On the Perils of Purchasing
If I buy non-leather shoes from Payless, I probably support sweatshops. If I buy the vegan shoes for $300, I get criticized for spending so much on shoes when I could be giving some of that money to my local no-kill shelter.
If I wear the suede shoes I purchased over a decade ago that I used to resole (with rubber) every year and I get “caught,” I’m not a vegan (I don’t do that anymore), but when I buy boots that are made of vinyl, well, there goes the planet.
I tend not to participate in fast fashion (inexpensive, often trendy, and can include “organic” and “fair trade” items), which is great because then I don’t have to feel guilty about the workers, the cotton, the transportation and the bad quality. But that means that most things I purchase–and I don’t purchase much–are far more expensive than they could be because of my choice to not participate in abuses that I know about. I look at it as an investment. At the same time, it’s not necessarily true that just because something costs more it’s a better choice. The example I most often read about is the fair trade cotton T-shirt where the cotton’s fair trade but the T-shirt’s made in a sweatshop. You could pay a premium for it thinking you’ve done right by the planet so the premium’s justifiable, yet it was made in a sweatshop!
Meanwhile, the premium you pay for goods that don’t use animal products or sweatshops could be used for other things. It could go directly to a vegan food program or to a sanctuary. Do you have a headache yet?
And to top it all off, for some reason, part of human nature is the urge to “catch” people who have a belief in a moment where they are being hypocritical. You say you’re a vegan, they ask what your shoes are made of, you say you’re an environmentalist they ask what kind of car you drive. If you say a word about human rights they want to make sure you’ve never shopped at The Gap or bought a pair of Nikes. So you’ve got the vegan police–not composed of vegans, and the planet police–not composed of environmentalists, waiting to pounce. And all you’re trying to do is replace some damn T-shirts or find a winter boot.
Yesterday’s “Fur Real: An Ethical Question for Vegan Fashion” raises some of these issues, and here’s my response/strategy:
- Because I don’t believe it’s ever necessary to use an animal for my food or clothing or household products, I first do my level best to make sure there are no animal products.
- When it comes to testing, that’s a bit dicey as there are laws for the release of products that we have no control over. I’m not talking about discretionary testing, as in the case of cosmetics. So yes, I might purchase items that were tested on animals because that is required by law. Obviously, I try to keep those purchases to a minimum.
- I visit ResponsibleShopper.org or GreenPages.org to educate myself about my options.
- Check my local Freecycle group for something I might need or want to get rid of (like the enormous television that’s been in my garage for almost a year, in addition to several pieces of furniture). There are plenty of local groups that serve people who need clothing. And suede shoes. And that don’t sell them the clothing, like Goodwill and the Salvation Army do.
I guess the most important tip from yours truly is to simplify, simplify, simplify. Buy what you need, do your research first, and when you want to get rid of something, give it to someone who needs it (or recycle it responsibly, and check out Earth911 for more on that) rather than sending it to a landfill.
How do you deal with shopping?