Finding the balance: minimise consumption or support ethical brands?
I often talk about supporting brands that I think are working wonders in the world. Yet I have simultaneously been making a concerted effort to reduce my consumption, and spend more consciously. Because of this, I have been spending more time lately thinking about how to find the balance between supporting ethical brands, and minimising our consumption. I genuinely think it’s a tricky one. Yet I believe I have found the answer, at least for me.
As with most of my growth, my mindset shift in regards to this has altered gradually over the last few years. When my business first started growing, I was inundated with new clothes sent to me by various brands. Without even thinking, I was becoming an unconscious cog in the fast fashion wheel. Don’t get me wrong, most of the clothes were great, yet I didn’t wear even half of them, and they sat in my wardrobe, unused, until I decided it was time to ship them off – either into the waiting hands of my friends and family, or better still, off to the second hand store. Now, I have made a large effort to stop this, and only accept clothes and items that I really believe will add value to my life. It’s a small step, but for me I think it’s an important one.
There is so much pressure in society to always have the newest and the flashiest dress/ car/ phone (it’s all interchangeable really), with the idea perpetuated that these material treasures will bring you happiness and solve your problems. Yet we use the item several times before the satisfaction wears away and then there we are, yearning for the next ‘thing’ that will make us happy. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that I am trying my hardest to break.
The fashion industry is perhaps where the problem of mindless consumption is most obvious. All this fast fashion is driven by our demand for numerous numbers of cheap clothes. Yet because of the quality, the items don’t last long, so we buy more and more of them, further fuelling demand. And while consumers demand cheaper items, manufacturers look for ways they can cut costs further – labour costs, of course, is the obvious one. Unknowingly, we support unethical labour conditions in developing countries. The continued production of clothing from new materials also uses up vast amounts of land, water and pesticides – this, coupled with inadequate recycling for used clothes, are wreaking havoc on our economy and our environment. The good news is that the world is most definitely changing. Demand is slowly growing for ethical brands, yet for the meantime, fast fashion outlets still dominate the market.
Whilst it is most apparent in the fashion industry, it is a problem everywhere. In advanced economies, nearly 30% of food is wasted. We order the extra dish we thought we ‘might’ want, or we cook double what our tummies will fit, knowing full well we will never eat the leftovers. But we don’t often think about the water usage, the pesticides, and the transportation costs that are associated with this mindless consumption. We see it as well with our electronics – every year, we upgrade our cameras and phones, to get that 1MP more, even though our current model still fulfils its purpose. We see it with our cars, which we trade in every few years to get the latest upgrade.
Mindless consumption is everywhere.
This is where the balancing of the scales comes in to play. While I am trying to stop patterns of mindless consumption, I do believe wholeheartedly in supporting ethical brands. By ethical brands, I mean brands that are sourcing ingredients ethically, constructing their products in environmentally sustainable ways, have positive labour and supply chain practices, shift demand away from conventional products and have a positive impact on the world. If you think a brand is making a positive contribution and producing a product that you love, or that can be used as an alternative to a conventional brand, you should definitely go ahead - make the swap and support them! By supporting brands that are doing the right thing, you are helping shift the demand away towards ethical, higher quality products.
This issue of higher quality items is a big one. Often, ethical brands produce higher quality products. The items last much longer, so although they may cost a bit more at time of purchase, they have a much lower footprint on the earth. It’s also good to keep in mind where products are sourced. If they are made locally, the resources needed for their transportation will be MUCH lower, reducing their environmental footprint.
Another place where I think it is great to consume mindfully and support ethical brands, is in terms of cosmetics and household products. Let’s face it, we all need to clean our homes on the regular, and most of us have decided that makeup plays a part in our lives. Yet instead of consuming a large amount of harsh chemicals, time and time again, it’s important to make the swap to more conscious brands. There are so many brands now making chemical-free products that are a million times better for both your health and the environment. Make the swap. There are ethical ways to consume that have you supporting good brands. As I have said numerous times before, I 100% believe in changing the world with your wallet and voting with your $. When we make purchases from ethical brands that have a positive impact, we are voting to make the world a better place.
My top tips for more mindful consumption? SLOW DOWN. Take the time to think about whether your purchase will really add value to your life. When you do make purchases, choose brands that are ethical, source locally and impact positively. Also, make use of your local second hand store! They often have incredible items that will spice up your wardrobe, and it is so important to recycle clothes where we can. Op shops are a great resource, and friendly on the wallet as well. Who knew clothes shopping could be budget AND planet friendly?
To sum up my long-winded rant, reducing consumption (of anything – food, clothes, items) is the #1 action you can take to reduce your environmental and ethical footprint, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without. By being more conscious with your spending, and, when you do decide to spend, choosing food, clothing and items that are locally made and ethically sourced, I believe you can find your perfect balance.