How to be an engaged consumer

I’m speaking at the Progressive Jewish Alliance tonight in LA. I’ll be sharing some thoughts on how to be an engaged consumer, so I though I’d share them here too.

What we buy impacts our world for better and worse. Things like sweatshops and child labor are symptoms of the immense poverty that exists in our world. I believe the apparel industry should play an important role in lifting families out of poverty, but it has a long way to go.

Here are a few tips and tricks on how to be an engaged consumer.

How to think

  1. Check the tags of your clothing everyday before you put them on. Take a moment and think about the hard work, sacrifice, and skill that went into making your garments. If you can’t locate the country on a map, find it.
  2. Become a brand champion – Be intentional about what you buy. Don’t buy on a whim. Checkout the brands or the stores before you buy to see if their ethics line up with yours. Find a brand and support it.
  3. Visit Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles
  4. Listen to my report on an Ethiopian shoe manufacturer changing lives one job at a time.

How to make a difference

  1. Arrange for your group/class to chat with garment workers at the first living wage factory in the developing world – the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic. Chat with a garment worker
  2. Encourage your city, county, school, or university to purchase products made in factories approved by the Worker’s Rights Consortium.
  3. What would Jesus buy? Check out the Christian argument for Just Purchasing: Practicing Our Faith at the Market.

Where to shop

  1. SoleRebels – company pays 3-times typical wage in Ethiopia, sends children of employees to school, shoes are made out of recycled tires, supports indigenous weaving tradition
  2. Patagonia – One of the largest companies willing to have an honest discussion about where their clothes come from.
  3. Ethix Merch – A host of ethical products for your company.
  4. Cotton of the Carolinas – My favorite T-shirt! From shirt to dirt the manufacturing process doesn’t leave the Carolinas.
  5. Discover ethical companies and great deals (think Groupon with a conscience) at Roozt.com.
  6. The Sweatfree Communities Shopping Guide

5 Steps to get started to being and engaged consumer today

The truth is it takes some effort to be an engaged consumer – but every bit of effort is worth it. Here are a few tips to help you become better at it:

1. Look at the tag of the shirt you are wearing right now. Repeat every day. Most of us have no idea how global our wardrobe is. If everyone did this simple task daily, imagine how our collective global view would change!

2. Visit GoodGuide.com or download the GoodGuide app on your smartphone. GoodGuide has a database of over 145,000 consumers goods and scores them based on three separate categories: health, environment, and social responsibility.

3. Encourage your city, county, church, school or university to source responsibly and support companies like Alta Gracia (www.altagraciaapparel.com) and Sustain U (www.sustainuclothing.com) The resource page of sweatfree.org is also a great place to find other examples of these kinds of companies.

4. Wear a story and become a brand champion. Share the tale of your favorite brands, the awesome products they make, and the lives of the producers they impact. I try not to leave the house without wearing at least one product I believe in.

5. Explore. There are new ethical clothing companies springing up by the day. I recently was introduced to Forgotten Shirts, a company that uses cotton ethically sourced and T-shirts sewn in Uganda. The screen printing is done by Minneapolis teens as part of a tutoring program.

 
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