How we shop: the creatives who take ethical shopping seriously

20 Nov 2017

When it comes to how we consume, sustainability is no longer considered a luxury – it’s become a necessity. From retail to restaurants, more and more brands and businesses are stepping up to challenge and question the way things are typically produced in our global economy. While sustainability, transparency and ethical standards may sometimes feel like the latest marketing trend used to sell products, shopping ethically is much more than that – it’s a lifestyle movement.

To find out what motivates people who have truly adopted ethical shopping as a lifestyle, we spoke to a digital strategist, a chef, two interior designers, a death doula, and an ethical fashion business owner. From their clothes to the food they eat, they share what being a conscious consumer is all about.

Ianthe De Boeck, Digital Strategist at Cultuurconnect

For a long time now, I made a conscious decision to stop buying fast fashion and only buy clothing made in Europe. I only buy what I need, which means I have a higher budget to spend on individual pieces. And it has to be timeless, so I can get long-lasting wear out of it.

Ianthe De Boeck

An economy that runs on locally produced products is the kind of future I’d like to see. Buying locally in Europe is the best way to ensure that producers are being kept accountable to certain regulations, especially when it comes to waste management. When supply chains are too far from home and become too complex, it creates emotional detachment. A lot of brands still lack transparency in their production processes.

I also support buying secondhand goods and upcycling. The quality with which things used to be made just a decade ago isn’t comparable with today’s mass production quality. There are too many people in this world for us to keep buying new items and throwing it away. From shoes to handbags to furniture, there’s so much we can do with recycled goods.

It’s exciting to see the rise of a recycling revolution. As individuals, there’s still a lot we can to do follow these principles and put pressure on bigger corporations to consider more ethical practises through our individual habits.

Marie Mitchell, Chef and Founder of Pop’s Kitchen/Island Social Club

I strongly believe we all need to play our part to live more sustainably for the future of our planet. To me, ethical shopping means supporting the businesses that do have that moral foundation or consciousness.

Marie Mitchell

Buying locally can truly give you the feeling of wanting to contribute to your environment. When we buy produce for Pop’s Kitchen, buying local for us means understanding where it’s been grown or how far it’s travelled – whether it’s grown in a farm in Somerset or reared in Wales.

With food in particular, it’s not only important to think about where it’s been produced, but how. For example, what chemicals have been used? It always pays off to research and understand what’s really gone into the production process.

Amanda Blainey, death doula in training and agent for Sniffy Dog music

Shopping ethically means avoiding mass-produced “treadmill” brands like Primark, Topshop and Zara. It means putting in that extra effort to look up wonderful local brands. Shifting towards supporting more ethical businesses is a mindset that forces us to take a hard look at our industries so that we can start to improve them, rather than relying on wasteful global import.

Amanda Blainey

I also go to local markets and take my own reusable bags – it’s shocking how many people still use single-use plastic bags and plastic products, and how happily shopkeepers give them away! Some brands use as much biodegradable matter in packaging and postage as possible – no one likes to receive a package from a large retailer that contains more plastic waste than product.

The movement toward “ethical” is about much more than just retail – it’s full circle. I’ve worked in advertising for a long time, but am now joining a “death movement” as an end-of-life doula. We push for greater compassion for people who are dying and look at how death can work better for society. Even in this industry, we’re seeing more funeral companies that offer ethical, natural burial services instead of cremation because of its negative effects on the environment.

Jane Day, interiors blogger at Tea with Ruby

Shopping ethically is very important to me, be it the clothes I wear, the food I eat, or the energy suppliers and cleaning products I use in my home– it all makes a difference. Every little change we make to our daily lifestyles has an impact on the environment. It affects the people who are involved in the production of everything that we use on a daily basis.

Jane Day

I’ve found that the first step towards building more ethical shopping habits is to reduce. Before I purchase anything, I make a conscious decision as to whether I really need it. Then, I think about whether it’s been locally produced or handmade. These things can come with a higher price tag, but I have to consider whether the person who’s made it can afford to making a living. It’s mostly down to thinking about what little choices we can make that have a bigger impact.

Andy Lower, Co-founder of Visible Clothing

In the future, we’ll look back at today’s fashion industry and wonder how it was socially accepted. Ethical shopping needs to be the greater goal. It becomes a question of which side of history you want to be on – I want to be on the right side and know that I did all I could as a consumer and a business owner to push for a sector that treats everyone fairly.

Visible Clothing

After the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, where 1,129 garment factory workers died in Bangladesh, I made a conscious decision to start only buying goods in line with my values. For years, I’d made excuses for why this was too difficult. I decided the only way I was going to truly make the shift was to go all in. People deserve to work in fair conditions and I wanted to make sure my spending power supported that.

I started by going through all my clothes and getting rid of everything that I couldn’t guarantee had been made in fair conditions – and I was left with nothing. Together with my friend and co-founder, we both started building a new wardrobe from scratch. I only bought items from places where workers were treated fairly. It was difficult to begin with, but it eventually inspired me to start Visible Clothing, a fair trade clothing company and online marketplace.

When I buy something, I ask questions and do research wherever possible. I’ll look for validated certifications or signs of how the company treat their employees. I realise very few people are willing and able to go in 100% like I did, but making small, conscious decisions about what you buy is all part of the journey in the right direction.

Some pro-tips on how to adopt more ethical consumer habits today:

Question where things come from. If you don't know where or how it's made, don't buy it.

Think about what you eat. Eat less and better quality meat if you can. Try and grow some of your own herbs and vegetables.

Drink sustainably. Use a reusable drinking bottle and keep a reusable cup for your morning coffee or tea.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Don’t just throw something away. Think about what other use it could serve.

Buy less, and only buy what you need. You’re more likely able to afford to spend more on higher quality items.

Keep more of your money local. This is the easiest way to support fair trade, craftsmanship and human happiness.

Do your research. It’s not enough to just look at a label. Research the company online or download the DoneGood Chrome extension to help you find ethical brands to support.