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5 Simple Ways To Become An Ethical Shopper

Bridget Wood

By Rechelle Coombes

So you’re wondering what all the fuss is about with “ethical” and “conscious” shopping, it’s no fad and it is on the uprise! Fast fashion is one of dirtiest, most polluting industries in the world only beaten by OIL! Yes you heard that right..think about it; huge production lines, significant agricultural input, use of animals, excessive shipping, excessive consumption and huge wastage - is it really that surprising? 

Well before I make you feel guilty about those 30+ pairs of shoes in your closet and the 85% of your wardrobe that hasn’t been used in 12 months; I’ve devised some very easy ways you can start to do good for the planet, it’s people and of course - yourself! 

1. Buy less / Buy better
Probably the easiest to say yet the hardest to follow but with a little more focus and thought into why you purchase the things you do will help you to cut down on buying “things”. 

Start treating your clothing/accessories/homewares purchases like investments, each having a special purpose and place in your life. It is easy to get caught up in impulse purchases and ‘saving it for a rainy day’ moments, I find myself asking three simple questions helps me to build a collection of mini investments rather than a stash of throwaway items:

a. How much use will I get out of this item in 12-18 months time? You can use similar purchases in the past as an example. 

I like this because often I find myself saying no and being able to walk away. For example, I was going to a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago and caught up in the “nothing to wear but a wardrobe full of clothes” debacle. I considered going out and buyingsomething new, but looking back 12-18 months ago having hit ‘wedding season’ I realised every other purchase was a ‘worn once waste’. Instead I opted for going through a friends’ wardrobe and leveraging her array of items. 

b. Who made this and how was it made? 

This is why I love market shopping, because it isn’t so often you get to meet the artisan behind the product your buying. Check the labels/packaging or do your research in the ‘about’ section of the store online if you want to know more. 99% of items seem to come from China today who continue to place downward pressure on prices and push local artisans out of the market. Many factories in China and the like push production in fast mode meaning they create high volumes which creates pricingefficiencies but also creates wastage and can result in lower quality as the control checks may not be as sufficient. Factory workers in China and Bangladesh can often be paid below minimum working wage with little benefits, evident in films like TheTrue Cost movie. Ask your favourite brands who makes their items and are they fair trade and ethical? Do your research, ask questions, post on their social pages. 

c. Are there any other practices behind this brands that support a better planet? For example do they employ disadvantaged workers, do they contribute to charity, do they use sustainable materials, do they recycle? Apps like Goodonyou can be helpful innavigating these complex areas or a quick Google search can help - otherwise shop at ethical purpose stores where the hard work has been done for you! 

2. Repurpose and salvage
Some of the greatest pieces of fashion history are vintage so don’t be afraid to bring out items pushed to the back of your wardrobe or stored in old suitcases! You can restructure your old items to fit into a new style or to better fit your shape by seeing a seamstress. Or go to you local vinnies and do some searching for pre-loved items, you will be amazed at what you can find. 

3Buy for quality not quantity
Yeah we’ve all been through a phase buying the cheapest fashion and wearing once and not feeling bad about tossing it away. But imagine adding up all of those $30-50 items you bought over a couple of months and the amazing well made designer wear you could have purchased that would see you through seasons not just an occasion. I think this works best by not buying into “trends” and selecting simple or eye catching pieces that can easily be matched with a number of other items. You can’t go past the perfect long lasting little black dress or a custom made trench that would last a decade! Next time you think about buying something because it’s cheap, think about spending a little more and making ‘investments’ in your clothes that satisfy a good CPW (cost per wear) in the long run! 

4. BYO bags
Go treat yourself to a big bag that you can take when you go shopping so that you can say NO to bags, the last thing you and the planet needs are extra bags going into landfill. So next time you are shopping and you’re payment has been processed give the sales person the nod that you would like to use your own bag instead! 

5. Go organic/non-toxic
Going organic isn’t just a fad, it is also an essential way to help preserve our planet and refrain from using harsh chemicals. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop consuming 25% of the world’s insecticides. These contain cancer causing carcinogens and when used in irrigation and agriculture are heavily damaging. Choosing organic cotton voids the use of these harsh chemicals and whilst being better for the environment it’s better for you too! Choosing non-toxic and organic products is often reserved for beauty and skincare but with clothes stuck to your skin day in and day out - void the harm and choose non-toxic. 

It’s easy to start becoming a more conscious consumer by giving a little more thought into the things you buy each day, you don’t have to make a dramatic switch right away, start to make better decisions day by day and eventually you will be converting your friends and family to do the same! 

Rechelle Coombes is a social activist and the founder of social enterprise Socielle, an online store, social enterprise and sustainable business incubator where women can shop with a conscience and make an impact.

EVENT: hear Rechelle speak on the Q&A Panel at our film & conversation event 'The True Cost' on 15 June.