Fashion Sustainability Experts Share Advice on How We Can Demand Fashion Brands Become More Ethical

Two fashion sustainability professionals share their advice for affecting change when it comes to ethical shopping — because it's so much more than boycotting fast fashion.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Feb. 8 2019, Updated 12:20 p.m. ET

fashion ethical sustainable advice
Source: ISTOCK

If you only want to support ethical fashion companies, all you need to do is boycott brands that don't align with your values, right? Well, according to Linda Greer, a Senior Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and an expert in the sustainable fashion space, and Alden Wicker, an ethical fashion blogger and journalist, simply boycotting brands has no effect on them. Instead, Wicker offers a suggestion that, if people with a passion for ethical fashion follow, could truly have an impact on the industry.

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Wicker, who blogs about sustainable fashion under the Instagram handle @ecocult, shared Linda Greer's philosophy in a recent Instagram post. Wicker posted an image of the following quote before launching into her point: "Those who care don't shop. Those who shop, don't care." In the caption, Wicker explained that she first heard this ideology from Greer, who she calls "the smartest person in the sustainable fashion movement." Wicker is not the only person who feels that way about Greer — in 2014, designer Stella McCartney wrote a short essay for Vanity Fair applauding Greer, the way she fights for environmental causes, and the NRDC's Clean By Design program, which Greer created.

In her Instagram post, Wicker continued by further elaborating on Greer's philosophy. She explained that simply boycotting unethical brands is ineffective because: "People who care don't shop (so brands don't care about their opinion) and those who shop, don't care (so there are always plenty of people who are going to buy their stuff)." Basically, say you've decided you don't want to support Forever 21, so you stop shopping there. A huge brand like Forever 21 isn't going to be hit very hard by losing one customer, and people who don't care about fast fashion's effects on the environment and on workers are going to continue shopping there. So by not shopping at Forever 21 anymore, the only difference you're making is less of their items are consumed, and there's slightly less of a demand for their products.

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So yes, simply boycotting brands can still make a small difference — but you have the power to make a much larger difference by using your voice. Here's what Wicker suggests doing instead, based on her conversation with Greer. "You know what does work?" Wicker wrote. "Talking to brands. Tweeting them, commenting, sending emails that will be passed up the chain to prove to the executive suite that customers care. "

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Wicker then made it extremely clear what people should and should not say to these brands. "Saying 'I will NEVER buy anything from xyz brand' means that your opinion with NEVER matter to xyz brand. Because it doesn't matter what they do, you won't shop there!" she explained. "Instead, talk about how you would be a customer, if they did better. That's the kind of stuff the good people inside the company can use to move their agenda forward."

She then left a few suggestions of what to say instead. Things like, "I was considering buying your shoes, but your competitor released ones made with upcycled ocean plastic. So I bought those instead" or ""I love your brand so much, but I'm waiting for you to have more women on your executive team and board," are much more effective, because they show the brand that you want to support them, but that you only will if they make an effort to align a bit more with your values.

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Via Instagram direct message, Wicker shares with Green Matters a time when she practiced what she preached — and it had positive results. "Once I emailed my favorite nontoxic nail polish brand and asked them about their bubble wrap shipping, and they wrote back asking for recommendations and I directed them to a paper option," she tells Green Matters. For transparency, Wicker noted that because she works as a journalist and consultant, it's her job to tell companies things like this — but the fact that the nail polish company listened to her suggestion is still significant.

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Wicker also tells Green Matters about an example of customers finding power in numbers. "The founder of Seed said that Warby Parker approached her after customers sent them [Seed's] packaging as an example of what they would prefer," she tells Green Matters via DM. Wicker actually elaborated on this in a recent article she wrote for Vox about poly bags, explaining that in addition to Warby Parker, Madewell also contacted Seed to get more information on sustainable packaging after customers told the clothing company about Seed. As Wicker explained for Vox, Seed is a microbiome science company that packages orders using a compostable pouch (made by the brand Elevate) instead of plastic, even though it is more costly.

Wicker's Instagram post makes such an important point. Brands exist for consumers, so by telling brands what we want to see from them, consumers really do have the power to help companies become more ethical and sustainable.

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