Guest Post: Shopping Ethically with VaVa Vida
By Antoine Didienne, founder of Vavavida
Some things, people or events in your life compel you to action. For me, it was April 24, 2013. It was the day an apparel factory collapsed in Bangladesh; the worst accident of its kind in history. That day, too many people died in the name of greed. As I started to read more and more about the fast fashion industry and its disastrous effects on the people that work in the factories, the impact on the environment and feeding the insatiable need for more clothes we customers constantly have, I started to realize I needed to reassess the way I buy stuff in general and clothes in particular. My journey led me to try and understand what I needed versus what I wanted. I had to train myself out of a bad habit… Just like I am “trying” to curb my iPhone use (I am still working on that one).
I made a very conscious decision to re-allocate my fashion budget to companies that deserved it. I would buy less but I would buy well in every sense of the term. But how? Where should I start? Could I find professional attire that’s ethical, ecofriendly and does not break the bank?… I found that yes, it was possible.
To save you the trouble of the deep dive into the seedy side of the fashion industry, I decided to share my advice and recommendations on top of some very practical and easy tips about shopping ethically, YOU can look downright awesome and with very little effort.
READ THE TAG(s)
First off, step 1, Uno: read the label! If it’s so cheap and such a good deal, then it has been made in a sweatshop most likely by a young woman (14 years young or maybe younger) where she is exploited and will most likely sew the same seam over and over again, garment after garment at an incredibly fast pace in terrible working conditions for pennies an hour. If the label says “Made in Bangladesh”, “Made in Cambodia” or something similar, it has been made in a sweatshop. No questions. I would advise you to search for the documentary “The True Cost” to gain insight on how ubiquitous and omnipotent the fast fashion industry has become and the kinds of pressure contractors and workers face.
My advice: "Made In the USA.” The garments you are buying might be a couple dollars more expensive, but it’s a safe bet that the item will have been made properly while still respecting its workers. Plus, it’s good for American businesses, so win-win.
SHOP SECOND HAND STORES
Secondly, and before you dismiss the idea, there are several reasons why this is one of the easiest way to buy more ethically.
When you buy second hand, you are not participating in the purchase of NEW items. You should know that the fashion industry is one of the worst industries in terms of water waste, pollution, soil contamination and overall energy consumption. Also, when you buy second hand you help keep clothes out of the landfill. As for finding formal suits and dresses appropriate for business, you can get some surprisingly amazing finds if you know where to go.
My recommendation: Take Thred Up for example…. that website sells and buys previously owned clothes from popular and high quality apparel brands for men and women such as Calvin Klein, Banana Republic and Armani among others. They offer free shipping and returns, they have great deals and the quality of the customer service and of the clothes are top notch. I know because I buy from them. For example, I have found business suits for both men and women from brands like Lanvin and Hugo Boss at a savings of 70% off. Not bad.
INVEST IN HIGH QUALITY ITEMS
Thirdly, it seems that nowadays, it’s ok to buy a shirt or a bracelet at Express you will wear only for the duration of the summer and toss in the trash by October. Crappy designs, badly cut and sewed shirts, tees and pants are now the norm. The average American buys on average 68 items of clothing/year and we sure can’t store all those items on top of what we already have, so they end up in the trash after a few uses.
ALL fashion stylists will tell you that cheap clothes look… well, cheap. It is far more efficient, more chic and way more economical to buy fewer clothes, shoes and jewelry and buy really high quality, well-tailored and well-made items and it does not have to break the bank, especially in the e-commerce age.
My recommendation: J.Hilburn is a great solution for completely customizable, beautifully crafted and tailored men’s clothes using the best Italian fabrics at a very reasonable price... A tailor will come see you and style you And it’s all made in the USA. For Women I recommend a similar solution in Numari.
LOOK FOR COMPANIES THAT OFFER INFORMATION ON THEIR SUPPLY CHAINS
Fourthly, one brilliant company comes to mind: Patagonia. They are very public about the way their gear is made, how they source their material, where they come from, etc. There is nowhere to hide for Patagonia and that’s the whole point. They are so environmentally conscious and responsible that they even asked their customers to only buy the gear they need and not more. Recently, the company has decided to offer repairs on their apparel so that their customers can keep the gear they love instead of replacing it. Now that’s responsible, smart and creates loyalty among their customer base.
My advice: If you are going to buy from a fast fashion label, make it from H&M. They are actually trying to do things a bit better by offering more information about their supply chain, by creating a recycling program of their own garments, releasing an eco-friendly collection and finally the company is now closely monitoring their suppliers and contractors. It’s far from ideal but it’s better than nothing.
Fifthly, cotton is a fragile plant that requires specific climate conditions to grow correctly, requires an enormous amount of water from irrigation and is one of the most pesticide sprayed crop in the world, contaminating the soil it grows in as well as your skin once you wear the garment. So, even if organically grown cotton is part of the solution, it’s ever increasing popularity is partly due to the greenwashing of the material our clothes are made of.
My advice: Instead, get clothes from alternative fibers such as silk, wool, alpaca, bamboo and where I think the future lies: hemp. Compared to cotton, hemp uses very little pesticide and water, is extremely strong and grows very quickly. A few brands have started to bet on the fiber and are entering the market strong… including Patagonia.
BUY FAIR TRADE
Lastly, hands down, the best way to buy ethically is to buy fair trade. Fair trade is a trading system that allows customers to know that the product they are buying was made ethically. What that means exactly is that products were made respecting the environment and respecting the people that made it. It’s especially popular with consumables like coffee, chocolate and bananas but it is rapidly expanding to other industries like the fashion industry. The importance of the fair trade label in the fashion industry is quickly rising and companies like Prana, Mata Traders, Pact or Indigenous are gaining traction among customers.
When I came across the fair trade system, it was a revelation. I could get high quality products at a decent price with a real commitment to improving the world. The existence of fair trade is partly what pushed me towards entrepreneurship and to co-found Vavavida.com. We engineered Vavavida.com, from the start to answer the equation of ethics+fashion+quality+affordable=Full Circle Economics. We retail gorgeous ethically handmade jewelry that invests in economic empowerment for women at a reasonable price. It seems like a really high bar to reach but we were able to comply with our promise from the moment we launched.
In conclusion, shopping ethically is now easier than ever… and is also fashionable nowadays. It’s as easy as starting to look at the tags on your clothes and then when you are ready, take the first step in the right direction by following any or all of these tips… and if you want to support a fashionable local company for a gift for your girlfriend or for yourself, I would suggest you head over to Vavavida.com.