel. Cotton. Textiles–what your clothes were before they were, well, clothes. Textile production is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Let’s start with the basics–

Cotton

Your favorite tee-shirt may not be so innocent. As one of the thirstiest plants, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single shirt. Not to mention the amount of labor and acreage involved to keep the crops happy.

Polyester and nylon — the synthetics

These man-made textiles aren’t completely innocent either. In fact, they may even be more guilty. Polyester and nylon are made using chemical reactions between coal, petroleum, and water. Not exactly the cleanest life.

Linen

From the flax plant, is strong and durable. Plus it has a longer lifespan thanks to longer fibers and a variety of weaves. When untreated with dyes, it is 100% biodegradable. Linen for the win.

Rayon/Viscose

Highly regarded in the fashion industry as one of the most versatile fabrics, and there’s a reason for it. Rayon is made from wood pulp, a cellulosic fibre. A sustainable alternative to cotton and polyester, as well as a cheaper alternative to silk, rayon is who to thank for drapey summer dresses and soft blouses.Unfortunately, the solvent used to make this fabric can often be highly toxic, but there are companies changing that.

Silk

One of the oldest fabrics, silk dates back thousands of years in China and beyond. A finely wound thread from silkworms is used to create the luxe and highly coveted fabric. Thanks, nature.

Tencel

Who knew eucalyptus trees were so versatile? Requiring far less water and energy to produce than cotton, Tencel is quickly becoming a household name. Used in cooling bed sheets and drapey shirts, Tencel has become the go-to for many companies looking to be more sustainable.

While this is not a complete list of what our clothes are made of, these are the most common and have the biggest impact.

 

 

So what’s the deal with the fashion industry?

What is the impact of fashion?

The fashion textile industry is the third most polluting industry in the world. Making textiles uses excessive water, harmful chemicals, energy, and other resources that many people don’t see–or even think about. Not to mention the often unsafe working conditions and unfair wages of factory workers worldwide.

What is fast fashion?

When discussing “fast fashion,” many people might think of fast-changing trends and styles. While this is true, it actually includes global fashion companies such as Zara and H&M whose business models are based on consuming.

We live in a fast-paced society. Our communication methods are fast, food is fast, popular culture and trends are fast, so it makes sense that the very thing that is the portrayal of our outer identity is fast. But it doesn’t need to be.Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 8.37.16 PM.png

Does this mean I have to be boring with my fashion choices?

Absolutely not! A common misconception is that sustainable or eco-conscious brands produce boring, expensive, or even “hippie” clothing. While maybe a little true in the past, more and more companies are getting on board with making changes to their practices in order to be better. Not only this, but there are dozens of affordable brands that produce clothing that is actually better for the environment (and yourself) than ever before. Not everyone has the resources to redo their whole wardrobe, nor should you. Instead, make smarter choices. The issue with consumption must be brought to light and it begins with you.