Sorry, it has taken me so long to write the second post in this series, besides the fact that I snuck away for a long weekend with my mom and sisters, this was a hard post to write!
Here I am in NYC, rockin’ borrowed clothing (Thanks, Jer!!), This is step three in the How to Shop Beautifully flow chart!
I entered into this series thinking it would be really easy and straight forward to write; I would simply share what we do, (which is still what I am going to do), but as I was writing, I was confronted with the fact that what we do is FAR from perfect, that there is a lot subjectivity involved in the choices we make, and that we still have large areas for improvement.
For example, I as I was re-researching some of the companies to give you tangible evidence, I saw how multifarious the problem truly is; for example, how can a company like the Gap Inc. simultaneously appear on the worst Human Rights violator list and the most ethical company list? The Gap isn’t unique, you can find positive and negative arguments for almost every company. This dichotomy sheds light on the enormity and complexities of the problem and the fact that it doesn’t lie within one company or industry but with our culture.
We have a serious consumption problem.
The bottom line is we consume far more than our fair share of resources (The US makes up 5% of the world’s population but consumes 24% of its energy) and we do it with little human or environmental concern.
I am not pointing fingers anywhere but at myself as I am still part of the problem. As I share below, please understand that we realize we are still operating from within this cultural norm of consumption. At this point, I don’t have any real answers or solutions for that, except that we are sincerely working on it :). So please read with grace and understanding. Also, I will be the first to admit that my methods of research would not stand up in a scientific lab, they are based in part on research but also on instinct, experience and personal preference.
The flow chart from yesterday is a great starting point and there are apps you can use to scan products, but so much of life happens on the go. For me it isn’t always realistic to be going through a check list or reading a report on a product or company in the 30 minutes that I have to go shopping with two kids in tow. We found that by taking the steps below we make small but significant purchasing decisions before we actually go shopping.
Note: Keep in mind that we have been working at this for a few years now and its still a work in progress. It might seem overwhelming if you try to implement all of these steps right away. The way we approached it was to choose one thing at time, if something that resonates with your family and fits in your life and to focus on that. Once this choice becomes second nature you can start working on another.
1.) Know your stores:
The easiest way to start making your shopping more ethical is to research your stores. Start by looking at the 4 or 5 main places you shop and research their policies. Decide if what they stand for is what you stand for, if it isn’t, don’t support them with your money. This can be done from your home and won’t take much longer than 10 minutes a store. Since the Bangladesh garment factory collapse, most companies have a corporate responsibility page on their website which will give you an idea of what they value and how they do business but keep in mind that they write these pages with the intention of looking good, so it is a good idea to look a few different sources.
Here are some of the more realistic, larger franchise stores that we try to shop at and why:
They pay their employees living wages, offer benefits, don’t pay their executives excessively, not to mention having fair trade chocolate! This article gives a few more details on why we support Costco. I don’t think comparing is necessarily good but in circumstances like this, it is important to see that the companies’ practices do have real implications for our communities. You can compare the above article on Costco to this one about a competitor. When we as a community use our dollars to show what we value, we may see more changes in wealth distribution.
While Amazon can definitely improve their wages and environmental sustainability, we have chosen to shop here over similar competitors because of the Amazon smile program and the ability to shop from home. If you shop through amazon smile, they give .5% of your purchase to a charity of your choice. We currently support Gambia Rising, an effective organization designed to keep kids in The Gambia, Africa in school (you can support them too, its all volunteer run so all donations go directly to students!). Even though amazon is far from a perfect company, another reason we choose to shop here is because we can shop from home when my kids are sleeping, that way I can spend a little more time to intentionally purchase products or brands that I know are doing good work and being conscious of the bigger picture.
I know some of you are thinking, Target, really? and Why Target over Walmart? Especially when research can show them both to be equally good or equally bad? To be honest, my preference for Target is based on personal experience. Walmart is one of the largest employers in our community, when I worked in affordable housing, many of our clients were Walmart employees. Walmart is the largest company in the world, it’s owners are some of the richest people in the world (“…the combined net worth of the bottom 41.5 percent of American families equals that of the six Walton family members”). Even though they are working to improve their business practices and give back in some ways, from my experience they aren’t contributing to healthy happy communities and their employees aren’t exactly being paid a wage that allows them to thrive in the U.S. I can’t support this business model. This may be true for Target too but I haven’t experienced that first hand…
None of these stores are perfect and in all of them you will probably still find products that were made with slave or child labor and/or in unsafe working conditions (this is where the next step will come in) but as a whole these companies offer something we value or taking steps in the right direction.
2.) Know your brands/products:
I recommend starting with a single product/category that you know you will be regularly buying then spend a little time researching this item to find a few brand who make this product in a way that aligns with your values.
For example, we started with socks and underwear. The Free2Work app makes this process super easy, as they have already done the research for you. All you have to do is choose your industry, for socks it would be apparel and then find a brand that makes the product you are looking for and has a rating you are comfortable with.
We found that Maggies Organics, Hanes, and Fruit of a Loom make socks and underwear that are ranked in the A range. I have written about Maggie’s Organics here, they are cream of the crop and we want to support them when we can. However, Hudson grew 4 inches last year!!! At this season in our life it isn’t financially realistic to buy his socks there, so for him I look for Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. Granted these won’t always be the brands that are on sale or carry the style I would ideally choose, BUT we have decided that to pay a few dollars more or decide not have the trendiest socks is a small choice that we can easily make out of love.
You can also work backwards by choosing brands you wouldn’t support based on their ratings. There is one popular kids clothing manufacturer with a D- rating. As a family policy we simply don’t buy clothing from them, and with the multitude of clothing options out there, we see no reason to purchase from them.
You can apply these strategy to any brand or product. I think you will be surprised how quickly you remember the high ranking companies. Once this became routine, I found that it actually simplified shopping by natural eliminating some choices.
The Free to Work App doesn’t have every brand but it is an easy starting place. Here are some other resources and articles that may help you get to know your brands and products:
3.) Know your values:
Certain products carry higher risks for human rights violations or environmental degradation, so depending on your passions and values you can start by focusing on the areas you care most about and then find products that align with your beliefs. That’s how we discovered the dark side of chocolate industry, we knew we disapproved of child labor and when we started researching the problem, we realized that our chocolate addiction was likely fueling the calamity, from there we started being more intentional about where we purchased our chocolate.
Next week, I will share more about how I am personally (im my wardrobe) working to reconcile my love for fashion with the harsh realities of the fashion industry…WARNING it is another work in progress!!