Every dollar is a vote. What you pay for, you support.
Too often as consumers, we focus on the end product. We go into a store or shop online, and we willingly research into every review, every detail we can find on a product, but how much do we know about where these products come from? How they’re made? Who’s involved in the process?
I’ve discussed in a previous post about fair trade certification, but there are even more options available to make a difference. Some don’t even cost you anything, so there’s really no reason not to treat yourself (and others!) well.
Why shop charitably?
There’s a reason why items at Forever 21 and H&M are much less expensive than, say, buying from a local or fair-trade business. The price you pay at the register accounts for everyone involved making that product: the fabrics and ingredients involved and how they’re extracted, the labor involved to create the product, the labor’s pay and conditions, and every step in between.
When you go into a store and buy something, why did you choose that item? Do you know the brand name? Have you had a good experience with the product? Did someone recommend it to you? Okay, with that out of the way, do you know the brand’s values and standards? Do you know what ingredients make up that product and how they affect the human body and/or environment? What impact might this choice have?
That’s a lot of questions for what seems like a simple task and decision, but we become mindless when we resort to what we’re used to without digging beneath the surface. We pride “smart shoppers” who can buy a cart-full of groceries under a certain dollar amount, but I think the actual smart shoppers are ones who are conscious and intentional with their purchases. They might not be spending the least or even the most, but they are aware of the life that put the items on the shelves.
In an increasingly capitalistic society, the new mentality in all aspects of life has become one that wants more, for the least amount of effort or money, as fast as possible. Since we are mere human beings, we are then forced to mass produce everything at lightning speed and always come out with new items to keep people interested. We become bored too easily. We feel the need to keep buying more to simply keep up. But the people who are most affected by our choices are the ones we forget about, perhaps because they’re quiet or live in a foreign country. They have the same basic rights as you and me, but we treat them like cogs in our ever-growing, forever-hungry machine.
Obviously there is much to say about human, animal, and environmental rights, but the simple truth stands: every little act of kindness and empathy matters, and charitable shopping is an important way to make that statement.
Where to start: local businesses.
I’m a huge proponent of supporting small businesses, especially stores that carry items from smaller vendors or make things themselves. The people owning and working in that store might be people you personally know, and even if they aren’t, they are invigorating the local economy.
Small business owners represent the largest employer nationally and ensure you’re investing your community and its future. In fact, local business owners donate more than twice as much per sales dollar to local non-profit organizations compared to big businesses.
Shopping locally also helps the environment by eliminating the need to transport goods and reduces unnecessary habitat loss and pollution. Shipping and transporting long distances results in 11 billion gallons of fuel per year and one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. That accounts for a quarter of all CO2 produced in most developed nations! Plus, industrial pollution is responsible for half of the country’s present pollution levels, dumping out three million tons of toxic chemicals into the land, water, and air.
It’s definitely worth our time and the extra costs to shop locally and charitably. Let’s make every day Small Business Saturday and celebrate our communities’ entrepreneurs and do some good.
Online charitable stores.
Especially if you like shopping online, you have a world of options available. Some charitable sites that I’ve found include the UNICEF Marketplace and Global Goods Partners, among many others. These sites support artisans from around the world and support the work charities already do to help others. Plus, both examples offer really unique products that you know are well-designed and beautifully crafted. It’s the epitome of quality over quantity. You can trust that you’re directly empowering hard-working people and keeping them out of inhumane factory settings, enabling other communities to build their economies and develop.
Certain charities have merchandise themselves, so I highly recommend following the charities and causes you already support and see if they have stores selling products that partially or completely go toward keeping the non-profit afloat. A couple of my personal favorites are Clothe Thy Neighbor as Yourself, To Write Love on Her Arms, and Mental Health America if you want a place to start.
I especially love Better World Books because I’m an avid reader, which means I’m constantly diving into books and finding myself buying them on a regular basis. I can buy used books if I so choose to reduce my environmental impact, and still have tons of great options to choose from. Plus, if you’re a student, they have cheap textbooks…it’s a win-win situation.
AmazonSmile and GoodShop even allow you to shop where you usually do online and automatically donate proceeds to your charity of choice. Because if you need a certain item anyways, why not also give back to a cause you feel strongly about? You’re not paying any more money, and yet you still get to shop charitably? There’s really no excuse to not use these resources when you aren’t sacrificing your habits or these sites’ convenience.
Help others for FREE!
That’s right: charitable shopping without the shopping!
You can go on FreeRice and answer vocabulary questions while feeding the hungry. It’s a fun way to pass time that doesn’t involve excessive social media scrolling, and maybe you’ll learn something new while fighting world hunger.
A resource that is now my default online is using the search engine Ecosia. They plant trees every time you search, and it’s just as reliable and helpful as Google (coming from a search engine snob). Over my months of using Ecosia every day, I’ve planted over 1,100 trees…basically doing nothing. Again, this is a switch so easy, it’s crazy that we aren’t all doing this.
By spreading awareness of big business practices and shopping locally and charitably, what might seem like it won’t matter truly does make a difference. Your choices matter. We need to expand our everyday mindsets beyond ourselves. We need to question what we assume is just or right and really understand how our little choices can add up. And when those choices add up, I hope you too want to make that sum one of good.
How do you treat others well and shop charitably? I’d love to learn more about the easy ways we can all help.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie