September 16, 2021
How To Shop Ethically
In this article, we explore the benefits of buying ethically and delve a little deeper into why buying ethically has grown in popularity. We’ll also provide some useful tips for how to shop ethically to become a conscious consumer and give insight into what to look for in a brand to know if it’s ethical.
What does buying ethically mean?
Buying ethically is when a consumer buys products from, and only engages with, companies that operate following proven ethical practices. These companies operate with an ethical way of thinking that will build the foundation of their company ethos, identity, day to day activities, manufacturing processes, and final end products.
Ethical companies operate within all industries, including the clothing industry, food and drink industry, agriculture, and utilities where possible, to name a few.
Buying ethically will often come with the reassurance that, through buying from them, you are reducing your environmental impact in some way. But with ethical companies facing an expansive list of steadfast competitors who may have a competitive advantage, for whatever reason, buying ethically can be hard. Additionally with so many companies out there with various approaches that can be masqueraded under the wider umbrella of being ‘ethical’, consumers may not know exactly how, or where to start.
‘Ethical’ covers a widespread amount of possibilities and processes, and it is hard to exactly define what ethical is, as it can mean different things to different people. It may mean buying only organic products, or may mean only buying products from companies that are operating to FairTrade standards. Other certifications to look out for include GOTS, and World Trade Organisation. Other ethical shopping practices include avoiding any companies that test on animals, or simply avoiding companies that don’t operate by ethical means in general.
We’ll touch on how to buy ethically below. But first…
Why should I shop ethically?
Spending ethically massively increased in the last 10 years - recently, The Guardian reported that the ethical consumer market has risen almost fourfold in the last 20 years. Personal spending, itself, has been on a steady increase since 2011, with 1.6 billion spent on ethical personal products in 2019.
So, what are the benefits of shopping ethically, exactly?
The Benefits of shopping ethically
It's good for the environment
A driving force to why companies are practising ethically is to reduce their impact on the environment. The climate crisis is hardly a novel problem, and tackling the climate crisis is most certainly a priority and widespread focus for the world as a whole at the moment. Ethical companies, wherever possible, will manufacture their products using processes that minimise their negative environmental impacts. Materials will be cultivated organically to minimise the use of toxins and pesticides on the farms where they are grown. Biodegradable or recyclable packaging may be used at whatever points necessary, and a reduction in water or energy usage could be the company focus. Ethical companies operate and strive to, wherever possible, conserve energy and natural resources, which is a good reason as any to support them. We are all collectively responsible for helping to protect the world we live in, whatever way possible, and by buying ethically, you are part of that movement for good.
Shopping ethically means the products you buy will meet certain standards set by trade organisations that operate around the world. Trade organisations are responsible for ensuring factors such as worker’s conditions, rights and wages are fair, and will also monitor and necessitate minimal working environment standards for the farms or factories that harvest or manufacture products. Ethical companies strive to give back and do good within the community where the products are manufactured, or may pledge to give back in other ways, such as donating to charity, or donating a percentage of products to a worthy local or global cause. When you buy ethically, you are supporting whatever pledge that company has made, and in turn, you are supporting whatever initiatives or local communities that company, in turn, are giving back to.
Absolutely Bear are proud to be a company that operates sustainably, with organically sourced materials used for all our clothing. As a member of 1% for the Planet, this year we are partnered with Trees for Cities, a UK based charity focused on giving back to communities that need it most, with an initiative to plant trees in urban areas where the social and environmental benefits have the greatest impact. Read about our Trees for Cities campaign, which sees 1% of our annual turnover given back to the community to fund environmental campaigns and projects within urban areas in the UK.
Good for animal welfare
One large positive of supporting ethical companies and buying ethically is the reassurance that you have avoided products that have been tested on animals. Unfortunately, animal testing is still widespread, and you may be surprised about the amount of companies that still actively test on animals when developing everyday products. Fortunately there are plenty of alternative companies to support that do not test on animals. Contributing to the cause of animal welfare should be a seemingly universal aim, and buying ethically directly supports this.
Good for your skin
Many products, be that facial beauty products, body care products, toiletries, or garments, often contain traces of harsh chemicals from the manufacturing process. Ethical products have been sourced via sustainable means, and often this means extracting those processes that incorporate potentially harmful elements or toxins into the product. Clothes will be softer, having been made from higher quality, organically sourced materials. Skin products will be kinder to the skin, and in general with a higher quality comes long-lasting durability. Many people may be surprised at the ingredients that go into some of their most- loved products! With ethical products, there’s a transparency that can be felt in the product itself; in the quality and softness of the clothing, and the quality and naturalness of the ingredients you’re using on your skin.
Ethical products are produced to meet certain standards, with stricter regulations in place and organically sourced ingredients or materials. This means that in the long run you are investing in a far better product. It may come at a higher price, but with that higher price, you are guaranteed a high quality, longer-lasting, durable product. Ethically made products are often made with more attention to detail and care. Mass production and cutting corners are processes used to make many commodities we use today. These may not last as long or be as durable as an ethical product, the manufacturing history of which can be traced far more easily. If the product you’re purchasing is food or drink, then organically- produced food and drink will often taste better. Taking care of the produce before it is sold to the consumer results in higher quality, tastier produce. Foods that are mass-produced by non-organic means will often add preservatives or preservatives or chemicals, all of which reduce the quality of the final product you eat or drink.
Usually better customer service
A positive and often a USP of ethical companies is that they show they care. Ethical companies will often wherever possible, shout about this too. Ethical companies are proud to operate sustainably and know they can appeal and connect to people by involving them in the wider story of their company ethos, who they are and what they stand for. Often, ethical companies operate at a far smaller level than larger, corporate companies that don’t operate to ethical standards. One way in which this can be very telling is the customer service you receive. Smaller, hands-on companies know every inch of their product inside out - because they have to. A bonus of buying from these companies is that they are far more likely to be invested in the entire story, which doesn’t stop with a purchase but feeds into the consumer experience. Ethical companies will often go above and beyond to ensure the recipient of a product is happy, and if not, will solve the problem. Simply put, they care more, and how can a company expect customers to believe in their ethos, if the company fails to execute an all-encompassing, holistic approach to consumer relations?
You feel good about it
It feels good to do good. Whenever you do a good deed, you always feel better for it. This seems a simple reason to buy ethically, but it is a good one. It means that whenever you purchase something from a sustainable company or pay a little more for a product that meets FairTrade standards, you’ll feel better for it. The conscious consumer is aware of the wider impact of their choices, and by choosing to buy ethical, you are directly supporting the farmers who make the products, or are avoiding supporting animal testing. Performing a good deed often leads to a rush of endorphins, released that are known as ‘helpers’ high. The act of giving rather than receiving has long been proven to make people feel better than receiving something for themselves. Ethical shopping often contributes in some way to a wider community or initiative, so in this example, can relate buying ethically to using your money to benefit others as well as, or rather than, yourselves. This process is known as prosocial spending; studies on the benefits of prosocial spending have shown that those who spend money on others felt more rewarded than those who didn’t.
This study highlighted how the impact of prosocial spending can increase the emotional rewards of giving. The link between pro- social spending and well-being can certainly be used to argue the case for ‘doing good’ to feel good.
Part of a wider story
Ethical products tell a story, from the farm where the ingredients or plants are grown, through to the factory, the supplier and the manufacturer. The ethical manufacturing process is built into the narrative of any ethically made product, meaning consumers who decide to purchase ethically will always feel part of something bigger. The reasons businesses go ethical is to demonstrate their commitment to lowering their environmental impact, and a large part of being ethical is a company’s ability to have complete transparency with consumers about how their products are sourced or made. This transparency is a key factor in proving a company’s commitment to sustainability, and also shows the human side of a company.
How to shop ethically
Buy from ethical clothing brands
This may seem an obvious one, but by finding ethical clothing brands you like you can easily shift to a sustainable way of thinking without much change to your lifestyle. Like Absolutely Bear, there are other eco-friendly clothing brands out there that you can support, to reduce your carbon footprint. Ethically made clothing isn’t too hard to find, as, fortunately, awareness and the need for transparency with environmentally friendly fashion is gaining momentum. Ethical clothing companies have grown in popularity because of this, and social media enables a wider platform for those ethical clothing brands that are keen to make a difference.
The best sustainable fashion brands will have ethical credentials, so do your
research before you buy! If a company produces its clothes ethically, they are likely to shout about it - after all, it’s a great USP. An ethical company tackles issues such as:
- Pollution and toxic materials
- Climate change
- Wildlife habitats
- Environmental reporting
What’s more, ethical companies also make animal welfare a top priority. If you’re looking for ethical brands, consider those that tackle issues such as animal testing, factory farming, and animal welfare.
For the clothes we wear every day, it pays to invest in good quality garments. Not only will they last longer, but they will be kinder to your skin, kinder to the environment, and will make you feel good!
Avoid brands that greenwash
You may not have heard of the term ‘greenwash’. Greenwashing refers to when companies make false claims about their products and how they have reduced their environmental impact. Greenwashing techniques include using fluffy language, making irrelevant claims, and often having no proof of these when you look further into these claims.
Top Tip: Read this handy guide What is Greenwashing?
Featured: Aspen White Organic Cotton T-shirt
Another way to shop ethically is to simply buy local! By supporting local businesses and shopping locally, not only are you reducing the impact your purchase has on the environment due to minimising costs associated with shipping, but you may also be making a massive difference to a shop in your local community. Local sellers may have vintage finds or good quality second-hand items, or even better yet, handmade clothing! By shopping local, you get the best of both worlds, as one purchase can make all the difference to an independently run shop.
30 years test
Another good way of making sure you’re making sustainable choices with your wardrobe? Do the 30 years test. Take a minute to consider how many times you’ll actually buy the item you’re wearing. Can you safely say you will wear it over 30 times? If so, you know it’s a good investment, as you will get proper wear out of the garment. For staples such as everyday wear, such as polo shirts or hoodies, it can be better in the long term to buy sustainably. This brings us on to our next point…
Sort out your wardrobe
First things first; sort out your stuff! Before you add any more items to your wardrobe, it’s a good idea to look at what you’ve already got, and consider what clothes you need. You may find that you have outgrown many of your clothes, or barely wear them. Either donate these to charity or if they’ve had too much wear and tear, recycle them.
Buy second hand
We all love to treat ourselves to new clothing. But, if you’re looking for a one-off item and are looking to save money too, one idea is to buy second hand. Nowadays there are plenty of popular apps such as Depop, Shpok, and good old eBay where you can find clothing in perfectly good condition that is looking for a good home. Just because something is second hand, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good quality. We all have those almost - new items of clothing we’ve never got round to wearing; keep an eye out and who knows what treasures you’ll be able to find!
It can be frustrating when you buy garments and then find they’re too big, don’t fit well, or don’t suit you. We are also all guilty of leaving it too long to return these items occasionally! One ethical solution is to get crafty with a sewing needle, or otherwise find a tailor who can rework the clothing into something that fits well and is comfortable to wear. This is a far better option than leaving it discarded in the back of your wardrobe!
Buy vintage clothing
You may be asking yourself, what does vintage mean? Well, vintage applies to any clothing from a previous era - typically from 20 years ago or more. Vintage clothing is often a notable different style because of this, and you can find some great quality vintage clothing nowadays, either in charity shops, specialist vintage shops or online. The concept of vintage clothing has been around since WWII, where there was a textile shortage and was brought in to encourage people to invest in older pieces. This mantra still exists today, and by buying vintage, you have in no way impacted the environment as the clothing is being reused and rejuvenated! Every decade will see a new style of clothing brought into this category, and some are inspired and try to invest in vintage clothing to last for years.
How to know if a brand is ethical
Research into the company
Doing a little research can give you a much clearer picture about the company you’re considering buying from. Are the company transparent, up to date, and in depth about their sustainability pledge? If not, why not?
Be wary of companies who claim to be sustainable, but may fail to bring their claims to fruition. Ethical companies will often offer a lot of specific, well organised and clear information on their website about their manufacturing process. What information can you find about their factories? Do they discuss their emissions or labour conditions? If they are a clothing company, do the materials used meet trading standards? An ethical company will consistently strive to improve and strengthen their standing as an ethical company, and will be regularly updating their website with relevant information. The more information, the better; if you sense a company is being vague or ambiguous about the specifics of how they are ethical, this is potentially cause for concern. They may in fact, be greenwashing - as mentioned earlier, and this kind of company is certainly one to avoid.
Look for resources on their website
One easy way of deciphering truly ethical companies is by visiting their About Us section on their website. Many sustainable companies will have an entire web page or service page dedicated to their commitment to sustainability, and will often provide evidence of how their products are made; this transparency demonstrates that consumers can trust them, and that they follow through on claims made about sustainable, ethical, cruelty-free or organically sourced products.
Check for certifications
Ethical companies will usually share information on their website about the certification standards they abide with and are a part of on their website.
- GOTS - Global Organic Textiles Standard
- Peta Vegan Approved
- Standard 100 OEKO-TEX
- Rainforest Alliance
- Organic - IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements)
Nylon - Nylon is a completely synthetic material, often found in swimwear, hosiery and activewear. Nylon is a type of plastic, and to create the stretchy material we wear, it is put through an intensive chemical process to make strong, stretchy fibres. Nylon creates a large amount of nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Large quantities of water are also used to cool the fibres, and the process of turning nylon into the stretchy synthetic material we find in our clothing consumes a lot of energy.
Polyester - Polyester is another non-biodegradable synthetic material. Polyester is derived from coal, air, water and petroleum. Polyester fibres are formed from a chemical reaction between an acid and alcohol; this reaction involves petroleum, air and water. These unnatural chemicals and little breathability make polyester an uncomfortable material to wear, as they are not designed for constant human contact - a large part of wearing clothes!
Acrylic - Acrylic fabric is another unsustainable fabric that offers little breathability, and is completely synthetic. It is made from a synthetic polymer called acrylonitrile. The process of making acrylic materials involves powerful chemical solvents, with steps including polymerisation, dissolving, extrusion, spinning, stretching, and weaving. Acrylic fibres are used to make clothing ,textiles, furniture and knitting material.
Buying clothing made from organic cotton is one of the best ways you can actively shop ethically. The growing conditions of organic cotton mean that the wider ecosystem and therefore worker conditions are free of harmful chemicals that speed up the growing process, meaning that it is a far more sustainable choice than regularly produced cotton.
You can learn more about organic cotton and how organic cotton is made here with our guide: What is Organic Cotton?
Merino wool is a natural fibre, and as very little is done in the production of this fibre, it is seen as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly material than others. It is biodegradable and works excellently as a thermoregulator. This is because it is naturally softer and lighter than other wool, making it easy and comfortable to wear close to the skin regardless of weather conditions. You can read more about Merino wool and where it is sourced in our guide: What is Merino Wool?
Hemp is a very versatile material, and has been used in various industries for a number of years. Not only is it grown all over the world, it also needs very little water, and needs no pesticides to grow unlike some crops. It also naturally fertilises the soil it grows in, making it a sustainable crop. The textile is made from the Cannabis Sativa plant, the male plant that has no psychoactive properties. The outer layer of the stalks is made from rope like fibres, which are strpped and can be processed into yearn. It is very strong as a material, it gets softer each time you wash it, and is one of the oldest fibres used for clothing in the world.
Use sustainability rating websites and apps
There are websites and apps dedicated to rating sustainable brands, that can help you find suitable brands for certain products. We’ve listed a few of them below:
Good on You - rates the sustainability of brands
Sustainability Brand Index - tailored brand reports and insights
Ethical Brand Network - platform to educate and connect conscious consumers
Cogo - connects you to sustainable businesses
Corporate Social Responsibility
What is corporate social responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is the term used to describe a company’s awareness of their role and responsibility to contribute and give back to society. It describes the ways in which a company is being actively accountable and aware of the impact they may be having; be that to the economy, the environment or society as a whole. Volunteering in the local community, making charitable donations and pledges, and participating in FairTrade are just some of the ways a company may choose to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility.
Attitudes towards ethical behaviour are changing. With younger generations being more aware and eco-conscious, the larger debate about how we can actively reduce our environmental impact has seen a significant shift in consumer behaviour and how we shop.
As we look towards the ways in which we can protect our environment, endangered species and habitats, it is up to every company to be actively aware and conscious of the decisions they make and the impact that has on the wider world.
PAWS FOR THOUGHT
We all feel better when we know we’ve made a conscious choice in reducing our carbon footprint, whether that’s with walking instead of driving or recycling daily to name a few. What’s to stop you from having that approach with the clothes you wear? People feel empowered when they have made a difference, and by buying ethical clothing, you become part of a bigger picture of a global movement putting the planet first!