Can I afford to shop ethically?

Shopping ethically can often be, although is not always, more expensive. Whether you’re buying free range meat or vegan mascara, organic cotton or the moon cup, you may find the environmental choice comes with a higher price tag. So, is ethical fashion only for the affluent? Is it unreasonable to expect everyone to shop in this way? Could you even argue it’s a form of elitism?

Yes, and no.

Yes, it’s fair to say that environmental choices are often more expensive, so some people get priced out of the option. If you’re bringing a family up on minimum wage then clearly your biggest concern is not whether an item is made from 100% organic cotton. It’s important to be realistic about how much you can do yourself, and also be empathetic to other people’s circumstances.

No, sustainable fashion or organic food is not impossibly expensive for many people, and certainly shouldn’t be used as an excuse. If you can afford it, you should. For many of us, changing our shopping patterns requires a certain amount of sacrifice and really, is that such a terrible thing? When we’re talking about the future of our planet, buying more infrequently but ‘better’ seems like the way to go.

Free range chicken is more expensive; so why not buy chicken less frequently but only buy free range? Eating a less expensive food more regularly will mean you’re spending the same amount of money over time, and chicken can be reserved for a treat. (See other posts for the importance of cutting out/ down on meat anyway.)

The same applies for beauty and fashion products. You don’t need new clothes every month, far from it. It’s far better to save up for one ethically made dress/ pair of trousers/ boots that you love than to spend regularly on throwaway fashion. It’s all about making long term decisions. Sometimes, it simply won’t be affordable, but this is worth saving for.

It’s important to remember that the people making our clothes, cheap clothing in particular, often have far less money and come from far worse backgrounds than those with spending power in the ‘West.’ The complexities of globalisation and post colonialism are for another article, but suffice to say: this imbalance is fundamentally unjust.

Say you’re earning minimum wage, it makes sense that you don’t want to spend £70+ on a pair of environmentally friendly jeans, where you know the workers were paid a fair wage. £70 is a very long time to save, when you could go to Primark and buy a couple of pairs for less than half the cost. Unfortunately, that’s when the tough questions have to be asked: Do you really need the jeans? Could you buy environmental leggings instead? Do you need multiple pairs or could you manage with one?

The balance is waiting, saving and making a sacrifice, so that you’re not contributing to screwing over those whose ‘wage’ would make your income look like a fortune.

The problem of course, is that the reality is simply unfair and there’s no getting around that. Some people will have to make bigger sacrifices than others. If everyone who could afford to shop ethically did, the prices would come way down as it would be a more popular choice and the problem wouldn’t be anywhere near as big. If large companies cared more, and paid people a fair wage this could be resolved very easily. If more people new about the problem… If…

The ‘if’s’ go on, but at the end of the day, the only definite factor you can control is yourself, and your personal buying power. Will you make the sacrifice or not, do you care enough about the environment and the people making clothes, beauty products and food? Can you afford to shop ethically? Or, the bigger question: can you afford not to?

~ Jo ~


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