For someone who regards shopping as a cardio, it’s extremely dispiriting to realise that my passion for clothes and accessories has such a negative impact on the world.
Ever since I watched The True Cost – a fashion documentary that unravelled the grim and dirt behind the glamorous world of fashion, I felt guilty that was contributing to the problem and wanted to get into the business of being an ethical consumer.
Before I go on, I have to preface this by saying that I am no environmentalist, humanitarian and definitely not a vegan (I love my meat dishes way too much!). I don’t have lofty dreams to save the world, but as a consumer, I am beginning to realise my responsibility to be conscious about my purchases and to recognize that my decisions hold power.
The term “ethical” originally referred to the working conditions of the labour force manufacturing the product. In more recent years, it has also begun to encompass the concerns about the environmental impact and sustainability.
By now it’s common knowledge that the thriving industry of fast and cheap fashion is causing plenty of problems on a widespread scale. Vile working conditions of the factory workers, the rapid depletion of the Earth’s resources and massive pollution, just to name a few. Consumers are consuming way more than necessary, and the retailers enjoy feeding this appetite because it generates more profits.
In the past, the standard was for someone to own a handful of well-made, long lasting clothing that could be worn and repaired throughout the years. However, this practice has evolved drastically. According to the documentary, the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, a whooping 400% more than the amount consumed just two decades ago.
The figures are alarming, and it’s definitely not sustainable. For those of you who have decided to start shopping ethically, good on you. But this is the part where it gets a little more complicated: how do we go about doing it?
We are so used to the way we shop now, it seems a little too overwhelming to change that all at once. But don’t worry, we can all start small.
Being an ethical consumer is more about a type of lifestyle rather than what you decide to put in your shopping bag... a little goes a long way.
If you need a helping hand, we’ve got some handy steps for you to follow:
Step #1: Define what it means to be ethical
There are many different concerns when it comes to shopping ethically, so it’s important that you define what "ethical" means to you. You can’t say you want to be an ethical consumer when you don’t know what to look out for.
For starters, you can get yourself acquainted with the various issues that arises in the process of the production, e.g. resources, labour, production, and impact on the environment and society.
Consider the materials used to make your clothings. Are the raw materials sourced from sustainable sources? Will these materials create an unhealthy level of carbon footprint? Research has revealed that the fashion industry is the world's second-largest polluter, only second to the oil industry!
Labour refers to the human rights component of the production cycle. Cheap, exploitative labour has been an ongoing issue for many years now, and many companies (especially the ones who produces low-priced clothings) have come under fire for engaging such labour.
If we all really think about it, we’d know it’s almost impossible to have ‘ethically made’ clothes priced at $10. There’s simply not enough margin for the cost of the material and labour to still make a profit at such low price points. There will always be a trade-off, and in this scenario, the trade-off is usually the safety and wages of the worker.
Whether you take up one issue or all, this helps you figure out the brands that will resonate with you.
Step #2: Research on the brands you regularly shop from
The next step here is to dive deeper into the production process of your favourite brands. We recommend the following sites as resources:
This site gives the reader an overview of the ethical efforts of the entire company; “how they are taking care of the people and the environment in their supply chain, how they are innovating in those regards, their knowledge of their own supply chain, and how transparent they are with their information.”
Rank A Brand
Rank A Brand is an independent and reliable brand-comparison website that assesses and ranks consumer brands in several sectors on sustainability and social responsibility.
Know The Chain
Know The Chain is a resource for businesses and investors who need to understand and address forced labor abuses within their supply chains.
These sites mostly cover the bigger brands, so if you are looking for an analysis on a smaller label, you might want to consider reaching out directly to the brand representatives for more information.
Most of the time, the brands that are doing the right things would be more than happy to address your concerns.
Step #3: Find alternative places to shop
It’s unfortunate but most big labels that many of us regularly shop from do not prioritise being ethical. However, things are about to change. In this era, green is the new black.
People are increasingly more concerned about ethical fashion and the brands are slowly recognising how important sustainable fashion is to their consumers.
You may want to shift your focus and seek out smaller labels moving forwards. Many of them see the need to focus on ethical fashion and shout about their sustainable approach to style.
We have curated a list of stylish, irrevocably cool, ethical fashion e-commerce boutiques that you might want to consider shopping at!
Image: Luva Huva
Luva Huva, a UK-based lingerie and loungewear label handcrafted from eco-friendly materials sourced from local suppliers.
Everlane, a US-based fashion label that offers complete transparency about where and how their items are produced. It’s rare that a label is willing to break down every single component (from the sources of the materials to exactly where the location of the factory is) of the production line for the consumers.
Image: Eileen Fisher
Eileen Fisher, a US based eco-friendly label who prides themselves in providing comfortable, stylish and elegant designs. They use 100% organic cotton and linen fibres, responsible dyes, carbon positive operations and a no waste facility.
Image: Matt & Nat
Matt & Nat, is a vegan accessories label that offers timeless and durable bag styles made from from animal and environmentally friendly materials. Fun fact: The lining of the bags are all made from recycled plastic bottles. Approximately 21 plastic bottles are recycled for every bag they produce!
Veja, a leader in eco and ethical production for athletic shoes. They buy organic and eco-friendly materials from fair trade family farms. They partner with a social charity that helps the disadvantaged reintegrate into society through work. To top it off, all their packaging is made of recycled and recyclable cardboard.
In case you are wondering, yes, all of these labels offer international shipping with the exception of Everlane. They have recommended comgateway as an effective workaround. You can find Veja in Singapore at 163 Tanglin Road.
Step #4: Change your mindset
Like we mention right at the start of this story, wanting to be an ethical consumer is a bold commitment and requires a thorough change in mindset.
Identifying the problems and finding alternatives around them it definitely a great way to start, but ultimately it all boils down to the way you consume. This means that you have to put in more efforts in doing your research to find out if they are ethical before committing to a purchase; curbing impulse buying and buying only when necessary.
There will come to a point where you can feel good knowing that you’re making a difference while still getting your fashion fix.