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5 Reasons to Choose Etsy for Ethical + Eco-Friendly Purchases

This post is in partnership with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

As a self-professed lover of less stuff, it’s not often you’ll find me talking about shopping. But I accept, we all need to buy some things sometimes.

I know that when I need to buy something, I want it to be the most ethical, sustainable, long-lasting and environmentally sound choice that’s available to me.

I’m guessing you do too.

Usually that means eschewing the big box stores, avoiding the high street chains and instead choosing second-hand or supporting the independent stores, small producers and local craftspeople.

But finding these businesses and people can be tricky. Plus if we live away from the big capital cities, our options can be limited. And that’s where Etsy comes in.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what Etsy is, who it’s for and why you might want to consider it if you’re someone passionate about living with less waste and more sustainably.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace that allows people to connect and buy (or sell) unique, handmade and/or vintage goods. Etsy’s core mission is to help artists and crafters make a living. It’s a platform that makes it easy for sellers to sell and buyers to buy, but it’s more than just a selling platform.

It’s about connecting people.

It’s possible for sellers to post updates and share messages, and buyers to leave feedback (and photographs) – which gives it a really human, community feel and makes buyers feel connected to the people who make the items.

Who is Etsy for?

When I’m giving talks about living with less waste I often say, there are two types of people in the world. Those that know how to make things, and those that do not know how to make things.

Etsy is the bridge that connects us.

No-one has the time, patience and will to learn how to make everything. For those things we can’t make ourselves, we generally need to buy them. Whenever people ask me where they can buy reusable produce bags, beeswax wraps (or their vegan wax wrap equivalents) and natural skincare products (including zero waste make-up) I always suggest looking on Etsy.

The people who sell on Etsy range from those who make a full-time income from it, to hobbyists who are able to sell their creations to fund their craft.

5 Reasons Why Etsy is a Good Choice for Eco-Friendly and Ethical Purchases

Let’s be clear. I’m not encouraging anyone to buy stuff they don’t need. But when we do need to buy things, Etsy is a good option. Here’s why.

1. It’s the opposite of mass-produced.

Mass production tends to go hand-in-hand with corporate capitalism, where things are made as cheap as possible through externalising the costs. What that means is, companies exploit the land, create pollution and underpay workers so customers can buy things cheaply.

And most of this mass produced stuff isn’t made to last, because these companies need customers coming back and buying more stuff.

Etsy, on the other hand, champions producers who offer handmade goods, or produce things in small batches. One person or even a small-scale workshop simply can’t pump out huge volumes of stuff. And so there is an emphasis on unique, personalised, customisable, well-made and thoughtfully produced items.

2. You’re supporting real people to make a living (and receive a fair reward for their work).

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘when you buy from a small independent business, a real person does a happy dance’? I always hold this thought with me when buying from a small business, local maker or skilled artisan.

It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction to know the names of the people who make my things (like Claire from Etsy store Small World Dreams, who made my bag, and lives right here in WA).

It’s more than just money – it’s belief in someone else’s work and a coming together of shared values. For example, Etsy currently has 36,882 results for ‘zero waste‘. Buying a product from a zero waste seller isn’t just parting with your cash, it’s reaffirming to the sellers that we care about these issues too.

You’re keeping useful skills alive (and maybe even encouraging more people to embrace them).

I don’t know how to sew, embroider, weave, turn wood, paint, blow glass or build things that don’t fall apart. But other people do, and Etsy has provided a platform for them to share their skills and work with the world.

Before platforms like Etsy existed, it was difficult for sellers to reach people who wanted what they had, and time-consuming to attend markets. Now, Etsy has made it possible (and easy) for sellers to connect with buyers, which means creators can spend more time doing what they love – creating.

It also means that more people can become creators. The only barrier is actually having a skill to share. Make soap? Create art? Upcycle clothing? Restore furniture? There’s a space on Etsy for you.

4. You can ask questions and make your preferences known.

Of course it’s no guarantee that everything on Etsy is produced ethically from sustainable materials and shipped in recycled packaging. But when you’re dealing with a creator directly, you can ask the questions.

Where do they source their materials? Do they make the products by hand themselves? Who else works in the business? Will they ship without packaging? Do they avoid using plastic?

It’s a lot easier for a creator to be transparent than it is for a faceless customer service representative at a big box store – who likely has no idea about the buying and procurement procedures for the company at which they work.

Plus, when you’re dealing directly with the creator, you have the opportunity to ask for exactly what you want. Looking for a different colour, or have a slightly different design in mind? Ask!

There’s never a guarantee but many Etsy sellers offer custom orders, so you can make sure the thing you buy is exactly what you want. Which is the best way to ensure the things we buy are things we use often.

5. You can find upcycled, reclaimed, recycled and second-hand.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creators and sellers on Etsy only work with brand new materials. Not at all! If there’s something that you’re looking for, I’d always recommend looking to see if someone has made it out of already existing materials first.

There are so many great small businesses creating useful products out of what others might see as waste, be it metals, wood, fabric and even packaging. (There isn’t space to list them here, but I think it might make a good post for another time.)

Also, Etsy is a platform for vintage goods – which is really a fancy way of saying second-hand. If you’re the kind of person who loves old, but rarely finds cool old stuff in the charity shop yourself, Etsy is a great place to track down second-hand things.

I prefer to save the trawling through auction houses and antiques stores for the people who really love to do it, and have an eye for useful things. I think it’s cool that rather than languishing on a dusty shelf in a sleepy town in an old second-hand store, Etsy makes it easier to give these things new life and keep them in circulation.

You can find out more about Etsy here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Etsy before and what was your experience? Are you a creator who sells things on Etsy? Have you found any awesome vintage or upcycled finds? Any zero waste or sustainability-focussed sellers to recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

I’m passionate about zero waste and sustainable living, just don’t call me this…

There’s one word I try to use as little as possible when it comes to talking about zero waste, living plastic-free or anything sustainable living related. In fact, I try never to use it at all.

Could you guess what it is?

I’ll tell you, and you might be surprised. Because it’s a word we hear often. Sometimes it’s even prefaced with words like “responsible” or “ethical” or “conscious” – so how could it not be a good word to use, with such honourable descriptors?

The word is this: consumer.

Now, I consume. We all consume. From food and water, to energy, to the things we buy to use and wear and own, we are consuming.

But calling myself a consumer? That implies that the main thing of value I have to offer is my ability to use up resources.

Being first and foremost a consumer means declaring that our best and most valued traits are our shopping habits.

And that is not the case at all.

I just don’t… I just can’t… identify with being a consumer above all else.

When was it decided that we would be reduced simply to consumers, to cogs in the economy, our value judged by what and how and how much we buy?

I try to never label myself (or anyone else) a consumer, and I don’t want to be labelled a consumer. I don’t really want to be called a responsible consumer, an ethical consumer or a conscious consumer, for that matter.

Yes, I try to consume responsibly, ethically and consciously. But I don’t identify as someone who buys stuff. I feel that labelling someone a consumer takes away their power, and says – the only way that you have influence is by shopping.

We have power. To share ideas, to express our opinions, to call out companies, to make our voices heard, to apply pressure to businesses and governments, to vote, to demand change, and to ask for things to be different.

Our power extends far beyond the things we buy.

Let’s not give our power away.

So if we don’t call ourselves consumers, what do we call ourselves instead?

The way I see it: we are community members. We are citizens. We are people (both as individuals and groups) who care a great deal about the planet and our children’s future.

But somehow this label of ‘consumer’ has got pushed to the forefront and rather than saying “I’m a concerned and passionate citizen” we are reducing ourselves to just one part of the whole: a ‘conscious consumer’.

I am so much more than that, you are so much more than that; we are so much more than that.

Now I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “money talks” and the idea that “we can vote with our dollars for the change we want to see”. And I do believe that this is true: we can vote with our dollars.

But voting with our dollars does not have to mean shopping, or buying, or even consuming.

It can mean choosing green energy, or opting for public transport, or donating money to charitable causes, or contributing to organizations whose work we admire.

In fact, sometimes we “vote with our dollars” when we don’t buy anything at all.

I vote with my dollars when I opt out of the formal economy and swap stuff, share stuff, and make do with what I have.

And yes, I vote with my dollars when I shop at the local bulk store, or buy something from the charity shop.

Very occasionally I’m voting with my dollars when I buy something brand-spanking-new from a store, or less frequently, that has to get shipped from interstate.

Because yes, I consume. I try to consume responsibly, and ethically, and consciously. (And minimally yes, but I do still consume.)

That does not reduce me to a consumer.

Did you see the Guardian article published earlier in May which stated that it had updated its style guide to reflect more accurately the environmental crises facing the world?

So “climate change” is now “climate emergency” or “climate breakdown”, and “global warming” is now “global heating”. The editor-in-chief of the Guardian was quoted as saying that they wanted to ensure that they are being scientifically precise, and communicating clearly.

“The phrase ‘climate change’”, she said, “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

The words we use to describe things are important. Stronger language definitely invokes stronger reactions. Climate breakdown clearly has a sense of urgency that climate change does not.

And ‘concerned citizen’ has a power and gravitas to it that ‘responsible consumer’ does not.

Plus, it’s far more accurate.

We cannot make the world a better place simply by consuming better. We have a chance, we have a choice and we have, I think, a responsibility to do more than simply buy things to try to create positive change.

Let’s share ideas. Let’s share resources. Let’s champion those that do good, and hold those that do not to account. Let’s sign petitions, let’s add our voice to campaigns for change, lets write to our politicians and governments. Let’s get involved where we can, and put our energy into things that matter.

Let’s consume consciously. But let’s not give our power away and reduce ourselves to being consumers, first and foremost. That is not who we are, and that is not the limit of what we can do.

The truth is, we will never save the world by shopping.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree, disagree, did you learn something new, have you changed your mind or are you sticking with the status quo? Whatever your thoughts are I’d love to hear them so be sure to leave a comment below!



How ethical are our trainers?

Last weekend I bought a new pair of trainers. They were, in fact, Nike trainers. They were, in fact again, Nike trainers made entirely of synthetic materials – which means plastic. So how does that sit with a plastic-avoiding, environmentally-conscious girl like me who champions ethical and sustainable consumption?

What’s wrong with Nike?

Nike sounds alarm bells for many people because they received a lot of criticism in the late 1990s and were subject to a massive consumer boycott. Nike were targeted because they were a best-selling brand; the reason for the boycott was Nike’s refusal to accept responsibility for the practices and treatment of workers in the factories it subcontracted to make its clothing and footwear ranges.

That was 13 years ago (the boycott ended in 2000). How does Nike perform today? They have definitely become more transparent. They have a detailed section on their website about their reporting and governance, including links to published reports, and an interactive map (last updated May 2013) which lists all the factories that make their products.

Maquila Solidarity Network, a Canadian-based workers rights organisation, published a Revealing Clothing Report in 2006 detailing labour standards reporting by retailers and brands selling clothes, and Nike scored 68%. Of the 30 companies investigated, Nike were fifth in the rankings. Lululemon, the yoga-inspired athletic brand, scored just 18%.

Still, there is a lot of room for improvement. In Ethical Consumer magazine’s latest Trainer buying guide, Nike scored 6.5 out of 20 on its ethical and environmental scale. Which sounds pretty bad, although when you you read further you find that Umbro, Adidas, Reebok, Puma and Brooks scored lower than that.

What about other brands?

Nike aren’t perfect and they still have a long way to go, but they are now committed to transparency. That is an important step. Consider though, that Nike were deliberately targeted for a boycott because they are a best-selling brand with a huge reputation. They were the scapegoat for the clothing industry. What about other, lesser known brands? Were they doing things differently? How committed to sustainability are they? How transparent are their reporting systems?

Looking at the Ethical Consumer scores, many other major high-street brands (Adidas, Reebok, Umbro, Puma and Brooks) scored no better than Nike. Oxfam Australia are putting pressure on Adidas and Puma as well as Nike to improve workers’ rights and other issues they have identified. Clearly Nike aren’t the only guilty party. Nike may have got the bad rap but they’re no worse than any of these other brands.

Are there any ethical trainer brands?

I found three interesting articles about this (two from the Guardian, one from 2008 and another from 2012, and one from the Huffingdon Post). The general consensus seems to be that whilst it’s possible to buy fashion trainers from ethical brands (Ethletic scored 17/20 on Ethical Consumer’s review but only make converse-style trainers), finding athletic sports shoes is more of a challenge.

That’s not to say that there aren’t great brands out there, but it’s going to take a fair bit of research and dedication to find them, and it’s unlikely you’ll find them in your local high-street shop.

Want to know more about ethical shopping?

I’m going to follow up this post with a guide to ethical shopping, but for now I’ll just give a few links if you’d like to read more.

The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping is a great place to start. This book was published in 2004 so whilst some of the company information is a little dated, the principles remain the same. This is a book I read when it first came out and I learned a lot.

Ethical Consumer is a UK-based magazine available in print and online. They are a non-profit alternative consumer organisation dedicated to the promotion of universal human rights, environmental sustainability and animal welfare. Some of the information is available for free on the website or you can subscribe for £29.95 a year to access all the reports.

Labour Behind the Label is another UK organisation that run campaigns and also publish investigative reports, and works to support garment worker’s efforts worldwide to defend rights and improve wages.

Maquila Solidarity Network have a great list of resources, both Canadian and International, on their website – there’s too many to list and I haven’t checked them all out, but head over there to see if there’s anything that is relevant to you.

How do I feel about my purchase?

Do I regret my purchase? No. I haven’t bought a pair of trainers in over 15 years. I had absolutely no idea what I was looking for. I went to a shop to get some expert advice and these were the shoes that they recommended. I made a decision based on what I needed, what was available and the knowledge I had. I didn’t want to buy second hand because I didn’t want trainers that were molded to the shape of someone else’s feet. When they wear out, I will be able to make an informed decision based on what I know I need, and  I can choose a pair that are made by a more sustainable company. Hopefully I can find some made with natural materials and not plastic! I certainly won’t be replacing them before they wear out, even when the colour goes out of fashion or if I see a new pair on sale for a bargain price. These guys are with me for (their) life.

Another thing I’d like to add, is that (excluding some underwear I purchased in January) this is my first brand new clothing purchase all year. We are almost into September. In 8 months, I have only purchased one new thing. I have also bought a second-hand skirt, a second-hand coat and a second-hand jumper. That is it.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be. I’m just trying to do the best I can.

My latest shower accessory

Last week my boyfriend and I went to a Water Smart workshop, which was about both the issues Perth is facing with water demand and supply, and how to use water sustainably. On the way home, my boyfriend commented that he wasn’t really motivated to make any changes to our lives, because water didn’t seem as important as other things, like power or transport. I was inclined to agree. I think greywater systems and rainwater tanks are fantastic, but we don’t own our own house, so this is something for the future. It is something I’d definitely do in the future, but it’s probably a long way off, and not relevant to us now. Read more