I was raised to be thrifty. My family and I were always looking for “a good deal,” so we often shopped sales and clearance racks. A good deal was not only what I sought out, but what also chiefly guided my buying decisions. I had pride in how much money was saved. “It was 50% off!” or “It was 60 bucks off the original price!” were phrases I joyously exclaimed about my “good deal” purchases. While price was the determining factor, I never gave thought to how or where my stuff was made…or the quality of life of the people who made it.
Fast forward to when I lived and traveled in Asia. A few key events changed my outlook, values, and buying decisions.
- While traveling in Cambodia, I saw a fellow traveler purchase a prostitute’s time so she could just converse instead of work.
- One book shattered my worldview: reading about modern slavery left me shocked and heartbroken. I wondered why I hit my late 20s/early 30s before hearing about this issue.
- Another book gave me hope: “Building Social Business” by Mohamed Yunus. I got that eradicating poverty through a viable business product and business structure was possible.
- I started hearing about fair trade and learning more about its effects.
- I got involved with a church group working to raise awareness of human trafficking issues. I decided how to work within my sphere of influence, so I taught my students to also raise awareness and take some form of action.
After I moved back to the States, I wanted to continue taking action to help eradicate poverty and modern day slavery. When you’re ready to take action, you start discovering what’s around you. You get connected. You go to meetings. You get to enjoy discovering new products and organizations that are helping support the ones making the products.
When I think back to the brands that were coveted as a young teen, many were quite expensive to my thrifty mindset. What I’ve grown to appreciate about Mata Traders is that for less than $100, my purchase empowers the workers who hand make my item. I get to express not only what makes me feel good, but also fits with my values of social responsibility. Now, many of my purchases come with an “empowerment story” that excitedly gets told when people comment on what I’m wearing.
Our wedding cake topper even had a tiny Mata dress on it! // Image: Ed Tiodoro
The choices I now make go beyond fashion. Recently, I’ve discovered that I’m consciously cultivating a lifestyle on values that I’ve determined, rather than allowing external influences to unconsciously determine them for me. I now research companies’ missions and how they conduct business. I know that my dollars are powerful in shaping the demand that companies supply. I know my dollars have a direct impact (either positively or negatively) in the lives of those in the supply chain. While I didn’t start out shopping with social conscious values, they have grown over the years. It didn’t happen overnight. It HAS taken years, but now when I need something, I choose to research companies whose values align with mine.
It hasn’t always been easy. I sometimes feel frustrated when I can’t readily find something made ethically. Sometimes I wait to find an ethically made product. Sometimes I eventually decide to buy the non-ethically made one. But what has changed is that I am aware, and I know I have a choice of how I choose to spend my money. Maybe it means I buy less (definitely a good thing) and buy a high quality fair trade item that truly brings me joy… joy for its construction, style, usefulness, but an even deeper joy knowing that it has contributed to the well-being of the lives of those who had a hand in making it.
While this is my story, you might be thinking about your own journey. Chances are that if you’re reading this blog post, you follow Mata Traders, and you probably have some kind of knowledge of fair trade. No matter where you are on your journey, I encourage you to realize the power you do have as a consumer. Your choices matter. Your dollars matter because yours will combine with mine to be a voice for what we want companies to produce.
Maybe you’ve had a journey like mine where your buying decisions didn’t empower workers. Yet, the past is the past, and you get to decide what values you choose to live out and what your future purchases look like. Start right where you are because becoming a conscious consumer can be overwhelming. Need new laundry soap or bath towels? Some new bling or a bag of coffee? Research and find a company that aligns with your values and proudly purchase from them. Start small, or go big (as my husband says), but do start. Each and every purchase matters because it IS a vote of power, care, and concern that you are casting.
You can also start or continue raising yours and other people’s awareness by getting connected with organizations through social media. It’s a no-cost way to become a conscious consumer. Learn who’s out there working for, not fighting against, (email me for my reasoning WHY on this :D) the change you want to see.
So, after the joy of your first (or hundredth) purchase soaks in, buy your next ethically made product. Build incremental growth that sustains you and builds a new habit. When you do this, you get to BE the change you want to see in the world.
– April, Founder of New Dawn Life Coaching