It's Time to Upgrade Your Shopping Game to Support Fair and Sustainable Practices
With sustainability top of mind for many shoppers these days, myself included, buying clothes is about so much more than looking at the fabric composition (although that's a great start). True sustainability also means refusing to take anything at face value and diving in to truly do the research for yourself to make sure you're supporting a company that's doing good.
Think about it this way: when you purchase a pair of jeans, you're also buying into the company's practices. And I don't know about you, but if I'm already taking the time to research the fit and customer reviews to make sure I'll love my new jeans for years to come, I may as well research the company's stance on environmental and social issues, too, to make sure they align with my own.
In this handy guide, we're bringing you a checklist of sorts to reference the next time you do some online shopping. From responsibly sourced textiles and shipping materials to fair working conditions and wages, here are the factors to look into to make sure a clothing company is doing its part to make a positive impact and create a more sustainable future for people and the planet. After all, with the way 2020 has gone, it's time to stop settling and to expect the brands we support to be more transparent and do more.
What Are a Brand's People Policies?
We believe fashion brands should be transparent about their supply chain and how it affects their workers. Basically, how well is a company treating its people and what is it doing to ensure employees genuinely enjoy working there? I'm much more likely to buy a piece from a brand when I know it's made with love every step of the way.
When doing your research, look into a company's labor policies for workers throughout the supply chain, from textile farmers and manufacturers to the fashion brand's corporate and in-store employees. This can include, but is not limited to, things like:
- No forced or child labor
- Safe working conditions
- Gender equality
- Fair wages and health benefits
- The right to join a union
Beyond the basics, also consider what a company is doing to truly empower its employees and invest in their personal and professional development, as well as how its hiring practices are benefitting people in the community. For example, some fashion brands implement programs to support disadvantaged women and employ only single mothers or women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. Some companies even provide day care, enabling mothers to take on employment and provide for their families.
What's a Brand Doing to Better the Planet?
Understanding a fashion company's full environmental impact means tracking the entire lifecycle of its products from growing or sourcing textile fibers, making and dyeing fabric, and manufacturing through to shipping the product to your doorstep and even displaying products in-store.
While you're shopping, seek out a fashion company's policies on energy and water use, carbon emissions, and waste management for their textile and clothing manufacturing warehouses and clothing stores. A few questions you could ask yourself are:
- Is the company tracking and reporting these numbers and sharing the steps it's taking to minimize its footprint with the goal of becoming carbon-neutral?
- Is it investing in green infrastructure?
- Is it investing in offsets to balance emissions?
- If applicable, is it responsibly and ethically sourcing animal byproducts?
- Does it use recycled and/or reusable packaging to ship its product?
- Are its stores eco-friendly? For example, some brands use recycled clothes hangers and biodegradable cleaning products.
Beyond just the manufacturing process, consider whether the company provides options for what to do with your clothes once you're done with them. Some of my favorite companies allow you to send back your used pieces (sometimes even pieces from different brands!) to be recycled or repurposed, complete with green packaging.
How Is It Being Socially Responsible?
Social responsibility, or corporate social responsibility as it is sometimes called, refers to a company's obligation or civic duty to act in ways that benefit society at large. Essentially, a company can be profitable and successful, but how is it using that profit for good and giving back to its people and community?
While it may be difficult to look into a fashion company's specific corporate practices (i.e. discrimination policies, volunteer programs, etc.), you can look into whether the company has a charitable component. I'm always drawn to a philanthropic hook since it feels like my purchase is benefitting more than just me. For example, some clothing brands offer a buy-one-give-one model that matches each product purchase with a product donation to those in need or direct a percentage of proceeds toward nonprofit organizations. Others might host donation drives, sponsor community initiatives like beach cleanup days, or offer learning opportunities, such as seminars that teach you how to repurpose old clothes.