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Your Guide to Guilt-free Shopping

Where to Shop Ethically: Breaking Down the Conscious Fashion Market

Where should a conscious shopper begin the search for ethically-made clothes? New movements, labels, and hashtags are constantly appearing, many overlapping and some conflicting as more and more people become aware of the reasons to shop ethically. All types and sizes of ethical stores now exist, but here are a few of the most common types:

Small boutiques: Items in these stores are often unique or one-of a kind, made by a variety of different artisans and chosen by the boutique owner. Typically these are in-person only, but a few are making it possible to shop online.
Pro: It can be very fun to shop at a place like this where everything has already been screened for style and ethics, and you can come away with truly unique pieces.
Con: These carefully-curated shops come with a higher price point and often have limited stock and sizes.

Arts and crafts fairs or shows: These events are places where artisans can sell their products directly. Common items include hats, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories.
Pro: You get to meet the person who made your item!
Con: While you can find unique items, the selection is unpredictable and tends not to include the practical basics you need everyday.

Etsy: Basically an arts and crafts fair in website form, this is a great marketplace for small, home businesses to sell their products individually to customers online.
Pro: A massive selection, and the ability to have something custom made.
Con: Be prepared to wait for your item, many businesses make to order and few offer fast shipping. Also, be on the lookout to support real small companies, and avoid items that are made in sweatshops and sold individually on Etsy.

Thrift shops: Since buying something from a thrift shop is basically recycling and most thrift shops support charitable causes, these stores are a favorite with ethical shoppers. Most of these are physical stores but there are plenty of nonprofit and for-profit online resale stores as well.
Pro: These shops are very affordable. They are a good place to find quality vintage items as well as getting your fast fashion fix without actually contributing to the production of new stuff. Another idea is to stock up on staples that are toxic to produce new, such as black clothing or sandblasted jeans.
Con: If you find something you love, it’s only available in one size. It can be a lot of work to sort through all the items available. Also, since these stores often fund charities, make sure it’s a cause you support.

Cut to order: A newer movement on the sustainable clothing scene eliminates waste by making the clothing after it is ordered. No more piles of unsold clothing going to the landfill!
Pro: Since the store is making the item for you anyway, you often get to customize it to your taste, and you can be sure it comes in your size.
Con: Be prepared to wait a little bit longer than with a traditional retailer for your order to arrive.

Larger ethical brands: Luckily for the conscious consumer, there are now plenty of stores that look and feel like the traditional retailers we’re used to shopping from, but hold themselves to higher production standards. Often they own their own ethical factories or work with other factories that have good production standards. Many source from cooperatives around the world, which are at least partly owned by the people producing the clothing and give a portion of the proceeds to benefiting the community of the workers. These stores are a dependable source of basics, such as underwear, t-shirts, and jeans, as well as more trendy items.
Pro: These stores are easier for a consumer who is not used to ethical shopping. No need to wait for your item to be made or sift through a random assortment of items. The only adjustment a customer has to make compared to fast fashion is paying more than at a big box store, although many of these stores do a good job keeping the cost down.  
Con: These stores usually have smaller selections than a typical retail giant so it’s good to know a bunch of them. Be on the lookout for shops that make grand claims of transparency or ethical sourcing that are unsubstantiated, also called greenwashing or "green sheen".
Shopping ethically can feel overwhelming at first. It can be hard to remember all the options, which is why we’ve built our ShopKind ethical marketplace. As more and more brands work with us, we look forward to allowing you to shop across all types of ethical retailers in one smooth shopping experience. Ethical shopping is expensive and difficult. We may not be able to help with the expensive part, but we can make it easier. We also believe that shopping ethically now will help it to become more affordable in the future. When ethical vendors have more support and buying power they can eventually bring their costs down, and it will also encourage other clothing retailers to clean up their production. Organic food used to be expensive and hard to find, but now it’s everywhere, often for a similar price as conventionally farmed food. Ethically and sustainably produced clothing may be next.

This article is Part 2 in a 4-part series on the What, Where, Why, and How of Ethical Shopping.
Check back next week for the third article in the series.

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