Ethical Holiday Shopping

The whole Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend used to be a period of joy for me; I love scoring deals, and I love shopping. The websites and stores I would frequent were not always aligned with my ideals, but the thought of snagging a designer or trendy piece for 70% off would often trample my conscience into the ground. Happily, I would fork over hard-earned cash to companies with questionable practices.

Times have changed, and I have explicitly made a commitment to revamping my wardrobe in an ethical and eco-friendly way. I am better educated and have more tools at my disposal to use in my decision-making. But old habits don’t disappear easily, and this sale-heavy weekend has been full of opportunities to break my commitment. Already I have made one purchase I am not proud of (in full disclosure, it was a cashmere scarf for my mother; her happiness upon receiving it will be wonderful to witness, but I cringe knowing that the cashmere industry is destroying arable land and is likely rife with inhumane practices).

I am determined to return to my ethical standards for the rest of my gift (and guilty pleasure) shopping, however. And as I browsed the Web for eco-friendly and ethical brands to shop from, I realized that those companies hold holiday sales too. Perhaps I don’t have to kick my old habits entirely…

So here are some websites that I happened upon in my jet lag-induced browsing (did I mention I was in Japan for the past week and change? Hopefully more on that soon!). Some brands I have purchased from, some I have not, and I am not being paid by any of them, but as far as I can tell they all seem to be committed to their goals and have some nice sales or clearance sections:

  • Pact: I’ve purchased a t-shirt from them that has become a very comfy wardrobe staple of mine. They specialize in clothing made from fair trade organic cotton basics (underwear, t-shirts, socks for both men and women) but seem to have gone into more complex clothing items lately, which is exciting. Everything on their site is currently on sale!
  • Oliberté: Fair trade footwear, what’s not to love? I just purchased a pair of their sneakers off a different website, so I can’t speak on their products from personal experience just yet, but they seem well-made and there are a variety of styles. I think their site-wide sale may not extend to Monday, but they have some items on clearance if you are still looking to grab something at a discount.
  • Threads for Thought: Another clothing company, this time specializing in casual and sportswear items for men and women. They seem to incorporate a lot of recycled polyester and organic cotton into their items, which is great, although I have noticed a few items that are made of only new and non-organic textiles. So I put this on the list with a slight warning to check the fabric content in the description if you are trying to find something with the least environmental impact. I haven’t purchased from them yet, but their current site-wide sale is tempting.
  • Reformation: I haven’t purchased from this brand either, but I have seen their clothing in action. A friend of mine wore an amazing floral dress to this year’s Chicago Pride Parade. When I asked about it she told me the dress was made by Reformation, using vintage fabric, and I’ve been eyeing their site ever since. They are one of the more expensive brands that I am posting about, but their clothes are extremely fashionable, and they are wonderfully transparent about the environmental impact of each of their items. While, at the time of writing this, I can’t find evidence of a Cyber Monday sale, they do have a fine sale section that I may be picking from soon. Sadly, they only have clothes geared towards women right now (although that doesn’t mean only women can wear them!).
  • Seamly: Another clothing company geared towards women that I haven’t bought from, but they are more affordable than Reformation and have cute basics made from surplus material. They currently have a site-wide sale!
  • Bead and Reel: More of a boutique than a brand, this site curates products from various eco-friendly and ethical brands together for your shopping convenience. Unfortunately, this site is also mainly geared towards women and I have not purchased from them yet, but the selection looks fashionable.
  • Fair Trade Designs: The name says it all! This is probably a good place for buying gifts, and there are products geared towards men as well as women (I have not bought anything here yet either).
  • Bambeco: An eco-friendly and ethically produced home goods heaven. I have not purchased here yet either and some items can get a little pricey, but everything looks well-made and luxurious.
  • Sock Dreams: Another store I’ve eyed for a while, but never purchased from. They seem to get rave reviews though and have an eco-friendly section (which is where the link will direct you). They specialize in socks for all shapes and sizes, provide a lot of information about fit, and are fairly transparent about materials and manufacturing of their own brand.

Hopefully the above links will prove inspirational if you are also trying your best to be a conscientious shopper!

If you don’t want to buy from the above companies, but still want to shop in the least harmful way possible, here are some general tips:

  1. Buy recycled products, or products made from recycled materials. This way, no new waste is created! Thrift and vintage stores are wonderful resources. There are also plenty of brands nowadays that utilize recycled materials.
  2. Buy items made with natural and organically-grown materials. Do keep in mind that some natural fibers are inherently more eco-friendly than others, regardless of “organic” status. For example, linen is a very hardy fiber and requires little water or pesticides to manufacture, so even linen that is not labeled as organic will be probably more environmentally friendly than organic cotton, which still consumes loads and loads of water as it grows.
  3. Buy products that are made locally. The carbon footprint of locally-made products is less than that of products made overseas, as lots of fuel is used to ship the latter to you. Part of buying locally can involve buying from local artisans—that way you can also guarantee no sweatshop labor was involved!
  4.  Buy products manufactured in countries with strict labor standards. The likelihood that the product was made in a sweatshop will be lower.
  5. Buy from companies that have a history of being transparent about their manufacturing processes. A conscientious company should not act as if it has something to hide.
  6. Do your research! Information is a powerful thing. If you have some doubts, try to find out as much as you can about a material or a brand and base your decision off of what you learn.

I’ve also found this page very helpful for my purchasing process: It is a quick and simple guide to the environmental impact of the more commonly used textiles.

Good luck out there! I know ethical shopping can be difficult if you’ve been ingrained in consumerist habits most of your life (like I have been), but it’s doable. I certainly feel ready to renew my efforts after writing all of that out! Feel free to comment and let me know of other brands or companies out there that I should check out.


— S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)


3 thoughts on “Ethical Holiday Shopping

  1. Hey Misplaced Pen! Really interesting post and it’s definitely something I struggle with too, trying to stay ethical. I think a lot of the problem is the lack of prominence of these eco brands which tend to be smaller with less budget. A lot of the high street stores don’t have eco practices but when you need to get something urgently, where are the alternatives!
    I too struggled this black friday (especially working in retail and being surrounded by deals!) but committed myself to not spending. I don’t think you should feel too much guilt for breaking your commitment, you’re already doing a lot to stand up to the big retailers by not giving them your money on a regular basis! I wrote a piece here on Fair Tuesday, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have a chance. I mentioned a few eco brands that I like too which you might not have heard of 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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