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Choosing Ethical Fashion: A Guide for the Beginner (by a Beginner)

Fun Fact:  my Noonday Collection Starter Collection was just about my first-ever on-purpose Fair Trade/ethically manufactured purchase.  I know I bought things here and there over the years that fit those criteria, my love of 7 For All Mankind jeans in my 20’s means that I shelled out large chunks of my measly teacher’s salary on an ethical brand, but I pretty much had no idea at the time what I was doing. It wasn’t that I didn’t KNOW or didn’t CARE about the people who made my clothing and accessories, au contraire, I definitely cared. The issue for me was that “Ethical Fashion” seemed out of reach and intimidating to me, like it required worldliness and savvy that I just didn’t see myself having.  Plus the words “Fair Trade” conjured up images for me of baja hoodies, broomstick skirts (grossly misplaced images, but you get my drift), and other things that just weren’t my style.

As I waded into the Noonday Ambassador Community, slowly but surely things started to change for me.  It wasn’t that I felt any more convicted or convinced, it was that I was starting to develop relationships with people who were shopping this way. People who were like me in many ways were shopping consciously and ethically and wearing clothes that I would totally wear, which made it seem more approachable and less intimidating to me. I heard someone say recently that relationships are far more effective in changing people’s minds and behavior than a convincing argument could ever be and I can totally see from this experience why that’s true.

I’m still just getting started and I have very little expertise to offer on the subject in general- with the exception of one area: I am an EXPERT on being a beginner at it and what it feels like to just be getting started.  So that’s what I’m going to write about today. I’m going to offer a beginner’s perspective, just the basics to get one’s legs under one’s self and also share a few resources and point you in the direction of few more experienced and knowledgable voices. I’m going to start by doing that LITERALLY and pointing you in the direction of a podcast by my actual real life friend, Andee Zomerman, who is a blogger and an author and a speaker.  In this podcast, she interviews the amazing Bethany Tran, founder of The Root Collective, an ethical footwear company.   In this interview, Bethany talks about how her company works, how it makes a difference, and toward the end she talks about how she got started and give a bit of a perspective on life as an ethical shopper. So I HIGHLY recommend giving that a listen.

For my part, I’m going to stick to the basics: What, Who, Why, and How.  So let’s go:

The “WHAT”:

At its most basic, when someone says that something was manufactured ethically, they are saying, “NO HUMAN BEINGS WERE HARMED DURING THE MAKING OF THIS THINGIE RIGHT HERE.” A lot of ethical fashion brands also take it a step further and are also doing other really, REALLY good things with their companies. Some are focused on environmentally responsible and sustainable manufacturing, some are concentrating on providing economic opportunity in impoverished communities and/or to underserved demographics, some are fighting human trafficking by providing dignified and consistent employment to people at risk for being trafficked or to survivors of human trafficking- and some even check two or more of those boxes (NOONDAY!). But the underlying commonality is the promise that everyone involved in the making of those clothes was paid and treated fairly.

The “Who”:

There are all kinds of companies doing great, great things. Some of them have certifications that guarantee that they are keepin’ it between the lines with their manufacturing practices, examples include Fair Trade Certification and being a Certified B Corp.  Some companies are simply based in countries where there are labor practices in place that guarantee the working conditions for their employees, including the USA.  To learn more about what to look for in choosing ethical companies, I refer you to another real life friend of mine (well…we are online friends, but we’ve been that way for a couple of years now and we have met in person), the amazing Molly Stillman.  Check out 5 and 6 on her list of tips for purchasing with purpose here.

Additionally, here is a list Molly has collected in the years she has been at this. The brands are alphabetized and links are included:

Also, here’s The Ethical List from The Root Collective. You can browse that right here!


The “Why”:

If you’ve listened to the podcast I’ve linked above, Bethany sums up a lot of the reasons that ethical shopping is important. Many people cite seeing the documentary “The True Cost” or  hearing the news of the factory collapse in Bangladesh as the catalyst for their change in shopping habits. Other people are motivated by the stories behind of the workers who are making their pieces, some appreciate the environmental responsibility of the manufacturers…and for me, it’s probably a big old melting pot of ALLTHETHINGS that provides the foundation for the importance or ethical shopping for me.

The one big, special reason that shopping ethically and consciously has become important to me is that it’s giving me a chance to make a statement with my dollars, to cast a vote for the kind of world I want to live in. It makes shopping feel like an actual investment in the future of this world rather than just throwing away money on something that will have its season and then move on.

The “How”:

This was the big one for me, the main reason I didn’t get started earlier: I didn’t know how.  I think that’s probably going to look different for everyone, but I’m just going to outline what it looks like for me- keep in mind that Im painfully practical.

-I’m starting slowly, piece by piece. I’m approaching it the same way I always have: when I land on an idea for something that would enhance my wardrobe, I go seek it out- but rather than heading to my previous go-to’s, I hop on over to Bethany and Molly’s directories and see if I can find a good place to find it there.

-Another go-to place to shop for me is The Flourish Market.  The owner, Emily Sexton (who, incidentally, models for The Root Collective and is the gorgeous ginger on the cover of The Ethical List document you see above), is a Noonday Ambassador who I’ve also met in person (although she may not remember). She’s done an awesome job of collecting pieces from various ethical fashion brands that are on trend and have wide appeal- or they appeal to me for sure, who knows if that’s “wide” or not. Her stuff is simple, on-trend, and it’s a great way to get a sampling of stuff by different manufacturers all in the same place.

-Bethany says in her interview with Andee above (you listened to it, right?) that her closet has shrunk considerably since she has started shopping ethically- and that’s just fine with me. I’ve always been a small closet girl, my practical nature has never allowed me to become a particularly prolific shopper, so that’s not going to be a big compromise for me. I am going to start focusing on the capsule wardrobe concept, but trying to source the pieces ethically. If you’ve never heard of a capsule wardrobe, here’s a post from the Noonday Collection Flourish Blog, written by my friend Jennifer Frey (again, met online and have met in person.) It talks about a capsule wardrobe for Fall 2015, but she explains the concept well and I’m sure a quick google search can find you specifics for whatever season you’re targeting.

And that’s about all I have so far. As I make additional purchases, I will share them with you.  You can watch me slowly (very slowly) overhaul my wardrobe.  And I’m also not promising that I will be able to source everything ethically.  Jeans, man. Those things are expensive, I’ll have to work back up to dropping a couple of Benji’s on one pair of jeans. But the thing is that it’s not about perfection, it’s about knowing that every purchase matters and that every little bit makes a difference.

So who’s with me? Who wants to try their hand at making a difference with their shopping dollars? Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to add that Noonday Collection is a FINE example of a company that Fair Trade, ethical, and is making a difference. Any Noonday purchases you make through your girl here totally count toward ethical shopping. Here’s the link.

Now go forth and change the world, one killer outfit at a time.




Wife and mom in the Pacific Northwest, dreaming of a world with no mom left behind.

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