The column by food writer, Jay Rayner, in The Observer today rang true. Shopping at artisan markets where food is made with organic, quality ingredients and sold at double the prices of a supermarket won’t challenge the high street. Nor will it change the world. Shoppers shouldn’t adopt any moral high-ground by making these purchases or be under false pretences of what shopping at a farmer’s market will achieve. It’s just a personal choice.
Same goes for ethical fashion. Lucy Siegle tackles the paradox of ‘ethical consumerism’ – is there such a thing? It’s an issue I grapple with a lot. I fully support small fashion makers engaging with workers in a fair way but this shouldn’t come with the virtuous notion that you’ve done your bit to change the world. Beware of brands marketing their highly priced ethical goods with this fuzzy warm glow. Choose ethical fashion (or beauty) because you like the product and you believe in the efforts the brand is making. A hand-crafted, organic cotton clothing made by a women’s cooperative in Congo, for example, may be beautiful and unique and helping women who may not have any other source of income, but it won’t put Primark out of business nor will it force countries such as Bangladesh to change their labour rights. That requires mass change.
That’s not to say I don’t support buying from the women’s cooperative. I do, because if there’s a choice between one brand choosing to do business in a way that doesn’t harm others and one that exploits along the way for the benefit of profits then I’ll always choose the former. But I won’t expect that choice to have a wider impact. It’s simply where I choose to spend my money. The concept of people’s spending power changing the world is sometime over-exaggerated. Changing the world is far more complicated. It will involve changing what the masses, the mass market, big players, governments, as well as workers themselves, do. If they change, the rest will follow.