I swear I’m a fun person to be with if you get to know me. It’s just that – well – I have strong beliefs and I’m really, really stubborn. And recently, all I’ve been thinking about is being an ethical consumer, so I’m going to write about it.

North American culture is heavy with consumerism. We as a society purchase so much stuff: stuff that isn’t a necessity for survival. In our society, the brands you wear dictates your social worth. This is usually the case, and it’s so sad how superficial our society has become.

Owning clothes you don’t wear will result in the future you throwing out or donating the clothes. But the fact is this: there’s already too much donated clothes. Bags of donations sit outside of donation centres, in the packed warehouses of Fort McMurray, and in third-world countries. And you can’t do much with clothing no one wants to wear it, so it’s essentially trash that has to decompose, adding to more environmental damage. Like there already isn’t enough harm with us humans using up the earth’s non-renewable resources like they won’t run out.

Cheaper clothes are made up of cheaper materials (polyester – made of plastic, acrylic – made of a petrochemical derived from oil, rayon – made from wood pulp, nylon – made from plastic). What takes up most of the space in landfills because it cannot biodegrade fast enough? Plastic! How are entire forest and jungle ecosystems being destroyed? Deforestation! It takes 1000 years for plastic to decompose (what the heck), and at least 30 years for a tree to grow to its full size. Essentially, your fashion choices impact the environment directly.

Amongst the mountains of clothing a typical middle-class person owns, I’m betting many were sale items. Maybe I’m just assuming. Maybe I’m putting myself into this assumption, because it’s true for me and mostly everyone I personally know.

The amount of emails I get regarding store promotions are absurd, and I’m only subscribed to a few stores (less now – I unsubscribed from Forever 21 because they use hella sweatshops to produce their relatively cheaply-priced clothing).

Did I mention that on top of Forever 21, mainstream brands and stores like H&MJoe FreshDisneyZara, The Gap/Old NavyAbercrombie & Fitch, and Urban Outfitters mistreat their clothing factory workers?

Even expensive brands such as TopshopVictoria’s SecretNordstromCalvin Klein J. CrewFree People (can the name get any more ironic), Armani, and even Anthropologie, use sweatshops and child labour.

Don’t forget the shoe brands convicted as well, such as Nike, Vans, Skechers, and Aldo Shoes.

The brands listed above either use sweatshops, are convicted of using sweatshops, and/or are abusing their workers. Do a simple Google search if you don’t believe me, it’s common knowledge people ignore. If I sat here and listed every store convicted of sweatshop use, I’d be here for at least two hours.

Let me clarify that ‘sweatshop‘ means low pay for labour; verbal, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse; forced overtime hours; discrimination; and health and safety hazards for their workers. The word has almost lost the potency in its meaning…and that’s when you know the world is becoming more and more corrupt.

When you purchase an item on sale (let’s say a $7.00 t-shirt from H&M) how much of that goes toward the worker? A couple cents, if they’re lucky.

How ironic is it that Disney, The Children’s Place, and Skechers, brands especially catered to children, exploits children?

I did some research for y’all (you’re welcome to your guilty conscience and, cross-my-fingers, your compassionate heart). Here’s a list complied by the International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF) of 60 big corporations that use sweatshops:

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Good news though – there are alternatives! Just to name some (mainstream brands): American ApparelAritziaTNADynamite, and Pac Sun are all considered ethical fashion. Then there are smaller stores (and some of them a bit more pricy) like Frank + OakMatt & NattAre You Am IEverlaneThe Reformation, and RadWear PactElegantees, and EcoVibe Apparel. As well, The Good Trade curated a great list of 35 companies that are ethical. If you’re looking for shoes, Polyvore sells sweatshop-free shoes!

If you’re a broke student like me, you can opt for thrift shopping or shop at consignment stores. Thrift shops allow you to get unique pieces, and no one can cop your style, if you know what I mean. 😉 Even if you’re buying clothes with the brands listed above, the money doesn’t go to them: it goes to the thrift store. I mean…unless the item you purchase from the thrift store has a huge logo splattered on it and you’re basically a walking advertisement for the brand.

Even closet sales are a thing now on Instagram and Facebook, where you can create an account or join a group to buy and/or sell used clothing from other people.

I recently discovered an awesome app called Good On You – it thoroughly filters through clothing brands and lists which ones are ethical in terms of labour, environmental, and animal welfare efforts.

Side note: Owning a lot of stuff isn’t good for you, and I’m speaking from first-hand experience. I’ve been looking into minimalism for a while now and I love the concept. It’s not about restriction, it’s about owning the things you really need to live. According to The Minimalists, minimalism is “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important.” I’m also a bit of a control freak, and that may have contributed to wanting to throw out everything unnecessary to me. I have good reason to do so, though (haha…).

If you turn a blind eye to the reality of sweatshops and environmental damage from your clothing choices, and continue to buy from these brand-name stores, ask the families of the dead Cambodians, Sri Lankans, and Indonesians – their skulls crushed by collapsed rubble of buildings they used to work in (to make the shirt you’re wearing right now) – if they miss them.

Edit: I’m updating this list regularly as I find more stores convicted of sweatshop use OR when I find more ethical brand alternatives.
Note: don’t trust my research and/or the links I provided? Do your own – through a really helpful platform I like to call Google.

Published by Eunice Lee