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Why I'm Cynical About Ethical Products, And Why You Probably Are Too

19/09/2016 12:01 | Updated 5 days ago

sustainable fashion

So I'm going to start with a confession: a couple of years ago I didn't particularly like shopping "ethically", sometimes I still don't. As a founder of a company that promotes ethical products that may sound a little odd, but bear with me.

I tried to avoid buying things from the companies that were being named and shamed in the media as polluters and tax avoiders. I tried not to support those brands behind the tragic images of collapsed factories, the result of our demands for faster, cheaper fashion. And I knew full well that when companies just concentrate on making profits and customers on getting deals, human rights and the environment suffer.

But knowing all of that still didn't make me think 'ethical consumption' was a great idea. Because, well, ethical is synonymous with things being a bit sh*t. We all know it. We've all thought it.

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Surely, buying ethically would mean I would have to become a walking cliché, wearing hemp and eating chickpeas.

I'd have to wear ill-fitting clothes, itchy jumpers and dull jewellery.

I'd have to start talking in preachy riddles, using words like eco, CSR and sustainability.

I'd have to don crochet hats.

I'd probably have to wear knitted underwear.

I'd definitely have to stop washing.

I'd have to buy clothes that people had died in, clothes with moth holes, clothes a size too small and two sizes too big.

I'd have to be into dodgy art made from bottle tops and woven plastic bags.

I'd have to sport horrible t-shirts with motivational quotes about saving the planet and probably pandas.

I'd have to refer to myself as an 'eco warrior'.

Green would be my go-to colour.

I'd have to regularly look at fly-eye pictures of children to make myself feel extra guilty about the terrible state our world is in.

I'd smell pretty bad.

I'd have to spend double the price on stuff that was half as good, and concede to a life of unsexy smugness.

OK, maybe that isn't quite the reality, but that's the problem: the ethical world has a terrible, terrible rep. The majority of us think it's worthy, preachy, ugly, expensive and uninspiring.

But I wondered if that was really the only option?

I began to search for ethical alternatives that weren't second-rate compromises. Products that looked good and tasted good, as well as doing good. And thankfully, when I started to look, I started to find stuff that does just that.

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Luxury soap that provides employment for people who are blind.

Beautiful cushions that rehabilitate prisoners.

Award-winning chocolates that provide opportunities for people who have autism.

The finest cold-brew coffee that supports everyone in the supply chain.

Throws that nurture traditional Mexican craft.

Fashionable socks that provide warm, healthy feet for people who are homeless.

Cute babywear that helps support abandoned and orphaned children.

Illustrated tea towels that celebrate the talents of artists with epilepsy.

Stylish bags made with end of line fabrics or zero waste design principals.

Bright, colourful stationery made from offcuts and misprints.

Organic babygrows that tackle hunger and malnutrition in India.

Hardwood chopping boards that reduce social isolation.

But it took a lot of time and effort to find them. Time that normal people don't have.

So I saw an opportunity. Could I create a company that promotes ethical buying but doesn't forget that we all like nice things? A company that combats the cynicism around consuming more thoughtfully?

Maybe. But there were some things I'd need to get right to not slip down the clichéd route.

I'd need to create a place where people wanted to shop, not felt they ought to.

I'd need to only sell stuff I'd be happy to buy myself, to wear myself and have in my house.

I'd need to find gifts that could be given to friends with complete confidence, stuff that was ridicule proof.

I'd need creative brands that had core beliefs in doing good, not just slapping it on at the last minute in a vain marketing attempt.

I'd need to understand why these companies had started and what impact they were making.

I'd need to work with people I believed in and respected.

Once I was confident that this could be done, This Because was created.

At This Because we promote products and companies that use good design and business innovation to tackle social and environmental challenges, like getting people into employment or reducing waste.

We find the very best, we interview them, we tell their stories, we invite them to sell in our shop. We develop existing brands and launch new ones in our creative studio.

Like a new juice brand working with small farms to tackle food waste.

An underwear brand working for a more inclusive, global market.

A beer brand that wants to help provide water for those that need it most.

We're just starting out, so we're small. But our team is growing, more people are buying and we've got exciting plans for new products and partnerships.

If people have been using great creativity, effective design and persuasive communications to get us to buy the bad stuff for so long, we believe we can harness those same skills and qualities to get people buying better stuff.

After all, every time we spend money, we're voting. We're voting on which people we want to support, which businesses we want to grow and the kind of world we want to live in. The sooner it can be easy and fun for us to spend it with companies contributing to a more generous and lasting world, the better.

But I want to do it look like this. Not this.

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To discover more products that look good and do good, visit our website or sign up to our newsletter.

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Image credits:

Image 1: Premier, theironyou.com, Wool Warehouse, Pinterest, notey.com, nymag.com, cassiewilson.theworldrace.org, trashmagination.com, holykaw.alltop.com, rewards4schools.co.uk, AP

Image 2: This Because, From Babies With Love

Image 3: The Reformation, madenew517.wordpress.com

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