Ethical Fashion Shopping Tips and Advice — How to Shop Ethically

So, being this kind of shopper has always been important. But in the COVID-19 era? Crucial. Because, just a lil reminder: On the other side of that checkout button are essential workers who may or may not have protective gear or paid sick leave, who still have to pack boxes in potentially crowded warehouses, and who have to deliver that chunky-knit sweater to your door. And before said sweater exists for you to impulse-buy, there’s a whole other supply chain of people who make it.

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Even if you always pause to think about that whole system before spending your $, it can be hard to tell what’s a truly ethical purchase and what’s not. Also, there’s kind of a lot of jargony…jargon involved, and not all of it is actually meaningful.

At its core, ethical shopping is about two things: looking for companies that consider their impact on humans and the planet and choosing to buy from places that treat all their employees well (hi, that means fair pay and safe working conditions). Here’s how to tell if the brand selling your next pair of tie-dye PJs deserves your business.

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First: Just bc it’s sustainable doesn’t mean it’s ethical

A brand billing itself as “sustainable” is probably focused on reducing its carbon footprint and doing things like minimizing water use and avoiding hazardous chemicals (which, great!). But even a place that checks these boxes might struggle on the people front—as in, it might not have transparent labor practices, pay livable wages, or prioritize worker safety, says Rebecca van Bergen, founder of the nonprofit Nest.

Seeing bold claims but no receipts? Yep, red flag

Marketers can—and do, unfortch—take advantage of buzzy causes to “greenwash,” i.e., make a company seem more ethical than it actually is by, say, adding a leaf graphic to a product, explains Matt Stockamp, head of social impact at Nisolo. For proof, dig through a site’s About Us, FAQ, and Info pages to judge for yourself—the more deets, the better. Do you see a step-by-step explanation of their supply chain? Is there a paid sick leave? Or, even better, are they rocking one of the ethical certifications in the next point?

Those official-looking seals do matter

Especially ones that come from respected outside orgs with super-intense vetting processes (B Corp’s scoring system judges companies based on roughly 200 points). Basically, you need to be legit legit to nab one of these certifications, so keep an eye out for the common ones below.

More on those certifications tho!

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Still have Qs? Slide into those DMs

Make the first move with your fave labels to get answers. Kasi Martin, senior public relations manager of Fair Trade USA, says this includes 1:1 messages, @-ing them on Twitter, or chatting with customer service to push for more specifics. Be nosy and ask things like: “Are your workers unionized?” and “Where are your materials sourced?” IG comments, emails, and other feedback can pressure businesses to Do! Better!

Some brands to get you started on your ethical-fashion journey

Shopping small is an excellent place to start, btw

When in doubt, buy locally or from smaller labels. They have less inventory and more personal interaction with members of their teams, meaning it would be harder to be a truly shitty boss. This is especially apt during the pandemic—with fewer people involved and lower sales volume all around, it’s actually possible for tiny brands to pack and ship products while social distancing safely.

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Little changes really = a big difference

TBH, it’s never gonna be as black-and-white as “you shop ethically or you don’t,” says van Bergen. So incorporating little responsible moves into your current routine and doing the best you can sets the good guys up for success, even as standards evolve for the better. Consider your next ethical purchase a new form of social activism…with something really pretty to show for it.

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