Now that I’ve been doing this whole blog thing for a little while, I often find people coming to me with questions, whether it be about what to buy, change, read or do. Over the past few months, especially as I’ve met quite a few new people recently, I’ve noticed that all these questions boil down to the same simple concept.

Where do I start?

Most people I meet are already set in routines, have already established shopping habits, and already have lives that demand a lot of their time. They care, but they don’t have the time or energy to do all the research all of the time, or to try and consider every single intersecting factor that can affect whether we call something ethical or sustainable. So below I’ve attempted to create a simple guide, split into priority and product categories, which hopefully you or your aspiring ethical friends can consult if you’re just not quite sure how to get started. I’ve split it this way because the answer to how to start varies a lot depending on what your main priorities are and what you want to change. Therefore some of this advice overlaps depending on sections, so feel free to just find the parts that apply to you, and go from there.

Hope it helps!

Priorities

Human Rights

  • Stop going into high street stores altogether. People often ask me which high street stores are ethical, but honestly I don’t have any that I could recommend. Some large companies don’t like to disclose information at all, but the reality is even those with strict compliance regulations usually can’t really monitor their production lines properly. The factories they contract to often sub-contract out the work, because they are required to produce so much, so fast. When we ask who made my clothes, large chains often really do not know.
  • Start buying secondhand, whether this be charity shops, vintage shops, ebay, depop or clothes that use up/recycled materials. This way you’re partaking in the circular economy and helping prolong the lives of clothes that have already been created.
  • Try to change your perspective. Yes, ethical fashion is more expensive, but it actually makes more sense because everyone in the supply chain is properly paid, whereas fast fashion companies put much higher markups on clothes that cost almost nothing to make – so they’re actually fleecing you more.
  • At the beginning it can be hard to find ethical brands, so why not start with some marketplaces? Places like Joon & Co, Ecomono, Consume with Love, Sheer Apparel and Gather & See bring ethical brands together in one place, which will help you get started with learning names and values. You can also find a lot of small creators selling on sites like Etsy or Ebay.
  • Alongside that, try reading a variety of ethical blogs (Ethical Writers & Creatives contains a whole variety of lovely writers) to learn more about different brands and products. The longer you’re in this world, the more you’ll find!
  • As well as buying from ethical fashion companies, look for organic and natural materials such as organic cotton, hemp and linen. The pollution caused by creating non-organic materials eventually will come back round to hurting other people, as problems caused by pollution hurt poorer nations much worse and much quicker.
  • Stop using the smart phone argument as a reason to not buy ethically produced products. You can buy a slave labour free phone.
  • Make sure your fashion choices aren’t culturally appropriating.

Zero Waste

Think about the things that you use or consume the most, and then consider replacing them with a reusable or eco friendly alternative. The most common:

  • tampons/pads to menstrual cups or reusable pads
  • plastic bottles to a reusable water bottle
  • disposable razors to a stainless steel safety razor
  • disposable coffee cups to a keep cup
  • toilet paper, kitchen roll and tissues in plastic to recycled/bamboo packaged in paper
  • plastic toothbrush/hairbrush/make up brushes to bamboo alternatives
  • plastic fruit, veg and bread bags at the supermarket for reusable bags
  • coffee pods and tea bags to coffee beans and loose leaf
  • plastic wrap to wax wraps
  • plastic tupperware to stainless steel
  • bottled shampoo to shampoo bars
  • bottled shower gel to bars of soap
  • plastic cutlery to reusable cutlery to carry with you
  • straws to asking for no straw, or bringing your own stainless steel version
  • plastic to biodegradable phone cases
  • compost your food scraps
  • meal prep your food to avoid wasteage
  • send soiled clothes and broken electronics to textile and electronic recycling, don’t just put them in the bin
  • buy clothes from companies that utilise waste offcuts as their material (for example Lara Intimates and P.i.C style do this) or are made from upcycled/recycled textiles
  • Make your own deodorant, or get an alum bar
  • Don’t buy a bunch of new containers for bulk buying just for the aesthetic. First, start saving jars and containers that you may have anyway, then buy what you don’t already have.

and making your own cleaning products, toothpaste, moisturisers etc. There’s a ton of recipes out there!

Animal Cruelty

Maybe this is an area that you’ve already been active in, or maybe it’s something you’re just starting to think about. If so, here are some of my tips:

  • Decrease your meat and dairy intake – chefs like Minimalist Baker, The Happy Pear and The Vegan Corner have some great recipes. The best thing with this is to try and change your perspective on cooking. If you’re used to making ‘meat and two veg’ recipes and you try to replace the meat/dairy portions, you’re going to find that a whole lot harder. Instead look for different types of recipes like casseroles, stews and soups that combine protein elements in different ways.
  • Also, learn your protein sources! Yes, you’re going to be asked about this a lot. Yes, it’s going to be annoying. But you can get protein from grains, pulses, tofu, beans and vegetables. That being said make sure to get hold of a regular B12 pill, or multivitamin containing B12, to keep yourself nice and healthy.
  • Make your own milk and butter alternatives.
  • Seek out make up brands that are cruelty free, vegan, natural and organic, therefore having minimal impact on animals and ecosystems. (FYI, if a brand is selling product in China, they aren’t cruelty free, as it’s required by law to test on animals for the Chinese market).
  • Don’t immediately buy a bunch of vegan leather/fake fur products. Vegan alternatives aren’t always best for animals, as buying plastic based fibres will have larger knock on effects on eco-systems which put more wildlife at risk. The good news is that there’s been development in this area, so opt for eco-friendly leathers like Piñatex or plant based alternatives like Kantala’s bagsGreen Banana Paper’s Wallets and Wils Fabrik Wooden Watches. If you’re buying fake fur, buy it secondhand instead of increasing demand for synthetic materials.
  • Avoid microbeads, which harm marine life and ocean ecosystems. Look for products with natural scrubbing elements like jojoba beads instead.
  • Look at where your natural fibres are sourced. If you want to buy wool, buy it from an ethically accredited institution that cares for their sheep. Alternatively buy alpaca products, where the animal literally has to be happy in order to create good fibres.
  • If you have a garden, why not try and make it more bee friendly? In fact, check out all my tips here for looking out for bees!

Carbon Footprint

  • Offset your current carbon emissions with a voluntary carbon tax.
  • Support the divestment movement to take investment out of fossil fuels.
  • Move your money into an ethical bank or building society that doesn’t invest in the fossil fuel industry.
  • Decrease your meat and dairy intake. Even if you’re not particularly concerned by animal welfare, animal agriculture is a major pollutant, so cutting down is an easy way to lower your footprint.
  • Try and buy local and seasonal groceries. Look out for farmers markets or allotments where you can buy produce that was grown locally and didn’t travel far to get to you.
  • Try and take more public transport or cycle instead of driving.
  • While you’re at it, why not try more staycations in your own country? Or if you’re in Europe, why not try hopping on a train instead of flying.
  • Also, don’t go on cruises.
  • If you have a website (who doesn’t these days?), switch to wind powered web hosting.
  • Try and buy locally produced clothes. There’s a ton of companies these days that manufacture in Europe, America and Australia especially, so try and find some ethical companies that are local, or at least closer, to you.

Non-Toxic

Minimalism

  • Don’t get rid of everything just because you watched the Minimalists documentary (it’s tempting I know!). Clear through areas slowly, make lists of what you need so that you don’t throw things away that you might find yourself needing later, donate items consciously and try to host clothes swaps and garage sales to give your items to a good home.
  • Also, don’t try and clear everything out at once. Split your home into different sections, and tackle one section per month, per week, or whatever works for you. Making it smaller makes it much more achievable.
  • Try making your own products to cut down on the amount of things you have to buy (zero waste goes hand in hand with minimalism).
  • Invest in really good storage options, and store your items so that everything has a place. Often we get stressed because our things end up everywhere. Giving everything a proper place to be stored out of sight will definitely help with the mental health aspect of minimalism.
  • When you want to buy something new, avoid impulse buying. If you see something you want, go away and think about it for a little while. If you still want it a week or two later, that’s very different to buying something in the moment.
  • Invest in versatile clothes that can be mixed and matched or worn a variety of different ways. That way you have one thing, but it can be multiple different outfits. Ideal.
  • Remember that minimalism looks different for everyone. You might start asking ‘can I own this and still be a minimalist?’ but it doesn’t work like that. It’s not about owning as little as possible or emulating an aesthetic, it’s about making sure that what you do own adds value to your life. If you have a hobby, a child or a pet that requires owning more stuff or being a little messy, that’s ok! Those things make you happy. Follow what works for you, instead of trying to pigeonhole yourself or make your life look like someone else’s.

Products

Fashion

Conscious clothing has to have a few intersecting elements to be truly ethical and sustainable. I would narrow it down to labour, materials and dyes. So try to find clothes where:

  • workers are paid a living wage (not minimum wage in their country, a real living wage) in a factory that’s externally accredited by a good organisation.
  • materials are natural (like ethical wool or alpaca) so will naturally biodegrade again one day, certified organic such as organic cotton, hemp or linen that doesn’t pollute the environment, or certified created sustainably in a closed loop system like tencel. Materials like bamboo and modal are better than full synthetics, but aren’t the best materials on the market, so choose them only if there’s no better alternatives.
  • dyes are non-toxic, water based or created naturally using plants, and no toxic chemicals are released into waterways during production.
  • When it comes to jewellery/accessories, try to buy items made from recycled or sustainable materials instead of plastic. Also look out for artisan made pieces from smaller businesses, there are SO many out there that are stunning.
  • Also, consider making your own clothes! This was suggested on facebook so I’m going to paste straight from the comment, as it’s so well worded. ‘You need the investment of a sewing machine, but there are plenty of decent ones on the market for less than £200, and you need to know how to do it, by learning online (Craftsy has loads of classes) or by taking an adult Ed course locally. It’s an immensely satisfying hobby, and you tend to hang on to things you’ve made yourself rather than dumping them after a couple of wears. I find it easier to source organic cotton, linen, tencel, as sustainably produced fabrics than to find clothing in styles that I like and that I can afford, and it cuts out the worry about where and how it was made’ (Thanks to Dee for this great suggestion and thorough advice!)

Alternatively, buy secondhand and hold clothes swaps in order to prolong the life of the items you already have.

Also, take care of your clothes properly and don’t clean them at normal dry cleaners.

Beauty

  • Look for products made from natural, non-toxic, organic and sustainably sourced ingredients.
  • Look for beauty products that are made locally to you and in small batches, as these will both be more sustainable and have a smaller footprint. You can often find these at local farmer/craft markets.
  • Buy palm oil free beauty products. If you do buy something with palm oil, make sure it’s sustainably sourced. But try to avoid it as much as possible.
  • If you’re not concerned with products being vegan, do buy from brands that are cruelty free (if a brand sells in China, they aren’t cruelty free as it’s required by law to test on animals for the Chinese market) because it’s 2018 and that stuff is not necessary.
  • Find places to recycle your old make up as best you can.
  • Try to find products in reusable packaging like glass, or sustainable/biodegradable packaging.
  • And remember, you can always make your own.

Learn more about natural beauty myths and facts here.

Food

  • Decrease your meat and dairy intake. Even if you’re not particularly concerned by animal welfare, animal agriculture is a major pollutant, so cutting down is an easy way to lower your footprint.
  • If you can, buy organic.
  • Try to buy in bulk where you can. If you have a local bulk store, head there with your own containers. If you don’t, try and buy the largest bags of things (such as oats, rice and pasta) over multiple smaller ones, as it produces less total waste.
  • Take your own bags to the shops for bread and loose fruit/vegetables instead of plastic bags.
  • Try to buy your food from local farmers markets or allotments. It’s often cheaper, zero waste and organic too!
  • Try to buy your produce seasonally to keep your footprint down.
  • Compost your food scraps.
  • If you have surplus food or are in need of food, check out apps like Olio.
  • Buy loose coffee beans and loose leaf tea instead of pods and bags.
  • Get a reusable water bottle, keep cup and reusable cutlery to avoid waste on the go.
  • If you want to try growing your own produce at home, here are some tips.

Home

PHEW! Ok this is all I can think of for now. If anything else comes to mind or to my attention, I’ll come back and add it here. I hope it helped!