Shopping with Love {Part 1}

Today begins a two-part series on "Ethical Consumerism." Today is a primer, if you will, and a basic introduction to my post tomorrow which is part of the 40-Day Noonday Collection blog train. A bunch of us ambassadors get together every start of a new season to spread the word, share our hearts, and host fun giveaways. {Check out my "Noonday Blog Train" Page for more details}

Anyhow. A few weeks ago, I gave a talk on "Ethical Consumerism" to a group of wonderful ladies from Ft. Collins, CO. It was a blast. Here is part one of that talk.

I was born to be a shopper. Meaning that I was raised from a young age on a diet of eye-buying, Black Fridays, the day after Christmas, Presidents Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day. You name it and I was shopping it. My mom could work a store. She would always find the best deal and she taught me and shopping became “our thing.” We shopped a lot. I have way too many childhood memories that take place in stores or malls or bazaars or markets or factory outlets.They are good memories.

And then I got married.

My husband and I lived below the poverty line for a good portion of our first few years of marriage. I did not get to shop a lot. My mom and I would still go shopping (her treat), but it became less of a regular thing and became a “when necessary” thing. When I did venture out to shop, my husband and I only looked at sales or clearance racks ONLY (out of necessity). To buy something at full price seemed really extravagant and wasteful. We might not be able to get something we LOVED, but we were able to get the things that we needed. We were being good stewards of our funds. Only buying what we needed and actively trying to get the best deal.

Then, my husband and I found a new church. It met in a downtown bar on Sunday evenings in Athens, GA. We walked in and they had little coffee carafes waiting on us. We grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down for worship. It was a good service and we found a few couples we knew afterwards and started talking. I distinctly remember one of the elders telling us about how the coffee was fair-trade.

The fair-trade terminology had been around a few years at that point. I knew Starbucks had a few fair trade blends and I knew there were some fair trade shops in town. But I also equated fair trade with EXPENSIVE and kind of useless. It wasn’t until we started regularly attending that church (who admittedly had a social justice vision) that I even knew what fair trade was. I was ignorant.

Fair trade can be defined as:
an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. It advocates the payment of a higher price to exporters as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers, and gold
{Thanks, Wikipedia...which is not a valid source, but will do just fine for my purposes today}.

So, what that definition is basically saying is in the fair trade movement we pay a higher price to insure that certain social and environmental standards are being met - whether that is paying a living wage or creating sustainable practices within business.

Looking at it from that definition (which is a good one), at that time in my life I didn’t have access to buy many of these things labeled “fair trade.” Not only that, but these goods are by definition MORE expensive...and not NECESSITIES. So, thinking that it was merely a “social” movement, I just kind of put fair trade in the back of my mind. It was a great thing for other people to do, but it just was not a possibility for me.

But we kept going to our church and having conversations about social justice. We learned about International Justice Mission and began supporting them. and through IJM our eyes were pried open and we had to stare into the injustices of the world - the plight of widows in Uganda, the orphan crisis, the global sex trade, modern day slavery.

But wait! Hey, Lydia. Stop! We were gonna talk about shopping and maybe mani pedis and frilly pretty things.

But this is where shopping gets ugly. It's where shopping got ugly for me.

Because it’s basic economics, right? I mean, businesses want to make the most profit. So, they manufacture a shirt. Which means that there is a cost for making that shirt. Factor in hours of labor, materials, advertising, health insurance, rent,electricity, water, maybe dental (if you’re lucky), and a decent profit margin. We (as the smart and frugal consumer) walk into OLD NAVY and buy that same shirt on clearance for $3.99. And at $3.99 that company is STILL making a profit. And the numbers do not add up.

So you think - Well, clothing factories aren’t in the USA. Most of them are overseas where we can pay less dollars and people can still make a decent living because of currency exchanges and different standards of living, etc. etc.

And here is where I have to stop you and tell you:
That shirt that you bought for $3.99 is really worth $40 and the the difference wasn’t made up by Old Navy’s shareholders taking a cut to their quarterly earnings…

the difference was PAID by somebody having to SACRIFICE their human dignity.

The difference was TAKEN from someone’s worth.

The difference was STOLEN from someone.

And I’m sorry to say, that you and I can never look at that $3.99 shirt the same way again. 

{Until Tomorrow}

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