How to Start Shopping Ethically & Sustainably

Updated: Aug 14, 2018

An estimated 250 million children ages 5 to 14 are forced to work in sweatshops in developing countries. Stop supporting this disgusting child labor & start shopping more ethically & sustainably.

We live in a time of fast fashion where people are buying a crazy amount of clothing with the change of every season. This has lead to clothing factories needing to produce more than ever before. So how do they keep up with the high demand and at a low price? They import their clothing from sweatshops overseas. They have small children sewing your clothing for pretty much no pay at all. They have terrible working conditions in these factories. It is unsafe and unsanitary. They work an insane amount of hours for a disgustingly low pay. I’m talking maybe $0.20/ hour in some countries. Not to mention the hundreds of people who have died in factory fires around the world because of such poor conditions.

Here are some pretty shocking statistics I’ve found regarding sweat shops around the world:

  • Children are as young as 6 or 7 years old when they start working at a sweatshop for up to 16 hours per day.

  • In Asia, children as young as 5 were found to work from 6 in the morning until 7 at night for less than 20 cents per day.

  • A shirt that sells in the United States for $60 can cost less than 10 cents in labor.

  • In India, between 5% – 30% of the 340 million children under the age of 16 are estimated to fall under the definition of child labor.

  • In Latin America, the proportion of children under the age of 16, working in sweatshops, is estimated to be between 10% – 25%.

  • The Department of Labor indicates that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. violate two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops.

  • 1 million jobs have been moved away from the US since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

  • Many Nike sweatshop workers die by the age of 15, which is acclaimed correct by the ASSL League.

  • Clothing, shoes, coffee, chocolate, bananas, and toys are the most common commodities produced in sweatshops.

  • Women are often fired from sweatshops if they become pregnant because maternity leave equates to an unproductive worker.

  • A study in 2000 found that 98% of Los Angeles garment factories violated workplace health and safety standards.

We are the ones creating a market for sweatshops and it’s up to us to make a change. The only way we can put away with these unfair labor practices is to become more aware of our habits and purchase only from the companies we can truly stand behind.

We all know that $3.00 Forever 21 tank top is great and all. I mean who can beat the price? But….is it really worth it knowing it was made in sweat shops where the workers are young children and women salving away to barely make ends meat? And clothing that sells with a huge price tag attached? Don’t be so quick to think it means higher quality - it doesn’t. Did you know that the women that sew NBA jerseys make $0.24 per piece. Jerseys that will sell for almost $200! You do the math.

We can all still get our shopping fix in, but let’s just try to be a bit little more conscious while we do it. What do you say? Here are a few simple alternatives that will help you shop guilt free. Now I don’t mean go into your closet and start throwing away every single item you own. Just becoming more aware of what you’re supporting and from now on if you need an item, try to get it one of these ways instead of immediately running to the mall.

1. Shop brands you can support

Start doing your research and figure out who you’re buying from. Stop supporting massive corporations who pay their workers dirt. I think it’s important and you should too.

Here are a few clothing brands that use sweatshop labor that I’d recommend avoiding as much as possible:

  • H & M

  • Zara

  • Gap

  • Forever 21

  • Urban Outfitters

  • Aldo

  • Primark

  • Adidas

  • Walmart

Instead, start supporting brands that are in alignment with your way of life. The clothing you chose to wear every day is a statement. There are a few ethically made clothing brands that you may already be familiar with.

Try supporting more companies like these ones whose factories are either in the US or if they’re not, hold very high regulations and standards for their factory workers oversees.

  • American Apparel

  • New Balance

  • Patagonia

  • LL Bean

Bonus points for me if the clothing is made sustainably from recycled materials. My latest obsession is yoga clothing from Wolven Threads. All their designs are hand drawn, produced in LA and made from recycled plastic water bottles. I love love love the material and support them fully. This is something I’m PROUD to wear. If you’re interested you can use the code ‘ally20’ and get 20% off your gorgeous set! :)

Other companies like this I support are Girlfriend Collective & Teeki.

Check out this blog on some more brands that I haven’t really heard of but certainly seem to be worth checking out.

’35 Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands’ by The Good Trade

2. Shop Small Businesses, local or handmade

Check out your local shops in town. Support small business and especially handmade products. Anything handmade is usually high quality, will last you a long time and is full of lots of love. I am also a huge fan of Etsy. There are so many beautiful small businesses on Etsy that I love to support. You are buying gorgeous, hand-made, one of a kind items. Most of the time you can personalize your order to the exact size or color you’d like. Talk directly with the person sewing your clothing, know where it’s coming from and support their mission.

Now, I know tips 1 & 2 might be a little bit too costly. So this leads me to my 3rd and 4th tips which can help you shop ethically, but without breaking the bank. These are usually my go-to ways to shop, and every once in a while I’ll splurge and buy an item from the amazing companies I mentioned above. I wish I could fully support them and own all the clothing but we all certainly don’t have the money for that.

3. Shop at thrift stores

There are SO many thrift stores around the States and this is really such a blessing. From someone who’s been traveling all over the world and has a really hard time finding something when I need a new piece of clothing. Trust me, take advantage of those thrift shops. You can find some killer items there. Brand names at such good prices. It takes a bit of time and digging, but it’s totally worth it. Head to the more bougie parts of town and you’ll most likely find nice brand name labels. Also keep a heads up for their special sale days because most thrift stores will have a certain day or days of the week that everything’s half off! Can’t beat an already cheap garment for half the price. This way, nothing’s going to waste and even though you may be purchasing from unethical companies, it’s better to buy used than supporting them from their shops directly and increasing the need to produce more. Recycle your clothing people!!

4. Do a clothing swap with friends

Do you have a bunch of old clothes you want to get rid of, but also dying for a make over? Invite the girls over, bring some wine, and exchange your clothes! Everyone throws their clothes into their own pile and it’s a take one, get one deal. If you want one item from Sarah’s pile, she gets one item from your pile and you swap! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Chances are there’s some garments from your best friends wardrobe you’ve been dying to get your hands on. Now’s your chance, you just have to pass up on something of your own too.

I hope you find these tips helpful and it’s something you can begin to start thinking about. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be a rash decision to throw away everything you own and only buy organic cotton USA made clothing. No one’s perfect but, baby steps. Be aware of it next time you want to go shopping. Spread the world to your friends about these unethical practices and help be a part of the change that needs to happen in this world.