• Allison B.

How to Say "No" to Fake Philanthropy & Fast Fashion

How many of us are more willing to buy something if we know that part of the proceeds from that product are going to a good cause?

Brands like Warby Parker & TOMS have been so successful because consumers like knowing that their purchase is going to a worthy cause. However, other companies see this & adopt the same marketing strategies, advertising that their products go towards helping the greater good, without actually doing so.

Fake philanthropy has been growing more with the advent of social media. How many of you have companies commenting on your posts something like : "DM us! We want to get you a (insert product here) that helps fight (insert worthy cause here.)" A company recently reached out to me saying that they wanted to get me a bracelet to help fight domestic violence. Often, when this happens, the company usually provides you a discount code to buy something in the store. In exchange, you would advertise their product on your page and then be featured on their company page.

I personally avoid the scheme at all costs. You're essentially paying this company for publicity, under the disguise that you're helping a worthy cause. You don't benefit much, because typically these companies don't have a huge follower count so you have minimal exposure to a larger audience. The company, however, benefits more because not only did they profit off of you, they also got a free feature on your page.

But what really grinds my gears is that they take advantage of your emotions and empathy and use that as leverage to persuade you into buying their products. Perhaps a more relatable example is Pride month marketing this past June. How many companies plastered a rainbow on their products to increase their sales during Pride month? And how many of these companies do you think actually contribute to the LGBTQIA movement and provide funding for laws, policies, and resources that support these individuals?

Fake philanthropic companies shamelessly profit off already underprivileged, marginalized individuals. It's easier for them to do so, because technology exposes us to information and advertisement at a fast, constant pace. So they just hope for that impulsive reaction of you seeing that rainbow and assuming that company actually supports LGBTQIA individuals. They know that you most likely won't get a moment to pause and question because you're already on to the next thing, seeing the next company's ad.

Yes, we live in a culture of consumerism and capitalism so these types of things are, unfortunately, inevitable--which is why I think as consumers, we have an obligation to make more informed choices about what we buy. Giving our money into a product essentially tells companies that we support their mission, values, and brand. The more we as a consumer-base demand something, the more they will supply.

The fashion industry specifically is guilty of unethical practices. We've all heard of sweatshops, but do we actually know what that word entails? Broadly speaking, sweatshops are places of unfair labor practices where workers are underpaid and forced to work in unsafe, substandard conditions. Oftentimes, these individuals will work unreasonably long hours, and children may even be used in the labor force. Here's a link to DoSomething.org that gives 11 Facts about Sweatshops: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops

A couple months ago, I watched a documentary called "The True Cost" on Netflix. It's a highly educational and very interesting film! It discusses the impact of fast fashion brands like Forever 21 or Fashion Nova. What is fast fashion? Dictionary.com's definition is: "low-priced clothing that is brought to market quickly and copies fashion trends created by luxury brands." For people who cannot afford luxury brands, fast fashion seems like a great deal! You get to look like a celebrity without needing the money to afford that look; but at what cost?

If you watch the documentary, they explain why fast fashion brands are harmful, but to summarize it: they often use unethical labor practices such as overseas sweatshops to continuously and quickly roll out new styles. These brands are able to offer clothing at a lower price for "first-world" consumers because they underpay the workers (often in impoverished nations like Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc.) and do not have to provide them with any benefits, including a safe working environment.

I know a lot of people are willing to look past this. For the longest time, Nike has had rumors circulating that they use sweatshops, and people continue to buy their shoes. Their checkmark is all over my social media feeds. But I also know that many people also do not know the impact of their purchases.

For the past few months, I've been heavily researching brands and reading more about fair trade labor practices. I've compiled some tips if anyone is interested in learning more!

1. Ethical clothing brands are more expensive. Like, a lot more expensive. You're not going to be shopping at these brands the same way you'd shop at H&M, unless you have the $means$ to. Many brands offer payment plans like AfterPay where you can opt for monthly installments. My solution is to:

a) stop new purchases at fast fashion retailers (easily identified by a quick Google search)

b) buy versatile pieces from ethical clothing brands that will last a long time. You can do some research on capsule wardrobes! (The clothing brand VETTA actually creates capsule wardrobes for you!)

c) sell your old clothes instead of donating. There's many online used clothing retailers that you can use. Oftentimes, many donation services end up with more clothes than they can handle because many people donate, and these clothes are dumped in impoverished countries, contributing to waste. By selling your clothes, you're ensuring that it is going to someone who actually wants it, and you make a profit! (Also this isn't to say that you shouldn't donate, but try to cut back on it.)

d) buy up-cycled clothes from these sites! Good for your wallet & the environment.

2. For retailers online, read their mission, values, and About Us page. Brands that are Fair Trade and Ethical will often advertise that and be transparent about their labor practices. They'll often say how their products are made and where they are imported from.

3. If you don't see anything about the brand being fair trade / ethical, you can always reach out to them. As a consumer, you have a right to know. The other day, I emailed a shoe brand because I couldn't find anything about where their products were made, and I wasn't about to spend $120+ dollars if they weren't fair trade (since I can definitely get ethically-made ones for less). Even though I explicitly asked them about their labor practices, they just got back to me with : "These shoes are imported from China." So assume if they do not explicitly state they are fair trade, then they most likely are not.

4. goodonyou is a wonderful resource that rates popular clothing / shoes brands based on their environmental impact, animal welfare, and labor practices. They don't have all the brands yet, since they are fairly new, but it's a great reference that I use all the time! Here's their article on Nike: https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-nike/

5. The terms "sustainable," "vegan," "eco-conscious," "cruelty-free", and "ethical" do not mean the same thing. Brands that market "sustainable" or "vegan" sound really great, but they can also be unethical. "Sustainable" just means that they are environmentally-conscious but not necessarily concerned with human welfare. "Vegan" means they aren't made with animal products, but can be harmful to the environment; example: PVC leather is vegan, but it's made with the toxic chemicals. Brands can also easily contribute to charity and still have unethically-made products.

All in all, the best thing you can do is to continue educating yourself. Just being a well-informed consumer is a pretty powerful position to have.

If you have want to hear more about this topic, have any tips that I didn't mention, or have any suggestions for my next blog posts, please let me know! :)

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