Can you actually “do good” by shopping ethically? And what about the claim that we change the world with our purchasing power? If we can, it means great things for the future. One thing we know is that our generation likes to shop. By and large, consumers create the demand that drives the market. If we want to change this world, we need to change what we buy. Purchasing “power” indeed.
PLAYING IT STRAIGHT
While consumers may be in the driver’s seat, it’s companies and designers who are responsible for making all those pretty things we want to buy. And it is these companies’ actions that will ultimately make or break the sustainable shopping movement. If they act ethically and transparently, it will embolden the movement. If they use “fair trade,” “green,” or “eco” as a marketing tactic with little to back it up, they’ll invite skepticism upon others who are doing the right thing.
If companies use “fair trade” as little more than a marketing tactic, they’ll invite skepticism upon others who are doing the right thing.
As the concept of conscious consumerism takes off, there are a number of certifications or labels that tell us how ethical or sustainable a product is, but for most of us in the ethical fashion arena, we must police ourselves. So how do we do it? It’s crucial for companies or designers to have a list of internal criteria. As companies grow, the newest hire should be as dedicated to keeping things sustainable as the CEO.
Here are some of the guidelines that we use at the Andean Collection:
1. When faced with an eco and non-eco option, choose the eco option if you can afford it, but manage your cash flow responsibly.
At an early stage, you may not have the luxury of choosing the more expensive eco option every time, so do what you can without breaking the bank. As you grow, commit to doing more to make up for the decisions you had to forgo as a start-up.
2. If providing a social good means that you endanger the financial health of the company, do not do it.
If your business is thinking about doing a social good, but doing so will mean that you will not have enough cash to run your business, do not do it. If you spend your cash before you cover your operational costs, you will not be around to do more substantial good in the future, no matter what you have spent that money on.
3. On the other hand, if providing a social good means giving up some of the profits, consider doing it.
If your business is profitable and there is a social good you can do that will reduce your profits but won’t use up your entire operational cash flow, then consider doing it. Think about who needs those profits more: the business owners or the people who will benefit from the social project you are supporting. Most often it will be the latter.
4. Be transparent with your employees and artisans/manufacturers.
If you are working in a developing country, this is especially crucial. If you have a website, show it to the people who make your product and explain to them why the price disparity exists. Show them your blog and ask them to contribute. Teach them to use computers.
5. Be transparent with your customers. Don’t do anything you don’t want to blog about.
Growing up, my mother always told me, don’t do anything you don’t want your grandmother to know about. At the Andean Collection, we take that seriously. We blog about everything and pride ourselves on transparency.