Humans, unfortunately, can’t help but consume. Don’t blame yourself—it’s not your fault. We eat food because we need it to survive. You also probably wear clothes, and depending on how hygienic you are, you hopefully use soap, toothpaste, and shampoo, and clean your home, which means you probably use all sorts of toxic chemicals, because for some infuriating reason, living spaces are perpetually covered in this invisible layer of ick, even if you’re doing nothing, as Swiffer has so elegantly demonstrated in so many a commercial. But when you buy your Swiffer Wet-Jet, or whatever you decide to purchase, where’s your money really going? You may score a super deal, but at whose expense? Because if one thing’s for certain, nothing in this life is free, so when you buy one get one free, somebody’s paying the price, whether it be animals subjected to harmful tests, the environment, which we abuse and strip of resources (which are running ever lower, by the way… what when we run out?), the atmosphere (the air you breath), the quality of food you eat, the list goes on and on.
Consider every purchase an investment in whichever company supplies it. What will they do with your dollar? How much are you willing to pay in the long run, on the larger scheme of things, to save a couple bucks? Might it be worth it to go the extra mile, pay the extra dollar—to shop locally, organically and ethically? Socially and environmentally conscious shopping may be a hassle, but it’s worth it to your health, the general benefit of your community, as well as the world you live on, the air you breath and the oceans you swim in. So when you’re shopping, whether for clothes or groceries, inform yourself about the companies that you’re supporting in the process. Below are a list of several eco-friendly and socially conscious clothing lines, as well as a list of labels to seek out in the grocery store to ensure the products you’re buying are benefiting everyone affected.
Feral Childe is a bi-coastal women’s clothing line based in Brooklyn, New York and Oakland, California, founded by Moriah Carlson and Alice Wu, who use eco-friendly textiles, including “organic cotton, hemp, Tencel, Cupro, linen and silk… upcycled fabrics… [and] mill-end fabrics (also referred to as reclaimed, vintage deadstock, overstock; these are production leftovers from other designers and manufacturers, and the source of our wool coating, nylon mesh, or novelty weaves).” Likewise, they are mindful of their waste. Usable leftover fabric is donated to designers, schools and crafters, or used as trim. Unusable scraps are taken to a textile recycling facility. These are among their many efforts to achieve an eco-friendly, socially conscientious enterprise.
Elroy is a clothing line designed and founded by Leanne McElroy, who caters to conscious consumers dedicated to investing in creating opportunities for those who need them most. Elroy’s mission statement is in keeping with my new years resolution to be a more conscious consumer:
“Our company’s intent is to support fair trade markets in areas of low income and unemployment. Our designer works with small developing communities in Indonesia, where she began a sustainable employment project in 2009. Here, a grassroots sewing cooperative was established, using sustainable, organic or upcycled materials sourced right in their backyard. By manufacturing where and how we do, we help to alleviate poverty and provide opportunities for those in economically challenged areas.”
Tara St James started Study, a New-York-based clothing line, in 2009, after formerly directing Covet, an eco-friendly men and women’s sportswear collection. Since then, she’s also contributed to the efforts of numerous organizations, including “The Uniform Project (a fundraising platform using sustainable design to raise money for underprivileged children) and the Awamaki Lab (a program that fosters cross-cultural partnerships between young designers and Peru’s Awamaki indigenous weaver collective), where she facilitates discussions about the intersection of sustainability, ethical sourcing, and product innovation,” according to the Study NY website.
The Awambaki Lab, as previously mentioned, provides employment opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to women in Peru. Their contributions to the Patacancha weaving association will “provide a stable source of income for indigenous women weavers.” They are also “facilitating job creation… for marginalized women in Ollantaytambo by investing in a sewing co-operative, [which] will… encourage female entrepreneurship by allocating a percentage of sales to a co-operative fund, in which members are primary stake-holders and over which they have complete decision-making power.”
Indigenous was founded around “the vision to style the world in organic, fair trade fashion,” by Matt Reynolds and Scott Leonard. The company is committed to “investing in natural and organic fibers and environmentally friendly-dyes” as well as creating opportunities for artisans around the world. Plus, they have a huge selection! Because Indigenous’ network of artisans expands globally, they are able to supply their customers with a much wider variety of styles and garments than most eco- and socio-conscious clothing lines, and for reasonable prices, considering where the clothes are coming from, and the fact that they’re handcrafted out of natural materials.
Here are some handy dandy labels to look out for as you’re skimming up and down the aisles of your local grocery store. Of course, let me begin by saying why it’s worth that something extra (if you can afford it), to invest in those local mom and pop shops as opposed to megastores like Walmart, which are no far cry from Wall-E’s Buy ‘N Large. Let me linger on this image of Wall-E for a moment, by the way, because if we carry on consuming at the rate we’re going—and without any mind for the ramifications and consequences, or knowing where our money’s really going—we may not be too far from spoiling, abandoning and fleeing our planet as well. Hopefully, we have a space ship big enough for all of us.
So support your mom and pops as much as possible. Maybe you’re set in your routine with grocery shopping, and you’ve got a family to feed and a budget to maintain and shopping mom and pop for groceries, as much as you would like to, simply isn’t realistic at the moment, moneywise. Well, the good news is you can still be eco-conscious in a Safeway, Vons, Raleys, Stop and Shop, or any other grocery store. You just need to know what to look for. Many, if not most products you’ve come to know and love have eco-friendly, socially conscious alternatives. They may be more expensive, but they are well worth the extra penny.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stamps this label of approval on any product they qualify organic. The USDA organic seal indicates, according to the USDA website, “that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” I would certainly hope not!
With so many different issues to be conscious of as shoppers, it’s easy to forget one as simple as packaging, but think about it. Whatever product you purchase, thousands of pallets of it, if not millions, are being hauled around in semi-trucks, and if you think of the sheer amount of packaging that is… Well it’s a lot. So buy the box made of recycled materials, or the plastic tub that you’ll continue to reuse, or something that, if nothing else, at least you know you can recycle, and won’t wind up in a landfill. (Make sure you dispose of it correctly!)
Some products can’t help but be made of plastic, in which case, look for this label, which ensures the plastic is free of harmful or carcinogenic chemicals. The National Toxicology Program reported in 2008 that “there is ‘some’ concern for BPA’s effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland, in developing fetuses, infants and children,” according to CNN. This may come as a surprise, but brain damage is a big deal…
You may also be surprised to find a few of your favorite brands on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or PETA)’s naughty list, a list of companies that test their products on animals. No law requires them to do so. A truly compassionate consumer doesn’t let companies like these get away with testing potentially harmful products on animals. PETA’s nice list of cruelty-free companies includes all the brands you ought to look for while cruising the aisles for cosmetics, household-cleaning and personal care products. (Pharmaceuticals and garden chemicals are not included on either list because the law requires them to test on animals.) Look for the leaping bunny for products approved by Beauty without Bunnies.
Lastly, look out for the label with the little waving man. He’s flagging you down to let you know that the product in his box, beneath this seal, was cultivated or manufactured in the best interests of those who labored to produce it. This means workers receive fair wages and decent working conditions. When large corporations cut corners on production expenses, the workers they employ in developing countries are often hit the hardest. The wages they receive are not enough to live on, nowhere near. But the good news is a lot of companies are setting an example of social responsibility, sporting the Fairtrade emblem, and supporting people and communities in need, who work hard to produce the things we purchase.
So in the spirit of the New Year, and with the interest of everyone across the globe at heart, the earth and all the animals included, let us all resolve to be more conscious shoppers.