Locally manufactured products are usually much easier to keep an eye on. If you know the designers, producers, workers, manufacturers, and retailers, you have almost total transparency into how your products are made and how they get to you. They’re home grown!
However, when bits of that supply chain get lost, buried, or hidden from view of the consumers, it leaves lots of room for, well, hiding. In a world where we can get anything from anywhere on the globe with two-day shipping, it’s difficult to know if our dollars are going to people who share our values. How can we trust that the products we’re buying were made in a way that didn’t exploit people or harm the environment? Don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom! There are plenty of wonderful brands that keep ethics, sustainability, and responsibility in mind. We’ll show you how to find them!
The Importance of Socially Responsible Shopping
Tossing the terms “sustainable” and “ethical” around has become the trend lately, but they are much more than buzzwords! When it comes to shopping, both of these words have different meanings to different people. For instance, sustainable means the ability to exist continuously. When it comes to sustainable fashion, some people believe that it means using only items made from sustainable materials such as bamboo rather than cotton. For others, it means never buying anything new! Ethicality is even harder to define. It might mean ensuring that no one who contributes to the production of the product is harmed. For others, it means safe working conditions, a living wage, and job stability for the workers and that the product has an ethical use. In short, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
The “buzz” around socially responsible shopping came about when more and more big names were revealed to exploit their workers, from raw materials to finished goods. Unsafe working conditions, job instability, and low wages can help to bring the price tag lower, but the true cost is far worse. Doing a bit of homework about a brand of any size before you buy can go a long way for the planet, and the people behind the scenes making the product. This holiday season and for any purchase you have coming up, here’s a quick guide to finding the brands that align with your own definition of what’s ethical, sustainable, and socially responsible!
How to Spot the Best Brands
Shopping for locally manufactured products where you can ask the designer firsthand how it’s made takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Not only that, it helps to support your local economy and community. If a product or company that you’re really passionate about is out of reach, online shopping makes it easy to get the products to you and learn how your products were made and how the people who made them were treated. Whether you’ve landed on a website from across the street or across the ocean, here are some tips to help you find the ones that align with your standards:
- Set the bar: The first step is to know what you’re looking for and to set the bar, not just in the quality of the product, but in your expectations of the company. Are you looking for a fair trade certification? Eco-friendly materials and packaging? Sustainable sourcing? Cruelty free certification? The list goes on. Your baseline can be fluid and change based on your product category, but try to keep it in mind as you start your shopping journey.
- Read their mission: If the brand has a mission statement or story (usually in the “about us” tab), read up! It will help you to build a better connection with the brand, get a feel for what they’re all about, and give you a guiding light as you examine the rest of the content on their website.
- Look for certifications: On the product page, look at the ingredients listed and keep an eye out for any special seals or certifications (for instance the cruelty free bunny, fair trade seal, rainforest alliance certification, etc). Each certification has rigorous requirements that the brand must meet in order to use their seal. You can usually find these criteria on the certifier’s website.
- Dig through their website: This might seem like a no-brainer, but you have to look in the right places to find what you are looking for. Dig into the other “about us” tabs and FAQs. Essentially what you’re looking for is transparency into their supply chain, from where they get their raw materials, to whether they are locally manufactured, how their workers are treated, and if they have any give back initiatives. The wording can be a bit tricky because many brands “greenwash” by using words like “eco-friendly” when their practices don’t reflect that at all, so stay critical. The more evidence, the better.
- Check out their social media: In addition to google reviews, a company’s social media comments are like open access to raw customer reviews, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They’ll show you exactly what people think about the brand! The images the brand chooses, the messaging, and the people they engage with can also give clues to the type of business that they really are.
- Ask them: If there’s something you want to know that you can’t find online, ask them! Don’t be afraid to send a direct message if you have a burning question. Transparency is the name of the game if there are no skeletons in the closet. Newer brands might be working on their websites or on earning specific certifications so when in doubt, just ask!
A couple more rules of thumb are:
- Check where the item is made: Many companies will exploit workers in developing countries that do not have rigorous safety standards or job security. While USA-made is usually a good indicator, modern slavery still exists in large cities. Locally manufactured products typically offer more visibility to how your products are made and who is making them.
- Be critical of the price tag: It’s hard to pass up a good bargain, but try to keep in the true cost of the item you’re purchasing. When you stop to consider all that goes into a $5 t-shirt for example (raw materials, manual labor, water, dye, shipping, warehousing, distribution, etc.) the price point simply doesn’t make sense – they must be cutting corners somewhere. This doesn’t mean that every sustainable/socially responsible product has a towering price tag, but if it is higher than you’re used to, it’s usually for good reason.
You don’t have to be a perfectly sustainable-minded shopper to make a difference, but you vote with your dollars! At Appalachian Botanical Co., we strive to create products that honor our customers, community, and our planet. If you have questions about our mission, products, team, or anything else under the sun, feel free to check out our website, read our blogs, sign up for our newsletter, or reach out to us directly on social media. We’d love to hear from you!
This holiday season, before you spend your hard earned money and “cast your vote” with your purchase, consider doing a little extra research to make sure you’re supporting a vision that aligns with your personal beliefs. And as always, show some love for small, locally manufactured products!
MEET THE AUTHOR / ELIZA TALVOLA is a writer from Pittsburgh, PA who considers herself to be a conscious consumer and traveler, slow fashion advocate, and devoted foodie. She is a firm believer in creative reuse and putting people over profits, and is a long time lavender enthusiast. Her favorite product: Lavender Hand Sanitizer Spray