Thursday, 16 January 2014

Influence & Responsibility

I read this quote recently and was reminded, and inspired again, in my influence as a consumer.  I hope you are too:

‘If you have a sense that your money is somehow, even indirectly, contributing to a cause that you find morally problematic, then it seems somewhere between reasonable and obligatory for you to vote with your dollars.’  B.Mycoskie.

Money is a powerful thing.  It’s not everything, but let’s never pretend that it’s not extremely important.  Money is close to our hearts, we spend a large proportion of our time earning, spending and fretting over its amplitude in our lives.  

Our expenditure betrays our values.  We spend money in ways that assure maximum personal fulfilment for minimum financial investment.  TV ads and colourful flyers overflowing local letter boxes enforce the message that comfort, happiness and status are for sale, and for an increasingly low price you can have them.  Ingenious marketing convinces us that these companies are doing us a favour, earning our gratitude and loyalty.  This calculated manipulation includes concealing any issues that we, the consumers, may find morally problematic, which if we are really honest suits us quite nicely.  Ignorance can be bliss, and we too often choose it, sacrificing justice in order to maintain comfort and distance.  

I am in the process of exiting this system of manipulation.  I am searching out the narrow path, locating more ethical production practices amidst a societal storm of compulsive consumption.  For several years I was an ethical production slactivist.  Gathering information, with little resultant action, I cruised along making very few definitive changes toward consuming responsibly.  This changed approximately three years ago when I began buying only ethically produced clothing and footwear to see how possible this was in New Zealand.  That first resolution instigated a healthy pattern of questioning and researching production practices in other industries.  This process resulted in my separation from retailers with whom I had enjoyed mutually gratuitous relationships in the past.  In the growth of my understanding, passion found a fuel source and conscience began to drive my consumption.  I started putting wheels on my words.  

I encourage everyone to venture down the path of researching our responsibility as consumers.  Even a shallow foray into understanding production practices highlights morally problematic issues at every turn.  Fortunately there are resources available to guide us out of egocentric expenditure and toward a more just solution (See the resource section for some starting points).  

We need a mindset alteration in order to redeem our power and influence as consumers.  As money holders we are part of a democracy that votes for a future world.  
We are the demand driving the supply chain.  Our consumer choices contribute to the rise and fall of companies locally, nationally and internationally.  These companies are at the mercy of our spending, vulnerable to our decisions, and keenly interested in keeping us onside.  When enough people say 'no', they quite literally cannot afford not to listen.  The frequent misunderstanding of our role in this democracy does not change the reality of our influence.  In putting our vote forward to join the others, we support, or dissociate from, companies and their production practices.  It won't necessarily be easy, there will be demoralising moments in which it feels as though our votes for change are insignificant, swallowed in the surging tides of supply and demand.  In these moments, remember that a flood starts with a drop of rain.


  1. Erin I am so blessed - and challenged - to have you in my family. Like you, I'm trying to be more ethical and live the care I profess to feel for the least, the last and the lost. Thanks for posting this... and I'll follow some links after work. For some "light hearted" following of another on a similar challenging journey - try borrowing from the library, the book: "Not Buying It!" - one woman's journey to not buy anything for a year apart from the essentials of life. Funny, poignant at times, and made me realise that I was already on-the-way compared to some... but still a long way to go, compared to those who we advocate for or stand in solidarity with, through intentional activism.

    1. Thanks Mum, I'll add it to my meter long reading list. It's freeing to realise how little we need!

  2. Erin, this is great. Thanks for the list of links on the side about clothing - especially the Australian Fashion Report. SO interesting to see which companies are owned by the same crowd as well as how they stack up in their responsibilities towards employees and ethical manufacturing. I've been thinking about this stuff with clothing for some time now, just for myself. But with two rapidly growing kids to dress these days, I find myself consuming so much more and buying clothes from some dodgy companies, all in the name of 'cheap'. Hmmmmmmm....

    1. Thanks Amber, I'm glad you're enjoying the links, there will be more up soon. Kids do grow through clothes quickly but the great thing about that is that there are then lots of kids clothes in good condition in op shops or on trademe. Let me know if you find any other useful sources of kids clothes because there are heaps of conscientious parents having the same issue.

    2. Op shops and trademe for the win eh. Indeed, over the last month I have sourced the kids' clothes and shoes from trademe, op shops and friends with bigger kids (and I discovered some nifty nz made shoe stores!)
      There is Pureborn Organics for kids clothes. They are quite expensive for how quickly kids grow, but then again we have been sucked into thinking that the price of clothing is the $$ on the tag, rather than the full human cost from the entire production process.
      And if you need merino clothing then there are quite a few small local shops that make stuff here with NZ-sourced wool. However, we live in Auckland and it is far too hot most of the year for merino (sadly!)
      Liminal Apparel also sell Freeset fairtrade cotton clothing and bags (kids to adults).
      I also discovered that The Fabric Store try to source ethically made fabrics, which is quite interesting. I'm not sure what their guidelines are, but they are the only fabric shop I know of in NZ who would bother to do such a thing!
      Anyway, my new decision regarding clothing is to make my own every day stuff using op shops, or save up and buy ethical for everything else. Will see how it all goes :)

  3. Awsome! well done you :-) we are also on the journey to try and get this sorted. My new company Iti Baby is all NZ product, which is so hard to be compeditive with pricing againsts un-ethically made similar items.
    love you, you clever amazing girl

  4. Thanks heaps Dana. Awesome, go you guys! I like your website, it's great that you included the info for new parents too. The good news is that thanks to advocacy and awareness campaigns there will be more and more people searching for products like yours. Love you too!