essay

How ethical is your smart phone? Forced Labor and Exploitation in the Tech Industry

ethical smart phone forced labor and exploitation

I asserted a couple months back that the elephant in the room in the ethical clothing conversation is money. That may be true, but the even bigger elephant in the room in the ethical manufacturing conversation at large is technology. Hashtag campaigns like #fashrev, fair trade blogs, ethical boutiques - they all rely on sophisticated tech devices with access to the internet to promote themselves and build community. Let's face it: we need technology to make movements go global. It's an asset.

But every single device we rely on to spread the word about our ethical values was produced by exploited laborers, from raw materials sourcing to production. Let's explore a few categories where exploitation occurs:

FORCED LABOR IN RAW MATERIALS SOURCING

According to the International Labour Organization, approximately "21 million people are now victims of forced labor." Of that, 68% are caught in forced manufacturing/physical labor jobs not associated with sex trafficking.

Side note: Think about that statistic for a second. Last month, hundreds of women participated in Dressember to raise funds for anti-trafficking efforts focused primarily on women caught in sex slavery and yet 68% of the world's slaves and indentured servants are trapped in the raw goods and manufacturing supply chain, more than half of them men. I think it's easy for us to stand up against injustices from which we can disassociate ourselves. It's easy to see that those evil people over there sexually exploiting women and girls are evil, but it's harder to point the finger back at us. Are we willing to say that we're evil for willfully buying products that were produced by trafficked people?

Academics and anti-trafficking organizations use the term forced labor rather than slavery because the former term captures the range of ways in which people are trapped. Not everyone is stolen away in the night. Many workers leave their countries with work visas in hand on the promise of better work elsewhere. When they arrive on the work site, however, their papers are taken away, leaving them unable to move freely within the country or go home. In effect, they are trapped on the remote work site (source: Freedom Center Modern Slavery Exhibit).

Most forced labor in raw materials occurs in coal mining and pig iron production, industries heavily associated with the automobile industry. In fact, Ford dedicates a whole page to discussing their efforts to extricate themselves from markets known to rely on forced labor. Pig iron, a byproduct of coal and coke (a high-carbon fuel) is used to make steel, an essential ingredient in vehicle production, but not exclusive to it.

Traditional computer cases (or towers) are made out of steel. Laptops contain steel, too. Even your iPhone contains a nickel-steel composite and (on some models) a steel ring around the home button. Not to mention that the assembly machines required to put your phone together are made of steel, at least in part.

TL;DR - Materials sourced from industries known for trafficking helped make your phone.

HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN TECH FACTORIES


Chinese worker, 26, making Apple iPhones died after enduring 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, family claim (Daily Mail)

Tracing raw materials sourcing was the hard part. Finding human rights abuses in the tech industry is as easy as breathing. The family of Tian Fulei assert that their son died after working 84 hours per week at an Apple factory near Shanghai. Findings from a China Labor Watch investigation conducted at Pegatron, the factory where he worked, concluded that workers, on average, took 95 overtime hours per month, over double the legal recommendation.

In 2010, Foxconn, a factory that makes tech products for Apple, Sony, Dell, and others, attracted global media attention when it was discovered that there had been 15 attempted suicides among workers in that year alone. The attempted suicide rate now numbers over 20, with 17 resulting in death.

In Dongguan, workers at a poorly ventilated factory that produces cell phones were asked to clean each screen with something described as "banana oil," a compound now known to contain n-hexane, an industrial solvent that causes neurological damage. They discovered this when several of the young workers became paralyzed, unable to lift themselves out of bed.

In 2014, a China Labor Watch investigation found children under 16 making cell phone covers for Samsung at one of their Chinese factories. Children are paid less and subject to the same conditions as adults, and many of them were working 12 hour night shifts 6 to 7 days a week.

It's easy to say this is China's problem, that if China cared for its people they would implement more rigorous factory reforms. But Kate Cacciatore, former corporate responsibility director at STMicroelectronics gets to the heart of the problem:

A huge issue is how companies walk the line between trying to get the best financial performance and also achieving high safety standards. There is a constant pressure on companies to cut costs, and that pressure works itself down the supply chain.

The companies we support - like Apple and Dell - demand lower costs from the factories they contract with to pad their own profit margins. Factory managers competing for big contracts cut costs in the only places they can: labor and safety upgrades. We aren't the only ones to blame, but we can't put this all on China.

TL;DR - Tech factory workers endure long hours and unsafe conditions to make your phone.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT

Take heart. You can do something about all of this...


1. Boycott tech companies and let them know why you're doing it. 
  • Tell them that you demand better conditions for workers.
2. Buy refurbished or used technology. 
  • Use sites like Newegg and B&H Photo to purchase high quality, used or refurbished goods the next time you're in the market for an upgrade.
3. Buy a Fairphone.
  • An ethically produced smartphone exists! It runs on Android technology, comes in 4 colors, and can be yours for around $575.00 (that's only $125.00 over a new iPhone).
  • This phone is not yet available outside of Europe, but they're working on it! Sign up here to let them know you're interested!

What steps are you taking to ensure that your technology was ethically sourced?

RESOURCES & ADDITIONAL READING


Photo Credit: Creative Commons license by Johan Larrsen on flickr. Text and overlay added by me.

Year in Review + Ethical Resolutions

The time has come to say goodbye to this glorious, tumultuous year. 2015 was a weird one.

year in review

THIS YEAR...


I feel like I came into my own as a writer. I took risks, got rejected, and published a few articles and posts that I'm really proud of (see one, two, and three). I worked with some cool companies, met some cool people, and befriended lots of ethical bloggers who have helped me refine my voice and find the confidence to press on.

Working in an increasingly crowded space means there's always someone else doing it better. There's always a prettier face, a more approachable writer, a bigger success story. But I'm learning that that's ok, because there's only one me and I've got to believe that I have something to offer or there's no point at all.

I had intended to start writing a book this year, but I realized early on that I need more time to define myself as a writer, blogger, and conscious consumer. That's ok. Things will work out in time. I'm also considering more formal study, but we'll see what 2016 brings.

This year, I feel like a real, capable adult for the first time, well, ever. And I understand that my words and actions have weight, not only in this space, but in everyday life. I'm learning the exhausting work of practicing kindess and fostering empathy for everyone - acknowledging my privilege, stepping out of conversations I have no business being involved in, and listening, even when I don't like what I'm hearing.

This year I've been angrier, more humbled, more sure, and more emotionally exhausted than ever before and I hope that the ride has taught me something. It's hard to keep the faith in a world of near insurmountable tragedy, violence, and catastrophe. Things aren't ok and it's easy to toss up your hands and say, "What's the point of trying?" every time another person dies in a mass shooting, or a refugee is denied entry, or another human rights abuse is brought to light. But we press on, because there's nothing else we can do.


new year's resolutions

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, HERE ARE MY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS:


1. Get a plan.


Figure out what I want to do in the long term and take intentional steps to get there. Ever since I graduated, I've been flailing around waiting to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I feel like I'm getting close to knowing, and it's time to just go for it.

2. Reduce my plastic and materials consumption.


I took a few steps to reduce my daily waste this year, but it's time to go all the way: bring my reusable bags to the grocery store, purchase reusable food storage bags, use what I have until it's gone, consider shampoo and soap bars over liquids that require plastic containers. I'm excited about this, because I know from switching to cloth pads and cotton rounds that it's really not hard!

3. Read more books.


I've got a big ol' stack of books waiting to be opened. All I need to do is make time to read them. From capitalism to theology, global manufacturing to quiet novels, I know that I need the knowledge and enrichment good books bring.

4. Write more articles on ethical living and theology.


I want to continue to pitch large publications and write better long form pieces for the blog, too. I have a list of post ideas and I just need to get started on them. If you have a question or a topic idea, let me know.

5. Integrate my values into everything I do.


I want to get better at reconciling my consumer ethics to my everyday behavior, and vice versa. It's all too easy to put things in boxes and fail to recognize the internal inconsistencies in my ethical outlook. I want to think harder about how my faith practices, political and social views, and moral perspectives play into one another.

6. Pare down.


It's time to get a grip on my "collecting" habit. I don't need to buy everything I like at the thrift shop. I don't need to keep my 11th grade notes. A few blank spaces on the wall never killed anyone. I have a tendency to buy and keep things just for the heck of it and I think it's time to say goodbye to a few things (responsibly, of course - I'll donate to local thrifts or sell on ebay).

7. Exercise like a responsible person.


I've spent all of my adult life justifying my near total lack of exercise. To be fair, I do work in retail, so I get more exercise than your average office worker just by going to work, but I'm starting to feel my age and I would like to start jogging, or at least power walking, 2-3 times a week.

8. Celebrate humanity.


Look for the good, in myself and others. Seek reconciliation. Always give others the benefit of the doubt. See my failures as normal, expected parts of being human. Know that being human is good enough (you know, but try to be a good human).

---------

I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on this year and the next one. What did you learn about yourself this year? What are you looking forward to?

---------

Check out my fellow Ethical Writers Co. members' Resolutions posts:


Ethical Leather Guide, by Kasi Martin

This post was written by Kasi Martin and was originally published on The Peahen blog. 

ethical leather guide

"Ethical leather" is an oxymoron to some, but I believe there are ways to source leather from reputable sources that do less harm to animals and the environment, though I tend to agree with Kasi that secondhand and vegan options are often the better way to go. Eating meat and using leather are issues I haven't quite come to terms with from a moral perspective. I currently do eat meat, though I limit it to once a week, and I own a variety of fair trade bags and shoes that source leather as a byproduct of small scale meat industries. I truly believe that a perfect world is a vegetarian one, but I haven't made a firm decision on whether that means, on a practical level, that we should all be vegetarians. Kasi breaks down our leather options in the well researched post below. 

---------

Choosing leather ethically can be tricky. I’ve deciphered some of the popular options and brands to help you cut through the marketing and get to the truth.

I learned these lessons first-hand when my mom asked for my birthday wish-list, and kindly obliged to my request for an ethical, faux leather handbag.

After some research, I settled on a bag from Matt & Nat. It’s supple, neutral and ladylike – it doesn’t get more classic than that. The company has been delivering designs under the umbrella of ‘vegan leather’ since 1995. Matt & Nat’s brand relies on recycled nylons, cardboard, rubber and cork. Their commitment is impressive in an era where chemical additives and man-made materials reign.

However, it turns out that Matt & Nat’s standard is the exception to the rule. Most vegan leather brands rely on cheap Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a synthetic material that’s carbon-intensive, doesn’t biodegrade and leaches toxins when disposed in landfills. After 20 years of Matt & Nat delivering beautiful vegan leather goods at accessible price points, I thought other brands would have adopted their model. I was wrong.

Most vegan leather brands rely on cheap Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a synthetic material that’s carbon-intensive, doesn’t biodegrade and leaches toxins when disposed in landfills.


All this time, if you’ve been buying vegan or fake leather as a conscious decision for the environment and animals, you’ve been lead astray. This misinformation leaves us in a bind. How do we, as conscious consumers, decipher what’s ethical and what’s BS when it comes to leather?

As with all consumer decisions, we don’t make purchases in a vacuum. There are some seriously complex forces at work in the leather industry – from the supply chain, to environmental principles to labeling and false marketing. If you’re detail oriented, see references number one and two below.

You might want to crawl under a rock at this point, but stay with me. There are two important things you can do to keep your ethics in line when buying leather: learn the lingo and adopt some new laws.

Deciphering the Leather Label

First off, mastering leather lingo is the best way to make informed decisions. Most people choose their stance on leather the same way they choose their lunch. There is a strong correlation between hamburger habits and leather boots and, conversely, soy-dense diets and faux handbags. I wish the issue were as simple as real vs. fake but the nuances of the label are critical.

Here’s what you should pay attention to:

Real Leather

Surplus leather (sometimes labeled ‘dead-stock‘) can be thought of as, simply, scrap leather. It’s the leftover leather from agricultural or manufacturing production. Buying surplus is technically still reinforcing animal agriculture; however, it’s a step forward to eliminate production waste.

Vintage leather is your best option if you want the longevity and look of real leather. Be aware: if you’re an animal rights advocate, you’ll be a walking, talking contradiction of yourself. Still, vintage leather is considered an ethical option because no new demand is created for animal skin, or other polluting materials.

Handcrafted/artisanal leather honors traditional – oftentimes slower – production and supports local craftsmen. Buying direct from artisans allows you to get closer to the supply chain and be better informed about ethical practices.

Local leather is the equivalent of local produce, with the same benefits. Buying leather from locally raised cattle removes the carbon impact associated with transport. Unless you live in an agricultural area, this type of leather will be hard to find.

Vegetable tanned leather is a natural alternative to industrial, chromium-tanned leather that leaches toxins into the water supply. It goes easy on mama earth.

Calfskin leather is leather produced from young calves touted for its supple feel and fine grain. This is the veal of the leather industry. I can’t write avoid it enough times.

Alternative leather is made from animal skin by-products that are cast aside as leftovers during food production. You may see the skins from eel, fish (typically salmon), sheep, ostrich and – even chickens (poulard) – on the label. Be skeptical of this type of leather unless it follows the surplus model.

...vintage leather is considered an ethical option because no new demand is created for animal skin, or other polluting materials.


Faux Leather

Microfiber vegan leather can be identified by PU or PVC on the label. Try to avoid these under all circumstances. If you must, the lesser evil options are made from recycled nylons or degradable polyurethane (PU). Take Kamea’s word for it, PU and PVC are among the most polluting materials on the planet.

Natural vegan leather is hands-down the best option available. Look for cork, glazed organic cotton, paper, cardboard and barkcloth as the primary materials. Pleather is the retro name for vegan leather. Those outside the fashion set will refer to it this way.

The New Laws of Leather

Now that you can cut through the BS on a leather label, there are a few general guidelines you can follow to make ethical decisions in an industry that’s out to mislead you.

Some naysayers downplay fashion as frivolous or unimportant. They are wrong. Fashion can be presented as art, but when it’s boiled down to basics – it’s a common need of every human. Right now, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil, and animal agriculture’s role in this is becoming increasingly important. Livestock make up 51% of all greenhouse gas emission (see Cowspiracy). All this said, there is massive potential for change-making in the industry if consumers demand ethical products, especially leather goods.

Fashion can be presented as art, but when it’s boiled down to basics – it’s a common need of every human.


Adhering to these new laws will keep you honest:

  • Always opt for vegan.
    •  Make the animal a non-issue.
    • Be sure to look for natural materials, with a preference on cork. Vintage, real leather is a better option than PVC or PU faux leather.
  • Watch out for greenwashing.
    • This is the sneaky way marketers tap into the eco trend by propping up their products as sustainable or animal friendly when they are not. Faux leather brands are prime offenders.
    • Be leery of “Made In” tags. This label guarantees only that a product was assembled in a designated location, not that it originated there. This can be a form of greenwashing because it sweeps the shipping and related carbon emissions involved in the supply chain under an eco-friendly label. 
  • Consider longevity.
    • If you’re going to wear the heck out of your purchase then vintage leather is a durable option. As long as you’re not morally opposed, choose real leather for these types of purchases. But, if you’re buying a trend piece, vegan leather makes more sense.
    • Vegan brands like Matt & Nat are rated surprisingly high for durability. Make your selections on a case-by-case basis.
  • Don’t buy it if you don’t need it.


Be leery of “Made In” tags. This label guarantees only that a product was assembled in a designated location, not that it originated there.


When it comes down to buying any kind of leather the details are wishy-washy. Consumers are stuck in the middle of the vintage vs faux war, forced to decide which is more important – earth or animals. The decision isn’t simple, but when it comes to ethics you can never go wrong with too much information.

...when it comes to ethics you can never go wrong with too much information.


Here are the leather brands doing it right: 

Do you know any I haven’t covered?

---------

About the Author: Kasi Martin is dedicated to making ethical standards in fashion mainstream. She is the creator of The Peahen, where she writes about brands, designers, issues and trends at the intersection of style and standards. Visit The Peahen blog here. 

References: World WatchEthical Fashion Forum (gated), Eluxe MagazineRefinery 29
Image Credit: Creative Commons via Robert Sheie on flickr; text and color editing added by me.

article on Christianity Today: Buy the Product, Not the Sob Story

christianity today social enterprise article

---------

I'm excited to announce that I wrote an article on the social enterprise model and Thistle Farms - a social enterprise serving trafficked, addicted, and abused women in Nashville, Tennessee - for Christianity Today online. It's the front page feature today, which is more than I could have hoped for.

This piece was several weeks in the making and I'm glad I had the chance to rein in my thoughts with an editor. I'm pleased with the result.

Read Buy the Product, Not the Sob Story here.


---------

Then come back here and comment. I'd love to know what you think. 

I also wrote an essay on my faith journey for Elephant Journal. Read it here.

sustainable living: making the switch to cloth pads

cloth menstrual pads

A couple of months ago, I finally made the switch to cloth pads. After the Kotex pad I had used for years was discontinued — it was part of the line that gave TSS to former model Lauren Wasser — I decided I needed to make a change.

I've spent the last three years blogging about conscious consumerism, so it was about time I extended my ethics to everyday goods like pads. From both a financial and environmental perspective, it was the right choice for me, and I wish I'd made it sooner...

---------


Read the rest at Mind Body Green

find me at Seasons & Salt today!

true cost movie consumerism
Film Still from The True Cost movie; text and effect added by me

When Andrea (of this helpful capsule wardrobe post) asked me if I could write on "the importance of considering where your clothes come from," I was convinced I'd have a hard time with it. After all, I write on this topic a few times a week for Style Wise. But I'm thankful for the challenge, because it forced me to expand my focus from the day-to-day issues and crystallize a lot of my thoughts about behemoth topics like labor, consumerism, and capitalism. 

You can read my post, Knowing Who Made Your Clothes Matters, on the Seasons & Salt blog today. Thanks for having me, Andrea.

EWC Second Hand Challenge: don't chuck your junk in my backyard

Ethical Writers Coalition Second Hand Challenge

The Ethical Writers Co. of which I am a part has decided to host a Second Hand Challenge for the month of September. That means something different to each of us, but we're all hoping to bring to light the beauty of buying second hand. I've gone on and on about the benefits of secondhand shopping already, even writing an article about it for Relevant Magazine, but I'm still learning to Shop Secondhand First for everything instead of impulse buying on Amazon.

Since I manage a thrift shop, my perspective on the secondhand industry is perhaps more obsessively parsed out than most. While I think that the used goods market is a vital middle man between retail stores and the landfill, it is by no means a perfect system. For one, a lot of donors assume that everything they give to thrift shops and other charities will find a happy home and go on to live a full life, but that's just not the case. At my shop - and I think we're rather generous about what we keep - we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day. We send most of that off to another charity in the hopes that they'll find some use for it, but we're fooling ourselves if we don't admit that half of that pile will end up being thrown out.

"...we often get rid of nearly 50% of what comes in on any given day."


This is the biggest pitfall of the secondhand market: it operates (for many) as a guilt release valve for over-consumption. People don't feel bad about buying new stuff because they know they can hand over all their old stuff to charity. They don't have to deal with the burden of tossing it in the trash.

This point assumes, of course, that people tend to feel guilty about throwing things away, but that's not true for everyone. Some people give to thrift shops simply because it makes them feel like they've done their good deed for the week. One donor even told me that she considers donating her stuff to thrift shops her primary act of goodwill, as if handing over unwanted items to us is a heavy burden for her. While I'm sure every charity shop is immensely grateful that people donate, it shouldn't replace real activism. The donor-receiver relationship is mutually beneficial; it's an exchange, not a great moral deed.


"If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them."


Another downside of the secondhand market's existence is that it allows people to be flippant about their possessions and the human and environmental costs of production. If we acknowledged the people behind the products we purchased, I think it'd be much harder to part with them. I've made it a habit to pray for the makers of the things I buy, use, and wear whether they were fairly sourced or not, not so much because I think my prayer will change the lives of those I pray for, but because I think the habitual act of prayer will change my heart for the better - it will orient my thinking toward justice and intentionality.

Despite its shortcomings (but let's be honest, they're really our shortcomings), shopping secondhand is still a very good thing, because it gives perfectly usable things another chance to live our their intended lives instead of being thrown out or otherwise abandoned. And everyone can benefit from the secondhand market: people with lower incomes have access to nice things, shopaholics can curb their spending, landfills don't fill up so quickly, local charities receive financial support, and the people who made the goods in the first place are remembered and respected through the long term use of their products. But, as with everything in this life, we must act responsibly.

rules for shopping with intention

Shopping secondhand is a budget friendly way to shop more sustainably and I'm determined to get in the habit of buying more than just clothes on the secondhand market. Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift. Plus, there are a ton of other ways to get exactly what you're looking for on the secondhand market thanks to marketplaces like ebay and thredup; or you could host a swap with your friends or in your community and find things you love for free (plus, passing things on to the specific people you know will value them is often a better option than donating willy-nilly to a thrift shop). I figure that if I can buy something that's on a slippery slope to the landfill instead of buying new, that's a small win for sustainability.

"Vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, printers, paper, CDs, gift wrapping - there are lots of surprising things to be found at your local thrift."


So follow along with me and the EWC this month as we take on the #ethicalwritersco Second Hand Challenge. If you use our hashtag on social media, we'll be able to see what you're up to and get some inspiration! You may be a novice to shopping secondhand or a seasoned pro, but we want to know how you're taking advantage of charity shops and online consignment sites to create a more sustainable, less wasteful life.

Additional Reading:


From the EWC:



from the draft pile: Millennial Evangelicals & the Fair Trade Movement


Sometimes I write articles that don't end up getting accepted for publication. I wrote this one in April at the request of a newspaper editor. It's not my usual tone for the blog, but I thought it needed to see the light of day. 

---------

For fair trade activists, this is the busy season. On April 24, people and organizations across the globe asked retailers, “Who made my clothes?” wearing their garments inside out to expose the tags and sharing their photos on social media. It was the second annual Fashion Revolution Day, a call-to-action event founded by Carry Somers, owner of British fair trade brand, Pachacuti, in reponse to 2013’s Rana Plaza garment factory collapse that killed 1,133 people and injured hundreds more. In its first year, #fashrev represented the number one global trend on twitter and, thanks to the efforts of a growing fair trade community, this year brought meaningful engagement across social media platforms.

Now, we’re just a week away from World Fair Trade Day on May 9, and the fair trade community and the wider umbrella of conscientious consumers are at it again, finding new incentives and new angles to promote the fair trade cause. Though the movement is not an expressly Christian one, it should come as no surprise that Evangelicals, and particularly those of the millennial generation, are taking up the banner.

I should know, because I was one. I grew up in a conservative Evangelical household, where Biblical Literalism was the default and the Sinner’s Prayer was the key to being saved. By college, however, I’d become disenchanted with a culture that felt too insular, too judgmental, and too materialistic to really follow Jesus’ call of radical humility. It wasn’t until I bought my first pair of TOMS shoes, however, that I began to question who made my clothes. I didn’t realize it then, but I had joined the fair trade movement. During the inevitable spiritual identity crisis that came with questioning the worldview I was born into, I held onto the basic principle that Jesus modeled humanity and community for me, and that my calling – rooted in me so deeply that it would remain a part of my identity no matter what I concluded at the end of my spiritual questioning – was to work for justice and peace in the lives of others.

Evangelicals are uniquely equipped to join social movements because they hold activism, or faith in action, as a key component of their religious experience, and they’re often quite successful in the movements they undertake. As demonstrated by the rise of the religious right in the 1980s and more recent anti-abortion protest movements, Evangelicals’ tightly bound church communities and emphasis on seeking ultimate Truth, for better or for worse, are a powerful rallying tool. They also prioritize personal relationship with Jesus, which manifests itself in a desire to study and experience God’s Word for themselves. This predisposition to self-examination informs the discussion within the fair trade movement even when a Christian perspective is not explicitly stated.

Evangelicals of the millennial generation employ the tools of their heritage to propel the fair trade movement forward.  Young evangelicals may be critical of the materialism and political narrow-mindedness of older generations, but they haven’t lost the Holy Spirit fire. They’re motivated to find solutions to injustice and poverty in a globalizing world. And, though their explicitly religious rhetoric represents a relatively small portion of the fair trade conversation, they’re a vocal bunch.

I spoke with a number of fair trade bloggers and organizations rooted in the Evangelical tradition and their answers to the question, How does your Christian worldview motivate you to pursue a fair trade lifestyle?” display a nuanced, thoughtful approach to global justice. Let’s Be Fair blogger, Dominique, states, “If I say I value justice and love, I need to strive to live out those values in all things. So serving children in Africa is an act of love but it is not greater than serving my neighbor.” 

Jen Lewis, owner of fair trade shop, Purse& Clutch, describes her journey this way: “For me, the first step is educating myself. The more I learn about who makes my clothes, the more I begin to see the effects of my actions and purchasing decisions, and I can more clearly see the opportunity to show love in a very behind the scenes, thankless way. And isn’t that typically the best way to show love to others?”  

John Barry, co-founder of charity, Jesus’ Economy, a fair trade shop and development project, sees his involvement in fair trade as a direct result of globalization, saying: "The world is now interconnected. Each of us is dependent on our global neighbors, including the goods they supply. But much of the products on offer in the U.S. are made using practices that oppress other people, keeping them impoverished instead of lifting them up. Fair trade provides the alternative needed.”

A popular paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Mark 12:30-31 is “Love God. Love neighbor” and millennial Evangelicals are determined to live that out, expanding the term neighbor to mean anyone we have the power and resources to help. In a globalizing world, that increasingly means everyone. There’s still a long way to go, of course, and fair trade activists, Christian or not, must continually examine their intentions and systems to ensure that our attempts to help are effective and empowering. The fair trade movement, like any other cause, benefits from critique, but the energy and sincerity of Evangelicals will do much to propel justice forward.

---------

I recognize that a lot more could be said on this topic and that millennials, Evangelicals, and millennial Evangelicals are vast, diverse groups. I would love your comments and thoughts on this topic. Are there other reasons that millennial Evangelicals may be interested in conscientious consumerism? Do you think they're doing a good job?

Small Wins: Why We Shouldn't Stop Trying to Shop Ethically

Why We Should Be Ethical Shoppers
This is a response to Michael Hobbes' article, The Myth of the Ethical Shopper, published July 15, 2015.

Michael Hobbes wrote an article for Huffington Post Highline a few weeks ago that shook the conscious consumer community. In The Myth of the Ethical Shopper, Hobbes outlines the myriad ways buying our way to a better world has failed us. It's well researched, and it's true. Imposing regulations on foreign companies without real oversight or local social change has little long term effect on the well being of factory workers.

If you've been following the movement for awhile, you've probably heard an outline of his argument before, but I encourage you to read it - it's an impressive amount of research. The primary point of the piece is this:

Listening to consumer advocacy campaigns, you’d think our only influence on the developing world was at the cash register. But our real leverage is with our policies, not our purchases...We are not going to shop ourselves into a better world.

In his followup, published last week on the Huffington Post blog, Hobbes responds to commenters who maintain that they are ethical shoppers - by virtue of buying American made or locally sourced items - regardless of what Hobbes has to say about it:

Let me be super clear about this, in words I might have minced in the piece itself: that is impossible. And pretending it's not is exactly what keeps sweatshops from being solved.

Responding to Hobbes is no easy feat, because he's absolutely right. We're spending too much time making shopping lists and not enough time doing the boring, excruciating work of lobbying for better systems. But it's not enough to write a convincing argument that we all suck at being good people. In fact, that's maybe the worst thing we can do. 

In 1984, psychologist Karl E. Weick published a study entitled Small Wins, which explains why large scale social problems are rarely resolved by simply proliferating social sciences research on relevant topics. The reason we fail to remedy social problems, he discovered, has everything to do with how problems are defined in the first place. He found that:

The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded and arousal is raised to dysfunctionally high levels. People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.

Basically, if you're inundated with information about how terrible everything is, your brain is wired to shut down. This may be the reason The True Cost movie hasn't been as well reviewed as one would hope. There are simply too many reasons to give up hope. There are too many problems.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is low arousal, which can occur if you think too much about an issue until it becomes "depersonalized."

Whether one is too aroused or not aroused enough, Weick concludes that the solution is to break down large problems into small, manageable steps. The "small wins" system works, because:

Small wins often originate as solutions that single out and define as problems those specific, limited conditions for which they can serve as the complete remedy...Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win."

Breaking up a big problem into bite-sized pieces makes it possible to digest the whole thing over time. As we solve one thing, we get the confidence to keep moving forward.

All this to say that Hobbes' failure is not in his research but in his approach. It's one thing for an "insider" like myself to read an article like this, process it, and reorient myself toward a better way of doing ethics. It's another thing entirely to release it into the hands of the general public. If you're teeter-tottering on the edge of making more conscientious choices, even a little poke in the center of your chest can send you backward. The global manufacturing industry is corrupt - it's a Big Social Problem - but it cannot be remedied by just hollering about how big and terrible the problem is. You can't very well gain followers by telling everyone they'll never measure up.

Hobbes probably knows this, but his failure to mention it and his unwillingness to see the negative repercussions of his rhetorical strategy warrants a kind-hearted calling out. It may be true that we will never change the world through shopping, but it's just as true that we will never resolve serious social issues until we can learn how to break them down into smaller problems with concrete solutions.

In his followup blog post, Hobbes briefly mentions his "fair-tradey friends" who respond to his critiques with "it's better than nothing." He scoffs at this, saying that if we're going to do something, we should make it something that really counts, like donating money to pro-union NGOs. He pretends for the sake of argument that buying fair trade and donating to NGOs are mutually exclusive ways of being. But the reality is that there are lots of ways we can do better, and be better. And if I stop buying stuff from Ten Thousand Villages so I can really fix the world by donating money to an organization, I might not be in a better place than where I started. Things are more complicated than that.

Voltaire is credited with popularizing the saying: 
The perfect is the enemy of the good.


It's certainly true for the conscientious consumer movement that waiting for the best keeps us from working toward the good. It's easy to fixate on the huge, giant, impossible problems in the world and decide that they're un-fixable. And, you know, maybe they are. But we have a responsibility to do something and it could very well start with buying something from a fair trade shop instead of the local Wal*Mart. We need some nice gateway drugs into the movement. We need some smooth, solid stones marking the pathway to justice.

So, keep finding ways to shop, and live, ethically; you'll get better over time. Let your ethics trickle through every aspect of your life. Don't stop until the work is done. It isn't easy, but know that each step forward is a small win.

What else can we do about all this?

Brands and Bloggers: Stop pretending that buying stuff will fix anything. As the fair trade movement becomes trendy, we have to make sure that we're being honest about the type of impact a purchase will have, and the limits of the fair trade model.

Conscious Consumers: Try to detach your identity from the Capitalist system and see what you can see. You can't curate your way to joy and wholeness.

Skeptics: Consider that your choices have a domino effect and that, whether or not you have the tools to change the world, you can change something. What else do you have to live for?

And let's all consider donating to NGOs and organizations that empower people to lobby for themselves and improve their communities. Check out The Note Passer's Resources page for links to international labor organizations.

it's time to reduce our plastic consumption


Base photo: Plastic Pellets - "Nurdles" by gentlemanrook on flickr; used under Creative Commons license

This post was written by Hannah Baror-Padilla and originally appeared on Gold Polka Dots, an eco-conscious blog that focuses on ethical alternatives for fashion, beauty and food.
---------
Plastic has taken over every aspect of our lives and is affecting our health, animals and the environment. Over the last 10 years, we have produced more plastic than we had in the last century. Half of the plastic we use is only used once and thrown away. Throwing plastic away means it is either buried in landfills, remade into other products or lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea because it takes 500-1,000 years to degrade. When plastic “degrades” it breaks down into smaller fragments, but never goes away because plastic was made to be indestructible. And yes, this indestructible plastic is made with chemicals that we as well as animals ingest.
BPA, or Bisphenol, was originally created as a human birth control chemical in the early 1900’s, but banned because of its risks of causing cancer in women. However, in the 1950’s, scientists realized that BPA can be used to harden plastic to make it that much more durable. To this day, BPA is still used in baby bottles, water bottles, food packaging, cans and receipts. 93% of adults are contaminated with BPA. There have been studies on animals that show BPA affects hormone levels, causes brain and behavior problems, cancer, heart problems and other conditions like obesity, diabetes, ADHD. There is an increased risk in children because their bodies have a decreased ability to clear BPA from their systems.
In 2010, scientists revealed that the general population may suffer adverse health effects from current BPA levels. In 2012, the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, but the Environmental Working Group called the ban “”purely cosmetic” and said the FDA would have to ban BPA from all food packaging. The FDA continues to support the safety of BPA in food packaging...
---------

Read the rest and find additional resources on this topic at Gold Polka Dots.

behind the scenes: Liz Alig Fair Trade

liz alig's studio

This post was written by Julia of Fair-For-All Guide. The original post is available on her blog, here. Thanks for letting me share it, Julia!

---------

In an old farmhouse at an orchard east of Indianapolis is a hidden fashion design studio you’d never know was there. It’s the headquarters of Liz Alig, and a couple of weeks ago founder Elizabeth Roney invited me to visit the studio.

I had never been behind the scenes of any kind of fashion business, let alone a fair trade fashion company, so I came with tons of questions and left with a head full of knowledge (along with a bunch of food I bought at the adjacent country store).

Here are the biggest things I learned:

1. A small team can have a big impact. 


The first thing I was impressed to learn was that Liz Alig is only a two-person operation. Elizabeth, as designer and operations manager, designs the collections and handles the logistics of communicating with the fair trade producers. Liz Alig is focused on wholesale distribution through boutiques around the country, so Elizabeth has a part-time sales and marketing associate help with that end of things.

It was encouraging to see a small team make such a big impact. Through the work of just two people, Liz Alig provides opportunity to fair trade producers in several developing countries and offers conscious consumers an ethical and fashion-forward clothing option.

2. Design is a small part of the process. 


Elizabeth told me that the design part of being a fashion designer actually only takes up a fraction of her time. Liz Alig releases two collections a year, fall and spring, and each collection takes about two weeks to design. It takes another two weeks to create the patterns the producers will use to make the orders.

After creating the patterns, Elizabeth will make a sample of each piece and send it to the producer group, or more often, she will send the group the pattern and have them make the sample themselves with a sketch to guide them. “That way they understand more how the piece is assembled,” Elizabeth says.

The rest of Elizabeth’s time is spent working with the producer groups to make and receive the orders, which I learned has its own set of unique challenges.

3. Cultural miscommunication is a common occurrence. 


Liz Alig works with producer groups in Cambodia, India, Honduras, Haiti and more, and each group has different capabilities and resources. I asked about the language barrier, and Elizabeth said she frequently uses Google Translate to communicate with the different groups...

---------

To read the rest, check out the original post at Fair-For-All Guide here

on seeing people


This post is a follow up to my previous post, You Don't Have to Feel It

---------

I tell the college-aged women at my church that service industry work builds character, and I truly believe that. You're being paid to interact with whoever comes in the door; to answer even dumb questions with kindness; and to treat rich and poor, annoying and pleasant with impartiality and grace. Now, I haven't always seen this principle of equality practiced that effectively among my coworkers and I admit to being less-than-welcoming on a few occasions, but I believe in the ideal, and that normally keeps me from snapping. 

Life has changed a lot since I got my first retail job and it's changed even more since August, when I started managing a church-run charity shop. Suddenly, most of my coworkers were 60+  and my customer base became a lot more diverse. While it wasn't always easy to please the affluent, international clientele at the coffee shop on the Downtown Mall (an outdoor pedestrian street full of local shops and street musicians), it was predictable enough to fall into a rhythm. Wealthy, left-leaning business people seemed more alike than different, so I could easily go on auto pilot and I didn't have to hold my tongue - they appreciated the spectacle of their minimum wage barista chatting about politics and theology while the espresso grinder whirred in the background. 

But the thrift shop is different. The thrift shop doesn't discriminate. Due to its place in the retail hierarchy, it can't help but welcome all. We're here for the poor and the bored, the frazzled mom, the wealthy house wife, the college hipster. Anyone and everyone comes through that door. We've made coffee for a homeless couple who got caught in an autumn rain storm, outfitted a dog in a child's vest to keep it from getting cold, opened the staff lunch table to a new age hippie who lives on the outskirts of town, given free clothes to new mothers, bartered for tech services with a man with life-threatening allergies, and enlightened a donor about the global human trafficking industry. We've cried, prayed, and laughed. We've played with children and helped old ladies out to their cars. 

It sounds like utopia - and it is, in a way - but it isn't easy to keep being open to whatever the day holds. It's easier to sit in the back and chat with coworkers. It's easier to sit in my office in the dark, checking emails aimlessly or texting my husband. It's easier not to deal with the uncertainty of each new interaction. And things between me and the volunteer staff have gotten heated on more than one occasion. We gossip too much; we forget we come from different worlds.

I can no longer make assumptions about who people are, or how they'll react. With every interaction, it is made more clear that I'm dealing with individuals, not stereotypes. I have to see the person in front of me - really see them - and I have to make a little room in my heart for vulnerability and loosen the death grip I have around my perspective. This is community; it's not about me. 

This is what I'm getting at: mutual understanding doesn't come naturally. To see people, you have to be willing to get to know them. You have to ask them what they need instead of assuming you have the answers. You have to see past the small talk and really look them square in the face and try to memorize it for next time. You have to learn to do this every single time. And it's never easy. 

If we want to build a world full of compassionate people, if we want to change lives both here and across the globe, we have to start with the people right in front of us. We have to start having intentional interactions, every time. Charity becomes problematic when, instead of seeing the person on the other side, we only see ourselves reflected back. 

---------

Artwork: Communion by Ruth Meharg. Used with permission.

hey!

spring flowers

Hello and Happy Easter!

Life has been incredibly busy due to a combination of saying yes to too many things and being in my church choir in the midst of Easter service preparations. But services are over now and my schedule is (hopefully) clearing up a bit in the coming weeks. I'm doing some research on China's manufacturing industry for a post, organizing another giveaway, and attempting to write a homily for this Wednesday's Evening Prayer service at church.

This season's a busy one for the ethical fashion community, as well. April 24th is Fashion Revolution Day and May 9th is World Fair Trade Day and everyone is scrambling to spread the word. I encourage you to check out the websites for each cause, start a conversation at work or with a friend, get involved in the Fair Fashion Challenge on instagram, and follow your favorite ethical retailers on social media, who will be offering giveaways and posting resources through the coming weeks. 

And if you're in the mood for some fun reading this afternoon, here are a few articles I've enjoyed recently:

Inside Gap's Plan to Get Back Into Your Drawers

"The brand enjoyed a 15-year reign over classically cool, affordable American style, but it has spent the past decade-plus struggling with an identity crisis while new retailers have colonized much of its domain."

 Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous

"America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings."

How China Profits from Our Junk 

"In 2011 I visited a yard where men dismantled old aluminum deck chairs imported from somewhere warm and vacation-like. Over to one side was a pile of the blue and white nylon stripping that once hung between the metal frames (later to be sold to a plastics recycler), and a woman who spent the evening cutting it away from the chairs."

Dear American Apparel: Please #freethenipple (and pubes)

"You can argue that AA's original decision not to airbrush out, and many times, even flaunt those 'private parts' was nothing but a gimmick to court controversy-seeking press — and you may be right. But I can't think of a single other online brand that doesn't Photoshop them out."

And if you're interested in reading my Good Friday meditation, you can check it out here.

---------

I'm interested in knowing what you've been reading lately. Feel free to recommend some articles in the comments.

guest posting at RHE today



Hey guys! I'm excited to let you know that my guest post, Strength and Dignity are Her Clothing: Making Ethical Fashion Choices is live on Rachel Held Evans' blog. Rachel is a Christian author and blogger who I've been following for many years now. We've had similar faith journeys and doubts about Evangelical church culture and have both found ourselves in the Episcopal church after several years of exploration. It's an honor to have my words featured in a space that so profoundly influenced my understanding of God and of myself. Thanks for having me, Rachel.

darkness and light: how religion shapes my fair trade journey


Style Wise has always been about building a community of people centered around a common goal of buying and living more ethically. Because of that, it's never been a priority to share the more intimate inner workings of my values system. And, more than that, it's kind of terrifying.

My blogger friend, Hoda, recently shared post ideas that helped her blog grow and one of them was sharing more personal stories. I love that she is passionate about fair trade and sustainability issues in the clothing industry, but I really appreciate that she is an American Muslim who isn't afraid to enlighten people to her reality in a clear and compassionate way. 

In that same strain, I thought it could be useful to share my back story. So, here goes. 

I grew up in a conservative Evangelical Christian tradition called the First Church of God. They're not too different from most Evangelical churches in the US, but they do ordain women to be ministers, which is somewhat unusual. I became a Christian when I was 6, reciting the Sinner's Prayer, and got baptized before middle school. I tell people I could have been the poster child for my high school youth group. I was involved - sometimes it felt like I lived at church - and passionate about living Christianity correctly. I was morality driven thanks to a father who had always been involved in political engagement on issues of abortion, education, and climate change. The family spent many nights at home watching the news and discussing world issues. We also read the Bible together several times a week. It was useful in fostering spiritual discipline and rhetorical confidence, but it wasn't all good.


I convinced my best friend to become a Christian in the fourth grade by telling her she would go to Hell if she didn't. I alienated a friend in need in high school by practicing an attitude of moral superiority in almost everything I undertook. I didn't realize until college that my unwillingness to hear people out continued to affect the people I had unwittingly abandoned in their time of need years ago.

In tandem with that realization, I became quite interested in studying Religious Studies at my state university. I had always wondered why, if half of the Christian Bible was Old Testament, we didn't take more time to understand the context and culture of ancient Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. So, I plunged right in to the program, taking classes on the Hebrew Prophets, David, and Job. I loved this literary and historical approach to the texts I'd grown up with but had always found boring. I discovered the humor and depth of the narratives simply by acknowledging them as art rather than cold, hard fact. This concerned my family, who had always believed in Biblical Literalism. They were afraid I was on my way to false belief or even atheism. For the sake of brevity, I'm understating the emotional devastation this period in my life brought as I began to question my belief system and came to terms with the fact that the hyper-structured Christianity I had grown up with just wasn't cutting it. It wasn't answering enough questions. It wasn't giving enough grace.


I wasn't quite ready to leave Evangelicalism, but in the end, I felt I had little choice. I spiraled to a dark place, feeling unsupported by my church community and unable to speak the language of faith I had been fluent in for most of my life. The tropes and phrases and expressions no longer rang true for me. I left the church for about a year and a half, during which I never stopped struggling to understand what I believed, where I stood before God, and how to move forward. It was an extremely gradual process that carried a lot of uncertainty, anger, and isolation, but things did get better.

I spent about two years wondering if God existed, wondering if a church so opposed to change could actually change the world. During that time, I began to take an interest in fair trade issues. I always knew that my particular perspective could not have arisen without my faith tradition and without my journey through doubt and darkness. Even on days when God didn't seem very useful, the life of Christ impacted me. Jesus demonstrated impartial grace. It's not a love that glosses over problems, but a love that exposes the darkness and works to make it light. 


The way I live is deeply impacted by this narrative, by his model, and it would be ignorant to suggest that I could be who I am now without this religious reference point. This model of "being light" is useful because it means I'm called to cast away my reservations and give joy and hope to others. I'm also called to lighten people's loads by extending grace and working beside them. It's a call to work! Jesus solved people's immediate problems before talking to them about intellectual or spiritual goals. In the same way, I believe the best charity models seek to alleviate pain and need first and foremost. To be like Christ is to do work without expectation of personal payoff. I think the mission of his life speaks for itself and that the best evangelism I can do is love, accept, and welcome all people. That's why I talk about issues without talking about Religion. I don't seek to hide it, but I want the hard work of living ethically and intentionally to get done regardless of my faith tradition and whether or not others share it with me.


Now I belong to a local Episcopal Church (The Episcopal Church Welcomes You - that's their motto) and have found a great deal of support and Christ-like love in my faith community. Living according to a value system is important and having people who can help propel you forward by asking hard questions and lending a hand is vital. 

I hope that this blog can help support you on your journeys to live more ethically and I know that some of you have really helped keep me going on this path. 

Thanks for reading. - Leah

fair trade and financial responsibility

I must admit that I've been pretty bad with money lately. I've always had a shopping problem, but the thrill of a new job and new connections with ethical clothing brands exarcerbated it over the past couple months.

Shopping is what I do when I have free time. It's a hobby and, like most hobbies, it can gobble up money rather quickly if you don't watch it. When I have a moment to spare, I like to plop down in front of my computer and seek out new products on the internet. I like to tweet ethical brands and feature product boards. But I'm here to remind myself once again that a fair trade lifestyle is just as much about cutting back as it is about redirecting my shopping.

Fair trade products add up! The ethos of the industry allows us to use positive words like support and invest instead of splurge and indulge, but we're not really off the hook for our spending. I knew from the start that this journey would be a challenge and that it would mean changing the way I think about consuming, but I got to the point where I thought, "I've abstained from a good shopping spree long enough. Why not go a little wild?" Going wild is dangerous no matter what avenue you choose, but it comes with startling financial consequences when you're purchasing high cost, fair trade items.

Indulging versus Supporting


The advertising industry has successfully convinced a lot of us, myself included, that we deserve to indulge. But that's an outright lie! Shopping shouldn't be conceived of as a guilty pleasure we get to partake in if we're good people. Unfortunately, ethical brands often employ the same tactics with a twist. They tell us: "Not only do you deserve to cut loose; by doing so, you actually help people! In fact, the more you indulge, the more you support the disadvantaged in faraway lands! It's a win win. It's the future, people!"

But I'm convinced that the future is really about being as thoughtful as possible about each step we take on our path through the world. Think about where you spend, but also think about whether you should spend at all. Think about the repercussions of a choice from every angle. Think about your life goals and financial responsibilities.

Conclusion


So, I sent a lot of stuff back, but I'm left with many things I shouldn't have purchased. I'll be alright, but I know I didn't make the best choices.

The silver lining in all this is that I realized I have successfully gone a year without purchasing from brands with poor corporate social responsibility standards. I now naturally steer clear of companies that don't align with my values. That's progress. But I've still got a ways to go.

discarding things and people

I became the manager of a church-affiliated thrift shop two months ago. I thought I knew what the challenges would be. I thought I had a grip on the industry. But I've learned a lot: about consumerism, about prejudice, about deeply held, deeply misinformed ideas about poverty and giving. For the sake of clarity (I tend to ramble without a clearly defined topic), I've grouped what I've learned into three categories:
thrift shop ethics blog post, stylewiseblog.blogspot.com

Lesson 1: People buy too much stuff. 

One full day was spent sorting through Girls' clothing size 7/8 that had been donated by a single family. When we receive toys, we typically receive them three garbage bags at a time. I walked up to the front door this morning to discover 8 full bags of junk and an old TV scattered around the porch (please note that we only accept donations during open hours and we don't accept TVs; thanks, buddy). I ask "WHY?" so many times a day, it's practically a mantra. What the heck are we doing?

Lesson 2: Donating eases consumer guilt to our detriment. 

Though thrift shops are a great resource and a great means of raising funds for charity, they've also become a justification for over-consumption. Judging by the types of things we get in on a regular basis, it's clear that people give things to us so that they don't have to feel bad about throwing them away. But, really, what are we going to do with jeans with a hand sized hole in the crotch? We're forced to throw it away since you weren't willing to.

Lesson 3: People massively undervalue the lives of people less fortunate than them. 

This is the saddest part of my job. At least once a week, someone says something terrible about poor or homeless people. One week, someone was angry that I gave one of our "nice shirts" to a woman using a voucher to get clothes for her son. Today a woman exclaimed, "Homeless people don't care if their clothes look bad!" Maybe this is lost on a lot of people, but it's our responsibility to acknowledge the innate dignity of everyone. Part of that is giving to others as we would have them give to us. 

It pains me to think that we would save the best for ourselves and let the "poor people" have our discards. It bothers me that our thrift shop structure nearly requires us to send the crappy clothing overseas because we hate the thought of throwing it away.

This must stop. It all has to stop: the buying, the discarding of things and people.

Charity shops are wonderful. They're a happy place where goods can be re-used and re-loved. But they simply can't solve issues of character. It's up to us to buy less and care more. It's up to us to carefully consider the repercussions of our actions as consumers and, more importantly, as people.

P.S. The post, Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor, inspired me to write this post. Give it a read!

12 months, 12 goals: shop secondhand

secondhand shopping

It dawned on me, as I flipped and flipped through endless blouses at a local Goodwill on Monday, that thrift shops will never run out of items for me to add to my closet. Sure, there are a few items (like underwear) that I'd rather not purchase at the thrift store, but really, there's a lot to be found if you take the time to look.

A few of my prized thrift finds include LL Bean Duck boots, a BCBG Max Azria Flapper-style dress, and several items in pristine condition that I wear so much I forgot I bought them on the secondhand market.

And if that's not enough, internet marketplaces and local vintage shops allow me to shop curated collections when I'm not in the mood to spend 2 hours searching through crowded racks. I buy most of my shoes secondhand on ebay; I've purchased like-new Minnetonka moccasins and several pairs of sneakers for a third of their original price. I found my favorite vintage dresses on etsy and ebay.

The marketplace is flooded with piles of discarded clothing with plenty of wear left, so why do we insist on buying new? Secondhand shopping is easier than it's ever been - we can do it from our couches - so we really have no reason not to try it.

People are often confused about the ethical value of secondhand shopping, noting that many donated goods were likely produced in sweatshops. What they aren't connecting is that the thrift market doesn't operate according to traditional supply-and-demand principles; if you buy cast-offs, you aren't participating in the traditional market at all. Instead, you're opting out; you're boycotting; you impact it only because you're avoiding it. We're nowhere near operating in a market in which demand for secondhand items exceeds supply, so we can rest assured that we do no harm (to others, at least) when we make it rain at the thrift store.

follow photo


butbl butets butfb butp