The Complex Privilege of Shopping Ethically
Yesterday, I had the immense privilege of speaking on a panel at Portland's Sustainable Fashion Forum alongside a few other amazing women who I deeply respect. As we sat on the stage, there was something I wanted to say to the audience of sustainability/ethics minded individuals, but didn't. So I'm gonna say it now:
This conversation we're having is incredibly privileged. That's not something to feel guilty about, but I hope we remember that the majority of the world can't afford to purchase the way we do. Don't get me wrong, by America's standards, I am not "wealthy" at all. My husband and I operate on a pretty tight budget and rent a little apartment in Portland. Still, I recognize that as a middle-class white U.S. citizen, I am in a position of privilege.
Sometimes, there's a mindset that creeps into ethical shopping that "I'm making a sacrifice to do the right thing" - and while that's partly true, it's a sacrifice that the majority of the planet's population (even our own country's population) doesn't have the option of making.
This "sacrifice" is a privilege.
Having the option of choosing to budget in a way that allows me to purchase beautiful items that have a beautiful story behind them is something that I feel so lucky to be part of.
There's a quote by Anna Lappé often referenced in conscious consumer circles that says, “Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”
But, I don't think that quote is entirely fair.
Being able to "vote with our dollar" is a privilege.
Yes, every time we spend our money, we are shaping the future, but that doesn't necessarily mean that those who aren't able to shop from ethical brands don't "want" a more just future for others.
Living in such a globalized era, the issues of poverty and privilege are more complex than ever before. We no longer live in an era in which the poor are only oppressed by the rich in their own town. While the "rich" may be the ones setting up the systems we operate within, now the poor in one country are being forced to oppress the poor in another country.
Even here in the USA, the top of the socioeconomic food chain, Americans who live at or under the poverty line have little choice in purchasing clothes made in overseas sweatshops. (Yes, secondhand is an option, but let's be honest, it's not always a viable option for what is needed.)
So, if you're reading this blog and you are considering shopping ethically, please pause and recognize that the fact that you're able to "change your shopping habits" of your own free will makes you one of the luckiest in the world.
Please use that privilege to make a difference, not only on behalf of the garment worker in Bangladesh but also on behalf of the single mom on food stamps in your own city who also wants to see the world become a fair place, but doesn't have the power or extra dollars to "cast her vote for the kind of world she wants."
I hope we know that shopping ethically doesn't make us the holy ones, it makes us the lucky ones.
This post was not sponsored by anyone, but for those who have asked, my outfit is from MATTER. It's a wonderful sustainable and ethical clothing brand.