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How I became an ethical shopper

World Vision
12 September 2013 by Libby Sanders
How I became an ethical shopper

A trip to India and a new pair of jeans set Libby Sanders on a quest to understand more about ethical shopping.

It all started with a $12 pair of jeans. I’d just returned from a trip to India and needed some clothes for Sydney’s cooler weather.

As I left the shopping centre, congratulating myself on finding a bargain, I had a moment of realisation:

That’s a lot of work, by a lot of people – for just $12.

Making jeans requires a huge chain of production, from growing the cotton, to spinning and weaving it into fabric, then dyeing, sewing, transporting internationally, and eventually marking-up the cost for sale in the shop I’d found them.

Then I found my mind going back to some boys I had met a week earlier in India.

I had travelled to see World Vision’s work in urban areas of India. Along with the challenges of extreme poverty, India is home to a huge child and slave labour ‘industry’, as well as being a source and transit country for human trafficking to other countries. This problem is particularly common in the ever-growing urban slums.

I walked into a dark room in a slum, to find young boys beading saris; they worked 11-hour days, seven days a week sewing beads. They worked instead of studying or playing, trying to pay off family debts that grew every day from increasing interest charges.

These boys were essentially slaves in bonded labour. They were just eleven years old.

Back in my Sydney shopping centre, I realised children and adults like these had more than likely been exploited to produce the cheap pants I’d just bought.

This realisation went on to have a pretty huge impact in my life. I began researching thoroughly about the issues in the clothing industry (of which there are many, both socially and environmentally) and also in other areas of global production. The problems seemed enormous but I decided to take small steps toward becoming an ethical shopper.

I looked for new ways to buy, tried to value living with less ‘stuff’, and chose recycled or fairly produced products and clothing whenever I could. I even began writing a blog, Collection of Good, to share ideas with friends and start promoting ethical consumption. It’s now something I’m hugely passionate about.

Taking part in World Vision’s Abolitionist Sunday each year is another way I have spread the word about this issue. If you don’t know about it, it’s an annual day bringing churches together in prayer and action to fight slavery and other exploitation in the world. This year, it’s being held on Sunday 24 November.

It’s just one day, like so many others. But it’s another opportunity to grow in our understanding of this issue, to choose to act and share our growing knowledge to help others.

We are all ‘consumers’. By owning this and making informed choices about our everyday consumer choices we can help to alleviate poverty and prevent exploitation. How empowering and humbling is that?!

Libby Sanders Libby Sanders

Libby Sanders is World Vision's NSW/ACT Youth Team Leader and everyday activist and ethical consumer. She writes about ethical living at her blog Collection of Good.


7 Responses

  • PhilJohnston says:


  • moist.hat says:

    Inspiring stuff Libby, I think we can all take on this attitude in some way 🙂

    • TimJ, World Vision team says:

      We all certainly can moist.hat 🙂 Thanks for your message for Libby. Its so good to know we can all make a difference!

  • Rowan Moorey says:

    My theory is that clothing without branding (for example k-mart, big-w generic clothes) which are cheap and of poor quality are made in the worst conditions possible. How did the price become so cheap? A countries poor economy, i.e. wages, is not the only reason, its that all of the important regulations that unions introduced such as safety gear, breaks, shorter working days, etc have been removed so the product can be made at the fastest rate from the cheapest materials. Once a brand is behind making a product they have a reputation to up hold, they can be held accountable for workers conditions. Saying that, they’re still going to be brands that are worst than others and I’m not suggesting to go by all branded clothing you can get your hands on, just revealing that their is scale of worst to better. My suggestion would be instead of having 10 pairs of ‘ok’ jeans, you buy 2-3 really good pairs! Do your research into how they’re made, where (buying local is the best way to go, labour conditions are visible and it cuts down transportation carbon emissions), from what, have fun choosing colors and the product becomes yours and hopefully you feel the need to take good care of it, instead of neglecting it because of its cheapness. A warning about this would be that we can become too attached to clothes, so when they are completely torn or you lose them it becomes something you ruminate on (look up Buddhism -attachment). Ethical shopping doesn’t have to be something tiring or really expensive (op shopping), it can be made fun if you choose finding clothes as a project not just as a chore. Although it’s important to shop ethically don’t place all your eggs in one basket, in terms of consumerism Raj Patel summons up one big fallacy, “We think we can buy our way out of all of our problems”.

    • TimJ, World Vision team says:

      Hi Rowan, thanks for your comment. It is so important that we all do our own research and share our knowledge with others so that Brands understand and change for the better. Appreciate your thought when buying ethical, ‘the product becomes yours and hopefully you feel the need to take good care of it, instead of neglecting it because of its cheapness’. Nice way to respect your clothes and pay a fair price for an ethical product.

  • […] who care strongly about the harmful impacts of our consumption, but who are frustrated that their consumer choices don’t reflect their values as much as they’d like. For most people, finding products that fulfil their needs at a price […]

  • This is a fantastic story and I love learning about how others found themselves advocating ethical fashion. I myself had the same moment of realisation in 2008 when I travelled to southern China to start a fashion label with my then business partner. It was an eye opening experience to see several factories. Needless to say ethical fashion continues to be at the heart of my eco fashion blog Thanks for sharing your story Libby!

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